St Ann, Ashton under Lyne - Roman Catholic
Ashton under Lyne
The faithful at Ashton were originally dependent on Dukinfield. A school-chapel was established in 1852 and the mission received a new impetus when Fr. W. Crombleholme, a member of a well-known Chipping family, was appointed. He built a church but found that he was now saddled with a crushing debt, especially because, with the roof hardly on, his people were struck by the Cotton Famine. Fr. P. Vermeulen, sent to St. Mary's in 1861, had charge of the famine relief committee.
Another disaster came during the "Murphy Riots" in 1868 when a half-demented agitator worked upon the anti-Catholic prejudices of the Protestants and upon the anti-Irish feeling caused by the Fenian disturbances the previous year. "The way to get rid of Fenianism is to hang the priests. Every Popish priest is a Fenian Head Centre. I am going to Ashton to lecture in a cotton mill near the Catholic chapel, and it will not take us long to drive the Popish lambs to Paddy's Land." Such were the words used by Murphy at Stalybridge and quoted by the local parson in a letter of protest to The Times. St. Mary's chapel had only recently been opened in a converted house. Both chapels were attacked by mobs singing "Rule, Britannia!" or shouting "No Popery" and "Croppies lie down".
At St. Ann's the windows were smashed, then the doors broken down and the whole chapel wrecked. The crucifix and other furnishings were burned. Then the mob rushed to St. Mary's. Here Fr. Beesley, only lately appointed, put up a courageous resistance with some of the men.
The mob would probably have entered St. Mary's had not one of the Irishmen produced a pistol and started to fire above the crowd from an upper window. This kept the mob at a discreet distance until the Riot Act was read about 10 p.m. and the crowds scattered. The next two days there was more rioting and in the middle of Monday morning some twenty hooligans destroyed benches at St. Mary's.
A letter from Fr. Crombleholme recalls the grim story:
Our church, school and presbytery were attacked and broken into, and altars, statues, and paintings were burnt; even our lives were in danger. One hundred and eleven houses of our faithful Irish Catholics were gutted; their furniture, clothing and bedding destroyed, and their provisions carried away. No protection was afforded us by the authorities. The clergy was obliged to leave the town, and for an entire month it was not deemed safe for them to do more than revisit the parish at a certain time of the day, for the sake of the sick.
Fr. Crombleholme was now crippled financially. Although the courts had convicted some of the offenders, no compensation was awarded. Even so, Fr. Crombleholme had the courage to open a school-chapel at Denton. However, in 1873, he took the resolve of making a missionary tour of America and Canada to raise funds for his poor parish. He was absent by leave of his Bishop for five years. After some years he was sent on another missionary journey but unfortunately died at Boston in 1884. One of the priests sent to St. Ann's to replace him was the famous Fr. Robert Smith, who began his priestly life here.
Fr. Colenbier next took charge for some years and was followed by Fr. Martin Meagher and then by Fr. James Murray, afterwards Canon.
The wrecked chapel of St. Mary's was replaced by a new church in 1870 under the direction of Fr. Beesley, afterwards Provost and Vicar General. In 1874 he was made administrator of the Cathedral by Bishop Vaughan. His work was continued by a foreign priest, Fr. Stoelben, and by Fr. J. A. Wissink before his long and successful term at Longridge. Fr. Aukes was here until 1906 and Fr. James Manning had charge from 1906 to 1910. Since that time the mission has been in the devoted charge of Fr. B. Hickey, now an honorary Canon.
Taken from "Salford Diocese and its Catholic past", a survey by Charles A. Bolton, a Priest of the above Diocese. Published 1950 on the First Centenary for the Diocese of Salford.
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