The Story

There are two threads to this story: the history of the building and the life of the chapel.

This grade 1 listed church began its existence as an anonymous timber framed chapel covered with wattle and plaster. That was about 650 years ago when the people of Congleton decided they wanted a chapel in their town to avoid the walk to the parish church at Astbury.

Within the next hundred years towns people left land and money for the mayor to run and maintain the chapel. During the same period a stone tower and stone chancel were added to the chapel. By the middle of the 15th century it was known as the “Higher” or “Upper” chapel to distinguish it from a second chapel built at the end of the bridge over the river Dane. It still had no name.

By the end of the reign of Elizabeth I the mayor and corporation were funding a variety of clergy to provide services at the chapel: ministers, readers, curates and preachers. Inside the chapel were seats or pews for the mayor, aldermen and leading citizens. At the same time they provided a grammar school for boys, built into the edge of the graveyard.

When William III (William of Orange) was king the corporation referred to the building as “our” chapel and the bishop of Chester gave them permission to select the minister or curate. They had done this unofficially for 50 years since the Civil War when the Parliamentary supporting Corporation had appointed radical preachers to their chapel.

In spite of galleries added in 1705 the timber framed chapel was too small for the congregation. So in 1740 26 leading men of the town obtained permission from the bishop to knock down the old chapel and build a new larger one.

This ambitious project took longer than planned and ran out of money. The additional pews were sold to help meet the cost, but the medieval tower, now much too small in proportion to the church, was retained. The galleries in the north and south west corners were never built.

Over the next hundred years the corporation continued to select the ministers in spite of the rector of Astbury insisting he had that right as incumbent of the parish. The new chapel still had the status of an anonymous chapel of ease – a convenience for the town. However the corporation did find the money to enlarge the tower, re-cast and rehang the bells and finally, in 1840 to build the corner galleries.

Unfortunately for the corporation the government took away their right to choose the minister, through the Municipal Corporations Act. A new parish was created in the centre of the town and its church was given the name St Peter.

Although major alterations were made in the 20th century much of what can be seen today is the work of the Georgian builders, almost nothing of the original medieval chapel remains. The Church Buildings Council see it as sufficiently significant to include in their 300 Major Parish Churches in England.