William and Margaret Owen

An article by Roger Bingham

Stretton Church has a silver memorial plaque to them on the 3rd pillar on the north side from the entrance to the church.  I periodically polish this as part of my church cleaning duty rota. I looked into who the Owens were, my interest being sparked by memories of Halsall Owen, grandson of William and son of Geoffrey.

All were architects in Warrington and William FRIBA (1846-1910} was the founder of the architects practice William and Segar Owen, who had premises in Cairo Street, and later in Museum Street, where I practiced dentistry from 1960 to1996.

William was born in Latchford in 1846 and died in Appleton in1910. He trained as an architect in Manchester and travelled in Europe, visiting Belgium and Holland as well as France and Switzerland.

He set up practice in Warrington in 1869.In 1896 he took his elder son Segar into partnership and their practice in 1896 was in No 4, Cairo Street Chambers and later in Museum Street.

They designed 28 houses and a factory in Port Sunlight for William’s close friend W H Lever. He accompanied Lever ( later Lord Leverhulme) in his search to find land to build a new soap factory and a Garden Village for the staff. He was the first architect employed by Lever and also designed buildings in Warrington such as  St. Barnabas’s Church ,Bank Quay in 1879,Warrington School of Art in Museum Street in 1883,the Parr Hall in 1895 and Warrington Technical School in 1900-1902  ( now San Lorenzo restaurant), the Mulberry Tree ,Stockton Heath (1907) and other pubs for Greenall Whitley and  various banks for Parr’s Bank (now part of Nat West.}

William married Margaret and had children Segar (1874-1929 ) and Geoffrey (1887-1965) Segar lived at Kelmscott, Firs Lane, Appleton(1906-1914); an Arts and Crafts style house now rebuilt and named “The Foxes”. I surmise that they also designed Stonecroft, Firs Lane and maybe William lived there. Other houses include Garnett House, Penketh (Garnett had a large furniture factory in Warrington) and Birchdale (for Robert Davies, a Warrington solicitor). in Appleton (later the hotel and now demolished and replaced by a block of apartments.)

William died suddenly in Warrington in 1910;He and Margaret are buried in the NE corner of St Matthews Churchyard together with Samuel, ( died 1884) and Halsall (died 1915 aged 34 )

 Segar continued the practice, being joined by Geoffrey and then Halsall, his son. Halsall did some work for me in 1972, including alterations to Hill Cliffe in Windmill Lane and I was always impressed as their practice was described as in “Warrington and London” which no doubt it was at one time .He and a Mr Welsby arranged for the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments to be engraved on the east wall behind the altar in the church.

Geoffrey was educated at Liverpool College and lived in Windmill Lane from 1912 to 1914. I knew him in 1961 as a tall ,elderly (! ) gentleman who had the next garage to mine in Museum Street; he always wiped his Morris Minor down if it was wet before putting it in the garage.

I gathered some of this information from the internet and from David and Margaret Hart, and there are images there of some of their designs, including a house, High Cliffe, Appleton. Where was this very large property? Does anyone know ?

Roger H Bingham 

Time Capsule

This year, February had an extra day – a Leap Day. It happened to be a Saturday, so what to do with an extra day? Some of us arrived at St Matthew’s dressed for action. After a safety briefing, we set about cleaning and clearing the place. Cobwebs and dust were dispatched. Hymnbooks and bibles were boxed. Paperbacks and surplus vases were taken to charity shops. Hassocks and cassocks were bagged. Henry the hoover worked harder than he has ever done in his life and Charlie the eagle was covered like a parrot in a cage. (Admittedly, he has always been quiet.)

Our work party – average age estimated to be between 70 and 72, incidentally – fortified by tea and biscuits, was getting the building ready for the next phase of its life. On Monday, the reclamation people came in. They removed the pews from the back of church (from the cross-aisle, westward), apart from a couple of smaller ones which were bought by individuals, and took up the floor in that area. Work on the first phase of our Big Welcome project had begun! We are creating a space that will be used for serving refreshments after services and during the week, and for Praise & Play and other groups and activities to use. In the longer term, we hope to have kitchen facilities, level access from the car-park, and a toilet, assuming that the funds are available. The plan is to use our beautiful building to give a big welcome to all.

The following Saturday, a similar group (with a similar age profile) came and, once again, got everything ready for the work that was to come. While we were there, someone looked at the void where the pews and floorboards had been and asked, ‘Have we thought about putting a time capsule in, before the work is finished?’ Being a resourceful sort of chap, I got on with it and ordered a waterproof stainless-steel canister, big enough to take some A4 pages, rolled up. And then I asked people what they would like to be put inside for future generations to discover.

The Time Capsule: my hand for scale!

Suggestions included

  • Photographs of the church before and during the work, of the area, and of people
  • A copy of the current church magazine and this week’s newsletter
  • The church history booklet, written by David and Margaret Hart (which includes a list of clergy up to and including yours truly)
  • A leaflet about the Big Welcome project
  • An aerial view of the parish
  • Children’s writing and pictures of what church means to them
  • A copy of my sermon (!)
  • An audio recording of the latest news.
  • A newspaper article about the current world (and the coronavirus being declared a pandemic)

I’m not sure we’ll have space for all of that, but I would like to include a letter from me to whoever finds it. I could say something about myself, the church and the parish. Who knows what they will make of it?

The work has been made possible by generous donations and fundraising. But we need to continue if we are to realise the vision we have for our building. I know people hate being asked to give money – it’s always the same people who get asked, and the same ones who usually respond! – but the reality is that we need to reach out to our community and to coming generations, or, sadly, our building will be little more than a museum piece. And we are not in the museum business.

 I am encouraged today by support from folk at St Cross, who are inviting donations from those who visit their art and craft exhibition, and by the 5th Appleton Brownies who raised money with a cake sale. The St Matthew’s Praise & Play families held a sponsored treasure hunt and are planning a disco. My thanks to all who have supported the project so far, and all who are planning to do so.

What do you think will happen to the church in our two parishes, and in the nation, in the time between the capsule being buried and it being discovered? (The manufacturers say its good for 200 years, so if it fails, I’m going to ask for my money back!) It’s easy to be pessimistic about the church’s future. Recent surveys suggest that 68 percent of Anglican churches in this country have five children or fewer on a Sunday. 38% of churches have no children at all. A small number of churches are doing really well, but attendance by under-16-year-olds is dropping faster than adult attendance (20% decline in the last 5 years for children, compared with a 12% decline for adults). What future is there for the church if we lose contact with children and their families?

Our time capsule at St Matthew’s is a little gift from us to the future. But we have something greater to give: a church that is alive and well, and in the business of welcoming all.

Alan Jewell

How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place

I’m writing this having seen those terrible images of the fire which has ravaged the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Today there is aerial footage of the extent of the devastation but that doesn’t match the shock of watching video of the spire collapsing. Someone has commented that the last time the 850-year old building suffered major damage was during the French Revolution, and that it survived two world wars largely unscathed. 500 firefighters attended, risking their own lives in order to save what they could of the building. It was said to be within 15 to 30 minutes of complete destruction.

A priest, Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade, entered the building while the fire was raging in order to rescue precious relics held there.

And, bizarrely, while I am writing this, I answer the phone to someone from Lymm Fire Brigade. They want to arrange a visit to St Cross to arrange a safety inspection – today. I explain that it’s not a great time for me (it’s Holy Week) but hope that a churchwarden might be free to meet them.

The world’s reaction to the fire at Notre Dame has been swift and heartfelt. Pope Francis said:

Today we unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron said that Notre Dame would be rebuilt “more beautiful than ever”, hopefully within five years. “We can do it and we will come together,” he said. Billionaires and ordinary people around the world have pledged more than 5 million euros to support the rebuilding project, recognising that the cathedral is not just a house of religion, but a symbol of Paris and of France, and an icon that belongs to the world.

Others have expressed conflicting views: given the crisis we face over climate change and poverty, and the fact that people are still living with the consequences of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 which claimed over 70 lives, how can the world justify spending such a huge amount of money on a mere building?

In our own small way, we face similar questions with our churches. Like parishes up and down the country, we have buildings which are much loved and valued, but we find ourselves faced with having to fund repairs and maintenance from the pockets of small congregations of ageing worshippers. While we can’t claim anything to match Notre Dame’s history – Henry VI of England and Napoleon Bonaparte were crowned there, and its where Joan of Arc was beatified – we do have our own stories. St Cross and St Matthew’s are the places where people have been christened and married, and where loved ones are remembered. People come to us for a Christingle service or on Remembrance Sunday. They visit the churchyard on Mothering Sunday. They want us to be there for their grandchildren to have those experiences too. Our buildings are not essential: the early church met in people’s homes. But they do stand as a visible symbol of our commitment to be here for our community (not just the congregation).

At St Matthew’s we have just held our annual meeting. Questions were asked – rightly – about the gap between our income and expenditure, and the costs of repairs to the roof and stonework (amongst other things). We had just received the news that our faculty application – the permission to go ahead with the proposed development of the building – had been granted. But how can we go ahead with a building project when we don’t have the money to mend the roof or pay the bills without dipping into our ‘savings’?

The answer to that question lies in the vision we have for the church. Is it a building that merely needs to be kept open for diminishing numbers of the faithful? Or do we see ourselves as having something to offer our community? How does our building express our faith and the desire to be open to those who live locally but don’t often turn up for regular services? The proposed reordering is about making our building more inviting and accessible by improved access and better use of the space for welcome and hospitality. The Chancellor of the Diocese (His Honour Judge David Turner QC) had to look at our proposals and the objections that were made to them. His job is to consider the impact our plans will have on the building (given its listed status) and the possible benefits to the mission and worship of the church. In particular, he has to ensure that we do no harm to the building’s historical and architectural character.

The Chancellor concluded that

“the parish has, in my judgement, demonstrated clear and convincing justification for the changes proposed which is more than sufficient here to outweigh any minor architectural detriment. In most cases the changes will represent improvement.

In short, I have found the arguments for change persuasive here. These changes, I have no doubt, will better serve the ministry and mission of the church in the parish and area.”

So, we have permission to do the work. We now need the money and the will to proceed. We will be seeking grants for the project and fundraising (as we will for repairs). We need people to come together in support of our vision and mission; not just our regular worshippers but also the wider community.

Unlike Notre Dame, we don’t have billionaires queuing up to give us money. But we do have you. And that’s a great start!


Alan Jewell