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29 October 2014

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St Michael's Church and Rev. Raphael Duckett

The history of St Michael's Church in Madeley

A Christian community has been present in Madeley since at least AD729, when St Milburga purchased land here.

A Christian community has been present in Madeley since at least AD729, when St Milburga purchased land here. We know that there was a church building on the present site from Norman times.

The site was a rectory until the title passed to Wenlock Priory in about 1330. The monies involved were returned to the parish in 1836 on condition that they were used to set up the new parish of Ironbridge, which became an independent parish in 1845.

Today, the vicar of Madeley remains one of the patrons of Ironbridge Parish.

An old photo of St Michael's Church

By the 1790s the old structure had become unsafe and on 17th April 1793 a public meeting agreed to build a new church on the site.

Thomas Telford was at the height of his fame as County Engineer of Shropshire and must have seemed a natural choice to design the new church in the important Parish of Madeley.

Telford's success in building St Mary's in Bridgnorth in 1792 would have also presumably influenced the decision.

St Michael's was consecrated in Easter 1797.

The materials selected stand out as being of the highest quality available. Buildings in the area are predominantly brick and tile, and the choice of slate in particular may reflect the success of Telford's other projects.

Today the church remains largely as Telford designed it, save for the addition of a chancel in 1910. The east window still carries the stained glass from Edgbaston (Telford described his visit there during building operations).

The communion table and pulpit were retained from the earlier 14th century church and remain in use to this day.

By public subscription this was increased to eight bells, in memory of those locals who died during the two world wars.

Unfortunately at that time inadequate bracing was provided for the tower and now a recording of the bells has to be used in place of the genuine article. Significant structural work is required before the bells can ring out once again over Madeley.

During the Industrial Revolution Madeley was one of the most important parishes in England. Appropriately our churchyard contains probably the most important collection of cast-iron tombs in the country, significant for their variety and number.

St Michael's Church bells

Also in the graveyard are a number of monuments commemorating industrial accidents, most notably the Nine Men of Madeley communal grave (killed in a pit accident on 27th September 1864).

Another reminder of the area's industrial heritage is a mosaic tombstone dedicated to Charles Turner, who died aged eight in 1906.

For many, it was a dangerous and unfamiliar period, and Turner fell into an open drain of scalding hot water from a pumping engine. This touching personal memorial is currently awaiting restoration.

Madeley has a remarkable place in both our country's industrial and cultural heritage.

The ancient parish included the whole of the now World Heritage Site of Ironbridge - so the names of Brooke, Darby, Guest, Reynolds, Wilkinson, Trevithick, Telford, Jessop and many others are interwoven in the history of St Michael's.

Memorials to Thomas Parker (inventor of the dynamo), John Randall (famous geologist), the Baldwin family, and others show how the Church was intimately connected with the industrial society around it.

One of the past Rectors of St Michael's, John Fletcher (1729-85), was an early and significant cultural influence on Methodism.

He was a good and respected friend of the Wesleys and wrote several major theological works defending their theology. John Wesley wanted Fletcher to succeed him as the leader of Methodism, but Fletcher unfortunately died before he could accept the challenge.

Wesley preached in the pulpit here in Madeley on 22nd July 1764 and also at an open air meeting opposite the Church. John Wesley paid tribute to his good friend Fletcher by giving a funeral address for him and by writing a biography.

Today's St Michael's

St Michael's is now part of a team ministry that includes the newer housing areas of Sutton Hill and Woodside.

The population has grown from 451 people in 1676, to 9,469 in 1861, up to 17,988 by 2001.

A purpose-built worship centre serves Sutton Hill, opened in 1966 by Michael Ramsey (then Archbishop of Canterbury). The Church on Woodside meets in the local community centre.

last updated: 05/07/05
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BBC Religion
Diane Louise Jordan


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