ACTON

Grid Ref. SJ 632 531
25 August 2001, 6 August 2002 & 20 Aug 2005

Acton, Cheshire spacer Tower
St. Mary's, Acton   South Face of Tower
Nave   Church door
The nave and chancel   Door at the foot of the tower

 

In the Domesday Book there is mention of two priests at Acton. In the early 12th century Acton church and the surrounding lands were given by the second Baron of Wich Malbank to the monks of Combermere Abbey, who retained control until the Dissolution. The church at Nantwich was a chapel of the parish of Acton until the end of the 16th century. Much of the church at Acton dates from the 13th and 14th centuries but there was a major restoration in 1897-98. Acton church still has the stone bench around the walls which led to the expression "weakest to the wall".

Acton has the oldest stone tower in Cheshire. It has a Norman foundation but the upper sections were in Early English (1170-1300) style with small lancet windows. Most church towers are 60 feet or less in height in Cheshire. At the stone is not very hard, the towers are often squat. Acton tower was 100 feet tall when built but in 1757 the upper part of about 34 feet fell. The tower was rebuilt to a height of 80 feet in a different style and the join can be seen. The collapse of the tower wrecked the roof and clerestory. Although these were repaired soon afterwards they were altered again in the restoration of the 1890s. The gallery in the church was never replaced.

 

Wilbraham Monument spacer South aisle
Wilbraham Monument, south aisle   South aisle with Wilbraham monument
Mainwaring effigy   Font
The Mainwaring Effigy   The bowl of the Norman font
Thomas Hale memorial   Saxon stones
Memorial to Thomas Egerton Hale winner of the Victoria Cross   Carved stones from the Saxon church

 

The church is open on Saturday and Bank Holiday afternoons in the summer but I was fortunate to gain entry when during the annual maintenance of the church bells. It is well worth the trip as the interior has many interesting features. The church is rich in monuments of old Cheshire families. In the Mainwaring chapel is the monument to Sir William Mainwaring of Baddiley and Peover, who died in the Crusades in 1399. He is said to have endowed Acton with a piece of the true cross. The effigy, in alabaster and sandstone, shows him with his feet on a lion and his head on the head of a horse or ass. He has INRI around his helmet and his allegiance to the house of Lancaster is shown by his chain with the S motif for Spirtus Sanctus.

In the south aisle there is a monument to Sir Richard Wilbraham (1578-1643) of Woodhey Hall and his son Sir Thomas Wilbraham (1601-1660). Sir Richard was responsible for the restoration of 1620 and died during the Civil War.   The font is Norman and was recovered from Dorfold Hall in the late 19th century, where it had presumably been hidden to escape destruction during the Civil War or Commonwealth Period.

Acton church and nearby Dorfold Hall were garrisoned by Parliamentary forces in the Civil War and for a time the church was held by the Royalists who used it as a base for attacking Nantwich.

The sundial shown in the picture is 12 feet high and dates from the late 17th century. It occupies the site of the former parish cross. It has a square stone head with a dial on each face. Inscribed in Latin are the words Time flies, death comes; as the hour, so is life.

The list of vicars of Acton goes back to 1288. The parish registers survive only from 1653.

Sources

The King's England - Cheshire by Arthur Mee, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1938, fully revised and edited by E. T. Long in 1968, SBN 340 00075 9
Discovering Cheshire Churches, produced by Cheshire County Council Heritage and Recreation Service, 1989, ISBN 0 906759 57 9 and available for purchase at Cheshire Libraries.
Old Cheshire Churches, with a supplementary survey of the lesser old chapels of Cheshire, completely revised and enlarged by Raymond Richards, published by E. J. Morten, Didsbury, 1973, first published in 1947.

I am grateful to Miguel Torrens, one of the directors of the Baptisteria Sacra Index  project at Toronto University for pointing out an article on the Internet covering the font at Acton.

 

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Cheshire Antiquities
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