The year 1791 was a very important one for the Catholics of Whittle-le-Woods and their neighbours. It was the year Father George Clarkson bought a plot of land at South Hill and built a church dedicated to St Chad.
However, 1791 was by no means the beginning of the story. As early as 1533 historical records name Heapey as the site of one of the 'Stations' or places where Mass was said by priests travelling through the area and other sources point to the Catholic religion being practised in the nearby Brindle area of Lancashire as far back as 1123.
Before the establishment of the Heapey chapel Catholics gathered at a place in Brindle known then, as now, as St Helen's Well, where Mass was celebrated and, around 1230, Cistercian monks from Stanlaw Abbey in Wirral, Cheshire, set up a house in Brinscall at a place called Munshull, now known as Monks Hill.
We are all familiar with the persecution that priests, those who harboured them and, indeed, all Catholics suffered around the time of the Reformation. Priests had to be hidden from the Priest Catchers and Mass said in secret places. One such location that still stands on a hill outside the village of Wheelton is Slate Delph, a house which was used for the celebration of Mass when a travelling priest was in the area. A Jesuit, Fr. Edmund Arrowsmith was among their number and it was while he was on his way to see family in Withnell that he was captured and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. There he was tried and subsequently hanged, drawn and quartered in 1628 for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith.
In 1970 Fr. Arrowsmith was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. A beautifully carved wooden statue of this brave and holy man now has its rightful place beside the sanctuary in St Chad's church.
To read more of the St Chad's Parish story, please use the link below to the publication written by parishioner Cecil Cowburn, RIP, to celebrate the bicentenary of the Parish in 1991.