Parish Church, Whaley Bridge

Sacred Heart altar view

The history of the parish of the Sacred Heart is rooted in the Grimshawes, a wealthy family living at Errwood Hall in the Goyt Valley, and without them and their sponsorship there might not have been a parish at all.

In 1851, Samuel Grimshawe, the third occupant at Errwood Hall, declared publicly that he had been converted to Catholicism, and he built a special chapel at the Hall dedicated to St Mary from where mass was celebrated between 1851 until June 1930, when the Hall was demolished in preparation for the new reservoir.

Sacred Heart rear view

Educated at Brazennose College Oxford in the 1830s, Samuel Grimshawe became friends with the future Cardinal Manning and [Saint] John Henry Newman, who may have visited the parish church at some time in his life, and on 8 October 1851, Bishop James Brown celebrated the first mass at Errwood Chapel, and then preached outside to around 500 people who had gathered from around Macclesfield and the neighbouring area. From then on a chaplain was always in residence at the Hall until it closed in 1930. Slaughter’s History of the diocese shows the first chaplain as Henry Alcock in 1851 and the last as Ernest Grimes in 1929.

Kelly’s Directory of 1910 gives this information on Whaley Bridge:


‘Whaley Bridge, or the more generally accepted name of Yeardsley-cum-Whaley, a parish and village in the ecclesiastical parish of Taxal and on the high road to Buxton…..the river Goyt is here crossed by a bridge connecting the counties of Cheshire and Derbyshire…..There are adjacent coal mines of considerable extent, but these are not now being worked. Col Edward Thomas Davenant Cotton-Jodrell CB of Reaseheath Hall [Nantwich], is lord of the manor. The population in 1901 was 1,487.

In 1898, Father Hugo Welch, a priest of the Shrewsbury Diocese, became parish priest and began to celebrate mass for the Roman Catholics of Whaley Bridge. He was resident chaplain to the Grimshawe family from 1897 until 1907.

The Grimshawe family generously bought the land on which the Sacred Heart Church was built for the sum of £500 paid to a Mr Jodrell, and the new church was opened with a special mass on 26 August 1900, celebrated by Bishop Samuel Webster Allen, the Bishop of Shrewsbury. He also confirmed 17 people at the same time. A bazaar was held in 1902, and this raised sufficient funds to clear the entire outstanding parish debt. The church was built in 1899 of stone construction in the Gothic style and holds a maximum of round 200 people. The presbytery was built in 1928.


The first resident priest, Father James Welch, Hugo’s brother, arrived in 1907, and after his death in 1912, the parish was served by chaplains from Errwood Hall, chiefly Dominican Fathers from Pendleton in the Salford Diocese.

In 1920, Father T Lowery became parish priest and from then on there has always been a resident parish priest.

Originally in Cheshire, local government re-organisations in 1936 put Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, and then in the High Peak in the 1970s, when coincidentally, suggestions that the parish be given over to the Nottinghamshire Diocese came to nothing.

The parish boundary embraces the towns of Whaley Bridge, Furness Vale, Newtown, Disley as well as villages of Fernilee, Buxworth and Kettleshulme. Mass began to be celebrated on Sunday mornings for the wider communities in Disley in 1959 in various locations, including the Rams Head pub, the Community Centre, and latterly the new Methodist Church, until the Mass Centre closed on 27 August 2023.

Sacred Heart Parish Boundary Map

According to the contemporary records available, the following priests have served the parish:

Father Desmond Friel, from 1 April 1981 to 1 August 1981
Canon John Mooney, from 1 January 1982 to 1 January 1986
Father Michael Wagstaffe, from 1 January 1986 to 1 September 1994
Canon Louis St John, from 1 September 1994 to 31 August 1996
Father Martin E F Riley, from 1 September 1996 to 6 December 2015
Father Robinson Melkis, from 13 February 2016 to 13 October 2017
Father Francis Nnadi, from 1 December 2017 to 27 August 2023

[Updated 25th September 2023]


Cathedral Church, Shrewsbury

The parish church of Sacred Heart, Whaley Bridge, is placed within the Diocese of Shrewsbury on the extreme boundary with Nottinghamshire Diocese.

Cathedral Church Shrewsbury

The Diocese is Latin Rite Roman in tradition and is in the Province of Birmingham. Geographically, it encompasses parts of the west Midlands and includes the counties of Shropshire, Cheshire, varying from the rural areas of Shropshire to parts of Manchester, south of the River Mersey and other large urban areas including Birkenhead, Stockport and Ellesmere Port. The estimated Catholic population, as of 2018, was 171,247, and is widely spread and fragmented across the region.

The Diocese currently comprises 91 parishes and 13 other churches/chapels, which are divided into 9 regions containing 23 local pastoral areas, these being introduced in October 2007, when local deaneries were abolished, not as replacement to parishes, but designed to strengthen local communities and facilitate the sharing of resources

The Cathedral Church is Our Lady Help of Christians and St Peter of Alcantara, and this was designed by Edward Pugin, the son of Augustus Pugin, with building completed in 1856. The building costs were met by Bertram Earl of Shrewsbury, who died some 3 months before completion. It was he who chose the dedication and wished the name of Shrewsbury.

The first bishop of the Diocese was James Brown who was consecrated on 27 July 1851. Catholics then numbered 20,000, out of a total population of 1,082,617. There were 30 churches and chapels with resident priests. By the time of his jubilee there were 98 priests.

The Cathedral was re-ordered in 1984, and a new Altar formed from the local Grinshill Stone was consecrated by Bishop Gray in March 1985.

The current Bishop is Mark Davies who was consecrated on 22 February 2010.