Travelling down the A6 past McVities you probably don’t give the busy junction next to St Thomas’ Church a second glance as you continue on your journey down Manchester Road to Heaton Chapel village or along Wellington Road North into Stockport.
This area however, is a key place in the development of The Heatons and it’s the place where The Heatons as we know it today was born. Before 1700, the area occupied by the Four Heatons was originally fairly poor agricultural ground located between the north of Stockport and the southern edges of Manchester; the name ‘Heaton’ being derived from the Anglo-Saxon for a farming enclosure on a heath or high ground.
The four areas we know today started to develop their own identities around the mid-1700s, when the building of St Thomas’ Church on Manchester Road resulted in the area becoming known as Heaton Chapel. The land was donated by a local Yeoman named Thomas Collier and the Church was built in 1755, with consecration taking place some ten years later in 1765. The new building was first used as a chapel of ease, a subsidiary institution acting simply as an outpost for local churches, but after 70 years in this role, St Thomas’ was assigned its own parish, making it the parish church for the entire Heatons. Prior to this, congregations had been expected to walk to chapels in Manchester or Stockport which were some distance away.
Across the road, the Chapel House pub took its name from the area. It was built in 1822. At this time some church meetings were regularly held at the inn and the church registers were kept there, locked safely away in an iron chest. The pub was re-built in the late 1890s and taken over by Bass Brewery from Burton in 1921. After this it remained as a popular local, renamed as Conors and the Tut ‘n Shrive in its time, until finally closing in 2009.
The church had a small rectory on Parsonage Road but, with the growth of The Parish of St Thomas, it was deemed that the church needed to have a substantial rectory to go with its rising status. Edward Jackson, who was also one of the prime movers in building Heaton Chapel Station, proposed a new rectory on Heaton Moor Road and a large comfortable house was built. However, by 1957, the costs of running the house had become too great and a smaller residence was built in the same grounds. The two buildings existed side by side until 1964 when the old rectory was demolished and the land sold. The original small rectory can still be seen as an attractive private house on the corner of Parsonage Road and Lea Road.
There is no doubt that the presence of the church contributed to the development of Heaton Chapel village and the establishment of its own identity. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shops and building premises started to appear, turning the area into a thriving village. Builders Gough and Gurney Ltd were one of the first businesses to appear with their premises situated on Claremont Avenue. Behind the toll house, George King’s greengrocer’s, a post office and a telephone exchange run by Miss Cookson also appeared, along with a Scots Plaid Shop , a newsagents, a sweet shop and Ladley’s ironmongery. Later, new shops appeared around the junction of Manchester Road and School Lane including Caldwell’s haberdashery, Brearley’s ice cream shop and a wallpaper shop.
So next time you’re waiting at the lights on A6 wandering whether to go left or right at the busy junction, catch your breath, look around, and remind yourself that this is where our vibrant , exciting, cosmopolitan community which we know as The Four Heatons actually began.
With thanks to publications by Stephen Shaw and Elizabeth Jones