On our ill-fated walk yesterday (well, ill-fated for me anyway as I ended up sitting in a muddy place at one point) we went past a house which called itself “The Monastery”. As the area is known as Friarmere, we wondered if it had in fact been a monastery at some time or if a monastery had stood in that spot. So, as you do, I went and googled it.
It turns out that the whole area we know as Saddleworth was divided into a number of “meres”: Friarmere, Quickmere, Shawmere and Lordsmere. In the seventeenth century they were administrative districts but records show them as manors in the middle ages, each with a lord and tenants.
Friarmere, as its name suggests belonged to the church, having been granted to Roche Abbey by Robert de Stapleton (there’s a nicely mixed name for you), Lord of the Manor of Saddleworth in the thirteenth century. When good old Henry VIII set about the dissolution of the monasteries, Friarmere reverted to the crown and was sold in 1543 to two Rochdale men, Arthur Assheton and Roger Gartside There are still lots of Ashtons and Gartsides or Garsides around here to this day.
In spite of the land belonging to the church, there was never a monastery here. They did have what they called a “grange” – one of the French words for farm – from which the monks, probably based over in Rochdale, administered the land and demanded taxes from the tenant farmers. And there is a hamlet called Grange in the area, oddly enough.
It wasn’t until 1765 that someone decided that Friarmere should have its own church. Before that the residents had to go to Rochdale in one direction or Saddleworth Church in Uppermill in the other. But as the population of the area grew the people in charge decided that what they called a “chapel of ease” was needed, a daughter church to Saint Chad’s in Uppermill. And so the chapel of Saint Thomas, Friarmere was built, probably using the labour of the local residents. Nobody refers to it as Saint Thomas’s though. It’s always just Heights Church.
Apparently the chapel was declared “redundant” in 1970, probably because it was easier to go to the church in Delph village, but it is a listed building and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. People still get buried up there and I believe that of you know how to go about you can get married there.
So, getting back to the original point of inquiry, there was never a monastery in Friarmere. Maybe the folk who live in the house of that name feel so isolated up there that their life feels monastic at time. On the same lane, however, is a house called Paradise Cottage. Perhaps the owners of that one have a better view, of life as well as scenery.
In the course of my investigations I found another little story. Here it is. Saddleworth church, founded in 1200 and dedicated to St Chad has a legend associated with its location. It is said that the original site for the church was on nearby Brown Hill, but every night the stones were mysteriously moved to their present position. Eventually the builders gave up moving the stones back to Brown Hill, and built it where the stones were placed each night. The fairies (who were held responsible for the nocturnal moving of the stones) were said to have been driven out of Saddleworth when the church received its bells. The loud chiming knocked the smaller fairy bells out of tune, and they went off in a "huff" over Stanedge towards Marsden, Slaithwaite and other districts.
And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.