Finding William Wood at Bowdon

18:00 26 February 2022

James Balme visits Bowdon in search of William Wood

History surrounds us at every turn – from the smallest villages to the biggest towns in Cheshire. Scratch beneath the surface of every town and village and it’s surprising what you’ll find. My recent visit to Bowdon, for example, provided me with some fascinating stories about its people and its rich past.

The landscape is dominated by the 90ft sandstone tower belonging to the Church of St Mary The Virgin, is situated high on the sandstone ridge which rises above the Cheshire plain and is crossed by the lane street known as Watling Street.
A small community was formed here in Saxon times in the 7th century, possibly by Archbishop Theodore.

An entry in the Domesday book of 1086 mentions that a mill, a church and a parish priest were present at Bogedone, meaning an arch-shaped hill, and manned at the time by a Norman officer known as Hamon of Massey.

Although the present church was built between 1856 and 1860 the site has been the center of worship in Bowdon from earliest times and when the foundations of the present church were laid bare traces of three churches have been found, the oldest, which was built of stone, dating from 1100 AD. Prior to this time, a wooden structure stood on this same site.

The church itself has strong links with the Dunham Massey estate and inside the church is Stamford Chapel, formerly known as Dunham Chapel, housing memorials to the Booth families and Gray, both owners of nearby Dunham Massey Hall. It is interesting to note that in the 16th century a separate entrance to the chapel existed, allowing family privacy. They also had their own door near the altar allowing them to be the first to receive communion.

William Wood’s grave in St Mary’s Cemetery, Bowdon
– Credit: James Balme

The substantial graveyard is also steeped in history and there is one grave in particular of a great man with a story to tell. William Wood was known as the friend of chimney sweeps and famous for pushing through legislation to prevent children from being sent down chimneys to clean them when mechanical devices were readily available.

The practice of using young children as chimney sweeps (also known as climber boys) began after the Great Fire of London in September 1666. It was around this time that the use of boys as young as four years old became common , the child expected to climb the chimneys, which in many cases were no more than 18 inches wide. It was not uncommon for their masters to light a fire below to entice the child to climb faster.

William Wood campaigned for legislation to end this child labor. In 1875, seven years after his death, an amended Chimney Sweeps Act came into force, requiring all chimney sweeps to obtain a clearance certificate from the local police chief. William Wood’s coffin was carried to Bowdon Church by six chimney sweeps from five different towns.

My film, In Search of William Wood, shot in Bowdon, can be viewed for free along with many other local history films by visiting my channel,

Pay attention to
William Wood’s final resting place at Bowdon Church
The Stamford Chapel dedicated to the Booth and Gray families
The churchwarden’s chest, circa 1550 AD
The Baggiley (Baguley) effigy of Sir William Baggiley, dated from the 14th century

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