Anglicans in Walsden attended the church of St. Mary in Todmorden but, when this was closed in 1832 and replaced by Christ Church, the people were unhappy. They were also growing in number, and the population of Walsden was possibly greater than that of Todmorden. Walsden folk found Christ Church too far to travel and either gave up church altogether or found other places to worship.
The Oddfellows, who met at the Waggon and Horses, built a school and place for worship in 1836 at Bottoms in Walsden. This comprised three 2-roomed cottages on the ground floor with a school and preaching room above, access being gained from an enclosed yard at one end. Mr. Thomas Fielden, school master at the nearby Wesleyan establishment at LANEBOTTOM, moved his pupils to this new building.
Additionally, the Primitive Methodists at KNOWLWOOD CHAPEL also started a school and preaching place there. The two branches of Methodists held a joint tenancy and they rubbed along together quite well. However, when the railway works were in full swing, there were many navvies and strangers to the area and the Primitive Methodists gave up their quest to convert the chaos to Godly peace and withdrew from the arrangement.
This coincided with the Established Church holding negotiations with the Wesleyan Society at Lanebottom for the use of their space at Lanebottom. The trustees of Lanebottom school were not at all happy with the prospect of their building being used by the Established Church so the Todmorden incumbent, Rev. Cowell, arranged for the church to take over the tenancy of the Oddfellows building at a rent of £12 a year. It was agreed that the church would have use of the building for Sunday schools and week nights as required, whilst the Wesleyans would continue to use the building for their day school.
Arrangements began for the opening of a Church Sunday school with occasional church services before or after the day school. A vestry was built and books and equipment were obtained from Todmorden. In December 1840, Rev. Cowell conducted the first service there. The service was well attended and the room was full. Mr. John Heyworth acted as clerk, a violoncello and flute led the singing. Thomas Law senior and his son Thomas Law junior were the musicians.
One of the congregation was James Scholfield of CALFLEE FARM in Walsden. James had always remained faithful to the Church, despite most of his extended family turning to Wesleyism, although in his later years he had only attended on a casual basis, putting his energies into being a Superintendant at the Wesleyan school. A few days after this first service, James was taken ill. The Rev. Cowell went to visit him, whereby James rejoiced that he had lived to see the day when Walsden had its own church. He went on to say he could now die happy. James died that week and a local girl wrote in her diary for 1840,
"Old Jas Scholfield Calflee died Decr 14th. he was in Bottoms School Room on the evening of Decr 6th. at the Church Service."
In order to maintain the services at Walsden, the Rev. Cowell needed a curate. The Rev. William Morgan arrived, fresh from Trinity College in Dublin, and turned out to be a zealous and earnest man, full of Irish charm, who set about pressing those who failed to attend church to give it a go. Sadly, he was summonsed by the Bishop to take over the incumbency of St. James Church in Clitheroe and left Walsden after just over 12 months. After settling in at Clitheroe, many of his old friends from Walsden would travel over to visit him, and in the summer of 1844 he organised a party of his old flock to visit him for a long weekend. The party set off early on the Saturday morning and remained until the Monday morning, attending the church service on the Sunday. There were about 60 of them in all, and they were billeted with parishioners in Clitheroe and made very welcome. A full account of this visit was recorded in one of the Manchester newspapers, stating how a band of devoted church people had gone to see their old pastor, and giving a picturesque account of how they had wound their way over the hills in waggons and carts. The visit was reciprocated, and the Clitheroe parishioners visited Walsden in small groups over the coming years.
After a couple of unsuccessful curates, the Rev. George Dowty arrived in Walsden in 1842. He was a man of the people and went into residence at Bankfield Buildings in Todmorden. The 1841 census had confirmed the growing population of Walsden and in 1844 a special census was taken for a further check. There was enough of a population for Walsden to be made a parish in its own right, separate from Todmorden and Rochdale, and the following year, Walsden was made a Peel Parish.
The new church of St. Peter was built in 1845 on land donated by Mr. John Crossley of SCAITCLIFFE HALL. In the spring of 1848, the parochial schoolrooms at Henshaw Meadow were built, close to the church. The church was consecrated on 7th August 1848 in the presence of a congregation of 3000.
The first baptism recorded in Walsden Church had already taken place in 1845, the first marriage was on September 28th. 1848, and the first burial on October 23rd. 1848
The opening coincided with the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. A pensioners and militiamen's feast was organised for that day. They assembled in front of the WHITE HART in Todmorden and were put through a series of exercises by Lieutenant John Eastwood (of Eastwood) after which he rode at the head of the column and the men followed in procession towards Walsden Church, the rear being brought up by Mr. John and Mrs. Crossley in a carriage.
When they arrived at the church they were again put through some exercises by Captain Robert Hardman (corn miller of Gauxholme). They then marched into the church where a special service was laid on. When the service was over they marched to the schoolrooms where a feast had been set out, paid for by Mr. Crossley. The party then adjourned to the Hollins Inn where they were all treated to a glass of their choice of liquor again at the expense of Mr. Crossley.
After a couple of winters, it was realised the church and school could not be kept warm. They were roofed with red London tiles, which were unsuitable for the Walsden winter climate. They were replaced with blue slate tiles, but still the people were cold. The heating apparatus, known affectionately as Moses, was a hot air system, and all the warmth was escaping into the vaulted roof space. Moses was replaced by a modern system of a hot oven boiler, which fed hot water through pipes along the naive and the aisles, and this proved much more satisfactory.
When the Duke of Wellington died in 1852, Rev. Dowty had the idea of raising funds for a Wellington Memorial organ. The funds were raised quickly, and in 1853 the organ was installed at a cost of £300.
The almanac of the time reported:
"July 8 1853 the Wellington Organ opened in Walsden Church. Holt & Son builders. Amongst the additions to the choir were Mrs. Sunderland, the Misses Tankard and Bancroft, Messrs Perring, Delavanti and Chadwick, and the Todmorden Harmonic Society."
The spire was built in 1864. The clock and peal of bells were added in 1872 at a cost of £800.
The first bells rang on 11th. September 1872. The bells and the clock were dedicated by the Lord Bishop on 21st. October and then disaster struck! Within 2 weeks, the chimes weight on the clock broke and fell through 3 floors, breaking the tiling of the church porch. It landed on the ground and sank quite some depth into the earth.
Edwin Crossley Atkinson of Pontefract and his sister placed a memorial window in stained glass in Walsden Church in June 1906 to the memory of their father and mother, the late Captain Atkinson and his wife. The inscription read:
To the Glory of God and in memory of John Frank Atkinson, born January 7th 1821, died October 12th 1898; also to his wife Mary Elizabeth, born May 12th 1834, died October 18th 1898.
Erected by Mary Louisa and Edwin Crossley.
Life continued normally in the Parish until Friday 28th. May 1948 when, amid preparations for a great centenary celebration, the church caught fire. The entire neighbourhood was roused from bed to watch in horror as the church became engulfed in flames.
The residents of nearby Dampier Street were the first to witness the tragedy, alerted by the sounds of cracking glass and a bright orange glow. Only 30 minutes earlier, the vicar, the Revd. Crawford, had been inside the building after the children’s rehearsal for the Sunday School anniversary service.
The County Fire Service responded within minutes but by then the church was well ablaze. Spookily, just as the church clock struck midnight, the roof collapsed. The inferno continued for several hours and the following morning the locals found a sad sight. All that was left of main body of the church were the shell and, amazingly, the spire.
Many invaluable artefacts were lost including the stained glass windows, church manuscripts and music. In the aftermath of the fire, the congregation needed somewhere to worship. The adjacent church schoolroom was the obvious answer.
From the day following the fire until the consecration of the new church, they used this schoolroom. Each weekend members had to clear the room and set it up ready for the church services, then it all had to be restored ready for school on the Monday morning.
This could have spelled the end of Walsden Church, but the undaunted parishioners set up a re-building fund immediately.
The church had not been fully insured and it took 8 years of hard work before the rebuilding was completed.
On 10th March 1956 the church was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Wakefield.