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St Mary, Acton , Cheshire

(53°4′25″N, 2°33′2″W)
SJ 632 531
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cheshire
now Cheshire East
  • Ron Baxter

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St Mary's is built of red sandstone ashlar. It has a four-bay aisled nave with a clerestorey; the aisles extending W alongside the tower, and the present clerestorey a rebuilding of 1879. The arcade piers are mid 13thc., but they have been heightened, and the capitals are late 19thc., part of Paley and Austin's restoration of 1897-98, although one of the originals survives as a loose stone in the S aisle. The W tower is also 13thc. in its lower parts. It was once over 100 feet tall, but the top of it fell in 1757 and was rebuilt shortly afterwards by William Baker. The chancel arch is 14thc., but the long chancel itself is Perpendicular, articulated inside with colossal four-centred wall arcading. It has a N chapel added after the nave aisles, and the N aisle E window survives, with its tracery but lacking its glazing, inside the church (something similar took place at Bunbury). The grandest monument is a large 17thc. chest tomb with recumbent figures of Sir Richard and Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham in the S aisle. More interesting is the wall tomb in the N aisle, with an alabaster effigy of Sir William Mainwaring (d.1399). The figural but mutilated font is Romanesque, as are a series of important carved stones, some figural, at present at the E end of the S aisle, behind the Wilbraham tomb.


In 1086 William Malbank held Acton of Earl Hugh of Chester. It was an important manor with a court in William's hall, land for 30 ploughs, meadow and woodland. Domesday also records two priests at Acton. In the early 12thc. the church and lands at Acton were given to the monks of the Cistercian house of Combermere by the 2nd Baron of Wich Malbank.

Benefice of Acton and Worleston, Church Minshull and Wettenhall.




Loose Sculpture


The loose stones at Acton are among the most significant pieces of early Romanesque sculpture in the county. There are two groups by different sculptors, one carved in limestone, the other in red sandstone. The limestone reliefs (VI.i - VI.vi) were previously set in the stone bench that runs around the church, but this is unlikely to have been their original location. Stylistically they suggest a date at the end of the 11thc. and all belong together. The figural scenes originally had lower edge projections and were presumably arranged in one or more registers, although whether they formed a screen or simply a frieze is impossible to know. Their subject matter, including Christ (VI.ii), the apostles (VI.v and VI.vi) and representatives of the church (VI.iii) and the warrior class (VI.iv) points to a structured composition of some kind. The sandstone blocks (VI.vii - VI.x) were discovered embedded in the clerestorey wall during the restoration of 1897-98. The two imposts (VI.vii and VI.viii) are the same height but their widths differ and they were not carved by the same sculptor. It seems likely that one or the other of them should be associated with the capital (VI.x) and base (VI.ix), which belong together on the basis of the diameter of the nook-shaft they once enclosed, pointing to the existence of an elaborate doorway of c.1100.


N. Pevsner and E. Hubbard, The Buildings of England. Cheshire. Harmondsworth 1971 (repr. 1978), 53-54.

H. Moore, A short account of Acton Church and neighbourhood. 1930, corrected 1933, 4th impression 1981.