In the current lockdown situation, we are all allowed to take one walk a day, of around an hour's duration. This offers an excellent opportunity to stroll around the pleasant streets of Alsager, looking with new eyes at sights so familiar that we have ceased really to notice them.
Next time you go out for your walk, plan a route to take in Church Road, turning into it from the junction with Lodge Road and Chancery Lane, with the school playing fields on your right.
Pause a moment to look along Church Road: in 1850, the curate of Christ Church, Charles Tryon, planted an avenue of lime trees along the length of the road. With typical Victorian optimism, he acted for the benefit of future generations, and most of his saplings survived and grew into the beautiful, mature trees which make this road one of the most beautiful in Alsager.
Taking the right-hand pavement, continue past the school playing fields to the wall behind which lies the cemetery. This is the only graveyard in Alsager; it has been extended three times in over two centuries, but it is full once again. Among the gravestones of many local residents are some Commonwealth War Graves, commemorating, servicemen who lost their lives in two world wars; others are named on family tombstones. In the last few years, the Alsager Family History Society has catalogued all the gravestones and cremation plaques in the cemetery; they will be entered on a database which will enable people all over the world to identify family graves here.
Christ Church is a striking edifice, built in the Palladian style from gritstone mined on Mow Cop. Its rather severe exterior belies the lightness inside, with its lovely- stained glass windows. This was the first church to be built in Alsager – the parish church was in Barthomley, and Alsager people had to walk the three miles there to worship. In 1789, the three daughters of the Alsager family (the main landowners in the area) obtained a private Act of Parliament which allowed them to build, at their own expense, this church, and a charity school with the master's house next to it. The unusual status of the church – a Chapel of Ease, inaugurated by an act of parliament – led to over a century of rather unseemly friction with Barthomley "Mother" Church over issues such as sharing tithes and fees from baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Not until 1946 was the problem solved, when Christ Church was made a parish church in its own right.
Next to the church is the picturesque building which was Alsager's first school – apart from a few "Dames' Schools" which came and went in the village. It began life as a Charity School, funded by the Misses Alsager, and for over a century was the sole source of education for the children of the village's pauper and working classes. It started with around 20 pupils, but by 1848 it had over 200. In 1900 it became a secondary school only, as a Church of England infant and primary school was built off Sandbach Road North. (This building now houses the infants' department of Highfields Primary School.)
Prior to 1900, a small fee (pennies only) was expected from parents who could afford it; the children of paupers were paid for. School records show that there was a great deal of concern about bad language and behaviour among the pupils – a birch tree in the headmaster's garden was nicknamed "the tree of knowledge" as it provided sticks with which to chastise pupils who misbehaved. There also appear to have been fairly frequent closures because of epidemics of measles, diphtheria etc, and much absenteeism at harvest time.
World War II led to a huge increase in Alsager's population as munitions workers with their families moved from Woolwich to take up jobs at the new armaments factory at Radway Green. The school was bursting at the seams. Plans were drawn up and a large new school was built on land behind the old school, fronting on to Hassall Road. It opened as Alsager Secondary Modern School in 1955 and became a comprehensive school in 1971.The old school buildings here continued to provide extra rooms for the new school for several years until they were sold, along with the Master's house next door, to become private dwellings. A small residential development has recently been built directly behind the old school, in design very sympathetic to these late eighteenth century buildings.
(With many thanks to the Alsager History Research Group who compiled and wrote the book Alsager, the Place and its People, edited by James C. Sutton, M.A.)