Like all great historic churches, St Mary’s owes many of its unique features to the patronage of the local aristocratic family – the Stanleys of Alderley. Their stamp on the church is everywhere, from the impressive family mausoleum in the grounds, to the memorial tombs of the first and second Lord Stanleys in the sanctuary, but perhaps their most unique addition to the church is the Stanley Pew, elevated on the south wall of the church like a royal opera box and sumptuously decorated with red furnishings.

In 1557 Thomas Stanley was Lord of the Manor of Over Alderley and Edward Fitton was Lord of the Manor of Nether Alderley.

The Stanley’s had used the chapel, in the east end of the church’s south aisle, for several decades, and in 1592 had made a deal with the churchwardens of Alderley and the Bishop of Chester guaranteeing their rights to sit there, above their place of burial.


In 1597 or thereabouts, Edward Fitton allegedly entered the church of St Mary, and went to the tomb of Thomas Stanley (d.1591). He took his dagger and stabbed the effigy in the face, defaced the coat of arms on the monument and departed from the church.

To make matters worse, one night in February 1598 he returned with his father’s servant Hugh Hollinshead, Hugh’s brother Edward (the parson of Alderley) and about 35 men. The group tore down the wainscotting, arms and seating recently erected in a side chapel by the Stanley family.

Unsurprisingly Thomas Stanley, (grandson of the above Thomas Stanley), mounted a suit in Star Chamber against the Fittons, Hollinsheads and their companions. As he recorded in his diary, ‘this year upon Matthias day at night, my chapel in Alderley Church was cut down, whereupon great suits arose between Sir Edward Fitton and me’.

We do not know whether his suit was successful although some cordial relations between the families must have been achieved for in 1602 the Stanleys purchased the manor of Nether Alderley together with the patronage from the Fittons, settling the dispute over who had the right to sit in the chapel.

It was around this time that the Stanleys built the opera-box like pew which is only accessible from a flight of steps from the churchyard and it is said to be one of the finest in the country and certainly unique in Cheshire.

The parapet of the Pew has Jacobean panelling, decorated with the arms of the family of those who married into the Stanley family. This panelling, together with the decorated plaster and upholstered furnishings were expertly restored in the year 2000.

The Pew would have had eye level contact with the minister on the top deck of a three-decker pulpit which was located opposite.

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