St Edmunds Church, Falinge

Street names have been seen as memorials to eminent people in towns and cities, no more so in Rochdale perhaps than those named after the Royds family. 14th century records of the family suggest that the Royds were landowners near Halifax before moving to Rochdale where they set up as farmers and wool-staplers, a family important enough subsequently to be given the right to bear arms. By the mid-18th century James Royds had the wealth to purchase land and advance businesses in Rochdale and by 1827 at the age of 16 Albert Hudson Royds went into banking, setting up with his brother William Edward The Rochdale Bank the profits from which built many fine houses in the town as well as enabling further family investment in roads, waterways and railways. At the same time Albert and other family members pursued civic and political careers. Though some of the family moved south to Worcestershire to further their wealth accumulation as gentleman farmers, Rochdale remained close to their hearts, setting up Mount Falinge as their main home (now a façade in Falinge Park) which had been built by James Royds with Albert moving back to it in 1878.

The family diaries and letters bear witness not only to the Royds’ determined business character but also to their deeply rooted Christian faith so Albert Hudson Royds building a church in the town dedicated to the memory of his parents would have come as no surprise. St Edmunds however, was no ordinary church. The average cost of building a church in 1873 would have been about £5000 but Royds spent between £20,000 and £30,000 on St Edmunds. The reasons why are concerned with the devout Christianity of the family but also their connection to Freemasonry, Albert Royds eventually rising to the status of Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent in the Royal Arch.

Placed at the crossing of four streets and visible from the family home at Mount Falinge the church stands on a diamond-shaped plinth with building dimensions proportional to those believed to be those of King Solomon’s Temple, its length being three times and its height one and a half times its breadth. This four-square plan was based on six cubes and built on mathematically symbolic principals. Although the architects of St Edmunds Church were James Medland and Henry Taylor, Albert Royds made specific interior and exterior demands in line with freemason symbolism.  

The stained glass windows for example, designed by Henry Holiday feature Bible stories but also Freemason symbols such as the Jesse Tree and Nehemiah, Ezra and the Tyler, the guard of a Masonic Lodge wielding the Tyler’s sword which would have been significant for those within the Craft of Freemasonry. In another reflection of one of the supposed features of King Solomon’s Temple, Royds shipped cedar wood from Lebanon for the carved hammer beams, spandrels and tie beams inside the church. Notable also is the church’s interior carving, some of it derived from the Arabic, some from Spanish influences, representing floral symbols which would have meaning outside of the Christian faith. The font and the lecturn, presented by two of the Royds’ sons are also carved with Masonic symbols with the bases are decorated with the square, level and plumb rule. The Bible is supported on a large square and compasses enclosing a five-pointed star. Other features in the church include a templar stone cross and a number of pentagrams including a pentagonal bronze star now inside the church but which had once been the weather vane crowning the church.

It is unclear whether St Edmunds was ever intended to have been used as a Masonic Lodge but there are signs that it was. The crypt for example runs the length and width of the church with, unusually, two trap doors, features which could be used in Masonic rituals of initiate ‘raising’ and rebirth from the ground below.

Closed in 2008 and empty for three years St Edmunds Church is now protected by Grade I listed building status and stands under the care of the Church Conservation Trust (see Its importance has placed it amongst the top 10 endangered buildings in the country. However, St Edmunds remains in a constant state of care and repair but is only supported financially and actively in that endeavour by volunteers rather than by wealthy funders or institutional backers. At the moment the church is used for cultural and heritage events but there are plans to develop it into a centre for the study of architectural heritage. St Edmunds does have open days on the first and third Saturday of every month. Rochdale should be proud of this church and sensitive to St Edmunds as a building important not only regarding local heritage but also in just as esoteric a way as buildings featured in Dan Brown ‘Da Vinci Code’ novels. It is important enough to have been described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland’.