Miss Isabel Greener, sister of the Manager of Pemberton Colliery, started the first Sunday School in the area in 1863, to help educate the children of the miners who had come to work in the new Colliery. She was followed in 1865 by Mrs Watkin, wife of the next Manager of the Colliery, while her husband, Mr Watkin, started a Men's Bible Class about the same time.
In 1867 Colonel Henry Blundell, the owner of the Pemberton Collieries, built the Pemberton Colliery Iron School Church which stood on the corner of Foundry Lane and Billinge Road, and the Revd Arthur Coates, Vicar of St John's, Pemberton, in which Parish Highfield then stood, appointed the Revd Samuel Lancaster Laidman to be the first Curate in Charge of the Iron School Church.
This building, along with a house for the Curate and another for the Schoolmaster, was the beginning of the many generous gifts which Colonel Henry Blundell made to St Matthew's, to provide education and spiritual teaching to his workers and their families as well as to anyone else in the area who came to the school and church.
The Revd Laidman left Highfield in 1871 and was followed by the Revd Thomas Evans, during whose ministry the population of the area grew very rapidly and so a school for boys was opened in 1876. A tradition of regular worship in the Church and social activities was begun in those early days which continued for many years after. Sunday School Treats and Field Days, Walking days and Concerts. Choir Outings together with the Sunday School Teachers. Bible Classes for men and for women. During the Revd Evans' ministry, the first Baptisms were held at the Iron School Church, but Weddings and Funerals had to be held at St John's.
Life in the parish was not all happiness. Mining areas all have their share of tragedies and Pemberton Collieries had a dreadful experience in 1877 when an explosion took the life of Mr Watkin, Manager, and thirty four others. Thomas Evans and his wife must have had a very difficult time comforting so many bereaved in the area.
Thomas Evans left Highfield in 1881 and the Revd John Wood, 'Daddy Wood' as he was nicknamed, because of his past life as a schoolmaster, took charge of Highfield. The Parish Magazine was first published in 1884 and Revd Wood must have had a large part in its introduction.
It was in the same year, 1884, that Colonel Henry Blundell's wife died. In her memory he decided to build a Memorial Church at Highfield and so it was that our magnificent Church was planned. He appointed Paley and Austin of Lancaster as Architects. The foundation stone was laid on St George's Day, 1892 and the new Church was dedicated and licensed on the 4th July, 1894 by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle.
1894 also marked the building of the new Girls School, again paid for by Colonel Henry Blundell. The bills for the Church and School together amounted to £14,636.00 which in today's values would equal over £1,500,000.00.
Colonel Henry Blundell died in 1906, a very sad loss to the Church and the Community in Highfield. He was deeply mourned by many. His place as Patron of St Matthew's was taken by his nephew Major Cuthbert Blundell.
Revd John Wood retired in 1908 and his place was taken by Revd John Woods who was to serve the parish as Curate in Charge from 1909 to 1910, and then as first Vicar from 1910 to 1936. During his ministry the Church was extended and endowed to become the Parish of St Matthew, Highfield, a new Vicarage was built and a Churchyard provided for burials. Again, all at the expense of the Blundell family, who, as well as providing all the buildings for the Church, kept them in good order by regular maintenance by the Colliery workforce, even to providing coal for the Church, School and Vicarage.
Highfield was, and is indeed a very fortunate parish, well blessed in its Patrons and in the Clergy too, who have served the parish well and maintained the worship and traditions of this place, continuously up to the present time.
- Revd John Woods, the First Vicar, died in 1936.
- Revd Parker Johnson was Vicar from 1937 to 1944.
- Revd Walter Herbert Bullough was Vicar from 1944 to 1959.
- Revd Robert James Smith was Vicar from 1960 to 1974.
- Revd William Bynon was Vicar from 1975 to 1982.
- Revd William Harry Harrington was Vicar from 1983 to 2001.
- Revd Robert Lyon Pearson was Vicar from 2002 to 2019.
In this brief History we have tried to give a short account of the establishment of the Church in this area. If you would like to know more about our history you can obtain a copy of 'The History of St. Matthew's Highfield' from the Church or the Parish Hall.