The latest plaque to form part of the soon-to-be-launched Gracie Fields trail has been unveiled in the grounds of Rochdale’s oldest church.
St Chad’s, which once played host to the Queen, is celebrating its connection to another famous woman, with Dame Gracie Fields parents, Fred and Jenny Stansfield, having married at the church in 1897. Gracie was baptised at the church as Grace Stansfield in 1898.
The unveiling of the plaque, at the top of Church Lane in Rochdale town centre, was attended by Paul Bollington, who remembers the crowds which surrounded the church on the day of Gracie’s memorial service shortly after her death in 1979.
Paul, who is secretary at St Chad’s, which is 822-years-old, said: “I had actually seen Gracie play her last concert in Rochdale just a year before at the Gracie Fields Theatre. It seemed very poignant that she died so soon after visiting her home town and giving such a wonderful performance.
“The day of her memorial service was the busiest the church had ever been, with more than 1,000 people attending. Celebrities like Russell Harty, Larry Grayson and the Coronation Street cast came and so many people had gathered outside that we broadcast the service with loudspeakers.”
Another church member with fond memories of Gracie is Norman Frisby, who interviewed the late star when he was working as a journalist at the Daily Express in 1956.
He said: “Gracie was very friendly and still spoke with her strong Rochdale accent. She was clearly proud to come from the borough and was incredibly professional. She wasn’t at the height of her fame at that time, but she told me she could still bring the house down in America whenever she sang ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World.’ ”
The latest plaque is the 4th in a series of 8 plaques, which will form part of a Gracie Fields trail to be completed in summer.
Further plaques will be placed in and around Rochdale town centre in the coming months, with key sites including Rochdale Town Hall and Champness Hall, set to feature in the story of Gracie’s life. The Rotary Club of Rochdale East and the Gracie Fields Appreciation Society have both worked with the council to create the trail.
The Mayor, Councillor Surinder Biant, said: “It’s become very clear as this trail has developed that many people in Rochdale have wonderful memories of Dame Gracie Fields. She was an incredibly talented woman, and it’s clear that’s she made a big impact on the many people from Rochdale who were lucky enough to meet her.”