'This stereotype has plagued us for years' - The town once accused of being obsessed by money, flash cars and big houses

Wilmslow town centre. June 9, 1999
-Credit: (Image: Mirrorpix)

Comments made by a clergyman made headlines across Britain and caused a huge backlash, 25-years ago this month. Back in June 1999, the well-heeled residents of Wilmslow were branded as heathens in a blistering attack by Reverend David Leaver.

The incendiary comments were made by the outgoing priest after his 12-month stint as the curate of St Bartholomew's Church. He described the rich set of the upmarket east Cheshire town as "the most pagan group of people I have ever met".

He went on to accuse the residents of the town of worshipping status and money more than God. To add further insult, the Rev David Leaver's remarks were made in his farewell message in the parish magazine.

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It was reported in the Manchester Evening News on June 9, 1999, that the outgoing curate said that the locals' love of wealth and job titles left them "far removed from any spiritual values, let alone Christian worship".

Their only interest in the religion was a smart wedding or to "get their children done". He said his church was the last great bastion against a "harsh and vulgar" locality.

Leaving in the boot, he added the town's young generation were "too materialistic" and their only values were motivated by money, flash cars and their house size. Ouch!

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Wilmslow, a quaint town on the edge of Greater Manchester, is renowned for its prosperous and upmarket lifestyle, popular with affluent commuters working in cities like Manchester, just 14 miles to the north.

The town's high street is populated by designer boutiques and fine restaurants and bistros - and there's even an Aston Martin dealership, which says a lot. Part of Cheshire's 'Golden Triangle' - a cluster of prosperous areas along with Alderley Edge and Prestbury - it's a popular area with footballers and TV personalities.

In fact Wilmslow so nearly became part of the metropolitan county of Greater Manchester when it formed in 1974, but it successfully objected along with Whitworth, Poynton and Alderley Edge.

Residents of Wilmslow were quick to fire back at the disparaging comments. Businessman Derek Gerrard, 56, said: "This stereotype has plagued us for years but you must remember there are lots of caring people here as well."

While shop manager Stephanie Barry, 24, said not all 20-somethings conform to the Hooray Henry stereotype. "I don't drive a flash car and I don't have a big house," she said. "In fact I'm skint."

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The following day, M.E.N journalists took to the streets of Wilmslow. Under the headline 'Wilmslow - Village of the damned', the published story on their findings stated: "It was business as usual in 'pagan' Wilmslow today.

"Ferraris were snapped up at the ultra-modern dealership where David Beckham bought his Porsche. Champagne was on offer at £19.95 a bottle in the restaurant of an upmarket department store where cash-laden ladies of leisure tested the ladies perfumes."

When asked about the Reverend's comments, the upmarket Cheshire town's residents hit back. Liz Cullen, 60, a volunteer at the town's Oxfam charity shop for 12-years, said she had been overwhelmed by the kindness of the Wilmslow public.

"There is an element of wealth and we have benefited from selling donated things like Armani suits and jeans," she said. "but there are so many caring, humble people here."

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Teenagers and 20-somethings also said they had been offended by Mr Leaver's outburst. Nichola Downing, 18, who lives in Wilmslow and drives a Ford Fiesta, said: "There are a lot of shallow people but we're not all like that. I like nice clothes but it's wrong to say everyone is obsessed with money."

Town centre policeman, Gareth Kerr, added: "There is wealth but also people who don't have so much. It's no different from anywhere else."

Another group who took issue with the clergyman's comments were real pagans themselves. Furious at being linked with the shallow and unspiritual, the non-Christians declared themselves "proud to be pagan" and said the controversial curate had got it all wrong.

Speaking to the M.E.N just a few days after the Rev Leaver's comments came to light, Geoff Stanley, editor of the Manchester Pagan Wheel magazine, stormed: "What he said about us was slanderous. To tar a whole lot of people with the same brush is just not on.

"We don't condemn the church or the people of Wilmslow but we do object to being stereotyped as materialists when many of us are the exact opposite."

So how did it all end? Well, the M.E.N conducted a telephone poll asking was the departing clergyman right about Wilmslow? Three quarters said 'yes' they thought the vicar was right while 24% disagreed.

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