The Church of St. George the Martyr

St. George is one of the hidden delights of the town. It was erected in 1723 and restored on a number of Occasions, and from 1797 to 1862 was host to the Rev, Robert Harris.

St. George's Church, a true hidden gem of the town, this I can vouch for as many times I have walked pass its' dark grey stone exterior. But on one cold grey winters day was invited in by the assistant curate Fr. Graham Halsall, and what a pleasant surprise! This is a striking building inside, with warm colourful murals and wonderful stain glass windows.

St. George's is surrounded by tall buildings in the town centre of Preston, approached from its north side through the disabled people's car park. It can be seen from the Ring Way as a grey stone building with an apse to the east.


St. Georges Church. A lithograph by Croome. c1845

The adjacent graveyard contains the grave of Samuel Horrocks brother of John Horrocks, founder of the great cotton firm

Saint George the patron saint of England
Saint George's day is 23rd of April
To the south side there is a new hall, consisting at a meeting room kitchen, toilets and office which were added in 1999 and connected to the church via a door under the bell tower. This is a typical town-centre church, where there is hardly any resident population, but is attractive to those who appreciate the 'high church' form of worship. The congregation therefore, comes from far and wide. There are pews for some 250, and it is a Grade II Listed building. Whilst this Romanesque building may be quite simple externally, the interior is a riot of colour with wall paintings of merit on every available surface. These murals were carried out by Messrs. Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster between 1885 and 1897 to a design by a Swedish artist C.AInquist.

The church was built in 1723 as a Chapel-of-Ease to the Parish Church of St John, the first Chapel-of-Ease in Preston. It was commenced by the then Vicar at St John's Church, the Revd. Samuel Peploe who became the Bishop of Chester and returned to dedicate the church in 1726. The Vestry accounts show that there was an organ in the west gallery from about 1740.

In 1798-9 St. George's had been enlarged presumably by the addition at the two transepts, for in 1837 Whittle describes St. George's Church as a "building of cruciform shape standing on the south west side of Friargate, of brick and lighted by six windows on each side of the body with circular heads commonly called Norman style, the attic windows are semi-circular".

About 1844 and during the incumbency of Robert Harris "the structure formed of brick and almost barn like in plainness was cased in stone and made more ornamental at the expense of Mr. T.M. Lownder. Esq." (Hewitson). Again in 1848 an apse and the bell lower were added at the expense (£4,000) of Thomas M. Lownder. Esq., who also provided a pulpit and reading desk in 1849. On the north side of the apse there is a memorial to him, a marble tablet with an elaborate border and canopy and given by his family.

In 1884-5 St. George's church was almost rebuilt, the outside walls were left, but the central section of the roof over the nave and choir was raised and pillars with gothic arches were built for its support. The oak panelled ceiling was fitted and plain circular clerestory windows were constructed in the new raised wall. At this time a gallery ran round three sides of the church, but in view of the narrowness of the nave, this must have been remarkably cramped and was removed and the Fr. Willis organ was moved from the west wall to its present position in the north transept.

Again in 1848 an apse and the bell tower were added at the expense (£4,000) of Thomas M. Lownder. Esq., who also provided a pulpit and reading desk in 1849. On the north side of the apse there is a memorial to him, a marble tablet with an elaborate border and canopy and given by his family.
Gaslights were installed in St George's Church in 1863.

The cost of all the reconstruction in 1885 was £6,000, half at this was raised within the parish and the remainder came from the Harris Trustees, a bequest by Edmund Robert Harris, who also was the benefactor who built the Harris Library and museum, in memory of his lather the Revd. Robert Harris the former incumbent of St. George's and whose recumbent marble figure lies in the church, the sculptor- being the late Mr. T. Duckett of Preston, who also produced a bust of Robert Harris which can be seen In the Harris Museum.

On entering the church through the north door the beauty of the church can immediately be seen. The paintings on the walls and ceilings at the chancel,
Nave, baptistery and apse were carried out between 1885 and 1897 by Messrs Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster to the designs of the Swedish artist C. Alnquist Esq.; they were cleaned and repainted where necessary during 1974-5 by Messrs Coibishleys of Preston.

The curved ceiling at the baptistery is a sky blue with numerous doves with wings open and each with a halo there are also inscriptions on the north and south sides. Above the baptistery on the west wall there is a painting of the baptism of our lord.

The font in the baptistery at the west end of the nave is of rich dark serpentine polished marble supported by five pillars, it was given by the Shuttleworth family in memory of Lucy Shuttleworth and her daughter Ellen Diana and cost in the region of £70 in about 1864 The base of red polished granite and surrounding tessellated floor together with the carved oak screen work was paid for by the congregation and cast about £130.

The quatrefoil window in the west wall depicts "`Christ the King" surrounded by angels. It was a gift of Christopher Yates, a churchwarden in 1885.A beautiful stained glass light in the baptistery is of Christ with children and was a gift at the Revd. C.H. Wood, Vicar of the church 1862-1899.

On the north wall at the nave can be seen a painting of "The Exodus" and on the south wall one of *The Procession to Jerusalem". Looking east over the chancel arch there is "The Adoration of the Magi and the Shepherds".

In the chancel over the choir you can see paintings of St. Peter, St. James, St. John Ev., St. Stephen, St. Alban, St. George, and Moses and over the organ St. Paul, three angels, King David, Isaiah, and St. John the Baptist. The painted ceiling shows alternating motifs at a monstrance, a Chi Rho (the first two letters In Greek for Christ), three fishes, and an I.H.S. (the first letters in Greek spelling Jesus) each in a square compartment.

The apse paintings consist of the Agnus Dei flanked by two angels on a vivid blue background, below which are other angels carrying scrolls. On the walls above the windows are bearded figures each with a nimbus and holding a book.

The round stained glass clerestory windows showing patriarchal figures were put in to replace clear glass in 1895 at a cost at about £400. A more recent window in the in the north transept given by churchwarden Brian McKie in memory at his wife Eileen and depicts Our Lady of Walsingham. The east windows in the apse of clear glass replaced three stained glass windows and were put in an the advice of Sir Albert Richardson in 1956, the old ones being of poor quality. The original lights were in memory of the parents of Thomas Lowndes (who had changed his name from gorst when he inherited a large fortune from his uncle).


St. Goerge

In 1900 live other stained glass windows depicting Saints Aidan, Oswald
John, Luke, and Mark were erected in memory of the Revd. C.H. Wood. On the wall at the north aisle there is a stained glass window depicting St. George in armour with the slain dragon lying at his feet. The window was dedicated to those who laid down their lives lit the Great War 1914-18.

There a number of interesting monuments in the church, the earliest being a handsome light coloured marble plaque surrounded by a band of reddish-brown mottled marble with at the base the head and wings of a cherub, it is a memorial to William Furnival and dates back to 1759. At present the main part at this monument lies in the ambulatory to the South of the sanctuary and will eventually be replaced in its original position on the south wall at the nave between the St. Luke window and the St. Mark window.

A white marble monument seen on the west wall close to the entrance to the new community hall is to the memory of Mrs. Mary Fletcher who is buried on the south side at the church together with other relatives mentioned on the memorial plaque.

A brass plaque on the west wall, south at the baptistery, was erected by a former vicar the Revd, E. D. Bannister who was the next incumbent after the Revd. C. H. Wood, It gives details of the building and a list of previous incumbents from 1733 to 1899

Two other memorials can be seen on the pillar on the south side of the sanctuary one to Thomas and Margaret Eastham and the other to Archdeacon Picton who was Vicar from 1952 until his death in 1962, and whose remains are buried in the sanctuary. On this pillar is a statue of St. George and beneath is a notice giving details at its acquisition.

It was during the incumbency of Archdeacon Picton that many alterations were made to the structure at the church. The front pews were removed and a new sanctuary formed where the choir had been, and its floor covered with Portland stone. A gallery for the choir was built in the south transept and a doorway made to lead from the confessional into the Chapel at the Blessed Sacrament. The monument of the Revd. Robert Harris, which had lain where the new doorway was made, was moved to its present position under the staircase leading to the choir.

Other memorials to be seen on the north wall of the nave are one to a nursing sister Louisa Stuart and one with a Coat of Arms in memory at Charles Catterall and erected by the work people of New Hall Lane Mill.

Three statues of Our Lady exist in St. George's one in the north transept is of Our Lady of Walsingham, one of Our Lady of Victories stands close to the organ and another of Our Lady is in front a pillar on the south side of the nave.

Photo by
M. Lawson

0n the north, west and south walls of the nave are the stations of the cross, carved wooden figures in white on a dark brown background with each nimbus picked out in gold.

In the ambulatory leading to the confessiotial there is a small statue of the Cure d'Ars, St John Mary Vianney (1786-1859), a framed notice below gives details of this memorial.

Below the altar at the Blessed Sacrament in the apse a casket contains a relic of St. Eanrawythe, an Anglo-Saxon princess who became Abbess of Folkstone monastery, her Feast day is on the 12th September and the Suseption of the Relic into St. George's took place on Sunday 12th September 1993.

This peaceful church full of the prayers of many years has now also become a centre for the Arts with concerts, and other activities which will take place in the new Parish rooms attached to the south of the church. These activities it is hoped will help to fund the upkeep of the Parish at Preston.

THE ORGAN

A new three manual organ was built by "Father" Henry Willis in 1865 at a cost of £1,000 and is mentioned in many of the books about church organs. It was inaugurated by W.T. Best who was then regarded as the finest organist in the world. [He went on to build, or rebuild, nearly half the cathedral organs of the land and those in the Royal Albert Hall and the Alexandra palace in London.]

In 1885 the organ was transferred from the west gallery to its present position in the north-east portion of the chancel and whereas the carved organ case made by Arthur Birchall (the son of Churchwarden Birchall) formerly faced east it now faces west into the north transept. A simple pipe-rack type of organ case presently faces into the Cancel and is hardly a thing of beauty.


The acoustic of a church is, more often than not, a matter of luck rather than intention but happens to be ideal in St George's. Here the reverberation, Period is about three seconds, which is ideal for the Organ, harpsichord, guitar and singers; but not curiously, for two flautists who played there recently.

The organ in St George's is a three-manual and pedal instrument of 37 speaking stops which was originally blown by a hydraulic engine. It is just possible that this engine was connected to the hydraulic main, supplying water at 1.000 Ibs/sq.in. which powered many of the cotton mills and factories in the town, also the hydraulic lifts in Preston Railway Station which is nearby.
Many famous organists have given recitals upon this organ and, without exception, all have praised the perfection of the voicing of the pipe work by the great "Father" Willis Such men are as me as a Christopher Wren, Pugin or Stradivarius - only a handful in any century!

Infomation extracted from;
" The church of St. George the Martyr" by D. R. Carrington.
"An introduction to St. George the Martyr" by R. W. Ashall
"A History of Preston" by Preston born David Hunt. ISBN 0-948789-67-0 (hardback) ISBN 0-948789-68-0 (softback)

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Copyright 2001, Rob O'Gara : rmo@prestonian.co.uk : First issued March 1996.