Situated at the centre of town on Preston's main streets - Church Street and Fishergate.

More detailed history of St. John's.
St. George's Chapel-of-Ease to the Parish Church of St John

Feb 2001

The site of the Parish Church has been used as a religious building for several centuries. Originally, the ancient church of St Wilfrid occupied the site, only to be rebuilt and renamed In the 16th century.

B y 1853, this building was dilapidated and a new church was erected in the Victorian style. Containing a peal of 10 bells. St John's was used for everyday worship, ceremonial and civic services, but closed late 2000 for renovation work to be carried out and is hope will no more than two years.

During the nineteenth century, the Church of England had twenty churches in Preston, the most important being the parish church of Saint John the Divine. The first church was established probably in the sixth century and was dedicated to Saint Wilfrid who had had strong connections with Preston. The de Hoghtons added chantries to the church and it prospered. In October every year a statue of Saint Wilfrid was paraded round the town on horseback during the autumn festival. In 1502 the building was improved, and during Queen Mary's reign a great altarpiece was sent from the monarch. During the Reformation the chantries were done away with and the church was rededicated, to St. John the Evangelist; one reason for this was that St. Wilfrid had been close to the Pope of his day and the Anglican Church was in dispute with Rome during the Reformation; the other reason was that St. John the Divine the evangelist was closer, symbolically at any rate, to Our Lord.

john2.jpg (17155 bytes)
john3.jpg (34911 bytes) The steps up to the door have been widened and the gateway done away with to give a more welcoming approach. On the south side is an attractive garden of remembrance where cremated remains are buried. One or two monumental gravestones have been kept, including one which dates from 1705. The one which really catches the eye, however, is the resting place of Nicholas Grimshaw who was mayor seven times, including Guild Mayor twice, and whose young sons, aged twenty and seventeen, were drowned in the Ribble in 1822; they are commemorated first on the recumbent gravestone. The church has always been used by the Mayor and Corporation for the religious aspects of their duties, for example at the beginnings and ends of mayoralties and in the numerous Guild functions. In many ways the parish church is still in the centre of things. Passers-by walking in stoneygate when the peal of bells are ringing cannot fail to be impressed. However, things have not always been so impressive. Like many medieval establishments, the parish church used to have problems with its structure and graveyard. The condition of graveyards had become a national problem in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and St. John's was no exception. During the Civil War, the walls and fences fell into disrepair and pigs regularly overran the area.

Thirty years later the graveyard was in a terrible state because bones were scattered about on the surface and had to be swept up by the sexton and reburied. In the end a charnel house was built. In the eighteenth century graves were dug without permission and the parish council made it clear that any further examples of this would have their tombstones confiscated and used to help renovate the church floor! In the 1840s there were more complaints. Firstly, that the graveyard was used as a public footpath and pedestrians had scant regard for the dignity of the burials taking place, talking and laughing as they passed. Secondly, the earth was so full of remains that opening a new grave meant disturbing previous burials before decomposition had taken place. Work was done after the Cemetery was opened in 1855 and in the 1870s to tidy up this area. The church has certainly undergone changes. About 1581 the original medieval building was pulled down and it was probably at this date that its name was changed. In 1770 all the roof and the columns on the Fishergate side collapsed and were quickly rebuilt. Forty years later the tower, probably dangerous, was reduced to the level of the roof. A church rate was set for the construction of a steeple but no?one seemed keen to pay it. How odd the church must have looked with its squat appendage! In 1853 the whole lot was demolished except for part of the tower, and the present building was completed in 1855 at a cost of 9,500. It is interesting to note that by this time St. Ignatius' was complete with a spire and striking clock and the impressive nave of Saint Walburge's was also finished. The present building was designed by the Manchester architect Edwin Shellard. It has a well proportioned spire, pinnacled roofs and decorated window tracery. Inside, the tradition is continued with division into nave and aisles by columns with floreated capitals. At the same time as the exterior was cleaned and the churchyard was lawned over for the 1972 Guild, the side galleries were taken down.

Readers may be interested to know that Preston Parish Church was the first church in the world to be lit by gas c. 1816 (according to researches by British Gas). In February 1818 the Trustees Of the Gas Company threatened to cut off the gas to the church for non-payment of bills!

Extract from "Preston views of the past" by John Garlington ISBN 0-948789-57-3

Also read a more detailed history written by the the then vicar of the church W. G. FALLOWS St. John's history.

john1.jpg (19592 bytes)The Parish Church of Saint John the Divine, a lithograph by W Physick Located high on the Church Street-Fishergate ridge. The Parish Church occupies one of the oldest sites in the town. Although the church was rebuilt on a number of occasions, most recently in the 1850s, the base of the tower retains elements of the much older structure.

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More detailed history of St. John's.

St. George's Chapel-of-Ease to the Parish Church of St John Go to Preston's main contents page

Copyright 2001, Rob O'Gara : : First issued March 1996.