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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
"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.
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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Copyright © 2001, Rob O'Gara : email@example.com : First issued March