HISTORY OF ST. JOHN'S
|This is from a booket as written in 1955 by W. G. FALLOWS. Vicar of St. John's.||I showed a copy of this a chap at work and discovered that his mother was father Fallows house keeper, small world!|
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This modest booklet, compiled for the occasion of the Centenary of the Rebuilding of Preston Parish Church, does not pretend to be a history of the Church but simply, as its title indicates, some historical notes relating to it. Nor can it lay claim to any originality or to presenting any information hitherto unknown. Its purpose is merely to record in brief compass some of the outstanding historical facts culled from various sources. The main sources are: The Victoria County History, Records of Preston Parish Church by Tom Smith, a History of Preston by Clemesha and numerous articles from newspapers and journals. I have also made use of notes on the rebuilding of the Church compiled by Mr. Robert Smirk. An article on the Parish Church Registers written by Mr. R Sharpe-France, M.A., F.S.A., Archivist of the Lancashire County Records Office, is here reprinted by his kind permission. Valuable notes on the Church Bells compiled by Mr. Cyril Crossthwaite are printed as an Appendix. Mention must also be made of my indebtedness to the late J. E. Adkins, who did so much patient research into our parish history. To these, and to all who have laboured in this field, I express my thanks. May this brief record of the past help us now to appreciate more fully the richness of our inheritance.
W. G. FALLOWS, The Vicarage, Preston. June. 1955.
OUR PARISH CHURCH When, William the Conqueror's Commissioners came to survey the region of Amounderness there can be no reasonable doubt that they found a Church in Preston, and it is likely to have been on the site which our Parish Church now occupies. Our history therefore goes back beyond the Conquest to Saxon times and stretches over a thousand years.
This year, however, 1955, we are celebrating the centenary of the rebuilding of the Church. The building we know today was erected between 1853 and 1855 on the old foundations. As you turn left on entering the Church from the baptistery there is a large brass plate on the West wall which records the event of a hundred years ago:
"this Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist. Preston, was rebuilt by public subscription in the year of our Lord MDCCCLV. John Owen Parr, MA, Vicar, William Birley, Myles Myres, Esquires. Churchwardens, Edwin Hugh Shellard, Esq., Architect."
Preston shared, therefore, in the great wave of church building and rebuilding that took place in the nineteenth century. When we remember how ugly were many of the nineteenth century buildings we may count ourselves fortunate that we have a fine building in the revival Gothic Style. It is a building distinguished by its excellent proportions, due, no doubt, to it having been rebuilt on the old foundations. The grey Longridge stone is a beautiful light colour as is seen especially, in the cleaned pillars and arches of the interior. The pews in pitch pine, a wood that was used extensively in the nineteenth century, have a warm glow now that the natural qualities of the wood have been revealed by the removal of stain and varnish.
The Faculty for the rebuilding of the Church is dated 22nd March 1853, and on March 26th Mark Froggart, who had submitted the lowest tender, was entrusted with the work. The whole building except for the lower portion of the tower was razed to the ground, and our present high pitched church with a spire 205 feet high arose, phoenix-like, on the ashes of the old, in a little over two years the work was complete for the modest cost of £9,500 raised by public subscription augmented by the proceeds (£2,237 11s 9d.) of a mammoth bazaar held in the Corn Exchange (now the public Hall) from 26th to 30th April, 1853.
The formal opening of the new building took place on Thursday, June 21st, 1855, when the Mayor and Corporation attended Divine Service at 11-0 a.m., though it is interesting to note that the public had been first admitted to the building on the previous Monday, June 18th, for a performance of Handel's Messiah. On the Sunday following special services were also held and the Mayor and Corporation again attended the morning service at which the preacher was Dr. Hook, the famous vicar of Leeds, who was himself so largely responsible for the revival and reorganisation of parochial life at that time.
Those who attended the opening service a hundred years ago saw the building, very much as we see it today. The East window representing the crucifixion and scenes from Christ's passion was the gift of Sir Henry Bold Hoghton, Bart, and with some of the other windows had been carried out by Wailes of Newcastle. The Nave and Clerestory windows form an especially interesting group. They were the gift of John Addison and his brother Thomas Batty Addison (Recorder of Preston). Some (in the Nave) show scriptural scenes, others in the Nave and all in the Clerestory depict in coloured glass the arms of many notable people, including royal visitors to Preston, benefactors, Guild Mayors from 1328 to 1842, the civic and ecclesiastical authorities at the time of the rebuilding, and well-known families of the town and neighbourhood.
Some changes have been made, however, since the church was rebuilt. In 1887 the Vestry was built and the Organ moved from the West Gallery to its present position, thus laying bare that blank West wall which now cries out for some bold wall painting or other decorative treatment.
In 1950 the Memorial Chapel of The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire.), designed by Major D. Wynne-Thomas, F.R.I.B.A., was erected and furnished in the North aisle in memory of the officers and men of the regiment who died in the war 1939-45. The Sanctuary was restored and adorned in 1951 and the oak pulpit was given by an anonymous donor in 1952 to mark the Preston Guild of that year.
These are the principle changes that have been made to the building whose hundred years of life we now celebrate. But behind the present building, there were earlier ones. We have no knowledge of the earliest Churches on the site and can only use our imagination to conjecture the simple beginnings of the preaching of the Gospel in Preston, the gradual emergence of some ecclesiastical organisation and the development of early buildings giving rise later to more stately edifices. Even the later buildings, of which we have some knowledge, frequently fell into decay and at various times parts had to be taken down and rebuilt. History is, however, much more than sticks and stones and we shall glance briefly at many aspects of Preston Parish Church history though it will be convenient now to relate some of the facts of the Church buildings that preceded our present one.
We cannot say what the building was like in the later Middle Ages and, though it is said to have been rebuilt in 1581, it is not until we reach the seventeenth century that we come to the region of firm facts. During the Civil Wars, the fabric needed considerable repair and, in 1646, it is said to be "in great decay." Nor were our forefathers spared their labour troubles at that time. The Minute Book of the Select Vestry for the 13th May 1646, records that " levies have been made upon the parish for the repair of the Church but that divers workmen have complained for want of their wages and pay for work done in and about the Church as glaziers, plumbers and others." It is also stated that " the Churchyard doth in most unchristianly manner lie waste and open being daily spoiled and abused by swine for want of making up the walls and fences about the same and some of the East part of the said wall ought to be made and repaired by the Inhabitants of Broughton. "Two years later, we read again in the Minutes, " the Church windows and other parts of the Church are much out of repair and soe much that the repaires thereof will admit noe delaye in this could season of winter." The story of the fabric continues to be one of neglect and, on the 31st May 1671, the Select Vestry made the following order:-
"That, inasmuch as the church is foule, and uncomely, having not been whitened, washed, nor beautified for a long time, to the shame of he inhabitants and parishioners, and their discredit amongst strangers or foreigners repairing upon occasion to their church: and whereas the Artickles of Visitation, by the right reverend father in god lord Byshop of Chester does require that churches shall bee decently kept, and in a comely manner much rather than particular and private houses: Therefore we, the 24 men of the parish doe hereby order that the parish church shall be adorned and beautified, and desire the churchwardens to get the same done as well and as cheap as they can with some good workmen."
Whatever adornment may have taken place at this time, the structure must have remained in poor condition for only four years later on 17th September 1675, attention is again called to the state of the fabric:
" Whereas the leads and the top of the steeple are exceedingly decayed, soe as the raine falls down in diverse places upon the timber in the lower lofts, not only to an annoyance, but endangering the rotting of the main timber, and principall beams in the steeple : It is therefore ordered that the churchwardens for the present year shall forthwith take care to see the same repaired in such manner as may be thought most convenient and of continuance for the future."
It may well be that these repairs were efficiently executed for, Dr. Kuerden, who lived in Preston from 1670 to 1680, tells us from his own observation that " the Burrough is likewise adorned with a spacious and well-built Church, or rather re-edified Church, and near unto the Church is likewise built a large and handsome Schoolhouse."
A hundred years later, however, still more serious disaster overtook the building and, in February 1770, it is recorded that " the roof of the Church with all the pillars on the north side lately fell down." John Hird of Preston contracted to rebuild the Nave for £1,006 10s. Od. on the same plan dimensions and style as before and there are old prints depicting the Church as it was rebuilt at this time. Even now, the story of fabric decay is not complete. In 1811, the steeple was taken down to the level of the Church roof because of its unsafe condition. It was rebuilt in 1814 and, in 1817, Sir H. P. Hoghton, the Lay Rector and Patron, rebuilt the Chancel. It is surely not surprising that, after this series of major disasters, the decision was taken to pull the whole Church down a hundred years ago and so to rebuild almost in its entirety the Church we know today.
The Dedication of the Parish Church has long been a subject of dispute, debate and uncertainty. In the middle Ages, the Church was known as " St. Wilfrid " and there is ample proof of this designation in various documents from at least 1183 to 1507. There are, however, some early mediaeval references to the district of "St. John the Baptist" in Preston which has led some to think that the Church was sometimes known by this name. There can be no doubt that the name of the Church was changed from " St. Wilfrid " to " St. John," but no one can say when the change took place, and there is some doubt as to whether the change was to " St. John the Evangelist " or " St. John the Baptist'' The Church is certainly now known as " St. John the Evangelist " as the inscription on the brass plate commemorating the rebuilding indicates. A strong case, can, however, be made out that the name should be "St. John the Baptist." The Association of the Guild with the name " St. John the Baptist " and the Town Arms with his device are some reason for thinking that the Church too, would bear this name. It is very likely that there was no formal rededication, but that the name " St. John " was adopted by custom. If this is so, it is more likely to have been " St. John the Baptist " than " St. John the Evangelist," and there we must leave this insoluble problem.
The earliest certain Patron of the Living was Count Roger of Poitou about 1070. Before the Norman Conquest, we can reasonably presume that the Advowson belonged to York Minster (A.D. 930) and later to Earl Tostig. We come to more certain ground, however, after the Conquest even though the question of the Advowson is at times a complicated problem. We do know that Count Roger of Poitou made over the Advowson to the Norman Abbey of St. Martin at Sees which included in its daughter houses, St. Mary's Priory at Lancaster. The Patronage reverted to the Crown in 1102 and, during the fourteenth century, was held by the Earls and Dukes of Lancaster. In 1400, King Henry IV gave the Rectory and Advowson of Preston to the new Collegiate Church of St. Mary of Leicester and it was so held until the confiscation of 1546 to 1548. After 1400, therefore, the line of the Rectors of Preston ends and the line of the Vicars begins. The change was doubtless beneficial to the Parish as it marked the end of the era of absentee Rectors. The College of St. Mary of Leicester would now provide a Vicar to work the Parish though, from time to time, probably for a consideration, they gave the nomination for a single occasion. A document from the muniments of Sir Cuthbert de Hoghton records such a gift on the 10th November 1543, by Robert Bone, the Dean and Chapter of the College to William Clarke of Kibworth and Thomas Patchet of Leicester. After the Dissolution, the Advowson again passed to the Crown and was apparently leased and sometimes sub-leased until it was granted by James I in November 1607, to Sir Richard de Hoghton.
The de Hoghtons, as Rectors of the Parish, had the right to the tithes. There is an interesting sidelight on what this meant when, on the 17th June 1644, Sir Gilbert de Hoghton tells Henry Mitton, the Sexton, " it is my pleasure that you take up for my use from time to time all such tithe pigs as either have fallen due since Mr. Ambrose, late vicar of Preston, left his Cure or shall hereafter become due to me during the vacancy of the place and them deliver over to my brother Hoghton during my pleasure." As Lay Rectors, the de Hoghtons were responsible for the upkeep of the Chancel and retained this responsibility until the passing of the Tithe Redemption Act, 1936, when a capital sum was paid for the redemption. The interest of this payment is paid to the Parochial Church Council earmarked for the repair of the Chancel. In this way, the Lay Rector's association with the repair of the Chancel is perpetuated the present Patrons of the Living are the Hulme Trustees, who purchased the Advowson from Sir Henry Philip Hoghton in November 1828.
We are fortunate in possessing a fairly complete list of Rectors and Vicars of Preston from the middle of t he 12t h century.
By a Charter of 1153 Richard Bussel, Baron of Penwortham, gave to the Abbey of Evesham in Worcestershire, the Church of Leyland. Among the witnesses to this important gift was William, the Priest of Preston. William is thus the first incumbent of the Parish Church of whom we have documentary knowledge.
An ancient local Deed records an exchange of land between Henry, son Of Warin of Lancaster and Roger of Lea. Among the witnesses was Robert, clerk, of Preston, who was the second earliest known incumbent.
Many of these who held the Living in the Middle Ages would be non-resident pluralists, who seldom, if ever, presented themselves at the Churches to which they were appointed. Some of the Rectors of Preston of the l3th and early 14th centuries were men of high standing holding various offices of state. Among them were William de Haverhill (1243-1252), the King's Treasurer ; Henry de Wingham (1256-1262) afterwards Bishop of London; Walter de Merton (1262-1277), Chancellor of England, Bishop of Rochester and the founder of Merton College, Oxford. The change from Rectors to Vicars in 1400, with the appropriation to New College, Leicester, would doubtless be advantageous to the Parish for, thereafter, a responsible Vicar was appointed. The first of the Vicars was Richard de Walton, whose name occurs in the Preston Guild Rolls for the Guild Merchant held in 1415.
Little is known of the Vicars of the I 5th and 16th centuries until we come to the incumbency of Nicholas Daniel (1572-1580), during whose Vicariate there is a reflection of the troublous period of the Reformation. No doubt, conformity with the religious legislation of the time had been little more than nominal. Nicholas Daniel, however, was a convinced Protestant and was "soon in great perplexity and many ways threatened of his life for his well doing because, at Easter, he had taken the names of all such who would not receive the Blessed Communion and had captured false priest at Mass." Daniel found and destroyed a great number of alabaster images, which had been taken down in accordance with the Queen's commands and buried in the Vicarage garden. The Curate or Parish Priest at the time, William Wall, was a thorn in the Vicar's flesh. Wall was a married man of openly evil life and winked at every abuse. He insulted the Vicar by causing the bells to bee rung for souls when the Vicar was preaching. The Parish Clerk at that time is described as " a popish boy," who never appeared at Church except to make such a noise on the organ that no one could understand the singing. These are a few of the sidelights in which we see something of the turbulent times of the 16th century.
Though the Reformation may have been slow to establish itself in Preston, there is no doubt that, in the 17th century, Puritanism found a foothold here. In 1616, for instance, it was decided by the Select Vestry "that all the housekeepers in Preston should close their doors at all times of Divine Service and Sermon upon the Sabbath daies and other Festival daies" and the said householders shall be respectively fined 4d. every time they permitted "anie of their children, servants or families being above the age of seven years to play in the open streetes of the town at any game or plaie whatsoever, or sit at the doors or in the streetes during the Sabbath Daie."
Perhaps the most famous of the post-Reformation Vicars was the Reverend Isaac Ambrose, son of a Vicar of Ormskirk. He was a zealous Presbyterian, being appointed King's Preacher in Lancashire in 1631 and becoming Vicar of Preston in 1639. He was a theologian and author of some note whose works were published and enjoyed a considerable success. In 1654, he was appointed minister at Garstang but, not until 1657, did he renounce all claims to the Vicarage of Preston. He was one of the ministers ejected after the Act of Uniformity in 1662, It was his custom, once a year, for the space of a month, to retire into a hut in a wood and, avoiding all human converse, to devote himself to contemplation. He was certainly a pious and learned man and it says something for his affection for Preston that he came back here to die.
Of the later Vicars, mention may be made of Samuel Peploe (1700-1726), who later became Bishop of Chester. It was due to Peploe's initiative that the Churches of Grimsargh and St. George, Preston, were built. He was succeeded by his son, Samuel Peploe (1727-1743). One of the most remarkable incumbencies is that of Roger Carus Wilson (1817-1839). He was appointed Vicar at the early age of twenty-five and died at the age of forty-seven. His incumbency is chiefly noteworthy for the great increase of Churches in Preston due to his energy and initiative. No fewer than five Churches were built while he was Vicar, namely St. Peter, 1825; St. Paul, 1826; Christ Church, 1836 St. Mary, 1838 and St. Thomas, 1839. On the south wall of the Chancel, there is a monument to his memory in which these Churches are shown. It was during the incumbency of John Owen Parr (1840-1877) that the Church was rebuilt. Canon Parr was the first Incumbent appointed by the present Patrons, the Hulme Trustees.
Little need be said of the more recent Vicars of Preston who have maintained the great traditions of Preston Parish Church. Older parishioners still affectionately remember James Hamer Rawdon (1877-1900) and Hercules Scott Butler (1900-1920). During the Vicariate of Arthur John Morris (1920-1933) and John Eyre Winstanley Wallis (1933-1945) the Parish Church continued to play a leading part in the life of the town and the diocese. Canon Morris was Chairman of the Preston Education Committee and Canon Wallis was closely associated with the Social Services of the town.
One of the chief forms of benefaction to Churches in the Middle Ages was the endowment of Chantries. We know of two Chantries at the Parish Church. The Chantry of the Holy Rood was founded by Sir Richard Hoghton; the Chantry of Our Lady was founded by Ellen, widow of Henry Hoghton for a chaplain to celebrate continually for her soul and for all Christian souls and to keep a free Grammar School. This Chantry can be traced back to 1430 and is especially interesting in showing the connection between the Parish Church and the Grammar School. One of the Chantries was in the Rood Loft. There is a document in the muniments of Sir Cuthbert de Hoghton dated 14th July, 1470, which records that Robert Cowell, Vicar of Preston, and Ralph, son of Thomas Whalley, as Trustees, conveyed land in Preston and Fishwick to William Whalley, Chaplain. The condition of holding the land was that a chaplain on three days of the week should pray for the souls of Robert Whalley, his wife and their ancestors.
Again, in the Registers of the Archdeaconry of Richmond, we read:
" Alexander de Hoghton and his wife Elizabeth have a Chantry within the Parish Church of Preston in Amounderness, and John Troutbeck is chaplain there and shall celebrate for the souls of their parents, ancestors, and heirs ... and the same Alexander and his heirs shall support and repair the aforesaid chapel after the statute and ordination, and shall in the same find books, chalice, vestments, cruets, and all other ornaments which shall be needful for such chapel and chantry."
In addition, therefore, to the Rectors and Vicars of Preston, there would be a number of Chantry Priests attached to the Church. About 1530, there were twelve clergy and, even as late as 1548, the Visitation List at Preston includes the Vicar, two Chantry Priests and three others.
One of the most interesting features of the history of Preston Parish Church is the story of the Select' Vestry or "The Four-and-Twenty Gentlemen" as they were called. They consisted of three groups of eight representing the upper, lower and middle parts of the town. The middle portion was represented by the Mayor and seven Aldermen. " The-Four-and-Twenty Gentlemen " were a power in the Parish. They were responsible for the fabric of the Church and its ornaments, they levied the Church rate and constituted a governing body with wide powers. Not only did they hold the purse strings but they controlled the Parish Clerk, the Sexton, the bell ringers and, on occasion, the Vicar too.
The earliest reference we can find to " the four-and-twenty gentlemen " is in 1587 in the bell ringing orders of that year to which their names are subscribed and where we read, amongst other things, " it is agreed by the consent of the Mayor and his brethren that if the said bells be impaired by reason of the clock or chime that the said Mayor and his brethren shall repair the same at their costs and charge by reason the said clock and chime are only for the pleasure and benefit of the town and not of the Parish."
Fortunately, we possess the Minute Books of the "four-and-twenty gentlemen" from 1644. The various orders of the twenty-four make interesting reading. There is one dated December 29th, 1651, which complains that certain duties had not been carried out and that " Mr. Ambrose, the present Minister of this Parish, hath bene the cause of this late omission and nealect." The trouble appears to have been that the Church Registers had not been regularly entered. We find the twenty-four ordering five pewter flagons to replace the old ones that were worn out. This was on April 5th, 1675, when the Minute reads;
"At a meeting of ye 24 gent. Of ye parish, ordered yt ye pewter flagons belonging to ye church, being five in number, and now by use worn out, shall be all exchanged by ye churchwardens for new ones, and yat yere shall also be provided by ye churchwardens three new plates of ye best pewter for ye service of ye communion, to be decently and well kept for ye future, and not lent abroad to any funerals, or emploied in any common services."
We find the twenty-four prescribing in 1736 that there should be eight ringing days for which the bell ringers were to be paid 2s. a day. In 1740, on account of some insolence, the twenty-four stopped the bell ringers' drink allowance. The most important duty, however, was the maintenance of the fabric of the Church and the raising of the necessary money for repairs and rebuilding. We have already seen the steps which were taken by this powerful body in this respect. From time to time, the rural divisions of the Parish complain about the levy which was imposed upon them for the upkeep of the Church, and in 1790, at a General Vestry meeting attended by nearly fifty of the leading inhabitants of the Parish, it was resolved that the old mode of raising the rates for the repair of the Church ought to be varied and the following adopted: the town district to contribute one half and the higher and lower districts one quarter each. Disputes still occurred, however, and it was finally decided to have the matter settled in Court. The case was tried at Lancaster Assizes in 1797, with the result that the ancient custom was established. For some years, the rates were duly levied until, gradually, the burden of supporting the Parish Church fell upon the town alone.
In 1770, the ancient title "the four-and-twenty gentlemen was dropped and, henceforth, the body was known as The Select Vestry " by which name it is still called. Although the powers of the Select Vestry have been whittled down by moden developments and, in particular, by the establishment of Parochial Church Councils, the ancient Select Vestry of Preston still meets once a year with the Parochial Church Meeting for the appointment of the Churchwardens. The fact that we have six Churchwardens instead of the customary two is itself a reminder of the ancient division of the Parish into the upper, lower and middle parts. There were two Churchwardens elected for each of the three divisions.
"Bring out your dead!" What picture do those awful words bring to your mind? Probably the narrow streets of old London, silent and deserted as the death cart rumbles mournfully over the cobbles, with its attendant ghouls who throw into it one after another of the bodies of those who had died of the plague since its last journey around the stricken city-bodies of young middle-aged, and old, of rich and of poor, for the foul disease bleweth where it listeth, and none could tell whence it came and whither it would go. Before the plague went it had destroyed a quarter of the population of London in that never-to-be-forgotten year of 1665.
But what, you are undoubtedly asking, has all this to do either with Preston or its parish registers? Just this is the answer, that those books show us that in the year 1631 not a quarter, but a third of the inhabitants of Preston were slain by an outbreak of plague. In November, 1630, there are entered in the burial registers these words, pregnant with the horror with which the people of Preston were to be struck: " Heare begineth the Visitation of Almighty God, the plague," and before those blessed words " plague ceased " were written exactly a year later, a thousand and seventy-five names were to be entered in the burial list. With what feelings would those words of Psalm 91 be chanted through the town: " Thou shalt not be afraid ... for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day," almost certainly, at least on that black Sunday, July 24th, when twenty people were buried. Twenty in one day, in a town of about three thousand inhabitants where the average number of deaths at that period was six a month. Whole families were eliminated, for example, on July 8th was buried a daughter of Robert Haydock, a widower, on July 17th two more of his children, on the 20th yet another two, and on the 23rd Robert Haydock himself.
Parish registers, that is, registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials, were instituted by Thomas 1538, and there should be registers from that year remaining in every parish. In fact, however, for a variety of reasons, registers of that date are exceptional, although in Lancashire there are many which are of sixteenth century date. Preston, however, is unfortunate in that its first known register does not commence until 1611. Although very improbable it is just possible that an earlier register is still hidden away, somewhere in private hands, though one must regretfully consider it much more likely to have been destroyed in one of the " troubles " which has come Upon the town from time to time.
Much could be written about the entries that are made in the many volumes of these registers but space and your patience are limited, so on this occasion remarks must be confined to the seventeenth century books.
The extensive trade of Preston can be shown by the great variety of occupations that are shown such as butcher, tailor, glover, cutler, miller, feltmaker, currier, dyer, grocer, thatcher, clothworker, tanner, bricklayer, carpenter, chapman, sadler, skinner, draper, innkeeper, labourer, haberdasher of hats, ironmonger, joiner, blacksmith, salter, shoemaker, attorney, counsellor-at law (i.e. barrister), baker, woollenwebster, cobbler. apothecary, plasterer, barber and surgeon. glazier, hosier and linerwebster.
The earliest doctor who occurs was Geoffrey Rishton, from 1646 to 1651 and the earliest watchmaker, John Mitton, in 1656. Other interesting occupational entries are the baptism of a daughter of Nathaniel Heathcott, bookbinder, in 1659; baptisms of children of George Harrison of St. John's Wiend, variously described as fidler and musician, 1646 to 1657 - baptism of a son of Richard Burton, stationer, in 1650, and Evan Wall, Alderman and Town Clerk (how did he manage it?) appears in 1656. A particularly interesting entry of this type is that of the baptism of Anne, daughter of Michael Newton, a " gentleman, stranger, and a teacher of musicke."
Alexander Jolly, the sexton (he was a glover) occurs from 1651 to 1660; and there are three schoolmasters mentioned, John Wall in 1657, John Mitton (junior) in 1658, and Thomas Wall of Friargate, in 1659. There are several reflections of the Civil War in the deaths of soldiers, from that of " Thomas Salvyn, a Lievetenant Colonell. " on 19th June 1644, downwards to " George Pearch of Shrewsbury, a soldier " on 16th July 1644. During the period of the battle of Preston in 1648 there are no entries of any kind.
An entry which gives one furiously to think is the baptism of Grucciardini, son of Richard Ryley of Preston, in 1642. Why, oh why, was he saddled with this Italian name? And then there was the marriage in 1656 of Alice, daughter of John Mitton of Preston, butcher, to " Charles Quicknard a Frenchman."
During the Commonwealth, marriage became a civil matter, by an Act of 1653, and had to take place before a magistrate " and severall credible witnesses," as well as being registered by " a register " who was specially appointed under the Act. The " register," or registrar as we now call him, of Preston was one Thomas Mawdesley, who continued in that office until the Act was repealed at the Restoration.
These are just a few lines picked almost at random from the hundreds of pages of the Preston Parish Registers, in which appear most of the figures of the town's history from the seventeenth century to the present day.
The earliest bells of which we have knowledge were cast at Nottingham about 1523. An inventory made in 1552 of the goods of the Church includes " four bells and a fifth bell lent by Sir Richard Hoghton, Knight." At various times, the bells were repaired and recast. The present number of bells is ten; eight of these were cast by Mears of London and were rung for the first time on Christmas Day, 1814. Each of them bears an inscription, and the name of the founder. Two more bells were added in 1934 to complete the present peal. The bells have been rung therefore over several centuries, not only to summon people to worship but also on great national and local occasions. Coronations, victories and other moments of national rejoicing have been accompanied by a peal of the bells and, in former years, the election of the Mayor of Preston was marked by their jubilant sounds.
There was certainly an organ in the Parish Church in Elizabethan times, though we do not know when the first organ was installed. There is, however, no mention of an organ from the end of the 16th century to the beginning of the l9th, and it is likely that the organ disappeared with the advent of puritanism. In 1802, Mr. John Horrocks of Penwortham Lodge, presented to the Parish Church an organ costing about £600, with the request that the packing cases in which the organ was sent should belong to him. This instrument was built by Davis, a Preston-born man, who became famous as an organ builder in London. It had sixteen stops and is the origin of the present organ. At various periods in the 19th century, additions were made to it and, when the Church was rebuilt a hundred years ago, the organ was replaced in the new building. It was further enlarged in 1889 when it was removed from the West Gallery to its present position in the Chancel. After many years service, it now needs completely rebuilding.
Few towns in the Kingdom can show such a close connection between the Civic and Ecclesiastical life as has been the case in Preston over the centuries. We have seen the part played by the Mayor and Aldermen in the Select Vestry which was the governing body of the Church. The Mayor and Corporation have regularly and frequently resorted to the Parish Church. As long ago as 1607, five pews were appropriated to the use of the Corporation and, we are told, they took advantage of this privilege. They " being piously and religiously inclined in a devout and orderly manner went to Church every Sunday and on the appropriate Holy Days and occupied the seats set apart for them." But there were, of course, times of Slackness too and we read in the Preston Court Leet Records " there is not harmonious assent and keeping of ye said order by and amongst ye councell and their brotherly sitting together in the said Church which to us seems strange that order makers should not be order keepers and therefore leave ye remedy to Mr. Mayor and councell." At one time, the Corporation decided that the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors must sit in the pews appropriated to their use and that there should be a fine of twelve pence for every violation of this order. There was, however, one person exempted, namely, Alderman W. Sudell who, because he was deaf, was allowed to sit in any seat he deemed convenient. The frequency with which members of the Corporation attended the Parish Church in their official capacity declined with the passing years, but the Corporation seats are still from time to time occupied by our civic rulers for whom they are specially set apart.
At various times, the Corporation appointed an Assistant Curate and contributed £1O per annun out of the town's revenues towards his stipend. This arrangement we know continued from 1680 to 1723 when it ceased owing to some dispute between the Vicar and the Corporation about the payment of the Beadle's perquisites.
But perhaps the most intimate way in which the association of the Church and the town was symbolised was in the Mayor-making ceremony. For a long time, this was associated with a procession from the Moot Hall to the Parish Church where the old Mayor would hand over his regalia to his successor. We read, for instance, in a history of Preston, published in 1822:-
"And when the aforesaid day is come, viz. St. Wilfrid's day, all the capital burgesses, with the gentlemen of the town, and others who are specially invited upon this occasion, with the four bailiffs and sergeants shalt attend the mayor, and new elect, to the parish church, in due procession, preceded by all the regalia, in due and proper form; at which time, and on the Sunday following, the former mayor, and the new elected mayor, shall sit together, upon an elevated throne, belonging to the supreme magistracy of this ancient and loyal borough ; where divine service shall be performed, and an inauguration sermon shall be preached upon this occasion ; after which the former mayor leads down the aisle of the church, and when arrived at the transept makes a sudden stop and instantly turning round to the mayor elect, makes a speech applicable to the situation he is about to hold ; afterwards he invests him, by delivering the ensigns of magisterial authority, viz, the staff and maces, and then retires into the regular situation assigned for him in the procession. The bailiffs and sergeants, in like manner deliver up their authority to those appointed to succeed them in office. On this ceremony ending, the bells of the church ring a merry peal, welcoming in the joyful solemnity, of inaugurating a new magistrate for the succeeding year."
The Church has also been closely associated with the observance of the Preston Guild Merchant for which our town is famous and when, on the occasion of the last Guild Merchant, there was a procession and service at the rising of the Guild Court, a time-honoured tradition was maintained. It is appropriate, therefore, that the arms of the Guild mayors from 1328 to 1842 should be found depicted in the stained glass windows of the Church. It is appropriate also that in this year, the Right Worshipful the Mayor, Mr. Alderman James Henery, should have intimated his intention of making a state visit to the Parish Church on the occasion of our Centenary Celebrations.
In Preston, the history of the Church and the :own are inseparable and the closest (though not always the most amicable) relations have existed between them. May they long continue in harmonious association and in mutual help and service to the glory of God and the welfare of the people of our town.
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Copyright © 2001, Rob O'Gara : firstname.lastname@example.org : First issued March 1996.