Blackburn - St Alban

Larkhill, Blackburn, Lancs BB1

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An ambitious design in a free Decorated Gothic style by Edward Goldie. The church is the fourth on or near the site, replacing buildings of the 1820s, 1780s and 1770s. Goldie’s design for a tower and spire was not realised, but a tower was built in 1960 from designs by Arthur Farebrother & Partners. The interior is little altered, retaining three fine altars and reredoses, communion rails, nave pulpit, baptistery and pews. The nineteenth century Gothic school buildings and early nineteenth century cast iron gate piers add to the interest of the group.

Mass was said in Blackburn from 1773 in a chapel converted from a pair of cottages in Chapel Street.In 1780 a Mrs Mary Hodgson left £400 for the building of a purpose-built chapel alongside the improvised one. This opened in 1781, ten years before the building of public places of Catholic worship was legalised; its design was therefore reticent. The first resident priest was the Rev. William Dunn. In 1819 the Rev. William Sharples (later Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of Lancashire District) was appointed to the mission, and he acquired a site for a larger church, at Larkhill, in 1823. This was built in 1824-6 and was a large plain brick church of late Georgian type, capable of seating 1000.Schools were built to the northwest (1862) and south (1866) by the Very Rev. Canon Irving (mission priest 1856-67). The 1866 schools (photo bottom right) are a red brick Gothic Revival design by Bintley & McCall, architects of Blackburn (Tablet, 14 April 1866). A tower of sub-Romanesque design was added to the church in 1882-3, along with other alterations to provide additional seatings, from designs by William S. Varley FRIBA of Richmond Terrace, Blackburn (Tablet, 8 July 1882). Dean John Newton, appointed to the mission in 1884, resolved to make St Alban’s one of the finest churches in the diocese (according to Bolton, it had been thought that this would one day become the cathedral church of a new diocese). Dean Newton died in 1896, and it fell to his successor, Canon Peter Lonsdale, to put into effect this ambition. Plans were prepared by Edward Goldie of London for an ambitious design with a tower and spire and an interior of Cathedral-like proportions.The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Vaughan on 13 October 1898 and the new church was opened on 8 December 1901. The builder was John Boland of Blackburn, and the cost £20,000 (excluding the tower and spire, which in the absence of a benefactor, were not realised, apart from the foundations). The date and authorship of the high altar have not been established, but it looks like a somewhat scaled-down version of that shown in Goldie’s perspective drawing. In 1903 a marble altar dedicated to the Sacred Heart and designed by E. J. Pippet of Birmingham was unveiled. It was the gift of a Mrs Wharton of Blackburn, and cost £400 (Tablet, 10 October 1903). In 1917 a pulpit was erected, to the memory of Canon Lonsdale, builder of the church (inscription on pulpit). Plans to complete the church were revived in the late 1950s by the Very Rev. Canon McEnery. Arthur Farebrother & Partners prepared designs for a tower and spire, a simplified version of Goldie’s original design, but this proved too costly and the spire was dispensed with. The tower was built in stone matching the original building, on new reinforced concrete piles, the original foundations having proved inadequate. It was completed at the end of 1960. The presbytery is of more recent date. The church was built from designs by Edward Goldie in 1898-1901, replacing a church of 1824-6 (from which the cast iron gate piers survive on the street frontage). It is a large town church in a free Decorated Gothic style, consisting of an aisled nave with western narthex/gallery, north and south transepts, and eastern aisled sanctuary with flanking chapels. The southwest tower was added in 1960. Both the original church and the tower addition are built of Yorkshire sandstone, with dressings from the Longridge quarry. The tower is of four stages, with stepped buttresses and pinnacles at the corners, Decorated tracery in the window and belfry openings, and a side entrance in the bottom stage. The main entrance is on the west front, the deep and richly modelled doorway with arches springing from three shafts and intermediate arches. On either side, paired traceried windows light the western narthex. Above this is a huge west window, with Geometrical tracery and crocketed hoodmould rising to a niche in the gable. On the north side, a canted and buttressed baptistery projects on the north side in the western bay of the aisle. The bay divisions of the nave are marked by deep and high gabled buttresses, breaking through the eaves. Between these, the nave is lit by high three-light clerestory windows. On both sides, short lean-to projections give off the aisles, housing confessionals; their gables break also through the eaves. The transepts have large windows (seven lights) with Geometrical tracery. The west door leads into a narthex area. A small war memorial area in a railed off canted bay contains a marble and alabaster pieta and marble plaques to the parish dead of the First World War. In the northwest corner is the baptistery, now disused and curtained off, but retaining its original font, gates, sunken floor and rib vaulting. The main interior is an impressive space, with an arcade, triforium and clerestory to the nave, narrow circulation aisles with plain pointed transverse arches, high wide and light transepts, and an aisled sanctuary with flanking chapels beyond. Confessionals with Gothic traceried panelling and doors give off each aisle. The sanctuary aisles and side chapels are rib vaulted, while the sanctuary has a pointed barrel vault and the crossing, transepts and nave timber barrel vaults. The nave arcades are plainly treated, with chamfered arches appearing to be cut into the solid wall. Above, the triforium is richly carved with blind tracery and brattishing. Wall shafts rise from this point, continuing up as transverse arches. Below these, in the spandrels, are integral high relief Stations of the Cross, which continue into the transepts. At the crossing on the north side, the large nave pulpit dates from 1917, and was installed in memory of Canon Peter Lonsdale. It is of stone, with high relief carvings of angels and saints (rather crudely overpainted). Above it hangs a timber tester. The pews have shaped ends with inset carved quatrefoils, and are probably original. At the west end of the nave, the organ gallery is carried on three arches, and the gallery front has a projecting central bay. This organ loft is reached from a stone staircase in the 1960 tower. The large organ pipes are arranged on either side of the great west window. In the sanctuary the detail is even richer than the nave, with tall arcades of clustered piers and quatrefoils in the arcade spandrels. This treatment continues around the east wall as blind arcading on either side of the high altar reredos, the quatrefoils in the spandrels containing painted figures of the Four Evangelists. The high altar itself appears to remain in situ, with a marble arcaded frontal, and a tall pinnacled reredos, enriched with polychrome carving and gilding (photo bottom left). On either side of the central crowned tabernacle throne are depictions of the martyrdom of St Alban while above is a large crucifixion panel, flanked on either side by statues of a martyr (St Alban again?) and St Patrick. In front of this, the forward altar is also highly enriched with marble arcading and mosaic panels of the Agnus Dei flanked by a chalice and the Hand of God; this altar appears to date from about 1930, and a plaque on the back says it was re-erected here (coming from the chapel of Notre Dame) in 1989 in memory of members of the Whipp family. The sanctuary retains its fine marble altar rails and metal gates, which look early twentieth century in date. The altars in the side chapels are also very fine; that to the north in the Lady Chapel in white marble, with the detail picked out in gold, while that in the Sacred Heart chapel to the south (1903, by E. J. Pippet) is more richly polychromatic, of Sicilian white and red marble, with highly coloured figures of saints etc.

Diocese: Salford

Architect: Edward Goldie; Arthur Farebrother & Partners

Original Date: 1901

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1960

Listed Grade: Not listed