Building » Bolton – St Peter and St Paul

Bolton – St Peter and St Paul

Pilkington Street, Bolton BL3

The church occupies the site of the first Catholic place of worship in Bolton. It was built in 1897 to the design of Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell, and is a prominent building with a tall tower and a large presbytery, which forms part of the overall composition. Apart from the tower and the porch, the exterior of the church is plain and austere, faced in harsh red brick and without ornamentation. The interior has an impressive grandeur, with a tall nave, arcades of granite columns, and a sanctuary with monumental Gothic reredos. The detail, however, is heavy and mechanical, and the design is conservative for its date. The most interesting feature is the Lady Chapel, which was remodelled in the 1920s as a War Memorial, and further embellished in 1933.

A brick church was built on the site in 1798-1800, Bolton’s first Catholic church. At the time it was well outside the town, within a churchyard, surrounded by fields. During the nineteenth century, the area was gradually built up with cotton mills, factories and rows of terraced houses. A school was built in 1855. In the 1870s, a fund was established for a new church and hall. The old church was demolished, and the hall was built first, opening in 1896, followed by the new church and presbytery which were completed in 1897. The total cost was £20,200, and the debt took thirty years to pay off. Although the church seated 800, such were the numbers attending that a west gallery was installed in 1905. In 1925 the church roof was destroyed by fire and reconstructed, and around the same time the Lady Chapel was remodelled by the parish priest, Fr William Leighton, as a war memorial. On the priest’s death in 1933, the rails and brass gate to the chapel were erected in his memory. A new infants’ school was built in 1916, and a girls’ school (which still stands alongside the church) followed in 1936.

With post-war housing clearance and re-settlement, the population declined, and by the late 1970s the parish had become one of the smallest in the deanery. In 1966 a scheme of reordering was carried out by Greenhalgh & Williams to simplify the church interior. The west gallery was removed, and replaced by a timber and glass screen to form a narthex. The sanctuary steps were remodelled. The tiled dado was painted out, and the two statues to each side of the crucifix on the reredos were taken away. Meanwhile the hall fell into disrepair. The link road built in 1979 between Fletcher Street and Pilkington Street left the church and school in a cul-de-sac. In 1980 the tall pyramid roof to the tower was dismantled and replaced with a flat roof. A fire in the hall in 1983 spread into the church and damaged the sanctuary. Although the church was subsequently repaired, the hall was demolished. The church was again reordered in 1990, but in 1994 the large presbytery was vacated. In 2010 the church itself was closed, and has not since then been used.


Established at the turn of the nineteenth century as the principal Catholic foundation in Bolton, the church was rebuilt in 1897 on an ambitious scale. The nave and chancel are 120 feet long and the tower is 126 feet high (without its missing pyramid roof). The architects were Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell. Its sheer walls are faced in hard glazed red brick, remarkably austere with their almost total absence of ornament or articulation. The windows are tall lancets, and only the top stage of the tower makes a display, with mullioned and transomed belfry openings and angle buttresses with corner gargoyles. The porch, of the same date, is half-timbered and painted black and white, and above it, within stone niches are carved stone statues of Saints Peter and Paul. The interior, which consists of a nave, sanctuary, north transept with Lady Chapel, and organ loft taking the place of the south transept, is tall and spacious. Six-bay arcades of granite columns, each made up of two sections, connected with shaft rings of stone, and surmounted by ponderous capitals, separate the aisles from the nave. The roof is barrel-vaulted and boarded, and the walls are plastered above a dado faced in ceramic tiles manufactured by Edwards of Ruabon. The shallow sanctuary is dominated by an enormous Gothic reredos framing a top-lit crucifix, and flanked by statues of St Peter and St Paul sheltering under towering, heavy pinnacles. The high altar, still in its original position, is of marble and sandstone, and the marble altar rails with short, squat columns also survive. The side walls of the sanctuary are faced in marble, possibly dating from the 1930s. The terrazzo floor to the sanctuary dates from the 1930s, but was restored in 1983 following a fire. The Stations of the Cross, large scale groups of figures modelled in plaster and painted, were supplied by Herbert & Goodall of Liverpool. The tabernacle is by Hardman, Powell & Co. In the 1920s the Lady Chapel was adapted to serve as a war memorial. The work was commissioned by Fr William Leighton, who had served as a chaplain in the war, and won a Military Cross. The chapel is top-lit by a glazed lantern, and the walls are faced in blue and gold mosaics manufactured by Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd of Manchester, and probably designed by Eric Newton, the grandson of the founder, who changed his name from Oppenheimer by deed poll. The side walls are decorated with scenes of the Crucifixion and the Annunciation. A statue of Our Lady stands within a niche with concealed lighting, flanked by mosaics of angels and surrounded by gold stars. On the floor of the chapel, which is paved in mosaic, is the motto 1914 PAX 1918. The alabaster altar rails and brass gates were added in 1933. On the north wall of the transept, alongside the Lady Chapel, is the Roll of Honour, surmounted by a pieta, of the same character as the Stations, with a separate stone recording the men of the parish who lost their lives in World War II. Of the same date as the Lady Chapel are the Holy Family and Sacred Heart altars at the east end of the two aisles. These have white marble statues with simple mosaic surrounds. Reordering in the 1990s involved the creation of a nave platform, with a new timber altar, made by a parishioner. The marble pulpit was dismantled and re-erected on the platform without its base. The present font is also late twentieth century

List description: (the war memorial chapel was listed in 2015, following Taking Stock. The church and presbytery are excluded from the listing)


Summary: First World War memorial Lady Chapel. Built 1897 by Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell and remodelled in later 1920s as a war memorial and consecrated in 1932. Mosaic scheme in chapel by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Manchester. Hard red brick, slate roof.

Reasons for Designation: The war memorial Lady Chapel in the Roman Catholic Church of St Peter and St Paul, Bolton, of 1897 by Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell with a complete decorative scheme of the later 1920s with mosaics by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Manchester, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Decorative interest: containing an all-encompassing decorative mosaic scheme demonstrating a high quality of design, craftsmanship, and quality of tessarae used to create an intimate, contemplative space commemorating those who died in the First World War; * Designer: Eric Newton of the family firm of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd was a highly gifted proponent of mosaic design, particularly ecclesiastical schemes for Catholic churches, and the Lady Chapel is a good example of this skill; * Historic interest: as a poignant reminder of the tragic impact of world events upon a local community; * Selectivity: the church of SS Peter and Paul and the attached presbytery are not of special architectural or historic interest in the national context and are excluded from the statutory listing.

History: Bolton’s first Catholic church was built in 1798-1800 in a rural location, which during the C19 became built-up with cotton mills, factories and terraces of workers’ housing. In 1855 a school was built and in the 1870s a fund was established for a new church and hall. The old church was subsequently demolished and in 1896 the hall opened. In 1897 the Lady Chapel and present church and presbytery were built to designs by the architects’ practice of Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell. During the 1920s the Lady Chapel was remodelled as a War Memorial by the parish priest, Reverend Father William Leighton. He had been a chaplain during the First World War and had been awarded the Military Cross. The chapel was consecrated in 1932. The overall mosaic decorative scheme in the chapel was designed by Eric Newton (born Eric Oppenheimer, but later changing his surname by deed poll to Newton, his mother’s maiden name) of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Blackburn Street, Old Trafford, Manchester. The firm was well known for its decorative mosaic schemes notably for churches. It had been established in 1865 by Newton’s grandfather, Ludwig Oppenheimer, a German Jew who was sent to Manchester to improve his English and then married a Scottish girl and converted to Christianity. He spent a year in Venice studying the mosaic process as an apprentice before returning to England and setting up a mosaic workshop. Upon Leighton’s death in 1933 alabaster altar rails and a brass gate to the chapel were installed in his memory. The aisle altars date from the same time as the refurbishment of the Lady Chapel. The church closed in 2010. It has not been used since.

Details: First World War memorial Lady Chapel. Built 1897 by Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell and remodelled in later 1920s as a War Memorial and consecrated in 1932. Mosaic scheme in chapel by Eric Newton of Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Manchester. Hard red brick, slate roof. PLAN: top-lit Lady Chapel opens off the east side of the shallow north transept of the church (liturgical compass points used in Details). EXTERIOR: the small, rectangular Lady Chapel continues in line on the east side of the north gable wall of the north transept of the church. It is built of hard, glazed red brick in English garden wall bond (3:1) with blind walls and a double-pitched slate roof with a central, raised, rectangular roof lantern to the ridge. (East elevation not accessible, but built with projecting, top-lit niche for internal statue of the Virgin Mary). INTERIOR: the chapel opens off the east side of the north transept. The pointed archway is closed by alabaster altar rails with a central, decorative brass gate incorporating a cross. The small, rectangular chapel has terrazzo flooring with a Greek key border and incorporating a motif with the motto 1914 / PAX / 1918. At the east end is a tier of three steps reducing in size on which a carved, marble altar and low, rectangular reredos stand. The walls are faced in mosaic and the roof is timber panelled and boarded with curved sides and a flat central section. To the centre is a rectangular, raised and glazed lantern with quatrefoil carving to the vertical, side panels. The mosaic-covered walls have a geometric pattern of squares at dado level which echoes the tiled dado of the main church. Above this the north and south walls have a central panel in a Tudor arch containing scenes of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion respectively. The drapery of the clothes is pre-Raphaelite in form and the figures are set against gold backgrounds. In the Annunciation panel the Virgin Mary kneels in front of a lectern wearing a blue robe over a white gown, with a vase containing a lily on the floor. On the right the Angel Gabriel hovers with multi-coloured wings, holding a sceptre and wearing pink robes. Overhead is the Dove and above Mary’s head the words ‘ECCE / ANCILLA / DOMINI (Behold the handmaiden of the Lord). The Crucifixion panel shows Christ on the Cross flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist with the words ECCE / MATER TUA (Behold Thy Mother) written vertically. To each side of the central panel is a lower, Gothic-tracery screen with blue panels and gold motifs of flowers, grape vines and crosses. Above the screens are wide, foliate borders of gold and blue. The east wall is arched, echoing the archway off the north transept. Above the dado level a narrow foliate border encloses a blue, star-spangled panel with grass, lilies and other flowers growing at the bottom. Over the altar is a pointed-arch niche faced in blue, geometric-pattern mosaic with a concealed top-light to light a statue of the Virgin Mary. The niche is flanked by two hovering angels in white with coloured wings.

EXCLUSIONS: the red brick church and attached presbytery are conservative for their date and standard in their fixtures and fittings. These buildings are excluded from the listing.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 30 January 2017.


Websites: L. Oppenheimer Ltd and the Mosaics of Eric Newton, accessed from

War Memorials Online, accessed 30 January 2017 from

War Memorials Register, accessed 30 January 2017 from

Other: Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock (Diocese of Salford), St Peter and St Paul, Bolton (X09(c)), December 2013

Heritage Details

Architect: Sinnott, Sinnott & Powell

Original Date: 1897

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II