Building » Bolton (Tonge Moor) – St Columba

Bolton (Tonge Moor) – St Columba

Ripley Street, Tonge Moor, Bolton BL2

A post-war design by Geoffrey Williams of Greenhalgh & Williams. Although traditional in its plan form and external appearance, it is an ambitious building which incorporates a number of interesting and original ideas. It was Williams’ own church, and it is apparent that he lavished particular attention on the design and construction.  

The parish of St Columba was established in 1931, in part to serve the needs of the Moorfield, Castle Hill and Hall-i’th-Wood housing estates developed to the north east of Bolton town centre in the 1920s. Prior to this, the large area encompassed by Tonge Moor, Harwood and Bromley Cross had been parochially divided between St Mary’s, Bolton, Holy Infants, Bolton and St Aldhelm’s, Turton. Almost four acres of land were acquired between Ripley Road and Danesbury Road in Tonge Moor, and at first a temporary church was erected, which opened for the celebration of Midnight Mass at Christmas 1931.

In 1937 consent was granted for the construction of a Junior and Infants’ School for 190 children alongside the church, to the design of Harold Greenhalgh, which opened in March 1938. At the same time the presbytery, also by Greenhalgh, was built, with the idea that a new permanent church would be erected fronting Ripley Street. Any further building was ruled out following the outbreak of war in 1939, but with the cessation of hostilities the need for both increased school accommodation and a new church became paramount. In 1952, the school was expanded, and in May 1954, Geoffrey Williams, a parishioner of St Columba’s, was asked to draw up plans for a church to seat 500 people with a gallery to accommodate a further 100. Work started in June 1955, the contractor being James Massey & Sons of Bolton, and the church was opened by Bishop Beck on 16 December 1958. The contract sum was £20,776, and Williams gave his services free of charge. As the full cost of the building had been raised by the efforts of the parish at the termination of the building contract, it was possible for the church to be consecrated four days before the opening.

In recent years the parish has been linked with that of St John the Evangelist, Bromley Cross and St Brendan, Harwood, with Fr Cooke the current parish priest.     


The church is rectangular on plan, with the sanctuary occupying the easternmost bay. An attached tower stands at the southwest corner. It is constructed of brick with sand cement render to the central part of the west front and the tower. The roofs of both the nave and tower are pitched and covered with slate, and there is an asphalt flat roof to the adjoining singe storey sacristy. The main structural feature is the use of laminated Columbian pine portal frames, which were said at the time to have been the first examples in the north-west of England. The frames, which divide the interior into eight bays and are expressed internally, support the roof purlins. Their slender proportions and elegant profile cause minimal disruption to visibility within the church and allow an unobstructed view of the altar from any point.

The sanctuary extends the full width of the church, and above the high altar, which is made of white sandstone, is a tall baldacchino with a wave-like canopy supported on four cruciform mahogany pillars. This frames a large crucifix on the east wall. The altar rails are fifteen metres in length and are also of timber, and the adjoining pulpit is in its original position. The floor is paved in white terrazzo tiles. Beneath the tower is the baptistery, which is no longer in use, but retains the original circular stone font and a ceiling of radiating timbers like the spokes of a wheel.

At the west end is the gallery, which cantilevers into the nave from a curved stone wall that encloses the lobby entrance. The gallery is reached by a flying staircase of reinforced concrete with timber treads, which is balanced by a slender bridge that leads to the upper stage of the tower. The west window in vibrant coloured glass symbolises the Trinity.

Few alterations have been made to the church, the only damaging intervention being the steel ‘goal post’ erected to support the cantilevered canopy which protects over the elegant timber and glass entrance doorway in the Festival of Britain style.

The original ‘temporary’ church survives as part of the school and is immediately visible from the road. It is a small red brick building with a slate roof and has been adapted to class rooms.  

Heritage Details

Architect: Greenhalgh & Williams

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed