Building » Burnley – St John the Baptist

Burnley – St John the Baptist

Ivy Street, Burnley, Lancs BB10

An urban Gothic Revival church constructed on a site beside a cotton mill. The benefactress was Lady O’Hagan, the heiress of Towneley Hall. The church’s predecessor building, a school-chapel, still survives, as does the original high altar from that chapel (now in a side chapel in the church).

The mission was founded in 1891 from St Mary’s, Burnley. Mass was initially said in a room over a blacksmith’s shop in Elm Street. A plot beside the Bishop House cotton mill was acquired from Lady O’Hagan for £13 per annum, large enough for a building to house a school and chapel. (Lady O’Hagan was the youngest daughter of John Towneley of the local Catholic landowner family. She inherited Towneley Hall and its park in 1878 and in 1912 sold them to Burnley Corporation.) On 5 November 1893 the chapel on the first floor was opened by the Archbishop of Cyzicus, the Most Reverend William Benedict Scarisbrick. The building had been designed by Oswald Hill of Manchester and the overall cost was £3,000. The school for 600 children opened in May 1894. In November 1897, a new altar was dedicated. Made of oak, it came from the workshop of Beyaert & Co. of Bruges.

In about 1901, a strip of adjoining land was donated by Lady O’Hagan, large enough for a new church and presbytery. In 1902 a men’s reading room was built and opened. Oswald Hill designed a new presbytery which was completed in 1904. On 22 August 1908, the foundation stone for the new church was laid by Bishop Casartelli, who opened and dedicated it on 2 May 1909. The architect was J. B. Holt of St Ann’s Square, Manchester. The contractors were Messrs Smith Brothers of Burnley. The overall cost was £3,400. The original altar from the school-chapel was installed as a side altar in the new church.

In 1921, the church was painted by Reuben Bernett of Manchester in a ‘high class Ecclesiastical manner’. This was part of a war memorial. The main part of this was completed in 1922 and consisted of a high altar, altar rails, and a mural tablet. All of them were erected by R. J. Boulton & Sons. The high altar was consecrated on 4 November 1922 by Bishop Hanlan. At the same time a new font was unveiled, which had been funded and erected by John and Patrick Cummings in memory of their parents. In 1926, the east window was erected as a memorial to Fr W. Shine (died 1925). It was designed and erected by Messrs Charles Lightfoot Ltd of Manchester.

In 1934, a new organ was installed and the interior redecorated by R. Nicholson of Longridge, who also designed the pictorial decorations, including the painted angels in the spandrels of the nave arcade, and panels in the sanctuary. In October 1962, the exterior of the church was painted. In December 1963, a new pipe organ by Messrs Jardine of Old Trafford, Manchester, was installed. In December 1967, a temporary forward altar was installed. In 1972, the interior was redecorated. In 1974, the interior was reordered by Messrs Alberti Lupton, which included the removal of the carved alabaster reredos. On 23 July 1974, the church was consecrated and the new altar blessed. In the 1980s, the altar rails were moved to the southwest corner where they now stand in front of the war memorial plaque.


The church is built using local sandstone ashlar with slate roofs. The plan is directional, of a nave with side aisles, and a three-sided apse. The west elevation has a slightly projecting central bay framed by buttresses. The hoodmould of the pointed-arched west doorway becomes at impost-level a string course. Above the string course are two small oblong windows under blind shoulder-arched window heads. Below the string course at cill level of the main west window is the foundation stone. The west window has five lights with cusped Y-tracery. Its hoodmould also runs into a string course on either side. Above two narrow ventilation openings in the gable is the ornate gable cross. The west walls of the side aisles have each a single segmental-headed window of two lights with cusped tracery. The north elevation has similar windows to the aisle, with a doorway at the west and a single-light window to the east. The clerestory windows have two-light Y-tracery windows, with a single-light window to the west bay. The east walls of the side chapels have six-foil rose windows, while the apse has three two-light windows with cusping.

The interior has a five-bay nave with an additional narrow bay for the gallery. The roof is panelled above the arch brace. The nave arcade has moulded pointed arches on octagonal sandstone columns. The columns and bases are left unpainted, while the capitals and everything above are painted. There are angels painted in the spandrels of the arcade, possibly those (or based on those) painted in 1934 by R. Nicholson. The Lady Chapel at the northeast has a statue of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, and painted Marian monograms on a panelled ceiling. (A former sandstone Lourdes grotto against the east wall is currently screened off by a curtain.) To the north of the area in front of the sanctuary is the fine marble and alabaster font of 1922, with an octagonal bowl, a central stem and four colonettes.

The sanctuary has painted monograms on the panelled ceiling. The floor is of white and coloured marble (probably of 1974). The tabernacle stand is of white marble (1974). The altar is that of 1922, moved forward in 1974. Mostly of white marble, it has a central carved panel of the Agnus Dei, flanked by panels of red Skyros marble and columns of green vert des alpes marble. The oak altar in the Sacred Heart chapel at the southeast (by Beyaert & Co. of Bruges) has the Agnus Dei, the IHS monogram, and the pelican in her piety on the frontal. The reredos has a pinnacled canopy over the tabernacle, which is now filled with a statue of the Sacred Heart. On either side are paintings of saints on gold ground. The outer pinnacles of the reredos carry angels.

Off the south aisle is one confessional, beside the sacristy at the southeast. Originally there was a second confessional, later demolished. At the west end of the south aisle are the former altar rails, and the First World War memorial tablet with a carving of the crucifixion, both of marble and alabaster and dating to 1922. The organ gallery with the pipe organ (1963, Messrs Jardine of Old Trafford, Manchester) has a plain timber balustrade and a three-arched front to the nave, filled with opaque glazing and central doors.

The east window has stained glass of the Sacred Heart and St John the Baptist (1926, Messrs Charles Lightfoot Ltd of Manchester). The west window has seven stained glass medallions originally from St Augustine’s church, Granby Row. Throughout the church there are statues of St Teresa, the Baptism of Christ, St Antony, St Joseph and the Christ Child, and of St Francis Xavier. The Stations are elaborately framed and painted plaster casts.

Heritage Details

Architect: J. B. Holt of Manchester

Original Date: 1909

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed