Building » Clitheroe – St Michael and St John

Clitheroe – St Michael and St John

Lowergate, Clitheroe, Lancs BB7

  • 1798 chapel

The mid-nineteenth century successor to a stone-built chapel of 1798, and a rugged design by J. A. Hansom, built at about the same time as his magnum opus, St Walburge at Preston. Both were built for the Jesuits and while both are vigorously Gothic designs, they observe Counter-Reformation principles in their internal planning. The church is relatively unaltered and contains significant later work by S. J. Nicholl and Edmund Kirby, as well as stained glass by Capronnier and Mayer. The adjacent contemporary presbytery, also by Hansom, is a quirky and picturesque design, with later additions. Church and presbytery, together with the 1798 chapel and attached former school (now a parish hall and social centre) make a notable contribution to the street scene in the historic core of the Clitheroe Conservation Area.

From 1796 Jesuit fathers came from Stonyhurst to say Mass for the small band of Clitheroe Catholics in various premises, including a former hen roost. In 1798 some land on Lowergate was given to the Jesuits by Thomas Weld, where a new chapel was built in 1798. To this a school was added in 1823. The mission continued to be served from Stonyhurst until 1842.

In 1843 Fr J. Holden became the first resident priest, and a new church and presbytery were built from designs by J. A. Hansom of Preston, starting in 1847 and opening on 20 June 1850. The church is therefore contemporary with Hansom’s magnificent church of St Walburge, Preston, also built for the Jesuits. Clitheroe was more modest in size, seating 900 and costing about £2,500; nevertheless it was described in the Preston Guardian (25 June 1850) as a ‘useful, substantial and much admired structure’. The account continues: ‘The style of the church partakes of the first pointed in character, but regard had (sic) been had, at the same time, to the proprieties which change and advance have called for. The nave is wide, the pillars are few, and the whole area of the church is made as open as possible, with reference to the convenience of the people, whilst regard has been had to an impressive, devotional and church-like character.’  The high altar was of Bath stone, with trefoil arcading on the front, carved by Messrs Strawbridge of Bristol.

The church had no burial ground, being close to the town centre, and with the only available land being subject to flooding. Instead, a Catholic cemetery was opened in Waddington Road in 1869, with a chapel added in 1876.

After the opening of Hansom’s church, the former chapel on Lowergate became a schoolroom and was further extended in 1870 (it is now the parish hall and social centre). Work began on a new school on the land to the south of the church in 1897.

According to the Parish Property Report of 2008, the presbytery extension, which is in a contrasting stone, dates from 1884. This has none of the robust idiosyncrasy of Hansom’s original presbytery. Also in 1884, a Lady Chapel was added on the south side of the chancel, with rich carved stonework detail. The architect for this was S. J. Nicholl of London, who had also provided the designs for the cemetery chapel in Waddington Road (as well as adding the apse at St Walburge, Preston, in 1872). Here is an account of the opening, from The Tablet:

‘NEW LADY CHAPEL, CLITHEROE.—Special services were held at the Clitheroe Catholic Church on Sunday to celebrate the opening of a new Lady Chapel, which has been constructed on the right-hand side of the principal altar. High Mass was sung in the morning, and a sermon preached by the Rev. Father Walter Sidgreaves, S.J. At the evening service the chapel was blessed, and the sermon was preached by the Rev. Father Clare of Manchester. The collections, which are to go to the cost of the chapel, exceeded £37. It is elaborately designed, but in the main features it harmonises with the architecture of the church. The floor is formed of mosaic work, marble and alabaster, and the pillars, arches, &c., of the chapel, are of marble. Mr. S. J. Nicholl, of London, is the architect, and the work has been done by Mr. Anstey. On the right-hand side of the entrance there is an alabaster statue of Our Lady, and within the chapel there are three paintings by Mr. Joseph Bonvier, portraying incidents in the Blessed Virgin’s history. The first one on the background beneath the altar represents the tomb of Our Lady and the ten apostles showing St. Thomas where her body had been laid, but the body was not there, there being only flowers in the tomb. Behind the altar is a fine picture of the “Assumption,” the Virgin being represented in the act of ascending into heaven. Higher still there is the representation of the “Coronation of Our Blessed Lady” by the angels in heaven. The whole work has been carried out regardless of cost. It has an exceedingly rich and finished appearance’.

In 1885 stained glass windows depicting the Nativity and Childhood of Christ were installed in the apse, designed by J. B. Capronnier of Brussels and the gift of the Trappes family, longstanding donors to the church.

In 1899 the church interior was redecorated and enriched, under the direction of Edmund Kirby of Liverpool. Here is the account of the new work in The Tablet:

‘RE-DECORATIONS OF SS. MICHAEL AND JOHN, CLITHEROE. —During the past three months the church of SS. Michael and John, in Lowergate has been in the hands of the decorators, and its congregation has been forced to make use of part of the old schools for the Church services. Last Sunday special services were held, when the Very Rev. J. Gerard, S.J., London, preached in tbe morning, and the Rev. C. Coupe, M.A., S.J., Stonyhurst College, in the evening. The entire church, Lady Chapel excepted, has been re-decorated, and the chancel, as we might expect, has been lavishly enriched with a marble dado surmounted by a broad band of mosaic and a string course of alabaster. Around the walls cf the church a new set of Stations of the Cross, has been erected. They are the work of Messrs. Martyn and Company, Cheltenham, and are of carved Caen stone. It is understood they are a present from generous local benefactors. As one enters the church, remembering how dark and gloomy it was before, the change wrought by the architect, Mr. Edmund Kirby, F.R.I.B.A., F.S.I., Liverpool, is at once apparent. He has secured this by colouring the walls of the nave and aisles with a pale green, and the lower part with a dado of neutral green. Above arises the clerestory, where the decoration is marked out in panels. The roof is a light oak colour, the mouldings of the principals which support it being picked out with lines of vermilion and a band of green and gold alternating. The rich pulpit and marble altar rails, together with the altar, have been cleaned to be in keeping with the new marble dado, and the fine chancel arch, as also the pillars and arches of the nave, has been dressed to restore the stone work. In the new marble dado the large panels are of light pavanazzo, and the plinth, which is of deeper colour, is mainly composed of Rouge griotte and Vert des Alpes marbles. Immediately above this is a very effective band of mosaic’.

In 1959 the high altar was renovated under the direction of Wilfrid Mangan of Preston. A new screen wall of panelled and traceried Travertine marble was built behind the high altar and a canopied marble and Venetian gold mosaic monstrance throne erected against the apsidal wall at the centre of the sanctuary, with associated adaptation of the marble panelling and mosaic frieze alongside. The throne was approached from both sides by stone steps behind the screen. The altar was cleaned and restored, and the spandrels between the arches on the frontal filled with gold mosaic and raised circular marble plaques bearing emblems of St Michael, St John and other symbols carved in relief.

Post-Vatican II reordering involved the removal of the communion rails and all but two of the statues around the walls of the apse (one, St George, is stored near the modern confessionals), but the high altar as adapted by Mangan and the marble and alabaster pulpit by the sanctuary arch were retained. A forward altar was introduced, but more recently this has been replaced by an unusual glass altar, installed by the current parish priest in April 2012.  About the same time (May 2012) a sixteenth-century bell in the tower was restored by Taylor’s of Loughborough after sixty years out of use. This was cast by George Heathcote of Chesterfield between 1525 and 1558 for All Saints, Youlgreave, Derbyshire. It was brought to Clitheroe in the late nineteenth century.


The church is roughly orientated east-west, and this description follows liturgical convention, i.e. assuming the altar is to the east.

A Gothic Revival church in Early English style, built from designs by J. A. Hansom in 1847-50.  The church and adjoining contemporary presbytery are faced with random hard limestone walls, with smooth sandstone dressings, slate roofs and cast iron rainwater goods. The style is Early English, and the plan consists of an aisled nave with western baptistery, towers and porch, and an apsidal sanctuary with Lady Chapel addition of 1884 to the south. On the north side there is a low sacristy link to the presbytery and on the south side a gabled projection now housing a confessional. The ground falls away from the road, and the east end is raised over a crypt.  

The west front is dominated by the two west towers, with a battered plinth, square on plan with angled re-entrants.  Each has a trefoil-headed recess for statues, and each rises to an octagonal belfry with a conical octagonal spire. Between the towers, the west end of the nave has three tall stepped lancets and a gable topped with a carved stone cross. Below the window is a gabled porch with a moulded stone Gothic doorway. The nave clerestory has paired trefoil lights with quatrefoils over, in plain unmoulded dressed stone openings; the aisle windows also have paired lights in longer lancets, and stout buttresses with battered plinths. The east end is apsidal, with seven tall lancet windows. Between these, attached buttresses die into the thicker walls of the crypt, solidly built with low trefoil-headed lights.

The interior is relatively short (ninety feet from the west door to the easternmost part of the apse), wide (fifty feet) and high (fifty four feet to the nave ridge). Owing to the drop in the land there is a perceptible slope in the floor from west to east, and the sanctuary is raised over a crypt. The interior was designed with a view to maximising the visibility of the high altar. There are just three bays to the nave, carried on stout circular pairs, and a tall and wide sanctuary arch. The roof is supported on massive arch-braces, each pierced towards the apex with quatrefoils. The chancel roof has short hammerbeam-type projections in the roof and seven lancet windows, while at the west end is a triple lancet window with detached cylindrical shafts. Below the west window is an organ or choir gallery, supported on two slender columns, and part of Hansom’s design.

The church is richly furnished and relatively little altered. The plain pine benches of the nave, with round-shouldered ends, may be original; they sit on wooden platforms. At the west end of the north aisle is the baptistery, unaltered, with its original iron gates, encaustic tile floor, octagonal font with trefoils cut into the sides on a trilobed base and crown-like counterbalanced oak cover. At the chancel arch is a fine marble and alabaster pulpit, possibly belonging to Kirby’s refit. The sanctuary retains its encaustic tile floor and original high altar by Messrs Strawbridge of Bristol, as modified in the 1950s. In front of this is a glass altar of 2012, straddling the steps before the high altar and scarcely visible in the long views. A small altar stone is set into its mensa.  The sanctuary walls are lined with marble and mosaic, as described above. To the south lies the Lady Chapel, added in 1884 from designs by S.J. Nicholl, with richly carved stonework and painted decoration, also as described above. Stained glass windows of note include seven scenes from the infancy and childhood of Christ in the apse, by Capronnier of Brussels (1885), the Assumption of the Virgin in the west window, by Mayer & Co. of Munich and given by Joseph Ignatius Smith, and St Margaret of Scotland in the north aisle, also by Mayer & Co.   

The church and presbytery were listed Grade II in 2017, following Taking Stock. List description at

Heritage Details

Architect: J. A. Hansom; S. J. Nicholl; Edmund Kirby

Original Date: 1850

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II