Building » Darwen – St Joseph

Darwen – St Joseph

Bolton Road, Darwen, Lancs BB3

A lively design in Decorated Gothic by Pugin & Pugin, making the most of a prominent corner site. The tall rocket-like northwest turret is characteristic of the architects’ work. The interior contains some good original detail, and fine marble and mosaic work of the 1930s in the sanctuary.

There were various attempts earlier in the nineteenth century to establish a mission at Darwen, but the first successful one was in 1856, when the Rev. J. V. Meaney, from St Anne’s Blackburn, built a school-chapel was built in Radford Street at a cost of £480. The chapel was dedicated to St William.

The present church, dedicated to St Joseph, was built by Fr Desiderius Vandenweghe in 1884-5, from designs by Pugin & Pugin of Westminster. It was located on a prominent raised corner site, seated 700 and the estimated cost in 1884 was about £4000 (the history on the parish website says the final cost was about £7300). The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Vaughan on 3 May 1884 and the church was opened on 15 October 1885. The reredos, marble altar and tabernacle were donated by members of the congregation.

The attached school was built in 1896 (datestone over the entrance) and opened in 1897. According to Hartwell, the architect was W. Randolph, with later additions to the school by O. C. Hill (1902). Hill also added the low gabled confessionals on the south side of the church, in 1910.

In 1933-4 the sanctuary was lined with marbles and mosaics; on stylistic grounds, this would appear to be the work of the firm of Ludwig Oppenheimer.

The parishes of St Joseph and Sacred Heart and St Edmund, Lower Darwen (qv) are now united.


A Decorated Gothic design of 1894-5 by Pugin & Pugin, built of rock-faced sandstone, with ashlar dressings and slate roofs. The church consists of an aisleless nave of seven bays (including western gallery) and a square-ended sanctuary; gabled confessionals were added on the south side in 1910. Entrances are via a porch on the south side, and a smaller porch onto the street at the northwest corner.  The most distinctive feature of the exterior is the tall, asymmetrically-placed rocket-like turret with conical spire at the northwest corner, characteristic of the work of Pugin & Pugin (cf Our Lady and St Patrick, Walton-le-Dale). Alongside this the next bay to the east is a tall, double height gabled bay, the upper window giving light to the gallery. The windows are paired, trefoil-headed lancets with circular quatrefoils above, and the bays are rhythmically divided by stepped buttresses. On the west front, three trefoil-headed lancets are surmounted by two pairs of larger Decorated windows, each with a glazed square quatrefoil below. The later gabled confessionals on the south side add to this lively composition. By contrast, the sanctuary is externally relatively plain, lit by three lancets at either side. The land falls away steeply at this end, allowing for the east end to be built over a schoolroom. Is it a later addition, perhaps contemporary with the school?

Compared with the outside, the interior is architecturally plain, consisting of a single volume for the nave, with big arch braced roof trusses rising from stone corbels. The gallery at the west end is carried on two stout circular piers with roguish Gothic detail. At the east end, the moulded chancel arch is framed by carved angel corbels carrying short clustered columns with foliated capitals, and a hoodmould with foliated stop. The church appears to retain its original (or early) pine pews, open-backed and with chamfered, shouldered ends. The octagonal font has been moved to the front of the sanctuary area. The sanctuary itself is notable for its marble and mosaic floor and wall decoration, from 1933-4, and probably by the firm of Ludwig Oppenheimer & Co. The centrepiece of this is a mosaic on the east wall of Christ in Majesty attended by two kneeling angels. The side walls have tendril decoration around and sacred monograms below the windows, and at the centre of the lower step up to the sanctuary the floor is inset with a fish mosaic. The quality of the marble and mosaic work is high.

Heritage Details

Architect: Pugin & Pugin

Original Date: 1885

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed