Building » Farnworth – St Gregory the Great

Farnworth – St Gregory the Great

Presto Street, Farnworth, Bolton BL4

An early (1873-75) work by Edmund Kirby, which although architecturally conservative contains an interesting interior with a distinctive timber roof and aisle arcades. When listed, the building contained a number of late nineteenth and early twentieth century fittings, though these have mostly been removed for safe keeping. The church has been closed for several years and in spite of considerable expenditure on maintenance is now in a serious state of disrepair.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Catholics of Farnworth would congregate on Sunday mornings in the town centre to walk into Bolton together to attend Mass at SS Peter and Paul’s church. The number making the journey grew steadily, and in 1849 a small room was rented for Mass in the upper storey of the old Mechanics’ Institute in Peel Street. In 1852, Fr W. Taylor, a convert, was appointed to found a Mission for the 800 Catholics in Farnworth, mostly employed in the cotton mills. In 1853 Fr. Turner acquired a site and a modest stone building was erected.

The second priest, Fr Michael Byrne, served from 1861-71 and raised over £3,500 towards a new church, which was realised by his successor, Fr John Galbois Boulaye. This was built in 1873-75 to the design of Edmund Kirby, the contractors being Coope Bros of Farnworth. The presbytery was erected in 1896, and the parish hall in 1929.

In the 1990s the church was found to be suffering from structural problems, and fell into disrepair. In 1997 the parish hall was adapted for worship and the church was vacated. The presbytery was closed in 2003. Since then both church and presbytery have continued to deteriorate in spite of considerable expenditure on repairs and maintenance. The church was listed in 1998.


See list entry, below. Edmund Kirby’s church (not Kirkby, as in the list entry) of 1873-5 has a rectangular plan, containing nave, aisles and sanctuary under a single roof, with a shallow north transept. The side chapels were enlarged and the sacristies behind the sanctuary added in 1910. It is built of coursed rock-faced sandstone with ashlar dressings and a slate roof. The style is Early English, with paired lancets set between buttresses along the north and south facades, and tall lancets to the west gable. The sanctuary is illuminated by three clerestory lancets in the south wall. Alterations at the northwest corner to create a baptistery involved the addition of a circular window in a gabled projection and a three-light window in the west front.

The spacious interior has a broad nave and narrow aisles, separated by timber posts, supporting a timber roof with cusped braces resting on corbels. To the west is an organ loft, containing a Benson organ of 1905. The raised sanctuary retains its altar and tall reredos, carved by Mayer of Munich and installed in 1894. The latter incorporates paintings on copper of SS George, Gregory, Patrick and Augustine of Canterbury, and scenes of the sacrifice of Isaac and Melchisedech offering bread and wine. The dado tiling to the nave walls is by Pilkingtons.

After the church was closed, a number of furnishings were removed for safe keeping. These include the pulpit by Mayer of Munich; the rood with crucifix flanked by Our Lady and St John; the Stations of the Cross; the pews; the lady altar; and a carving of the Last Supper, which was added as a frontispiece to the high altar when it was moved forward in the late 1970s. The lady altar, the War Memorial, and the pews are now in the former parish hall, which is used for worship.

List description:


Roman Catholic church. 1873-75, with later C19 and C20 additions and alterations. Architect: Kirkby of Liverpool; builders: Coupe brothers of Farnworth. Coursed rock-faced gritstone, ashlar dressing, slate roof. A plain early English style to nave and slightly later decorated tracery to chancel and sacristy/lady chapel on the north side. Nave and chancel under one roof. The most impressive facades are those to the west and north, facing onto the street lines of Presto Street and Church Street. West door in a shallow ribbed porch, double board doors with ornate strap hinges; flanking paired lancets and 3 tall lancets above; full height stepped buttresses. The nave has 5 paired lancets and stepped buttresses; the shallow north transept has 4 lancets and a quatrefoil window above; 3 multifoil clerestory windows to the chancel; paired lancets between 2 tall dormers to the sacristy. The north-west corner fenestration has been altered and includes at the west end of the nave, a large circular window in a projecting gable with rebuilt paired windows above and a 3-light window to left of west door. 3 tie-bar gates in the west gable; gable copings and cross finials. Interior: high and wide nave and narrow side aisles, west gallery, short raised chancel. The nave roof is supported by 6 pairs of timber posts carried up to timber roof trusses with cusped decoration; corbels support posts and cusped braces below the wall plate of the aisles. Plain chancel arch; later platform for a forward altar obscures the steps up to the raised chancel; alter rail missing; fine carved panelling to chancel walls; altar and pulpit carved by Mayer of Munich, 1894, high rood above with crucifix and statues of Mary and John. Chancel arched timber roof supported on stone corbels. The nave walls fined with ornate tiles below a moulded string; fine carved panels depicting the station of the cross. The foundation stone of the church was laid in 16/8/1873 and the official opening was in 1876.

Listing NGR: SD7423805815

Heritage Details

Architect: Edmund Kirby

Original Date: 1875

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II