Chapel Street, Leigh
A mid-nineteenth century stone-built town church with thirteenth-century Gothic details, built for the Jesuits by Joseph Hansom. The west tower is a local landmark and the exterior has a strong architectural presence. The spacious interior has a striking roof form, designed by Hansom to create an uncluttered interior, although altered soon after construction. Liturgical fittings include a fine gilded marble high altar, Gothic reredos, statuary and stained glass. Part of a good group of historic Catholic buildings on this site.
Founded by the Society of Jesus, a mission was first recorded in Leigh in 1670. In 1779 a chapel and presbytery were erected by Fr John Shaw SJ at Mather Lane on the site of the present St Joseph’s Hall; Chapel Street is reputedly named after this first chapel. Fr William Poole SJ extended the chapel and established an Association and a Men’s Club in the 1820s, beginning the strong tradition of guilds and sodalities in Leigh. A gallery was added to the chapel and the first school built by Fr John Reeve SJ, opening in 1829.
In 1845 Fr John Middlehurst SJ arrived at Leigh and initiated fundraising for a new church; the present building opened on 4 May 1855. In 1871, new schools were built, later extended and the Infants School built c.1900. Between 1886 and 1899, Fr Cowell SJ acquired property fronting the main street, added the side chapel and two confessionals to the church. Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poet, served here in 1879. St Joseph’s Chapel was completed under Fr Ronald Fraser SJ with funding from the Fairclough family, in the interwar years. In the 1950 repairs included the rebuilding of the Pieta Chapel and the two confessionals. The Jesuits managed the parish until 1960.
The church is described in the list description, below. Additional information on notable fittings includes the pipe organ, originally acquired from Bromsgrove parish church in 1858, and rebuilt by Messrs T. Pendlebury of Leigh in 1930. The stained glass near the Lady Chapel is by Mayer & Co. of Munich, with other glass supplied by R. B. Edmundson & Son of Newton-le-Willows. The additional cast-iron columns to support the roof were installed in 1863, allegedly following storm damage, although it is likely that Hansom’s experimentally wide nave roof required extra structural support. A reordering by the Pozzoni Design Group in 1987 provided a glazed narthex screen beneath the gallery and creating a marble ambo and new altar, using part of the dismantled marble altar rail.
Roman Catholic church. 1855. By Joseph Hansom. Hammer-dressed stone with fishscale bands to slate roof. Wide nave with polygonal chancel, west tower, south porch, north and south chapels and a sacristy. Gothic Revival. 9-bay nave with projecting plinth, weathered and gableted buttresses and 3-light windows with Geometrical tracery. Small gabled chapels (of later date) and porch. 2 and 3-light chancel windows. Vents on roof. 3-stage tower with angled buttresses and saddle roof; octagonal stair turret in one corner, arched west entrance, statue and niche at second stage, 4 cusped lancets at third stage and 2-light belfry openings below the gables which have a statue finial and are flanked by elaborate pinnacles. The roof has gabled dormers and a cast-iron ridge crest. Interior: the unusually wide hammer- beam roof has arch braces in two directions. It failed structurally early in its life and slender cast-iron columns were inserted to support the hammer-beam ends. West gallery. Timber fittings. Stained glass. Various statuary. Elaborate altar and reredos incorporating a heavily enriched canopy above a crucifix. Brightly painted chancel ceiling.
Entry amended by AHP 9.1.2021
Architect: Joseph Hansom
Original Date: 1855
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II