Building » Orrell – St James

Orrell – St James

St James’ Road, Orrell, Wigan WN5

The mission at Orrell goes back to 1699. The present building originated in 1805 as a typically plain pre-Emancipation chapel, hidden away behind the priest’s house. It was doubled in size in the 1840s. The addition of a bell tower in 1882 from designs by James O’Byrne (in untypical classical mode) proclaims the revived confidence of the Catholic Church in the later nineteenth century. The church stands in an extensive burial ground and forms a good group with its associated presbytery and school buildings.

This is an area strong in recusant history. In 1699 the Rev Thomas Young of Orrell leased five acres of land at Crossbrook, near to what is now St John Rigby College, and a mission was established serving the area south of the Douglas River, centred on what is now Orrell Hall and Farm. About 1804 the Rev Thomas Kaye took over the mission and secured a site at Moor Ditch, Far Moor, where a purpose-built chapel and house, called Serenus Place, were built in the following year. These followed the conventional pre-Emancipation pattern of a small and low-key chapel built behind a house of Regency character. The dedication of the church to St James can be interpreted as a sign of Jacobite sympathies.

The house and chapel survive today. The chapel was doubled in length in or soon after 1841. The original building has rendered walls, and the extension exposed stonework. The enlarged church was fitted with a western gallery. It may also have been about this time that the cottage extension mentioned in the list description was built. In 1848 a parish school was built on the edge of the churchyard. It was enlarged in 1871. In 1882 (not 1870 as stated in some sources) a new (liturgical) west tower and belfry were added, from designs by James O’Byrne. The architect’s drawings are in the archdiocesan archives. In 1905 a new floor was laid in the church, as well as new oak benches and altar rails. It is possible that the coloured glass windows, all of an identical design, were also installed at this time. In 1922 a memorial chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart (now St Joseph) was added on the liturgical south side. Its Caen stone altar cost £1,500.

In the early 1960s Canon Baybutt reordered the sanctuary, blocking the door to the presbytery in the (liturgical) east wall and placing an altar to the Sacred Heart in this position. A Lady altar was installed in the corresponding position on the other side of the sanctuary. The statues are from the Tyrol. In addition to this he installed a new marble high altar and redecorated the sanctuary. This altar was later brought forward to allow for westward celebration. The 1905 altar rails have been removed, probably at the time of this reordering.


See list description, below. This needs to be augmented with the information contained above, notably the crediting of the design of the tower to O’Byrne. The windows of the church and their glass appear to be of early twentieth century date (1882 survey drawings by O’Byrne show glazing bar sash windows with an intersecting Gothick pattern in the arches). There are original (circa 1841) benches of plain character in the western gallery.

List description (church and presbytery)


Catholic Church. 1805, lengthened 1841, west tower 1882 (ritual west is actual north). Stone with hipped slate roof. 4-bay nave, north chapel, west tower and presbytery to east. West facade has corbelled frieze, cornice and parapet. Round-headed windows with plain architraves. Porch has aedicule with flat Tuscan pilasters; recessed paired 2-fielded-panel doors and overlight with glazing bars. Cornice and blocking course at eaves level; round-headed niche with statue of St.James and impost band; bell stage, has 2 round-headed bell openings, panelled pilasters and impost band. Top entablature and lead-clad swept ogee domical vault and finial cross. South facade has 1st 2 bays of stone, 2nd 2 bays plastered; round-headed windows. North facade similar. Later chapel of 3 bays with 2-light windows and north entrance.

Presbytery is stuccoed, of 2 storeys with attic under gable and 3 bays, small extension to left of 2 storeys and bays. Windows have plaster surrounds. Ground floor has C20 bay windows; extension has sashed windows with glazing bars. 1st floor has sashed windows with glazing bars, window to centre bay is blind with round-headed attic window with casement above; extension similar. Entrance to central bay is round-headed with Tuscan doorcase and fanlight with glazing bars; 2-panel door. Plain round-headed entrance to 2nd bay of extension. Recessed gabled bay to right return.

Interior of Church has west gallery on 2 iron columns. East end has Ionic balustrade; Ionic aedicule behind altar with no pediment. C20 altar, reredos and canopy. Flanking altars and reredoses of grey and white marble. 3 segmental arches die into jambs to north chapel; good late C19 stained glass and marble altar and reredos; C20 internal porch.

Listing NGR: SD5277803906


Entry amended by AHP 10.01.2021

Photo credit (external view):  © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Heritage Details

Architect: Original architect not known; James O’Byrne (west tower)

Original Date: 1805

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II