Building » Preston – St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs

Preston – St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs

18 Garstang Road, Preston PR1 1NA

A major church in Gothic style by E. W. Pugin, and the earliest and best example of Canon James Taylor’s architectural patronage. The building is a prominent feature in the local townscape and has internal furnishings of high quality.

Canon James Taylor was put in charge of this mission, established in 1864. Writing in 1869, ‘Atticus’ (A. Hewitson) described him thus:

Father Taylor…is a blooming, healthy, full-spirited gentleman. He is a ‘Fylde man’; has in him much strong-straightforwardness; looks as if he has never ailed anything in his life; doesn’t appear to have mortified the flesh very acutely; seems to have taken things comfortably and well since the day of his birth; has not allowed his creed to spoil his face – a trick which some professors of religion are guilty of; and is, on the whole, a genuine specimen of the true John Bull type. Father Taylor… is an active man, and works very hard in his district. As a preacher he is energetic, impetuous, and practical-speaks plainly and straight out, minces nothing, and tries to drive what he considers to be the truth right home. He has very little rhetorical action, hardly moves at all in the pulpit, stirs neither head nor hand except upon special occasions; but he has a powerful voice, he pours out his words in a strong, full volume, and the force he has in this respect compensates for the general immobility he displays during his discourses’.

Fr Taylor remained at ‘The Martyrs’ until 1874. He then went to St Augustine’s, Preston, Lytham (qv), Thornton (qv) and Ansdell (qv), building in each place and usually with his favoured architects, Edward Welby and then Peter Paul Pugin. He died at Alston Hall near Preston in 1908 and was buried in the cemetery he founded near Lytham.

After a short period in which a temporary chapel was used, the present site (then known as Gallows Hill and the site of executions at the time of the 1715 rebellion) was  obtained, helped by a donation of £1,000 from Joseph Gillow. E. W. Pugin prepared ambitious proposals which had to be scaled down; less than £2,000 was raised between 1865 and 1868, against Pugin’s initial bill of £7825 10 sh. The chief loss was the asymmetrically-placed west tower planned by Pugin. The uncompleted church was opened on 12 December 1867.

In 1888 the church was enlarged at the east end of the nave and sanctuary, to designs by Pugin & Pugin (not E. W. Pugin, as stated in the list entry). This increased the accommodation by a third, providing for another 500 people, and cost £8,000.

With town centre depopulation in the 1950s and 60s Mass attendance declined and the internal volume of the nave was reduced by the creation of a narthex and  baptistery at the west end in 1965. Following a fire in 2000, repair and conversion work included the conversion of the confessionals and a corridor area to form a new community room. In 2004 the parish was amalgamated with St Ignatius’ (now the Syro-Malabar cathedral).

Entry amended by AHP 20.12.2020

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1863-7, by E. W. Pugin, enlarged 1888 by the same architect. Rock-faced sandstone, slate roof. Nave with north and south aisles, coupled north and south transepts with chapels on east sides, 5-sided apsidal chancel. Gothic style. The elaborate gabled west front is distinguished by 3 very prominent pinnacled turrets, one corbelled off the apex and enriched with statues in niches etc., and the others carried up from buttressed octagonal corners, enriched with blind arcading; and by a very large 2-centred arched 8-light window with multifoiled circular tracery. Beneath the window is a tripartite porch (of 1888) with crocketed gabled centre containing a moulded arched doorway and flanked by corbelled statues, and a similar north doorway. The 6-bay nave and aisles, by contrast, are very simply treated: the aisles have attenuated arched 2-light windows with plate tracery, and the nave has a clerestory of 18 small lancets. The coupled transepts, projected from the aisles and the same height, have tall 3-light traceried windows; their chapels have windows with geometric tracery; and the chancel has coupled 2-light windows. INTERIOR: 7-bay aisle and 2-bay transept arcades, of tall columns with heavily-foliated carved caps (all different), carrying moulded 2-centred arches with hoodmoulds which have festoons at the springing; wagon roof; projected west gallery (now with enclosed  aptistery beneath); aisles with transverse arches and side arches; arcaded transepts with coupled and triple corbelled wall shafts; elaborate sanctuary dado with statues of saints and martyrs, and canopied reredos.

Heritage Details

Architect: E. W. Pugin; Pugin & Pugin

Original Date: 1863

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II