Building » Preston – St Wilfrid

Preston – St Wilfrid

1 Winckley Square, Preston PR1 3JJ

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

Jesuit church dating originally from the immediate post-Relief Act period, but almost entirely and magnificently rebuilt in the late nineteenth century. Particularly notable for the richness of the internal architecture and furnishings. Located in the Winckley Square Conservation Area.

The old faith clung on tenaciously in Preston. In 1582 the Lord President of the North wrote to the Bishop of Chester: ‘In your like countries there is plenty of Jesuits and massing priests. I wish I might hear that some preachers are planted there to cross them. I hope before this you have one in Preston’ (Warren, p 10).

The Preston Mission was served by the Society of Jesus from 1701. A large (for its time) chapel was opened in 1761 in Friargate (the site of the later, and now demolished St Mary’s). The Catholic James Boswell visited this and found it ‘so filled with seats that I wondered at so much indulgence by the Civil Magistrates (Warren, p.24). This was plundered during the election riots of 1768.

In 1773 Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. However Bishop Challoner, effective head of the Church in England and Wales, was kindly disposed towards the ex-Jesuits and allowed them to continue to serve their missions.

In 1776 Mr Joseph Dunn, the famous ‘Daddy Dunn’ arrived at Preston to help lead the Preston mission, a role he was to fulfil for 51 years. In 1792 (that is, very soon after the Second Relief Act of 1791 legalised the building of public places of Catholic worship), he oversaw the building of a new Chapel in Fishergate. Opened in 1793, this became the church of St Wilfrid. It was a nonconformist-style galleried church of the type that widely prevailed in the immediate post-Relief Act period. Its outer shell survives to this day, and is most discernible at the east end. However, by 1877, when work began on the present church, it was considered old-fashioned, especially compared with the other great churches (St Walburge, St Ignatius, English Martyrs) that had by now risen in the town. In 1877 Fr Jackson addressed a public meeting, which was reported as follows:

‘St Wilfrid’s ought at least to be equal if not superior to other churches and they intended to make it so (loud applause)…they were going to give the congregation…a substantial new church, which would be beautiful…It was to be in the Italian style – a truly and emphatically a Jesuit church (applause)…They would sweep through every obstacle. The galleries had been the subject of great difficulty to them…but he might tell them that their present intention was to say ‘goodbye to the galleries’ (applause)…Galleries were a thing of the past; they did not look well; and would, moreover, interfere with the entire structure of the church…’ (Warren, p. 75)

The architect or this ‘truly Roman Church’ was Fr Ignatius Scoles SJ (1834-96), the eldest son of J. J. Scoles. He had qualified as an architect before becoming a Jesuit priest in 1860.

Bishop O’Reilly of Liverpool presided at the opening of the building on 25 April 1880.

In 1884 the Jesuits left Church House, the presbytery built by Mr Dunn in 1793, and bought and adapted the present presbytery, which overlooks Winckley Square.

In 1890 the plain external walls of the building, incorporating much of the 1793 chapel, were adorned with decorative terracotta, stone and brick detail, in an exuberant Italian Renaissance style, under the direction of S. J. Nicholl. The interior was also further embellished with marble work.


See list description, below. This only hints at the richness of the interior of this building. It also implies that the church was wholly rebuilt in 1879-80. Additional points:

  • From 1880 and by Fr Scoles: five pairs of giant Corinthian columns carrying the tunnel vault of the nave, of Shap granite, resting on Belgian marble bases. The apsidal sanctuary and high altar. Sanctuary pavement and marble and alabaster altar rails; giant pilasters supporting the sanctuary arch. The pulpit.
  • Most of the marble work elsewhere dates from 1890.
  • The Lady Altar is by Pugin & Pugin.
  • Electric lighting was introduced in 1897, replacing gas.
  • The baptistery dates from 1902 and is by Edmund Kirby.
  • Further marble work in the sanctuary dates from 1924. The church has escaped significant post- Vatican II liturgical adaptation.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1793, rebuilt 1879-80 by Ignatius Scoles and S.J.Nichols. Red brick with much buff terracotta cladding and dressings, slate roof. Nave on north-south axis, with east and west aisles, east chapels and south apse. Italian basilica style. Six-bay nave embraced by tall aisles. High plinth dressed with sandstone, then rusticated terracotta to ground floor level, with bands, frieze and cornice of matching material. The gabled tripartite north front, the centre breaking forwards slightly, has a large round-headed doorway with very elaborate terracotta surround including tympanum with reliefs, and flanking side doors in similar style; a large circular window near the top flanked by monograms and under an enriched pediment, and windows to the tops of the aisles, of 2 round-headed lights, all these with elaborate terracotta surrounds. The west side has high-set round-headed windows with similarly elaborate surrounds.

INTERIOR: basilica form, with colonnades of massive Corinthian columns in polished red marble mounted on square plinths of black marble; coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling; marble cladding to the walls and apse, in various hues, including giant Corinthian pilasters; mosaic portraits of saints over arcade to chapel; canted north gallery with ornamental cast-iron balustrade.

NB The presbytery is separately listed (Grade II)

Heritage Details

Architect: Fr Ignatius Scoles; S. J Nicholl (remodelling)

Original Date: 1793

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*