Building » Samlesbury – St Mary and St John

Samlesbury – St Mary and St John

Preston New Road, Samlesbury, Preston PR5

A simple and evocative chapel and attached presbytery, typical of those built in the Northern District between the Catholic Relief Act of 1790 and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. The mission has important historical associations with the Southworth and other local Catholic families. The church enjoys an idyllic setting, somewhat marred by the proximity of the motorway.   

Samlesbury Hall was the home of the Southworth family, noted recusants, among whose number was St John Southworth (c1592-1654), priest and martyr, born at Lower Samlesbury Hall. In the early seventeenth century the Lower Hall estate was acquired by Thomas Walmsley, who rebuilt the house in about 1625. For many years an upper room here was fitted up for use as a Catholic chapel, dedicated to St Chad. The estate subsequently descended with the Petre half of the manor. Lower Hall survives today as a ruin

The protection offered by the Southworths, Walmsleys and Petres allowed Mass to be said in the area throughout Penal times. In 1709 Bishop Smith of the Northern District confirmed and preached to a large number at Lower Hall, but this raised no eyebrows, the vicar of Blackburn remarking that ‘the neighbouring Protestants seemed to take little notice of the matter, it being no novelty with them’ (quoted in VCH).  The chapel at Lower Hall remained in use until about 1816, when it had to be abandoned on account of the encroachment of the Ribble. It was served by Franciscans in the eighteenth century, and from 1816 by secular priests.

The present church (originally dedicated to St Mary) and attached presbytery were built in 1817-18 (there is a datestone of 1818 over the entrance to the church. They were built with financial support from Squire Heatley of Brindle Lodge, who contributed to the building or enlargement of a number of Catholic chapels in the Northern District. The identity of the architect is not recorded.

After the canonisation of John Southworth as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1971, the dedication of the church was changed to St Mary and St John Southworth.

In the 1990s the church was refurbished, incorporating furnishings said to have come from the closed P.P. Pugin church of St Edmund, Miles Platting.


The building is described in the list entry, below. It is of the common pattern of Catholic church building of the period between the Second Relief Act (1790) and Catholic Emancipation Act (1829), that is a simple classical box with internal gallery, placed unobtrusively behind a substantial house for the priest. Additional points not mentioned in the list entry are:

  • The rubble stone walls were probably originally rendered, as the presbytery still is.
  • The high altar is of sarcophagus form, now returned to its original position after a post-Vatican II reordering. There is a small forward altar in front of this.
  • According to Fr Cribben, the seating, which consists of late nineteenth century benches, was brought here in the 1990s from the demolished Peter Paul Pugin church of St Edmund, Miles Platting. The vestibule under the gallery, with timber Gothic glazing and diamond-leaded quarries bearing various emblems is presumably from the same source.
  • In front of the sanctuary is a ledger stone over the grave of the Revd William Carter, priest of this congregation, who died in 1855.
  • On the back wall of the church near the gallery is a memorial to the priests who have served the Samlesbury mission, and before that those at Brockholes and Lower Hall, going back to 1690.
  • There are various statues and shrines, including one to St John Southworth.

List description:


Chapel with presbytery under one roof, dated 1818. Rubble, stone quoins and dressings, slate roof hipped at west end which is presbytery. Chapel of rectangular plan; entrance at east end in round-headed doorway with stone jambs, a stone tablet above it lettered:- HOLINESS BESEEMETH THY HOUSE O LORD AT ALL TIMES. PS. 92 1818. Stone band, from which rise 4 windows in each side (and 2 in the east gable, which are now blocked), all stilted lunettes with radiating glazing bars. Presbytery of 2 storeys and 3 bays, symmetrical, facade of scored stucco, moulded stone doorcase with semi-circular fan light (a modern glazed porch attached); all windows sashed with glazing bars. Hipped roof with chimney on the hip, another on the ridge behind, and a belfry on the apex.

Interior of chapel: a simple shell with flat ceiling; east gallery on 2 iron columns; a rear wall behind altar has a large framing recess with wide depressed arch flanked by Ionic columns bearing a dentilled cornice and frieze lettered “ECCE PANIS ANGELORUM”, altar surrounded by curved communion rail with stick balusters.

Listing NGR: SD5935330319

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1818

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II