Liverpool Road, Skelmersdale WN8
A simple brick Gothic chapel with many typical features of E. W. Pugin’s smaller churches: western bellcote and rose window, use of red brick with blue banding for polychromatic effect, internal gallery and quirky roof structure. The church is set within a large burial ground and has good group value with the contemporary presbytery.
The church was built in 1864-5. At the time of its construction Skelmersdale was developing as a coalmining area, bringing a large influx of Irish Catholic workers and their families. The land was given by William Rotheram of Skelmersdale, with a view to establishing a church, school and priest’s house. The architect was E. W. Pugin of London, the builder John Middlehurst of St Helens. The church was built with economy in mind, at an estimated cost of £1,000 (The Tablet 13 August 1864). This was not a wealthy area; the Victoria County History (1907) described the town as ‘a particularly bare, unpleasing district, for the most part occupied by collieries, with huge banks of black refuse at intervals amongst tree-less fields’.
This is a long, narrow church in lancet Gothic style, of red brick laid in Flemish bond with purple bands and Scarisbrick stone dressings offering polychromatic effect, under slate roofs. Aisleless and towerless, with a raised western bellcote and continuous roof encompassing nave of seven bays, and a narrower chancel of three bays. The staggered and gabled western bellcote contains a single bell, and below this is a circular window lighting the internal gallery, its tracery containing trefoils within a quatrefoil (polycarbonate protected). Below this, three trefoil-headed lancets windows, flanked by stepped buttresses. The north and south elevations of the nave consist of one trefoil-headed lancet window per bay, each with a simple stone hoodmould, with horizontal purple brick courses at the springing of the arches, the mid-point of the windows, and (paired) at sill level. Stepped buttresses mark the bay divisions. The entrance to the church is via a porch, a later addition but repeating the earlier detail, attached to the western bay of the nave on the south side.
The interior is a single volume, with an organ/choir gallery at one end, and a narrower, three-bay sanctuary at the other. The unusual open timber roof has similarities with Pugin’s church of St Anne, Westby (1861, Diocese of Lancaster), with the principals of the nave roof carried down to the ground as wall posts. The gallery with its Gothic-style canted and pierced front is also similar to that at Westby. The stained glass is of various dates and is of good quality. The sanctuary has rich Gothic oak furnishings of early twentieth century appearance, including the high altar, panelling on the side walls, and canopies for statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady on either side of the chancel arch. Painted polychromy and stencilled decoration and texts, much of which with the encaustic tile floor, belongs to a sympathetic scheme of redecoration and reordering (circa 2002). The forward altar is a marble piece incorporating a polychrome panel of the Agnus Dei on the front. The elaborately carved font (likely to be original) was moved from its earlier position in the baptistery under the gallery to the front of the nave, presumably at the time of this reordering and redecoration.
The presbytery is linked to the church at the east end, on the south side. It is also of red brick, with purple banding, under a slate roof. It has been considerably enlarged, having originally consisted of the two bay gabled elevation nearest the church (with the main entrance at the centre of the long south elevation). It was later (after 1885) more than doubled in size, repeating the style of the original design. A drawing of circa 1885 showing the original design of the church and presbytery hangs in the presbytery.
The nursery school building to the north of the church is a modern prefabricated structure.
Entry amended by AHP 11.01.2021
Architect: E. W. Pugin
Original Date: 1864
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed