Building » Whitworth – St Anselm

Whitworth – St Anselm

John Street, Whitworth, Lancs OL12

A plain church designed by the first mission priest, Fr John Anselm Milward, and built using voluntary labour. A clock tower and side chapels were later added. The church is flanked by the presbytery and the primary school. The church is of interest on account of the circumstances of its construction, and for its townscape value.

In the late 1850s, a room was rented in the Hare and Hounds Hotel in Whitworth where a priest from St John’s, Rochdale, said Mass on Sundays for the mostly Irish workers in the local mills and quarries. In October 1860, the mission was founded and the first resident priest, Fr John Anselm Milward, arrived. He rented a room over the Co-operative Stores in Market Street as a temporary chapel. When this became insufficient, he rented two cottages in Market Street which were used as a presbytery and a school. A chapel was built to the rear. When this too was outgrown, Fr Milward rented a room in the Smithson Brothers’ Mill in Facit. In 1867, Fr Milward leased a plot in John Street, Whitworth, to build a church and presbytery. As well as designing both buildings himself, Fr Milward also worked as one of the voluntary workmen on the church. Funds were raised by repeatedly raffling off one of Fr Milward’s horses (which was always returned to his owner). On 27 June 1868, when the topsoil was removed, an urn with human bones was found. The church and the presbytery were completed in 1869. The church was opened by Bishop Turner on 10 October 1869.

In 1871, Fr Milward leased an adjacent plot to build a school, which was undertaken by his successor. Under Fr Adrian Egglesmere (1875-93), the tower of the church was completed, with three bells and a chiming clock. In the 1890s, a new organ was installed. In 1909, a new school was opened. In the 1910s, a new vestry was provided, and two side chapels were built, furnished with memorial windows and two new altars made and presented by the headmaster of St Anselm’s School, Mr W. W. Reed. A parish hall was opened in 1936.

In 1968, church and presbytery were restored and refurbished by Greenhalgh & Williams. Both were re-slated and the roofs repaired. A central heating system was installed which served both buildings. In the church, the walls were replastered, a new suspended ceiling installed in the nave, the baptistery ‘improved’, new boys’ and working sacristies provided (in the former side chapels), the timber floor replaced, the leaded windows repaired, and the church entirely redecorated. The sanctuary reordering comprised the installation of a new forward altar, in front of the former high altar. The church was entirely re-wired and new light fittings installed. The overall cost of the works to church and presbytery was around £18,000.

The church was consecrated on 20 April 1985. In the 1990s, the door in the former southeast side chapel leading into the school was blocked.


The church is built using rock-faced local stone with a slate roof. It is rectangular in plan with a west tower, but with the attached presbytery to the north and the school to the south it appears cruciform. The tower of four stages has diagonal buttresses. On the lowest stage is the central west door and lancets to north and south. The stage above has a Y-tracery two-light window to the west. Below the clock faces on three sides are three round-headed empty niches, also on three sides. The top stage has three lancets with bell louvres and battlements. The west wall on either side of the tower has diagonal buttresses and two disused doorways (blocked from the inside). The north and south elevations have four two-light windows with Y-tracery between buttresses. The east end is closely hemmed in by the school and the presbytery. It is blind apart from the two-light windows of the former side chapels with curvilinear tracery. Placed centrally is a panel with a shallow relief of a chalice in a quatrefoil.

The five-bay nave has an arch braced roof which is panelled above the collar beam. The short west gallery rests on two corbels and two metal brackets. At the southwest corner is the baptistery, with wrought iron rails and gates, the octagonal stone font, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. Beside the entrance to the sacristy is a modern statue of the Risen Christ; a statue of St Anselm stands to the south of the chancel arch. The sanctuary has modern timber furnishings including a forward altar, a lectern and a font. The reredos consists of part of the original high altar. The original altar, upper register and Byzantine-style monstrance throne have been removed, leaving the tabernacle niche (with a post-war tabernacle) and two niches (now filled with small statues of saints) on either side. Above is a crucifix flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John. The tall pitched roof of the sanctuary has two rooflights and a suspended ceiling.

The former Sacred Heart chapel at the northeast is now used as a store and is accessed from the sacristy. Its arch to the nave is largely blocked apart from the sacristy door. A partition and suspended ceiling have been inserted to form a storage room. The window is largely boarded up from the inside but some coloured glass is visible in the tracery. The former War Memorial Chapel at the southeast is now the flower sacristy with a small sink installed. Its partition to the nave is slightly east of the arch, creating a shallow niche which at the time of the visit was used for an Easter grotto.

The benches and the Stations of the Cross are modern. The windows have modern diamond-pane leaded glass, some with religious symbols applied as transparencies.

Heritage Details

Architect: Fr John Anselm Milward

Original Date: 1869

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed