Building » Widnes – St Michael

Widnes – St Michael

St Michael’s Road, Ditton WA8

An ambitious and assured work built for the Jesuits by Henry Clutton, one of the leading Victorian designers of Catholic churches. The striking and original bell tower is a local landmark. The calm and ordered interior provides a dignified liturgical setting.

This impressive church was erected in 1876-79 for a group of Jesuit priests expelled from Germany by Bismarck in 1872. It was paid for by Lady Mary Stapleton-Bretherton at a cost of £16,000. The architect, Henry Clutton, had previously worked for the Jesuits at their mother church in Farm Street, London and designed the college attached to the church of St Francis Xavier, Liverpool.


See also list description, below. Built in 1876-79 by Henry Clutton, St Michaels is a large, tall and imposing church with an assertive west tower, all faced in regular coursed red sandstone ashlar with thin mortar joints. There is an eight bay nave flanked by aisles with separate gabled roofs, north and south transepts and a shallow chancel. The church is lit by lancet windows, with rose windows in the transepts and east end. The muscular tower has three stages, the upper stage containing a belfry, and is capped by a steep saddleback stone roof with dormers.

The interior is spacious, well- proportioned and austere. Its measurements are ordered in mathematical proportions: the height of the tower at 120 feet is exactly the same as the length of the building, and the width of the nave and aisles is exactly half. In contrast with the red sandstone exterior, the arcades and internal finishes are of creamy Bath stone. The tall arcade runs the full length of the church, its columns shafted and terminated by French Early Gothic crocketed capitals. The roof is a barrel vault in panelled oak.

The sanctuary was reordered in 1979 by Bartlett & Purnell in a dignified fashion, although the elaborate late nineteenth century timber furnishings made by the German lay brothers were mostly lost at that time. The present tabernacle canopy, made from the tester of the original pulpit survives to show the style of the German work. Also German, made in Cologne in 1880, are the fine stained glass windows of the chancel, chapels and transepts depicting saints under elaborate canopies. The sensitively-designed timber and glass screen below the west gallery probably dates from the same re-ordering.

List description


Catholic Church 1876-9, by Henry Clutton, in red sandstone ashlar with slate roof. Cruciform with 8 bay arcade which passes the short transepts and takes in the chancel. At the west end of the nave there is an impressive tower with steep saddleback roof. The main entrance, in the tower, is a pair of large board filled 3 panel doors in a Gothic opening with treble shaft treatment, this idea is extended upwards to the 3 bell-stage lancets which are framed by shafts with rings. The gables of the chancel and transepts have rose windows with stained glass, elsewhere windows are large lancets. Steep pitched roof with crested ridge tiles surrounded by eaves parapet in the form of a continuous open arcade.

Interior: Twin coupled shafts with early Gothic style crocket caps run throughout the length of the building and support Gothic aisle arches and a hardwood boarded barrel vaulted ceiling which is common to the chancel and nave. The north transept has the organ and the south confessionals. The chancel has yellow sandstone walls and marble floors, whereas the nave has plastered walls.

Built for a Jesuit community expelled from Germany in 1872.

Heritage Details

Architect: Henry Clutton

Original Date: 1876

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II*