Building » Wigan – St Mary

Wigan – St Mary

Standishgate, Wigan WN1

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

One of a pair of outstanding early nineteenth century Catholic churches in Wigan. A secular church built in 1818, its Gothic style offers a bold and presumably deliberate contrast to the Classicism of the nearby Jesuit church of St John. The church is a delightful essay in Commissioners-style Gothic, with a vaulted and galleried interior.

In  1573  the  Bishop  of  Chester  described  the  Catholics  of  Wigan  as ‘stubborn recusants’, and the old faith was to endure in the town throughout penal times. Wigan was a centre of Jacobitism in 1715 and 1745, and was chosen as one of the earliest English Jesuit missions. St John’s, Standishgate (q.v.) was established by the Jesuits in 1723 and rebuilt in 1819. St Mary’s was its secular rival, built within two hundred yards. The foundation stone of the rebuilt St John’s was laid first, but St Mary’s was the first to be completed, in 1818. Building was financed in part by the Greenhaulgh family, who are commemorated on a wall tablet. The Gothic design of the church was no doubt a deliberate contrast to the Classicism of St John’s. The architect is unknown.

The red brick presbytery was added in 1882, from designs by James O’Byrne of Liverpool (plans in Archdiocesan Archives).

The church was sympathetically reordered with a forward altar in 1969, leaving the sanctuary otherwise unaltered.


See list description, below. Additional information:

  • The quatrefoil piers of the nave arcades are one part iron and three parts timber, not just timber as stated in the list description;
  • The church has an attractive polychrome paint scheme, presumably late twentieth century but possibly based on earlier evidence;
  • The original seating survives in the galleries; plain with a grained finish;
  • The organ dates from 1861 (parish website);
  • The benches in the nave (1867 according to the parish website) and the encaustic tiles of the alleys date from the later nineteenth century;
  • Also later nineteenth century, probably from the 1880s, is the high altar with tall Gothic canopy to the tabernacle throne;
  • The low-relief figures of saints and prophets lining the sanctuary walls were designed and modelled by T. M. Crook, 1904;
  • There is a handsome brass set into the floor to Fr Middlehurst, the first mission priest, killed in the cholera epidemic of 1847. in vestments under a canopy;
  • Two good early twentieth century marble shrines at the west end of the nave, marble with figures set in mosaic niches – St Anthony, erected by Thomas James Arkwright JP as a war memorial and St Teresa of Lisieux, in memory of Benjamin and Jane Blackburn;
  • The stained glass in the aisle windows is by William Gardner of St Helens, 1877.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1818; altered. Sandstone ashlar, with sides and rear of coursed squared sandstone; slate roof. Gothick style with Perpendicular features to the facade. PLAN: rectangular plan set back from, and at right-angles to street, with integral narthex, nave with north and south aisles, short chancel. EXTERIOR: a 2-storey 5-bay symmetrical facade, the centre gabled and the outer bays (ends of aisles) lower; with pilaster-buttresses modulated to tall diagonal crocketed pinnacles and an embattled parapet with a bellcote at the apex of the gable. The wide centre bay has a large 2-centred arched 5-light transomed window with surround chamfered in 3 orders, ogee-headed lights on both levels, dense geometric Perpendicular tracery in the head, and a hood-mould. The flanking bays each have a Tudor-arched doorway with double-chamfered surround, hollow spandrels and a hood-mould, and a 2-centred arched 2-light window above. All these windows have geometrical small-paned stained glass. Lower outer bays have diagonal buttresses. The 5-bay side walls have tall 2-centred arched 3-light transomed windows with flush transoms and mullions. The chancel has a 5-light window with eclectic tracery. INTERIOR: 5-bay aisle arcades of slender clustered wooden columns and moulded 2- centred arches; galleries to 3 sides, with Gothick traceried front panelling; closed trusses to a shallow-pitched ceiling with moulded ribs and large foliated bosses; glazed screen below west gallery, with Gothick tracery and leaded glazing; curved stone staircases to gallery in both front corners.

(Little B: Catholic Churches since 1623: London: 1966-; Watkin D: The Buildings of Britain: Regency: London: 1982-).

Listing NGR: SD5851306150

Heritage Details

Architect: Unknown

Original Date: 1818

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*