Building » Worsley Mesnes – St Jude

Worsley Mesnes – St Jude

Poolstock Lane, Worsley Mesnes, Wigan

Mid 1960s church by L.A.G. Prichard, with a fan shaped plan. While perhaps externally unprepossessing (although the circular baptistery is a  landmark  on  the  corner),  the  church  is  notable  above  all  for  the quality and completeness of its internal fitting out, including abstract dalle de verre stained glass by Robin Riley and a mosaic over the altar by Hans Unger and Eberhard Schulze.

Before modern expansion and development, the area of Worsley Mesnes, about 1.5 miles southwest of Wigan town centre, was farmland and coal mines, belonging to the recusant Downes family of Wardley Hall. Until the Second World War Catholics in the area were served by St Joseph’s and St Cuthbert’s parishes, but major housing development in the 1960s demanded a new parish and church.  A temporary church was built by the first parish priest Fr Tobin while the architects L.A.G. Prichard prepared plans for a permanent building capable of holding 600. The foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Beck on December 14 1964, and the Archbishop returned to open and bless the completed building on July 13 1965. The cost of the church was about £100,000, of which £18,000 was spent on the foundations, to counter the danger of mining subsidence.  The church is notable for its stained glass and mosaics, the latter designed by Hans Unger and made by Eberhard Schulze of Germany, who had worked together designing posters for London Underground.

On plan the church forms something akin to an isosceles triangle, with the corners squared  off, and with  a main diagonal axis  of  altar,  porch  and  baptistery facing towards the street corner. Big reinforced concrete frame with six staggered stained glass window bays on either side of the entrance porch. Otherwise the infill panels of the concrete frame are filled with solid pinkish brickwork. A flat roofed porch and passageway with inset blue and red glass link the church with the (former) baptistery, which is brick and circular, with a high clerestory and has a reinforced concrete open spirelet .

The entrance porch contains at its centre a large, circular tapering concrete holy water stoup. Wrought iron gates and glazing subdivisions with sacred symbols and monograms also mark the space. From here doors lead into the main worship area, which consists of a single space, broader than it is deep. A cantilevered concrete balcony projects over the entrance doors, housing the organ and choir gallery. At the opposing end of this short axis the altar is placed centrally, with two central roof beams cross over each other above it, with a clerestory lighting the altar area.  The sanctuary  area  is  raised  up  several  steps  and  retains  its  original  bianco  Carrara marble steps, altar and altar rails. The ambo, in matching marble, was installed in 2001. Behind the altar is a solid plinth clad in blue mosaic upon which are placed candlesticks and, at the centre, a mosaic Crucifixion, with the figures of The Blessed Virgin Mary and St John, designed by Hans Unger and made by Eberhard Schulze of Germany. Schulze later wrote:

Our first large-scale religious mosaic mural was for the new parish church of St Jude’s in Wigan. The architects L. A. G. Prichard were asked to design a modern, fan- shaped building for a congregation of about 600. The dominant feature was going to be the mosaic, Christ on the Cross, above the altar. The mosaic measures 17 ft by 9 ft, depicting Christ on the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother, and St John standing near. The colours used in the figure of Christ are white, light grey to dark- grey and set against strong black lines to intensify the shape of the body. Small amounts of red tesserae depict the wounds of the crucifixion. The halo is executed in gold sheet tesserae. The colours used for the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary are light beige to dark brown, and for the figure of St John, a range of yellows and green smalti. The dominant colour of the background is blue tesserae with larger pieces of stained glass or Venetian smalti fused ceramic tiles. The overall effect is of a richness not often seen in modern mosaics. To cover the area, almost a thousand pounds of Venetian smalti are applied. The larger-sized ceramic tiles were specially made in our studio. These tiles were cut into shape to the sizes required and although the wastage was more than 50 per cent, the overall effect was worth the effort. The shapes of the sections are determined by the design. The tesserae and tiles are set into a special pliable mixture of dark coloured cement onto a base of marine plywood covered with expanded metal. The mosaic is executed in the direct method and took seven months to be completed and installed. I worked for two weeks in the spring of 1965 in a half- finished and cold church in Wigan installing the mosaic; every section weighed about 200lbs and had to be carried and lifted up a scaffold by several men, and put into position. Nearing completion, I remember Fr Tobin proclaiming in a loud voice, “It simply is magnificent” and many of the workmen came near for the very first time to have a look at the mosaic they had so far completely ignored (quoted on parish website). 

Another remarkable feature of the church is the abstract, dalle de verre stained glass on the walls of the nave and in the former baptistery, by Robin Riley. He wrote of this:

To fill a church with light and colour which has meaning, or tells a story, is a very old problem. To use concrete and glass pushes the imagination further. Because of the thickness of the glass and intensity of the colour, these materials do not lend themselves to the fine detail and two-dimensional nature of traditional windows. This quality  and  the  notion  that  contemplation and  quest  are  valuable  human  traits, prompted the decision to  make the  images in  the  windows many times life  size (quoted on parish website).

The glass was made by Verriers de St Jobain in France and cut, shaped and fitted by glaziers  J.  O’Neill  and  Sons.  It  varies  in  thickness  from  one  to  two  inches,  and consists of swirling patterns, predominantly in blue, red, yellow and green.  Although abstract, they are said to contain symbolic representations of the evangelists and other sacred themes.

The clerestory windows of the former baptistery are also filled with dalle de verre glass by Riley. Although no longer in use as a baptistery, the font remains in situ (now acting as a pedestal for a statue of St Jude), placed one step down within a central circular area paved in marble. Rising from this and enclosing the font are the four ribs of what emerges above the baptistery as the concrete spirelet. In 1993 the baptistery was turned into a shrine dedicated to St Jude, and the walls hung with pennants sewn by the ladies of the parish.

The church has a good set of Stations of the Cross with elongated figures against gold mosaic backgrounds, in marble frames, by Earley & Co. of Dublin. Mr Nicholson thinks they were installed in about 1967.

There  is  one  later  (1977),  more  conventional  stained  glass  window  in  the  organ gallery, depicting St Jude, in memory of Fr Tobin.

The church contains a number of plaster statues, candlesticks and other furnishings from St Joseph, Wigan which closed in 1995.

Heritage Details

Architect: L.A.G. Prichard

Original Date: 1964

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed