To mark St Patrick’s Day Dave Gorman looks back at the history of a 19th century landmark in the latest of his series charting the history of Lancashire churches.
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Patrick is a prominent landmark in the village of Walton-le-Dale, the present church being Gothic Revival in style.
The architect was Peter Paul Pugin (d1904), a younger son and brother respectively of the celebrated Gothic Revival architects, Augustus Welby Pugin (d1852) and Edward Welby Pugin (d1875).
The Pugins were also responsible for several other architectural gems in the area including St Mary’s, Brownedge, Bamber Bridge; St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs, Preston; St Mary’s, Euxton; and Euxton Hall Chapel.
The architectural historian and writer, Nikolaus Pevsner, describes the church in the North Lancashire volume (1969) of his “Buildings of England” as “Rock-faced, with a south west turret and a fancy west rose window”.
The foundation stone was laid on August 24, 1879 by Dr Herbert Vaughan, then Bishop of Salford, in which diocese the parish is situated, and later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
The official opening took place little more than a year later on October 19, 1880. On the latter occasion, Bishop Vaughan was again present but the principal celebrant was Bishop Cuthbert Hedley OSB of Newport and Menevia, a member of the Benedictine Order (more formally known as the Order of St Benedict) in whose care the parish was.
The roots of the parish go back further than the building of the present church. The parish itself was founded in 1855 when three members of the Benedictine community of Ampleforth Abbey, North Yorkshire, whose members had been active in the area since the late 1600s, and who were serving in local parishes, purchased a plot of land in Walton-le-Dale for £350.
These were Fr Bede Smith OSB; Fr Anselm Walker OSB; and Fr Vincent Dowding OSB, parish priests respectively of the neighbouring St Joseph’s, Brindle; St Mary’s, Brownedge; and St Bede’s, Clayton Green.
The first building in which Mass was celebrated was said to be the Grove Inn Public House on Higher Walton Road, and this remained the case until December 1857 when a new building, also intended as a school, was opened.
During these initial years, Fr Cuthbert Procter OSB, who had been re-assigned from St Mary’s, Brownedge, served as parish priest, remaining in the parish until 1865.
The extensive churchyard on the slopes behind the church was first used for burials in 1861.
Subsequent parish priests, while still Benedictines, were drawn from the community of Douai Abbey, Berkshire, which was to remain the case until 1951 since when parish priests have been drawn from those ordained for the Diocese of Salford.
One of the highlights of the church is the set of six beautiful stained glass windows at the east end above the sanctuary.
The two central panes depict, as would be expected, Our Lady and St Patrick respectively. To the left of these are St Oswald and St Joseph and to the right are St Gregory and St Cuthbert.
Below these windows is the High Altar and reredos in Caen stone which was completed in 1907 during the tenure of Fr Raphael White OSB (pictured, inset) as parish priest. It is likely that around this time, the smaller altars, also in Caen stone, were added in the Lady Chapel to the left of the sanctuary and in the Sacred Heart Chapel to the right of the sanctuary.
The 14 Stations of the Cross, again in Caen stone, were also added at this time.
As was the case elsewhere, the parish suffered the loss of a number of men in both world wars and they are commemorated on the parish war memorial, a fine crucifix which stands at the entrance to the church overlooking Higher Walton Road and which has been refurbished in recent years.
Among those commemorated is Sergeant John (Jack) Crook who was killed in action, aged 29, on June 7, 1944 in Normandy during the D-Day landings. He was the son of Richard and Elizabeth Alice Crook, of Higher Walton, my wife’s great grandparents, and he is also commemorated on his parent’s gravestone in the churchyard.
Another of those commemorated, Sergeant Bernard Simmons, was lost, aged 21, serving with the RAF on board a Lancaster bomber during an air raid over the industrial city of Essen in January 1943. He was the older brother of Mrs Mary Lofthouse of Walton-le-dale, and of the late Lady Philomena de Hoghton of Hoghton Tower.
The current St Patrick’s School, dates from 1911 and was built on land donated by Sir Gilbert de Hoghton, Bart. of Hoghton Tower.
The earliest school linked to the parish dated from late 1857.
In 1930 the parish celebrated its 75th anniversary and a High Mass took place on October 26 that year followed by a torchlight procession of around 300 parishioners singing Ave Maria.
A number of enhancements were made to the church at this time including new stained glass windows and a new baptistery.
In 2005 the parish marked its 150th anniversary with a four day celebration which included a concert, exhibitions, an art competition and a special Mass, together with the publication of “Faith in the past, present and future – Our Lady and St Patrick’s, 1855 - 2005 150 years of a Catholic Parish in Lancashire”, a well-researched illustrated history by parishioner Paul Brown.
During the following year, extensive refurbishment work took place in the church, including a new altar; the moving of the ambo (pulpit) from the right hand side of the sanctuary to the left-hand side; the creation of a central aisle and the creation of a meeting space at the back of the church.
In April 2007, scaffolding was erected around the tower, the steeple dismantled and the stonework repaired, the work having been completed by October of that year.
Tragedy struck the parish in late January 2015 when Fr John Cribben, a popular and much-loved character, both in the parish and beyond, died as a result of an accident inside the church.
Fr Cribben, parish priest since 1996, had, only a year previously, celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his ordination. His Requiem Mass was celebrated at Our Lady and St Patrick’s on February 10, 2015 with Bishop John Arnold of Salford presiding.
The huge congregation of family, parishioners, fellow clergy and others was testament to the high regard in which Fr Cribben was held. Fr Cribben was laid to rest in the grounds of the church.
Shortly after, Fr Philip Nathaniel took up the position of parish priest and, with the support of the parishioners, the parish remains a vibrant and forward looking community, proud of its heritage and confident in its Catholic faith.
Looking to the immediate future, plans have recently been announced by the Diocese of Salford to merge the parish with the neighbouring rural parish of St Mary and St John Southworth, Samlesbury.
Having shared a parish priest for several years, this seems a natural progression for both parishes and will formalise what, in reality, is already largely the case in practice; a new chapter for the Catholic communities south of the Ribble.
* With thanks to Mr Paul Brown, Walton-le-Dale, for his kind assistance and for sharing his research and photographs and also to Mr Gerard Livesey, Walton-le-Dale, for the photographs of the anniversary Mass in 2005 and the spire repairs in 2007.