Christ Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

About 33 years since there was a conquest somewhat Norman in Preston and the neighbourhood; and the “William” of it was an industrious ex-joiner. In 1836, and during the next two years, four churches – three in Preston and one in Ashton – were erected through the exertions of the Rev. Carus Wilson, who was vicar here at that time; each of them was built in the Norman style; and the general of them was a plodding man who had burst through the bonds of joinerdom and winged his way into the purer and more lucrative atmosphere of architectural constructiveness. One of the sacred edifices whose form passed through his alembic was Christ Church and to this complexion of a building we have now come. There is so much and so little to be said about Christ Church that we neither know where to begin nor how to end. Nobody has yet said that Christ Church, architecturally, is a very nice place; and we are not going to say so. It is a piece of calm sanctity in-buckram, is a stout mass of undiluted lime stone, has been made ornate with pepper castors, looks sweetly-clean after a summer shower, is devoid of a steeple, will never be blown over, couldn’t be lifted in one piece, and will nearly stand forever. It is as strong as a fortress; has walls thick enough for a castle; is severely plain but full of weft; has no sympathy with elaboration, and is a standing protest against masonic gingerbread.

It rests on the northern side of Fishergate-hill; between Bow-lane and Jordan-street, is surrounded with houses, has two entrances with gateposts which might, owing to their solidity, have descended lineally from the pillars of Hercules; is entirely out of sight on the eastern side; and from the other points of the compass can be seen better a mile off with a magnifying glass than 20 yards off without one. There is something venerable and monastic, something substantial and coldly powerful about the front; but the general building lacks beauty of outline and gracefulness of detail. Christ Church is the only place of worship in Preston built of limestone; and if it has not the prettiest, it has the cleanest exterior. There is no “matter in its wrong place” (Palmerston’s definition of dirt) about it. If you had to run your hand all round the building – climbing the rails at the end to do so – you might get scratched, but wouldn’t get dirtied. The foundation stone of Christ Church was laid in 1836, and in the following year the place was opened. Adjoining the church there is a graveyard, which is kept in excellent condition. Some burial grounds are graced with old hats, broken pots, ancient cans, and dead cats; but this has no such ornaments; it is clean and neat, properly levelled, nicely green-swarded, and well-cared for. The first person interred in the ground was the wife of the first incumbent – the Rev. T. Clark.

Outside and in front of the building there is a large blue-featured clock with a cast-iron inside. It was fixed in 1857, and there was considerable newspaper discussion at the time as to what it would do. Time has proved how well it can keep time. It is looked after by a gentleman learned in the deep mysteries of horology, who won’t allow its fingers to get wrong one single second, who used to make his own solar calculations in his own observatory, on the other side of Jordan (street), who gets his time now from Greenwich, who has drilled the clock into a groove of action the most perfect, and who would have just cause to find fault with the sun if antagonising with its indications. He his thoroughly master of the clock, and could almost make it stop or go by simply shouting or putting up his finger at it. It is a good clock, however blue it may look; it has gone well constantly; and, if we may credit the words of one of the clock manager’s sanguine brethren, “is likely to do so.” At the entrance doors there are two curious pieces of wood exactly like spout heads. Some people say they are for money; but we hardly think so, for during our visits to the church we have seen no one go too near them with their hands. The interior of Christ Church is plain, and rather heavy-looking. But it is very clean and orderly. The chancel of the building is circular, tastefully painted, with a calm subdued light, and looks rich. The ceiling of the church is lofty, and very woody – is crossed by four or five unpoetical-looking beams which deprive the building of that airiness and capaciousness it would otherwise possess.

Contiguous to the chancel there is a galleried transept; a large gallery also runs along the sides and at the front end of the general building. The seats below are substantial and high; very small people when they sit down in them go right out of sight – if you are sitting behind you can’t see them at all; people less diminutive show their occiput moderately; ordinarily-sized folk keep their heads and a portion of their shoulders just fairly in sight. About 560 people can be accommodated below and 440 in the galleries. There are several free sittings in front of the pulpit – good seats for hearing, but rather too conspicuous; just within each entrance on the ground floor there are more free sittings; and all the pews in the galleries except the two bottom rows – let at a low figure – are, we believe, also free. Altogether there are about 400 seats free and tolerably easy in the building. There are many pretty stained glass memorial windows in the church; indeed, if it were not for these the building would have a very cold and unpleasantly Normanised look. They tone down its severity of style, and cast gently into it a mellowed light akin to that of the “dim religious” order. They are narrow, circular-headed; and occupy the front, the sides, the transept, and the chancel. All the lower windows in the building, except two or three, are filled in with stained glass. The windows were put in by the following parties:- Four by Mr. Edward Gorst (afterwards Lowndes), one in memory of his wife and two children, another in memory of Mr. Septimus Gorst, his wife and only child, and two in commemoration of the 20 years services of the late Rev T. Clark at the church; five by the late Mr. J. Bairstow – two of them being in memory of his sisters, Miss Bairstow and Mrs. Levy; two in memory of the late Mr. J. Horrocks, sen., and Mrs. Horrocks his wife, by their children; one in memory of the late Mr. John Horrocks, jun., by his widow and two sisters; one to the memory of Mr. Lowndes by his son; two by the late Mrs. Clark, one, we believe, being in memory of her mother, whilst the other does not appear to have any personal reference; one by the Rev. Raywood Firth, the present incumbent, in memory of Miss Buck, who remembered him kindly in her will; and one by the Rev. Mr. Firth and his wife, which was put up when the Rev. T. Clark relinquished the incumbency, and gave way for his son-in-law. This “in memoriam” act was done out of affection and not because the incumbency was changing hands.

The pulpit in the Church is tall and somewhat handsome. It occupies a central position, in front of the chancel, and is flanked by two reading desks, one being used for prayers and the other for lessons. There is no clerk at this church; and there were never but two connected with the place; one being the late Mr. Stephen Wilson, of the firm of Wilson and Lawson; and the other the late Mr. John Brewer, of the firm of Bannister and Brewer of this town. The responses are now said by the choir; and everything appertaining to the serious problems of surplice and gown arranging, pulpit door opening and shutting, is solved by black rod in waiting – the beadle.

The first incumbent of Christ Church was the Rev. T. Clark – a kindly-exact, sincere, quiet-moving gentleman, who did much good in his district, visited poor people regularly, wasn’t afraid of going down on his knees in their houses, gave away much of that which parsons and other sinners generally like to keep – money, and was greatly respected. We shall always remember him – remember him for his quaint, virtuous preciseness, his humble, kindly plodding ways, his love of writing with quill pens and spelling words in the old-fashioned style, his generosity and mild, maidenly fidgetiness, his veneration for everything evangelical, his dislike of having e put after his name, and his courteous, accomplished, affable manners. For 27 years – having previously been curate at the Parish Church in this town – Mr. Clark was incumbent of Christ Church. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, the Rev. Raywood Firth, who has worked through Longfellow’s excelsior gamut rapidly and successfully. The father of Mr. Firth was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, and, singular to say, was at one time – in some Yorkshire circuit we believe – the superintendent of a gentlemen who is now, and has been for some years, the incumbent of a Preston church.

A few years ago Mr. Firth visited Preston as secretary of a society in connection with the Church of England; then got married to the daughter of the Rev. T. Clark; subsequently became curate of that gentlemen’s church; and in 1864 was made its incumbent. Well done! The ascent is good. We like the transition. Mr. Firth is a minute, russet-featured gentleman; is precise in dress, neat in taste; gets over the ground quietly and quickly; has a full, clear, dark eye; has a youthful clerical countenance; has given way a little to facial sadness; is sharp and serious; has a healthy biliary duct, and has carried dark hair on his head ever since we knew him; is clear-sighted, shy unless spoken to, and cautious; is free and generous in expression if trotted out a little; is no bigot; dislikes fierce judgments and creed-reviling; likes visiting folk who are well off; wouldn’t object to tea, crumpet, and conversation with the better end of his flock any day; visits fairly in his district, and says many a good word to folk in poverty, but would look at a floor before going down upon it like his predecessor; thinks that flags and boards should be either very clean or carpeted before good trousers touch them; minds his own business; is moderately benevolent, but doesn’t phlebotomise himself too painfully; never sets his district on fire with either phrensied lectures or polemical tomahawking; takes things easily and respectably; believes in his own views rather strongly at times; loves putting the sacred kibosh upon things occasionally; is well educated, can think out his own divinity; need never buy sermons; has a clear, quiet-working, fairly-developed brain; is inclined to thoughtfulness and taciturnity; might advantageously mix up with the poor of his district a little more; needn’t care over much for the nods of rich folk, or the green tea and toast of antique Spinsters; might be a little heartier, and less reserved; is a sincere man; believes in what he teaches; and is thoroughly evangelical; is more enlightened than three-fourths of our Preston Church of England parsons, and doesn’t brag over his ability. His salary is about £400 a year, and that is a sum which the generality of people would not object to. He is a good reader, is clear and energetic, but shakes his head a little too much. In the pulpit he never gets either fast asleep or hysterical. He can preach good original sermons – carefully worked out, well-balanced, neatly arranged; and he can give birth to some which are rather dull and mediocre. His action is easy, yet earnest – his style quiet yet dignified; his matter often scholarly, and never stolen. He is not a, “gatherer and disposer of other men’s stuff,” like some clerical greengrocers: what he says is his own, and he sticks to it.

There are two full services, morning and evening, and prayers in an afternoon, on Sundays, at the church; and on a Tuesday evening there is another service, – attended only slenderly, and patronised principally, we are afraid, by elderly females, whose sands have run down, and who couldn’t do much harm now if they were very solicitous on the subject. The attendance on Sundays is pretty large – particularly in a morning. The adult congregation used to be very select and high in the instep – was a kind of second edition of St. George’s, in three volumes. It is still numerous, but not so choice; still proud but not so well bred; still stiff, serene, lofty-minded, and elanish, but not so wealthy as is formerly was. The superior members of the congregation, as a rule, gravitate downwards, have seats on the ground floor, – it is vulgar to sit in the galleries. They are all excellently attired; the “latest thing” may be seen in hair, and bonnets, and dresses; the best of coats and the cleanest of waistcoats are also observable. A cold tone of gentle-blooded, high-middle-class respectability prevails. Much special adhesiveness exists amongst them. Small charmed circles, little isolated coteries, fond of exclusive devotional dealing, and “keeping themselves to themselves,” are rather numerous. Many good and some very inquisitive and gossipy people attend – individuals who know all your concerns, can tell how many glasses you had last week and where you had them at, and like to make quiet hints on the subject to others. The congregation is substantial in look, and possesses many excellent qualities; but there is a great amount of what Dr. Johnson would call “immiscibility” in it. Nearly every part of it has a very strong notion that it is better than any other part. As in the grocer’s shop pictured by one of our best wits, so is it here – the tenpenny nail looks upon the tin tack and calmly snubs it; the long sixes eye the farthing dips and say they are poor lights; the bigger articles seem cross and potent in the face of the smaller; the little look big in the face of the less; and the infinitessimal clap their wings when they make a comparison with nothing.

The congregation at Christ Church won’t mix itself up; is fond of “distance”; says, in a genteely pious tone, “keep off”; can’t be approached beyond a certain point; isn’t sociable; won’t stand any hand-shaking except is its own peculiar circles. We know a person who has gone for above 20 years to one of our Methodist chapels, and yet nobody has ever said, on either entering or leaving the place, “How are you?” The very same thing would have happened if that same person had gone to Christ Church, unless there had been some connection with a special circle. In all our churches and chapels there is sadly too much of this rigid isolation, this frigid “Don’t know you” business. Clanishness and cleanliness occupy front ranks at Christ Church, and if the Scotch tartans were worn in it, the theory of distinction would be consummated. We would advise Mr. Firth to write northward – beyond the Firth of Forth (oh!) – for samples of plaids.

The congregation on the whole is pretty liberal; can subscribe fair sums of money; but the collections are not now what they once were; the main reason being that there is not the same wealth in the place as there used to be. The music at Christ Church was, until lately, very good; it now seems to be degenerating a little. There is a splendid organ in the building. It cost about £1,000, and, with the exception of that at St. George’s, is about the best in the town. The late Mr. J. Horrocks, jun., contributed handsomely towards the organ; played it gratuitously; gave liberally towards the choir expenses; and Christ Church is under a lasting debt of gratitude to him for his excellent services. The organ is blown by two small engines, driven by water; so that its music literally resolves itself into a question of wind and water. The tones of the instrument are good, and they are very fairly brought out by the present organist. The services are well got through, and whilst Puritanism is on the one hand avoided in them, Ritualism is on the other distinctly discarded. A medium course, which is the best, is observed in the church, and so long as Mr. Firth remains at the place there will be nothing bedizened or foolish in its ceremonies.

A small memorial place of worship, which will operate as a “chapel of ease” for Christ Church, has been built in Bird-street. Belonging to Christ Church there are some good day and Sunday schools. They are numerously attended, and well supervised. Adults have a room to themselves on a Sunday, and they go through the processes of instruction patiently, benignly, and without thrashing. At one time there was a school connected with the church in Wellfield-road; but when St. Mark’s was erected the building and the scholars were transferred to its care. Viewing everything right round, it may be said that Christ Church is a good substantial building, but is rather too plain and weighs too much for its size; that its minister is a mildly-toned, well-educated, devout gentleman, with no cant in him, with a tender bias to the side of gentility, and born to be luckier than three-fourths of the sons of Wesleyan parsons; that its congregation is influential, rose-coloured, good-looking, numerous, thinks that everybody is not composed exactly of the same materials, believes that familiarity is a flower which must be cautiously cultivated; that its religious and educational operations are extensive; and that if all who are influenced by them would only carry out what they are taught – none of us do this over well – they would be models from which plaster casts might be taken either for artistic purposes or the edification of heathens generally.