St Paul's Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

There are nearly 13,000 people in the “district” of this church. What a difference time makes! At the beginning of the present century the greater portion of the district was made up of fields; whilst lanes, with hedges set each side, constituted what are now some of its busiest streets. Volunteers and militiamen used to meet for drill on a large piece of land in the very heart of the locality; troops of charwomen formerly washed their clothes in water pits hard by, and dried them on the green-sward adjoining; and everything about wore a rural and primitive aspect. St. Paul’s Church is situated on a portion of land which, 50 years ago, was fringed with trees and called “The Park;” and this accounts for the name still given by many to the sacred edifice – namely “Park Church.” The sisters of the late J. Bairstow, Esq., kept a school at one time on, or contiguous to, this park. A road, starting opposite the Holy Lamb, in Church-street, and ending near the top of High-street, formerly passed through “The Park.” Years ago a ducking or cucking stool was placed at the northern side of it, adjoining a pit, and at the edge of the thoroughfare known as Meadow street. This ducking stool was intended for the special benefit of vixens and scolding wives. It consisted of a strong plank, at the end of which was a chair, the centre working upon a pivot, and, after the person to be punished had been duly secured, she was ducked into the water. If this system were now in force, it would often be patronised, for there are many lively termagants in the land, and lots in Preston.

The first stone of St. Paul’s Church was laid on Tuesday, 21st October, 1823. Out of the million pounds granted by Parliament for the erection of churches, some time prior to the date given, Preston, through Dr. Lawe, who was then Bishop of Chester, got £12,500. It was originally intended to expend this sum in the erection of one church – St. Peter’s; but at the request of the Rev. R. Carus Wilson, vicar of Preston, the money was divided, one half going to St. Peter’s, and the other to St. Paul’s. Some people might consider this like “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” but it was better to halve the money for the benefit of two districts, than give all of it for the spiritual edification of one, and leave the other destitute. The land forming the site of St. Paul’s was given by Samuel Pole Shawe, Esq. The full cost of the building was about £6,500. Around the edifice there is a very large iron-railed grave yard, which is kept in pretty good order. St. Paul’s is built entirely of stone, in the early English style of architecture. It has a rather elegant appearance; but it is defective in altitude has a broad, flat, and somewhat bald-looking roof, and needs either a good tower or spire to relieve and dignify it. In front there are several pointed windows, a small circular hole above for birds’ nests, two doorways with a window between them, a central surmounting gable, and a couple of feathery-headed perforated turrets, one being used as a chimney, and the other as a belfry. There is only a single bell at the church, and it is pulled industriously on Sundays by a devoted youth, who takes his stand in a boxed-off corner behind one of the doors.

At the opposite end of the church there are two turrets corresponding in height and form with those is front. Two screens of red cloth are fixed just within the entrance and, whilst giving a certain degree of selectness to the place, they prevent people sitting near them from being blown away or starved to death on very windy days when the doors happen to be open. The interior consists of a broad, ornamentally roofed nave (resting upon twelve high narrow pillars of stone), and two aisles. The pillars seriously obstruct the vision of those sitting at the sides; indeed, in some places so detrimental are they that you can see neither the reading-desk nor the pulpit. Above, there is a very large gallery, set apart on the west for the organ and choir, and on each side for general worshippers, school children, as a rule, being in front, and requiring a good deal of watching during the services. In some parts of the gallery seeing is quite as difficult as in the sides beneath, owing to the intervening nave pillars. Efforts have been made to rectify this evil, not by trying to pull down the pillars, but by removing the pulpit, &c, so that all might have a glance at it.

The pulpit is situated on the south-eastern side, near the chancel, and one Sunday it was brought into the centre of the church; but it could be seen no better there than in its old position, so it was carried back, and has remained unmolested ever since. If it were put upon castors, and pushed slowly and with becoming reverence up and down the church during sermon time, all would get a view of its occupant; but we believe the warders have an objection to pulpits on castors, so that there is no hope in this respect. The reading-desk stands opposite the pulpit, and looks very broad and diminutive. The chancel is plain. A large, neatly designed stained glass window occupies the end. On each side there is a mural monument – one being to the memory of Samuel Horrocks, Esq., Guild Mayor in 1842, and son of S. Horrocks, Esq., of Lark-hill, who for twenty-two years represented Preston in Parliament; and the other, raised by public subscription, to the memory of the Rev. Joseph Rigg, who was minister of St. Paul’s for nineteen years, and who died in 1847.

The general fittings and arrangements of the church indicate plainness of design, combined with medium strength and thorough respectability. In no part of the building is there any eccentric flourishing or artistic meandering. The roof, the walls, and the base of the window niches, which have become blackened with rain, need cleaning up; and some day, when money is plentiful, they will no doubt be renovated. The seats are strong, broad, and regular in shape. All of them, except one, are let, and it would speedily be tenanted if more conveniently located. There is a pillar in it, and, in order to get a proper view of the officiating minister, you must stand up, lean forward, and glance with a rolling eye round the corners of the obstruction – a thing which many of the more bashful of our species would not like to do.

The church will accommodate about 1,200 persons, and the average Sunday attendance may be calculated at 800. The gallery is patronised extensively by the “million”; the ground floor pews are occupied by more select and fashionable individuals. The great majority of the worshippers sit above, and few vacant spaces can as a rule be seen there. Down stairs the crush is less severe. The congregation is a mixture of working and middle class people; the former kind being preponderant. At the sides there are long narrow ranges of free seats; but they are not often disturbed. On two successive Sundays we gave them a passing look, and they appeared to be almost deserted. A couple of little boys seated in the centre, and engaged in the pleasing juvenile business of swinging their legs, were the only occupants we saw on the right side during our first inspection; and when we viewed the range on the other side, the Sunday after, we could only catch tender glimpses of three females, all very quiet, and each belonging the antique school of life. “Where will you sit?” said a large-hearted young man, when we made our second appearance. “There,” was our reply, pointing at the same time to a well-cushioned and genially sequestered seat at the north-west corner, and we were ushered into it with becoming decorum. In two minutes afterwards five women and a festive infant, dressed in a drab cloak, and muffled all over to keep the cold out, stopped at the pew door. We stepped out; three of the females, with the baby, stepped in; the remainder went into the next pew; and after condensing our nerve power, we settled down in the corner from which we had been disturbed, quietly lifting one hand over the door and latching it firmly at the same moment, our idea being than an environment of five females, with a baby thrown into the bargain, was quite enough for the remainder of the morning. After an inquiry as to the christening arrangements at the church, for we fancied this was a christening gathering, we got nearer the baby, and, in a delicately sympathetic whisper said – “How old is it?” The maiden who was holding it blushed, and laconically breathed out the words, “Three months.” We subsequently found out that the seat we were in was the incumbent’s, and that the blessed baby, whose lot we had been contemplating with such interest, was his, too.

Six minutes before the commencement there were only nine persons in the body of the church; but nearly 300 were congregated there when the service began, whilst the gallery was well filled with worshippers of all ages and sizes. All the responses here are “congregational” – none of them being in any way intoned. We believe that St. Paul’s is the only Protestant church in Preston wherein this system is observed. The effect, when compared with the plans of intonation now so universal, is very singular; and it sometimes sounds dull and monotonous – like a long, low, rumbling of irregular voices, as if there were some quaint, oddly-humoured contention going on in every pew. But the worshippers seem to like the system, and as they have a perfect right to be their own judges, other people must be silent on the subject. The music is not of an extraordinary sort; it is plain, and very well joined in by the congregation. But the choir, like many others, lacks weight and symphony. Mrs. Myres, the wife of the incumbent, is a member of the choir, and if all the other individuals in it had her musical knowledge, an improvement would soon follow. The organ is a very good one. It was given by the late T. Miller, Esq., and H. Miller, Esq., and placed in the church in 1844. Recently it has been put in first-rate condition, for organs, like the players of them, get worse for wear, by T. H. and W. P. Miller, Esqrs. The organist knows his work, and is able to perform it with ability. At St. Paul’s there is morning and evening service on a Sunday; and every Wednesday evening there is a short service, but like the bulk of mid-week devotional exercises it is not much cared for, only about 150 joining it on the average.

On the second Sunday in each month there is an early sacrament at St. Paul’s. At no other place of worship in the town, that we know of, save Christ Church, is there a similar sacramental arrangement. Since St. Paul’s was opened, there have been five incumbents at it. The first was the Rev. Mr. Russell; then came the Rev. J. Rigg, who was a most exemplary clergyman; next the Rev. S. F. Page, who was followed by the Rev. J. Miller; the present incumbent being the Rev. W. M. Myres, son of Mr. J. J. Myres, of Preston. Mr. Myres came to St. Paul’s at the beginning of 1867, and when he made his appearance fidgetty and orthodox souls were in a state of mingled dudgeon and trepidation as to what be would do. It was fancied that he was a Ritualist – fond of floral devices and huge candles, with an incipient itching for variegated millinery, beads, and crosses. But his opponents, who numbered nearly two-thirds of the congregation, screamed before they were bitten, and went into solemn paroxysms of pious frothiness for nothing. Subsequent events have proved how highly imaginative their views were.

No church in the country has less of Ritualism in it than St. Paul’s. Its services are pre-eminently plain; all those parts whereon the spirit of innovation has settled so strongly in several churches during the past few years are kept in their original simplicity; and in the general proceedings nothing can be observed calculated to disturb the peace of the most fastidious of show-disliking Churchmen. Mr. Myres is about 30 years of age, is corporeally condensed, walks as if he were in earnest and wanted to catch the train, has a mild, obliging, half-diffident look, wears a light coloured beard and moustache, each of which is blossoming very nicely; is sharp, yet even-tempered; bland and genial, yet sincere; has keen powers of observation, has a better descriptive than logical faculty, is not very imaginative, cares more for prose than poetry, more for facts than sallies of the fancy, more for gentle devotion, and quiet persevering labour in his own locality than for virtuous welterings and sacred acrobatism in other districts. He has endeavoured, since coming to Preston, to mind his own business, and parsons often find that a hard thing to accomplish. Polished in education, he is humble and social in manner. He will never be an ecclesiastical show-man, for his disposition is in the direction of general quietude and good neighbourship. If he ever gets into a sacred disturbance the fault will be through somebody else dragging him into it, and not because he has courted it by natural choice. He is more cut out for sincere labour, pleasantly and strenuously conducted, than for intellectual generalship or lofty theological display. His brain may lack high range and large creativeness; but he possesses qualities of heart and spirit which mere brilliance cannot secure, and which simple cerebral strength can never impart. We admire him for his courteousness, his artless simplicity of nature, his earnest, kindly-devotedness to duty, and his continual attention to everything affecting the welfare of those he has to look after. Mr. Myres is greatly respected by all in his district; he has transmuted the olden ritualistic horror which prevailed in the district, into one of love and reverence; and all his sheep have a genial and affectionate bleat for him.

The Rev. C. G. Acworth, a learned young man, whose facial capillary forces are coming gradually into play, and who seems to have the entire Book of Common Prayer off by heart, is the curate of St. Paul’s. He is a good reader, a steady, sententious, epigrammatic preacher, and with a little more knowledge of the world ought to make a clever and most useful minister. Something, which we do not think exists in connection with any other Preston church for the management of affairs, is established here. It is a “Church Committee.” It consists of the ministers, the churchwardens, and a dozen members of the congregation. They discuss all sorts of matters appertaining to the district, smooth down grievances when any are nursed, and keep everything in good working order. The outside machinery for mentally and religiously improving the district is very extensive and varied. There are five day and Sunday schools under the auspices of St. Paul’s. They are situated in Pole and Carlisle streets, and are under the guidance of four superintendents and fifty-seven teachers. Mrs. Myres (wife of the incumbent), who is a great favourite throughout the district, is one of the teachers. The day or national schools are the largest in the town; they have an average attendance of 934; and that in which boys are taught is the only one of its kind in Preston which is self-supporting. The average attendance of Sunday scholars is 800. Night schools also form part of the educational programme, and they are well attended. A mutual improvement class – the oldest in the town – likewise exists in connection with St. Paul’s. It was established by the Rev. S. F. Page, and is conducted on principles well calculated to regulate, illumine, and edify the youths who mar and make empires at it. A temperance society, in which the Rev. Mr. Acworth, who is a “Bright water for me” believer, has taken praiseworthy interest, has furthermore got a footing in St. Paul’s, and beyond that there is a band of hope society in the district, which does its share of work. Every Monday afternoon, a “Mother’s Meeting,” conducted by Mrs. Myres, Mrs. Isherwood, Miss Wadsworth, and the Bible woman, is held in a room of the Carlisle-street school. The mothers are pretty lacteous and docile. In various parts of the district, cottage lectures, conducted by the curate and a number of energetic teachers, are held weekly. The district of St. Paul’s is great in missionary work. There are about four-and-twenty collectors in the field here, and by the penny a week system they raise sums which periodical efforts would never realise.

By the way, we ought to have said that there are a good many collections in St. Paul’s church – 16 regular ones and 14 on the offertory principle – every year. Those who consider it more blessed to give than receive should be happy at St. Paul’s. The sums collected at the church range from about £12 to £50. The Irish Church Missionary Society receives much of its Preston support from this district. Lastly, we may remark that there is a good staff of tract distributors, supervised by a ladies’ committee, in connection with St. Paul’s. The distributors are chiefly young women belonging the schools. Owing to the vastness of the district it is contemplated to erect as early as possible a school chapel as an auxiliary of the church. It will be built near the railway bridge in St. Paul’s-road. R. Newsham, Esq., has offered to give a handsome sum towards the edifice, which is much needed. When opened a second curate will be required, and towards the stipend of such gentleman, E. Hermon, Esq., M.P., has offered to contribute liberally. The salary of the incumbent is about £280 per annum. The generality of the officials connected with the church and schools have been long at their posts – a proof of even action and good harmony; everything seems to be progressing steadily in the district; and if St. Paul himself had to give it a visit he would shake hands warmly with Mr. Myres, the incumbent, praise Mrs. Myres and the baby, and throw up his hat gleefully at the good work which is being done amongst the people.