St Peter's Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

Upon a high piece of enclosed land, adjoining Fylde-road, stands St. Peter’s Church. Portions of its precincts are covered with gravestones; the remainder has been “considerably damaged” of late, according to the belief of one of the churchwardens, by the vicious scratching of a number of irreverent hens, whose owners will be prosecuted if they do not look better after them. The other Sunday, we saw a notice posted at the front of the church relative to the great hen-scratching question. It is said that some of these tame and reclaimed birds have penetrated a foot or two into the ground for the purpose of lying, not laying, therein; and on this account it is important that their proprietors should look more (h)energetically after them. The foundation stone of St. Peter’s Church was laid by Mr. Justice Park, one of the old recorders of Preston, in 1822; Rickman, an able Birmingham architect, designed the place; and the edifice (sans steeple, which was built in 1852, out of money left by the late Thomas German, Esq.), was erected at a cost of £6,900, provided by the Commissioners for the building of new churches. St. Peter’s has a lofty, commanding appearance.

Learned people say it is built in the florid Gothic style of architecture, and we are not inclined to dispute their definition. It has a very churchly look, and if the steeple were at the other end, it would be equally orthodox. The world, as a rule, fixes its steeples westward; but St. Peter’s, following a few others we could name, rises in the opposite direction, and, like a good Mussulman, turns to the East. There is nothing in its graveyard calling for special comment. Neither monuments nor lofty tombs relieve it. All round it has a flat dull aspect, and good arrangements have been made for walking over the tombstones and obliterating their inscriptions.

There are two ways into the church at the western end; both are near each other; but one has advantages which the other does not possess. Passing through the larger you immediately face the pulpit and the congregation; entering by the other you can hang your harp on several preliminary willows – sit just sideways and hear what’s going on, stay behind the screen until a point arrives when a move forward can be made without many people catching your “mould of form,” or inquire who’s present and who isn’t, and glide out if nothing suitable is observed.

St. Peter’s Church, internally, looks dirty. If cleanliness be next to godliness, a good cleaning would do it good and improve its affinities. Whitewash, paint, floorcloths, dusters, wash leathers, and sundry other articles in the curriculum of scrubbers, renovators, and purifiers are needed. The walls want mundifying, so does the ceiling, so do the floors; the Ten Commandments need improving; the Apostles’ Creed isn’t plain enough; the spirit of a time worn grimness requires ostracising from the place. All is substantial; but there is an ancient unwashed dulness about the general establishment, which needs transforming into cleanness and brightness. The pews are high, and on the average they will hold six persons each. Seven might get into them on a pinch; but if the number were much extended beyond that point, either abraison or blue places through violent pressure would be the consequence. Two or three pews at the top end will hold twelve each; but that apostolic number is not very often observed in them. The price of a single sitting in the middle aisle is 10s. per annum; the cost of a side seat is equal to three civil half-crowns. The long side seats are free; so are the galleries, excepting that portion of them in front of the organ. Often the church is not much more than half filled on a Sunday; but it is said that many sittings, calculated to accommodate nearly a full congregation, are let. Viewed from the copperhead standpoint this is right; but taking a higher ground it would be more satisfactory if even fewer pews were let and more folk attended.

The church is not well arranged for people occupying side seats. In looking ahead the pillars of the nave constantly intercept their vision if they care about seeing who is reading or preaching. Wherever the pulpit were put it would blush unseen, so far as many are concerned. At present it is fixed on the south-eastern side, and only about one-fourth of those seated under the galleries can see either it or the preacher. Some of them at times complain considerably of sequestration; others feel it a little occasionally; a few think it a rather snug thing to be out of sight. A large five-light stained glass window occupies the chancel end; but there is nothing very entrancing in its appearance. The greater portion of it has a bright, amber-coloured, monotonous flashiness about it, which flares the eyes if gazed at long, and makes other things, if looked at directly afterwards, yellow-hued; and it is surmounted with a number of minor designs, reminding one of the big oddities in a mammoth keleidoscope. But the congregation have got used to the window, and will neither break it nor permit others to do so. Six spaces for tablet inscriptions occupy the base of the window. Two of them are blank; two have a great mass of letters packed into them; and two are but moderately filled in with words. At a distance nobody can see what is said upon them. It is reported that they contain the Decalogue and the Apostles’ Creed; and if this be so, the incumbent, the curate, and the clerk must have been the parties for whose delight they were put up, for they are the nearest to, and can consequently best read, them.

There are the full compliment of sacred enclosures and resting places at the higher end of the church – a chair for the ease of the incumbent or curate; a desk for the prayer reader; a box for the clerk; a lectern for the lesson reader; and a stout pulpit for the preacher. The congregation of St. Peter’s Church, as we have said, is small. We cannot tell whether the collections terrify folk; probably they do; for it is estimated that there are between 30 and 40 of them annually, and sometimes they come in an unbroken line for several Sundays together. A plan like this is enough to make people shy in their attendance, – is certain to make ordinarily generous beings cover what they give with their finger ends, or slip their gifts sharply into the boxes and get them instantly mixed up with the rest, so that nobody can tell whether they have contributed a simple copper, a roguish little threepenny piece, or a respectable looking shilling. There are voluntary contribution boxes at the doors, but they never get very heavy.

Those attending the church are mainly working people. With the exception of about five, all have to fight briskly for a living. A greater work has been done outside than within the church. There are many schools and classes belonging, the place. In Cold Bath-street there is a large school for girls and infants, and it is very well attended. In Fylde-road there is a club for working men, open every day; and on Sundays several of the “wives and mothers of Britain” attend a class in the same building. In Brook-street there is a regular day school. On Sunday afternoons the members of an adult male class meet in it. The average attendance of these members is about 160, and their ages range from 20 to 70. The district has been well worked up; and there are many of both sexes in it prepared to either pray or fight for St. Peter’s. The music at the church is good. It costs about £30 a year, and a rather strong effort is sometimes required to raise that sum. The organist immediately preceding the present one used to play for nothing; get one or two collections annually for the choir; and make up out of his own pocket any financial deficiency there might be. The gentleman who now operates upon the organ, likewise gives his services gratuitously; he also has collections for the choir; but if those said collections come short of the sum required, he is seriously impressed with the idea that the deficiency ought to come out of other people’s purses, and not his. And so it does. The organist has considerable musical ability; he plays the instrument in his care with precision; but he throws too much force into its effusions – believes too much in high pressure – and the general boiler of its melody may burst some day, kill the blower instantly, and dash the choir into space.

The internal service arrangements at St. Peter’s are worked by an incumbent, a curate, and a clerk. The last named gentleman has been a long time at his post; he is a dry, orthodox, careful man; never mistook a three-penny for a fourpenny piece in his life; doesn’t like slippery sixpences; and he gets for his general services at the church £15 a year. Nobody hardly ever hears him; the responses of the choir materially swamp the music of his voice; but his lips move, and that is at least a sign of life. The incumbent is the Rev. D. F. Chapman. He has been at the place a few years, and receives about £400 a-year for his trouble. Mr. Chapman is a powerfully-constructed gentleman; is somewhat inclined to oleaginousness; has contracted a marine swing in his walk; is heavily clerical in countenance and cloth; believes in keeping his hair broad at the sides; has a strong will and an enormous opinion of the incumbent of St. Peter’s; will fume if crossed; will crush if touched; can’t be convinced; has his mind made up and rivetted down on everything; must have his way; thinks every antagonist mistaken; is washy, windy, ponderous; has a clear notion that each of his postulates is worth a couple of demonstrations, that all his theories are tantamount to axioms; and, finally, has quarelled more with his churchwardens than any other live parson in Preston. He once fought for weeks, day and night, with a warden as to the position of a small gas-pipe, because he couldn’t get his way about it. He is well educated, but his erudition is not fairly utilised; he can read with moderate precision; but there is a lack of elocutionary finish in his tone; he can talk a long while, and now and then can say a good thing; he preaches with considerable force, makes good use of his arms, sometimes rants a little, at intervals has to pull back his sentences half an inch to get hold of the right word, talks straight out occasionally, telling the congregation what they are doing and what they ought to do; but there is much in his sermons which neither gods nor men will care about digesting, and there is a theological dogmatism in them which ordinary sinners like ourselves will never swallow.

We are rather inclined to admire the gentleman who, until lately, officiated as his curate – the Rev. E. Lee, – and who, after preaching his last sermon, was next day made the recipient of that most fashionable and threadbare of all things, a presentation. Originally he indulged in odd pranks, said strange things, was laughably eccentric, and did for a period appear to be, in an ecclesiastical sense, what the kangaroo of Artemus Ward was in a zoological one – “the most amoozin little cuss ever introduced to a discriminatin public.” He has still some of the “amoozin” traits about him; but during his curacy in St. Peters district he showed that he could work hard, visit often, look after the poor, be generous, get up good classes, and never tire of his duty. His salary was about £120 a year, and he was benevolent with it. He has a stronger pair of lungs than any parson in Preston, and he can use them longer than most men without feeling tired. His sermons are of a practical type; he believes largely in telling people what he thinks; and never hesitates to hit rich and poor alike in his discourses. He has been transplanted to the Parish Church, and he will stir up a few of the respectable otiose souls there if he has an opportunity. There is a good deal of swagger about him; he believes in carry a stick and turning it; in admiring himself and letting other people know that he is of a cypher; there is much conceit and ever so much bombast about him; he likes giving historical lectures; thinks he is an authority on everything appertaining to Elizabeth, Mary, the Prince of Orange, &c.; is fond of attacking Bishop Goss, and getting into a groove of garrulous declamation concerning Papists; still he is a determined worker, has been a laborious curate, has troubled himself more than many people in looking after those whom parsons are so fond of calling sinners and so indifferent about visiting. He was well liked in St. Peter’s district, and we hope that in the new one he has gone to he will gather friends, increase his usefulness, get married, and give fewer polemical lectures.