St Saviour's Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

Few districts are more thoroughly vitiated, more distinctly poverty-struck, more entirely at enmity with soap and water than that in which this church stands. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, it is in a state of squash and mildew. Heathenism seethes in it, and something even more potent than a forty-parson power of virtue will be required to bring it to healthy consciousness and legitimate action. You needn’t go to the low slums of London, needn’t smuggle yourself round with detectives into the back dens of big cities if you want to see “sights” of poverty and depravity; you can have them nearer home – at home – in the murky streets, sinister courts, crowded houses, dim cellars, and noisy drinking dens of St. Saviour’s district. Pass through it, move quietly along its parapets – leaving a tour through its internal institutions for some future occasion – and you will see enough to convince you that many missionaries, with numerous Bibles and piles of blankets, are yet wanted at home before being despatched to either farthest land or the plains of Timbuctoo. The general scene may be thus condensed and described: Myriads of children, ragged, sore-headed, bare-legged, dirty, and amazingly alive amid all of it; wretched-looking matrons, hugging saucy, screaming infants to their breasts, and sending senior youngsters for either herring, or beer, or very small loaves; strong, idle young men hanging about street corners with either dogs at their feet, or pigeon-baskets in their hands; little shops driving a brisk “booking” business with either females wearing shawls over their heads or children wearing nothing at all on their feet; bevies of brazen-faced hussies looking out of grim doorways for more victims and more drink; stray soldiers struggling about beer or dram shops entrances, with dissolute, brawny-armed females; and wandering old hags with black eyes and dishevelled hair, closing up the career of shame and ruin they have so long and so wretchedly run. Anybody may see the sights we have just described.

We mention this not because there is anything pleasing in it, but because it is something which exists daily in the heart of our town – in the centre of St. Saviour’s district. No locality we know of stands more in need of general redemption than this, and any Christian church, no matter whatever may be its denominational peculiarities, which may exist in it, deserves encouragement and support. The district is so supremely poor, and so absolutely bad, that anything calculated to improve or enlighten it in any way is worthy of assistance. A Baptist chapel was built in the quarter we are now describing – it was erected in Leeming-street, at the corner of Queen-street – in 1783. Fifty years afterwards it was enlarged; subsequently the Baptists couldn’t agree amongst themselves; the parties to the quarrel then separated, some going to Pole-street Chapel, others forming a new “church” – that now in Fishergate; and on the 10th of August, 1859, the old building was bought by certain gentlemen connected with the Church of England. A young man, named William Dent Thompson, strong in constitution, greatly enamoured of Reformation principles, keenly polemical, and brought up under the aegis of the Rev. Geo. Alker, was appointed superintendent of the place. He stayed awhile, then went away, and was succeeded by the Rev. Geo. Donaldson, who in turn left for Blackburn, and was followed by the Rev. Geo. Beardsell, the present incumbent of All Saints’ in this town. Mr. Beardsell did an excellent business in the district – worked it up well and most praiseworthily; but he, in time, left. For seven months after this, there was no regular minister at the place; still it didn’t go down; several energetic, zealous laymen looked after it and the schools established in connection with it, and, considering their calibre, they did a good work.

But they couldn’t keep up a full and continuous fire; a properly stationed minister was needed; and Mr. Thompson, who had in the meantime entered holy orders, was summoned from Blackenall, in Staffordshire, to take charge of the church and district. In 1863 he came; under his ministrations the congregation soon augmented; and in a short time a movement was started for a new church; the old building being a ricketty, inconvenient, rudely-dismal place, quite insufficient for the requirements of the locality. The principal friends of the new movement were R. Newsham, the late J. Bairstow, J. Horrocks, and T. Miller, Esqrs., and what they subscribed constituted a substantial nucleus guaranteeing the commencement of operations. In 1866, the old edifice was pulled down to make way for a new church, and during the work of re-construction divine service was performed in Vauxhall-road schools, which were, sometime after Mr. Thompson’s appointment, transferred by the Rev. Canon Parr from the Parish Church’s to St. Saviour’s district. R. Newsham, Esq., laid the corner-stone of St. Saviour’s Church on the 26th of November, 1866; the building was consecrated by the Bishop of Manchester, on the 29th of October, 1868; on the 9th of December in that year, the Rev. W. D. Thompson was licensed to its incumbency; and on the 16th of April, 1869, the district was “legally assigned” by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. St. Saviour’s – designed by Mr. Hibbert, architect, of this town – is one of the handsomest and best finished churches we have seen. It almost seems too good for the district in which it is situated.

The style of it is Gothic. Externally its most striking feature is the tower. We thought at one time, when the tower had been run up a considerable distance, that it was positively “going to the dogs.” At each of its angles there is a strange arrangement of dogs; they bristle out on all sides, and are not over good looking – are thin, hungry, weird-looking animals, appear to have had a hard time of it somewhere, and to be doing their best to escape from the stone whence they are protruding. But the pinnacles placed above have completely taken away their grotesqueness, their malicious, suspicious appearance, and the tower now looks beautiful. There are three entrances to the church – one at the back, another at the north-western corner, and the third beneath the tower on the south-western side. If you please we will enter by the door on the last-named side. We are within the building – just within; and here we have on the right a glass screen, on the left a multiplicity of warm water pipes, and in the centre of the spot a handsome substantial baptismal font, the gift of Sir T. G. Fermor-Hesketh, M.P. This font can’t be too highly praised; its workmanship is excellent; its material is most durable; and with care it will last for at least four thousand years.

Behind it are two stained glass windows; one being in memory of the father of the incumbent’s wife; the other in remembrance of the architect’s mother. Adjoining is a plain window which will shortly be filled in with stained glass, at the expense of Mr. W. B. Roper, in memory of a relative. Leaving the font, and the water pipes, and the windows, we move forward, and are at once struck with the capaciousness, the excellent disposition, and the handsome finish of the interior. Directly in front there is a magnificent five-light chancel window – beautifully coloured, well arranged, containing in the centre a representation of our Saviour, and flanked by figures of the four evangelists. We have seldom seen a more exquisite, a more elegantly artistic window than this. Edward Swainson, Esq., whose works are in the district, presented it. Still looking eastward, but taking a nearer view and one of less altitude, we notice the pulpit – a piece of fine carved oak-work, resting upon a circular column of stone, and given by Mrs. Newsham; then we have a lectern, of the eagle pattern, presented by the Rev. R. Brown; and to the left of this there is a most excellently finished, carved-oak, reading desk, given by R. Newsham, Esq. The communion plate – most choice and elaborate in design – was, we may observe, given by the same gentleman. Turning round, we notice a pretty four-light window in the western gable. This was also presented by R. Newsham, Esq., in memory of the late J. Bairstow, Esq.

The church consists of a nave and a northern aisle. If an aisle could be constructed on the southern side the building would assume proportions at once most complete and imposing. But space will not permit of this. Land constitutes a difficulty on that side; and the general building is considerably deteriorated in appearance at present through “associations” in this part. At the south-eastern end there is a small wretched-looking beershop, and near it a dingy used-up cottage. These two buildings are a nuisance to the church; they spoil the appearance of the building at one end completely, and they ought to be pulled down and carted off forthwith. Reverting to the interior of St. Saviour’s, we observe that the northern side is supported by four arches, the central one depending upon double columns of polished granite, and all of them having highly ornamented capitals. A couple of stone angels support the primary principal of the chancel roof, and they bear the weight put upon them very complacently. The northern aisle is occupied below with free seats; and above, in a gallery, with ditto. At the western end there is a continuation of the gallery, filled with free seats. The church will hold 800 people, and more than half the seats are free. All the pews are strong, open, and good to sit in. The central ones on the ground floor are very lengthy – perhaps thirty feet in extent.

The congregation, considering the capacity of the church, is large, and consists almost absolutely of working people. We noticed during our visit to this place what we have seen at no other church or chapel in the town, namely, that many of the worshippers put in an early appearance – several were in their seats at least a quarter of an hour before the service commenced. We further noticed that the congregation is a pre-eminently quiet and orderly one. At some places you are tormented to death with stirring feet, shuffling, rustling clothes, coughing, sneezing, &c.; here, however, you have little of these things, and at times, a positive dead calm prevails. It may also be worthy of mention that we saw fewer sleepers at St. Saviour’s than in any other place of worship yet visited by us. Only one gentleman got fairly into a state of slumber during the whole service; a stout girl tried to “drop over” several times, and an old man made two or three quiet efforts to get his eyes properly closed, but both failed. All the other members of the congregation appeared to be wide awake and amazingly attentive. The free seats are well patronised by poor people, and it is to such a class as this that the place seems really advantageous.

The music at the church is simple, hearty, and quite congregational. The tunes are plain, and the worshippers, instead of looking on whilst the choir perform, join in the music, and get up a very full volume of respectable melody. The regular singers have their quarters at the north-eastern end, on the ground floor, and they acquit themselves with a very good grace. Near them is a small, poor-looking organ; it is played well, but its music is not very consolatory, and its tame, infantile appearance throws it quite out of keeping with the general excellence of the church. Some money has, we believe, been promised towards a new organ, and if somebody else would promise some more, a seemly-looking instrument might be obtained. Two or three “classes” meet every Sunday for instruction in the church. Formerly, owing to defective accommodation, the members of them had to assemble in two public-house rooms, where the education was in one sense of the “mixed” kind, for whilst virtue was being inculcated above, where the members met, the elegant war-whooping of pagans below, given over to beer, tobacco, and blasphemy, could be heard. This wasn’t a thing to be desired, and as soon as ever the church was ready, a removal to it was effected. Educational business in connection with St. Saviour’s is carried on in various parts of the district.

In Vauxhall-road there are day schools with an average attendance of 220. On Sundays, the work of education is carried on here; also at the Parsonage-house (which adjoins Lark-hill convent), where a mother’s class is taught by Mrs. Thompson; in Shepherd-street, where a number of poor ragged children meet; and likewise, as before stated, in the church; the aggregate attendance being about 900. The Parsonage-house was purchased and presented to St. Saviour’s by the late J. Bairstow, Esq. Handsome new schools are being built (entirely at the expense of R. Newsham, Esq., who has been a most admirable friend to St. Saviour’s) near the church. They will accommodate about 400 scholars, and will, it is expected, be ready by the end of the present year.

The entire cost of the church, parsonage house, &c., has been about £10,000; and not more than £50 will be required to clear off all the liabilities thus far incurred. The incumbent of St. Saviour’s is plain, unpoetical, strong-looking, and practical. He was reared under the shadow of Ingleborough. We have known him for 30 years. On coming to Preston he was for sometime a mechanic; then he became missioner in connection with the Protestant Reformation Society, first at St. Peter’s in this town, – and next at St. Mary’s. Afterwards he left, studied for the ministry, and six years since, as already intimated, came to St. Saviour’s as its incumbent. For a time after the church was erected, he had nothing to depend upon but the pew rents, which realised about £70 a year: but fortune favours parsons: the Ecclesiastical Commissioners subsequently increased his stipend, then £1,000 was left by J. Bairstow, Esq., and the income is now equal to about £300 per annum. Mr. Thompson is not a brilliant man, and never will be.

He is close-shaven, full-featured, heavily-set, slow is his mental processes, but earnest, pushing, and enduring. He is an industrious parson, a striving, persevering, roughly-hewn, hard-working man – a good visitor, a willing worker, free and kindly disposed towards poor people, and the exact man for such a district as that in which he is located. If a smart, highly-drawn, classical gentleman were fixed as minister in the region of St. Saviour’s, the people would neither understand him nor care for him. If he talked learnedly, discussed old cosmogonies, worked out subtle theories of divinity, and chopped logic; if he spiced up big homilies with Plato and Virgil, or wandered into the domain of Hebrew roots and Greek iambics, his congregation would put him down as insane, and would be driven crazy themselves. But Mr. Thompson avoids these things, primarily because he doesn’t know much about them, and generally because plain words and practical work are the sole things required in his district. The gentleman under review used to be a tremendous anti-Popery speaker, and more than once thought well of the Reformation perorations of Henry Vincent; but he has toned down much in this respect, like Panjandrum the Grand, under whose feathers he originally nestled. He is still, and has a right to be, if that way inclined, a strong believer in the triumph achieved at Boyne Water; only he doesn’t make so much stir about it as formerly. Mr. Thompson is a determined and aspiring man; is earnest, windy, and clerically “large;” knows he is a parson without being told of it; has a somewhat ponderous and flatulent style of articulation; has not the faculty of originality much developed, but can imitate excellently; could sooner quote than coin a great thought; believes in stray polemical struggles with outsiders; used to have a Byronic notion that getting hold of other people’s thoughts, and passing them off for those of somebody else, was not a very great sin; is a better anecdote teller than reasoner; can be very solemn and most virtuously combative; could yet, though he seems to have settled down, get up, on the shortest notice, any amount of “immortal William” steam, and throw every ounce of it into a good ninth-rate jeremiad. Still he has many capital points; he is a most indefatigable toiler in his own district, and that covers all his defects; he is not too proud nor too idle to visit everybody, however wretched or vile, requiring his advice and assistance; he is homely, sincere, and devoted to the cause he has in hand, and the locality he has charge of; he does his best to improve it; he has not laboured unsuccessfully; and no better minister could be found for such a place. He can adapt himself to its requirements; can level himself to its social and spiritual necessities; does more good in it every day than a more polished, or brilliant, or namby-pamby parson would be able to accomplish in a year; has an excellent wife, who takes her share of the district’s work; attends to the varied wants of the locality – and there are many in a godless district like his, with its 5,000 souls – in a most praiseworthy manner. He is the right man is the right place, and it is a good job that he is not too learned, for that would have interfered with his utility, would have dumfounded those in his keeping, and operated against his success. Mr. Thompson, adieu, and good luck to you.