Trinity Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

In a part of the town pre-eminently dim, intricate, and populous stands “The Church of the Holy Trinity.” Father Time and the smoke of twice five hundred chimneys have darkened its fabric, and transmuted its chiselled stone walls into a dull pile of masonry. But it is a beautiful church for all that. If the exterior has been carbonised and begrimed, the interior has enjoyed a charmed life, and is apparently as young today as it was on “Friday, the eighth of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifteen,” when “George H. Chester” consecrated the building and all thereunto belonging. The first stone of this church was laid on the 4th of June, 1814 – the natal anniversary of George III – by Sir Henry Philip Hoghton, of Hoghton, the lay rector and patron of the parish of Preston. Under that first stone there were deposited a number of coins, two scrolls, and one newspaper – the Preston Chronicle.

The first minister of Trinity Church was the Rev. Edward Law, a gentleman, who, according to a local historian, “ably defended the belief of the adorable Trinity in a series of letters, assisted by the Rev. R. Baxter, of Stonyhurst, against a Unitarian minister, the Rev. T. C. Holland, which appeared in the Preston Chronicle,” and were subsequently reprinted and sold for the enlightenment and mystification of all polemically-minded men. Trinity Church is built on a plot of ground once called Patten Field. Moderns know little, if anything, of that field; but Patten-street – a delicious thoroughfare proximately fronting the church – still remains as a lingering topographical reminder of olden days. There were few houses in the region of Patten Field when Trinity Church was built: pastures were its colleagues, and patches of greensward its regular companions. But things have changed since then, and a mile of houses, stretching northward, and westward, and eastward now fills up the ancient hiatus. Trinity Church cost £9,080 9s. 3d., and that sum was raised partly by subscriptions and donations and partly by the sale of pews. Who gave the ultimate threepence we cannot tell, neither are we told in what way it was expended.

The architecture of the building is Gothic. There is nothing very striking about the exterior; indeed it looks cold, and sad, and forsaken, and its associations don’t improve it. The church is built upon a hill, and, therefore, can’t be hid. Its approaches may have been good at one time; its environs may have been aristocratic and healthy in 1814, but they are not so now. Smoky workshops, old buildings, with the windows awfully smashed in, houses given up to “lodgings for travellers here,” densely packed dingy cottages, and the tower of a wind mill, which for years nobody has been willing to either mend or pull down, are its architectural concomitants. The approaches to the church are varied and aggravatingly awkward. You can get to the church from any point of the compass, but access to it may mean anything – perhaps, a wandering up courts and passages, a turning round the corners of old narrow streets, an unsavoury acquaintance with the regions of trampery, and an uncomfortable perambulation along corn-torturing causeways and clumsily paved roads. Pigeon flyers, dog fanciers, gossipping vagrants, crying children, old iron, stray hens, women with a passion for sitting on door steps, men looking at nothing with their hands in their pockets, ancient rags pushed into broken windows, and the mirage of perhaps one policeman on duty constitute the sights in the neighbourhood.

The church-yard, which contains several substantial tombs and monuments, is in a decent state of preservation. It looks grave as all such places must do; but it is kept in order, and men of the Hervey type of mind might meditate very beneficially amongst its tombs. Trinity may not be the longest, but it is certainly about the widest, church in the town. It is neither a high nor a low, but an absolutely broad church. Internally it is excellent. On entering the place you are perfectly surprised at its capaciousness. Nothing cramped, nothing showy, nothing dim, grim, nor shabby-genteel enters into its proportions. It is finely expansive, airy, light, and well made. Goodness of build without gaudiness, sanctity without sadness, and evenness of finish without new-fangled intricacy, pervade it. It is fit for either beggars or plutocrats. There is not a better, not a plainer, neater, nor more respectable looking church in the town. And there is not a cleaner. Some of our churches have for years been cultivating a close and irreligious acquaintance with dirt – with dust, cobwebs, mould, and other ancient kinds of mild nastiness; but Trinity Church is a model of cleanliness. Everything in it seems clean – the windows, pews, cushions, mats, floors, &c., are all clean; there is even an air of cleanliness about the sweeping brushes and the venerable dust bin.

The church has accommodation for about 1,400 persons of ordinary proportions. The seats are constructed on comfortable principles, and that very traditional article – green baize – plays an important and goodly part in them. At the top and bottom of the middle range, on the ground floor, the seats are of various shapes – some narrow, some broad, a few oblong, and others inclining to the orthodox square. The central ones are regular, and so are those at the sides. In the galleries there is a slight irregularity of shape in the seats; but they are all substantial, and the bulk easy. There are 46 free pews or benches in the church. They run along the sides on the ground floor, and will accommodate nearly 280 persons. All the other seats, excepting about two, were sold to various parties at the time the church was opened – not for any fixed price all round, but for just as much as the trustees could get. Many were bought by high-class local families, and the names of several of the original and present proprietors – inscribed on small brass plates – may now be seen on the front sides. Fifty of the pews have ground rents, amounting respectively to £1 a year, attached to them. Several of the pews are let, the owners caring little for them, or having removed to other towns; many have been re-sold at intervals; and three have been forfeited through their proprietors having neglected to pay certain trifling rates laid upon them. The pews have deteriorated much in price. Once upon a time, when nearly all the fashionable families of Preston went to Trinity Church, neither Platonic love nor current coin could secure a pew. It was a la mode in its most respectable sense, it was Sabbatical ton in its genteelest form, to have and to hold a pew at Holy Trinity when George the Third was king. And for a considerable period afterwards this continued to be the case. The “exact thing” on a Sunday in Preston, 40 nay 20 years ago, was to own a pew at Trinity Church, to walk up to it, and to sit therein: it was superior to every modern process, and beat “Walking in the Zoo” and all that species of delightful work hollow. Pews were then worth something; they are now worth little. Only the other week a pew, originally bought for about £70, was sold by auction for £8! And it is said that some proprietors would not be very unwilling to give a pew or two now, if nicely asked, just to get out of the ratepaying clauses.

Trinity Church has a plain, yet pleasing, chancel. It is neat and good, simple yet well-proportioned and elegant. The chancel window is but sparingly stained; still it has a tasteful and rather stately appearance. Amber is the most prominent colour in it, and loyalty the principal virtue represented on it. There are a few small emblematic-looking characters towards the base, which few can make out; but everybody can see and understand the rather large English outburst of loyalty surmounting the window. The display consists of the Royal arms, well and broadly defined, with a crown above them, and a lion above all. This speaks well for the lion, which ought to be satisfied. Plain Gothic-bordered tablets, with a central monogram, occupy the wall below the window. They have a good effect, and give a somewhat artistic richness to the chancel. Within and at each end of the communion rails there is a fine old oak chair. Both are beautifully carved and are valuable. The reading-desk and the pulpit are placed opposite each other, and at the sides of the chancel. They are very tall, but altitude rather improves than diminishes their appearance. They are well made, are fashioned of dark oak, and have carved Gothic canopies. We have seen nothing so tall nor so respectable-looking in the arena of virtuous rostrumdom for a long period.

On each side of the pulpit-desk there is a small circular hole, and those said holes have a history. “What are they used for?” said we one day, whilst in the pulpit, to a friend near us. “For?” said the sagacious party, “they are for nothing;” and then followed a history which we thus summarise for the benefit of parsons in general:- A few years ago a gentleman with a red-hot dash of Hibernian blood in his veins was the curate here. When he came, the stands of two gas lights were fixed in the holes named; but one Sunday, when wilder than usual, he gave the bottom of the right-hand stand a vehement beating, smashed his ring in the encounter, and frightened the incumbent, who, being apprehensive as to the fate of the two stands and their globes, had them shifted further back and more out of the curate’s reach.

They were in imminent peril every minute, and a change was really necessary. Not many years ago – plenty of people can remember it – the congregation of Trinity Church was both large and influential. The elements of influence and the representatives of wealth may still be seen in it; but few and far between are the worshippers. Pews may be owned, seats may be taken, few sittings may be to let, but where are the worshippers? What a pity it is, that a church of proportions so goodly, an edifice with accommodation so capacious, a building with arrangements so substantial and excellent should be deserted in a manner so absolute? A screw of large dimensions is loose somewhere. The population of the district seems great – dense; many of the people round about the church stand singularly in need of entire acres of virtue, some of them are thorough-going heathens, and think heathenism a rather jolly thing at times. And yet this most excellent church is comparatively empty – desolate – reminding one painfully of Ossian’s picture of Balclutha’s walls. The congregation of Trinity Church is better than it was a few years ago, but it is still lamentably, small. There is often “a beggarly account of empty boxes” – a great deal of nothing in the church, and how to remedy this defect is a problem. The present congregation consists of a very moderate number of middle class people, a few elderly well-to-do individuals, a thin scattering of poor folk, and a small body of Sunday school scholars.

The Recorder of Preston, who has been connected with the management of the church since the time it was opened, attends regularly when health permits: Trinity Church is, of course, in the hands of trustees, and as people of an inquiring turn of mind sometimes wonder who they are we will give their names. Here are the trustees: Mr. T. B. Addison, Mr. John Cooper, Mr. Thos. Walmsley, Mr. John Swainson, Mr. John Bickerstaffe, Mr. Thomas Houlker, and Mr. Isaac Gate. The present churchwardens are Mr. W. Fort and Mr. W. H. Smith, and they have discharged their duties – looked after the church, kept it clean, preserved its order – in thoroughly commendable style. Testimonials are due for their services. The music at Trinity Church has for a considerable period been a troublesome, irregular, unsatisfactory thing. Years ago it was fine; there was full cathedral service in the church then; and the orchestral performances were attractive. But dullness and poorness are now their characteristics. The organ is one of the best in the town; its tones are fine and musical; it could perhaps be improved in one or two particulars; but everything in it is good as far as it goes. The tunes, however, which come from it are of a very ordinary character. Some of them may be tasteful; but the bulk seem weak and wearisome – lack fine-flowing harmony, and can neither be joined in nor appreciated by many parties. The members of the choir are not a very lustrous class of vocalists; but they do their best, and appear to fight through the musical fog surrounding them very patiently. We believe the tunes are selected by the incumbent. If so, let us hope that he will see the propriety of recognising something a little brisker and more classical – something rather livelier and more popularly relishable. Many clergymen simply select the hymns and leave the music to the choir: the incumbent might try this plan as an experiment. Squabbling about music, carping, and fighting, and biting about it, have in the past done much harm to Trinity Church. There is more peace now than there used to be amongst the singers; but there will never be very much contentment, and never much harmony of music, until they are permitted to moderately follow the custom of other places – to swim with the tide – and have a reasonable share of their own way. Singers can, as a rule, quarrel enough among themselves when in the enjoyment of the fullest privileges; and interference with their services, if they are really worth anything, only makes them more ill-natured, angular, and combative. They are awkward people to deal with, and have strange likings for “hot water.”

The minister of Trinity Church is the Rev. J. T. Brown, and his salary amounts to about £300 a year. He was christened at the place; was in after years curate of it; and is now its incumbent. About two years ago, when he came to the church in the last-named capacity, the congregation was wretchedly thin – awfully scarce, and just on the borders of invisibility. It has since improved a little; but working up a forsaken place into real activity is a difficult task, which at times staggers the ablest of men. Mr. Brown is a scholar, and a thoroughly upright man. He believes not in fighting down other people’s creeds; never rails against religious antagonists; has a natural dislike to platform bigotry and pulpit wrathfulness; is generously inclined; will give but not lend; objects to everything in the shape of loud clerical display; is strongly evangelical in his tastes; is exact, and calm, and orderly, even to the cut of his whiskers; won’t be brought out and exhibited; doesn’t care about seeing other people make exhibitions; and thinks every minister should mind his own business, and leave other people alone. But he is far too good for a parson. A gentle melancholy seems to have got hold of him. He always preaches sincerely; a quiet spirit of simple unadorned, piety pervades his remarks – but he depresses you too much; and is rather predisposed to a calm mournful consideration of the great sulphur question. He never gets into a lurid passion, never horrifies, but calmly saddens you, in his discourses. He is fond of quoting good old Richard Baxter and John Banyan, and he might have worse authorities. But he is very serious, and his words sometimes chill like a condensation of Young’s “Night Thoughts.” If he had more dash and blithesomeness in him, if he could fling a little more of this world’s logic into his sermons, if he would periodically blow his own trumpet very audibly, and make a smart “spread” now and then, he would gather force. The best of things will sink if there be not some noise and show made about them. If Mr. Brown knew the “Holloway’s Pills and Ointment” theory better than he does, he would have a fuller congregation; but he is too honest and too good for superficial emblazonry, and he believes in quietness.

Trinity Church has some excellent schools for boys, girls, and infants. The attendance is only poor; but it is better than it was. The boys’ school is improving; that of the girls is also recruiting the strength it lost last Whitsuntide but one, when a number of its attendants left in a body because Mr. Brown objected to a display of orange and blue ribbons which they were senselessly enamoured of; and with respect to the infants they are regularly growing in size if not in numbers. Mrs. Brown, wife of the incumbent, not only industriously visits the district, like a genuine Christian lady as she is, but teaches in the girls school, and at intervals when at church – here is an example for parsons’ wives – looks after a number of the scholars personally, whilst her own servants are quietly occupying the family pew. We could like to see both the church and the schools of Mr. Brown full; he has our best wishes in this respect; and we hope he may find some talisman by which the difficulty will be satisfactorily solved.