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Church of St Thomas

A Grade II Listed Building in Atherton, Wigan

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Latitude: 53.495 / 53°29'42"N

Longitude: -2.5074 / 2°30'26"W

OS Eastings: 366431

OS Northings: 399934

OS Grid: SJ664999

Mapcode National: GBR BXX0.YV

Mapcode Global: WH986.GD6Z

Plus Code: 9C5VFFWV+22

Entry Name: Church of St Thomas

Listing Date: 20 March 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1439679

Location: Wigan, WN7

County: Wigan

Electoral Ward/Division: Leigh East

Built-Up Area: Atherton

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater Manchester

Church of England Parish: Bedford St Thomas

Church of England Diocese: Manchester

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A large Anglican church of 1902-10 by Richard Bassnett Preston of Preston and Vaughan, in Accrington brick with Runcorn red sandstone dressings, with later fittings designed by Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson and stained glass by J Powell and Archibald Keightley Nicholson.


Anglican parish church of 1902-10 by Richard Bassnett Preston of Preston and Vaughan.

MATERIALS: Accrington brick with Runcorn red sandstone dressings and Coniston slate roofs.

PLAN: three-bay chancel with a N vestry and S chapel, two-bay N and S transepts with a S porch, a SW tower and five-bay nave with aisles.

EXTERIOR: standing to the N of Chapel Street in an empty churchyard, partly occupied to the N by a Scout hut and to the E by a small public park.

The brickwork is all in Flemish bond. The chancel is of three bays, divided by plain brick pilasters and with, at each end and flanking the E elevation, stepped buttresses with stone kneelers. The E window has tall ribbed mullions and lively Decorated tracery in the arch. The gable carries an empty stone niche, with a cruciform finial above. Stone sill-and-impost bands return along the N and S walls, which have pointed-arch clerestory windows. These all have Decorated tracery, above a single mullion in the (narrower) chancel and nave W bay windows, and two mullions in the other four bays of the nave.

The N wall has a lean-to vestry at the left, with a Tudor-arched door reached by steps with flanking walls, and a traceried window. The organ loft is parapeted, with a high-level window and an octagonal vice in the NW corner. The transept is also parapeted, but with a gablet over each bay, and a stepped buttress between the bays. The aisle also has a parapet and stepped buttresses between the bays, with a corner buttress. As with the clerestory, the window of the W bay is narrower with a single mullion, the others wider with two mullions, and all have Decorated tracery. The crypt has windows throughout, flat-lintelled and mullioned, with ogee heads. A basement area adjacent to the aisle has stone kerbs and steps, and iron railings. Smaller areas with similar railings are found in the other bays. White pvc rainwater goods* have been installed at low-level, with cast-iron retained at high level. The S wall is very similar, save for a small flat-roofed porch abutting the right-hand bay of the transept, and a two-bay Lady Chapel in place of the vestry at the right, with apsidal E end. A second porch forms the lowest stage of the tower, on the S side of the western bay. This contains a door to the stair, and the two-centred-arched doorway to the S aisle.

The four-stage tower is 20 feet square and is 78 feet high from the ground to the top of the stone parapet, with corner buttresses to almost full height. The parapet is crenellated and richly carved, with a cornice decorated with flowers, fruit, grotesques and animal heads, and a winged gargoyle at each corner. The terminations to the hoodmoulds of the belfry louvres are carved heads: on the S, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York; on the E, Dr Sumner, Bishop of Chester, who consecrated the Old Church, and Dr Knox, Bishop of Manchester, who dedicated the present building; on the N, the Rev Moorhouse James, the first vicar, and the Rev JT Lawton, vicar when the present building was built and dedicated; and on the W, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The clock faces of the third stage sit in diamond-shaped surrounds, with angels at the top and bottom, and animals and fruit to the left and right. The angels carry shields inscribed (S face) Rex and Lex (meaning king and law), (E face) IHS and Lux (Jesus and light) and (W face) Pax (peace). The second stage has low-level windows with mullions and hoodmoulds. To either side of the main entrance are carved the arms of the Province of York and the Diocese of Manchester, and in a niche above the doorway is a statue of St Thomas. Traceried blind windows flank the doorway, which is reached by modern ramps* and steps* with handrails*. The E and W faces of the lower stage have oculus windows with tracery between the central mullion and transom. The W elevation has a two-light window in each aisle, and buttresses flanking the W window, which like the E window has five mullions and Decorated tracery in the arch.

INTERIOR: the chancel arch rises to a height of 40 feet. The patterned marble floor steps up from the choir and again to the altar rail, and twice further to the E wall. The altar stands on a further central step against the E wall. In the SE corner are sedilia and piscina. The E window is a memorial to those of the parish who fell in the First World War. This takes the form of the Te Deum, with the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Majesty of Christ surrounded by the worship of prophets, saints and angels. These include St George accompanied by a soldier and an airman and St Nicholas with sailors. The roof is of collared trusses, boarded beneath the rafters and the collars, and with decorative arched braces to the collars and tie beams. The reredos and altar are of oak. The carving depicts the Resurrection, with a central panel showing St Thomas kneeling before the risen Christ, flanked by panels containing two innocent witnesses of the Resurrection (Mary and St John), and two penitent ones (St Peter and Mary Magdalene). The inscription 'Beati qui non viderunt et crediderunt' means 'blessed are those who have not seen and have believed'. Lining the chancel are carved screens to the organ loft and Lady Chapel.

Furnishings include the choir stalls, decoratively carved with vines and animals, carved oak pulpit (at the time of inspection, in pieces in the N transept) and Litany desk. The nave is lofty with red brick walls, red sandstone dressings and arcades of octagonal columns with fillets carried up through the clerestory to moulded capitals which carry the tie-beam braces of the roof, which matches that of the chancel. Some pews remain in the aisles only. The W bay of the S aisle is enclosed by an inserted screen* to form a lobby which houses toilet facilities*.

One window in the N aisle is by James Powell & Sons, another by an unknown designer and a third is thought to be by J Wippell. The designer of one window in the S aisle is also not known. The W window is of clear leaded glass. Otherwise, the windows are by AK Nicholson, mainly given as memorials. The stone font, originally at the W end, currently stands in the N transept. Beneath the W window is a panelled oak First World War memorial, with Second World War names added, and this memorial is also flanked by oak panelling that returns at either side to the first column of the arcade.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the boundary wall to Chapel Street is of red brick with a chevron course and red sandstone copings, and gateposts at the E end. A red brick lychgate with sandstone arches and slate roof has a stone tablet in the gable in memory of the fallen of the Second World War.

*Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the aforementioned items are not of special architectural or historic interest.

This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 29 August 2017.


The previous parish church was built in 1839. Funds for the new church were largely raised from 'weekly subscribers of small sums' starting in 1885 and continuing for the next 24 years; the total cost was over £13,000, high for a parish church at the time. The commission was given to JS Crowther but passed to Richard Bassnett Preston after Crowther died (in 1893). The builders were Gerrard and Sons of Swinton. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 31 May 1902, the last day of the Boer War. There was such a generous response to the appeal then made, that the committee decided to build two bays of the nave in addition to the chancel. This portion of the new church was opened on 31 October 1903 and abutted the earlier remaining W end and tower until 1909, when the current W end and tower were added, being completed in 1910. The dedication by Dr Knox, Lord Bishop of Manchester, took place on Wednesday 12 October 1910, the seventieth anniversary of the consecration of the old church.

Pews were paid for through a separate subscription list. The lectern, pulpit and screen (and later the clock by John Smith and Sons of Derby) were given by Alderman WJ Smith, Mayor of Leigh, and the altar in the Lady Chapel was given by Mr Henry Dickinson. The window by Powell and Sons is dated 1911, those by the firm of AK Nicholson range from 1915 to 1938. In 1914, a former member of the church who became Town Clerk of Winchester presented the church with a Bishop’s throne, designed by Preston, and constructed from wood taken from Winchester Cathedral’s roof during repairs. The oak screen to the Lady Chapel resulted from a bequest by the former vicar, Rev JT Lawton (d1930). Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson (1867-1949) designed the reredos, which was added in 1932 (to Rev Lawton’s memory and dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Manchester, Dr Guy Warman) and the altar, both of which were carved by E Bowman and Sons of Stamford, Lincolnshire. The choir stalls, choir screens and sanctuary panelling were added in 1933, given by Mary Alice Grundy and also thought to be by Charles A Nicholson. The oak panelling on each side of the War Memorial was given by Mr William Foulds in 1934. During the 1940s one window was added in each of the S and N aisles, and another in the N aisle thought to be by J Wippell is late C20 in date. The lych gate is first marked on the 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey map of 1953. The church closed for worship in August 2015, and during 2016 suffered from some vandalism which has damaged some of the glass in particular.

Richard Bassnett Preston (1855-1934) had been JS Crowther’s pupil in Manchester before entering independent practice in 1880 in the partnership of Preston and Vaughan. In 1895-8 Preston and Vaughan were responsible for the church of Emmanuel, Southport (National Heritage List for England reference 1379565), to which St Thomas’s bears a strong resemblance.

Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson, second Baronet (1867-1949), was a pupil of JD Sedding, and subsequently worked with Henry Wilson, another of Sedding's pupils. In 1893 he entered independent practice and that year won the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Tite prize for architectural design. He became a fellow of the Institute in 1905. In the course of his career Nicholson was consulting architect to five English cathedrals: Lincoln, Wells, Lichfield, Sheffield and Portsmouth. His cathedral work included the new E chapel at Norwich, various additions to Chelmsford, and the reconstruction of Portsmouth. Internal work and restoration were carried out at Brecon, Carlisle, Exeter, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Manchester, Salisbury, Wakefield, Wells, and Winchester, as well as at many dozens of parish churches. Archibald Keightley Nicholson (1871-1937), Charles’s younger brother, is said to have produced his first glasswork as early as 1894. In 1907 he set up his own stained glass studios in London, moving to Westminster in 1916 and Gower Street in 1921. In his lifetime, he produced over 700 windows.

Reasons for Listing

The Church of St Thomas at Bedford, Leigh, an Anglican parish church of 1902-1910 with later fixtures, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Design quality: of the red Accrington brick exterior complemented by good Decorated tracery and carving in local red sandstone, and the well-proportioned and imposing interior spaces;
* Degree of survival: retaining numerous internal fittings and stained glass of good quality craftsmanship and high artistic merit;
* Association: with several notable designers who were among the highest ranks of their day and are attributed with working on many listed buildings, including Richard Bassnett Preston, an architect who was a pupil of JS Crowther, Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson, a noted architect and designer who decorated many of the most significant churches in the country, and Archibald Keightley Nicholson, a significant glass artist;
* Historic interest: of the continuous fundraising in a poor parish over a period of at least fifty years to complete the building and provide the majority of the fixtures, at a high cost for the time.

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