I love old churches. They have character, a peaceful atmosphere, interesting and natural building materials, different styles and architectures within one building. Centuries of tradition are present, many generations have worshipped here, celebrated their good times, mourned during the bad. They will have shared their happiness or found solace in the congregation.
And then there are the pews, the thick wooden front door with beautiful ornaments, the communion table, the pulpit… all made expertly and lovingly from beautiful wood.
Stained glass windows that stood the test of time, a church organ that can fill the whole building with beautiful sounds and lift the spirits of the congregation. And let’s not forget the natural stone old churches are made of, that will have been sourced locally in most cases.
St Wilfrid’s in Standish
St Wilfrid’s in Standish is just such a church. The Grade I listed building is first mentioned in local literature in 1205, but both the foundation of the congregation and building are likely to be much older. It is the only Grade I listed building in the Wigan area.
St Wilfrid’s was erected between 1582-1584 – not long after the reformation and in a time when conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the newly formed Anglican Church was still ongoing, and congregations had to decide which direction to follow. Several renovations and repairs have been made since then.
The Gothic tower, dating from the 19th Century, is made from ashlar stone; the rest of the church from gritstone. The church building has Elizabethan, Gothic and Renaissance influences, and the ceiling is Tudor.
The church used to have three chantries, they were: the Chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Chantry of Altar of St Nicholas, and the Chantry of the Holy Cross. In the early 20th century, vestries and a gatehouse were added to the church. The gatehouse itself is now a grade II listed building.
The spire on the tower
The spire is visible from wide and far, and a well-known landmark in the area. A routine inspection this year revealed several pressing issues that mean renovation of the spire is urgently needed – at a total estimated cost of £400,000.
Of course the church doesn’t have this amount of money available, so a fundraiser has been started. And in order to make people more aware, two open days have been arranged for this month, on the ninth and sixteenth.
The church used to be open all day around, but since an attempted theft of the machine used for card payments (which was thwarted by the vicar himself), sadly the decision was taken to close the church in between services.
Visiting the open day
On the first open day, we were given a tour of the church by licensed lay minister Dr Sheila Fisher, and the church historian was present to answer any questions as well.
Dr Fisher showed us around the main body of the church, talking about the rich history and the old families who are represented by their crests and the donations they made. The first thing you see on entry is the old baptism font, where babies could be dipped in the water (these days that is no longer done, and a smaller font stands near the pulpit).
She pointed out the Tuscan columns which would be enough reason in themselves for a Grade I listing she said, and the beautiful oak ceiling, with slightly different styles in different parts of it, and the bosses are decorated by family crests, carved out in oak as well, and no two are the same.
Left: Examples of the ceiling, with the bossing visible in one picture. Right: the pulpit. Photos by the author, with permission
The whole church has artefacts made of British oak, including the pulpit. The pulpit (at the moment not in use as services are being streamed with Zoom which means the clergy have to stand in the middle of the church) is decorated in intricate carvings with the family crest of the Standish family (the owl holding the rat).
We marvelled at the beautiful stained glass windows, and I especially liked the window above the entry door from the porch into the church, which is dedicated to the miners from Wigan.
Most windows depict scenes from the Bible, especially the last days of Jesus’ life, but in some windows, the main donors to the church building can be seen as well. Even Dr Linacre makes an appearance in one of them (a name well-known to many Wiganers).
The bell tower contains eight bells and could be visited, but as there were 36 steep steps going up and only 6-8 people could visit the bell tower at the time, there was quite a wait and I decided that it would be better to visit another time.
The organ was being played for us after we’d finished the tour, a lovely sound that filled the church and the gardens. The church gardens consist of a graveyard, with a special area for the fallen from the first and second World War, and beautifully maintained lawns and plants.
All in all, this church is a beautiful historical building, well worth a visit for anyone who likes architecture or ornate woodwork.
If you want to help fund the repairs to the church spire, please go to the donation page that has been set up specifically for this. And if you want to visit, the next open day is 16 September, at 11am. This event will be similar to the first, but the person showing people around is likely to be different.