St Walburge's Church

St Walburge's Church is a Roman Catholic church located in Preston, Lancashire, England, northwest of the city centre on Weston Street. The church was built in the mid 19th century by the Gothic revival architect Joseph Hansom, designer of the hansom cab, and is famous as having the tallest spire of any parish church in England. St Walburge's is a Grade I listed building with English Heritage.

St Walburge's, with several other churches in Preston, has been threatened with closure by the Catholic Diocese of Lancaster since 2007. This has aroused much interest because of the quality of its architecture, its significance to the parish and its landmark status in Preston. The closure has been given a stay of seven years from August 2008 and local fund-raising drives are underway to supplement grants towards the restoration of this important building. David Garrard, the Historic Churches Adviser of the Victorian Society said:


St Walburge's is dedicated to Saint Walpurga, an English saint, born 710 AD., daughter of St. Richard, a Saxon King. With her two brothers St. Willibald and St. Winebald, she went to Germany as a missionary. She was renowned for her miraculous healing of illnesses. The church is part of the Catholic revival that transpired during the time of England's Catholic emancipation.


St Walburge's Church is situated in the Maudlands district of Preston, so called because of its association with St Mary Magdalene of which name the word "Maudlands" is a corruption. St Walburge's is located near the site of a 12th century leprosy hospital dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.

In 1847, at a time of great Roman Catholic revival in England, and prosperity brought by the textile mills of Lancashire, the architect was Joseph Hansom was commissioned to build a large church. Work began on the construction of the church in May 1850, and it was ready for an opening ceremony on August 3, 1854. The church was further extended, with its polygonal sanctuary with central window 35 feet (11 m) high being added in 1873.

Architecture and features

Externally, St Walburge's spire, rising to 309 feet (94 m) is the dominant landmark in Preston and is one of the tallest structures of any sort in Lancashire. After Salisbury and Norwich Cathedrals, it is third tallest spire in England, and is the tallest on a parish church. The steeple is constructed from limestone sleepers which originally carried the nearby Preston and Longridge Railway, giving the spire a red tint during sunset. The spire was the last to be worked upon by steeplejack and TV personality Fred Dibnah. The tower contains a single bell of 31 cwt (1.5 tonnes) cast by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel which is the heaviest swinging bell in Lancashire. The use of the bell is restricted, due to protected birds nesting in the belfry, meaning it can only be rung in winter months.


St Walburge's is renowned not just for its height but also for the inventive quality of its architecture, in which the architect has looked to Gothic models, employing the traditional features in a creative and harmonious way. The Open Churches Trust says of St Walburge's that it "undoubtedly an architectural gem of the north west of England."

The New Red Sandstone facade presents as an unaisled church with a very steep gable. A strongly horizontal arcade, divides the facade into two zones, balanced by strongly projecting buttresses and corner pinnacles typical of many English Gothic cathedrals. The arcade is countered by the verticality of strongly projecting buttresses and corner pinnacles typical of many English Gothic cathedrals. The upper zone is dominated by a rose window 22 feet (7 m) in diameter occupying almost the full width of the nave.


The interior, which seats about 1,000 persons, is 165 feet (50 m) and 55 feet (17 m) wide. The open wooden roof of 83 feet (25 m) is supported of fourteen hammerbeams, on the ends of which stand lifesized carved the figures of saints. The church contains an organ by William Hill of London, 1855. Other significant features include a wooden triptych and a crucifix with the shield of Preston and the motto "Princeps Pacis". St. Ignatius of Loyola is also prominently featured to the right in the sanctuary, echoing the influence of the Jesuit priests still active in the city. The patron saints of Great Britain are also featured.


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