St Mary the Virgin's Church, Leigh

St Mary the Virgin's Church, Leigh
Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Leigh

Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin

53°17′42″N 2°18′40″W / 53.295°N 2.311°W / 53.295; -2.311Coordinates: 53°17′42″N 2°18′40″W / 53.295°N 2.311°W / 53.295; -2.311
Location St Mary's Way, Leigh,
Greater Manchester
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Former name(s) St Peter
Dedication Saint Mary the Virgin
Consecrated 12 February 1873
Status Parish church
Functional status Active
Heritage designation Grade II*
Designated 07 November 1966
Architect(s) Paley and Austin
Architectural type Church
Style Gothic Revival
Completed 1873
Materials red sandstone
Parish Leigh
Deanery Leigh
Archdeaconry Salford
Diocese Manchester
Province York
Vicar(s) Kevin Crinks B.Th.

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Leigh (grid reference SD656003) is a Church of England parish church in Leigh, Greater Manchester, England. It is a member of the Leigh deanery in the archdeaconry of Salford, diocese of Manchester.[1] It is a Grade II* listed building.[2]

Leigh was in the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry until 1541 when it was transferred to the Diocese of Chester. In 1847 Leigh became the only parish in the Hundred of West Derby to be part of the new Diocese of Manchester. Leigh has had its own deanery since 1933. Before that it was part of the deanery of Eccles and prior to that Warrington.[3]



St. Mary's is in the centre of Leigh by the Civic Square, which was originally the market place, next to the library and opposite the Town Hall. The church was first recorded in documents in the 13th century but the date of its foundation is uncertain. The first church on the site was dedicated to St Peter and was described as the Church of Westleigh in Leigh. Its dedication was changed to St. Mary the Virgin at the end of the 14th century. The church straddled the ancient boundary between the townships of Westleigh and Pennington, the nave and churchyard in Westleigh and the chancel in Pennington.[4]

For several hundred years it was the only church to serve six townships, Westleigh, Pennington, Bedford, Astley, Atherton and Tyldesley, that made up the old ecclesiastical parish. For baptisms, marriages and funerals the population of the six townships had to travel to St. Mary's or else churches that lay outside the parish's boundaries, such as St Mary's Deane, All Saint's Church in Wigan or St Mary the Virgin Eccles. The first Astley Chapel was built as a chapel of ease and consecrated in 1631. A second chapel of ease dedicated to St John the Baptist at Chowbent was built in 1645 by John Atherton but not consecrated until 1723. A third daughter church, St George's Church, Tyldesley, was consecrated in 1825, St Thomas in Bedford was built in 1840 and Christ Church, Pennington in 1854.

Its early history was linked with the Westleigh family who were Lords of the Manor of Westleigh. John de Westleigh was parish priest in the reign of King John (1199–1216).[4] The church was probably rebuilt during the 15th century. The tower dates to about 1500. The chantry chapel of St. Nicholas, the Tyldesley Chapel, occupied the east end of the north aisle and the Atherton chapel, dedicated to St. Mary the eastern end of the south aisle.

The tower was restored twice, once in 1721 and again in 1849 before being recased in 1910. In the late 1860s the church had become unsafe and with the exception of the tower, was demolished and rebuilt to designs by Paley and Austin of Lancaster. James Fraser, Bishop of Manchester reconsecrated the building in February 1873.

During reconstruction the date 1616 was found on a roof beam but it is thought the roof of the St. Nicholas or Tyldesley Chapel which was restored and reused dates from about 1500. Sir Thomas Tyldesley was buried here after his death in the Battle of Wigan Lane.[5]

James Irvine, vicar, was so anti "non-conformist" that he refused burial or blessing of those, including children, that had died and required a final resting place.


18th century brass candelabra

The church was rebuilt on the foundations of the original church in hammer-dressed sandstone to designs by Paley and Austin of Lancaster in the Gothic Revival Perpendicular style.[6] The church has a six-bay nave and two-bay chancel under a continuous roof with a clerestory and crenellated parapet. The bays have three-light aisle windows with rectilinear tracery and hoodmoulds, the clerestory windows have two-light flat-headed arches. There are octagonal pinnacled piers at the east corners of the chancel, either side of the five-light east window.

The tower, the oldest part of the church, was recased in 1910 by Austin and Paley and is also castellated retaining the 16th century studded oak west doors beneath an elliptical arch.[2] The tower has weathered diagonal buttresses and a three-light west window. There are two-light belfry openings on all sides below the clock faces. The north vestry dates from 1910 by the same architects. Nikolaus Pevsner describes the six bay interior with octagonal piers as being "impressive in scale".[6] The roofline of the previous church is visible on the wall of the tower inside the church.

Fittings and furniture

The Speakman Window

The tower has a ring of eight bells. Six were cast in 1740 by Abel Rudhall of Gloucester and the treble and second were cast in 1761, also by Rudhall's. These bells replace four bells reputed to have been given by Queen Elizabeth I. Two of the earlier bells were cast in Leigh in 1692 and 1705.[7][8] In March 2010 the bells were taken down for transportation to Dorset where they were restored at a cost of £30,000.[9]

The north aisle roof is re-used from the old church whilst the nave has a hammer beam roof.

Pevsner describes the reredos and altar designed by Austin and Paley as "extremely handsome" and "gorgeously painted" in gold, red and green by Shrigley and Hunt.[6] Stained glass windows installed between 1887 and 1933 in the Lady chapel, south aisle and several in north aisle are also by Shrigley and Hunt while others including the east window are by Charles Eamer Kempe.[2] The Speakman window is of interest as it depicts scenes from the industries on which Leigh was built, panels include weavers, engineers and colliers.[10]

The organ case of 1910 is by Austin and Paley and from the old church there is a 1777 organ case by Samuel Green of London preserved on the vestry side of the church.[6] The three manual organ was made in 1776–78 by Samuel Green, and repaired between 1807 and 1877 by Vincent of Liverpool.[11] It was rebuilt in 1911 by Harrison & Harrison, using some of the original stops. In 1964 the pedal division was enlarged by the same company. The organ has been granted a Historic Organ Certificate Grade II*.[12] Wooden fittings also saved from the earlier church include an altar table of 1705 by Thomas Naylor in the Lady Chapel and oak canopies from the churchwardens seats of 1686.[2]

Over the nave near the tower is an 18th-century brass chandelier, "a cut above the norm" according to Pevsner, which was retained from the old church and converted to electricity.[6][10]

External features

The 18th-century boundary wall, gates and gate piers of the churchyard are designated as a Grade II listed building.[13]

Rectors and Vicars

The first parson on a list of rectors that starts in the reign of Richard I in the 12th century is John, Parson of Westleigh (1189–1199) but it is possible there was a church in Leigh at the time of the Norman Conquest.[4]

  • Rectors
  • temp.Richard I: John, parson of Westleigh
  • temp.John: Robert Coucy
  • 1240–70: Henry de Ulveston
  • 1275: Nicholas de Wigan
  • 1276: John de Urmston
  • Edw. I: William de Urmston
  • 1304: John de Urmston
  • 1305: William Banastre
  • 1309: John de Urmston
  • 1326: Henry de Rixton
  • 1327: John de Blebury
  • 1339: John de Holand
  • 1346: Thomas de Tansouere
  • 1349: Peter de Wigan
  • 1366: William de Chiselden
  • 1378: John de Haverbergh
  • 1382: William Osgodby
  • 1383: Thomas de Dalby
  • 1386: William de Chiselden
  • 1396: Thomas Hyne
  • 1410: Ralph Repington
  • Vicars
  • 1440: James Hall
  • 1453: John Bothe, LL.B.
  • 1455: John Deping
  • 1456: Thurstan Percivall
  • 1483: William Urmston
  • 1504: Gilbert Heaton
  • 1526: Richard Clerke
  • 1557: Roger Feilden
  • 1574: Robert Eaton
  • 1595: Gervase Lowe
  • 1616: James Gregson
  • 1620: James Gatley
  • 1646: Bradley Hayhurst
  • 1662: Jonathan Gillibrand
  • 1685: William Barrett
  • 1691: John Harrison
  • 1696: George Ward
  • 1734: William Farington, B.D.
  • 1767: John Barlow, M.A.
  • 1784: James Hartley
  • 1798: Henry William Champneys
  • 1800: Daniel Birkett
  • 1821: Joseph Hodgkinson, M.A.
  • 1826: Jonathan Topping.
  • 1839: James Irvine, M.A.
  • 1874: Joseph Heaton Stanning, M.A.
  • 1908: Irton Smith, M.A.
  • 1916: Frederick Henry Campion, M.A.
  • 1930: John Edgar Eastwood, B.A.
  • 1948: Arthur Finch, B.A.
  • 1955 Leonard George Tyler, M.A.
  • 1966: John Rogan, M.A.
  • 1979: David Alan Muston, B.A.
  • 1983: John T. Finney, B.A.
  • 1998: Terence P. Challis
  • 2003: Arthur Cunningham. M.A. PhD.
  • 2009: Kevin Crinks B.Th.
  • Rectors and Vicars of St Mary's

See also


  1. ^ Leigh Deanery,,, retrieved 2010-02-05 
  2. ^ a b c d Church of St Mary,, Images of England,, retrieved 2010-02-05 
  3. ^ A Guide to Leigh Parish Church, page 2
  4. ^ a b c Farrer, Brownbill, 1907, pages 413–421
  5. ^ St Mary the Virgin, Leigh - Church of England, GENUKI,, retrieved 2009-10-14 
  6. ^ a b c d e Pevsner, 2006, page 229
  7. ^ A Guide to Leigh Parish Church, page 7
  8. ^ Bells,,, retrieved 2010-02-05 
  9. ^ 250 year old bells to chime again, Wigan News,, retrieved 2010-03-12 
  10. ^ a b A Guide to Leigh Parish Church, page 5
  11. ^ Lancashire (Manchester, Greater), Leigh, St. Mary the Virgin, St. Mary's Way (N10996), British Institute of Organ Studies,, retrieved 10 June 2011 
  12. ^ Lancashire (Manchester, Greater), Leigh, St. Mary the Virgin, St. Mary's Way (N10997), British Institute of Organ Studies,, retrieved 10 June 2011 
  13. ^ "Boundary walls, gates and gate piers to south, west and east of Church of St Mary, Leigh", The National Heritage List for England (English Heritage), 2011,, retrieved 10 June 2011 

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