Lancashire Churches

St. Bartholomew’s Church in Great Harwood

A typical North Country church: Pevsner

The church of St Bartholomew at Great Harwood is first heard of in a document of 1335. This describes it as “the Chapel of Harwode”, and the building was probably a chapel of ease of a nearby church, or possibly of Whalley Abbey. At that time the dedication was to St Lawrence. The dedication to St Bartholomew may have been transferred from a chantry chapel founded in 1521 by Thomas Hesketh of Martholme, who was Lord of the Manor.

The oldest part of the church we see today is the west tower. It is C15 and has diagonal buttresses, a west door (blocked), a belfry door, a three-light west window, and simple bell-openings. The top is embattled, and here there is no stair projection.

The nave was added in the C16. Pevsner suggests the reign of Henry VIII; the guide thinks Elizabeth I. It has identical north and south arcades with plain octagonal columns and capitals. The windows of the nave and clerestory are straight-headed with, predominantly, simple uncusped lights in groups of three, though some are cusped. They look quite domestic. The roof of the nave was clearly used elsewhere before being installed in the church in 1774 – one of the tie-beams and its wall plate hangs awkwardly in front of a clerestory window. The lower edges of the beams are decorated, and the centre of the ceiling has quadrant corners and a circular motif with a curved cross. There is some speculation that it came from Whalley Abbey. The nave and aisles are filled with box pews. These appear to be Victorian.

The stained glass includes windows by Seward and Co – see the south aisle depiction of the empty tomb, a rigidly symmetrical and very busy piece. That in the west window is by the Scottish firm of Ballantine & Gardner. It is a fairly traditional treatment of the Crucifixion with deep, rich colours. The work of this Edinburgh-based company is relatively rare in England. It was founded in 1837 as Ballantine & Allen by James Ballantine, an outspoken stained glass artist and critic. The firm produced some of the earliest Victorian stained glass in Scotland, and designed pieces for the Scott Memorial. In the new south aisle window are two fragments of ancient glass. These bear the initials T.H. (Thomas Hesketh), and a sheaf of corn, which is part of the family’s coat of arms.

The chancel was rebuilt in 1886. In common with many towns in the north of England, Great Harwood’s church had to be enlarged to accommodate the increasing urban population – here attracted by the proliferating mills. Considerable care was taken to make the extension match the existing building, and some older materials were reused. The large four-light east window with a shallow arch dates from this time.

The church has a number of interesting pieces of woodwork. An old, rudimentary poppy-head pew stands in the north aisle It dates from between 1518 and 1547, and is inscribed “Pray for the soul of Hugh Stanworth and Letice his wife, who caused this to be made.” At the other end of the north aisle is an ancient oak chest. It is made of massive planks and is bound with iron straps and hinges. As was the custom there are three locks for three different keys. These would be kept by the vicar and churchwardens, and ensured that all needed to be present for it to be opened. The chest would have held church documents.

The pulpit is decorated all round with linenfold panelling. This is often an indication of the C16.