Lancashire Churches

St John’s the Divine Church in Lytham

Shellard’s elegant broach spire is a feature of the Lytham seafront.

There are many English churches whose visual contribution to their location far outweighs their architectural merits. Such is the case with St John the Divine, Lytham. This modest church adds a second vertical accent (with the nearby windmill) that gives the seafront a distinction which its absence would considerably diminish.

The building is the work of Edwin Hugh Shellard, a Manchester architect whose work in the 1840s and 1850s was particularly favoured by the Church Commissioners. This body channelled money into the building of churches in areas of rapidly expanding population. St John was built in 1848-9, a time when, under the influence of Pugin and the “The Ecclesiologist”, churches began to use Gothic in a more historically accurate manner. Here Shellard uses the Early English style as his inspiration.

The best feature of the building is the beautifully proportioned tower with its broach spire. Shellard’s churches often include such spires, and he had clearly studied the C13 churches of Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire. At Lytham the tower is placed asymmetrically at the south west corner of the church, barely joined to the aisle, and projecting slightly further west than the nave. The south door is in the base of the structure. Slender setback buttresses reach half way up the corners of the tower, stopping well short of the twin lancet bell openings. The lines of the octagonal spire are defined by moulding, and four faces have lucarnes.

The church was built with tower, nave, chancel and deep aisles. However, in 1856-7 Shellard extended the building, adding transepts and making the chancel longer. Everywhere are lancet windows. In the aisles they are grouped in pairs, whilst the clerestory has them in threes. The east wall has stepped triple lancets, while the west has two. The only relief from lancets is found in the gables of the transepts: to the south is a wheel window, and to the north a circular window in an arched frame with a curved base. This lack of variety is a drawback in the design, and one can be thankful for the visual interest that the later extensions bring to the building.

Inside the church the Early English theme continues in the round piers with dogtooth in the capitals. The stone pulpit has blank cusped arcading around it, and the font continues the dogtooth and round columns.

A south chapel is dedicated to the men of the Lancashire regiments who died in the First World War. Their names are recorded in stone panels. Military insignia feature in the stained glass. The chapel includes striking painting in the blank arcading behind the altar. It has a charmingly naive and ethereal quality that wins one over the more one looks at it! In the churchyard is a beautifully carved slate gravestone to William Edward Callister 1881-1918. The lettering and patterns are of exceptional quality and interest, and show Art Nouveau/Mackintosh influences.