Lancashire Churches

St. Mary’s Church in Penwortham

Perpendicular tower, early C14 chancel, and a nave of 1855 by E.G. Paley.

Penwortham church is sited at the point where the land falls away to the River Ribble below. This was the cause of some consternation in the early C17 when instability caused by burials and underscouring by the river caused landslips. A prohibition on burials to the south and east was put in place, but further slips have occurred over the centuries. Nearby, to the north, is Castle Hill, the site of a Norman motte and bailey. And not too distant is the site of a small Benedictine priory founded in 1140. To this ancient site was added the present church.

The oldest part of the existing building is the chancel which dates from the early C14. Its walls are of red sandstone and gritstone pierced by small, simple windows with trefoil-headed lights and quatrefoil tracery. It is lit by a large east window with three lights with cusped heads. A window on the north wall of the chancel appears to have either lost its mullion or to have been built from left-over pieces, and looks most odd! The chancel windows to north and south hold fragments of old glass. Inside the building the chancel walls are finished in rough stonework and contrast with the white painted plasterwork of the nave.

The west tower was built in the C15 in the Perpendicular style, and is of a type commonly found in Lancashire. It has a west door and window, a stair projection, simple bell openings, diagonal buttresses, and battlements with small corner pinnacles – compare Broughton, St Michael’s-on-Wyre or Cockerham. The stair projection holds a spiral staircase of 60 steps, whilst the belfry has eight bells, five dating from 1712, one dated 1858, and the remaining two of 1926.

Connecting the chancel and tower is a nave (with aisles) and a porch, all of 1855-6 by E.G. Paley. It replaces a long, low structure that was the same width as the chancel which was itself enlarged in 1822. This part of the building is light and airy. Wide arches on octagonal columns divide the aisles from the central part of the nave. The pews, which presumably date from the rebuilding are unusual. Those in the centre face east, whilst those in the aisles face each other, and are stepped upwards on a wooden floor towards the walls. The latter are box pews – installed at a time when many vicars were getting rid of them as outmoded leftovers from the C18. The design of the pews is beautifully unaffected, though those in the main body of the church do look uncomfortable!

Nave. Photo by Alexander P Kapp

Inside the church are two fonts. One is of Caen stone and was given by Mr Norris, a churchwarden, in 1865. At the time of the donation the churchwarden asked if he could have the old font as a garden ornament. This piece, a tall slim, plain shape, with a small bowl, is dated 1667. It was returned to the church in 1906. A further Georgian marble font, once owned by the church, is now in St Andrew’s, Longton.

Penwortham has a good selection of Victorian glass including work by Seward of Lancaster.