Church of St Mary the Virgin, Prestwich
|Church of St Mary the Virgin, Prestwich|
St Mary's from the southwest
|OS grid reference||SD 811,037|
|Location||Church Lane, Prestwich,
|Website||St Mary's Church Official Page|
|Heritage designation||Grade I|
|Designated||30 June 1966|
|Architect(s)||Paley, Austin and Paley
|Style||Gothic, Gothic Revival|
|Deanery||Radcliffe and Prestwich|
|Rector||Revd Chris Wedge|
The Church of St Mary the Virgin is in Church Lane, Prestwich, Greater Manchester, England. It is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Radcliffe and Prestwich, the archdeaconry of Bolton, and the diocese of Manchester. The church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. The authors of the Buildings of England series refer to it as "a major church".
Prestwich is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but there is evidence of a church on the site since at least 1200. The tower was built in about 1500 by the 1st Earl of Derby, and the body of the church was rebuilt during the early part of the 16th century. In 1756 the south porch was rebuilt and the walls of the aisles were raised. The east vestry was rebuilt in 1803, and in 1860 the chancel was extended. In 1872 a new chapel, the Birch Chapel, was added to the south of the chancel and to the east of the existing south (Lever) chapel; the Lever Chapel was rebuilt two years later. In 1888–89 the Lancaster architects Paley, Austin and Paley rebuilt the north (Wilton) chapel and the chancel, and added an organ chamber and a vestry on the north side of the chancel. The north porch dates from 1895. The north and south galleries were removed in 1959.
The church is constructed in red sandstone with stone slate roofs. Its plan consists of a five-bay nave with a clerestory, a two-bay chancel with a clerestory rising higher than that of the nave, north and south aisles, north and south porches, and a west tower. The two eastern bays of the north aisle comprise the Wilton Chapel, beyond which is the organ chamber and the choir vestry. On the south of the church the Lever Chapel occupies a corresponding position to the Wilton Chapel, and to the east of this is the Birch (or Lady) Chapel. The tower is in three stages and rises to a height of 86 feet (26 m). It has buttresses at the corners, and a stair turret in the northeast corner. In the bottom stage is a doorway above which is a three-light window. In the middle stage on the west side is a two-light square-headed window. At a higher level in this stage are clock faces on the north, south and east sides. The top stage contains a three-light louvred bell opening on each side, and above them a string course with gargoyles. At the top of the tower is an embattled parapet, and it is surmounted by a pyramidal roof with a weathervane. Both aisles have two three-light windows, and above them are three three-light square-headed windows. At the west end of the north aisle is a two-light window, and at the west end of the south aisle the window has three lights. The clerestory has a range of two-light square-headed windows on each side. The Lever chapel has two four-light windows, and in the Wilton chapel are three three-light windows. The east window of the chancel has seven lights and contains Perpendicular tracery.
The arcades are carried on tall octagonal piers without capitals. The roof is coffered and contains carved bosses. The chancel is floored with polychromatic marble. The stone reredos is a memorial to a child who died at the age of eight from scarlet fever in 1863. The altar rails, the stalls, the screen, and the pulpit were designed by Paley, Austin and Paley. The organ screen is a memorial to the First World War, and wings were added to it to commemorate the Second World War. Also on the church is a chandelier given to the church in 1701. It incorporates an eagle and child, the symbol of the Earls of Derby. The stained glass in the east window is by Ward and Hughes and dates from 1861. At the 1888–89 rebuilding of the chancel it was altered and installed in the new window. There is stained glass by the same makers in the Lady Chapel, dated 1876, and in the tower, dating from 1884. In the Wilton Chapel is glass by Clayton and Bell dating from 1890–92. In the chancel and in the organ chamber are windows by Shrigley and Hunt dated between 1904 and 1927. The finest monument in the church is one dated 1833 by Sievier to the memory of a rector, Revd James Lyon who had been the incumbent for 50 years. Also in the church are memorials to two members of the Grey Egerton family who died respectively in 1743 and 1756, and to Sir Ashton Lever of Alkrington Hall, who died in 1788. In the chancel is a brass dated 1634.
Organ and bells
The original organ, with two manuals, was made by Renn and Boston in 1825, but was moved to St Matthew's, Preston, in 1891. It was replaced in 1889 by a new organ built by the Belgian firm of Anneesens. This was given by the 4th Earl of Wilton, and cost £1,000 (£100,000 as of 2015). By 1901 the organ had become unplayble, and it was replaced by a three-manual organ by Abbott and Smith. This too was replaced in 1964 by an organ made by J. W. Walker, using some of the pipes from the previous organ. In 2006 this organ was restored and rebuilt by the same firm. Originally there was a ring of four bells. These were recast into five bells in 1721 by Abraham Rudhall, who added a sixth bell at the same time. These were all replaced in the 20th century by a ring of eight bells, all cast by John Taylor, two of them in 1910, and the rest in 1919.
In 1999, to celebrate the Millennium, the bells were fitted with additional electromagnetic hammers so that they could be tolled automatically. This work was carried out by Gunning & Kavanagh, Co. Down and was designed so to allow the bells to still be pealed using the ropes or tolled using the new control panel situated inside the church at the foot of the bell tower.
The churchyard contains the grade II* listed funerary monument to John Brooks (1788–1849) of Crawshaw Hall, the son of cotton entrepreneur and banker William Brooks. The monument was sculpted by John Thomas and cost approx £3000.  John Brooks was a partner in the calico printing firm of Cunliffe & Brooks who had a mill near Blackburn. He was also Secretary of the Anti-Corn Law League and a philanthropist.
The churchyard is the resting place of Sir William Fairbairn Bt, Sir William Mather and William Sturgeon. Three noted botanists, Richard Buxton, John Horsefield and James Percival are buried in one corner of the churchyard.
- List of churches in Greater Manchester
- Grade I listed churches in Greater Manchester
- Grade I listed buildings in Greater Manchester
- List of works by Paley, Austin and Paley
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