Church of St John
Part of Group: Yes 2 Oth
At Risk: No
Historic England Ref: 301 (Link)
Roman Catholic church. Dated 1819 on frieze of colonnaded porch
After the penal times of the Reformation and encouraged by King James II, a Jesuit school or college was established in Scholes, where in 1687 Bishop Leyburn confirmed no fewer than 1331 people in two September days (the largest group on his national tour). Work started about this time on the building of a church, but the Protestant Revolution of 1688 meant that it was burned down by a mob.
The Jesuits worked quietly on using an upstairs room in nearby Dicconson House as a chapel. Fr Charles Brockholes SJ was the person first recorded as connected to the mission of St. John's. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1704 and was sent to Wigan in 1740. When he arrived in Standishgate, where he paid for the building of a house that had a chapel upstairs. This house was built between Dicconson Street and Powell Street. From here he administered to a congregation of 300 ‘customers’, as discretion demanded they be described. This was replaced by a purpose built chapel in 1785, which was located approximately on the current site of the Walmesley Cross.
In 1817, the increasing Catholic population of the town, the congregation now numbering 3000, meant that there were calls for a larger place of worship to be built. A plot of land behind the chapel was used for construction and the foundation stone was laid on 27 January 1818. The church was opened on 24 June 1819.
The new church cost £9,000 and could accommodate a congregation of 1,000 people. It was 120 feet long, 50 feet wide and 50 feet high, with room for the parishioners in the organ gallery.
The architect of the church is not known for certain, but Bryan Little suggests Robert Haulbrook, a local mason, whose bill accounted for almost half of the cost. J.J. Scoles carried out the earliest decoration of the church, in 1834. Scoles also made sketches for the high altar, and the beautiful wooden circular tempietto over the present marble altar is presumably his design, as part of the Rev Henry Gradwell’s augmentation of the chapel.
In 1895 marble and alabaster altar rails were installed in memory of Rev Joseph Gradwell SJ, made by J and H Patterson of Manchester, and new flooring put in the sanctuary, by a Mr Preston of Wigan. In 1959 the wooden high altar was replaced by the present marble one, and a marble Lady altar introduced. The permanent altars enabled the church to be consecrated, and this took place on June 17 1959. Since then a number of additions and decoration have taken place with a reordering in 1994.
The Jesuit’s long association with Wigan ended in 1933 when the church was handed over to the archdiocese.
Source: Tony Hilton
Link to History of St. John's (1686 - 1965)