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Our Churches and Chapels by Atticus

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for its south western support the store-house of the Third Royal
Lancashire Militia. It forms one of the churches erected mainly
through the exertions of the late Rev. R. Carus Wilson; and like its
brethren is built in the Norman style of architecture, the designer
being Mr. John Latham. The first stone of the edifice was laid in
May, 1836; in 1838 the church was opened; and in 1853 it was
enlarged by the erection of a transept at the northern end. The late
John Smith, Esq., gave the site for it. The building is surrounded
by a graveyard, which might be kept in better order than it is. The
Rev. R. Lamb considerably impoverished himself in enclosing the
ground; and the Rev. H. R. Smith, one of the incumbents, afterwards
spent a sum of money in ornamenting it with shrubs, &c.; but nobody
cares much for it now, and Nature is permitted to follow her own
unfettered way in it. Formerly there was a road to the church from
the west, through some land adjoining the House of Correction; and
it was a great convenience to those living on that side of the town;
but for some reason it was closed; and one of the most roundabout
ways imaginable has been substituted for it. St. Mary's is one of
those churches which can be felt rather than seen. Until you get
quite to it you hardly know you are at it. Approaching it from the
west the first glimmering of it you have is over one end of the
House of Correction. At this point you catch what seems to be a
cluster of crosses--the surmountings of the tower; visions of a
ponderous cruet-stand, of five nine pins, and other cognate
articles, then strike you; afterwards the body of the church
broadens slowly into view, and having described three-fourths of a
wide circle with your feet, and passed through a strong gateway, it
is found you are at the building. St. Mary's has a strong, heavy,
compact appearance. Its front is arched below and storied above; it
has ivy creeping up its walls--trying probably to get to some of the
five nondescript ornaments above the tower--and has a half baronial,
half old hall look at first sight. Some years ago there was much ivy
about the general building; but the "rare old plant" engendered
dampness and had to be pulled down. At each side of the front there
is a small pinnacle, and flanking the gables of the transept there
are four somewhat similar elevations. They are mainly used by

The church can be approached by a doorway at the eastern end of the
transept; but the bulk of the worshippers pass through those at the
southern or front end--three in number, and rather heavy and dim in
appearance. The centre one leads into the body of the building, and
we may as well take advantage of it. We are just within; above there
is a serious looking groined roof, with a lamp suspended from the
middle of it; before us there is a screen, filled in with clear
glass, through which you can see the worshippers who seem thin and
scattered. Formerly the back of a sharply drawn up, dangerous
gallery, for scholars, over which careless children might have
fallen with the greatest ease, occupied the place of this screen,
and a series of hot water pipes--apparently intended for warming the
doorway and the churchyard in front, for they could have been of no
use to people inside the building--were fixed there. In 1866, when
the church was renovated, they were carried about fifteen yards into
the edifice, where they may be seen to this day. We sat close to
eight of them, with a top coat on, one Sunday evening, as a
compensation for being nearly starved to death in one of the back
side wings in the morning, and felt charmingly cooked at the end of
the service. On the left side of the central entrance, and near the
glass door and the screen, there is an elaborately carved box of
Gothic design, intended for missionary contributions; but it is
fixed in such a dim corner that nobody can see it. We have
recommended the beadle to place this box in a more prominent
position, for it is worth looking at as an ornament, even if nothing
is put into it. The aperture in the lid might be closed, and the box
could then be hung up beside the doorway lamp, so that its
proportions might be fairly realised. The interior of the church is
broad and lofty, but through its Norman configuration it is stiff
and coldly ponderous in effect. Massive bare walls, high narrow
windows, and a semi-sexagonal ceiling dependent upon rather ungainly
beams and rafters, like a series of hanging frames, chill you a
little; but on looking northward, to the end of the building, the
chancel and transept arches, which are strong and elegantly moulded,
relieve you, and as you advance the place seems to gradually assume
a finer and more imposing aspect.

The chancel has a calm, goodly look; is, in fact, the best part of
the building, architecturally speaking. At the base, there is an
archway of tablets, upon which nobody ever bestows very close
attention; above, there are three staple-shaped windows; and
surmounting all, there is a round recessed light, which can only be
seen through by people who sit in the gallery. On the left side of
the chancel, there are two windows. There is no stained glass in the
chancel. If the windows were adorned with it, and the walls more
cheerfully painted, a very beautiful effect would be produced. Five
different kinds of carpetting, all very well worn, deck the floor of
the chancel. Within the communion rails, there is a rich carpet, in
needlework, made by some of the members of the congregation, At each
side there is as antique chair, being part of the furniture in the
vestry which adjoins, and which was given by the Rev. H. R. Smith.
It consists altogether of ten pieces--including chairs, bookcase,
looking-glass, dressing-table, chest, &c., and is about 200 years
old. The only stained windows in the building are in the west
transept. They are four in number; two being of the merely
ornamental type, whilst the remainder are of the memorial order. At
the bottom of one of them there are these words--"In memory of Mary
Smith, born 1779, died 1845. Erected by Henry Robert Smith." At the
base of the other window there is this inscription:- "In memory of
John Smith, born 1773, died 1849. Erected by the church, 1855." The
deceased persons referred to were the parents of the Rev. H. R.
Smith, who, as already said, was a former incumbent of the church.
The ends of the transept are very dim, and sometimes you can hardy
tell who is sitting in them.

St. Mary's will accommodate 1,450 persons. The pews on the ground
floor, excepting a few free ones at the entrance and at the top of
the church, are all of the "closed" kind--have doors to them. When
the Church was renovated the pews were cut down about eight inches,
were remodelled, and thoroughly cleaned. Previously they were
painted, and had a gummy, sticky influence rearwards upon peoples
clothes. One or two bits of shawl fringe, &c., drawn off by the old
gluey paint still remain at the back of some of the seats
(notwithstanding the chemical cleansing they got), reminding one of
the saying of friend Billings, that "A thing well stuck iz stuck for
ever." The gas burners hang far down in pendant clusters from the
ceiling, and with their glass reflectors, which would cast off a
better light if cleaner, have a lamp-like effect, putting one in
mind, when lighted, of some Eastern mosque. The font is a prettily
shaped article, is made of fossil marble, and was given by the Rev.
Canon Parr and the wardens of the Parish Church, in which building
it once stood. It rests upon a platform of ornamental tiles bordered
with stone, and looks well. Above it is a carved wooden canopy
surmounted by a dove. The canopy is raised by a descending ball of
equal weight. When the ball falls the pigeon rises. In ordinary life
the ball rises when the pigeon falls; but this is not the case at
St. Mary's, although it amounts to the same thing in the end, for
after the pigeon has ascended three feet the ball descends upon its
back and settles the question.

At the southern end there is a large gallery, overshadowing the
noisiest galaxy of Sunday infants we ever encountered. There are
more infants at St. Mary's schools than at any other place in
Preston, and trouble, combined with vexation of spirit, must
consequently exist there in the same ratio. The bulk are kept from
the church; but a few manage to creep in, and when we saw them they
were having a very happy time of it. Some whistled a little--but
they seemed to be only learners and couldn't get on very well with
tunes; others tossed halfpennies about, a few operated upon the
floor with marbles, and all of them were exceedingly lively. The
gallery above is large, deep, and long; ingress to it is tortuous;
and strangers would have to inquire much before properly reaching
it. There is an old funeral bier in one part of it, and we have
failed to ascertain the precise object of the article. It is not
used when fainting fits are in season; it is never taken advantage
of in the case of people who fall asleep, and require carrying home
to bed; it seems to be neither useful nor ornamental; and it ought
to be either taken off to the cemetery and quietly inurned, or sold
to one of the sextons there.

In the gallery there is a large organ. It is a very respectable-
looking instrument, has a healthy musical interior, and is played
moderately. The members of the choir, to whom several people in the
bottom of the church look up periodically, as if trying to find out
either what they were doing or how they were dressed, are only in
embryo. They are new singers; but some of them have fair voices, and
in spite of occasional irregularity in tune and time, they get along
agreeably. The elements of a good choir are within them, and they
have only to persevere, in order to secure excellence, saying
nothing of medals, and other tokens of appreciation. The whole of
the seats in the gallery, generally used by scholars, are free.

St. Mary's is situated a district containing about 8,000 persons,
and as they are nearly entirely of the working class sort, the
congregation is naturally made up of similar materials. Including 14
militia staff men, the congregation will number, on an average,
without the scholars, about 500. More people appear to come late to
this church than to any other in Preston; they keep dropping in at
all times--particularly in a morning--up to within twenty minutes of
the finish; but they are connected with the schools, visit the
church after they have done duty there, and this accounts for their
lateness. The beadle of this church has the strongest, if not the
longest, official wand in the town, and he is very modest, blushing
occasionally, while carrying it.

The first incumbent of St. Mary's was the Rev. James Parker, a
relative of Councillor Parker, of Preston, who had to retire through
ill health. He exchanged livings with the Rev. W. Watson, of
Ellerburne, in Yorkshire, who required a more active sphere, and
found it at St. Mary's. Mr. Watson afterwards found higher
preferment, and went to the South of England. Then came the Rev.
Robert Lamb, who worked most vigorously in the district. He is now
rector of St. Paul's, Manchester. His successor was the Rev. Henry
Robert Smith, who, after staying a while, retired to St. Paul's, at
Grange, where he still labours. The next incumbent was the Rev.
George Alker, who came to St. Mary's in December, 1857. He is still
at the church; but we dare say he would be willing to leave it for a
rectory, if one were offered, with 500 pounds a year. Mr. Alker is
an Irishman, and is about 42 years of age. He is rather tall; is
genteelly fashioned, has good features, wears an elegantly-trimmed
pair of whiskers, has pompous, odorous, Pall Mall appearance, is
grandiose and special, looks like a nineteenth century Numa
Pompilius, would have made a spicey Pontifex Maximus, ought to have
lived in Persia, where he might have worn velvet slippers and been
fanned with peacock feathers, would have been a rare general
director of either fire-eaters or fire worshippers; is inclined to
run when he walks alone, and to be stately, slow, regal, and precise
when, like Fadladeen, he is in charge of Lalla Rookh. Is a man of
determination, and never sleeps with his clothes on. Is a sharp
debater, a briskly-pompous, eloquent talker, has had a good deal of
trouble at time and time in putting on his kid gloves, which used to
fit so mortally tight that he couldn't stir his thumbs in them;
stands with a fine commanding air in the pulpit, as if about to
shoulder arms; preaches extempore; says "my brethren" more
frequently in his sermons than any minister we ever heard; has a
clear, keen intellect; is dexterous, courageous, impassioned,
imperious; has a lofty, threepence-halfpenny majesty about him; has
been a hard worker, a stiff fighter, and a stinging public lecturer.
After leaving Ireland, he took a curacy in Liverpool. In 1857 he
accepted a similar post at St. Peter's, Preston. Here he organised a
class of young men, 800 strong, and whilst here he set the town on
fire with anti-Popery denunciation; and of him it might, at that
time, have been said--

He comes from Erin's peaceful shore
Like fervid kettle bubbling o'er
With hot effusions--hot and weak;
Sound Humbug all your hollowest drums,
He comes of Erin's martyrdoms
To Britain's well-fed Church to speak.

Yes, he was a regular Mr. Blazeaway, and what he said was equal to
the strongest of the theatre thunder and the most dazzling of forked
lightning. Other Irish curates have tried the same game on since
then in the town, but they have not been so successful; none of them
have yet got into decent incumbencies, and we are afraid they will
have to rave on for a yet longer period ere the requisite balm of
Gilead is found. After piling up the agony for a few months at St.
Peter's, Mr. Alker left for Dublin, stayed there a short time, then
retraced his steps to Preston, and in due time got the incumbency of
St. Mary's--an event which seems to have toned down all his fury
about the "abomination of Rome," and made him nearly quite forget
the existence of Pope Pius. Paraphrasing one of his own country's
poets, we may say,--

As bees on flowers alighting cease their hum,
So settling at St. Mary's Alker's dumb.

Still be has occasional spells of anti-Popery hysteria; he can't
altogether get the old complaint out of his bones; Rome is yet his
red rag when in a rage; and he has latterly shown an inclination to
wind up the clocks of the Jews and the Mahommedans. He may have a
fling at the Calmuck Tartars and a quiet pitch into the Sioux
Indians after a bit. When Mr. Alker first went to St. Mary's his
salary was small; but it has now reached the general panacea of
incumbents--300 pounds a year. He has also a neat, well-situated
parsonage, on the south eastern side of the town, a good garden,
which has been the scene of many lovely sights, and a neat patch of
ground beyond. In his district Mr. Alker has been an energetic
worker, and in connection with the schools particularly he has been
most useful. For his services in this respect he deserves much
praise, and we tender him our share. His influence is hardly so
great as it used to be, still he is the great Brahmin and the grand
Lama of the locality. There have been five curates at St. Mary's--
the Rev. W. Nesbit M'Guinness, clever and ambitious; the Rev. John
Wilson (not of St. James's), an industrious gentleman, who had a row
with the congregation in respect to his marriage, and afterwards
went away; the Rev. R. Close, a pretentious young man, who appeared
to use much hair oil and think well of pious gammon; the Rev. E. M.
David, a Welshman, who couldn't speak plainly enough for the
congregation, and had to retire; and, lastly, the Rev. Bernard
Robinson, who has been at St. Mary's about twelve months, and is
evidently working satisfactorily in the district. We have finished:
all is over; the lime lights are burning, the coloured fires are
radiating their hues, the curtain is falling, and bidding "Adieu" to
all our kind readers, we vanish.


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