On this day … 23 March 1770

Preston Parish Church in 1796
Preston Church in 1796. Original drawing by W. Orme: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/4070346112/

A large part of the parish church having just collapsed, the ‘twenty-four gentlemen’ who made up the management of the church were trying to decide what was to be done. They passed the following resolution:

Whereas, the nave or body of the Parish Church of Preston hath lately fallen down (but the steeple and vestry room, together with the chancel and north and south walls are yet standing), and the parishioners are thereby prevented from resorting to and attending the services of Almighty God; and whereas it is of absolute necessity that the same shall be forthwith repaired, or totally taken down and rebuilt, etc.

The collapse of the church had been threatened for some time, and the twenty-four men had known that something needed to be done urgently. Two years earlier, the churchwardens had been ordered to get estimates to take down and re-build the church, because by then parts of the building were in such a dangerous condition that it was becoming difficult to hold services.

Preston Parish Church district in 1685
The parish church district in 1685. Plan based on a survey carried out at that date: https://prestonhistory.com/maps-and-plans/the-1685-survey-of-preston/

It would seem that the building had been badly maintained for quite some while, for in 1675 it was reported:

Whereas the leads and the top of the steeple are exceedingly decayed, soe as the raine falls down in diverse places upon the timber in the lower lofts, not only to an annoyance, but endangering the rotting of the main timber, and principal beams in the steeple: It is therefore ordered that the churchwardens for the present year Shall forthwith take care to see the same repaired in such manner as may be thought most convenient and of continuance for the future.

Matters were no better in other parts of the church, for in 1674 it was reported that bones:

… lye scattered up and downe in the church and churchyard, which is looked upon as an indecent and uncomely thinge, & which ’twere convenient that there were from time to time gathered and laied togr until as a full heap or number of them being gathered tog’ they might be conveniently buried.

To remedy this, a charnel house was built, and the sexton was given an extra penny for each funeral to bury any loose bones there.

A few days after the March meeting and following the collapse of the building, the church’s select vestry met to hear a report from the firm of Woodcock and Roper, masons and carpenters, on what was to be done. They were told:

We have inspected and examined the present state and condition of ye said Parish Church, and are of opinion that ye tower or steeple thereof, together with ye vestry and porch, are substantial and firm, and will stand, but that the north and south-west walls of ye said church are insufficient and ruinous, and must be taken down and re-built, with ye other part of ye said church that is fallen; that we have now delivered a plan of ye re-building and repairing of ye said parish church, together with an estimate of ye expense thereof, amounting in ye whole to ye sum of £1,400; having all ye materials of ye old church, except ye lead and timber.

Woodcock and Roper’s proposal was not accepted, and instead the vestry gave the job to another Preston contractor named John Hird, who rebuilt the nave of the church in the same style as the original building for a cost of £1,006 10s.

Preston Parish Church in the 1840s
Plan of the parish church in the 1840s, shortly before the present church was built on the site. National Library of Scotland: https://maps.nls.uk/view/231280359

The church tower and steeple were taken down in 1813, and a new tower built, twenty-seven feet taller than the previous one. The tower is thought to have been built from red sandstone, quarried from the stone delph in the river, near the present tram bridge. The soft sandstone apparently proved too perishable to last long, and, in 1853, the whole building was taken down and the present church erected.

Hardwick’s History of Preston
Smith’s History of the Parish Church
Hewitson’s History of Preston

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