On this day … 27 May 1833

The foundation stone was laid for St Ignatius Church in Meadow Street. The church opened for worship in 1836, and eventually formed the centre of a very attractive grouping of buildings, including a square of houses, a presbytery and schools.

Within twenty years it had been enlarged, to a design by Joseph Hansom, the architect of St Walburge’s, to accommodate a congregation of 1,200. The development of the complex of buildings as the century progressed, can be seen in the plans below. And, unlike the Anglican churches in the town, pews were not rented out and the poor people of the district enjoyed free admittance.

The church opened shortly after the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 that granted emancipation to the country’s Catholics, allowing them, for example, to become MPs. The emancipation of Catholics and the building of another Catholic church in Preston should not be taken to mean that the prolonged hostility to Preston’s Catholics throughout the preceding century had abated. That century had seen the priest at St Mary’s in Friargate fleeing for his life when a No-Popery mob attacked his church.

The anti-Catholic sentiments of the town’s Protestant clergy came to be coupled with hostility to the Irish migrants who were beginning to arrive in the town, almost all of whom were Catholic, and many of whom joined the congregation at St Ignatius.

When the Rev John Clay, the 19th-century Preston prison chaplain and social reformer, was asked to supply evidence to a Royal Commission ‘on the state of the Irish poor in Great Britain’ in 1833, he responded, ‘…it would be advantageous to this town and neighbourhood if the immigration of Irish could be completely stopped.’ The next Preston witness, William Taylor, was also clearly no friend of the Irish, ‘I have no hesitation in saying, that it would be generally advantageous to this part of the country if the immigration of the Irish here were at once completely stopped.’

The simililarity of the wording in their submissions does rather suggest some collusion between the pair.

The Rev Clay joined the vicar of Preston, the Rev John Owen Parr, and the town’s other Anglican clergy in virulent objections to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, which created new dioceses and bishops. By this time the number of Irish migrants settling in Preston had swelled considerably.

This hostility was not universal. Several Preston witnesses to the 1833 royal commission counteracted the evidence of Clay and Taylor, but it was their evidence that headed submissions to the commission.

And the attacks on Catholics by the Anglican clergy in 1850, provoked strong rebuttals in the letters columns of some, not all, of the town’s newspapers. The vicar was believed to write anonymously the editorials for the Preston Herald when the Anglican establishment was threatened.

The church closed on 2 December 2014, but within weeks worship resumed, when the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church took it over to serve its local community.

The main base of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is in Kerala in India. St Ignatius Church is now also known as the Syro-Malabar Cathedral of St Alphonsa. In 2016, the Right Rev Dr Joseph Srampickal was appointed the first bishop or eparch of the church in England by Pope Francis.

Hewitson’s History of Preston

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