Holy Trinity Church, Market Gate, Warrington
The Georgian gem in Warrington's town centre
Designed by James Gibbs, the architect responsible for the town hall (or possibly one of Gibbs' associates as the architect was unwell at the time), the church was built in 1758 to replace a smaller 'chapel of ease' that had stood on the site since 1709 to take the pressure off the nearby St Elphins Parish Church.
Originally known as Trinity Chapel, its rebuilding and expansion in 1758 eventually led to it becoming an independent church in its own right. Traces of the old Trinity Chapel can still be seen today with its original communion table, now over 300 years old, still in regular use.
The church owes its existence to Peter Legh of Lyme, Didsley (second Baron of Newton) who personally funded the building of the 1709 Chapel. Although Legh had inherited property and land throughout Lancashire, his special interest in Warrington is assumed to have originated from his marriage to second cousin Frances Legh of nearby Bruche. Indeed, around the time Trinity Chapel was built, he also constructed a schoolhouse behind the church where pupils from the famous Bluecoat Charity School were taught.
Legh led an eventful life and Holy Trinity might never have been built if, in 1694 and 1696, he had been found guilty of high treason after being tried for his alleged involvement in the 'Lancashire Plot' - a conspiracy by a group of Lancashire gentlemen to restore a catholic monarchy. Legh was acquitted on both occasions and his subsequent patronage of the decidedly Anglican Holy Trinity church suggests the verdicts were correct. When he died in 1743, Legh was buried at Winwick. Without doubt, Holy Trinity Church remains one of his most endearing legacies.
A TOWERING PRESENCE
The church's distinctive cast iron tower, designed by Borough Surveyor W. P. Coxon, wasn't added until 1862 and is owned by the town, not the church. At the time of its erection the sandstone-finished church had been without a tower for a number of years after its previous tower had blown down in a hurricane! As well as hosting the town's clock, the tower is also home to Warrington's old curfew bell. The bell, which dates from 1637, used to stand on top of the old court house in Golden Square and played a major role in the town's everyday life. In addition to signalling Warrington's 8pm curfew for over 200 years, it also sounded the time market traders could commence and end trading with anyone caught bartering goods outside the allotted time liable to a hefty fine.
Highlights of the church's interior, which was designated a Grade II listed building in December 1949, include a beautiful three-panelled stained glass window, a first world war memorial by Edward Carter Preston from 1920, a candelabra presented to the church in 1801 from the House of Commons and a servery/coffee bar that provides a peaceful place for town centre shoppers to take time out and reflect.
Other highlights that deserve a special mention are the occasional free Saturday afternoon concerts the church hosts on behalf of WACIDOM (Warrington Arts Council Initiative for the Development of Music). I was lucky enough to catch one such performance and was given permission by the musicians to film a short segment (below). The video also shows elements of the church's interior so be sure to check it out to see Holy Trinity in all its glory. It's got quite a nice song in it too...
One of the most intriguing facts I discovered about the church however was how much it owes to the old coaching inn that used to stand behind it - The George, more on which can be found below.
By George, who'd have thought it?
Is Warrington's Holy Trinity Church the only church in the country to be built on the foundations of an old pub?
The pub in question is the George Inn and Posting House which stood at the back of the church until its demolition in December 1905. Rumoured to date back to 1630, the George, with its "crowded stables, dark rooms, gleaming bar and quaint old kitchen", was accessible via two narrow passageways, one on Bridge Street, the other on Sankey Street.
Writing on the eve of the pub's demolition, one of its admirers described it as being "the hub and centre of the old life of the town" and revealed that the George used to brew its own beer "from a small adjoining brewhouse".
The author also spoke in some detail about what the pub was like in earlier times: "It was a sort of human rabbit warren, more extensive than its later customers would have imagined. Its kitchen looked out onto an extremely ancient and curious yard behind the shop of Mr Joseph Shaw - undoubtedly one of the quaintest bits of Warrington ... and its front looked out upon the church, the wall of which was whitewashed to increase as much as possible the scanty light which crept in through its lower windows".
During The George's demolition, workmen discovered the pub's foundations were "supporting the church" and that its cellars ran all the way to Sankey Street, suggesting the inn was much bigger in its heyday when it was said to be a vital stopping off point for the Liverpool to London stagecoach.
Perhaps the clergyman who allowed The George to attach a pub sign to the Holy Trinity's wall and a house on the other side of its Sankey Street passageway (pictured bottom right) knew the church was resting on its foundations and was returning the favour?
Warrington's first mayor William Beamont, writing in one of his many history books, said "Holy Trinity was built after the hotel, hence the right of light which rendered necessary the whitewashing of the east wall". He also claimed the George was the only hotel in England which bore the distinction of having its sign supported by a church.
Sadly, the George and its alley-straddling pub sign is no longer with us, emphasising perhaps why we should enjoy and appreciate buildings such as Holy Trinity Church while we can. Why not call in next time you're in the town centre and witness one of the town's treasures for yourself?
In addition to housing the town's curfew bell, Holy Trinity's tower was also home to another, smaller bell dating from 1706. It is not known how the smaller bell came to be located in the church's tower or when it was removed, but it was used, claimed William Beamont, to call worshippers to weekday prayers. As these prayers often coincided with the time the baker opposite closed his oven, an oft spoken rhyme about town was:
"Hark to the bell, by whose diurnal din
The pies are baked, and pious folk turn in"
For whom the bell tolls - part 2
One of the most noted characters of old Holy Trinity was its blind organist Thomas Hall. When Hall died in 1837 a memorial tombstone complete with the following poetic and fitting epitaph was erected for him in the Parish churchyard:-
"Sacred to the memory of THOMAS HALL, late ORGANIST of HOLY TRINITY in this Town, who died June 19, 1839, aged 36 years:
Just like an Organ robb'd of Pipes and Breath,
Its Keys and Stops all useless made by Death,
In dust quite motionless its ruins laid.
Although 'twas built by more than mortal aid;
Yet when new Tuned this Instrument shall raise
To God its Builder endless songs of praise."
Profiles of more Warrington landmarks and buildings can be found in the places section of All Things Warrington.
Holy Trinity Church, established in 1709 and pictured here with one of Warrington's ten 'Guardians' or skittles in the foreground - watch out for the 10ft bowling ball!
The church's benefactor Peter Legh and his Bruche born wife Frances as painted in 1705. Legh's refusal to swear allegiance to King William III led to his imprisonment in the tower of London and two trials for high treason (portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller).
A glimpse inside the Georgian church showing its beautiful stained glass windows. Next time you're in Sankey Street, why not pop inside and witness its peace and tranquility for yourself?
A close up of the church's cast iron tower - home to Warrington's town clock and curfew bell. The present tower is the church's fourth. It almost needed a fifth in September 1906 when a small fire was detected inside it. Luckily it was spotted by a local police officer and the flames were quickly extinguished.
Another view of the church, this time from Barbauld Street. The George Inn and Posting House would have been located here at the back of the church. Anyone remember nipping into Woolies via the door to the left of the silver car or staggering out of Tracey's nightclub just up from the wheelie bin on the right?
The Sankey Street passageway that led to the George Inn and Posting House - the foundations of which are still supporting Holy Trinity Church today. Notice the sign that stretches across the alleyway - believed to be the only sign of its kind to be attached to a church.