Penwortham Church

The Changing Face of a Parish Church

St Mary's stands on the north-eastern side of Penwortham, at the edge of a steep spur of land overlooking the River Ribble. Penwortham is the only possible town in the whole of Lancashire named in the Domesday survey of 1086 (as Peneverdant).

This records that it had been held by King Edward the Confessor (AD 1042-66) and after the Norman Conquest, the manor was owned by Roger de Poitou, who was granted most of north Lancashire by William the Conqueror. The parish church of St Mary's is first mentioned in 1140, when Warin Bussel granted it to the Benedictine Abbey of Evesham, on the understanding that a priory would be founded at Penwortham.

On the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, both the Priory lands and the church were leased to John Fleetwood.

Relatively little is known about the early church, as it was largely rebuilt in 1855-6 under the direction of the architect EG Paley. The present chancel, though, contains fourteenth-century fabric and the tower is of fifteenth-century date. The early fabric is of gritstone and repairs were made in red sandstone. In 2010, a new floor and underground heating system was installed, during which a watching brief and excavation by Oxford Archaeology North identified significant remains, including numerous burials, disarticulated charnel deposits, and burial crypts, as well as evidence for an earlier church.

The remains of walls and seven column bases were recorded, which seem to have been part of an earlier, aisled church. These also cut through burials, suggesting that there may have been an even earlier structure, a theory which is supported by some reused masonry forming parts of the column bases. Several burials clearly post-dated these walls, one of which could be dated to c 1750.

A date stone of 1653 above the blocked southern door of the chancel is likely to record repairs undertaken at this time, probably by John and Anne Fleetwood. The church was modifed in 1812, when a north gallery was erected and parts of the church were castellated in gothic style. A new roof was also added and the scar of this and an earlier roof can be seen on the east wall of the tower. Other modifications from the early nineteenth century included the addition of three crypts, dating to 1803-50. Finally, the floor was tiled in 1884.

The foundations of the north wall of the earlier church, beneath the columns of the present aisle

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Reused masonry forming one of the column bases

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Fragmentary burials in the nave, associated with medieval masonry, possibly indicating their date.

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Copper-alloy studs on a coffin, forming letters and numerals reading A, R or K, + R or K, 1753(?) Agd 93.

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Coffins inside the crypt in the nave, which seems to have replaced the Rawstorne crypt in the chancel. Some seem to have been moved when this crypt was built in the 1850s.

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Crypt beneath the eastern end of the chancel, built for the Rawstorne family.

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The Rawstorne crypt in the nave, vaulted in brick.

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