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The History of St. Wilfrid’s Church and the township of Standish

Early History

The Christian faith has had a presence in Standish for at least 800 years and visitors to the village today will discover three churches – St. Wilfrid’s Church of England, St. Marie’s Roman Catholic Church and Standish Methodist Church. These churches reflect three of the strands in which the Church as a whole has evolved in this country over the centuries.

Like most families the various denominations have not always seen eye to eye and over the years there have been many disagreements and misunderstandings. Today, however, all three churches work in harmony and, though Churches Together in Standish, they respect each other’s traditions and often join together in acts of worship or other initiatives.

Visitors to this area in 1205 would have found a very different lifestyle. Mainly agricultural, the sparsely scattered population scratched a living where it could. There was a church building which at best was basic. It has been described as primitive and lacking in any architectural distinction. It was typical of churches that sprang up across the country as Christian missionaries travelled around carrying the Gospel message to all who would listen. Their success often depended on whether the king or local ruler had been converted to the Christian faith.

The Parish Church

The church, close to the road from Wigan to Preston was probably built by the Standish family which would account for the fact it was sited on the edge of the ten townships which it served, rather than in the centre. The parish stretched from the Boar’s Head to Bamber Bridge and included Shevington, Coppull, Welch Whittle and Charnock Richard, whilst to the east it extended to include Worthington, Duxbury, Heath Charnock, Anderton and Adlington.

The church was dedicated to St. Wilfrid, a fiery, strong willed man, often in trouble with the authorities, and no respecter of persons, who at various times was Bishop of Ripon, Hexham and York. His greatest achievement was to persuade the Church in England to accept the practices of Rome rather than those of the Celtic churches founded by the early missionaries from Ireland and Scotland.

Over the following centuries the links between the church and the Standish family were consolidated and many of the rectors came from various branches of the family.

Sometime in the 15th century the original church fell into serious disrepair and needed to be restored but the new building was itself later destroyed by fire.

In the 15th century two chantries were built within the church; a third was added later. A chantry was a small chapel at which a priest was appointed to pray and offer Masses for the welfare of named individuals, both while they were living and for the repose of their souls after death. Chantry priests were usually very poor men who lived and ate frugally. They wore a rough cassock with a leather girdle, thick clogs and a felt hat or none at all. These chantries disappeared at the time of the Reformation.

Rebuilding

In the 16th century the church was completely rebuilt in a combination of late Gothic and Renaissance styles, resulting in a building with the dignity and charm of a medieval church. Today it is the only Grade 1 listed building in the Borough of Wigan.

This new building too place at a time of great religious upheaval at a time when, for example, it was high treason for a priest to say Mass. Fines were imposed on those who did not attend the parish church and Catholic landowners could be deprived of much of their land for persistent defying of the law.

It was against this background that Edward Standish of Standish Hall, like many other Lancashire land-owning families had remained loyal to the Roman Catholic faith. As patron of St. Wilfrid’s he not only signed the agreement but contributed large sums of money towards the cost. Like many other Catholic families, he had to walk a fine line between upholding his beliefs and not offending the Protestant state. A private chapel was included in the new building for use of the Standish family, no doubt against the time when he hoped that England would return to the Catholic faith.

Civil War

Together with the rest of the country, the Civil War brought further changes from which Standish was not exempt.

The Rector, Ralph Brideoak, who had been instituted in 1644, was removed and replaced by Paul Lathom who had been nominated as Rector by Parliament. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Ralph Brideoak was restored to his living and later went on to greater things, becoming in turn a chaplain to the King, Canon of Windsor, Dean of Salisbury and eventually Bishop of Chichester.

The Rector

Over the following centuries rector followed rector, receiving their income from the glebe lands, which included several farms, an inn and a selection of dwellings, yielding a satisfactory income.

The income, however, was not enough for the needs of Rev. Richard Perryn, Rector from 1779 to 1826, who supplemented it by caring for the cattle of his neighbours, growing willow for the basket-makers, providing oak bark for the tanners and selling such miscellaneous items as apricots, potatoes, meal, timber, clay and sand from the rectory and glebe.

On the whole, however, it was a comfortable life and it is not surprising that the Rectors of Standish stayed for many years. The kind of life they led is perceptively portrayed in the Victorian novels of the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and others. Typical, was the Rev. C. W. N. Hutton who was Rector from 1886 to 1936. He rebuilt the rectory, together with stables and outhouses, the latter still existing today as the Owls restaurant. He employed a sizeable staff to run the rectory and entertained lavishly so that it became the centre of village social life.