AS recently as the year 1817, the site upon which the English Martyrs' Church is erected was know as " Gallows' Hill," and there seems to be no doubt that this ominous title was derived from the executions carried out on the spot after the rebellion of 1715. The skirmishes between English troops and the Scotch partisans of the Stuarts were both bloody and frequent, and finally terminated at Preston.
We read that on November 15th, 1715, " sixteen rebels were hanged for high treason and conspiracy on the mound subsequently named Gallows' Hill, and in the following year that forty-two condemned prisoners of all religions were hanged and decapitated at Preston, "probably on this same mound.
Evidence of this was found when, in May, 1817, Gallows' Hill was cut through to improve the great North Road, and two coffins were found containing the remains of two headless bodies. A brass hand axe was also unearthed, with portions of timber assumed to be part of the gallows.
There is not much historical data to prove that any appreciable number of Catholics actually suffered for their faith on Gallows' Hill, but it is a likely supposition when one remembers that in those unhappy times a Papist was legally a traitor. It may be that Gallows' Hill was a provincial Tyburn, and that the English Martyrs' Church is a monument over the graves of unrecorded martyrs.
ABOUT 1864 the Catholic population of Preston largely increased northwards of the town, and Bishop Goss came to the conclusion that the time had arrived when a church in that quarter was absolutely necessary. The churches then opened were St. Ignatius,' in 1837 ; St. Augustine's, in 1840 ; St. Walburge's, in 1852 ; and St. Joseph’s, in 1862.
The total Catholic population of Preston in or about 1864 was probably not far short of 30,000. At that time there was attached to the parish of St. Augustine, serving under Canon Walker, a young priest named James Taylor, afterwards Mgr. Canon Taylor, of Lytham. Upon him Bishop Goss's choice fell as the man in every way fit to be entrusted with the opening of the new mission in the north of Preston.
THE Bishop himself and his young priest inspected various sites, and at length a small and humble residence known as Wren's Cottage, situated in Garstang Road, about a quarter of a mile from the present site, was purchased. It consisted of the cottage, coach-house, and two-stalled stable. The cottage served as a presbytery; the stable was converted into a chapel.
Into the former the Rev. James Taylor entered, taking with him on a wheelbarrow all his earthly possessions in December, 1864. The little chapel was solemnly opened on January 22nd, 1865. The Very Rev. Canon Walker preached in the morning, the Rev. Father Soden in the evening. The collection, we hear, was £34. The accommodation, however, was but for 145 persons. There was one Mass on week-days and Sundays, and that at 8 o'clock. In addition to his missionary duties, Father James Taylor held the office of chaplain to the gaol.
WREN'S Cottage and its coach-house and stable were a temporary makeshift. The congregation still grew, and had to be provided for with an energy and pluck worthy of the best traditions of north-country Catholic courage and determination.
Father James set to work to get together funds for the purpose of the building of an edifice of which Preston Catholics might be proud.
Personally he set forth on his wearisome rounds of house-to-house collection, donning a new silk hat, we are told, in order to do credit to the cause he had at heart. The late Mr. Joseph Gillow promised the indefatigable young priest a donation of £1,000 if he could succeed in raising an equal sum. Father James contrived to collect this amount within a fortnight.
A grave difficulty, however, arose when it became known in the neighbourhood that a Catholic church was to be erected. Exception was taken to the project on the ground that it was contrary to the covenant entered into at the time of the purchase of the land.
This covenant prohibited the building of church or chapel on the site, and Father Taylor had eventually to abandon his scheme. Very shortly afterwards, however, the Corporation of Preston sold to Father James a portion of the Gallows' Hill site which had come into their possession. Expensive and extensive levelling and excavating operations were necessary, as the place was nothing more than a high, rough, sandy hillock.
THE ceremony of laying the foundation stone appears to have been of unusual grandeur and enthusiasm even for Preston, which is so famous for its Catholic functions.
About 10,000 people were present to witness the ceremony, which was performed by Bishop Goss. All the guilds were represented in great force, and the hour and occasion were memorable ones in the annals of Catholic Preston.
The Bishop himself gave out the opening verse of the grand and ever-thrilling old hymn, " Faith of Our Fathers," which was taken up by 10,000 voices with a fervour and vigour fully characteristic of the Catholics of the north. Building operations were begun at once, and with them came difficulties of no light order. The foundations were a serious matter, as an old sand-pit 14ft. below the surface of the soil was come across and had to be filled up. The plans of the new structure had been entrusted to Mr. Edward Welby Pugin, and it is of interest, perhaps, to present parishioners that the original design included a tower which has not yet been completed.
The church, which was constructed to accommodate 700 people, a provision at that time deemed more than ample, was solemnly opened by Bishop Goss on December 1st, 1867. He was assisted by Bishop Roskell.
IN 1874, Father Taylor was succeeded by the Rev Joseph A. Pyke, who had come to the English Martyrs as assistant priest in 1868.
In 1877, Father Pyke redecorated the church according to designs. furnished by Mr. Pugin, and in the same year a superb, new organ, by Messrs. Hill, of London, was installed.
In 1886, Father Pyke was appointed to the new deanery of St. Augustine's, and it was about that time that the rector began to grapple with the problem of accommodating his greatly increased flock. The church was too small, and the two solutions were either to enlarge or to open a new mission.
Some time elapsed before the Bishop finally decided, and before doing so he appointed a committee to examine and weigh the arguments for and against the suggestions offered. They accordingly visited the English Martyrs' district, and found, on examining the census returns, giving the number of souls within the immediate neighbourhood of the church, that a new mission would be but a slight benefit as a relief to the, overcrowding.
The only solution they could advise, therefore, was the enlargement of the present church. But could the latter be done without interfering with, if not seriously disfiguring or damaging its fine and stately proportions? The question was, indeed, a serious one, and engaged the anxious consideration of the authorities for some time. At length it was decided on enlarging the existing edifice, and happily there can be no question that the additions have not only added to the beauty of the original church, but have also gained the object in view.
To Messrs. Pugin and Pugin, of London, the designs for the proposed extension of the church were confided. These provided for the addition of two bays to the nave and aisles, a new chancel 36ft. in length, two transepts, chapels, two additional confessionals, sacristies, and a room for meetings. The windows from the old chancel were to be re-fixed in the new one, as also the windows in chapels and aisles. In each transept there were to be two three-light windows. An entrance was to be provided from St. George's Road to the south transept by a porch. The nave was to be divided from the chancel by an arch. The total length of the church was to be 154ft.; the width across transept, 92ft.; and the height, 59ft. The estimated cost of the extension was about £8,000, and the extra seating accommodation thereby provided between 400 and 500.
The foundation stone of the new buildings was laid by the late Bishop O'Reilly in 1887, and the important work forthwith commenced.
Shortly after the enlargement of the church had been decided upon, the congregation of the English Martyrs' assembled at a meeting, which was in its business aspect as practical as it was enthusiastic. It was known that their Dean had promised a donation of £1,000 towards the new extension fund. There was still a debt outstanding on the church of close upon £6,000 (exclusive of the £8,000 it was estimated would be required to meet the cost of the enlargement). The meeting resolved to take up the old debt of £6,000 and to wipe it off by regular and systematic collection from house to house throughout the parish.
THE day fixed for the solemn re-opening was February 9th, 1888. The Dean had determined to make it a red-letter day in the annals of Catholic Preston. It was destined to be one that will be forever memorable throughout the whole of the North of England.
The church as it was then completed was worthy in every sense, architecturally and artistically, of this great ceremony. Ready was the response of Bishops, Prelates, Canons, Deans, priests, and representative members of the Catholic laity to join in the imposing ceremonies of the re-opening.
From Ireland came the Right Rev. Dr. Donnelly, Bishop Auxiliary of Dublin; from Scotland came the late Archbishop Macdonald, then Bishop. of Argyll and the Isles; from Wales there journeyed Bishop Hedley, O.S.B., of Newport and Menevia. And there were others from nearer home.
Around the late Bishop of the Liverpool diocese (Dr. O'Reilly) were grouped the Bishops of Shrewsbury, Salford, and Middlesbrough. The following dioceses were officially represented by members of their respective Chapters: Liverpool, Salford, Hexham and Newcastle, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Shrewsbury, and Northampton.
The Religious Orders taking part in the function were those of the Jesuits, Benedictines, Passionists, Redemptorists, and Franciscans, while over 150 of the secular clergy joined in a procession of surpassing stateliness and splendour. The sermon was preached by the late Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster (then' Bishop of Salford), in which he dealt with the progress of Catholicity in England.
Notable were the Prelates and personages who gathered round the Bishop of the diocese at the luncheon which the ever-hospitable Dean and rector of the English Martyrs had provided for his guests. Numerous were the toasts and humorous not a few of the speeches, but none evoked applause more hearty and genuine than that of “Success to the English Martyrs” and “Health of Dean Pyke". The Bishop of Liverpool gave it, and in doing so spoke, in feeling, terms of the excellent and zealous work done by Dean Pyke.
THE next ceremonial of note occurred in the month of December, 1892, when the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of the church was celebrated.
A solemn High Mass of thanks giving was sung on Sunday, December 11th, by the rector, Dean Pyke, who was the first priest ever ordained in the Church of the English Martyrs.
There were present on the altar and in the sanctuary many a well known, much-loved face. There was Canon Taylor, the father and founder of the mission; there, too, was Father George Gillow, the staunch and steadfast friend of its priests and people. Memories very pleasant, and some, perhaps, sad, were in the minds of many that day, but from the hearts of all was sung with deep and fervent gratitude the "Te Deum" for the signal and manifest blessings which God had showered down upon His clergy and people of the English Martyrs during the first twenty-five years of its existence.
In the May of the following year, 1893, a mass meeting of the congregation was held to consider the best means of commemorating the Dean's Silver Jubilee.
The Dean was very definite in refusing to accept any offering of a personal nature,, in view of the fact that preparations were being made to hold a bazaar for the enlargement of the schools. The congregation felt that they could present a substantial testimonial to the Dean in addition to a successful bazaar. The Dean, however, remained firm in his refusal, and requested their prayers on the happy day. They gave him - 1,600 adults of them - their Communions. The Dean had won not only the hearts but the souls of his flock.
Three years after his Silver Jubilee the Dean was elected to the Cathedral Chapter of Liverpool.
0ne of the greatest achievements in the Catholic history of Lancashire was the 1901 New Centenary Bazaar, in aid of the English Martyrs' Schools. The Canon had the whole-hearted support of his congregation and of the town at large, and the effort realised the splendid sum of £5,202 1 Is. 6d.
The Canon died in November, 1902. His loss was mourned by the clergy and laity of Lancashire. His great popularity was manifested by the multiplicity of the mourners at his funeral, and by the throngs who witnessed with respect and emotion the passing of the cortège to the Cemetery. All this is comparatively recent history, too recent to permit of any lengthy or detailed account, as the events are still fresh in the minds of the Catholics of Preston.
Father E. J. Pyke succeeded to the Rectorship in the month of his uncle's death, and as this is little more than a chronicle of events, an appreciative essay of the present rector is left to another page in the Souvenir.
The first noteworthy act of the new rector was the erection of the new Central Schools, completed in 1906 at a cost of about £4,000.
The Golden Jubilee of the Church was celebrated on December 16th, 1917, when Pontifical High Mass was sung by the late Archbishop, the preacher at the morning and evening services being the Bishop of Clifton. The Holy Father sent his Apostolic Blessing to the clergy and people, and it is gratifying to record that this favour has been repeated upon the occasion of the Consecration.
Father E. J. Pyke has succeeded in raising money by mysterious if not miraculous means. Without the aid of bazaars, brass bands, or extensive advertisement, he has freed the church from debt, and only last year, at a cost of £2,000, the interior of the sacred edifice was re-decorated, the scheme including the artistic embellishment of the sanctuary and a representation of "The Last Supper" over the chancel arch.
THE Consecration of the Church which is being celebrated at the present time, and of which this book is a humble Souvenir, was performed on Wednesday, September 14th, 1921, by the new Archbishop of Liverpool, assisted by the Bishop of Salford, Bishop Cowgill of Leeds, Bishop Singleton of Shrewsbury, Bishop J.S.Vaughan of Sebastopolis, and some 50 clergy, secular and regular.
The Consecration was an impressive ecclesiastical pageant, with quickly moving scenes of Episcopal retinues. The five Bishops, with their clerical attendants, simultaneously consecrated the five altars, and in the meantime the doors of the church had been flung open admitting multitudes of Catholics from all parts of the town. The climax was gloriously impressive. From the five altar stones twenty-five fires blazed forth from heaps of incense and wax, symbolical of the sacrificial fires that consumed the holocausts of the Old Law.
Sunday, September 18th, is "Thanksgiving Day," and Pontifical High Mass will be sung by His Grace the Archbishop of Liverpool. Bishops Cowgill, Singleton, and Vaughan will be present on the Sanctuary. In the morning the preacher will be Bishop Vaughan, and in the evening the Rev. Father R.O.Bilsborrow.
The history may be concluded with an appropriate and flattering similitude, likening the growth of the parish to the progress of Christianity-the birth in a stable and the, glorious consummation of a consecrated temple crowning the summit of Gallows' Hill.
(The Consecration Souvenir takes the history to 1921 and to the rectorship of Fr E Pyke. What follows is from the 1967 parish centenary booklet by Fr J F Lea)
Canon Joseph Pyke's death followed closely upon the great Education Dispute and was thought by many of the parishioners to have been caused by the anxiety and strain he had endured. His successor as Rector was his nephew; the appointment was made only nine days after Canon Pyke died, on November 13th 1902.
Edward Pyke took over when the parish was still struggling to pay off the debts accumulated, despite the generosity of his relations, over the previous thirty-five years. £7,000 was still to be found for the whole complex of church and schools, and a further £4000 was incurred in the building of the Higher Grade School.
By the time he died in 1929, he had converted the latter building into a Central School for Girls, the forerunner with St. Ignatius' Central School for Boys (which has given so many living priests to this diocese) of the Secondary and Comprehensive Schools of our own generation.
But, apart from the financial difficulties, English Martyrs was in 1902 running smoothly as a parish. With four assistants, Fathers John Wareing, Edmund Clark, Edward Murphy and Hugh Maguire, Father Pyke took over the control of the spiritual and material interests of a thriving community. He did it in his own special way: by giving superlatively good example of dedication and self-discipline. He was a methodical man. Any weekday morning followed one regular pattern: instruction in a classroom of one of the schools, his correspondence and then visiting. His district lay in the St. George's Road - St. Thomas' Road area, and he was a familiar figure as he knocked on doors with one hand, whilst he held his silver-knobbed walking stick in the other.
Not that as Monsignor later (he became Vicar General in 1924) he did not have his share of anxiety over matters of principle affecting the whole Catholic community of Preston. A notable example, though one which in post-Vatican days we might regard as regrettable, was the dispute with the Borough Council over Catholic rights of burial in the Preston Cemetery.
As spokesman for all the parishes he was able to vindicate before the High Court of Justice in 1929, the year of his death, the claim that only Catholics might be buried in the part of the Cemetery assigned to, and consecrated for, Catholics. The costs of the action were to be met by the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Preston, as the proper Burial Authority. The decision affected procedure in every municipal cemetery in the country, and letters still extant, reveal the nation-wide interest taken in the case.
Those were the days of "Public" and "Special" Funerals at the Cemetery when duty at the "public" time of 12 midday was assigned to each of the town parishes in turn. It was an unsatisfactory system, anonymous and impersonal; but then, Requiem Masses were unusual (as the photograph on the next page of English Martyrs' Church dressed for an important Requiem so clearly shows). It has long been abolished in favour of the Parish Priest or District Priest officiating at the obsequies of a parishioner.
But as Vicar General of the Diocese for the last five years of his life Monsignor Pyke altered not at all his pastoral care for his parishioners. The Depression and General Strike of 1926 brought out in him a special priestly charity. At 9 o'clock every morning he would stand just inside the front door of the Presbytery and listen to all who came seeking his help. 'Just go along there, my dear" would send the caller to his assistant who gave out the money or food and clothing vouchers required.
Many of the priests, who are recorded later as originating from English Martyrs, look back with reverence to Monsignor Pyke as a real father in Christ. He was kind and gentle; unassuming in manner; thoughtful and generous towards Parish Priests struggling in poor parishes, like Father Frank Keating at Longton, but in his own regard abstemious and frugal to a degree; as Vicar General he became a Promontory Apostolic with the right to wear a mitre, which he did-once, so tradition has it! Yet he remained withal an approachable man, the kind, you would say, who always seemed to have plenty of time for you and you alone. He gladly accepted what has been aptly called a Parish Priest's greatest sacrifice, giving to others the time he had earmarked for himself.
His household, under the regime of the widely remembered and rightly honoured Miss Hannah Nelson, his housekeeper, was a model of decorum and cleanliness; and there are not a few present-day housekeepers who look back with gratitude to their training under Miss Nelson.
It has always seemed that the book printed for the Consecration of English Martyrs' Church in 1921 did scant justice to Monsignor Pyke as a Rector, for it spoke only of his adroitness in handling the financial affairs of the parish. He was more, very much more, than a businessman; but one should remember that the text of the article about him would almost certainly have to pass his scrutiny. Publicity he shunned, and typically it was only in his Last Will and Testament that, after making provision for his housekeeper, he made a gift of all his personal assets (reported to be more than £10,000) to the diocesan fund for the training of new priests. May God reward him; and may this and future generations of English Martyrs' parishioners pray for him!
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