Building Name

St Michael and All Angels, Howe Bridge, Atherton

1875 - 1877
Leigh Road
Howe Bridge, Atherton, Wigan
GMCA, England
New build
Grade II*
William Winnard

Beautifully detailed by Paley & Austin and built 1875-7 in red Runcorn sandstone, this estate church builds up with alternating great circular and clustered piers of the arcade, supporting stone quadripartite vaults of the chancel corbelled out from the arcades on stone clustered colonettes. The subtle play of light from the arcade clerestory with additional light from the taller transepts behind seems to punch through the plate traceried windows with their deep internal reveals emphasizing the massively thick stone walls. Externally the NW stair turret with its blind arcading leads above the chancel vaults, and a delicate two stage fleche with great cantilevered rainwater chutes divides nave from chancel. [David McLaughlin: The Faber guide to Victorian churches}

Pevsner’s account of this church suggests that he did not see the interior. There are features that suggest the influence of J. L. Pearson’s St. Peter, Vauxhall (1863), particularly the plan with the North chapel alongside both nave and chancel, and features such as the interior vaulting and the West elevation of two large two light plate traceried windows divided by a mid-buttress. The church's rich fittings survive with exceptional completeness, including a good collection of stained glass by C. E. Kempe:

East window:             Crucifixion & attendant saints. Dedicated 9th December 1893.
South transept south.        Baptism of Our Lord. Dedicated September l896.
West window.             Orders of angels. Dedicated May 1901.
Memorial window to Fletchers
North choir aisle west.         St. Agnes and St. Cecilia. 1901
North choir aisle 2nd from east.    St. Alban. Memorial windows to John Heyes 1899
North choir aisle 1st from east     St. Stephen. Memorial window to John Lythgoe.  1902

Double light window of the north transept - Nativity. Possibly by Christopher Whall. Dedicated May 1901. There are further memorial windows to Ann Pasquill and Christopher Robinson 1948 and a window was added to mark the church’s centenary in 1977.

In 1868 the Vicar of Atherton established a Mission Church in Eckersley Fold Lane with services on Sundays only. The priest in charge was the enthusiastic Revd. C J Naters who was responsible for the building of the first parsonage, Oak Lea on Leigh Road, which was originally much smaller than it is now. At the beginning of 1874, it was apparent that the Mission Hall had become too small to meet the spiritual needs of the rapidly increasing population. It was desirous that a church should be built which would allow for the Mission Room to be turned into a temporary schoolroom.  Recognising these needs two of the proprietors of the Atherton Collieries, Mr Ralph Fletcher, and his son, Mr Leonard Ralph Fletcher offered the following: The Senior would finance the building of the church and the son would give £1000 to form the nucleus of the endowment required by the Bishop, provided the people of Howe Bridge would be responsible for the money required to supply the interior fittings. At a meeting in the Autumn 1874 these offers were accepted with the Lord of the Manor, Lord Lilford providing the land for the church and parsonage at a rent of 1/2d per square yard. The site selected was in the “lower” village, close to the bridge and opposite the “Hindles” house and stables. The stables were eventually acquired by the NCB. Six years ago these were demolished and replaced by the present flats and houses. A committee was formed to raise the money for the fittings and to arrange for the laying of the foundation stone. The building contractor was Mr William Winnard of Wigan and the contract for the works at a cost of £5433 was signed on the 13th March 1875. By July, work was sufficiently progressed to allow the laying of the foundation stone. This ceremony was performed on the 5th July 1875 by Mrs Ralph Fletcher of Southport, supported by the Dean of Manchester. The reredos was erected in the spring of 1902 and electric light installed in 1905.  In the same year a vicarage was built next to the church (architect Turner). In 1916 the two most influential people in the creation and development of Howe Bridge died, Ralph Fletcher senior on Februay 27th and his son on December 22nd. in memory of the senior a stone cross was erected in the church grounds and a tablet installed in the church. An illuminated clock in the tower marks the work of the son.


Yesterday the Bishop of Manchester consecrated the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Howe Bridge, Atherton, which has been built at a cost of about £7,000, the principal contributor being Mr Ralph Fletcher, of the Atherton Collieries. The building, which is of the late lancet style, consists of a chancel 35 feet long, with north and south transepts, and a nave 75 feet in length, and will afford accommodation for about 350 worshippers. Messrs Paley and Austin of Lancaster are the architects; and the contractor is Mr William Winnard. [Manchester Guardian 9 February 1877 page 6]

Consecration    8 February 1877

Reference    Manchester Guardian 9 February 187 page 8
Reference    David McLaughlin: The Faber guide to Victorian churches