What a Han(d)som(e) building!

Apologies for the punning title, but it proved impossible to resist! As historians we frequently decry the lack of fine historic buildings in Chorley town centre. We must therefore be sure to celebrate those that we have retained. One such building was the work of the famous Victorian architect, Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-82), and Pugin and Pugin. Hansom is famous for the design of many fine buildings across the country as well as in Lancashire, but his name is most often associated with a vehicle, rather than a building, the Hansom Cab.

Joseph Aloysius Hansom

Hansom Cab

The design was registered in 1834. These vehicles were one of the most common sights on Victorian streets, including, no doubt, the streets of Chorley.
However, whereas Hansom’s surviving cabs can only be seen in museums, he has left buildings of the highest quality design which grace many of our town centres. Hansom worked with the Pugins at different stages of his career but the buildings designed by himself are recognised as being some of the most iconic buildings of the nineteenth century. One such building is Birmingham Town Hall, see below.

Hansom was a Catholic, and much of his work involved the designing of new Catholic Churches which were appearing particularly in the country’s industrial heartland in the year’s following Catholic Emancipation. From 1847 to 1852 Hansom practised in Preston and, amongst many others, he is associated with the design of

St. Michael’s, Lowergate, Clitheroe,
St. Ignatius’, Meadow Street, Preston
St. Mary’s and St. James’, Scorton
St. Bede’s College, Alexandra Road South, Manchester
Holy Name, Oxford Road, Manchester.

Birmingham Town Hall

St Walberge's

The most famous of his church designs was another one in Preston, St. Walberge’s. Pevsner described it as “a church no-one is likely to forget who ever saw its 300 feet high, excessively thin spire from a distance or entered its long, un-ecclesiastical nave with the excessively steep hammerbeam roof- fanatical and unbalanced and for some even sinister.”

At this stage you may be asking which Chorley building is associated with Hansom and the Pugins. It is St. Mary’s Catholic Church built on land on the Mount Pleasant Estate, once owned by the Catholic Harrison family of textile merchants(no relation). Hansom designed the Church which opened in 1854, but whilst it may be handsome, it is no longer Hansom as it was radically remodelled and enlarged by the Pugins in the 1890s. Further details of the development of the church can be obtained from its website (details below) and Jim Heyes “A History of Chorley”. It is the legacy of the Pugins which is now to be seen, including their archway on Market Street, but St. Mary’s with its associations with both Hansom and the Pugins, is a “must-see” on any historical walk around Chorley.


Jim Heyes: A History of Chorley
Wikipedia: Joesph Hansom
Pevsner: Lancashire North
John Quinn: Hansom’s Lancashire Churches in Hopkins’ Lancashire Sesquicentennial Essays edited by John McDermott

John E Harrison
March 2012