Atherton Parish Church
St John the Baptist
On Market Place at the junction of Market Street, Church Street and Tyldesley Road. In terms of buildings, Atherton is a pleasingly low-profile town and the parish church tower is the only stonework rising above the general roof level. You can't miss it, but if you do, just ask for The Obelisk, a pseudo Egyptian monument just outside the church. Even if locals cannot place St John the Baptist, they'll know where The Obelisk is.
Atherton became an independent parish only in 1859; prior to that it was a chapelry in Leigh Parish and the church was known just as Atherton Chapel in the baptism, marriage and burial registers. As explained in the Chowbent Chapel history, the old Bent Chapel, built in 1645, became available for Church of England use after Mad Richard Atherton had locked out its dissenter congregation. On 23 November 1723 the Bishop of Sodor and Man consecrated the chapel to the Church of England and dedicated it to St John the Baptist, at the wish of Mad Richard who provided funds for the curate's salary. No drawing of the chapel exists, but surveys recorded it as a small brick building some 70ft long and 30ft wide. In 1810, the Old Bent Chapel was pulled down and a larger brick chapel with small tower built in its place. A photograph of this 2nd chapel can be seen below. More information on Atherton is available on Dave Dutton's "Atherton" site.
In 1874 a public meeting decided that the 2nd brick chapel was too small for the burgeoning population of the new parish, and in 1877 it was demolished. An Atherton mill owner and benefactor, Thomas Lee of Alder House, laid the foundation stone for the new stone church on 22 April 1878. The church was dedicated for worship in 1879, but the final stone was laid by Lord Lilford (successors by marriage to the Atherton family) only in 1896. Triassic sandstone from Runcorn was used for exterior masonry, giving a characteristic reddish tinge to much of the church and tower. By 1904 mining subsidence had caused the 120ft high tower to lean, the Sanctuary floor to dip, and cracks to appear in the fabric. Restoration work included detatchment of the tower from the body of the church to mitigate further damage (Shepherd, 1995).
Resources for the Church of England chapels and parish church, Atherton.
Manchester Central Library lists the following pre-1900 registers. Note that St John the Baptist and Atherton Chapel are not separate, co-existing buildings; they are the three successive buildings described above, all dedicate to St John the Baptist. However, the "Atherton Chapel" records are physically appended to Leigh Parish registers.
St John the Baptist, Atherton.
Baptisms 1778-1849 MFPR 123
Atherton Chapel (Leigh Parish)
Baptisms 1724-1824 MFPR 1027
The LDS also have Family History Library films of St John the Baptist registers on 5 microfilm reels as follows:-
Baptisms 1778-1899 FHL BRITISH Film 
Marriages 1853-1900 FHL BRITISH Film 
Burials 1778-1857 FHL BRITISH Film 
Baptisms 1778-1841 & burials 1778-1852 FHL BRITISH Film 
Marriages 1925-1941 & Burials 1852-1857 FHL BRITISH Film [2148109 Items 1-3]
Reference: Shepherd, Julie M. (1995) Atherton Parish Church 350th anniversary (booklet available from the church)