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The Church of St Peter, Burnley
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The Church of St Peter, Burnley The Church of St Peter, Burnley
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved] © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

St. Peters is Burnley’s ancient parish church. Thought to have been built between the 8th century and 1122 it formed the centre of medieval Burnley. Surrounded on 3 sides by the River Brun, its position served the population of Burnley and small hamlets. Until 1836 it covered the whole of Burnley for the Anglican Church. It certainly proved to the centre of life for the locals not only to worship but also to act as court to deal with misdemeanours. It is thought the oldest part of Church is the tower whose foundations are considered to date to Norman times, with the rest of the church being rebuilt in the reign of Henry VIII. The church has many memorials dedicated to those who died in various wars including the South African (Boar War), Peninsular War, Waterloo and those wars in Afghanistan, Egypt and the Crimea. The stained glass windows in the church are magnificent and all dedicated to Parishioners. One such window is in the Towneley chapel which is dedicated to the memory of Catherine Susan Parker, wife of the first rector of Burnley, Arthur Towneley Parker. A new pulpit was installed in 1903, which was a gift from Mrs Elizabeth Sagar, dedicated to the memory of her husband, William Fielding Sagar. There is also a window dedicated to them from their daughters. Although the church has a graveyard it was closed in June 1855 with the exception of private vaults. Walking around the graveyard to today you will see many headstones unreadable but the oldest one legible is 1664. Many of these gravestones tell the story of how life in Burnley was hard, and how tragedies affected everyone. Amongst the graves are the bodies of a group of men killed at Haggate when they tried to defend their farms from the marauders Prince Rupert’s cavaliers. The church also has a beautiful Oak bookcase which contains books for recording the history of the town and it is a memorial to the 19 men who lost their lives in the 1962 Hapton Valley Pit disaster.

In 1968 Queen Elizabeth II visited the church and a commemoration stone stands on the outside wall of the vestry to mark this event.

The church has itself been subject to a few disasters. The first and most alarming for parishioners was in 1840 when following a burial, a subterranean charnel house (containing bones of earlier parishioners) next to the burial collapsed and the mourners found themselves tangled up in the remains of their ancestors. Other disasters included a fire in 1977 in the old vestry, which once re-constructed became the kitchen and small parish room.

The church closed in 1989 for major repairs which cost almost £1 million. The repairs were vital to saving the church from being demolished as structural faults and cracks had appeared in walls and pillars. To add a final blow to the repairs which were near completion in 1991 a fire was started inside the west door which delayed the re-opening, but allowed the opportunity to update the interior of the church with the added advantage of under-floor heating. The church finally re-opened in November 1992 and fund raisers celebrated the four years of hard work with a special service by the Bishop of Blackburn and Rt. Rev. Alan Chesters.

The church has a small history display, cabinets containing various items from Burnley’s’ industrial heritage. It is a really wonderful church, a nice place to go for quiet contemplation and a peek into Burnley’s past.

More information on St.Peter’s and other Burnley Churches can be found in the book:-
“From Saint Peter’s to Saint Mark’s. A history of the Anglican Churches of Burnley” Written by Stephen Martin Child. Available from Burnley library.

 
The Interior of St Peter. Photograph supplied by and © of Stephanie Mottershead
The Interior of St Peter
Photograph supplied by and © of Stephanie Mottershead
 
Windows dedicated to William Field Sagar and family. Photograph supplied by and © of Stephanie Mottershead
Windows dedicated to William Field Sagar and family
Photograph supplied by and © of Stephanie Mottershead
 
Sir James Yorke Scarlett GCB 1799-1871. Photograph supplied by and © of Stephanie Mottershead
Sir James Yorke Scarlett GCB 1799-1871
Photograph supplied by and © of Stephanie Mottershead

Sir James Yorke Scarlett GCB 1799-1871. Major General and hero of the Crimean War.

In retirement he became involved in politics, standing for election to Parliament in Burnley at the 1868 general election, but was beaten by the Liberal candidate.

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