History of St Wilfrid's Church


Though there are records of Jesuit priests working in Preston from 1701, the first post-reformation Catholic church in Preston was established by Jesuits in 1761, St Mary’s in Friargate.

This Church, now demolished, soon became too small and was replaced by St Wilfrid’s which was begun in April 1792 and finished 14 months and £4,000 later.  The driving force behind the building of the church was Father Joseph (Daddy) Dunn (q.v.) an ex-Jesuit who continued ministering to his flock during the suppression of the Society of Jesus.  When the Jesuits were re-established Daddy Dunn decided not to rejoin the Society, though he did accept other Jesuit priests to work with him.

Photo of the pre-1880 St Wilfrid’s Church

The first stage of St Wilfrid’s was a plain brick edifice with a balcony running along three sides of the interior. The photograph, that shows small windows placed in the middle of large window spaces, seems to suggest that even when it was built, there were plans for the large stained-glass windows that exist today.
It was decided not only that the church needed expanding, but it needed to be grander.  In 1878 a new ‘sodality’ chapel and confessionals were added and the inside of the church was remodelled. This was finished in 1880. However, whilst bigger, it was still felt that the church lacked a little something.

Ten years later stone cladding as well as terra-cotta and stone carvings were added to the exterior, whilst elaborate marbles from all over Europe were fixed to the interior walls and columns. The final church is quite a magnificent work of art which, after relatively recent renovations in 1996, still looks fresh and bright.

Over the years the story of St Wilfrid’s has been one of disagreements and stress, between priests who wanted to build or knock down or install electric lights and parishioners who were comfortable with the familiar.

Unusually for a Catholic church today, St Wilfrid’s was never really re-ordered for the post-Vatican II liturgy. It retains the altar rails and high altar with very little modification.


There are two booklets about the Church available in the Church and in the Sanctuary Bookshop.  The first is Through Twenty Preston Guilds (£3), a history of the Church and Parish, written by the late Leo Warren (with help from many others).  It was published in 1993 to mark the Bicentenary of the Church.

The second, entitled St Wilfrid’s Church, Preston (£2), was complied and published in 2010 with the encouragement of the then Parish Priest, Fr Chris Dyckhoff.  Besides a history of the Church, it also includes many pictures of the interior.

Some of the pictures from the latter publication are available as postcards.

Also available in the Bookshop is a CD entitled Music to Celebrate Preston Guild 2012 (£5).  This recording, made at the beginning of 2012, features the Organ and Musicians of St Wilfrid’s Church, together with the St Wilfrid’s Guild Choir.


St Wilfrid's Church

by Edwin Beattie (1845 - 1917)

Fr Joseph 'Daddy' Dunn

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The following is drawn from  "Through Twenty Preston Guilds -The Catholic Congregation of St. Wilfrid's Preston", 1993, Leo Warren (Ed.)

On May 1, 1776 Mr Joseph Dunn (a.k.a. Fr. Dunn, a.k.a. Daddy Dunn) arrived at the Chapel in Friargate in Preston from Callaly Hall, nr. Alnwick, Northumberland to assist Fr. Nicholas Sewell. Dunn led the Catholic Mission for 51 years (op. cit. p20-21 passim.)  Fr. Dunn taught philosophy at the Little College. Prior to his arrival, Catholics, and in particular, Jesuits were under attack in Preston. Among the significant events during "Daddy's" tenure in Preston are the following:

  1. 1773. Pope Clement XIV suppressed entirely the Society of Jesus, resulting in the English College being moved to Bruges (op. cit. 23) Fr. Dunn attended there at that time to help quell an uprising of the boys.
  2. 1790. Dunn pushed for a larger Chapel, abandoning St. Mary's, thus drawing all under one roof.
  3. 1791. The House of Lords passed a Relief Act to repeal the Penal Laws
  4. 1792. Work begins on a new Catholic Chapel in Fishergate. Thomas Winckley sold a parcel of land to Dunn. Estimated cost of Chapel built with "elegance and taste"  £1,851; of House £688. (op.cit 28-29 passim)
  5. 1793. June 2, St. Mary's Chapel closed and became a cotton warehouse.
  6. 1793. June 4, the Roman Catholic Chapel of Preston was opened with an oratorio, as suggested by Fr. Dunn -Handel's Messiah, and the Coronation Anthem (in honour of His Majesty's birthday. (op.cit. 32)
  7. 1793. Dunn launched with 20 gns a fund to complete ornamental work and provide an organ in the new chapel (op.cit. 35)
  8. 1809. Dunn founder member of Preston Library & Philosophical Society
  9. 1811. Preston Dispensary established to supply the sick and poor. (op.cit. 37)
  10. 1813. Dunn was an active supporter of the new House of Recovery, following the death of a priest who had administered to a dying man.(ibid.)
  11. 1813. Dunn launched an appeal to re-open St. Mary's as the Catholic population of Preston had been growing significantly. It re-opened in 1832 (ibid.)
  12. 1814. St. Mary's chapel was re-opened. 
  13. 1815. Dunn was a founder member of Preston Gas Lighting Company, Preston was the first town outside of London to be lit by gas (op.cit.43)
  14. 1815. Fox Street School opened by Dunn (op.cit. 36)
  15. 1815. Dunn & Fr. Morgan committed £100 to the Chapel in Friargate (op.cit. 98)
  16. 1816. Dunn was an original trustee of Preston Savings Bank. (op.cit. 36) and http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/N13958269
  17. 1818. Charles Butler, a Catholic lawyer opined that "Dunn was the best beggar in England." (op.cit.44)
  18. 1822. Dunn was involved in many disputes over the Chapel (op.cit.39)
  19. 1827. 
  20. 1827. Dunn died on November 19. Age 82. 51 years after arrival in Preston in 1776. R.I.P. 

Daddy Dunn depicted wearing a wig. Inscription reads ‘T.Duckett and Co’ on the back. c.1828Thomas Duckett,: G Higginson c 1870s


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