The Parish Church of All Saints, is a dominant feature of Wigan town centre. Sitting in an elevated position, despite being surrounded with buildings, its tower can be seen from most places around the town. Although I’ve lived in Wigan for over 30 years now I’d never been inside. I’m not religious and so have had no reason to. But last Saturday the church had an open day and out of curiosity, and as I have an interest in architecture, I decided to go and have a look,
There’s been a parish church in the town for a long time, probably right back to late Saxon times. There is very little left, though of the medieval building as the church was almost completely rebuilt during the middle of the 19th century being remodelled in the neo-Gothic style that was fashionable for places of worship during the Victorian period. Parts of the tower are probably quite old.
There are plenty of classic Gothic features – windows (many with stained glass) with pointed arches, buttresses, pinnacles and gargoyles.
Inside, it’s very “High Church”. Although the Nave is relatively plain, the alter and Choir are very ornate, with lots of gold leaf
and the “High Alter” has an attractive ceiling decorated to resemble the night sky.
There’s some impressive stained glass in the windows
mainly Victorian, but with some medieval pieces in the window in one of the side chapels.
In the Crawford Chapel, at the north end of the church, to the right of the Altar, there are stone effigies of a Knight and Lady resting on top of a tomb lid.
The figures represent Sir William Bradshaigh and Lady Mabel Bradshaigh, who were lord and lady of the manors of Haigh and Blackrod during the fourteenth century. Lady Mabel is better known as Lady Mab, who features in a local legend. According to this, Mab’s husband went off to fight in the Crusades and when he failed to return, assuming he was dead, she married a Welsh knight. But Sir William hadn’t been killed and when he finally returned home, discovering his wife’s bigamy, he murdered her new husband. Lady Mabel was then made to do penance for her unintentional bigamy by walking the three miles or so from Haigh Hall to a stone cross on Standishgate in Wigan "bare footed and bare legged" once a week for the rest of her life. The legend was used by Sir Walter Scott, as the basis of his novel "The Betrothed", published in 1825 (he refers to it in the introduction), and I came across a trilogy of novels by a modern author based on the story on Amazon recently. However, there are serious doubts about the accuracy of the legend.
“Mabs Cross” still stands at the top of Standishgate, although the crosspiece is missing. It originally stood on the other side of the road but was moved in 1922 when the road was widened.
There’s more information about the legend and the cross on the Wigan Archaeological Society website here.