St John’s Chapel, Winwick St.

Many Warringtonians will remember The Boultings building on the corner of Winwick Street and John Street as the former headquarters of electrical engineering company W A Boulting Ltd. Others may recall it as a short-lived mid-1980s nightclub called The Silver Fox Club. But did you know that for the first 100 years of its life – from 1808 to 1909 – this attractive Grade 2 listed building was in fact a church called St Johns? Back in 2003, Margaret Fellows researched the history of St John’s Chapel for Warrington History Society’s Winter 2003 Newsletter. Her article is reproduced below with her kind permission.


St John’s Chapel, Winwick Street, was founded in 1808. The initial congregation comprised Episcopalians from St James Church and Presbyterians from Cairo Street Chapel.

The first St. John’s Chapel was founded in 1808 in Winwick Street, but to find the origin of its first congregation we have to go back to events in 1796. It was in that year that the then minister of St. James Church in Knutsford Road, having built up a large congregation, moved to a new living. Although he took care to find a suitable successor, his successor’s teaching was not liked by all members of the congregation, causing a group of them to move away to attend the Stepney Independent Chapel.

Within three years the group had grown in number consisting of Episcopalians from St. James, Presbyterians from Cairo Street Chapel and a few from the Stepney Chapel in King Street. A larger room in which to hold their meetings was offered to them, and they applied to the Countess of Huntingdon – who was at that time the main patron of the theological colleges – to be provided with a minister. This new Minister was the Reverend Alexander Hay, who became the founder and first Minister of St. John’s, which opened on Thursday, January 7th 1808.


Rev. Alexander Hay – founder and first minister of St John’s Chapel.

In the early years, Reverend Hay preached six times a week, as well as other meetings and visiting, for which his stipend was 80 guineas a year. In 1814, St. John’s opened classes for adults in private houses in different parts of the town, and soon, about one hundred and fifty people were attending. Sadly, the self-imposed burden of building up the church took its toll on the health of Alexander Hay, and he died on 17th May, 1827 aged 47. He was interred in the left aisle of the chapel, an inscribed tablet being placed on the wall. Several ministers followed, but sadly, by 1852 the congregation had dwindled to about 50, and the church was offered for sale. It was purchased by Mr. Robert Barbour, and in March 1854 the congregation was received into the Presbyterian Church of England.

Robert Barbour was consistently financially generous during his ownership, and in 1873 he donated the Chapel building as a free gift to the Trustees. When appeals were made for money for repairs and refurnishing, he gave generously. Many friends also gave financial help, the name of Peter Walker appearing frequently. In those days, pew rents provided a large part of the church income, but ”the plate” at the church door was introduced in 1865.

The last minister of St. John’s was the Reverend James Warnock, who served his whole ministry in Warrington from 1877 until has death from typhoid in May 1900. Due to financial problems no further minister was inducted, and in 1906 the committee agreed to offer the Winwick Street buildings for sale.

On 7th August 1908 the trustees accepted an offer of £1150 for the site. The last service was held on 7th January 1909 and the chapel was closed, the congregation then consisting of about fifty people from Stockton Heath, Bewsey, Padgate, Orford and Howley. Despite having no spiritual home they were not discouraged, and held one service each Sunday in the Cairo Street Unitarian Church.


The ‘Boultings’ today. After the congregation moved out in 1909 it was used as offices for the tannery on the other side of John Street with a footbridge connecting the two buildings.

In April 1909 they decided to find a site to build a new church and a new minister to try to rescue the congregation. They chose Mr. William Reid as their Preacher-in-charge, who did his work well, and steady progress was made in both membership and finances.  By April 1910 they had not only secured a site, but were proceeding with the building of a new church on Wilderspool Causeway. The old building in Winwick Street subsequently became the offices of Winwick Street Tannery.

So, you may well ask, what became of the remains of The Reverend Alexander Hay? This was more of a problem to unravel. After following several false leads, and much searching, the burial register revealed that his remains were “Removed by Licence from St John’s Presbyterian Church, Winwick Street, Warrington”. What the register also revealed, a fact of which I was not previously aware, was that three other persons had been buried in the crypt. These bodies had also been removed. They were Mary Bird, aged 32 and her two unnamed infant daughters (presumably all had died at childbirth), who had been the wife and daughters of the Reverend Caleb Bird, the Minister of St. John’s from 1836 to 1841. Mary Bird and her daughters had been buried in 1838. All four were re-interred in one grave in Warrington Cemetery on the 10th September, 1908. In those days, they were classed as dissenters, and consequently were buried in unconsecrated ground.


John Street was formerly known as St John’s Street. It’s name was changed after the church became redundant.

Margaret’s article throws interesting light on a building lots of us have passed on many occasions. We conclude this article with an eyewitness report that takes us back to the heyday of the church itself.  It is from the pen of former Mayor William Beamont who, on walking past the chapel on St John’s Day 1860 recalled an open air service that was taking place outside. Wrote Beamont: “As I passed Townsend {as the area was then known} the new Presbyterian minister of St John’s was preaching in the street with great fervour, earnestness and fluency. I stopped to hear him and was pleased and I hope edified.”