The English Martyrs Church, built in 1926 in its attractive woodland garden setting is an undoubtedly pretty building with its mock Tudor architecture of black and white work with red brick and tile looks to belong to an Edwardian painting of rural Englishness. In fact English Martyrs is rooted in a much earlier tradition, its roots reaching back to the early presence of Christian life in Whalley, in particular to the coming of the Cistercian Abbey (1296 AD) in whose grounds it stands. The ancient Lay Brothers abbey building overlooks the Church grounds as if holding a watching brief on the latest developments of this Catholic Parish.
The course of English history after the dissolution of the Abbey interrupted the public presence of a Catholic Church until the gradual approach of Catholic Emancipation . The arrival of the Jesuit of college at Stonyhurst was a strong influence in providing ministry to Catholics in the Ribble Valley and in prompting the establishment of Parishes in the area during the nineteenth century. None of these were yet conveniently close to the growing numbers of Catholics in Whalley. It became clear that a Parish should be formed in what was such a historically important centre of Christianity in Lancashire.
The present Presbytery building was formerly a farm, built where the West door of the Abbey Church once stood. In 1922 the farm, Lay Brothers building and the adjoining land was bought by the Salford Diocese. Mass was already being said locally and for a time in the lay quarters before work began on the Church, which was opened in 1926.
The limited funds available at the time were not sufficient to establish a building with a secure long term future. The consequences of inadequate heating and insulation led to serious deterioration in recent times. Thorough refurbishment and renewal became a matter of some urgency. It now falls to the present generation, with their Parish Priest, to face those similar problems of funding and to undertake the same challenge in the same spirit of Faith and solidarity as those who came before, to whom we must remain so grateful. We now follow them in accepting the responsibility of renewing and maintaining the Church of English Martyrs in Whalley.
In the established tradition of the Parish the Church will remain open at all possible times and will welcome visitors who wish to enjoy the grounds and to visit the Church in a spirit of prayer or of curiosity, there to absorb the peace and spiritual presence to be found in its interior.
*author Dennis Cassidy
A full history of the church was published in 2000 by Andrew W Snape entitled:- ENGLISH MARTYRS WHALLEY A HISTORY OF THE PARISH AND ITS CATHOLIC HERITAGE. Published by T Snape and Co. Ltd., Boltons Court, Preston, Lancs.
The book explores in detail the catholic story in Whalley from the reformation to the year 2000. From the formation of a parish in whalley in 1921 through the building of the church in 1926 the story is an intriguing one with foundations in the abbey 400 years before.