Work is taking place beneath the floor of Bolton Parish Church, offering a rare glimpse into the bowels of one of Bolton’s most iconic buildings. Reporter Liam Thorp swapped his suit and tie for overalls and a headlamp and went down to explore.

WITH work taking place to fit support structures and a new central heating system underneath the floor of Bolton Parish Church, The Bolton News was invited by church warden Cllr John Walsh to take a look at the fascinating historical offerings that tell the story of a building that means so much to the borough and its residents.

Contractors HH Smith have begun work underneath the church floor on a number of projects, initially fitting steel supports along either side of the floor area in a bid to prevent it from caving in.

They will then be working to strip out the existing central heating system in order to fit a new one.

The £500,000 job will provide a much more efficient heating system, which will allow the temperature to be controlled in specific areas of the church at different times.

There will also be new CCTV and outdoor lighting fitted as part of the work.

The current church — also known as St Peter’s Church — was built as a replacement for its 15th century predecessor, which had fallen into disrepair.

It is the space between the floor of that 15th century building and the current floor — measuring about two feet — that the builders have to work in.

Gabriel Gallagher of HH Smith said: “It is quite tight and fairly dusty down there, but we have to get on with it.

“The whole job is expected to take us about 16 weeks to complete and we have been at it now for about three weeks already.

Cramped it may be, but Gabriel agrees that coming to work in one of the finest examples of a Victorian gothic church in the country each day is a real privilege.

He said: “I have carried out similar work at a lot of different churches, but this is one of the best that I have seen.

“It is a fantastic building — it is almost like a cathedral.”

The current building was consecrated and reopened by Bishop James Fraser, the Bishop of Manchester, in June,1871.

The church was designed by Lancashire architect E J Paley and paid for by wealthy cotton manufacturer Peter Ormrod.

After donning my overalls and headlamp, I was taken down through a hatch into the murky world beneath the church and plunged into the mysterious history of the site.

It is thought that there have been about four different buildings on the site at different times and evidence previously found suggests that the first building dated back as far as Saxon times.

The surface I found myself crawling across was made up of gravestones which formed the floor of the previous medieval church.

Cllr Walsh, who has held the warden position for the past three years, said: “We believe work may have started on the medieval building in about 1300, but the main work took place around 1450.

“It was that building that fell into disrepair and was later demolished before being replaced with the building that we see today.”

Armed with my trusty dust brush, I was amazed to see the excellent condition that many of the gravestones remain in.

Cllr Walsh added: “The building is steeped in history and is a major part of the history and heritage of Bolton and these improvements aim to make sure it continues to serve the community well.”