As an architectural entity, St George's Church is important as a pure example of the work of Thomas Rickman, one of the greatest architects in English history. Unlike other Lancashire Churches in which Rickman had an involvement, notably St Peter's, Preston, (now the Arts Centre of the University of Central Lancashire) and St Mary's, Blackburn (now Blackburn Cathedral) , both built at the same time as St George's, the latter has not suffered major alteration or change of use from that for which it was originally designed.
Rickman, an eminent architectural scholar as well as practising exponent, divided ecclesiastical architecture into four periods or styles, Norman (1066 - 1200 AD), Early English (1200-1300), Decorated (1300 - 1380) and Perpendicular (1380 - 1600). St George's is an elegant example of his Gothic architecture in the Early English style.
In the early nineteenth century 214 Commissionersx Churches were built in the new industrial towns and industrial areas of older towns. More than one third of these were in the old County Palatine of Lancashire, Today, very few of these remain open and even fewer remain in use as centres of worship and Church life. St George's is still important in this respect, with a thriving congregation and Church membership in a heavily populated parish with numerous Church organisations and other, community-related activities based on the Church, Church hall and Church institute.
As Rev E M J Cornish, incumbent, remarked in the closing paragraph of his guide booklet The story of the Parish of St George (and on which this guide is in part based)
The visitor may well gaze with admiration at the magnificent proportions of the nave with its great high roof, but the history of the parish is not to be found written in stone. It is written in the lives of the people who live in the parish and their love for the Church is shown by the fact that even in these days when many Churches are finding their congregations more and more depleted, St George's can point to an ever increasing communicant life, a men's club with over 200 members, a flourishing daughter Church and a position of respect and affection in the hearts of the people it has served so faithfully, and hopes to continue to serve in the same tradition.
Forty years later, those of us in St George's Church today hope and work to enable this magnificient Church to continue in this role. To the visitor therefore we say look, enjoy, do not hesitate to enquire, sit or kneel and pray if you wish but, please respect a building which is very much part of God's Living Church On Earth.Described by author John Champness in the Lancashire County Council publication Lancashire's Architectural Heritage as "probably the finest of the Commissioners' Churches in Lancashire" the Parish Church of St George, Chorley is the biggest and most capacious parish Church in the diocese of Blackburn Both the parish and the Church building owe their existence to two major events in the history of these islands, namely The Industrial Revolution and The Napoleonic Wars.
As a cotton town, Chorley's industrial revolution was centred on that industry, which had been introduced into the town as early as 1660 A century later the mechanisation of the industry was prompted by the inventions of the flying shuttle (by Kay of Bury), the spinning Jenny (Hargreaves, Blackburn,1766) and Arkwright's water frame which took the spinning industry out of cottages and into the mill This was followed by Crompton's mule (in Bolton) which likewise forced the automation of the weaving industry. Indeed, Arkwright lived for a time at Birkacre within what was to become part of the original parish of St George and where in 1779 serious anti-mechanisation riots occurred.
Thus, 1790 saw the construction of spinning mills in the town and the towns population explosion began. It was soon evident that the parish Church of St Laurence, part of which dates back at least to the thirteenth century, was insufficient for a burgeoning population. St Laurence's itself was only elevated from the status of a chapelry of the Rector of Croston to a parish Church in its own right in 1793. In 1791 the citizens of Chorley had applied for St Laurence's to be enlarged, but the Rector of Croston refused the application on the grounds that this would make it more difficult to speak in, and would require a very strong voice and such a clergyman might not so easily be met with for so uncertain a salary. The Curates salary at that time had just been reduced from £20 to £10 pa. Yet, only thirty-two years later the great Church of St George was erected . This is where the Napoleonic wars were instrumental in the history of St George's.
Although these wars dislocated trade in the early years of the nineteenth century,and the cotton trade in particular, thus affecting the towns prosperity, the town's population continued to grow. In 1818, three years after the decisive battle of Waterloo an Act of Parliament popularly known as the Million Act, was passed, empowering King George III to grant the Church Commissioners sums of money for the building of new Churches in the growing industrial areas. This million pounds was to be derived from the reparations exacted from the French after the wars. The people of Chorley were among the first to make application, the success of which led to the building of St George's hence, to this day the church is known as a Waterloo or Commissioners church.
The original deed for the purchase of the land ,which at that time was previously undeveloped, gives the names of the owners as Edmund Leigh of Chorley, Edmund Grundy of Bury and Mary Anne Grundy his wife, John Cunliffe of Crooke and Myerscough House and Sarah Cunliffe his wife. Mary Anne Grundy and Sarah Cunliffe were the only children of William Leigh and were co-heirs and neices of Edmund Leigh and John Pollard of Chorley, a surgeon, and Robert Topping. Initially, 3,800 square yards of land were purchased for the sum of £300. A further 1,960 square yards were added on the side adjacent to Chapel Street for £154. The deeds for this piece of land were executed on 28 July 1825 and in these the Church is mentioned as already built, suggesting that the Church was constructed in under three years.
With the town's population standing at 7500 in 1821 a church with a seating capacity of no less than 2200 was commissioned. Despite several internal modifications which have reduced the seating capacity ,and an increase in the size of the average citizen over the last one hundred and seventy five years, the Church still accommodates over one thousand people on special civic, national and ecclesiastical occasions.
Although St George's dwarfed its mother-Church of St Laurence it was in 1825 still only a chapel within the latter's parish. This status continued until 1835 when a specific district was assigned to it. The boundary line separating St George's district from the Old Parish is described in the Order in Council as running from the River Yarrow at the end of Gillibrand Wood, then northward along the west side of the wood to Dole Lane (much longer than it is today), along the west side of St Thomas' Road into Market Street, down High Street then in a straight line across the Cattle Market (or Flat Iron, across which a stream marked the boundary) and on to the south end of the Workhouse (later Eaves Lane Hospital, demolished in 1997 to make way for housing development), down a footpath to a bridge across the canal then along the canal side to where the Parish of Chorley met the Township of Whittle-Ic-Woods in the Parish of Leyland, about a quarter mile west of Cabbage Hall. All the parts of the Old Parish lying south and east of this line constituted the new District of St George's, a huge area in present-day terms.
By an Order in Council dated 15 May 1852 a district was assigned to the newly constructed Chapel of St Peter, in which nearly all of that portion of St George's district east of the canal was included. With the passing of the Marquis of Blandford Act in 1856 St George's, along with all similar districts, was created as a separate parish. Thus St George's was carved out of the old parish, a process which has since been repeated three times in St George's history, first with the creation of St Peter's district (later a parish), then with the creation of St James' Church and parish to the east in 1879 and more recently the creation of All Saints parish to the south in the 1950s. Interestingly, the 1851 census showed the original St George's district (before the creation of St Peter's) as containing 8,137 persons. Just ten years later, the census of 1861 shows St George's Parish containing 9,621 persons and St Peter's 2,209, an increase of over 45%. This well illustrates the rapid population growth taking place at that time. Also, the parish magazine of 1896 notes that the 1851 census shows the number of males exceeding females by 47, a statistic which it calls remarkable since at that time females generally out-numbered males across the country.
St George's boundary following the creation of St Peter's was defined as; from the junction of the rivers Chor and Yarrow , along the Chor to the Gillibrand dog kennel, along the north side of the wood between Gillibrand Hall and the tan pits farm to the lodge and gates, then down to the Dole Lane footpath to St Thomas' Square, along St Thomas' Road , across Market Street and then in a straight line crossing Eaves Lane south of the Workhouse and north of Moss Cottage then following the path to the foot-bridge over the canal, opposite Crosse Hall, southward along the canal to the bridge opposite Crosse Hall fold, along the road to Chorley waterworks, passing along the west side of the service reservoir. From there, along a zig-zag line (sic) west of Bibby's farm and east of Cowling, passing between Ridgwood Cottage and Hallith Wood, crossing the railway and canal half-way between the latter and Winstanley bridge. From this point the boundary is a crooked line along the north side of the Yarrow to Lower Red Bank, which it includes, whence it passes to Carr's Lane excluding Carr's houses. It then crosses the fields south of Weldbank Roman Catholic Chapel (i.e. St Gregory's) and the Oaks, thence down the lane passing on the north (side) of Burgh Hall and through Burgh Hall Wood and the Birkacre reservoirs to the Yarrow, which it follows past Birkacre, Plymouth Bridge and Kingsley Wood to the mouth of the Chor.
The creation of the parish of St James removed all the area to the east of the railway and subsequently the creation of All Saints removed the areas to the west of Burgh Lane, Weldbank Lane and Collingwood Road.
The Church-yard burial ground was open for interment from its consecration in 1825 until January 1859, when it was closed by an Order in Council. The last interment took place on January 6, 1859. Chorley cemetery is now the burial ground of St George's parish, although ashes of the deceased continue to be buried in the church-yard.