History of the Building

Background History of The Bureau Centre for the Arts, Blackburn

Hand drawn bureau pink and blueThe Bureau Centre for the Arts have become guardians of a fabulous and historical building in the centre of Blackburn.



stjohnThe building started out its journey as The Church of St. John the Evangelist, and is actually the oldest church in Blackburn, with it’s first stone being laid in June 1787, and was opened and consecrated on the 31st July 1789.  St. John the Evangelist had already been in existence 37 years before the present Cathedral, what was then the Parish Church of St. Mary, was opened after being rebuilt in 1826.  Money to pay for the building was raised by subscription, with one of the main benefactors being Henry Sudell, a local cotton manufacturer, who presented half of the original cost of £8000.  The present tower wasn’t erected until 1802, and the bell, which was cast in the key of G, was added in 1822.

old bureauSadly the church closed its doors to active worship on Easter Sunday 1975, and the care of the building was transferred over to the Local Authority, who acquired the building at a very low rent from the Church Commissioners. The Local Authority then spent £100,000 restoring the internal fabric of the building, but since then there has been continuing debate about the future of the church.  Despite different ideas being put forward, Church covenants restricted the use of the building, a final decision was never made as to what to do with it.  However, for a period of time during the 1990s and 2014 the building was utilised by a number of civic services including CVS (Community Volunteer Service), Older People’s Forum, Townswomen’s Guild and in particular the Citizens Advice Bureau.

windowThe Bureau was born out of Blackburn is Open when it began to be used as a venue for pop-up projects. In 2014 the 6 directors decided that they wanted a permanent art space and, with help from the Council and Blackburn is Open, they formed a Community Interest Company (CIC) and started working with local partners to run activities from the space.


new signThe first activities were Drink and Draw, the film club, the print festival, and Gypsy Carrot’s New Year’s Eve party. The Bureau’s first really big scale event was in March 2015 for BBC get creative which saw hundreds of people getting involved in over 50 workshops.



By June 2015 the directors had fully taken over from feastBlackburn is Open and signed their first tenancy agreement as The Bureau.

Now, our main focus is to run a diverse and inclusive arts programme that is relevant to all of our Blackburn community members and brings people together, whilst respecting the heritage of the building. We receive very little funding for this work and are run by volunteers, but despite this, have still begun to receive national recognition.

10368903_503495379795215_7513740896754490051_oWe have a cafe space, a gallery, cinema and community use room, studios, community darkroom and a main space suitable for theatre, workshops, gatherings and events. All of these spaces are available for hire and we are always interested in meeting people with ideas who want to get involved in any way. We are invested in our community and will do our best to facilitate all creative community activities.


18954978_10208081669393223_1023163646847761302_oAs Tom Vernon (1985) said, “if you destroy a towns ghosts you destroy its people”. Therefore,

“let us breathe new life into our heritage, making it a part of the living present, and a source of joy for all in the future who come to the Church of St. John the Evangelist” – David L. Coggins, 1985.


Bureau in Ink Now you know a little about the history of the building, please have a wander around.  You can soak in the atmosphere, and despite obvious signs of decay, you can gain a sense of place and appreciate the beauty of the architecture. From the stunning stained glass windows and gothic pulpit, to the fluted veneers and hung ceiling.




old bureau pencilYou can also learn about some of the people that were connected to St John the Evangelist by reading about them from the plaques that have been put up in memory of them.  Unfortunately some of the building is inaccessible to the public due to decay, and the health and safety issues this raises.

Look also at the building from the outside, where you can appreciate the solid geometric lines created by the architect, who remains unknown. In the Church Yard, you can see gravestones belonging to Henry Sudell and Daniel Thwaites, and can see records of infant mortality during that period, with one of the gravestones showing that between 1831 and 1848 six children from one family died before reaching the age of eight.


13568895_1220665137943680_6852751167615396605_o As current guardians of the building, we are dedicated in breathing new life into the building, to make it a part of our shared heritage and living present, and a source of joy for those who come.  To enable us to do so, we need your support.

Sepia TowerInformation gained from The Church of St. John the Evangelist, St. John’s Conservation Area, Blackburn by David. L Coggins. Sponsored by Blackburn Civic Society.  To gain a more in depth insight please read the booklet David produced.


san-marcuolaWe believe the building to have been modeled on the Chiesa di San Marcuola in Venice. The right hand of John the Baptist was once housed in this church founded in the 9th century, but the church burned in the 14th century, and what you see was cobbled together (and not quite completed) in the 18th century by architects Giorgio Massari and Antonio Gaspari.

Chiesa_di_San_Marcuola_interno_Canal_Grande_Venezia Inside is Tintoretto’s 1547 Last Supper, with Christ and apostles ominously spotlit against a black background.

The church of San Marcuola, a church dedicated to the saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus(“Marcuola” is a Venetian contraction of “Ermacora”) is a religious building facing the Grand Canal and located in the sestiere of Cannaregio in Venice, Italy.

The present church was first erected in the 12th century. Major reconstruction was designed by Antonio Gaspari, and completed in 1730-1736 by Giorgio Massari. The facade was never completed. The church has a large collection of statues by Gaetano Susali, and paintings byFrancesco Migliori. It has a Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto on the left side of the apse.1920px-El_Lavatorio_(Tintoretto)

For the right side, Tintoretto painted Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet but it is now at either Museo del Prado in Madrid or the Shipley Art Gallery.La_Última_Cena_(Iglesia_de_San_Marcuola,_Venecia,_1547)_-_Tintoretto

Its place at San Marcuola is occupied now by a copy by Carlo Ridolfi.

The grave of German composer Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) is located in San Marcuola.

The church gives its name to the San Marcuola vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal.