"Daddy" Dunn
Daddy Dunn
The Reverend Joseph Dunn is one of the legends of the Catholic history of Preston where he served as a mission priest for 51 years. Born in Catterick, Yorkshire, in 1746 he was ordained into the Society of Jesus in 1771 and arrived in the town five years later.

His real name was probably Earpe because it was the practice in penal times for students educated abroad for the priesthood to assume an alias to safeguard their parents from the law. Throughout his ministry in Preston he was referred to as “Mister” as were secular priests, because the Pope from 1773 to 1814 suppressed the Jesuits and he did not renew his vows. He was popularly called “Daddy” because, unless crossed, he had a kind, patient and genial personality.

During his long ministry the town’s population grew from approximately 6,000 to 30,000, over a fifth of them Catholics. When he arrived to replace an elderly priest there was a small chapel in Friargate. When he died in 1827 there were four priests, two chapels and Mr Dunn was already a legend.

In 1787 he opened a Sunday School in Mount Street and, in 1814, one in Fox Street for day pupils. This was used in the evenings for classes for adults and working children.

Preton’s Dispensary had been established in 1811 to supply the sick poor with medicine and its new building was in Fishergate, opposite Chapel Street, between Fox Street and Lune Street. Interestingly the narrow road behind the Fishergate frontage between the two streets is still called Surgeon’s Court.

St. Wilfrid's church was built in 1793, it’s presbytery shortly afterwards and St Mary’s was restored in 1815 for use as a chapel of ease. In 1816 he provided a burial ground in St Wilfrid’s Street.

As the mission priest he was closely involved with the Catholic Choral Society, the Catholic Band of Music, the Catholic Library and the Catholic Book Club. He supported the two Catholic Charitable Societies and two benefit societies and was a member of the Broughton Catholic Charitable Society founded in 1787.

He was also an extensive traveller; a prodigious fundraiser and he maintained a regular correspondence with many famous people.

He attended the Catholic Charity Balls which began in 1820 and continued until 1962 and which gave their initial donations to the Preston Catholic Clothing Society for helping the poor.

His reputation was based also on his contribution to the public life of the town. In 1810 he was a member of the group who formed the Literary and Philosophical Society; in 1812 he was a founder of the House of Recovery (a forerunner of the Royal Preston Hospital); he was an original trustee of the Preston Savings Bank established in 1816.

“And he forwarded undertakings of public utility”. This is how Mr Dunn’s memorial in St Wilfrid’s porch elegantly records his role in the introduction of gas lighting to the town. A friend of Samuel Clegg, the gas engineer, Mr Dunn was a great enthusiast for gas. He was a founder member of the Preston Gas Light Company (1815), which was the first outside London and the fact that Preston was the first provincial town to be lit by gas owed much to Dunn’s drive and energy. His portrait, in white wig and purple suit, which hung for many years at the Preston Gas Company, is now in St Wilfrid’s School, Preston. He remained closely connected with the company until his death.

Mr Dunn died quite suddenly on November 19th 1827, aged 82.

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