Askern - Blessed English Martyrs

High Street, Askern, Doncaster, DN6

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The church was built to serve a mining community in 1940. It has an austere external appearance, not enhanced by security measures. Its isolated location means that the church does not contribute strongly to the street scene in the village.  

This parish contains Burghwallis Hall, a house of Tudor origins which was acquired by the Bishop of Leeds in 1941 and used as St Anne’s Convent until closure in 2014. This had been the home of the Catholic Anne family, amongst whose number is said to have been Blessed John Anne (or John Amias/Amyas), who became a secular priest and was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1589. Along with 135 other English martyrs, he was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929, no doubt explaining the dedication of the present church.

There is little documentary material available about the history of the parish. The church was built to serve the Catholic community in Askern, a small town straddling the A19 trunk road between Doncaster and Selby.  Askern had a small spa around the lake in the nineteenth century, which attracted tourists and visitors, but the village was transformed by coal mining after a pit was opened in 1911 above the west side of the village. In the late 1920s a Coalite plant was built on an adjoining site; both led to a rise in the population and new housing was built for mining families.  In the early twentieth century Catholics had to travel for Mass to other churches until 1929, when a chapel-of-ease was built, initially served from Woodlands (q.v.). This was dedicated to the Blessed English Martyrs. It was replaced by the present church, which opened in 1940, sited just below the colliery. Askern became an independent parish in 1953.

The church was reordered in 1970, when the altar was moved to the north wall, but this arrangement has recently been abandoned and the altar returned to the east end. The Coalite plant closed in 1986, and Askern Main closed in 1991.  Today the church is served from St Peter-in-Chains, Doncaster (q.v.).

The church opened in 1940. It is built of red brick laid in stretcher bond, with a concrete tiled roof and aluminium rainwater goods. The two-storey building is built into the slope of a steep hill, with the church on the upper level accessed from the west, and a basement hall accessed from the east. The building is aligned with the sanctuary to the east, projecting confessional to the southeast, a porch and baptistery with hipped roof to the northwest, six-bay nave and a narrow gabled sanctuary. The windows to the basement are boarded for security and the basement side door has a steel shutter; the lower sections of the nave windows are blocked, with polycarbonate panels over the upper timber windows. These measures combine to give the church a closed, forbidding appearance. There are projecting panels of brickwork below each upper floor window. The porch has steel and timber double doors facing west and the west gable end of the church is blind with no details to identify the building as a church. There is a dedication panel on the side wall of the porch, inscribed 25 January 1940. 

The interior of the church is plain, with plain plastered walls and ceiling and structural bays expressed by pilasters and segmental arched soffits to the ceiling beams (probably reinforced concrete). The floor is carpeted and seating is on plain pine benches. The sanctuary is lit from side windows, with plain timber fittings and carpeted floor. Within the porch is a modern octagonal timber font, and a large circular inlaid timber panel fitted on the east wall; the latter was used as a canopy over the altar in the 1970 reordering. The hall in the basement is plainly finished.

Diocese: Hallam

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1940

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed