Building » Bacup – St Mary

Bacup – St Mary

Bankside Lane, Bacup, Lancs OL13

A compact urban church in the Early English Gothic Revival style, built beside the market place. It was later extended eastward with a sanctuary, side chapel and sacristy. The wide interior has a western gallery, a scissor-braced roof and some furnishings of note. The church and parish hall make a positive contribution to the local conservation area. 

The mission was founded in 1852 from Rawtenstall. Fr Henry Mulvany was the first mission priest. A garret over Mr Pillington’s ironmonger’s shop in Market Street served as chapel and school. In 1857, part of the present church was built – presumably just the nave, as happened slightly later at Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Haslingden (qv). The Buildings of England attributes the design of the church on stylistic grounds to William Nicholson of Manchester. Loynds also gives it to Nicholson, based on the parallel history of the missions of Bacup and Haslingden: Bishop Turner staffed each with a recently-ordained priest from All Hallows, the seminary in Dublin; Haslingden being founded two years later than Bacup. The churches were built within two years of each other (Bacup 1857, Haslingden 1859), and it is not unlikely that the same architect was used for both. 

The church was built in two stages: the nave in 1857, and one further nave bay, the east end and sacristy in the 1880s or early 1890s. The church is rectangular in plan, with a straight-ended chancel, a lean-to southeast chapel and a two-storey sacristy under a pitched roof perpendicular to the church. The materials are rock-faced local stone and slate for the roof.


The west elevation with angle buttresses has a central moulded doorway of three orders, of which the central one has colonettes. The hoodmould rests on corbels sculpted with faces. On either side are pointed trefoil windows. Above is a three-light bar tracery window with a hoodmould on corbels, flanked by lancets. In the gable is an empty niche with a nodding ogee arch under gable cross. The north elevation has six pairs of lancets between buttresses. The buttress to the east nave bay is shorter and the stonework changes – presumably this is the point where the 1857 building was extended eastwards. The south elevation is similar to that at the north, apart from a modern confessional extension towards the west, near the point where the extension of the original presbytery abutted the church. The two-storey sacristy block has a door to the west, and two window bays to the north, with relieving arches to the ground floor windows. The chancel has two high-level vesica windows to the north. The lower east wall is blind, as is the east face of the sacristy (photo top right). The east gable has three stepped lancets and a small trefoil, as well as a short chimney. To the south, the chancel has three lancet windows. The lean-to southeast chapel has a window of four lancets.


The narthex below the gallery has a 1960s glass screen to the nave. Within the narthex are the gallery stair, a repository, and statues of the Virgin Mary (from the Lourdes grotto outside), St Patrick and St Teresa. The repository at the northwest appears to be a former baptistery, with a two-light stained glass window with the Baptism of Christ to the north. The gallery front has pierced tracery which is now boarded up for health & safety reasons. The six-bay nave has an arch-braced scissor roof. The sanctuary has a fine carved Gothic reredos, with six statues of saints on either side of the canopied monstrance throne over the tabernacle. The original altar has been removed. The new altar and lectern (2012) are made from the marble and alabaster altar rails. Both feature small quatrefoil tracery. On either side of the reredos are small decorative cast-iron radiators.

In front of the Lady Chapel at the southeast are the octagonal stone font and a statue of St Joseph. The Lady altar has a stone and marble altar and reredos with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the central niche above the tabernacle. Between two columns and pilasters in the altar frontal is a marble relief of the Annunciation. To the south is a fine stained glass window with four lights depicting the Annunciation and the vision of Lourdes. The Stations of the Cross are painted plaster cast reliefs. The Sacristy has a cast-iron radiator with a decorative grille.

In 1871, a school and a presbytery were built alongside the church. Between 1884 (the arrival of Fr John Lane, mission priest from 1884 to 1903) and 1892 (map evidence), the church was enlarged with one further nave bay, a new east end, an adjoining two-storey sacristy, and a new high altar. In 1903, an infants’ school was built in nearby Dale Street. The church was consecrated on 2 July 1929. Between c.1930 and c.1963 (according to map evidence), the presbytery was extended towards the church’s liturgical south wall. 

By the early 1960s, the school beside the church had moved to a new building in Tong Lane. Initially, the old school building was used as a hall, but in the early 1970s the old school and presbytery were demolished and a new presbytery built (in 1974) on the school site. The former infants’ school in Dale Street was converted to a hall. In 2009, the parishes of Whitworth (qv) and Bacup were amalgamated. The presbytery at Bacup is rented out and the parish priest lives at Whitworth.

In 2012, the sanctuary was reordered under the direction of Christopher Langstone. The alabaster altar rails were dismantled and used to create a new lectern and altar (replacing a timber altar and lectern). The sanctuary was extended forward, new altar servers’ benches and new lighting installed. The sanctuary, sacristy and southeast chapel were redecorated. On 25 October 2012, Bishop Brain dedicated the new altar.

Heritage Details

Architect: Probably William Nicholson

Original Date: 1857

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed