Building » Charley – Abbey Church of Our Lady and St Bernard (Mount St Bernard)

Charley – Abbey Church of Our Lady and St Bernard (Mount St Bernard)

Mount St Bernard Abbey, Charley Oaks Road, Charley, Leicestershire

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

Mount St Bernard was the first abbey to be founded in England since the Reformation. The Cistercian foundation occupies a complex of buildings designed originally by A.W.N. Pugin in 1839 but enlarged and adapted over the following century by several architects. The abbey church contains some fittings of high quality, including work by the sculptor Eric Gill. The abbey is the centre of a working monastic community and a significant feature in the landscape of North West Leicestershire.

Founded in 1835 for Cistercian Monks, Mount St Bernard was the first abbey to be founded in England since the Reformation. In that year Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle of Grace Dieu Manor purchased and donated 227 acres of forest to create a site for a new Cistercian foundation. A little Tudor-style monastery designed by William Railton was built in 1833-4 and lay about half a mile south of the present abbey. Then the Earl of Shrewsbury made a generous donation towards a grander building, for which the design was provided by A.W.N. Pugin. Pugin’s original conception was much more splendid than what was actually built. Work began in 1839 but stopped on the church in 1844 although work on other buildings in the complex continued sporadically until the 1880s. A revival of fortunes in the late 1920s led to a considerable enlargement of the church in the mid 1930s, with a new nave for the laity and a crossing tower containing a central sanctuary. The architect and builder for these works were the Leicester-based Alfred Herbert FRIBA and F.J. Bradford KSG.

For a detailed description see the list entry, below.

North of the abbey church is a small chapel by A.W.N. Pugin, originally erected at Whitwick in 1837 and re-erected here in the 1950s.

List description


Cistercian monastery. Church choir, cloister ranges and centre-piece of guest house were built 1839-44 by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Extensions of later 1840s-1860s by Edward Welby Pugin include octagonal chapter house (1860), flanking bays of guest house, almshouse, and link range to guest house. Clock tower added 1871. Former farm buildings at east end are in part mid C19 but were extended around a further court 1885 and incorporated in domestic quarters 1930s. Church extended to east by central crossing and lay nave 1935-39 by Albert Herbert. Further extension to guest house 1970s. Abbey is built of local granite rubble with ashlar dressings and Swithland slate roofs. Arranged around 4 courts with guest house at west end and 2 courts of former farm buildings at east end. Church lies along north side, with monastic choir at west end. South of choir is original cloister with former scriptorium along north side, former chapter house, now sacristy, and parlour to east, former refectory and dormitory range to south, and domestic rooms to west. Plan is based on that of Waverley Abbey, the first medieval Cistercian foundation in England. In plain early English style with chamfered lancet windows. Church is of cruciform plan with aisled nave and choir. Original choir has moulded parapets, 7 bays of lancet windows, and triple lancets in west end. West door in moulded arch of 4 orders. Niche with statue of Virgin and Child in west gable. 5-bay lay nave built in matching style to east, 1930s. 1930s transepts have 2 bays of lancets, triple lancets in gable ends, and narrow flanking bays with gables and lancets at end of each aisle. Imposing central tower with triple lancets to bell-chamber, and stumpy parapet.

Interior has double-chamfered arcades on cylindrical piers with moulded capitals. Crossing is vaulted but remainder has wooden roofs with scissor trusses and wind- braces. Fittings include choir stalls of 1938 by Eric Gill, with later backs, and crucifix and stone plaques over side altars by Father O’Malley. Cloisters are enclosed, with pairs of lancets to north, west and south, and single lights in east side. North side is altered, with windows renewed C20. Range along west side has gabled semi-dormers with single leaded lights, one larger dormer with 2-light traceried window, and clock tower with slated spire. Refectory-dormitory range to south has cusped lights. 2 dormers and an empty bell-turret. Long south front of this range has 2 storeys of cusped single lights, and projecting round stair tower with conical roof. Arched doorway to tower is a 1930s addition. Part of range to right of tower, formerly kitchens, has been raised to 2 storeys and has C20 window at right end. Left end of range is 1850s with 1930s rectangular projecting bay. Dormitory has been internally divided into individual rooms, and refectory has C20 partition. Returning to cloister, east side has moulded arch opposite entry to sacristy. This has another arched doorway flanked by 2-light traceried windows, plate-traceried roundel in gable end, and original roof interrupted by C20 dormers. Octagonal chapter house beyond was converted to library, 1970s, but retains hammerbeam roof, encaustic floor tiles and re-sited doorways. This room also houses carved wooden figure of Virgin and Child, probably C15 Flemish, from Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire. Guest-house range has 3 original gabled bays to centre, with irregular groups of cusped lights. Centre bay also has wide 4-centred archway, small statue in niche, and empty bellcote. Flanking bays in matching style are of the late 1840s, with C20 windows to ground floor right. Almshouse projects to right, with arch in gabled side porch. Range extended to rear C20. Mount St Bernard’s, founded in 1835, was the first abbey to be founded in England since the Dissolution. Present buildings are sited on land given by Ambrose Lisle March-Phillips de Lisle of Grace Dieu, and were sponsored by the Earl of Shrewsbury. They replace a smaller monastery, now demolished, begun 1837 by William Railton on nearby site. Much of the building work was done by members of the community.

Heritage Details

Architect: A.W.N. Pugin, E.W. Pugin, Albert Herbert

Original Date: 1844

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II