Building » Cleator – St Mary

Cleator – St Mary

Main Street, Cleator CA23 3AB

A good example of an E W Pugin church which retains much of its original character  and  furnishings.  Notable  for  its  radical  yet  thoughtful  and  non- destructive 1970s re-ordering.

Cleator boomed as a mining town in the nineteenth century, bringing many Irish workers from Antrim and Down. A Benedictine mission was established in 1853, from which Egremont (1878) and Frizington (1875) are offshoots. A stone church in the Decorated style was built with seating for 600.  This building later became part of St Mary’s School when the present church was built in the 1870s.

Rock-faced exterior with slate roof. Typical EW Pugin arrangement with nave and chancel under one long roof, north and south aisles ending in short transepts, western porch formed between two large buttresses and a tall western bell-cote. Attached to the south transept is a curious modern timber baptistery with a high curved roof.

Architectural emphasis concentrated at the west end facing the road; the western gable is framed by elaborate buttresses, there are three tall lancets above the western porch and the bell-cote has elaborate ornament.

Pevsner described the interior as ‘very fanciful, very ornate and just what one means by  debased  in  descriptions  of  Victorian  architecture’.  Stone  arcades  with  heavy foliage capitals and wall-shafts on the nave side rising to clerestory level.   Painted boarded ceiling.  Original High Altar and stone and brass altar rails; the side altars also probably original.  The body of the church was re-ordered in 1978 with carpeting, new seating, a central nave altar and a heavy corona suspended from the ceiling.  The timber west gallery also appears to be modern.

 There is some nineteenth century stained glass in the transept chapels in a vaguely Kempe-ish style, but aisle windows mostly contain striking glass of the 1950s by the Earley Studios in the manner of Ervin Bossanyi.

The church was radically reordered in 1978 under the direction of R.R.Day ARIBA of Roy, Nicholson and Becker, Architects. This re-ordering is of interest in its own right as a forceful but well considered adaptation of a Victorian Gothic church to meet the demands of the new liturgy. A new raised circular sanctuary was created centrally in the nave, with the seating rearranged to focus on the new altar. The altar is crowned by a suspended aluminium corona by sculptor Gilbert Ward. The old sanctuary was left intact and turned into the Blessed Sacrament chapel; the altar rails were retained but relocated to the upper level of the sanctuary. A new timber framed and glazed porch  was  added  on  the  east  (liturgical  south)  side  of  the  church,  unmistakably modern but incorporating gothic motifs.

Other buildings/structures: The presbytery is adjacent to church and is built of matching red sandstone. It appears to be somewhat later in date. Also: sandstone gate piers and railings on front boundary; rockwork Lourdes grotto behind presbytery constructed in 1927 with stone from the local mine pit banks; former school building to south of church and presbytery, now a hotel, may incorporate earlier church building.

Heritage Details

Architect: E W Pugin

Original Date: 1872

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II