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 also for its radical yet thoughtful and non-destructive reordering of the 1970s.

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.


See also list entry, below.

Rock-faced exterior with slate roof. Typical E. W. 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 bellcote. 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. 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. 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. The timber west gallery also appears to be modern. This reordering 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.

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.

Entry amended by AHP 18.12.2020

List description


Roman Catholic church, 1872, by E W Pugin, son of A W N Pugin. Rock-faced coursed dressed red sandstone with red sandstone ashlar dressings. Nave and chancel under single slate roof, aisles and transepts, main entrance porch at (ritual) west end. Link to priest’s house beyond vestry. Actual alignment of church is south-east (nave) to north-west (chancel). EXTERIOR: Chancel has circular window consisting of six circular lights around a central circle, the whole set within mouldings of a drop arched shape. Below is a stone quatrefoil, and above a slit window near the apex. Prominent angle buttresses on corners. Two windows to either side with geometric plate tracery. Side chapel on each side with rose window to the rear and three 4-centred arched lights to the side under drip mouldings. (Ritual) north transept has a rose window in the gable end, below which is a single storey vestry with two paired lights, leading to a link corridor to the priest’s house. (Ritual) south transept has three elongated lancet windows on the gable end, above a late C20 entrance porch in glass and steel. Nave has small lancet clerestorey windows above aisle roof. (Ritual) north aisle three buttresses dividing three groups of windows each consisting of two lancets flanking a leaf-shaped window, each group under continuous drip-moulds. South aisle similar but with 4 buttresses and 4 groups of windows. Front end of aisles have a single lancet window with plate tracery. (Ritual) west end has single storey porch with lean-to roof, central doorway and flanking lancet windows. Doorway is pointed arch with drip moulding, ashlar jambs and double wooden plank doors with large elaborate hinges. Side doors in porch are shouldered arch below traceried lancet windows. Angle buttresses to ends of porch and main front, those to main front with saddleback roofs. Above porch, 3 elongated lancet windows with drip-mouldings. At the apex, an elaborate bellcote with three lancet niches, two circular niches containing carvings, exposed bell in a pointed arch opening and a steeply pitched roof. INTERIOR: chancel has circular window with stained glass, ornate reredos with niches, statues, spirelets etc behind altar. Roof is arched with ribbed rafters. Altar rail in marble with gilded metal gates. North transept has door to vestry. South transept has stained glass in three end windows, and double doors to C20 porch. Nave and aisles with bench pews arranged around altar in the centre Roof is arched and ribbed with painted stylised roses within square panels. Nave arcades have pointed arches springing from plain columns with individually carved, square section capitals and bases, with slim column partly attached at the front, rising to clerestorey level to form springing of the main trusses of the roof. Aisles have side chapels at altar end, and ribbed roof with pointed arches sprung from arcade columns. Stained glass in windows on south side. At west end, stairs to left of entrance lead to choir and organ loft. Arched double doors in glazed wood to entrance porch, flanked by glazed wooden screens in lancet form. Stained glass in porch windows. The stained glass varies in style and date from C19 to C20. Priest’s house: joined to church by corridor with pitched roof, and in same materials as the church, with original windows. Interior not inspected. SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE A fine Roman Catholic church designed by the eminent architect E W Pugin, showing some good distinctive features despite superficial alterations, it merits listing.

Heritage Details

Architect: E. W. Pugin

Original Date: 1872

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II