Building » Coniston – Sacred Heart

Coniston – Sacred Heart

Haws Bank, Torver Road, Coniston LA21 8AW

A relatively unaltered mid-Victorian church by James O’Byrne, with a distinctive saddleback tower and, housing a sanctuary window apparently donated by John Ruskin. Essentially a simple vernacular church in a pretty setting above the village of Coniston.

The Coniston mission, established in 1866, was the first Catholic mission at any of the English Lakes. Before this the nearest Catholic church was at Ulverston. According to the short history of the church, written to commemorate the centenary of its opening, the mission was the suggestion of Amelie, a member of the French aristocracy who is described by McCartan (1972) as an “ex-queen of the French”. Amelie spent the autumn of 1859 in Coniston and gave a large sum of money to found a church, which was opened in 1872. The architect was James O’Byrne of Liverpool, the builder George Usher of Coniston. In the six years between the founding of the mission and the opening of the present church, Mass was said in Coniston at “Dunn’s cottage, Cat Bank, by Fr. Laverty of Belmont”, and subsequently in the “loft by Baxter’s” (McCartan).

The land, church and presbytery cost £,13s. 11d, funded largely by Elizabeth Ann Aglionby, a Catholic convert. According to Conlan (1987), she is buried outside the church door. On 1 September 1875, the debt remaining was £484 9s. 1d. The following (undated and unattributed) account of the church opening is recounted by McCartan:

‘The new Roman Catholic Chapel at Coniston was consecrated on Sunday last by Dr. Goss, of Liverpool. It is built in a field at the low end of Coniston, near Haws Bank, adjoining the railway. It is a large and well-built structure, with a large square tower. In the interior it is most neatly and commodiously fitted up. It is built of blue Coniston flag-stone, and has an imposing appearance from the road. The charge of admission was 2/6 to reserved seats, and 1/- to seats in the body of the chapel. The place was well filled, the congregation seemed, however, to have been in a great measure imported by rail form the neighbouring towns – comparatively few of the villagers being present. An impressive discourse was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Fisher of Preston, in which he took occasion to remind his hearers that they were attempting to revive a worship which had formerly prevailed in this district – at Cartmel Church, and Furness Abbey. High Mass was celebrated, and after the various ceremonies usual on such occasions, the chapel was declared open for public worship.

The  presbytery  was  designed  in  1873  and  built  in  1873-4,  although  it was  not occupied until 1878. In 1870-1, Coniston was served from Barrow. In mid-1871 Fr Gibson, of Esthwaite Lodge in Hawkshead, took over the mission. However, as it was “unable to support a resident priest” until 1878, Fr Gibson only came to live at Coniston in March of that year.


The church is an eight-bay structure constructed of blue Coniston flag-stone and roofed in slate. The south entrance is via a German Romanesque-style tower with a distinctive saddleback roof, which was built at the same time as the church building (the 130-lb church bell housed in the tower was blessed by Bishop O’Reilly in June 1881). The main entrance is through double doors set in a Gothic arch, with the rest of the openings in the church being round-headed. The church is unaltered externally, apart from the application of a hard render on its west-facing wall (2004).

The interior is a single volume with a pitched plastered ceiling and plaster walls, and a plain Gothic arch (flanked by ornate wooden carvings) separating the nave from the sanctuary. The windows in the nave were inserted in c1937. In the sanctuary, two windows  were  donated  for  use  in the  south  side,  while  John  Ruskin  apparently donated the east window, behind the altar. No information exists on the windows in the north wall of the sanctuary. All the sanctuary windows appear to be nineteenth century in date. The original Stations of the Cross (blessed and erected in April 1873) were replaced with the present ones, put up on 14 January 1920 by Canon George Taylor. In 1972, the sanctuary was re-carpeted and the altar table brought forward “to comply, as far as possible” with new liturgical requirements. Twentieth century pews, organ and strip-lighting.

The  presbytery  (attached  by  a  link  to  the  north  side  of  the  church)  has  been modernised with new windows and hard render. In 1967 and 1968 “considerable work” was done in the house and the church, according to McCartan.

Entry amended by AHP 18.12.2020

Heritage Details

Architect: James O’Byrne

Original Date: 1872

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed