Building » Louth – St Mary

Louth – St Mary

Upgate, Louth, Lincolnshire LN11

A stone-fronted chapel of 1833 in late Perpendicular style by the Lincolnshire builder and antiquary E.J. Willson, who built a number of Gothic and Classical churches in the East Midlands in the 1830s and 40s. The interior is generally plain and the façade modest, but the church and the rather more elaborately-designed adjoining presbytery make a prominent and positive contribution close to the centre of the Louth conservation area.

Although Louth is known above all for its medieval parish church and its Georgian development, there was much civic improvement and building in the nineteenth century. New buildings in the 1830s included Holy Trinity (Anglican) church in Eastgate and the Union Workhouse. The Town Hall and Corn Exchange followed in the 1850s. It was in this context that the church of St Mary came to be built. It is said to have been built by Fr Henry Hall, who had arrived in the town in 1832, when Masses were held in premises in Eastgate, which had been registered as a Catholic chapel as early as 1792. In his 1834 History of the County of Lincoln, John Saunders wrote:

‘The new Catholic Chapel now (October 1833) in the course of erection is situated near the entrance of the town from the Spilsby Road. It is a neat Gothic structure composed principally of brick but the ornamental parts of the doors, windows etc are of stone. Surmounting the western pediment over the principal entrance is a handsomely carved stone Cross three feet in height by two in breadth affording a noble and characteristic finish to the building’.

In fact the whole of the west front as well as the dressings is of stone. The builder was a Mr Thompson. The Buildings of England attributes the design to E. J. Willson, the Catholic Lincolnshire builder and antiquary, who built a number of churches in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, including the similar and nearby chapel at Hainton, and who was the brother of Fr Robert Willson, who established the Nottingham mission (and later became the first Bishop of Hobart, Tasmania).

According to the historical account in the 1937 Diocesan Directory the presbytery (no. 69 Upgate) was built soon after the church, in 1835. The Buildings of England states however that this and the lanceted chancel were built in 1845. While the later date for the chancel (which is of different brick and detailing from the main church) seems plausible, the brickwork on the original church and presbytery is very similar, suggesting they were built at about the same time. According to the Louth Conservation Area Appraisal, a building is shown on the site of the presbytery on Bayley’s map of 1834.

In 1860 a stained glass window designed by a Mr G.B. Musson was fitted at the west end, given by the Irish congregation working at Louth carpet factory. This window does not survive. In the 1870s Miss Charlotte Fanny Widchett, a local convert, paid for the enlargement of the sacristy and the building of a school (in 1877, closed by 1921) and conservatory (possibly that still attached to the presbytery). This was during the time of Fr Rowley, when gas light was also installed in the church along with a new high altar and altar rails, the latter again to the design of Mr Musson (and since removed).

In the early years of the twentieth century (c1905) Fr Bull installed the west gallery in the church and extended the presbytery. An altar to the Sacred Heart, St Francis Xavier and St Charles was built after the First World War as a memorial to parishioners killed in that war, and a window to Captain F. Burkinshaw (d.1916) installed above the altar. In 1930-1 electric light was installed and a new oak pulpit introduced, the latter designed by Ernest Bentley LRIBA of Louth in memory of Mr and Mrs G. B. Musson.

The account in the 1937 Directory states: ‘It is interesting to record that an expert has given it as his opinion that the canopies of the sedilia are of 14th  century workmanship’. If the sedilia are medieval they are certainly much restored (see photo). However, it is not inconceivable that they are restored or copied versions of carved items of stonework collected by the antiquary Willson (who may have designed the chancel).

The sanctuary was reordered in 1997 (Frank Goulding contractor). More recently the church has been fitted out with a good collection of stained glass, designed in traditional style by Hardman & Co. There is a modern parish hall behind the presbytery.


This is a modestly-sized church, consisting of a three bay nave and a shorter, lower and later chancel, with projecting sacristy. The main body of the church was built in 1833 from designs by E. J. Willson, with the chancel added in 1845 or possibly later. The sacristy was extended in the 1870s. The style is late Perpendicular Gothic, and the church is built mainly of red brick laid in English bond, with stone dressings. The west front is ashlar faced, and the shallow pitched roof slate covered. The church has a central west entrance with original doors, set within a four-centred arch, moulded and recessed surround, and flanked by attached stepped buttresses. Above this is a four-light lancet window with a depressed arch with hoodmould. A horizontal stone band runs between the door and the window, extending to the corners, where it wraps around two larger attached buttresses. The west front is crowned with a pedimented gable with a stone cross at the apex. The flank walls are brick faced and plainer, with three-light lancet windows in the first two bays and a single lancet for the eastern bay; all with stone dressings. There is a stone band running along at sill height and attached buttresses at the corners. On the south elevation is a link to the presbytery and, at the east end, a slightly projecting gabled doorway with four-centred arch. The chancel is of yellower brick laid in an irregular bond. It has single-light lancet windows on the north side and a more elaborate four- light west window; diagonal buttresses at the corners. The sacristy gives off its south side and is in matching style and materials.

The original entrance doors with large iron strap hinges on their internal face lead into a small lobby beneath a western choir gallery, added in the early twentieth century. The nave is a single aisleless space, with a shallow pitched roof with open timber trusses. The chancel is separated with the nave by a pointed chancel arch with hoodmould, and has an arch braced roof with slenderer, painted timbers.

The chief furnishings of note are:

  • the sedilia, with (painted) stone ogee canopies and finials
  • the tabernacle throne with marble shafts and Gothic canopy and brass domed tabernacle, the latter introduced c1997
  • Above this (flanking the east window) stone aedicules holding carved figures of angels playing a harp and cello. These are parts of the old high altar ensemble, given in the 1870s and reordered in c1997
  • The forward altar is cut down from the old, and has columns at the corners and a carved and gilded roundel of the Pelican in its Piety at the centre
  • The Sacred Heart altar of c1918 (to the left of the chancel arch)
  • An octagonal stone font at the west end under the gallery, bearing carved representations of the Instruments of the Passion
  • Three apparently original benches in the gallery, one with poppy head ends (the rest of the seating is modern)

Stained glass windows of note are:

  • The east window with figures of Christ flanked by Our Lady and a martyr holding a chalice, in the manner of William Wailes
  • St John and St Joseph, 1895 and 1905, chancel north side
  • St George (Burkinshaw window), nave north side, c1918
  • Five new windows in traditional style in the nave by Hardman & Co.
Heritage Details

Architect: E. J. Willson

Original Date: 1833

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed