Building » Ambleside -Mater Amabilis

Ambleside -Mater Amabilis

Wansfell Road, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 OEG

The church and presbytery are a well-detailed and complementary pair of buildings dating from 1933, with low-key Gothic detail, attractive massing, and the sensitive use of local materials.

A chapel was not built in Ambleside until 1887. Known locally as the ‘Tin Chapel’ (presumably a prefabricated corrugated iron structure), it was situated on the site where a statue of Our Lady now  stands in Wansfell Road. The building provided seating for a hundred people, and comprised a chancel, nave, transepts, north porch and southeast Lady Chapel. Diocesan records of 1887 point to some confusion over the dedication of the church – ‘Our Lady of Ambleside’ and ‘S. Maria Amabilis’. On hearing that a Catholic church dedicated to Our Lady was being built at Ambleside, Aubrey DeVere, a poet and friend of Tennyson, wrote two sonnets entitled ‘Maria Amabilis’. They were dated 24 January 1887.

The current church replaced the tin chapel and was built in 1933 from designs by George J. Hughes. The builder was Hugh Rainey of Barrow. It cost £4,855 16s 8d. A new high altar built of Westmorland stone (with marble inlay) was added in 1954.


The church faces north-south and its nave is a three-bay square. The north side has a tripartite Gothic window with two flanking smaller Gothic windows which are identical to the metal, leaded windows in the west and east sides of the nave. To the south, a pyramidal-roofed tower rises over the sanctuary.

The building is rendered, with a stone plinth, slate roof and slate cladding to the tower and part of the north face. The roof of the nave is pitched, with hips over the east and west flanks of the church. There is a timber framed porch at the main entrance.

The nave interior is a single volume with two aisles, plaster walls and a timber roof. According to Fr O’Dea, the roof supports started to fail around ten years after the church was built; the roof was consequently shored up with metal supports which span the width of the interior. A plain Gothic arch marks the start of the towered sanctuary. Either side of the sanctuary are small side altars simply decorated with wall carvings in wood and stone. The windows in the nave are of plain glass, with the exception of some coloured glass in the tripartite north window. The windows in the side chapels and in the tower above the sanctuary have some coloured glass.

The interior is simply furnished, and while the church decoration is distinctively of its time (the round green-glass lamp fittings are particularly indicative of the 1930s), the overall impression is of a solidly-crafted Arts and Crafts-style building.

Decorative work, including new carpets and some restoration of the plain pine pews, was initiated in the church in the c1970s and finished by Fr O’Dea. The simple sanctuary altar table has been brought forward to meet new liturgical requirements.

The presbytery was probably also built in 1933 (continuous stone plinth around both buildings), and is an attractive arts-and-crafts design with Gothic touches. A complete refurbishment of the ground floor was undertaken in the 1970s. Meeting space is provided here.

Entry amended by AHP 18.12.2020

Heritage Details

Architect: George J. Hughes

Original Date: 1933

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed