Building » Penrith – St Catherine, Virgin and Martyr

Penrith – St Catherine, Virgin and Martyr

Drover’s Lane, Penrith CA11 9EL

A neat mid-nineteenth century Puginian Gothic town church, built at the expense of Fr George Haydock of Cottam and other Catholic notables. The church and substantial presbytery adjoin the churchyard of the Anglican parish church, within the Penrith Conservation Area.

A mission was set up in Penrith by Fr George Haydock of Cottam in the early nineteenth century. He left after a dispute with the bishop, but returned in 1838 and remained  in charge of the mission for another eleven years.  In  the  intervening  period,  Mr Newsham was appointed priest in 1833 and established a school. Fr Haydock started work on the building of the present church but did not live to see it completed. He died in November 1849 and was buried in the new church, which was completed the following year. Fr Haydock also bought the grounds that surrounds the church.

The new church was described in The Carlisle Journal, as recounted in The Tablet (22 June 1850):

‘The church has been erected from designs and under the direction of Mr Atkinson, of Carlisle and is of the decorated period of ecclesiastical architecture; with high open roof, richly painted with inscriptions from the Psalms. On the cornice, on each side, on labels in colours and gold, are depicted the eight Beatitudes ; the side windows, which are of two lights, each filled with a simple pattern of coloured glass, are very effective; and between each window are tables to the memory of the four principal benefactors to the mission – the late Catherine, Lady Throgmorton, the late Henry Howard Esq., of Corby Castle ; the late James Smith Esq., of Carleton Cottage; and the late Rev. G. L. Haydock, of Penrith. The chancel is divided from the body of the church by a light screen, surmounted by the Holy Rood and images of the Blessed Virgin and St John. The east window, by Scott and Son, of Carlisle, which does them much credit, contains in six compartments, the principal events in the life of our Blessed Saviour, surmounted by the emblem of the descent of the Holy Ghost. Above the altar, and below the window, are richly painted on each side of the tabernacle the four Evangelists, our Blessed Lady, and St Catherine; on the front of the altar, beautifully painted, are the Holy Lamb and SS. Peter and Paul; at the side are rich dorsals hung from handsome brackets, and above them at the east are branches of lights. The brackets and altar-candlesticks were made by Mr Corbett of Carlisle’.

In 1860 the Revd Robert Smith doubled the size of the church by adding transepts (possibly by John Seed, architect of Ushaw College, whom Pevsner credits with unspecified additions at that time). Fr Smith also built the presbytery (1853).

In June 1921 the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle blessed a new wooden altar, made by Ernest Johnstone of Penrith and erected by parishioners to the memory of their war dead.


The church is fourteenth century Gothic in style, built of red sandstone, with steeply-pitched slate roofs. It is cruciform in plan, with a single-volume nave, two transepts and a lower apsidal sanctuary facing approximately northwest.

Inside, the roof has arched braced trusses and rafters painted white. An old guidebook seen by the author makes reference to forty ceiling panels painted with coloured and gilded figures and monograms, executed by John Seed, but there is  no longer any evidence of these. The walls are plastered and painted, the window tracery Geometrical and Decorated.

There is a large sanctuary arch with unobstructed views; originally there was a light screen surmounted by a rood. Smaller double Gothic arches marking the entrance to each transept. The transepts themselves are large enough to contain side chapels. A new wooden high altar was installed in 1900. Neo-Gothic in design, it was made by Mr Verloo of Sottegem, Flanders. Mr Verloo also presented a canopy in c1905, although, if it was installed, it has since been removed.

The four stained glass windows in the sanctuary were funded by Lord Howard of Penrith, in memory of his son, who died in 1926. Although there is more fine stained glass elsewhere in the church, its history and provenance is not readily available. Pevsner states that the stained glass is by Francis Barnett of Edinburgh.

The sacristy leads off the nave of the church in a link which was probably added when the presbytery was built in 1853. This meant the loss of a window in the nave. This alteration, and the addition of a gallery which blocks some light from the stained glass window in the south gable wall, means the original church interior was probably much lighter than it is at present.

The oak pews and linoleum floor are modern; the gallery at the southern end of the nave appears to be a twentieth century addition.

The presbytery (attached by a link to the east side of the church) dates from 1853, and is built in the same sandstone. UPVC windows have replaced the original ones, and a new north-facing porch has been added.

Entry amended by AHP 20.12.2020

Heritage Details

Architect: Mr Atkinson of Carlisle.

Original Date: 1850

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed