Queens Promenade, Ramsey, Isle of Man
The church of Our Lady of the Sea and St Maughold is an exceptionally important building from the early twentieth century, and one of the finest of Giles Gilbert Scott’s churches. It is little known in England, and it is a credit to the small Ramsey parish that it survives in such exemplary condition. Whilst the building was erected in 1909-10, Scott continued to make further improvements and provide additional furnishings until 1946. As with his very different commission for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Scott restricted the decorative treatment of the Ramsey church to small areas of intense colour and exquisite detail. Within this small space, and with a limited budget, he created a church of timeless beauty and great spirituality.
A Catholic church was established in Ramsey in 1863 by converting an old grain warehouse on the edge of the sea, just to the north of the harbour. In 1864 Ramsey was granted a separate mission, and Fr Richard Gillow was appointed the first priest. On Fr Gillow’s death in 1900, he was succeeded by Fr Richard Barton, who quickly set about establishing a Catholic school, and then turned his thoughts to a new and larger church. An energetic drive for funds met with considerable success, but Fr Barton died in 1908, aged 43, leaving his vision to be carried out by his successor, Fr John Walmsley. The design for a new church was entrusted to the youthful Giles Gilbert Scott, whose work at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral had commenced four years earlier, and in August 1909 the foundation stone was laid.
The church, including the presbytery, was completed in 1910 at a cost of £3,000; the tower was financed by the Misses Matheson and cost £1,000, and the church bell was a gift of T. Massey-Lynch of Blundellsands. Two of the stonemasons engaged on the construction were tragically drowned in the loss of the paddle steamship Ellan Vannin on a crossing from Ramsey to Liverpool on 9 December 1909 and are commemorated by a wall plaque within the church. Scott continued to be involved with the church following its completion. In 1911 he commissioned the Stations of the Cross, which were carved by Kammerer of Vienna, and the same year he designed the entrance screen with leaded glazing. In 1913 carved statues of St Joseph and the Sacred Heart by Kammerer were installed with canopies designed by Scott. The Lady Chapel altar with its carved and painted reredos was also to Scott’s design and dates from the 1920s, and in 1932 the delicate stained glass windows designed by James Hogan for Whitefriars were installed under Scott’s direction (they are contemporary with Hogan’s tower windows in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral). The crucifix on the west gable wall was carved in 1936 by W.D. and J.H. Gough of London at a cost of £195. When the church had been completed, stone blocks were left projecting from the gable, pending the acquisition of funds to complete the carving. Scott’s final commission appears to have been in 1946 when he was asked to provide permanent altar rails to replace the temporary rails that were installed for the opening of the church. They were made of oak by Morrisons of Wavertree, who were the contractors for Liverpool Cathedral, and cost £149.10s. They follow the double curves of the altar steps. The rails were removed after Vatican II, but fortunately they were put in store and have recently been reinstated.
In 1986 a small meeting room was added onto the western end of the church with access from the sacristy. Extensive repairs were carried out in the 1980s, and further conservation has continued in recent years under the care of the present incumbent Fr O’Mahony. A new addition to the interior is the carved Pieta, designed by Scott for the church of St Anthony, Onchan, which was demolished and replaced by a modern building in 1988.
The church was built in 1909-10 to the design of Giles Gilbert Scott. It is faced externally in Ballajora random rubble (chosen to match and supplement the stone reclaimed from the demolished warehouse structure), and internally in pale grey brick dressed with Horsforth, Bradford and Cefn stone. The contractors were Sherwin and Sons of Boston, Lincolnshire. The roof is covered in red tiles, and the doors throughout are of Manx oak. The orientation of the church is reversed, so that the sanctuary is at the west end of the site, and the entrance is from the east, below a broad tower overlooking the sea. The body of the church is a rectangle, lit solely by three large windows with highly individual curvilinear tracery on the north (ritual) side. The tower takes the form of a fortified structure. It is gently battered, with a hipped roof and corner balconies supported on stepped corbels. A vertical panel of ashlar containing the louvres of the belfry runs up the centre of the east facing facade, and is surmounted by a circular window. The west gable of the church has a carved stone crucifix projecting from the facade.
The entrance leads through a porch within the tower and into the narthex, screened off below the organ loft. The serene and beautifully proportioned interior is dominated by the high altar with its carved triptych by G. Ratcliff, painted by Miss Burlinson of Hampstead with scenes of the Last Supper, the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Gathering of Manna. The Star of the Sea is used as a recurrent motif on the gilded canopy and elsewhere in the interior. The altar itself was lost in a reordering of 1990, when the double curved altar rails were also removed. In recent years the rails have been returned, and a simple stone altar has been placed forward of the reredos. The nave is illuminated by the three large windows filled with pale stained glass to the design James Hogan and made by Whitefriars, depicting stories in the life of Christ.
A broad arch in the south (ritual) wall leads to the baptistery and the sumptuous Lady Chapel. The former is set behind a metal screen constructed in 2002 (but to Scott’s design), and contains a striking lead font with raised and gilded decoration of stars and vines and an oak cover. Behind it is a wall painting depicting the Baptism of Christ. The Lady Chapel altar has a carved triptych of the Adoration of the Magi, flanked by the angels appearing to Mary and Joseph, and the Flight into Egypt. The Stations of the Cross with relief carvings by Kammerer of Vienna, the triptychs and the Pieta from St Anthony’s, Onchan, which is placed high on the wall above the organ loft are all gilded and painted in Scott’s favourite turquoise.
The presbytery adjoins the church, and is built of matching materials. In contrast with the formal character of the church, it is vernacular in spirit and irregular in composition. Of two storeys, with two dormers lighting rooms within the steeply pitched roof, it is of generous size. The rooms within are domestic and comfortable in the Arts and Crafts manner, and retain original fireplaces and other fittings.
The church is a registered building, the Isle of Man equivalent of listing. More information at: https://www.gov.im/media/632873/0500080regbldourladyofthestara.pdf
Architect: Giles Gilbert Scott
Original Date: 1909
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Other