Building » Rawtenstall – St James the Less

Rawtenstall – St James the Less

Burnley Road, Rawtenstall, Rossendale BB4

A small Early English Gothic Revival church by Charles F. Hansom, with contemporary presbytery and burial ground. The church is designed on the model for a small parish church advocated by A. W. N. Pugin, and has often been mistakenly attributed to Pugin. Despite later alterations and additions, the church retains its compact and rustic character. Inside, it has been reordered on several occasions; most of the original wall plaster has been removed, and there are few original furnishings. Modern features of note include a dalle de verre window by the monks of Buckfast Abbey. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the recusant Towneley family’s chaplain looked after the local Catholics. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, increasing numbers of Irish workers came to the area. John Brooks, proprietor of the local print works, offered a room at his Crawshawbooth works, where Mass was said between 1828 and 1836 by the Towneleys’ chaplain and by a priest from Bury. In 1836, the first resident priest, Fr James Carr, arrived and established a small chapel at Sunnyside.

In 1842, land was obtained from Mrs Ashworth for building a permanent church at Constable Lee, near Rawtenstall. A new church, designed by Charles Francis Hansom in the Early English style, was built on the site. Messrs J. & H. Ingham were the masons. Work started in 1840 and on 24 September 1845, the church was opened and dedicated by the Rt Rev. Dr Sharples, coadjutor to the Vicar Apostolic of the Lancashire District. The cost of the building was £1,500. The mistaken attribution to A. W. N. Pugin (cited in the list entry) appears to have originated in Patrick Stephens’s parish history of 1928. The correct attribution to Charles F. Hansom has been confirmed by contemporary sources, such as the report of the opening in The Tablet and the entry in The Annual Catholic Register (1850). (In 1928, there still existed an architectural drawing of 1844; its present whereabouts are unknown.)

The presbytery had been built by 1846, but a (presumably) projected spire was never built and the tower remained topped by an ‘abrupt quadrangular, or pyramidal spire’ (The Tablet, 27 June 1846). A year after its opening, The Tablet commented on the rugged character of the little church: ‘all has an air of simplicity, a primitive character, a stamp of Catholicity upon it in perfect keeping with the place’; the church was said to be ‘most happily suited in its outline and details to the character of the scenery – the mountainous scenery of the district which it consecrates’ (The Tablet, 27 June 1846).

In January 1848, Fr Thomas Rimmer, the priest at the time of the opening of the church, died and was buried in the sanctuary. In 1881, the church was repaired and enlarged, and the west gable was substantially rebuilt. The tower porch was built, and the west window installed in memory of Sarah and Alitia Rockliff and Marie Ashworth. In 1883, an infants’ school was built, extended with an additional classroom (in 1883 or 1886). In 1890 (some accounts say 1881) a west gallery was built, funded by James Wilson MD. In 1897, the church was decorated at a cost of £160, which included new Stations of the Cross and sanctuary carpets. In 1898, a new organ by Ginns of London was installed, as a memorial to Dr Wilson and his wife. A parish club was opened in 1902. In 1909, the school was extended, and a river wall was built. Fr James W. Thompson presented a new bell which was first rung on Christmas Eve, 1909. In honour of Fr Thompson’s silver jubilee in 1914, a new high altar, altar rails and electric light were installed and the sanctuary renovated. A marble pulpit was installed as a First World War memorial. By 1928, the west rose window had stained glass depicting the martyrdom of St Catherine, while that at the east depicted the Blessed Trinity.

According to map evidence, the south chapel was added after 1963. (The church was listed in 1971.) During the incumbency of Fr James McGinnell (parish priest 1938-69), the original stone-tiled roof was replaced by a slate roof. His successor, Fr Joseph Landregan, oversaw the post-Vatican II reordering: the ornate marble and plaster high altar was replaced by a wooden one, a new tabernacle was sunk in the east wall, the sanctuary was panelled, the altar rails removed, the pulpit replaced by a wooden lectern, new pews and confessionals were installed, and a new Lady Altar erected. In 1982, the school buildings were converted for use as church hall. Bishop Burke who opened the hall, also blessed a seven-foot high cross at the entrance to the church, dedicated to the clergy and laity buried in the churchyard.

By the early 1990s, the church was in urgent need of repair. The architects Flood & Wilson of Salford oversaw the repairs, along with internal reordering. The external walls were cleaned and the roof replaced. The internal walls were stripped of plaster, a new inscription around the chancel arch was painted, new confessionals were provided, the Stations were repainted and framed, new furnishings of gold Brazilian granite were installed, as well as new choir stalls in the sanctuary, new stained glass in the east and west rose windows, a new carpet (woven by Gaskells of Rishton) and a new Assumption window in the Lady Chapel by the monks of Buckfast Abbey. The contractors were Messrs Hayvern of Bolton. On 9 April 1995, Bishop Kelly of Salford dedicated the new altar and blessed the restored church.

In 1999, a replacement bell was installed and first rung on 31 December that year. In 2002, architect Christopher J. Langstone oversaw the weatherproofing of the tower and repairs to the tower and west porch. This was completed by 2008. The contractors were Maysand Ltd. In 2007, the paving near the south porch was repaired and renewed.


The exterior of the church is fully described in the list entry (see below). A small addition to that description would be the west gable cross which depicts on its west side a crucifixion scene in relief and on the east side has the date ‘AD 1844’.

The description of the interior in the list entry consists of just two words: ‘very simple’. The description is correct, but might be augmented as follows:

  • The five-bay nave has an open arch-braced king post roof on carved corbels. The sanctuary arch is moulded and of three orders – the outer ones supported on angel corbels and the inner on a polygonal engaged pilaster. Painted around the sanctuary arch (the only plastered wall in the church) is the inscription: ‘Sanctus sanctus sanctus dominus deus sabaoth’. The deep sanctuary roof has an arch-braced collar-beam roof and modern choir stalls. A hanging crucifix is suspended from the sanctuary roof.
  • The sanctuary has a built-in pulpit at the northwest corner, with a small space off the sanctuary and a shoulder-arched opening to the north of the sanctuary arch. The pulpit is disused and in the most recent reordering a book stand was installed in the opening towards the nave.
  • The main furnishings (the tabernacle stand, the altar, the lectern and the font at the west) are of gold Brazilian granite. The altar and the font are both circular.
  • The two doors to the sacristy and the confessional in the southeast corner of the nave are both shoulder-arched.
  • The east and west windows are the oldest windows in the church, both probably dating from the nineteenth century. The east window has stained glass with St James, Christ and St Philip. The west window has a panel with the Sacred Heart, blue borders, floral designs in the tops of the lancets, and dedication inscriptions.
  • The remaining stained glass in the church is of late twentieth-century date and includes four lancets in the southwest porch, four in the tower, four in the nave north wall, two in the north sanctuary wall, one in the built-in pulpit recess and three on the nave south wall. These lancets generally depict religious symbols, such as grapes and wheat, but also inscription such as the INRI monogram. A few of the windows have figurative designs, such as the Lady window at the southwest, and a lancet in the tower depicting choirboys (signed ‘DL’). The west rose depicts the Crown of Thorns. There is also an internal tower window with etched glass, and etched side lights to the door from the tower into the gallery.
  • The Lady Chapel was to the south was added in the twentieth century. Its main feature is the south window, depicting Our Lady of the Assumption in dalle de verre glass (early 1990s, by the monks of Buckfast Abbey).
  • The plain timber west gallery was added in 1881 or 1890. There is no pipe organ.
  • There are statues to Saints Joseph and Augustine, and two statues of Our Lady.

List description


Church, 1845, said to be by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Sandstone random rubble, steeply-pitched slate roof with large gable copings. Nave, small north-west tower with pyramidal top, chancel with side offices; small building in simple Early English style. Gable to road. Three stage tower incorporating porch has angle buttresses, slightly projecting gabled porch which has moulded arched doorway with shafts and hoodmould with figured stops, a niche containing a statue above the door, and gable coping with carved stops; single-light windows to 2nd stage, set-back top stage with plate-traceried 2-light belfry louvres and corbel table with figured corners (lean-to stair turret in angle to rear). West gable of nave has large triple lancet window flanked by single lancets, a wheel window above. Buttressed 5-bay nave with a lancet in each bay except 2nd on south side which has a gabled porch with moulded arched doorway and hoodmould with figured stops, and 4th and 5th which have modern office attached. Two-bay chancel has triple lancet east window and above this a circular window containing 3 trefoils; attached on south side a vestry with triple lancet window and very tall gable chimney. Interior: very simple.

Listing NGR: SD8107423559

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Francis Hansom

Original Date: 1845

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II