Building » Rotherham – St Bede

Rotherham – St Bede

Station Road, Masbrough, Rotherham, S60

Built in the early 1840s by Fr (later Bishop) James Sharples, and a key building in the architectural development of Weightman & Hadfield. The church was commended by A. W. Pugin for its correct plan and demonstration of true Christian principles. Later additions by Charles Hadfield are sensitively executed, and more recently an extensive scheme of stained glass windows has been introduced.

In the early nineteenth century there was a growing Irish Catholic community in Masbrough and the surrounding area, including many labourers working on the Woodhead Tunnel, which began construction in 1837. From 1838 Catholics in Masbrough leased the Old Theatre and used it as a chapel, Mass being said by priests from Sheffield. However, a local Protestant, Benjamin Badger, offered a piece of land worth £300 – £400 as a site for a purpose-built chapel, and a request was subsequently made to Bishop Briggs for funding of the new church. This was built by the Rev. (later Bishop) James Sharples, who had been appointed to the mission of St Marie, Sheffield (which initially served St Bede’s) in 1839, and was an enthusiastic proponent of the Gothic Revival. The architects chosen were Weightman & Hadfield of Sheffield (who were also responsible for the later rebuilding of St Marie’s). St Bede’s was one of their earliest ecclesiologically ‘correct’ designs, and gained the approval of A. W. Pugin for its accordance with ancient models and true Catholic principles; he illustrated the church in The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture (1843). The foundation stone was laid on 29 July 1841 by Bishop Briggs, who opened and dedicated the completed church on 5 October 1842.

A detailed description of the building was provided for The Tablet by ‘a friend well versed in ecclesiastical architecture’ (most probably Fr Sharples):

“This church is built in the style of English architecture which prevailed at the close of the 14th century, and is in all respects built and fitted up for Catholic worship according to the rubric of that church. It has a nave, chancel, entrance porch, and vestry—all placed in the required situations, and put together in the simplest manner, without any attempt at architectural effect, according to the modern sense of the terms. Nevertheless, the exterior is solemn and church-like—the steep pitch of the roofs, the lofty bell gable, and the bold substantial air of the whole edifice, proclaim at once its character and use. The pent-house gateway is placed at the entrance to the church-yard: it was anciently used to shelter the priest when waiting to receive the funerals of his parishioners, and is still found in remote country places. The chancel gable has a niche, in which is a carved effigy of our Lady and the infant Saviour, in stone, from an ancient model. The interior will be interesting to the lover of ancient architecture, from its resemblance to the churches of the olden time. A short description may better serve to explain the various details to those who visit it. The entrance is through an ample porch, with an outer wicket; stone benches are placed on each side, and in the wall is the stoup for the blessed water. Porches were anciently used for many important rites, particularly baptism, the first part of which rite was celebrated in it. The font, therefore, is the first object seen on entering the sacred structure; it is of stone large enough for immersion, and copied from old authorities; it is surmounted by a canopy cover of oak, richly carved and suspended from the roof. The sides have eight compartments, in seven of which are cut the inscription, in Latin, “The name of Jesus is great above all names.” The eighth panel has a short inscription, asking the prayers of the faithful for the donor of the font. On passing up the aisle, the whole effect of the church is at once seen. The chancel arch of lofty proportions, filled with the rood, screen, and cross, has a truly religious effect. At the foot of the cross is an inscription which at once gives the Catholics faith, hope, and charity,—” Hail cross, our only hope.” The two side figures of our Lady and St. John are from ancient models; the screen is enriched with gilding, and is peculiarly light, presenting no obstruction to the view of the chancel from the nave, whilst it separates this—the holy of holies from it. The nave is filled with low massive benches, copied from ancient examples, and a stone pulpit occupies the south-cast corner. The chancel is floored with encaustic tiles, manufactured expressly from ancient patterns, by Mr. Yates, of Rotherham. The altar and reredos, or screen, are of stone, richly carved, and painted with religious emblems and monograms, so as to harmonise with the altar window, which is of stained glass, in three compartments. In the centre is St. Bede, the patron of the church; on one side is St. Paulinus, the first Archbishop of York; and on the other, St. Patrick. In the upper lights are represented the annunciation, and the adoration of the magi. A small window to the south throws a rich light on the altar; it is also stained, having a rich effigy of our Lady. The sedilia, or seats for the clergy, are of stone, richly gilt; as also the piscina, or niche for the use of the altar. Altogether the effect of the chancel is rich and solemn, and will convey a faint idea of the departed glory of our venerable churches, ere they were plundered and defaced. The total cost of the building, and all its fittings, will not exceed £1200, and it accommodates 300 persons. Messrs. Weightman and Hadfield are the architects.”

At the lunch after the dedication:

“Mr. Ellison said he had been deputed by the chairman to propose the next toast. His worthy friend, the Rev. J. Sharples, perhaps more than any other, had exerted the energies both of his body and mind to accomplish the erection of the new church of St. Bede. This object, he was aware, had been to him one of the greatest interest. He congratulated those present on its accomplishment, and he felt sure that they would fully appreciate the services of the Rev. J. Sharples, whose health he had great pleasure to give—”Rev. Mr. Sharples.” Mr. Sharples acknowledged the toast; after which the chairman gave the health of the gentlemen who had raised the beautiful structure in which they had been assembled. “Messrs. Weightman and Hadfield, the architects.”

Mr. Hadfield, in acknowledging the toast, remarked, that St. Bede’s being almost a first attempt by them of a revival of English Catholic art, could only be considered as a move in the right direction; and as that was so, the favourable notice of one who might be truly considered as the first Catholic artist of the time—Mr. Pugin, was a gratifying proof. It was impossible to study the ancient ecclesiastical edifices of this country, without feeling that they were expressly and beautifully fitted for the service of God: the present attempt was, in many respects, imperfect, for nothing but patient study and experience could enable the architect faithfully to realise their beautiful holiness and solemnity.”

Some sources (e.g. the diocesan Almanac, 1938) credit Pugin himself with the design of the original presbytery, which was built to the north of the church soon after 1842, but it is not included in more recent and comprehensive gazetteers of the architect’s work.

In 1920-1 a north aisle and a further bay at the west end were added, the latter incorporating a choir loft and northwest baptistery, from designs by Charles Hadfield. These additions were built as a memorial to parishioners killed in the Great War.

By 1937, the condition of the original presbytery had deteriorated to such an extent that a decision was made to demolish and replace it. The architects for the replacement, housing three or four priests, with separate quarters for the housekeeper and maid, were Fox & Hill of Union Street, Dewsbury. In 2004 this building was altered to accommodate a parish room.

An undated, probably early twentieth century postcard photograph shows extensive stencil decoration in the nave, sanctuary and aisles. The hanging crucifix remained in place at this point (it was taken down in 2009) but the rood screen had been removed.

In 1959, the sanctuary was reordered by J. H. Langtry-Langton of Leeds. According to the architect’s account in The Catholic Building Review, the windows were enlarged and a new high altar and predella, oak and wrought iron communion rail, new floor with underfloor heating and replacement pews introduced.

In the 1980s a glazed and stone porch extension was built at the west end of the church. This has since been removed.

In 2012, under Fr John Ryan, the church underwent extensive renovation. These works included: a new raised floor with underfloor heating, ceiling insulation, removal of plasterboard ceiling in the sanctuary ceiling to reveal the original roof structure (the painted ceiling was restored), the entrance to the Lady Altar enlarged, statues and Stations of the Cross restored, new lighting installed, marble flooring in the sanctuary, and the completion of a programme of new stained glass windows.


The church faces from north to south, but this description follows liturgical convention, as if the altar was to the east.

The church was designed in fourteenth century Gothic style by Weightman & Hadfield of Sheffield and opened in 1842. It is built of red sandstone, with steeply-pitched slate roofs. On plan it comprises a narthex, five-bay nave, north aisle with western baptistery and eastern chapel and sanctuary, with projections to the south side of the nave for the porch and confessional.

At the west end, which is a sympathetic remodelling of 1920-1 by Charles Hadfield, a three-light window with Geometrical tracery over the entrance is possibly reset. Above this, the appearance of the gable is curiously unresolved and stumpy, as if a bellcote was intended. The remaining external elevations are little altered, with two and three-light windows with Geometrical, hoodmoulds, sill bands and buttresses marking the bay divisions. The original entrance was via the porch on the south side. A gabled bellcote designed to house two bells, but with its openings now infilled, is placed on the ridge at the east end of the nave. The sanctuary ridge is lower; on its south side is a tall and narrow lancet window (of 1959?) and a shorter lancet window to throw light onto the altar. At the east end is a three-light window with Geometrical tracery, over which a stone statue of Our Lady and the Infant Saviour, as described in the 1842 account in The Tablet, is placed in a niche.

Internally, the main entrance leads into a narthex with gallery over. The nave has an arcade of five bays on the north side, with cylindrical columns and plain chamfered arches, presumably of 1920-1, when the aisle was added. The timber arch braced and collar roof is supported on stone corbels with shields painted with sacred symbols. The chancel arch is tall and narrow and lacking architectural enrichment, which was originally provided by the hanging rood and screen (both now removed; the modern wooden crucifix now hanging here was brought from the closed church of Our Lady of Grace, Kinsey, West Yorkshire). The sanctuary platform extends forward of the sanctuary arch. The sanctuary was reordered in 1959 and again in 2012, when the levels were altered and a marble floor added. The stone altar is that of 1959 by H. S. Langtry-Langton, brought forward, while the marble ambo is of 2007, by Lupton Marble and Granite. The reredos is that extended in 1959, the stone sedilia are original. The Lady altar at the east of the north aisle was installed in the late 1950s for the silver jubilee of the ordination of the then parish priest, Fr Daly. Towards the west end of the aisle is the baptistery, containing the original font (relocated here in 1921). Hand-painted icons within the church are by Helen McIlldowie-Jenkins. The pews date from 1959, placed on raised nave and aisle flooring of York stone, with underfloor heating, laid in 2012.

Stained glass in the east window depicts the Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi, St Bede, St Patrick and St Paulinus. Their designer/maker is not certain, but they are original to the church. At the west end, stained glass in the choir gallery depicts Our Lady attended by six angels. This came from Revell Grange at Stannington, former home of the Catholic Revell family, and was repaired and installed here by Cecil Higgins in the late 1940s. The rest of the glass consists of an extensive and good quality series of figurative windows of 2008-12 by Pendle Stained Glass, developing ideas put forward by the parish priest.

Heritage Details

Architect: Weightman & Hadfield; Charles M. Hadfield

Original Date: 1842

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed