Building » Sclerder – Our Lady of Light

Sclerder – Our Lady of Light

Sclerder Lane, Looe, Cornwall

Sclerder has had a chequered history, with many different users, both religious and secular. It originates from the 1840s, being the legacy of Sir Harry Trelawney, a convert who was well connected with some of the leading figures of the ‘Second Spring’ of English Catholicism. One of these was Ambrose Phillips de Lisle, a trustee of the church built here in the 1840s, possibly from designs by A.W. Pugin, Phillips’ protégée. For much of the twentieth century Sclerder housed a community of Poor Clares,  whose superior in the 1920s was the White Star heiress Amy Imrie, a significant patron of Catholic building enterprises, notably the church of St Mary of the Angels in Liverpool. At Sclerder she paid for the building of the public church, added at right angles to the 1840s church in the 1920s. More recently a community of Carmelite nuns have carried out reordering and installed new stained glass made by the monks of Buckfast Abbey. The church lies at the heart of a small rural complex of nineteenth century and later conventual buildings.  

Sclerder is an old Breton word meaning light, and there is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Light near St Pol-de-Leon,Brittany. Sir Harry Trelawney (1756-1834) of the nearby manor of Trelawne was a Nonconformist minister, then an Anglican parson and finally (after the death of his wife in 1806) a Catholic priest. He was taught in Rome by Fr Dominic Barbieri, with the Hon. George Spencer (later a Passionist priest) acting as interpreter. Through Spencer he met Ambrose Phillips de Lisle. Sir Harry was therefore associated with that group of aristocratic converts and romantic medievalists associated with the ‘Second Spring’, the revival of English Catholicism in the 1830s. Trelawney left his estate to those of his daughters and their respective spouses who had also converted, who in turn provided a site for a church. In 1841 a 99-year lease was granted to three trustees, one of them Ambrose Phillips. Phillips was a notable patron of A.W. Pugin, lending credence to the local belief (for which concrete evidence seems to be lacking) that the first church at Sclerder was built from designs by Pugin. This church and a priest’s house were built and an adjoining small cemetery laid out by 1843. The first Mass and vespers were held on 6 October 1843, presided over by Fr Marc Oléron, a priest from Rennes who had been resident at Trelawne since 1835.

In 1851 a community of nuns from Lannion in Brittany, Dames de la Retraite, came to Sclerder, but their presence was short-lived. In 1858 Franciscan Recollect fathers from Belgium arrived and, according to the published history, Pugin was called in to adapt the house for conventual use (this must refer to E.W. Pugin, since A.W. Pugin had died in 1852). The Franciscans left in 1864, to be succeeded by Carmelite nuns, an offshoot from the community at Lanherne. Carmelites are an enclosed order, and so an enclosure wall was built, by John Harding of Porthallow. The necessary adaptations to the conventual buildings were made by Samuel Thomas, a builder from Stonehouse. Sir John Salusbury-Trelawney, though not a Catholic, gave an altar and altar rails for the chapel (later removed).

The Carmelites moved to Plymouth in 1871, and from 1876 to 1894 the house and conventual buildings were in lay occupation, being rented by Richard Lerins de Bary of Weston Hall, Worcester and his family. They had previously been living in Bruges, and in 1879 installed Stations of the Cross of apparent continental provenance (now hanging in the public church).

From c.1893 there was a resident priest, Fr Edward Baste. He installed a new high altar in about 1903. The religious returned in 1904 when a community of sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus arrived from France in the wake of anti-religious legislation. They stayed until 1910. In 1914 Poor Clares from Rennes arrived, staying through the war years and returning to Tours in 1920.

A period of stability finally came in 1922 with the arrival of another community of Poor Clares, this time from Bullingham in Hereford. They were to stay until 1981. Their superior was Mother Clare Imrie (1870-1944), whose adoptive father was William Imrie, co-owner of the White Star shipping line. When he died in 1906, Amy inherited his fortune and became one of the wealthiest women in the country. A Catholic convert, she joined the Poor Clares in 1907. In the same year, having come into her fortune, she funded the building and lavish decoration of Pugin & Pugin’s church of St Mary of the Angels in Liverpool. In 1922, after the arrival of the Poor Clares at Sclerder, she paid for the building of a new public church at right angles to the original one, the latter being retained as the nuns’ chapel. The two churches shared a common chancel, and there was a wrought iron grille in the chancel arch of the public church (opened for Mass). The architect for the 1922 work is not known, and it is tempting to speculate that Mother Clare might have engaged the services of Cuthbert Welby Pugin of Pugin & Pugin, who had built her Liverpool church, neatly perpetuating the putative Pugin connection with Sclerder. However, this is conjecture. Mother Clare also paid for the present presbytery (built later in 1931 to the south, and in a diluted speculator’s mock-Tudor style), and (in 1923) the little church at nearby Looe (qv).

In 1936 a new wing was added to the nuns’ accommodation, designed to be in keeping with the nineteenth century buildings. In 1981 the Poor Clares returned to Bullingham, to be succeeded by more Carmelites, this time from Quidenham in Norfolk. In their time, the sanctuary has been reordered, with a new altar and stained glass windows by the monks of Buckfast Abbey. An organ was brought from Quidenham and rebuilt here in 2000.


This description focuses on the nuns’ and the public church; the other conventual buildings are described adequately in the list entry (below).

The original 1840s chapel is orientated east-west, and the 1920s public church gives off the chancel at right angles, so runs north-south. The 1920s work follows the 1840s work closely in design and materials; both are built of stone rubble, with gabled slate roofs and simple lancet windows. A single storey link with lancet windows under a flat hood mould and with a Gothic doorway is attached to the south wall of the nuns’ church. This connects the gatehouse and the public church and houses the sacristy. The public church is entered through a stone porch with a side entrance.

The public church and nuns’ chapel both have painted and plastered walls and canted timber roofs, boarded beneath the collars. Dark timber conventual seating arrangement in the nuns’ chapel, modern light (oak?) seating in the public church. There is a small round window in the sanctuary. This and the large window at the south (liturgical west) end of the public church contain modern glass depicting the gifts and the light and fire of the Holy Spirit, and were made by the monks at Buckfast Abbey. There is a wrought iron gate (1922) in the chancel arch of the public church, dividing this from the nuns’ church; this is opened at Mass times. There is a small modern (1985) altar with a Portland stone mensa and rubble stone base in the form of a Saltire cross. Behind this, the pedestal for the tabernacle is in similar rubble stone. The organ console in the public church is by Rushworth & Dreaper, 1966, and was brought from Quidenham. It was rebuilt here in 2000 by Lance Fry of Truro, with an array of pipes at the south (ritual west) end. The other notable furnishing in the public church is the small painted Stations of the Cross, in pierced quatrefoil frames, introduced to the church in 1879 and possibly Belgian.

List description


Monastery for enclosed order of Carmelites, including walls to north front and east and cemetery walls to east. Circa 1840s. Extended in the late C19, 1920s and in 1937. Stone rubble with slate roofs with gable ends. 1937 extension with front wall of red brick. Main range of overall H-shaped plan with refectory in central range, kitchens in cross wing on left and sister’s chapel in crosswing on right. Further public church added in circa 1920s at right angles to private chapel with common chancel; gatehouse added to front of cross wing on right possibly in late C19 or early C20; noviciate in C18 cottage to front of left-hand cross wing, remodelled in C20, and large range added to rear of left-hand wing in 1937. Main range behind high stone wall; regular 4-window front with entrance in left-hand angle of central range and cross wing. C19 fenestration with evidence of several alterations in C20. Gabled half-dormers above and C20 extension to front on right. 3-storey gatehouse on road side to right with double gabled asymmetrical 2-window front. Ground floor with two 3-light mullion windows flanking moulded 2-centred arch with double plank door and ornate hinges. Further 1-light window to right and 2-light window in C20 extension. First floor with two 4-light mullion windows and second floor with two 1-light mullion window, all with hoodmoulds. Interior with C19 pitch pine joinery and with carved stone fireplace in 1937 range with relief depicting S. Francis of Assisi. High stone rubble wall to front on north and continuing along east side of monastery. Stone rubble walls to public cemetery on east with series of semi-circular niches.

Originally a Franciscan Monastery, followed by Poor Clares, and now an enclosed order of Carmelites. It was associated with Sir Harry Trelawney who was a convert and later a Catholic Bishop in Rome, and with his 2 daughters Letitia Trelawney and Mary Harding. During the 1840s the Franciscan monks living at Sclerder celebrated mass in the chapel at Trelawne (qv) which was opened for public worship to Roman Catholics by Sir Harry Trelawney. The chapel reverted to Anglican use when Sir Harry died. Letitia Trelawney, Mary Harding and Lewis Harding (responsible for many early photographs of Polperro and also Trelawne) are buried at Sclerder Abbey.

Lanyon, A The Rooks of Trelawne 1976; Grylls, R. Glynn Trelawne.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established (c1843 church has been attributed to A. W. Pugin)

Original Date: 1843

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II