Building » Whitehaven – St Begh

Whitehaven – St Begh

Coach Road, Whitehaven CA28 7TE

A good example of E. W. Pugin’s work, built by the Benedictines, who made Whitehaven the centre of their West Cumberland mission in 1706. The adjacent earlier chapel and presbytery are of some historical interest although the original interior of the chapel has been lost.   

The Benedictine mission was founded in Whitehaven by Dom Francis Rich from Douai in 1706.  The town was then one of England’s principal ports, developed by the Lowther family for their coal trade, and the Lowthers’   known religious tolerance attracted  immigrants  from  Ireland. A chapel was built in 1785, probably off Catherine Street in the centre of Whitehaven, and was enlarged in 1824. The site in Coach Road was given by the Earl of Lonsdale and the first chapel here was built in 1834. The foundation stone of the present church, designed by E. W. Pugin, was laid in 1865 and the church was opened in 1868. The builder was Mr Cousins of Whitehaven, the stone carving was by Mr Pickering of Carlisle.The cost was £6,000.


Built of rock-faced grey stone with dressings of red St Bees sandstone; steep roof with coverings of patterned Welsh slate. Nave and chancel under one roof with full-length north and south aisles and shallow eastern apse. Tall west elevation with buttresses rising to eaves level, central doorway up steps and three stepped lancets. A fleche was intended at the gable apex but was presumably never built. South side of five bays with broad six-light traceried aisle windows and circular foiled clerestory windows. North side has three similar bays and an attached two-storey building intended as the sacristy and organ chamber at east end.

Interior has nave arcades of four bays of tall pointed arches of banded stone on columns alternately cylindrical and octagonal with moulded capitals. Elaborate boarded timber roof. Tall chancel arch. The chancel has two arched openings to side chapels on each side and a boarded wagon roof with ornamental painted decoration, which may be original. The altar has  been brought forward and the altar rails removed. The original organ gallery at the east end of the north aisle is blocked up. The enlarged western gallery/vestibule is mostly modern.

Fittings include the elaborate original stone reredos carved by Boulton of Cheltenham. The three stained glass windows in the apse are all by Hardman, most of the other windows are clear glazed. The body of the church is filled with the original pine benches on iron supports.

List description


Church, Roman Catholic, 1865-68, designed by E W Pugin, son of A.W.N. Pugin. Rock-faced coursed sandstone with red sandstone ashlar dressings, those round windows having alternating red and grey stone. Nave and apsidal chancel under a single roof of flat clay tiles in a variegated pattern, with aisles to each side extending as side chapels to the beginning of the apse, and a projecting vestry on the north side. EXTERIOR: The shallow chancel is a three-sided apse with a hipped roof, buttresses, and three large pointed arch windows with simple tracery flanked by projecting buttresses and steeply pointed pediments. Small quatrefoil windows above the main windows, repeated as decoration below. Clerestorey windows also quatrefoil. Chancel has two narrow round-arched windows to each side at clerestorey height, and two more on the side chapels. Each side chapel has a circular window in the gable end to the side of the chancel. To north between side chapel and aisle, a two-storey vestry and offices with three rectangular windows under a pitched roof, with single storey extension to outer gable end. North aisle has three and south aisle four windows with geometric tracery, somewhat truncated at the base, filling the spaces between prominent buttresses. Main entrance at west front. Shallow flight of 5 steps up to central wooden double iron-hinged door with overlight, in pointed arch doorway. Quatrefoil decorative plate to each side, and narrow lanceolate windows above, central one with geometric tracery. Strong buttresses with offsets to each side. Aisles each have pointed arched windows with tracery on west front. INTERIOR: Shallow semi-circular chancel with three stained glass windows. Elaborately cusped and crocketted blind arcading in white marble with black marble shafts, with carved wooden benches below. Walls painted white and vaulted ceiling with decorative painted panels.Pulpit in the centre, wooden reading desk to left and tabernacle to right. Hanging sign in illuminated letters above “LUX LUCET IN TENEBRIS”. Side chapel to left with original carved wooden doors reset in modern frames, double arched opening to chancel, late C20 altar, marble font, stained glass rose window and decorated painted walls and ceiling. Lady chapel to right with late C20 altar, decorated painted ceiling, stained glass rose window and double arched opening to chancel. Nave with stepped scissor truss roof rising from arcade columns that are alternately round and octagonal, with angular bases and capitals. These support the pointed arches of the arcade and the aisles, and both are banded in red and pale grey stone. Pews are pine and wrought iron benches, and the former altar rail in painted wrought iron acts as front of foremost pews. Aisles have the same pews, and a mono-pitched ceiling. North aisle has former choir above door to vestry, now blocked. Vestry with fitted wooden cupboards. Fixings for a pulpit formerly on column on left side of the nave remain. At the west end, a late C20 choir in wood is raised above a glass and wood panelled narthex. SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE A fine and relatively unaltered Roman Catholic church designed by the eminent architect E W Pugin, showing both typical and original features of the architect’s style, it is well worth listing.

Heritage Details

Architect: E. W. Pugin

Original Date: 1868

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II