A brief introduction to
The Catholic Church and Parish of
Our Lady and St James, Millom
This parish has its origins in the missions sent by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle to the mining communities of the North West. In 1867 Fr. James Crolly came to minister to the many Irish catholic miners who had found work in the rapidly expanding Hodbarrow mines. Some had already worked for the Barratt family in the Coniston copper mines where another mission led to the founding of the Sacred Heart Parish in 1866. Millom Newtown was still being built when Fr. Crolly acquired some practically worthless land “a quagmire without roads” on the corner of Chapel St (now Millom Rd) and Queen St. The first chapel opened in 1868. It was said to be “built of the hard flinty stone of the lake district, the interior walls being coated with Coniston cement.” The chapel served as a school for 200 pupils as well.
When Fr. Perrin arrived in 1883, he began raising funds for a new church. This included an agreement with the Hodbarrow Mining Company to deduct 1s 3d from the fortnightly wages of the men who signed up. The architect H.V.Krolow of Liverpool designed the church, variously described as “Early English “ or French Gothic” in style. It is clear Fr. Perrin closely oversaw the building and the design. The new church cost £1600 and was opened by Bishop Wilkinson in October 1888. The old chapel continued as a school although very over-crowded. Fr. Perrin lived to see the opening of a separate infants' building in 1902.
His successor Fr. Kelly set about improving the condition of the buildings. In 1907 A new high Altar of carved oak was erected and eventually side altars in a similar style. Like all Millom churches, the parish often raised funds through Bazaars. A Mammoth Bazaar held in 1916 was three years in the planning but the successful result meant that the parish was free of all debt for the first time. Another Mammoth Bazaar in 1928 led to the installation of electric lighting. In 1932 an organ loft or Choir gallery was added.
Fr. Hayward came to the parish in 1935 at a time of severe unemployment and renovated the St James’ club on Nelson St. to provide recreation and support for the many without work. Special grants allowed new facilities including central heating and a bathroom with showers.
By the end of the war, the old presbytery, attached to the school, provided very uncomfortable accommodation and was replaced with the present presbytery in 1952. Fr. Hayward’s successors were deeply involved in the efforts to build a new school which came to fruition in 1969 when the present St James’ Primary school was opened on the site commonly known as the “Royal Green”. The senior school and eventually the infants’ school were demolished.
The building has remained much as it was built with the addition of a baptistry, now used as a chapel and an extension to the sacristy. Before the extensions, the garden at the side of the church had been used occasionally for services and processions.
In 1971 Fr McKenna was succeeded by Fr Edward Shields who continued the process of bringing the layout of the church into line with the requirements of Vatican II. The ornate wooden high altar was replaced with the present simpler glazed stone structures. In 1972 when the church was nearly 100 years’ old the diocesan surveyor concluded that it was a well-conceived sacred building reflecting devoted care.
Since the departure of Fr Shields, the parish has benefitted from the hard work and devotion of several priests, Fr Cahill, Fr Gannon, Fr Chapells, Fr Osman, Fr Lowery, and Fr Houston who all contributed to the strength of the congregation and the success of the school and as well as providing chaplaincy services to HMP Haverigg.
In 2014 Fr Robert Halshaw oversaw the merger of Our Lady and St James' parish with the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Coniston. This merger meant a return to the original ties between the miners of Coniston and of Millom. In the 1870s many Coniston miners moved to Millom and so contributed to the building of both churches.
The new Parish of St. Francis of Assisi was inaugurated with the Papal Blessing from Pope Francis.
Acknowledgement: The information contained within this booklet was taken from various articles written by Margaret Forsman.
A short history of
The Catholic Church and Parish of
the Sacred Heart, Coniston
The Mission of Coniston was founded in 1866. “Its suggestion was due to Amèlieex-Queen of the French who, in 1859, spent the autumn in Coniston and afterwards gave a substantial sum to the erection of a church”. (Victoria History of the Counties of England.)
Prior to the foundation of the Mission, people made their way to Ulverston for Mass. Between its foundation and the opening of the Church six years later, Mass was first said in Dunn’s cottage, Cat Bank, by Fr. Laverty of Belmont. Later the “loft by Baxter’s” was used.
The Church was designed by James O’Byrne, Architect, of Liverpool and built by George Usher of Coniston. It was opened by The Right Reverend Dr. A. Goss, Bishop of Liverpool, on the 29th September 1872 - the Sunday preceding his death. The Coniston Mission was the first Catholic Mission at any of the English Lakes. (Catholic Family Annual and Almanac for the Diocese of Liverpool, 1890.)
The principal benefactor of the Coniston Mission was Miss Elizabeth Ann Aglionby of Wigton Hall who is buried in the graveyard to the west of the Church doors.
The following account of the opening of the church is from an unidentified newspaper cutting :
“The new Roman Catholic Chapel at Coniston was consecrated on Sunday last by Dr. Goss, of Liverpool. It is built in a field at the low end of Coniston, near Haws Bank, adjoining the railway. It is a large and well built structure, with a large square tower. In the interior it is most neatly and commodiously fitted up. It is built of blue Coniston flag-stone and has an imposing appearance from the road. An impressive discourse was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Fisher of Preston, in which he took occasion to remind his hearers that they were attempting to revive a worship which had formerly prevailed in this worship district, at Cartmel Church, and Furness Abbey. High Mass was celebrated, and after the various ceremonies usual on such occasions, the chapel was declared open for public worship.”
The church is an eight bay structure constructed of blue Coniston flag-stone and roofed in slate. The south entrance is via a German Romanesque-style tower with a distinct saddleback roof. The 130lb church bell housed in the tower was blessed by Bishop O’Reilly in June 1881. The main entrance is through double doors set in a Gothic arch. The interior is a single volume with a pitched plaster ceiling and plaster walls, and plain Gothic walls, and a plain Gothic wooden carvings separating the nave from the sanctuary. The baptismal Font is made from Coniston Green Slate. The Cemetery Cross was probably erected in 1947. It was made from Coniston oak by Mr. Coward of Coniston. The base is of Coniston stone. It would seem that it was modelled from a cross at Crosslands Convent, Barrow designed by Patterson of Manchester.
Stained Glass Windows: The windows at the West end of the Church depict the Crucifixion. The side windows to the Church depict the Joyful and the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. The windows in the nave were inserted circa 1937. In the sanctuary, two windows were donated for use in the south side, while John Ruskin donated the East window, behind the altar. Behind the Altar is the window gifted by John Ruskin. The subject of the illustration is the vision of St John in the Isle of Patmos. At the bottom of the three lights is the following inscription: “These are they who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb”. The windows to the South side of the altar were donated by Miss Aglionby and the Gibson family. There is no information about the windows on the North side of the altar.
Acknowledgement: The information contained within this booklet was taken from “A Short History of the Parish” written by by Fr E McCartan a former Parish priest, to commemorate the centenary of the opening of the Church on the 29th September 1872.