The modern history of Catholicism in this part of Cumbria begins in 1706, when Fr. Francis Rich, O.S.B., a monk of Doaui in France established a mission in Whitehaven to serve the Catholic Population. During the nineteenth century, as the population grew rapidly with people, mainly Irish Catholics, came to work in the mines, it became necessary to establish a mission in Cleator, the church opening in 1853.As numbers continued to move into the area it became necesary to open further missions, in Frizington and Egremont, both initially served from Cleator, Frizington being established in its own right in 1875. In 2010, with the number of priests and parishioners declining, the two parishes of St. Mary's Cleator and St. Joseph's Frizington were merged, forming again a single parish, served by clergy resident at Cleator.
At the begining of the nineteenth century the village of Cleator was a small settlement with a few outlying farms, largely unchanged for many centuries. However, in the earlier part of the nineteenth century iron ore mining dramatically increased in the area, blast furnaces were built and the population increased rapidly. Irish Catholic imigrants formed a large part of this increase, and intially they travelled into Whitehaven each Sunday for Mass. Fr. Holden, parish priest of Whitehaven at the time, saw the need of this new community and in 1853 the first church was built, dedicated to St. Bega. (This occupied the site of the present car park.) The population continued to grow rapidly, and within sixteen years it was necessary to begin construction of a larger church. The Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle (whose diocese Cleator was then part of) laid the foundation stone on the 3rd October 1869, and returned on the 23rd June 1872 for its opening. The church was designed by E. W. Pugin and was built to accomodate 1,000 people (costing £6000). Fr. Brierley, parish priest at the time, and responsible for the building of the church, had a particulat devotion to Our Lady, and the church was dedicated to 'Our Lady of the Sacred Heart'. The original church was then taken over for use as part of St. Mary's school, which adjoined it. The Lady Altar (now somewhat damaged) is part of the original design of the church. The High Altar and reredos, and pulpit, were added a few years later, to designs of the Pugins. (Click here for the article in the Whitehaven News at the time). The Sacred Heart Altar (the Altar of Atonement) was consecrated in 1916, again to designs by the Pugins. In 1918, in rememberance of the parishioners who died in the Great War, marble altar rails were installed in the church, beign dedicated on the 1st and 2nd of June. As a further act of rememberance a brass plaque, inscribed with the names ofthe fallen, was unvelied on the 23rd October 1920.
St Joseph's The mission at Frizington was founded by Fr. Brierley, parish priest at Cleator, in 1872, with the opening of a "School Chapel", and in 1875 Fr. Brielrley moved to Frizington as its first Parish Priest when it became established in its own right. The first church was built some years later in the present location on Yeathouse Road, known as the Iron Church, and was replaced with the present building in 1896-7, the product of many years labour in raising funds. The high altar in the church is the world of Messrs. Boulton and Son, of Cheltenham, with statues of St. Benedict, St. Edmund, St. Gregory and St. Lawrence. The altar of the original church has been moved to become the Lady Altar, in the side chapel to the left of the church. The parish had served by Benedictine priests from its foundation, latterly from Douai Abbey, and in 1980 Fr. Thomas Deane, O.S.B., came to the parish; he was to be the last Benedictine to serve the communtiy. Fr. Deane is responsible for the installation of the present altar and and ambo, in accord witht he revision to the Mass that followed the Second Vatican Council. He retired in 1993 and was replaced by Fr. Bernard Hearty, a diocesan priest, who served the parish until September 2009.
St Mary's High Altar 1915
We are currently working on this section of the parish history.
1988 Pilgrimage to the Grotto 1988, held indoors due to poor weather. This is a good view of the church when it had the altar in the centre. Picture from the Whitehaven News.
1980 This picture was taken on 27th July 1980 and shows Cardinal Hume accompanied by Fr Gibbons OSB (on right) and Fr Cookson who was then Parish Priest at Cleator. Cardinal Hume is here to rededicate the Grotto following its restoration, the date also coincided with the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Benedict, recognising Cleator's long links with the Benedictines. The photograph was taken behind St Patrick's junior school (old St Cuthbert's) looking over towards Trumpet Terrace, as part of the celebrations Cardinal Hume judged a fancy dress competition for the juniors.
1937 A school trip to Seascale. This photo of the staff and Governors of St Mary's was taken in 1937. Back row: Miss Bennett, Mr McCuminiskey, Fr McCann, Miss Cairns, Mrs Brennan, Fr Clayton. Front row: Mr McCrickard, Mary McCarten, Abbot Herley, Mrs Herald and Mr McCarten who later went on to be Head Master of St Patrick's. Fr McCann and Fr Clayton collectively served as priests in Cleator for more than 80 years. We're not sure who was looking after the children at this point!
Early 1926 - 1927 Some of the men who built the Grotto at St Mary's: Left to Right 1st. FELIX CRICKETT, 2nd. ANDY BULMAN who was a stone mason, he carved the beautiful original pulpit which was removed when the church was re-ordered in the 1970s. He also carved the inscription on the tablet in the Grotto which holds a stone from the Grotto at Lourdes. 3rd. CHARLIE DARWARD who was the grave digger at St Mary's for many years. 4th. HUGH GUNN. 5th. BOB DORAN. 6th. 'wee' TOMMY FINN. Four out of the six lived at Brook Side opposite the church. Information provided by Marie McCarron (nee Vine) who is the grand daughter of Hugh Gunn Francis McCrickard grandson of Felix Crickett.
c.1923 - 1926. An interesting postcard here sent by a visitor to the Priory who mentions Fr Simpson, a priest here from 1923-1926. The text is well worth zooming in on to read. Thank you to Patricia Clews and Tom Duffy for sending this in.
1904 An old postcard showing St Joseph's Frizington, sent from the church on 29th September 1904. The sender may have been the mother of one of the Priests. Thank you to Patricia Clews and Tom Duffy for sending this in.
1911 A letter from Fr Clayton OSB appealing to former residents of the parish to send money to pay for improvements to the parish school. Thank you to Tom Duffy.
1870 A letter by Fr Brierly OSB appealing for funds to complete the building of the Catholic church and school in Cleator Moor.