St. Mary's Church, 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.