St Mary’s, Gawthorpe

St Mary's Chickenley, drawn in 1999

church porch and bell towerSt Mary’s Church, Gawthorpe, 102 years old this year, stood close to the western boundary of Ossett, between Chickenley Heath and Ossett Street Side. I drew it in 1999 shortly before the vicar, Rev. Paul Maybury, moved on to Holy Trinity, Ossett’s cathedral-sized parish church, which is 50 yards long with a spire, at 226 feet, almost rivalling that of Wakefield Cathedral, 3.5 miles to the east, which at 247 feet is the tallest in Yorkshire. Ossett’s spire tends to be more prominent when seen from the local countryside as the church stands at 357 feet above sea level – over 200 feet higher than Bichehill where the cathedral stands. St Mary’s never had a tower, just the belfry at its east end above the chancel arch.

It closed in 2002 and there were plans a couple of years ago to convert the building into luxury flats but the state of the housing market must have made that scheme impossible.

It was a shock to drive past today and see that demolition demolitionwas in progress. I know that the spirit of a church lies in its congregation and the building is just the place they meet but it’s also a monument to the craftsmen who built it so I feel that it’s a shame that it has proved impossible to find an alternative use for building.

Gawthorpe St Mary’s Cricket Club, founded in 1928, still play at Slazenger’s Sports Club, Horbury, but the pub where the committee met across the road from St Mary’s Church has also closed. The pub is an attractive stone building that is suitable for residential use so it isn’t boarded up like some pubs that have closed recently.

Demolition of St Mary’s, 6 January 2011

St Mary's, 6 January 2011A woman walking past with her dog told me that yesterday the pulpit was still in place but that has disappeared today. She remembers the church as a focus for the community with school services taking place there and her sister’s wedding.

As you can see the building was built to last. The church organfittings have been stripped out but presumably the stonework will go to architectural salvage. Hope they saved any stained glass. I wonder if the churchyard trees will be allowed to remain.

I was surprised to see the church organ amongst the rubble. You’d think it would have been worth advertising on e-Bay.

4 Replies to “St Mary’s, Gawthorpe”

  1. Your photographs of the demolition of St. Mary’s Church, Gawthorpe, bring to mind the kind of lunatic excesses offered up by Graham Oakley in his Church Mice books, but without the happy ending. One views these images hoping that, counter to typical Oakleyan denouement, St Mary’s is not replaced with a strip mall.

    1. It’s a shame to see it go, isn’t it. Ossett still has a magnificent parish church but, as an illustrator I’m invariably drawn to the pathos of the loss of the old – which is also a common theme for folk singers! The site will probably go for residential use. Much as I’d like to have seen a new use for the building I think the conversion of a church, chapel or a barn is always a compromise because the architect has to divide up the open airy spaces that were the purpose of the original.

  2. It is easy to forget, living in the northeastern United States, that land may be limited in other places, where an unused plot such as the one St Mary’s was sitting on might truly be needed for another use. We do not know the meaning of “high density” here in Vermont, where some towns disallow building a new house, for instance, on less than five or even ten acres! Still, it is painful to see history under the wreaking ball.

  3. It always makes me sad to see old buildings torn down, especially one such as an old church that has a long history and memories for a congregation.

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