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An C18 church with an older tower hidden in the East Lancashire hills

St Mary at Newchurch-in-Pendle sits on the south-eastern slopes of Pendle Hill above the town of Nelson. A chapel of ease is recorded on the site in 1250. Whittaker writes that in 1544 a later chapel was dedicated here by the Bishop of Chester - the Chester diocese covered much of the north-west at that time. The mother church of the chapel was probably St Michael's at Clitheroe Castle.


Parts of the present tower may date from that C16 building. However, it is actually marked with two dates: 1653 and 1712, when rebuilding must have taken place. The west tower we see today is a quite short, plain, unbuttressed structure. It is embattled with square-headed double bell openings. There is a drip-course one third of the way up, and just above it on the west face is a curious oval opening known locally as "The Eye of God". On the same face, below the drip-course, just above the plinth, is a square-headed twin-light window. This may date from the C17.


The nave and chancel are built as one, with the south porch being the only projection. The date of all this is assumed to be 1740, but Pevsner points out that Baines says the nave and north aisle were rebuilt in 1788. Certainly the style is 1740. The porch is topped by a plain triangular pediment. Below, the doorway has a round arch, and the south face of the porch itself is rusticated. There is no further decoration, but the blocks at the height where capitals would be, below the voussoirs, are unbroken.


The nave and aisle are considerably wider than the tower. There are rusticated quoins at the west corners. On the south wall of the nave are four simple round-headed windows, with keystones and lugs. The rhythm of this elevation is broken by a priest's door (now blocked), and a commemorative tablet. The latter is dated 1740, and records the names of four churchwardens and four masons - presumably those responsible for the rebuilding at that time. This tablet has a shouldered architrave and keystone, and is grooved all round. A sundial dated 1718 is located by the south-west corner of the nave roof. The east wall of the church has a small Venetian window. On the north side the windows are arranged above each other.


Inside the church there is a nave and chancel in one, a north aisle, and west and north galleries. In 1815 a vestry meeting decided "All the walls of the church be raised to a sufficient height convenient to put up a gallery". The work was carried out in 1816-17. It cost £352. The north aisle is separated by an elegant five-bay arcade with Doric columns: Pevsner calls them "urbane". The underside of the arches are carefully grooved. To the north the gallery has fronts with fielded panels: to the west the panelling is divided by pilaster strips. The woodwork is of excellent quality.


The pulpit was donated in 1902. It is large, and in a Norman style. The stained glass includes a 1951 piece by Howard Martin of Celtic Studios: apparently it is their fist piece to be installed in England. Elsewhere the glass has a storybook quality, particularly that of the south wall. Here are depicted "The Virgin Mary", "Th Boy Jesus in The Temple", "The Good Shepherd" (see photograph right), and "The Resurrection".


St Mary's continues to celebrate the Annual Rushbearing Ceremony, and still crowns a Rushbearing Queen. This tradition, held each August, remembers the time when the stale rushes that were used to cover the church floor were replaced by fresh ones.

The church from the south

The tower is quite small and narrow in relation to the nave and chancel.

North gallery

An elegant arcade and excellent woodwork make a very satisfying composition.

Churchwarden tablet

A commemorative stone recording those responsible for the rebuilding of 1740.

The nave looking east

The galleries were erected to accommodate an increasing population.

South nave window

Figures that could have been taken from a child's Bible. Who designed these windows?

Photographs and text © Tony Boughen