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Ruins of the chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury in the Roman Catholic cemetery in Windlehurst

A Scheduled Monument in Windle, St. Helens

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Latitude: 53.467 / 53°28'1"N

Longitude: -2.7551 / 2°45'18"W

OS Eastings: 349966.916065

OS Northings: 396959.867121

OS Grid: SJ499969

Mapcode National: GBR 9X6B.BX

Mapcode Global: WH874.N37Z

Entry Name: Ruins of the chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury in the Roman Catholic cemetery in Windlehurst

Scheduled Date: 1 December 1960

Last Amended: 4 March 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015604

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27609

County: St. Helens

Electoral Ward/Division: Windle

Built-Up Area: St Helens

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Merseyside

Church of England Parish: St Helens Saint Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Liverpool


The monument includes the ruins of the medieval Roman Catholic chapel of St
Thomas of Canterbury which are popularly known as Windleshaw Abbey. There was
never an abbey on this site and the remains are of a small chantry chapel
established so that Masses could be sung for the soul of the founder. The
chantry was founded by Sir Thomas Gerard who was living in 1453 and this date
is assumed to have been close to the date of the foundation. The last
incumbent was noted in 1548 when the chantry was abolished and the chapel fell
into gradual decline. During the following centuries the ground around the
chapel was used for Roman Catholic burials and is still in use. The relatively
good preservation of the chapel ruins may be a reflection of this continued
use of the site.
The ruined building consists of a nave and west tower. The body of the nave
measures 12m by 5.2m outside the walls. The walls stand to ten courses of
stone on the northern side but only three or four on the southern side. About
6m of the south side is missing altogether. The tower measures 3m by 3m
outside at the base and is complete except for the roof and some tracery in
the window openings. The roof line of the nave is visible on the east wall of
the tower at 10m from ground level. In the west wall is a doorway with a
chamfered two centred arch. On the east wall the doorway has a two centred
arch on rectangular jambs. The walls of the nave support a number of later
memorials and are partly reconstructed around these on the south side. A
modern altar supports an older table at the east end.
The chapel is Listed Grade II*.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of
furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre-
Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were
generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation
for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and
contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built
between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for
the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish
church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial
lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status
residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were
established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some
chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of
which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their
communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry
chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in
the 1540s.
Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the
landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being
nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively
identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often
left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the
nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.

The chantry chapel in the cemetery at Windlehurst is in good condition in
spite of its desertion in the 16th century. It may owe this preservation to
the active Roman Catholic presence on the site in the succeeding centuries.
The chapel of St Katharine at Lydiate also dates to the medieval period and
together they demonstrate the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic worship
in this district after the Reformation. In addition to the medieval remains
there are a number of interesting memorials incorporated in the fabric of the
nave which serve to remind us of this continuing influence up to the beginning
of this century.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: South Lancashire, (1969), 386

Source: Historic England

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