In the early 1920s there was no Catholic church in Keswick. Father Stephen Dawes OSB came every Sunday on his motorbike from Cockermouth to say Mass at various addresses in Keswick including the Albion Hall over what is now the Nat-West bank. In 1926 he bought a plot of land on High Hill, a former nursery belonging to Hayes, and a lady in Limepots Road offered money to build a church. When she died she left her house to be the first presbytery, which was used until 1972 when Monsignor Buxton had a new presbytery built next to the church.
Father Dawes commissioned an architect from the Workington firm of Messrs. Oldfield, Simpson and Saul to design the church and Cowperthwaites of Keswick were the contractors. Bishop Thomas Wulstan Pearson laid the foundation stone in 1927. The church was built at the cost of £2,500. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Lakes and St. Charles Borromeo, it was officially opened by the Bishop on 1 July 1928. Financial prospects being poor, the building was no more than half the size envisaged in the architect's drawings, and for the next 34 years a wooden west wall gave evidence of its unfinished state. One can still see the black line on the stone where the building ended.
The wooden wall's deterioration and the ever-increasing numbers of summer visitors persuaded the parish priest, Father Stephen Whiteside, of the need to finish what had been so well begun. He employed Jonathan Saul of the original firm of architects to complete the church with only slight modifications to the original design, thus increasing the seating capacity from 108 to 225. Between 1962 and 1964 the Lady Chapel and Baptistery and the tower (incorporating the porch and gallery) were added. Messrs. Twiname of Brigham were responsible for the work. The lawns and garden were laid out by Hayes of Ambleside. The total cost including the car park was £25,000. Thanks to Father Whiteside's indefatigable efforts, most of this had been paid off by the time he left Keswick in 1967.
The church was consecrated on 4 November 1972 by the Right Rev. Brian Charles Foley, Bishop of Lancaster.
The Church Building
The church, built in the Italian style, is constructed of hammer dressed Threlkeld granite (I think it is the last building to be built in this stone in Keswick.) and Westmorland slate. It has a copper roof on the tower.(Lillian Kelly remembers watching the man cutting and laying the strips of copper; he worked without scaffolding!) Over time it has weathered to its present green.
The sanctuary had the altar at the back with the tabernacle in the centre of it. After Vatican II the altar and altar rails were removed. The new altar, facing the congregation, and the lectern were made from the old altar rails. The tabernacle was moved to its present place by the side of the sanctuary. The four evangelists are depicted on its doors.
The ceiling is made from cedar wood.
The cross with branched arms holding St. John and Mary Magdalene stands in the place where the original altar stood.
The original wooden pulpit on the left hand side of the church was removed and the lectern is now used.
The Lady Chapel (built in the 1960s). The statue came from Italy and was given by a couple in memory of their son who had died. The chapel now contains the font, made by Lakeland Stonecraft. The West Cumbria Gazette reported that the font was made with stone from Coniston, Honister, Buttermere and Grange, but others have suggested that stone came also from Threlkeld and Embleton. Monsignor Buxton had the font moved from the original baptistery because he wanted those to be baptised to be brought more into the body of the church.
The benches, a gift from an anonymous donor, are of Japanese oak.
The Stations of the Cross were made by Rene Bourdon and were a gift from Monsignor Smith of Carlisle
The four slate crosses, two on either side, were placed there at the consecration of the church.
The organ was installed in 1978 on the 50th anniversary of the church
The Millennium Quilt. Beth Whittaker instigated the idea of a quilt depicting all the well-known features, societies etc. of Keswick. It was embroidered by many people (see notice). Mary Hopper embroidered the view of our church. The quilt was hung in the millennium 2000 but has now found its home here after a spell at the theatre
Major repairs to floor and central heating were made a couple of years ago