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


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Ruins of the chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury in the Roman Catholic cemetery in Windlehurst
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

St. Helens (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 49967 96960

Reasons for Designation

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.


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*.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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