St Nicholas

Known affectionately as 'The Old Church' St Nicholas was built in 1693, the first place of worship what was then the fishing village of St Bees.

About this church

The first church on this site was built in 1693, as a Chapel of Ease to St Bees Priory, becoming a parish in 1867. It was rebuilt and much enlarged in 1883. Fire destroyed the bulk of the church on 31st August 1971. Ultimately only the tower part of the church (which largely escaped the fire) was rebuilt as a combined chapel/cafe.

The rebuilt tower is now a welcoming focal point in the town centre for both locals and visitors.

The original 1693 dedication stone can be seen in the foyer. Some of the fine stained glass survives. Up a rare, left handed spiral staircase there is a historical exhibition, which includes a 13th century piscina found in the grounds.

In an enclosure in the churchyard are the family graves of William Thom(p)son, 86th Archbishop of York. Laid flat in the northeast corner of the churchyard is the gravestone of Richard Wordsworth, a cousin of the poet, and collector of Customs at Whitehaven. At an unknown location in the churchyard is the grave of Mildred Gale, whose grandson, George Washington was President of the United States. In the SE corner of the churchyard there is an obelisk to all the children who died in the Whitehaven Mines, and there is a mosaic of the mines on the former church nave in the shape of a pit wheel, with a representation of the Edward Medal (the Miners VC) at the centre. Inside the chapel is a Memorial Book to all who lost their lives in the many accidents in 400 years of mining locally.

In 1920 the churchyard was laid out as an ornamental garden which has won many Britain in Bloom Prizes.

The glass screens between the chapel and the cafe area and between the building and the nave area are outstanding examples of modern glass engraving by Sally Scott and David Peace, which repay close inspection.

Key Features

  • Captivating architecture
  • Spectacular stained glass
  • Magnificent memorials
  • Glorious furnishings
  • Enchanting atmosphere
  • Fascinating churchyard
  • Social heritage stories
  • National heritage here
  • Famous connections

Visitors information

  • Bus stop within 100m
  • Level access to the main areas
  • On street parking at church
  • Parking within 250m
  • Accessible toilets nearby
  • Dog friendly
  • Walkers & cyclists welcome
  • Space to secure your bike

Other nearby churches

CumbriaWHITEHAVENStJames(church)3

St James

A fine example of a Georgian church, which has been sympathetically modernised.

CumbriaSTBEESStBeesPriory(church)1

St Bees Priory

The church was founded in 1120, is one of the architectural jewels in Cumbria and well worth a visit.

CumbriaENERDALEBRIDGEStMary(church)1

St Mary

Located within the Lake District National Park, first stop on the popular Coast to Coast walk, St Mary’s is beside the River Ehen, close to the two pubs and a tearoom and shop; the old churchyard has associations with William Wordsworth.

Become a Friend of the National Churches Trust, for people who love church buildings!