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Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

A Grade II Listed Building in Penzance, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.1222 / 50°7'19"N

Longitude: -5.5377 / 5°32'15"W

OS Eastings: 147226

OS Northings: 30671

OS Grid: SW472306

Mapcode National: GBR DXQC.681

Mapcode Global: VH05H.Y6T5

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

Listing Date: 14 January 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1416408

Location: Penzance, Cornwall, TR18

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Penzance

Built-Up Area: Penzance

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Penzance St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Truro

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Roman Catholic Church in the Perpendicular Gothic style. Built in 1843, the south aisle was added in 1869. Late-C19 and C20 alterations.

The early-C20 link corridor connecting the north side of the church with the presbytery, the mid-C19 presbytery, and the late-C19 former school are excluded from the listing.


MATERIALS: it is constructed of dressed Penryn granite. The east elevation and south aisle are constructed of random blocks of Castle granite.

PLAN: orientated approximately west to east and consists of the nave with the chancel to the east end, and the organ and organ gallery to the west end. The south aisle has a Lady Chapel and sacristy to the east end. The crypt is now used for storage, with the church hall beneath the south aisle, formerly a school classroom.

EXTERIOR: the west end comprises a central, recessed, four-centred arched entrance approached by steps, with low relief carved quatrefoils and mouchettes in the spandrels. Above the entrance is a niche with crocketed canopy which contains a statue of Our Lady by sculptor, James Scott, above which is a rose window. To the apex of the gable is a belfry with diagonal buttresses with crocketed finials and a stone cross. The central and outer bays of the west elevation are framed by offset buttresses; those to the outer bays with crocketed finials. To the outer bays are paired lancet windows with Y-tracery under hoodmoulds. To the clerestorey of the north and south elevations are seven pairs of lancet windows under hoodmoulds. To the north elevation the plaster infilled arcading to the unbuilt north aisle is visible and the bays are separated by buttresses. The south aisle is constructed of Castle granite which is rendered on the west elevation. The bays are separated by buttresses and the Y-tracery windows are granite apart from the two at the east end which are timber. The windows of the crypt are visible to the south elevation. The east elevation is dominated by the large stained glass window of four lights divided by a central transom with Y-tracery above. To either side is a blocked rectangular opening beneath which are niches: the one to the left has a statue of St Peter and the one to the right has a statue of St Michael (c1937).

INTERIOR: internally the walls are plastered and have recently (2013) been repainted in polychrome fashion. Beneath the cill of the east window, the chancel walls are faced in terrazzo, and there is dado panelling to the north arcade to which the original pews were fixed, (now removed). The nave and chancel have a hammerbeam and scissor-braced timber roof supported on corbels with angel heads beneath; pendants hang from the hammerbeams. The roof to the south aisle is of lean-to rafters. To the north and south are tall, perpendicular arcades with moulded four-centred arches with clustered columns and capitals. Colonettes and hoodmoulds frame the east and clerestorey windows.

FITTINGS: the high altar (1868), designed by J A Hansom, is made from polished granite with inlaid decoration in serpentine. The organ (1883), by George Tucker, is raised on a gallery approached by a flight of stairs on the south side with Gothic timber balusters and timber handrail. The gallery is faced with panels incorporating quatrefoils. To the south aisle are two (1869) stained glass windows probably by Hardman and three (1993) stained glass windows by Goddard and Gibbs. The east window (2011) is by Pugin, Hardman & Powell of Birmingham and includes the depiction of eighteen saints, Christ the King and three angels.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: attached to the north side of the church is an early-C20 link corridor connecting the church with the presbytery. The presbytery was built in 1869, and extended in the early C20. To the north-east of the church is the former school, built in 1893. The link corridor, presbytery and former school are excluded from the listing.


In 1840, Fr William Young from Dublin settled in Penzance and purchased the site on which the Church of The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was built. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, and although the aisles were not yet built the church was opened on the 26 October 1843 by Archbishop of Marseilles, Eugene de Mazenod, Superior of the Oblate Fathers. A school was established in the crypt below the nave, served by the Oblate sisters.

In 1852 the Oblates were forced to leave the church whilst it was advertised for sale by public auction. This was due to the incumbent, Fr Daly, using the church and its fittings as collateral for a mortgage contract for Ashbourne Hall, Derbyshire, for which he was unable to keep up the payments. The newly consecrated Bishop Errington, first Bishop of Plymouth, bought back the church, fixtures and land for the sum of £905. This was paid off by 1863 through a national appeal and the sale of the church fixtures and fittings.

In 1868, the altar of polished granite and serpentine was made for the church, designed by J A Hansom. In 1869, the south aisle was added, housing a sacristy and Lady Chapel, and providing an extension to the schoolroom in the crypt. John Hardman Powell was appointed to adorn the Lady Chapel with stencil decoration and he subsequently decorated the sanctuary in 1880 with stencilling and statues in canopied niches on either side of the east window. The organ, built by George Tucker of Plymouth, was installed in 1883. In 1892 a statue of Our Lady, by James Scott, was installed in the niche over the main entrance to the west end of the church. In 1903 a new font was installed.

Following the appointment of Fr George Cantell in 1935, a number of changes were made to the church, most notably to the east end. These included the erection of a baldacchino over the high altar which necessitated the blocking of the east window. Hansom’s tabernacle canopy was removed, as was Powell’s stencil decoration and canopied niches, as well as the reredos. Historic photographs suggest that the altar was raised on three steps at this time. In 1982, the baldacchino was removed and the east window reopened. The tabernacle canopy was reinstated and a forward altar was introduced in front of Hansom’s altar, with a tent-like baldacchino supported on wooden posts, (since removed). The altar rails were also removed and the altar to the Lady Chapel was replaced at this time.

At the time of inspection (2013) the east window had been re-glazed with a stained glass window designed and made by Pugin, Hardman & Powell of Birmingham. The chancel steps had been re-ordered with plans for inlaid encaustic tiles to the treads, and two encaustic tile panels to the chancel floor. The walls have been repainted with a polychromatic design and the organ has been moved forward and fully restored (2009/10).

The presbytery was built by Canon Shortland in 1869 to the north of the church and by the early C20 it had been extended to the east and a link corridor had been erected between it and the church. A school was erected in 1893 in the south-east part of the presbytery garden which was initially served by the sisters of Notre Dame, Bordeaux. There are plans to convert the former school to five apartments.

Reasons for Listing

The Church of the Immaculate Conception is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: for its highly competent and sophisticated west façade in the Perpendicular Gothic style;
* Date: an early example of a Catholic church in the Gothic style;
* Materials: an interesting and successful use of contrasting masonry to the external elevations;
* Interior: despite the loss of original fixtures, it retains an impressive, high-quality scissor-braced and hammerbeam roof, as well as a mid-C19 altar by J A Hansom and an organ (1883) by George Tucker from a later restoration.

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