History of St Mary's
St Mary’s Church was built between 1850 and 1854 in the Early Gothic style.
The architect was Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The church was consecrated on 14th June, 1854 by the Bishop of Chester, because at the time the parish was in Chester diocese. At the time of consecration Ambleside needed a larger church. The railway was bringing greater numbers of visitors into the area and the former parish church of St Anne was proving too small.
It was not as ornate as many Victorian churches, and was one of the first in the North to incorporate ideas from the Oxford Movement.
Unlike many Lakeland churches, it has a spire, and is built of sandstone which was more easily worked than the local slate. There are many interesting stained glass windows, including two ‘Children’s Windows’ by Henry Holiday. The Church leaflet contains a plan of the Church, identifying and describing all the windows.
The choirstalls are carved with the figures of 14 Northern saints: Ethelberga, Benedict Biscop, Cuthbert, Caedmon, Hilda, Bede, Aidan, Edwin, Wilfred, Oswald, Paulinus, Finan, Columba, and Kentigern. The reredos of alabaster is carved with the figures of four Celtic saints.
Probably the oldest feature of the Church is the ancient sandstone font near the entrance to the Wordsworth Chapel, which may date from pre-Reformation times, and which was found in the belfry of St Annes’ Church in 1899.
There is a mural, created in 1944, depicting the Rushbearing ceremony, by Gordon Ransom, lecturer at The Royal College of Art. It is 26 feet long, and contains 62 figures in four scenes, representing inhabitants of Ambleside at that period (detail below).
The internationally renowned sculptress Josefina de Vasconcellos who lived in Ambleside, was interested in the lives of past romantics, and made many sculptures of William Wordsworth, including a stone commemorative plaque carved in relief, which is in the Church.
Every year on the first Saturday in July, Ambleside celebrates its Rushbearing Festival. This custom dates back to the days when the earthen floor of the church was strewn with rushes for warmth and cleanliness.
A comprehensive Church booklet gives details of the history and the content of the Church.