Monday, January 02, 2012

Wartime events at St Mary's Parish, Cleator

1. Dean Frederick Cuthbert Clayton, O.S.B.
Parish Priest of St Mary's, Cleator during WW1 & WW2
2. Bust of Father Frederick Cuthbert Clayton, O.S.B.
Parish Priest of St Mary's, Cleator during WW1 & WW2
3. Standing on the steps of St Mary's, Cleator are (left to right):
Dean F.C. Clayton, Abbot I.S. Mooney, Father F.K. McCann
4. View of Dent Fell, Cleator
(From the site of the former St Mary's school)
5. The Benedictine clergy vault, St Mary's churchyard:
Abbot Hurley, Dean Clayton and Fathers McCann & Aspinwall
(Abbot David Hurley was interred on 31 December 1940)
For additional information click on 'Comments' below. 


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(a) The first evacuees arrive

On the day that the German forces invaded Poland, Friday 1 September 1939, the evacuation of children and teachers from Newcastle-upon-Tyne area on the east coast to Cleator on the fringe of Western Lakeland began. The Chief Billeting Officer for the reception area of Cleator and Cleator Moor who took charge of the influx of evacuees was Father Francis Kevin McCann, O.S.B., curate at the Catholic church of St Mary's, Cleator. Even before Britain declared war on Germany on Sunday 3 September, the impact of a World War could already be seen at Cleator.

Parish Priest of St Mary's, Cleator at the outbreak of WW2, as he had been since before WW1, was Dean Frederick Cuthbert Clayton, O.S.B. Also based at St Mary's at this time was the 'semi-retired' former Abbot of Douai Abbey, Woolhampton, the Right Reverend William David Hurley, O.S.B., Titular Abbot of Bury St Edmunds.

St Patrick's R.C. primary school, whose Headmaster for many years was Mr Bernard Sloan, belonged to the parish of St Mary's, Cleator. Before the war St Patrick's had been designated as a local reception centre for Cleator and Cleator Moor in the event of war breaking out. Finally, it came to pass that on the first weekend of September 1939 the 'reception plan' was put into action. Father Kevin McCann headed the appointed team.

The official centenary history of St Mary's, Cleator records that the first evacuees, numbering 250 adults and children, arrived at St Patrick's reception centre at 8.15 p.m. precisely on the evening of Friday 1 September. Within two hours all the evacuees had been allocated to their host families.

On Saturday 2 September the second group of evacuees arrived at Cleator. Among this group were many mothers with pre-school children. They too were allocated to their local host families in Cleator and Cleator Moor. All these evacuees had been welcomed and housed even before Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation on Sunday 3 September 1939 that Britain and France had declared war against Germany.

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(b) Church and School arrangements

With such a large influx of mainly Catholic refugees to Cleator and Cleator Moor the church of St Mary's was full to overflowing on the actual day war broke out, Sunday 3 September 1939. To allow everyone the opportunity to attend Mass on what would prove to be a monumental day in world history the Catholic clergy of St Mary's, Cleator said extra Masses at St Mary's Infant School adjacent to the presbytery. This St Mary's school building had been the original parish church of the Cleator Catholic Mission when it was known as St Bega's.

St Patrick's school remained closed for a few days while the various necessary arrangements were made. When the school did re-open as a place of learning, a 'two-shift system' was put into place. The local schoolchildren made use of the main school building in the mornings while in the afternoons they either did outdoor activities if the weather was fine or went into St Patrick's church hall in bad weather.

The school children and teachers evacuated to Cleator and Cleator Moor in these early days of the war came from St Joseph's School, Benwell, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The headmaster was Mr. J. McPartlan. They used the main school building in the afternoons and did their outdoor activities in the mornings. With few German airborne attacks on the Home Front in this period of 'Phoney War' a large proportion of the evacuees returned home. So many returned that when the second term of the school year began in January 1940 those evacuees that remained at Cleator went into the classes with local children and the school returned to a more normal full time schedule.

As history records, the so-called 'Phoney War' was not to last. By the late summer of 1940 the Germans had Occupied the whole of N.W. Europe and the Battle of Britain was taking place in the skies above Britain. Although Cleator and Cleator Moor district was far from the frontline of the German air attacks on Britain nevertheless there was some impact on the area in the weeks and months that followed. Father Kevin McCann and his team had a new wave of evacuees from the North East of England to accommodate, including another party of Catholic school children and teachers from South Shields led by Mr J.W. Ironside.

Throughout Britain, Sunday 8 September 1940 was a 'Day of National Prayer'. This is a report from 'The Whitehaven News' of how the day of prayer was observed at St Mary's, Cleator:

"A Novena of Intercession held last week concluded on Sunday, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin, when the day of National Prayer was observed. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament took place from the end of the last Mass until the evening service and during that period there was a constant stream of worshippers offering intercessory prayers. A procession of the Blessed Sacrament inside the church brought the day's observances to a close".

['The Whitehaven News', Thursday 12 September 1940, p. 5]

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(c) Pastor of the community during two World Wars

On Saturday 4 June 1904 a young 24-year old Benedictine priest, a monk of Douai Abbey arrived at St Mary's, Cleator in West Cumberland to take up an appointment as curate. The young priest, a native of Nottingham, was called Frederick Cuthbert Clayton. Father Clayton OSB was to spend the rest of his earthly ministry living among the mainly Irish Catholic population of Cleator and Cleator Moor. Father Clayton was appointed Parish Priest in 1911 in succession to Father Scannell. He was the Catholic pastor of this West Cumbrian community during two World Wars and remained as Parish Priest until his death in 1956.

As a large proportion of the parishioners of St Mary's, Cleator were either natives of Ireland or the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants Cleator Moor had acquired the name of 'Little Ireland'. Mainly, but not exclusively, these immigrants were Irish Catholics rather than Irish Protestants. Another name by which Cleator Moor became known was "God's Country". At that time it used to be said that you could not be an atheist in Cleator Moor - you had to be either a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist!

During the First World War the men and boys of Cleator and Cleator Moor - as with virtually every community in the British isles answered the call to join General Kitchener's 'New Army' to protect small nations from oppression, freedom, liberty and justice. This is the essence of what was said at recruitment meetings in Cleator and Cleator Moor in 1914 and 1915. In fact the many of the men of the Cleator and Cleator Moor district found themselves in or near the town of Douai in northern France, where the English Benedictines of Douai Abbey were exiled from

In the first months of the war many of the Irish Catholics of Cleator and Cleator Moor enlisted to the Tyneside Irish Brigade (Northumberland Fusiliers). Although Cleator and Cleator Moor are near the west coast and Irish Sea, in 1914 the area formed part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle (hence the 'Tyneside' connection). The Recruitment Committee of the Tyneside Irish told the men that even their Irish homeland was not immune from German invasion. Many of the men who came forward with such enthusiasm in 1914 and 1915 never returned after the war. They made the ultimate sacrifice. Among those who did return there was much bitterness. Nevertheless, when the Second World War broke out the men and women of Cleator and Cleator Moor again came forward to serve their country.

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War Father Clayton was a County Councillor for Cleator Moor, where he raised many issues such as child poverty and the high incidence of tuberculosis in West Cumberland. By this time Father Clayton was also the senior Catholic clergyman in West Cumberland. On 14 January 1939 he was appointed Dean of the Catholic Deanery of West Cumberland. This was an area that included the communities of Whitehaven, Workington, Cockermouth Seascale, Egremont and Frizington.

Sunday 4 June 1944 marked the 40th anniversary of Dean Clayton's arrival at Cleator. Coincidentally, it also turned out to be the day that Rome, an 'Open City' after the evacuation of the Germans, saw American troops arrive in the 'Eternal City'. That evening at the Hippodrome, Cleator Moor there was a celebration of thanksgiving for Dean Clayton's service to the community - in good times and bad and in times of peace and in times of war. He was presented with a 'spiritual bouquet' and a cheque to go towards the purchase of a car to make his pastoral work easier.

The following day, Monday 5 June 1944, Archbishop William Godfrey (Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain, Gibraltar and Malta) wrote to Dean Clayton with his congratulations on his long service to the people of Cleator and Cleator Moor. It also included the following personal greeting for Dean Clayton from Pope Pius XII in newly liberated Rome:

"Our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, lovingly bestows his fatherly Apostolic Blessing on the Reverend Frederick Cuthbert Clayton, O.S.B., in recognition of forty years work at Cleator."

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(d) Conclusion

Photograph No. 1 (above) is a portrait of Dean Frederick Cuthbert Clayton, O.S.B. (1869 - 1956). In 1950 a bust of Dean Clayton was commissioned in grateful thanks by the people of the Cleator and Cleator Moor district. This work of art can now be found in the K.S.C. Rooms at Cleator Moor [Photograph No. 2].

After the war, on 26 June 1948, Dean Clayton would receive another Apostolic Blessing from Pope Pius XII when he reached the 50th anniversary of his ministry, most of which had been spent at Cleator. The celebratory High Mass at the parish church was attended by the Abbot I.S. Mooney, Abbot of Douai and Bishop T.E. Flynn, Bishop of Lancaster. (By this time Cleator was part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lancaster). Photograph No. 3 (above) shows Dean Clayton, Abbot Mooney Father Kevin McCann, who was Assistant Priest at St Mary's, Cleator between 1930 and 1956.

Dean Clayton passed away on 1 April 1956 and was laid to rest in the Benedictine burial vault in St Mary's churchyard looking towards Dent Fell and the other nearby Lakeland fells. The modern-day view of Dent Fell from St Mary's can be seen in Photograph No. 4 (above). It was this view that the wartime evacuees saw each day when they attended St Mary's School.

Dean Clayton's successor as Parish Priest was his long-time curate, Father Kevin McCann, who continued in that role until his own death in 1972. Father McCann was also laid to rest in the Benedictine vault in the churchyard at Cleator [Photograph No. 5].

The pastoral work of Dean Clayton and Father McCann, particularly during the 'poverty years' of the 1920s and 1930s and the war years, are still gratefully remembered by people of all faiths and of none throughout the district. As well as being Billeting Officer for the evacuees in the early part of the war Father McCann was the Catholic Chaplain to the Moota POW Camp near Cockermouth, which became a YMCA Camp for 'Displaced Persons' at the end of the war (see link below).

Wednesday, 25 February, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


Father Paul Johnstone (Parish Priest)
Parish of St Mary's & St Joseph's (Cleator & Frizington)

The Talbot Library, St Walburge's, Preston, Lancashire.
(Library of the R.C. Diocese of Lancaster)

Cumbria County Archives & Local Studies Centre
(Whitehaven Records Office)

'The Whitehaven News'


1. To read about Father Kevin McCann's role as chaplain to Moota YMCA Camp, click on the following link:
Father McCann and Moota YMCA Hostel

2. For further reading about some wartime events in Cleator, Cleator Moor and Frizington (with additional photographs), click on the following link:
Abbot W.D. Hurley, Douai Abbey (1857 - 1940)


Wednesday, 25 February, 2015  

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