The ruined church of St Catherine is known locally as Lydiate Abbey. It was never a real abbey, but was the private chapel built by the Ireland family of Lydiate Hall (see here )sometime around 1470s. It was built for husband and wife Laurence and Katherine Ireland.
Made from sandstone, it features four large perpendicular style windows on its south side. These once had fine tracery (some of which can still be seen at the top of the windows today) and excavations have revealed they once contained stained glass. A curiosity is that the building has no windows at all on its north side. Most churches do, so various ideas have been put forwards to explain this such as a lack of money, a shortage of skilled masons or even insufficient available glass. However, none of these explanations seem very satisfactory when you view just how grand the rest of the church must have been. It is interesting to note that the north side of a church is traditionally referred to as the ‘devil’s side’- and always tends to have less grand windows and doors than the south side- could this be the reason for their absence ?
When Henry VIII abolished the monasteries the law also impacted on private chapels, and most were decommissioned. They then either fell into ruin or on occasion were able to become parish churches. Interestingly neither of these things happened to St Catherines and it continued to be used after 1550. Why this was is not clear but perhaps it served the Catholic people in the area of Lydiate, even while Catholicism was being actively repressed by the crown. Records show that Jesuit priests were sectetly buried in the grounds in the years afterwards.
Once it had lost its roof in the 1700s it was only a matter of time before the weather, general neglect and vandalism took their toll. That said, visitors today can see a rather robust looking ruin. As you approach from the back of the church the view afforded you shows that all of its walls are intact. Heading through the Tudor south porch leads you into the interior and face to face with the huge, blank, windowless north wall. The imposing tower is also in good condition with impressive arches, windows and belfry on top. Some of the buttresses have seen better days, and stone has been robbed away from these at the base, leaving them in a very poor state. Old but still readable on site interpretation provides a short history and a useful plan of the building.
The burial ground is interesting too. This is a rectangular enclosure surrounded by an earth bank and ditch. There are numerous gravestones, some dating from the early 1700s.
Some years ago Tudor alabaster panels depicting the life of St Catherine (or St Katherine)were discovered in Lydiate Hall and these presumably had come from this church. They are now safely housed nearby in the Victorian Catholic Church, just across the road from Lydiate Hall Farm.
At present things are looking a little more hopeful for the ruin. It is a Grade II* listed building and is part of a conservation area that includes the nearby Lydiate Hall. A ‘Friends Of The Abbey’ group has been set up and they hold events during the year such as picnics and concerts so that the building and grounds are put to good use. You can see more details of their activities on the Lydiate Parish Council website (see reference at the bottom of this page or click here).
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2016
The site is free to visit and open access. Park at the nearby village hall on the main road. Alternatively park at Lydiate Hall Farm tea rooms and walk down, or in the Scotch Piper pub car park next door to the ruin. Be sure to give them some custom if you use either of these car parks- let’s support our local businesses !
Nearby, just a short walk away: Lydiate Hall ruins
Friends of the Abbey on Lydiate Parish Council website click here http://lydiateparishcouncil.gov.uk/friends-of-the-abbey/
On site interpretation boards – funded by English Heritage amongst others
Historic England Website https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1017499