St Columba's Church,

Walney Island

(within the Roman Catholic diocese of Lancaster)

Parish Priest: Fr. Bernard Woods, Tel. 01229 471405 or Email  

For some historical pictures of Walney visit our Gallery.

The present church at St. Columba's dates from the early 60s, and takes the place of the one which was part of the present primary school of St. Columba's. Since it was first built, the church has undergone some remodelling, to take into account the changes in the Liturgy since the Second Vatican Council.  A chapel has been built on the side of the church, which is used for Mass during the week, and also for the children's liturgy on Sunday mornings.

The parish of St. Columba reflects the community in which it is situated (see map). It is very much an island community, and, in comparison to many other parishes, very active and committed. There are around 1400 baptised Catholics on the island, out of a total of 12-13000.

There is Mass every day of the week, and morning prayer. This is shared with the other Christian denominations on the island once a week, alternating between St. Columba's, St Mary's and Vickerstown Methodist Church. This initiative is only part of the commitment that the different Churches have to each other (see our Ecumenical Partnership.) On various Sundays during the year  we have a united service, usually at 6.30pm which alternates between the three Walney churches.

Besides the church, there is also a very thriving school of around 200 pupils, working very much hand-in-glove with the now combined parish of St. Columba's, Walney & St Patrick's, Barrow Island.  Since 2009 the parish has shared one priest with Sacred Heart Church in Barrow, with the various services being alternated.  For details of other St Columba's church organisations, please click here.  Further information on St Columba's own website.

St. Columba's, Walney Island

Times of services:

Saturday: Vigil Mass: 5.30pm at St Columba's

Sunday: Mass: 11.00am at St Columba's 

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: Mass at St. Columba's, 8.45 am (other days at Sacred Heart Church, Barrow)



Have a look at our Millennium Prayer

Historical Notes

(provided by Dr. Anne C. Parkinson)

There is evidence from the archaeological discovery early this century of fragments of two ancient Viking crosses at Urswick Church, that Christianity has been present in Furness from at least the 9th century. But there is no recorded ecclesiastical history until the 12th century. In 1124 Stephen, earl of Boulogne, afterwards (1135-1154) king of England, gave the abbot of Savigny, in Normandy, the site in the Valley of the Deadly Nightshade, near Dalton, on which his monks built their abbey dedicated to St. Mary of Furness. These monks followed the rule of St. Benedict, but in 1147 their order joined with that of Citeaux, following the more austere Cistercian rule.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus, compiled by Thomas Cromwell in 1535, by order of Henry VIII, to assess the value of all the religious houses in England, revealed that Furness Abbey owned Granges in Walney at Southend, Biggar, Northend and North Scale. They were all of higher value than that at Barray Head, which subsequently developed into the town of Barrow. Following this valuation, all religious houses of 200 or less were made liable for dissolution. This affected the local priories of Cartmel and Conishead. Dissatisfaction by the people of the north resulting from these closures and subsequent loss of pastoral and social amenities, not least the guides for the crossing of the sands of Morecambe Bay, caused the local people to join in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 to petition for their reopening. The collapse of this rising (and subsequent arrest of many for treason) placed all the larger abbeys in peril. The abbot of Fountains Abbey had been executed, and Furness, being the next largest Cistercian abbey, came under suspicion. No evidence of treason could be found against the abbot, but he was eventually 'persuaded' to voluntarily surrender his House to the King - the first in England to do so.

Furness Abbey

During the Civil War there were a few skirmishes; one at Lindal and another that involved fighting at Hawcoat (at which the King's men were successful in forcing the Parliamentarians to retreat). From Hawcoat the Royalists, led by Sir John Maney, made their way to Walney, via the ford at low tide, to North Scale. The inhabitants' sympathies lay with the Parliamentarians. The village was deserted, and the King's men razed it by fire, apart from two houses, one of stone, the other belonging to a Royalist supporter. All opposition ceased. According to the diary of Sir Henry Slingsby, Sir John 'had an old parson that had in former times been a priest of the Roman Church to preach unto them and his sermon was to dehort them from rebellion. His pulpit was a large stone which he leaned upon, the countrymen standing round him very attentive to hear.'

The Preston family, who acquired the Abbey estates, always kept a priest as a private chaplain throughout the Elizabethan and Stuart periods, at their home the Manor of Furness, the remains of which still stands as the Abbey Tavern. The last Preston left provision for a fund for the support of Jesuit priests to serve the Furness area, known as the Manor Mission of Furness. The first Jesuit to serve Furness was Clement Smith S.J. He resided at Bardsea Hall, from sometime in the 1680s until his untimely death in 1695. Following him, there were a series of priests (mostly Jesuit, although there was one Benedictine) who served the area, making Lindal their base, and acting as 'Riding Priests', covering an area as far afield as Kendal and Workington.

St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Barrow-in-Furness

The most illustrious of the Jesuit priests to serve the Manor Mission was Thomas West S.J., a member of the Society of Antiquaries and a noted historian, writing both "The Antiquities of Furness or An Account of the Royal Abbey of Furness" and also "A Guide to the Lakes". He was well respected by all, a friend of Lord George Cavendish and also of Edward Jackson the Vicar of Coulton. He lived first at Titeup Hall near Dalton, and then moved first to Swarthmoor Hall and then to Ulverston. From then onwards the Manor Mission was based at Ulverston, where eventually the trust fund left to the Jesuits by Sir Thomas Preston was used to build the first Catholic Church in Ulverston following the Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 (which allowed the building of Catholic churches). The foundation stone was brought from the ruins of Furness Abbey, and the dedication was once again that of the Abbey - St. Mary of Furness. After the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 the Jesuits handed over the mission at Ulverston to the Bishop of Liverpool. As the centre of industry and population moved from the market town of Ulverston to Barrow, so the church of St. Mary of Furness at Barrow, opened in 1867, became the mother church from which the various daughter churches in the town, including St. Columba's on Walney, sprang.

St. Columba's was established in 1916, initially as a chapel of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Barrow Island. St. Patrick's had been established in 1885 and was rebuilt in 1933. It originally replaced a temporary wooden structure, situated amongst the town's notorious and insanitary Barrow Island Huts.

In 1949, St. Columba's became an independent parish in its own right. The church until that time had been located in the school of St. Columba. Plans were subsequently made for a new church, and the present building was consecrated by the Bishop of Lancaster in 1958.

For further information on the above see: Anne C. Parkinson "A History of Catholicism in the Furness Peninsula 1127-1997", published by the Centre for North West Regional Studies,  Lancaster University. ISBN 1-86220-055-6. Available at the Deanery Bookshop, Heath's, Ottaker's and Furness Abbey museum (all local to Barrow-in-Furness)

Visit Gallery or read a history of the Vickerstown Estates

Religious News from around the world

Return to Walney Churches Home Page