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East Lulworth

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The Catholic Church of St Mary


The Catholic Church of St. Mary, in the grounds of Lulworth Castle

It was built in 1795 by Thomas Weld who had received permission from

King George III to build the first Catholic church since the Reformation

– on condition that it were built to resemble a garden temple.

© Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence


Chapel of St Mary

The Chapel of St Mary's in the grounds of Lulworth Castle .

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.


THE CHAPEL of St Mary’s in the grounds of Lulworth Castle is reputed to be one of the finest pieces of architecture in the entire county of Dorset. The origins of the building are bound up in the history of Roman Catholicism in England.

When Henry VIII broke from the Church of Rome and established the Church of England, Roman Catholics were subject to official persecution. The severity of the prejudice varied according to the political climate. At worst, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Catholics were hung, drawn and quartered for adhering to their faith. Although they were less severely treated during the 17th century, penalties were increased again after the Catholic King James II was deposed in 1688. They were prohibited from holding public office, and subject to double land taxes. Restrictions were placed on travel, firearms and the ownership of horses - which were often looked after by neighbouring landowners.

Secret Worship at Lulworth

IT WAS NOT UNTIL 1791 that Catholics were legally allowed to worship in public. Throughout the intervening years only clandestine services could be observed. The Weld family maintained a priest at the Castle under the guise of a tutor and welcomed others of the faith to Mass at their private Chapel, then within the Castle. By taking these risks, the Weld family and other Catholic landowners helped the Roman Catholic Church survive in England.

In 1786 Thomas Weld engaged the architect John Tasker to build the Chapel. Family tradition tells that King George III gave his permission to Thomas to ‘build a mausoleum and you may furnish it inside as you wish’. Thus St Mary’s became the first free-standing Roman Catholic Church to be built in England since the Reformation. In 1789 the King and Queen Charlotte visited the Chapel and gave it their approval. In 1790, John Carroll, the first Bishop in the United States was consecrated there.

The Interior

THE CHAPEL was designed to look like a mausoleum in classical style. The beautifully domed ceiling, lit through clear windows rather than stained glass, creates a tranquil and inspiring atmosphere.

The altar, crucifix and candlesticks were made in Rome, to the design of Giacomo Quarenghi, and shipped to Lulworth for the Chapel’s dedication.

The impressive organ was made by Richard Seede of Bristol in 1785. Originally built for the Castle it was installed here instead. In 1990 it was restored under the direction of a working party appointed by the Council of the British Organ Studies.

In the 1860s the Chapel was given a ‘Byzantine’ appearance by JR Hanson, but restored to its original scheme by H S Goodhart-Rendel in 1953.

The painting on the domed ceiling represents the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was commissioned in 1987 and pained by Sarah Jansen to commemorate the bi-centenary of the Chapel.


TRIBUTES have poured in following the sudden death of long-standing Wool parish priest Father Geoffrey Watts.

Evening Echo, Bournemouth

Monday, 18 January 2010

By Adrianne Maslen


Father Geoffrey, 63, slipped on ice in the village and was admitted to Dorset County Hospital, Dorchester suffering from a broken arm.

It is understood he successfully came through a minor operation but developed further problems and died of a heart attack.

Father Geoffrey single-handedly ran the four parishes of Bovington, Wareham, Lulworth and Wool and was the priest of the new parish of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Joseph, Wool.

He served the area for 12 years and it was his first and only appointment as a Catholic parish priest, after he converted from the Church of England in 1996.

The Rev Rhona Floate, from the Church of the Holy Rood in Wool, said: “I very much valued his co-operation and wisdom and knowledge on the local area.

“We valued his work on the Wool Churches Together group and his experience has been very supportive and helpful.

“We share in the grief of the Roman Catholic community and our prayers are with them and with his mother.”

Deacon Geoffrey Carey, from the parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Weymouth, worked with Father Geoffrey on clergy meetings.

He said: “He was a very spiritual man and a great help to people who needed advice and support. He was also known for having a very good singing voice.”

Father Geoffrey was the priest at St Mary’s Chapel at Lulworth Castle, owned by the Weld family.

Wilfrid Weld said: “We rather regarded him as a personal friend.

“When my wife Sally was High Sheriff in 2004 he was chaplain and he gave a short homily at the court opening.

“He was a lovely man and we shall miss him.”

The Rev David Baldwin, parish priest for the churches in Chaldon, Winfrith, East Lulworth and West Lulworth, worked with Father Geoffrey in East Lulworth.

He said: “He was someone I had the greatest respect for. He will be sadly missed by the congregation and the Roman Catholic community around here.”

Father Philip Dyson, who is now based in Penzance but worked with Father Geoffrey in Weymouth, said: “He had a great sense of humour, very dry.

“He was good company and a very faithful and loving priest and pastor.”

Father Geoffrey studied at Chichester Theological College and St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, near Guildford.

He was ordained as an Anglican in 1973 and spent most of his time in Devon until he joined the Catholic Church in 1996. His first post was as a curate in Branksome, Poole, before arriving in Wool 12 years ago.

His funeral is due to take place at 2.30pm on Friday at St Joseph’s Church in Wool.


Hundreds at funeral of Wool priest


Evening Echo, Bournemouth

Wednesday 27 January 2010


Hundreds of mourners crowded into the Catholic Church of St Joseph, Wool, for the funeral of Parish Priest Father Geoffrey Watts.

The Requiem Mass on Friday was celebrated by the Right Reverend Christopher Budd, Bishop of Plymouth, with 70 priests and deacons from the diocese, which stretches from Dorset to Cornwall. In his Homily, the Bishop spoke movingly of Father Geoffrey’s ministry, at first, in the Anglican Church, and after his conversion to Catholicism, in the Catholic Church.

He had ordained Father Geoffrey in 1996 and said this was the first time he had had to conduct the funeral of one of his priests. He paid tribute to Father Geoffrey’s spirituality and pastoral work. The Bishop expressed his sympathy to Father Geoffrey’s mother, Margaret, and to all the parishoners for the loss of a “well-loved priest who would be sadly missed” by himself and his clergy.

Father Geoffrey’s friend and fellow Priest Canon Kevin Mitchell, who gave the eulogy, spoke of his great sense of humour and dry wit.

He went on to stress his spirituality, his great love for his church and people, and the strength of his deep faith.

The requiem mass, which was attended by an estimated 500 people, was followed by a private interment at East Lulworth. Father Geoffrey had served the combined Parishes of Wool, Wareham and the Lulworths, now known as Our Lady Queen of Martyrs & St Joseph, for 12 years, when he died suddenly on January 14 in Dorchester County Hospital at the age of 63. At the first Sunday parish mass following his funeral, a collection was made for the victims of the Haiti earthquake in memory of Father Geoffrey.




Vividly painted dome

The interior of SY8582 : East Lulworth: church built to look like a house, showing part of the dome which was painted in 1988 based on the original painting of the 1950s.

© Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.


The Catholic Chapel of St. Mary

© Copyright Elizabeth White

Reproduced with permission of Elizabeth White and DiCamilloCompanion.com