Churches and Parishes 1092 - 1800

by Emma Bray

Banner Image: Barton Church © Janet Wedgwood

Normans transform the church

Although the Christian religion was firmly established in England by the time of the Norman Conquest, William I set about transforming the Church in order to increase his control over the population. Old monasteries were reformed and new ones created, including several great houses in Cumbria such as Furness and St Bees. It is thought that the monastery at Dacre, referred to by Bede in AD 731, had ceased to exist by the time of the Conquest.

William I replaced Saxon bishops with Norman clergy, he brought the Church closer to Rome and instigated 150 years of religious building. Wooden Anglo-Saxon churches was replaced with stone buildings and vast cathedrals were created in the Norman’s distinctive Romanesque architecture.

Ullswater's Norman churches

There are two surviving examples of churches built in this period in the Ullswater area.

The nave at St Michael’s, Barton, was built in around 1150 by William de Lancaster who was made Baron of Kendal at around this time. The church at Barton was altered throughout the 13th century and again in 1330, shortly after the church had been assigned to the Augustinian Canons of Watre Priory in Yorkshire. In the Medieval period, the roof would have been thatched and the walls plastered and probably decorated. The roof was slated in the 17th century and the bare earth floor replaced with flagstones in 1704. Although the church has been altered over the centuries, its unique structure with a double rounded arch supporting the tower dates from 1330. Many of the medieval features survive today, such as a holy water stoup for purification on entry.

Barton Church Chancel © Janet Wedgwood

St Andrew’s, Dacre, also has Norman origins. The exact date of the church is unknown, but the earliest recorded vicar was Nicolas of Appleby in 1296. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first boundary to the medieval church was constructed at around the time of the Conquest and that the churchyard covered the former monastery. The tower is Norman and the arcades in the Nave date from the 13th century. After the 14th century, the church remained unaltered until it was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Dacre Church © Gordon Lightburn

Mother churches served vast areas

The North of England was characterised by very large parishes with the mother church serving a vast area. Gradually, perpetual curacies were created within these parishes with the establishment of chapels of ease, but it was not until the later 19th century that many of these chapels became parish churches in their own right.

For example, medieval Matterdale was served by the parish of Greystoke to the north and its parishioners had to travel a long distance for religious rites such as marriage and burial. It was only in 1566 that Matterdale was granted its own chapel of ease, but even then there were no baptism, marriage or burial rites until 1580 when the bishop responded to the parishioners’ complaints that they had to take infants and corpses through foul winter weather to Greystoke. Matterdale did not become an independent parish until 1865.

Matterdale Church © Gordon Lightburn

The parish of Barton stretched from Eamont Bridge in the north to Kirkstone in the south and included Martindale. The old chapel in Martindale was erected in the late Elizabethan period, but it replaced an earlier 13th century building.

In Patterdale, the earliest mention of a chapel is 1348, although the current church was built on the site of the old church in 1853 and became a parish in its own right in 1863. Pooley Bridge waited until 1865 to get its own church and Eamont Bridge until 1873.

By Emma Bray

Source: Richard Gravil, Guide to the Church and Parish of St Michael’s Barton, written January 2010, revised May 2016

St. Martin's Church, Martindale ©

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