St. Michael's Church Barton

St Michael’s Barton is an ancient parish church, the earliest parts dating from the Normans

The parish of Barton originally extended from Eamont Bridge in the north to Hartsop in the south and east to Martindale. The parish church, St Michael’s, was built in 1150 by the de Lancasters. They were Normans, descended from Ivo de Taillebois, and resided at Lancaster Castle. The nave survives from this early period. In 1250, the south aisle was built with octagonal pillars, the north aisle in 1280 and the south chapel in 1300. This was originally a chantry, used to pray for the dead. The exterior of the west wall shows the join between the 12th century nave and 13th century aisles.

Changes through the ages

In 1318, the church was assigned to Augustinian monks at Watre Priory in Yorkshire. They enlarged the chancel which would have had a thatched roof.

The south porch was added in 1600 and the church repaired, flagged and re-roofed in the 18th century during which time a gallery and box pews were added. These were removed in 1903 when the church was restored, plasterwork removed and oak barrel vaulting was installed. A new pulpit and prayer desk were also added. The roof was raised at this point, but the height of the 14th century roof can be seen by looking at exterior stonework on the east wall of the chancel.

Back to de Lancaster origins

At the dissolution of the monasteries, patronage of the church was granted to the Earl of Rutland who sold it to Michael Hudson of Barton Church and Lancelot Lancaster of Barton Hall. It thus passed back to the Lancasters. The arms of the Sockbridge de Lancaster family are carved in stone to the left of the East window in the south chapel. These are thought to have influenced the Stars and Stripes, having been adapted by George Washington’s ancestors.

Lowthers and Hasells share patronage

The Lancaster claim passed to the Lowther family in 1638 through marriage and the Hudson share to the Hasells of Dalemain in 1712. The Lowther and Hasell families shared the patronage, contributing jointly to expenses such as candles and repairs to the roof.

The oldest vicarage associated with Barton is Glebe Farm, built by Lancelot Dawes in 1637. The glebe lands ran down to the River Eamont and east to Kirkcroft Head. The incumbent vicar could use the agricultural revenue from these lands to supplement his stipend.

Wordsworth connections

The church has associations with the family of William Wordsworth. His grandfather, Richard Wordsworth (1680 – 1760) is buried beneath the chancel. He lived at Sockbridge Hall and was Receiver General for Westmorland. During the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745, he hid in the hills in Patterdale with the county money. There is also a memorial in the south chapel to commemorate the poet’s cousin John. He was a captain in the East India Company and died aboard The Atlantic.

Outside the church, the carved lychgate was built in 1920 as a memorial to the fallen in the Great War. Ten parishioners are commemorated in the gate.

This text is based on Richard Gravil's guide to the Church and Parish of St Michael’s Barton, written January 2010, revised May 2016

Photos by Janet Wedgwood, Gordon Lightburn and Cecilia McCabe