St. Andrew's Church, Dacre and Dacre Bears

Banner image: Dacre Church © Gordon Lightburn

The actual age of St Andrew, Dacre, is unknown, but it is recorded that Nicolas of Appelby was vicar and vacated the living in 1296. Excavations suggest that the church was built on the site of the earlier monastery at Dacre which is mentioned by Bede. Alterations to the church have been dated to the 13th and 14th centuries and again when it was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The tower is Norman, but rebuilt in 1810. The arch from the tower into the nave is original. The arcades in the nave are early 13th century. Two of the pillars are circular and the others are octagonal.

Dacre Church Tower © Gordon Lightburn

The font dates from 1865 and is white limestone on a base of red and grey sandstone. The stained glass windows in the north aisle were donated in memory of members of the Hasell family of Dalemain. They show Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child.

The wind-blown pipe organ is a recent installation in memory of Sylvia McCosh of Dalemain. It came from Carnforth Methodist Church and was installed in 2001-2.

The pulpit has five wooden bays on a pink sandstone base. Each bay has a different Greek letter to symbolise the beginning and end of time, eternity, Holy Trinity and Christ. Next to the pulpit is a chained Bible dated 1617. It had been sold in 1767 but was returned to the Church in 1911. Unfortunately, it was stolen in the summer of 2019.

Memorial Window for Sylvia Mary McCosh © Janet Wedgwood

The chancel is thought to be the oldest part of the church (late 12th century) and belongs to the Hasells of Dalemain. The arch separating the chancel from the nave is 19th century, replacing a low arch. Most of the stained glass windows here are also 19th century and are dedicated to Edwards Williams Hasell (1796-1872).

In the chancel there are fragments of two cross shafts from the Viking period. One is 9th century and depicts a winged creature; the other is 10th or 11th century and possibly represents Abraham and Isaac at the top and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the bottom. Interestingly, Eve is wearing a skirt.

The East window of the South Aisle has a memorial window to Viscount William Whitelaw, Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. He died in 1999 and is buried at Dacre. The designer was Anna Sklovsky and it depicts the Tree of Life and the Dove of Peace.

The porch in the South Aisle was blocked up in 1788, but reopened with a new door in 1875. The mortice lock in this door bears the date 1671 and the initials “AP”, that is Anne, Countess of Pembrokeshire and Montgomeryshire, otherwise known as Lady Anne Clifford. Lady Anne gave a number of these locks as gifts to her friends. The Church also possesses a silver Tudor Communion Cup dated 1583 which belonged to Lady Anne’s father and which she bequeathed to her steward, Edward Hasell.

There are three bells at Dacre. The tenor, St Bartholomew, bell is late 13th century. The middle bell was cast at York in 1371 by John of Kirkham. The treble bell dates from 1606 and was made in York by William Oldfield.

This entry is based on the pamphlet “The Church of St Andrew, Dacre” produced by parishioners, and www.dacrechurch.com


The Dacre Bears

Four ancient stone sculptures in the churchyard at Dacre are thought to depict bears, but their origins and purpose are shrouded in mystery.

The four Dacre Bears © Gordon Lightburn

The older part of the churchyard at Dacre has four stone figures at each corner whose origins and meaning are a mystery. They are known as the Dacre bears, although the tail and mane on some of them suggests the figure of a lion.


The first written mention of the bears was in 1704 when Bishop Nicholson likened them to the Bear and Ragged Staff which is the heraldic emblem of the Earls of Warwick. The figures are clutching a pillar, but the Warwick’s symbol was not adopted until the 15th century and these stone carvings pre-date this. Another theory was put forward in 1890 by Ferguson who suggested that the bears are comical and that close examination shows they depict a story. At some point in the past, they would have been sited on top of the church tower or perhaps the castle or other building. He proposed that the bears, sitting on their hind quarters, tell the following story:

NW Corner – At first the bear is asleep with its head on top of a pillar. Although it looks as though the head is missing, it is merely tucked between its front paws.

SW Corner – An animal, possibly feline, has sprung onto the bear’s back. The bear has awoken and lifted its head in surprise.

SE Corner – The bear in now alert and has lifted its right paw to clutch the animal, just above where the bear’s tail joins its back. The bear’s head is turned to the left.

NE Corner - The bear is now in repose. It has swallowed the creature and, satisfied, rests its face on the pillar.

This could be seen as an allegory for good overcoming evil.


The story is appealing, but has not been confirmed. The mane and long tale are confusing and suggest that the figures might have been intended to depict lions. A recent archaeological opinion is that the “bears” are pre-Saxon in age and may mark the boundaries of a pagan site of worship that pre-dated the monastery on the site.


Sources

Worshipful Chancellor Ferguson FSA, “The Bears of Dacre”, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (1891) Series 1, Vol 11, p 323

The Church of St Andrew, Dacre, Booklet produced by Dacre Church (2008)

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