St. Martin's Church Martindale

Banner Image: Martindale Old Church with daffodils © Janet Wedgwood

The Old Church in Martindale is dedicated to St Martin of Tours. It was built in the 16th century, but on an earlier medieval footprint. The earliest written record of a church here dates from 1220. St Martin’s is a good example of a Lakeland vernacular church with a very simple interior. It has a single-vessel nave, chancel, west lobby and vestries. The windows are simple with wooden frames.

The reading desk dates from 1634 and was given by John Dawes who lived near Sandwick. The font is said to have come from a Roman shrine on High Street and was at some point used as a whetstone for sharpening blades. The 15th century bell bears an inscription in Lombardic letters which has not been deciphered.

Harvest at St. Martin's © Janet Wedgwood
St. Martin's old font © Janet Wedgwood
Bell © Richard Gravil

The chapel was a perpetual curacy, the mother church being St Michael’s Barton. Clarke’s Survey of the Lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, 1787 states that the endowment was 21.15.4d per annum, a paltry amount. A Mr Richard Birker held the post for 67 years and died a rich man in spite of the stipend, taking advantage of being one of the few parishioners who could write – he was nicknamed the Lawyer. He also acted as schoolteacher and expected 2 week’s board from each parent of his scholars. At Easter, he was entitled to payment in eggs and rejected any that passed through a hole he used as a gage. Clarke also recorded that on Birker’s death an external curate could not be found on account of the poor stipend, so the parishioners took turns to take the service until they appointed a local man, Mr Brownrigg as perpetual reader. They petitioned the Bishop to grant him deacon’s orders. The Bishop duly consented and he served a further 48 years.

In 1882, a new church was built on the hause. In the same year, the roof at St Martin’s collapsed. Today, the church is used occasionally for evensong during the summer months.

There is an ancient yew in the churchyard, known to have existed since at least 1220, although there are unsubstantiated claims that it dates from as early as 700 AD. Yew trees have long been connected with religious symbolism. Being evergreen, they were associated with everlasting life and Druids viewed the species as a symbol of reincarnation – part of the regenerative power of nature. It is possible that trees such as this predate the place of worship because the church was built on a pagan site. However, it is equally possible that they were planted in the churchyard to symbolise eternal life. It is said that the Martindale yew was used by local archers to make their longbows for the Battle of Agincourt.

by Emma Bray

Martindale Old Church Yew © Janet Wedgwood


Richard Gravil, St Michael’s, Barton, A Short Guide to Church and Parish

James Clarke, Survey of the Lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, 1787