Matterdale Church

Banner Image: Matterdale Church © Gordon Lightburn

In 1566, the residents of Matterdale petitioned the Bishop for their own church. The valley lay within the parish of Greystoke and they had to travel there for religious rites such as marriage, baptisms and funerals. The bishop allowed them a chapel of ease, but the condition imposed was that they had to build their own, house the curate, provide a salary and continue to pay tithes to the Vicar of Greystoke, a practice which continued into the 19th century and caused resentment amongst locals. The chapel was built in the 1570s and consecrated in 1580.

The chapel is a simple rectangular building of cobbles with lime mortar facing. In the north wall, the extent of the original building is visible, it having been the same width, but shorter. It is not known when the church was lengthened. Massive oak beams can be seen in the interior. One has a date MdXXxxxxxIII inscribed with some initials. There is some dispute as to whether this refers to the date of building being 1573, or 1753 when alterations were made, the carpenter using capital Xs to denote hundreds. This seems unlikely, so the beams may well be original.

Matterdale Church interior, courtesy of Patterdale TODAY

A priest’s door in the south wall has been blocked up. A stone with an inscription has been inserted in the wall here. It dates from 1686, but was found in the churchyard in 1848. It has carved the initials I.W. (thought to be John Wilkinson) Church Warden and C.S. Forman Mason (initials unknown).

In the 1750s, the church was replastered and the interior flagged and seating renewed. In 1848, the tower was added to a house a bell, the roof was slated and a musician’s gallery was added. Then in 1881, the raised sanctuary step was added and the seat around the altar for the choir. The seventeenth century triple-decker pulpit was altered to form the current one. The large seat to the right of the inner door was a coffin rest.

Matterdale Church © Gordon Lightburn

The stained glass window above the altar depicts the nativity and is late 19th century.

Until the late 19th century, most of the seats were appropriated, that is they were assigned to particular residents in the valley. The Religious Census of 1851 records that there were only 20 “free” sittings. A seating plan exists (see photo) which is undated, but 19th century. It assigns some pews to a person by name and others to a named house. Appropriated seats were criticised in Victorian Britain for making the Church inaccessible and the practice was gradually abandoned.

Matterdale Church seating plan, undated, Carlisle Archive PR-130-19 © Emma Bray

The current organ was installed in 1937, presented by Mrs Cropper. At the time, there was no mains electricity in the valley, so a hand pump was used.

The large font is though to be Norman and came from Greystoke Church. The smaller font which is used today is probably 17th century.

In 2006, an extension was built on the east end of the church to house a meeting room and toilet.

by Emma Bray


Keith Clark, “Matterdale Church”, Matterdale Historical and Archaeological Society Yearbook Volume 12, 2005, p. 47.

Matterdale Church Seating Plan, Carlisle Archive, PR-130-19