All Saints Church Watermillock

Banner Image: Approaching Watermillock Church © Janet Wedgwood

Watermillock was historically a chapelry within the parish of Greystoke until it became a rectory in its own right in 1867. According to written records, it had a chapel from at least 1218. The original chapel was probably at the lake side at Old Church Bay and tradition tells that it was destroyed by the Scots. A replacement may have been built at Gowbarrow Hall – Clark’s Survey of the Lakes, 1789 refers to a document dated 1474 which states that there had been a chapel and burial ground at Gowbarrow Hall and Clark says this too was destroyed by the Scots. Whatever the truth, a new church was built on the site of the current one west of the lake and was consecrated in 1558. Clark says that the chapel served people on both sides of the lake, those on the far shore coming over in boats.

Until it became a rectory, Watermillock was served by a curate, the first named being Robert Pearson who died in 1596. The patron was The Rector of Greystoke who received tithes from the parishioners.

James Clark’s Survey of the Lakes records that some locals used to hunt and gather nuts on Priest’s Crag behind the church instead of attending worship on a Sunday. The curate threatened them with the words: “O ye wicked of Watermillock and ye perverse of New Kirk, ye go a-hunting and a-nutting and a-whoring on the Sabbath day, but on my soul, if you go any more I’ll go with you.” When the Bishop heard of this, he ordered that the wood be felled.

The church was a white-washed building with oak box pews facing north and south in a series of steps. There was a gallery, but no organ, chancel or glass. The building was damp and in 1881 it was demolished and replaced with the current structure built in red sandstone and slate. The nave is on the foundations of the old church, but the new building is larger. The £700 cost of building the chancel was met by a donation by Mrs Pritchard, widow of the vicar. Consecration of the building was in 1882 and the tower two years later. The font, of polished Shap granite, was presented by Mrs le Grix White.

Watermillock Church © Gordon Lightburn

The stained glass windows were all donations in memory of parishioners. There are also tablets in memory of the Spring-Rice family, including the Ambassador, Sir Cecil Spring Rice who wrote the words of the hymn, “I vow to thee my country”.

The burial ground of All Saints is both sad and delightful. Several table tombs are listed monuments and include the Hudsons’, Dowthwaites’, Rumneys’, Pollards’ and Marshalls’. Near the church entrance is the red sandstone chest tomb of John Marshall and his wife Jane. Jane Marshall, daughter of a mill owner from Halifax, was a constant companion to Dorothy Wordsworth. John Marshall, a flax spinner with premises in Holbeck near Leeds, became great friends with Dorothy’s brother, the poet William Wordsworth. The Marshall family owned a holiday home at Halsteads, now an Outward Bound centre on the shores of Ullswater, and the Wordsworths would often visit them there.

Window dedicated to the Spring Rice family © Gordon Lightburn

The three ancient yews in the churchyard may well date back to an earlier church. Yews can reach an age of 400-600 years and many churchyards in England have yews that are older than the church itself.

Tablet in memory of Sir Cecil Spring-Rice © Gordon Lightburn

by Emma Bray

Source: Keith Clark, “Watermillock Church”, Matterdale Hisotrical and Archaeological Society Year Book, Vol. 15 2008, p. 33

Piece by Val Abraham on