St. Bridget’s Church Calderbridge


A brief history of the Parish to mark the 150’th anniversary of the Consecration of the Church building in Calderbridge, Cumbria.

P.C.C. Beckermet St.Bridget’s with Ponsonby. 1994


Thanks are due to the following for their kind assistance in the preparation of this booklet:

The staff of the Cumbria Record Office,

Carlisle. The staff of the Daniel Hay Library, Whitehaven.
The Reverand P.Evans.
The Reverand J.C.Johnson.
Mrs. D.Rowell.
Mrs. L.Stewart.

The various individual people who provided information,guidance and advice.

Our celebrations marking the one hundred & fiftieth anniversary: of the present Church of St.Bridget,Calderbridge prompt us to reflect on a much longer history.

From a pre-monastic age to the present nuclear age,the presence and work of the Church has been maintained in this remote,and hitherto quiet rural area by those who felt constrained to respond,according to their lights,to their awareness of God’s loving mercy and care.

This booklet depicts something of that long, and fascinating history,and will,I trust,serve in some measure to inspire us,and succeeding generations in the offering of our own response.


The early 1840’s,the Victorian era had only just begun,Sir Robert Peel commenced his third term as Prime Minister.

In the world at large,1841 saw New Zealand become a British colony,and Britain also gained Hong Kong.The United States of America increased their number to twenty eight with the inclusion of Texas and Florida in 1845.

In Britain, the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black,made its appearance in 1840,the year in. which the first “proper” bicycle was built by Kirkpatrick Fleming just over the Border, In Parliament,an Act of 1842 forbade the employment of women and children in the mines, and in the literary world,a Mr.Charles Dickens had published his novel, “The Old Curiosity Shop” in 1841,followed two years later by “A Christmas Carol”. The railway network was extending throughout the Country,and by 1840,the line north westward from London had reached Lancaster.

Locally the Maryport and Carlisle Railway opened in stages between 1840 and 1844,the latter year seeing the Act of Parliament for the connecting line to Whitehaven receive the Royal Assent.In Whitehaven,the Wellington Pit,on the south shore was being sunk.

And in Calderbridge,in 1842,a new church building was completed,the first service in the unconsecrated building was held in May of that year.In that same month,it was reported in the Cumberland Pacquet,that there was a good attendance at Boonwood Sports,with Henry Jackson of “Beckermont” winning the wrestling.A few days later,the Gosforth Hiring Fair was held,with good servants obtaining £11 to £13 for.the half year. At Egremont,the Whitsun Hiring Fair also went well,tending to overshadow the market,with the result that prices were somewhat low, oats making 8s 6d to 9s 3d per bushel,butter up to lid per 1b.,potatoes at 4d to 5d per stone and eggs 12 for 6d. .

This was the world of 150 years ago.

The Church at Calderbridge.

The new church of the Parish of St.Bridgets, Beckermet was built in 1842 in the village of Calderbridge. The first service was held in May of that year, “on which occasion, a most appropriate sermon was preached by the Rev.R.P. Buddicom.M.A.,principal of the Clerical Institution at St.Bees.”

The church was consecrated on St.John the Baptist’s day June 24th,1844,by Bishop John Bird of Chester,as this part of Cumberland was then in the Diocese of Chester.At the service,the sentence of consecration was read by the’ Venerable Chancelloy,Henry Raikes,and then the Bishop,Chancellor,Minister,and clergy present walked down the aisle of the church and back reciting Psalm 24,-“The earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is….”

Following prayers by the Rev.Sharpe Mossop,the Bishop then preached a sermon from the 13th Chapter of St.Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians,and the 14th verse -“The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ….”

After the service,the scholars belonging to Calderbridge Sunday School,about 50 in number, went to the schoolroom for tea and cakes provided by Mrs.Irwin of Calder Abbey.

The church at Calderbridge was built at the sole expense of Captain Thomas Irwin of Calder Abbey,who had gained the estate on his marriage in 1823 at Kirk Linton to his cousin,Mary,eldest daughter and heiress of Joseph Tiffin Senhouse.

The church,in red sandstone,with narrow lancet windows,is cross shaped with a long nave and short chancel.The west tower,topped by pinnacles, contains a bell,and a clock by Wm.Sealey of Egremont,which strikes the hour.

The building was designed by Edmund Sharpe, famous for his works in the Dec style.

In the original church,the organ,pulpit,prayer desk and lectern were made of mahogany,with the altar,credence table,and communion rails of carved oak.The consecration deed declared all seats(about 272) to be free to all parishioners, except those in the North Transept that were held by the owners (or occupiers) of Calder Abbey.

The three-light east window was filled with stained glass in 1879 by public subscription, in memory of Captain Irwin who died in 1877.The window,showing scenes from the Life of Jesus integrated with Calderbridge Church “built upon a rock”,was designed by Henry Holliday,artist for 30 years with the firm of Powell of Whitefriars, London,one of the most important studios and glass manufacturers in the country.It was they who completely revolutionised the quality of glass available for stained glass work.In collaboration with a lawyer,Charles Winston,who was interestad in medieval art,they re-discovered the techniques for manufacturing medieval glass of varying thickness and texture in place of the sheet glass of the day.

In 1884,the Vestry Meeting granted leave to the Rev.A.G.Loftie to “make improvements at the entrance gate by removing the steps and making an incline.’

In 1894, an application was made for a faculty to carry out extensive alterations.These included a porch for the door in the tower,the formation of a baptistery under the gallery,lowering,by six inches,of the pews in the nave,the formation of an arch in the South Transept wall with alterations to the south east porch,both to accommodate an organ chamber,the enlargement of the vestry,exchanging the positions of the Pulpit and Lectern (Pulpit to the north side and Lectern to the south ),and the reglazing of the whole of the Nave and Transepts with square,leaded, Cathedral glass.

A new organ,built by Jardine & Co.of Manchester,was installed in memory of Thomas Rymer Esq.of Calder Abbey who died in 1902.

The present font in the Baptistery was a “Gift of the children of the Parish,A.D.1903.”

The wooden Lectern, now in the Old Church,was replaced by the current one,a gift from the widow of the Rev.J.Steele of Croft Lodge, Beckermet,who died in 1907.

A single stained glass window, by Abbot & Co. of Lancaster,was erected in 1933 in the Nave by the family of Lieutenant Arthur Joseph Steele, who was killed in action in Gallipoli in 1915.

He was the third son of the Rev.J.and Mrs.Steele of Croft Lodge,Beckermet. The window depicts Jesus with children.

In 1960,the gift of a new Altar,in light oak, was made by the widow of Mr. John Cartner, erstwhile manager of the Co-op shop in Beckermet. In the following year,new Altar rails in light oak,together with a new credence table and chair, both also in oak,were given in memory of Joseph and Sarah Geldart of Calderbridge and their daughters,Sarah Jane and Mary Hannah.

The church contains four memorial tablets, all in the North Transept:

Thomas Irwin and his wife,Mary
of Calder Abbey, and their brother James Irwin.
Joseph Tiffin Senhouse, his wife Sarah
of Calder Abbbey,
and his sister
Sarah Senhouse.

These two memorials are above the Calder Abbey pew.On the wall opposite the Calder Abbey ew: :

Thomas Harrison Rymer and his wife,
Amy Elizabeth Rymer of Calder Abbey.
Above the Vestry door:
The Reverend
Sharp Mossop,
Incumbent of the Parishes of
St.Bridget and St.John,Beckermet,
and first Minister
of Calderbridge Church.

St.Bridgets Old Church.

The new church at Calderbridge was built “in lieu and stead” of the Old Church of St.Bridgets (the Low Church) which lies in an isolated position about half a mile from the village of Beckermet. In a faculty of 1844,it was declared that the Old Church had been “pulled down”.

The origins of the Old Church are lost in the mists of time,but it is thought that it was founded by Celtic missionaries who came at an early date from Ireland,most probably via Scotland,to preach Christianity amongst the mixed heathen tribes of Britons and Picts that inhabited the west coast of Cumberland at that time.

There has been a suggestion that St.Bridgets was a small nunnery ,with nearby St.Johns a small monastery,perhaps as early as the seventh century.

The church is dedicated to St.Bridget or Bride, an Irish Saint,thought to have been born around A.D.453 near Dundalk. She founded the first nunnery in Ireland at “C411-Dara”,(the Church of the Oak) ,now Kildare,and is reputed to have exercised a potent influence on the growth of the early Irish Church.She died around A.D.523.

There are four other ancient church dedications to St.Bridget (or Bride) in West Cumbria,namely Brigham,Bridekirk, Kirkbride ,and Moresby.

The early St.Bridgets Beckermet. would most probably be built of wood.The Church was given to Calder Abbey before the year 1262,possbly as early as 1160.It is thought that the chancel arch is early English, and suggests that the church was rebuilt about the year 1220,around the same time as Thomas de Multon,Lord of Egremont, rebuilt the Abbey Church of St. Mary at Calder.

The building,consisting of a Chancel and a Nave,and exhibiting 4 spartan simplicity,has been much altered in character over the years,-

The . , h had disappeared before 1840

as also had a headed door on the

south side of the Chancel,and two windows,each with two round-headed lights under square dripstones. The oak roof was covered about the year 1808 by a plaster ceiling,”as dazzling white as white-wash can make it.”

At the west end,over the entrance,is a bell turret carrying a pair of bells from the same foundry ,and both dating from before the Reformation.

In the churchyard of the Old Church are the remnants of two ancient cross shafts.One is of whitish sandstone,with ornamentation. The other, of red sandstone, has the remains of an inscription,the deciphering of which has been attempted several times over the years.

The interpretations range from a memorial to “Bishop Tuda” (of Northumbria),who died of the plague in A.D.664, a memorial to “Queen Arlec and her gon, Athfeschar”,a cross in honour of the Holy Virgin Bridget by Abbot Adulf of Iona, to one based on Manx-Gaelic in ancient Trish lettering translated as a memorial to “John mac Caibre”.

The popular one of course,is the R.Carr Ellison version of 1866:

To Beloved

Offspring Edith

Little Maid in

Slumber Waned

Years 12.Pray ye for Her Soul Year 1103.

As with the origins of the Old Church,the answer is lost in the mists of time.

The church was re-pewed and a new wooden floor put down in 1877.1n 1883,a new stone mullioned East window was installed in place of

the old wooden square one and in 1889, one of the |

north windows was replaced by an oak mullioned one with an iron frame and cathedral glass.

The Church is still used for services three times a year ,May,July,and September,and the churchyard is the burial ground for St.Bridget’s Parish. .

Calder Abbey.

The church building in Calderbridge was not the first church in the “Vale of Calder.” The Abbey Church of St. Mary was built about a mile up the valley in the 12th century.The gift of land was made in 1134 by Ranulph de Meschines of Egremont Castle.Ranulph’s father,William, had built Egremont Castle after having been given the Barony of Copeland (all the land between the Duddon and the Derwent) by Henry I in 1120, following the changes in ownership of the lands acquired by William’s brother,also called Ranulph,Earl of Chester.

The site was occupied by twelve Benedictine monks from Furness Abbey (founded in 1127 by William the Conqueror’s grandson,Stephen, later King,for Benedictine monks from Savigny in Normandy.This house later joined the Gistercian Order and Furness,being a daughter house, followed suit,Calder later becoming connected with the Order in 1148.)

By 1138,the Barony of Copeland had transferred via Alice to her husband,WilliamFitzDuncan, nephew of King David of Scotland.On the death of Henry I, in 1135, the planned succession of Matilda,his daughter to Matilda,the daughter of Malcolm of Scotland,was thwarted by Henry’s nephew,Stephen, who proclaimed himself King.In the unrest which followed ,William FitzDuncan made his contribution to the Scottish cause by leading a band of Galwegians and Picts of the Scottish army on a trail of destruction through his wife’s lands in Cumberland and Craven in Yorkshire.The Abbey buildings were burned down and the monks fled, taking their belongings with them .They sought refuge at Furness, but were turned away and eventually. found refuge in Yorkshire,. .

On the return of relative peace to the area,

a second colony of monks was sent out from Furness to re-settle Calder in 1138.The Abbey buildings were probably rebuilt in wood by William FitzDuncan,most likely as some form of atonement for his misdeeds.

About 49 years later, a stone church was built, the west doorway (still remaining today ). of which was incorporated into a second, larger, stone church built by Thomas de Multon of Egremont Castle around 1220.

Another Scottish raid in 1322 partly destroyed this large church which soon after was partly restored and partly rebuilt with lower roofs in a later style.

The churches of St.John the Baptist at Beckermet and St.Michael,Arlecdon, were appropriated to the’ Abbey: in 1262.

The many gifts of lands and rights received from various donors were confirmed in a deed from Henry III in 1230,amongst them being “Stovenerge “.Most of the parish except the village of St.Bridget,Beckermet itself,and Godderthwaite belonged to Calder Abbey. (“Stovenerge”,thought to be todays Stephney, and Godderthwaite are supposed to be originally Norse settlementsGodderthwaite may have had connections with Haile rather than with Beckermet)

The abbeys of England began with noble intentions,but over the centuries there was a tendency towards greed and corruption in some of them.Henry VIII used this as an excuse to suppress them,and for the State to consfiscate their property and possessions. Calder Abbey was surrendered to the King’s Commissioners in February 1536. In 1538,the Abbey and its lands were granted to the Head of the King’s Commissioners ,Dr.Thomas Leigh,who reduced the church building to a ruin.

He left the estate to his nephew,also named Thomas Leigh,(whose wife later married a William Patrickson,and whose memorial is in Ponsonby Church.) Their son,Henry Leigh,sold it and it passed through several ownerships,including John Patrickson of Caswell How, Ennerdale, before coming to the Senhouses.Joseph Tiffin Senhouse left it to his eldest daughter,Mary,who became Mrs.Irwin.After her day,it passed to her sister, Sarah,who gave it to the Rev.J.Minton Senhouse. He then put the estate up for sale,and it was bought by Mr.Thomas Rymer,a Manchester mill owner. It stayed in the Rymer family until 1968 ,when the estate was broken up and sold.The house and ruins are now in the hands of Mr.Burns-—Lindow.

The Parish of St. Bridgets.

The Parish of Beckermet St.Bridget is some 8 miles in length from the coast to the fells,and not much more than 2 miles in width.

The population in 1688 was 485,by 1841,it had increased to 630.By 1991,the population usually resident in the Civil Parish,was 465(see later.)

The Parish is bounded by Beckermet St. Johns on the north west, Haile on the north east, and Ponsonby on the south east.It contained the villages: of Beckermet St.Bridget and Calderbridge,and the hamlets of High and Low Sellafield and Yottenfews.In 1957,the Parish of Ponsonby was united with St.Bridgets and in 1963, the Ecclesiastical Parish boundary with St.Johns was redrawn so that the whole of the village of Beckermet,togethern with Scallow Cottage and Blackbeck Farm became part of St.Johns.

This has reduced the Parish of St.Bridgets to an estimated number of those resident to 220).

In 1978,with the retirement of the Rev.J.C. Johnson from St.Bridgets with Ponsonby after 21 years service,the Parish was linked with St. Johns,and the then incumbent of St.Johns,Rev.G.A. Crogsley,became Vicar of both Parishes,

The Rev.P.Evans has been Vicar of the joint

parishes since 1985.

The parish was virtually all agricultural until the Second World War,when a Royal Ordnance Factory was built at Low Sellafield,to produce the explosive -TNT.

At the War’s end,the factory passed briefly into the ownership of Messr’s Courtaulds who planned to manufacture the synthetic fibre “Rayon” there,before being reacquired by the Ministry of Supply for the manufacture of plutonium for the British atomic bomb in a new factory named Windscale.During the 1950’s and ’60’s,under the auspices of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority,Windscale was involved in the development of Britain’s nuclear power stations.Currently the works,mainly run by British Nuclear Fuels under the name of

Sellafield,is the location of two chemical plants to process the used fuel from power stations. About 7000 are employed there,the vast majority coming from outside the parish

Calderbridge C.of E.School was built by Mr.T. Rymer of Calder Abbey,and was opened on-March 21st. 1894 by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese. This new building replaced the old school,which was situated inacrowded position between the smithy and the river.The old: building became the Reading Room,containing in 1901 “about 450 volumes”and “supplied with newspapers periodicals”

Calderbridge School closed in 1970,the pupils transferring to Beckermet.The Rev.J.C.Johnson and colleagues formed the Calderbridge Housing Association,and converted the building into four flats for retired people.

Calderbridge Vicarage was built in 1886 to replace the nearby Parsonage House,provided by Capt.Irwin in 1844.In 1978,the Vicarage was no longer needed,and was eventually purchased,with assistance from St. Bridgets and Ponsonby Parish Councils,by Impact Housing Association.The Vicarage was converted into 5 flats,and an 8 flat annexe was built in the garden.

Calderbridge and Ponsonby Village Hall Committee was formed in 1944,and their efforts culminated in the opening of the Hall on February 6th,1959.It continues to be an asset to the communities of Calderbridge,Ponsonby and Beckermet,

Calderbridge Annual Picnic and Sports, bepun in 1887, was at its peak,a big event,with children’s events,adult’s sports,wrestling and hound trails.The event managed to reach its centenary,but although being financially sound, it was wound up two or three years ago due to a decline in support.

In 1900 there was a flourishing Floral and Horticultural Society, with a successful annual show in August of that year.

The Parish Council was formed in December 1894.0ne of its first actions in 1895 was to appoint a committee “to put Calderbridge public

LORD Sane,

well in proper sanitary order…..

Finally, in ending this brief description of St.Bridgets Parish,a mention must be made of a painting by a famous artist,and a series of books by a Cumbrian author.The artist was J.M.W.Turner 1809,created “Calderbridge Cumberland”, The viewpoint would appear to have been close to where the vestry of St.Bridgets Church is now situated,and depicts the River Calder tumbling down under the old pack horse bridge.Adjacent to the bridge are the cottages of Bridge End and the Old Post Office,and the wheelright’s (now the New Post Office and a house.)The painting is currently in private hands.

The books were written in the late 1940’s by Graham Sutton,who was born in Carlisle and chart the Fortunes of the fictitious Fleming family.

In three books set before the year 1800,the stories centre around the Fleming’s ancestral

home of “Yottenfews”,with “Calderbrig” and Thornholme being also involved. In the final two books, the narrative moves into the Lake District.

Incumbents since 1843.

1843 Sharp Mossop- perpetual curate
1851 J.Hutchinson ” ” with Se. Johns 1859 G.R.Hoskins ” nfirst one without St.Johns perpetual curate &vicar (also incumbent of Ponsonby) 1869 J.W.Davidson assistant curate T.E.Laurie ” ” 1871 <A.G.Loftie vicar
1894 J.Raby 1902 H.M.Fairlie
1866 J.Losh
(from 1921 sequestrator of Ponsonby as well)
1942 R.Lemmon
1949 T.H.Stocks
1953 E.0O.Bennet
1957 J.CJohnson first vicar of United Benefice of St.Bridgets with Ponsonby
1978 G.A.Crossley vicar of the joint Parishes of St.Bridgets with Ponsonby and St.Johns
1985 P.,Evans
Long Service
H.Taylor (Petersburgh) Churchwarden 1840 – 1881 H.M.Fairlie Vicar 1902 — 1940
J.E.Stewart Organist 1925 — 1970. T.Owen Churchwarden 1950 – 1977