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Hawkshead Church



Hawkshead Parish Church, a broad, rectangular building with a square, somewhat massive tower at its western end, stands in a commanding position on the crown of an oval shaped hillock of glacial origin, which rises sharply from the town. The walls of the church are of undressed local stone throughout, but the doorway and windows are of dressed freestone brought from Low Furness.
The age of this building is not easy to determine, but it may be safely said that it dates from the later years of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th. The earliest mention of a chapel at Hawkshead ("capella de Hawkeset") is at the very beginning of the 13th century, when the Archdeacon of Richmond assigned its revenues to the Abbot of Furness for a specified purpose. It is mentioned again in 1219 or 1220, and was then of some age - old enough, it appears, for the determination of its "rights and dependencies to call for the testimony of ancient clerks and laymen". So it is likely to have been built during the latter part of the 12th century.

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In 1220 it was agreed that Robert, Parson of Ulverston. should hold "the chapel of Hoxet from the church and Parson of Dalton, fully and quietly in all things, except bodies (burials) which belong to Dalton, and all his life by the acknowledgement of half a pound of incense on the feast of S.Michael". The naming of that particular day shows that it had already one, and perhaps the most important of the four Term or Quarter Days on which by law and custom rents were due to be paid. But it can hardly be quoted ad evidence that the chapel was dedicated to St. Michael. Nor is it by Graham and Collingwood in their study of the Patron Saints in the Diocese of Carlisle. They speak of of the Hawkshead dedication as "traditionally S. Michael" but can offer no authority for it earlier than the second half of the 18th century.

There are also particulars of a second Hawkshead dedication. It was to S. Cuthbert, the 7th century Anglican saint whose renown in succeeding centuries, and not least in the 12th and 13th, surpassed that of any other northern saint. At the time of the Danish invasion of 875 the monks of Lindisfarne are said to have borne his body away to the west, and to have travelled with it from place to place for a period of seven years. John Wessington, Prior of Durham from 1416 to 1446, states that the names of the churches subsequently erected in the saints honour at spots where the monks rested awhile are given elsewhere. The reference to a list compiled by himself, and placed over the choir door at Durham. It begins "Lancastrieschire, Furness, Kirkby, Ireleth, Haxheved, Aldynham" and then gives the names of eight more churches, one in Lonsdale and Westmorland, two in "Coupeland", and four in "Commerlande". Only one of the eleven churches, however, is pre-Norman in date.

The bearers of S. Cuthbert's remains could not have laid their burden down and rested at Hawkshead. The settlement there of the Norse-speaking Hauk did not take place until the second half of the 10th century at the soonest, and before that, the district was "in the wild", and uninhabited except for Britons who kept to the higher, clearer ground. It may be pointed out too, that Haxheved is not an authentic early form of the name Hawkshead even though "heved" meant "head" and sometimes "head of land", for in the earliest spellings the second element in the name "set", from the old Norse word meaning "summer pasture farm" or "shieling".
What ever Wessington's follies and fancies were, it can be said of him that he provided the only evidence yet produced of a Medieval dedication to S. Cuthbert at Hawkshead.

The interior of Hawkshead church presents as fine an example as any of a type of church architecture peculiar to the Lake District; a type that is also exemplified in the neighbouring parish churches of Windermere, which dates from 1483, and Grasmere, which in it's present, distinctly unusual form appears to be a mid 16th century building. The type arises primarily from the use of local undressed stone, and the coating of it with a thick layer of plaster to ensure an even surface. For the most part the old, local characteristics have been preserved at Hawkshead, in a church that is well proportioned, and very light thanks to its having a clerestory and not too much stained glass.

The naive and chancel, which are structurally one, are separated from the north and south aisles by arcades consisting of plain, round arches of wide span springing from massive pillars devoid alike of capitals and bases. The arches are not quite high enough to be truly semi-circular; and whilst the pillars on the north side are round, those on the south side are more nearly square though with well rounded edges. Impressive in their simplicity and strength, these arcades were pronounced by no less an authority then the late Dr F. c. Eeles, for may years Secretary of the Central council for the care of churches, to be unique in his experience of English church architecture.

At one time they were thought to be rough Norman work, and were described as such by Whitaker and Baines, the historians respectively of Richmondshire and Lancashire. but it is now known that beneath their thick coat of plaster the pillars are constructed of thin, undressed stone quarried locally; and it is generally recognised that the arcades were built when the present church took shape at the end of the 15th century or beginning of the 16th. It is known, too, from exposures when there was need to re-plaster, that neither of the half pillars at the western end of the arcades is bonded into the west wall of the church; which is significant, as the west wall at the points of contact was once part of the chapel that previously occupied the site.

The north aisle was rebuilt in 1578 by Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of York, a native of the parish, the founder of its Grammer School in 1585, and without question its greatest benefactor. He enclosed the eastern end of the aisle as a private chapel with a family vault beneath; and over the outside doorway into the chapel he had a stone tablet erected bearing his coat of arms, the initials E.S., and the date. Looking from the outside at the east wall of the chapel towards its northern end, an offset will be seen some three feet from the ground. This is the only proof yet discovered that there was an earlier aisle with rather thicker walls on the same site. Writing of the two doorways into the north aisle as rebuilt by Archbishop Sandys, Curwen remarks that "the detail of the stonework. . . is not of Elizabethan design, but rather resembles the features of the thirteenth century." He points out that the workmanship is not of that earlier date, and concludes that the design was copied from an old doorway seen at Hawkshead, or furnished by the Archbishop because he was particularly fond of it. Curwen notes, too, how the "Spirit of the moulds" is carried into the window heads. "I look upon this design," he says, "as on of the most noticeable features of the church." Inside, the woodwork of the roof aisle is worth a glance, for it has survived from the Archbishop's day to ours, and is still in good condition.

In the year he rebuilt the north aisle, Archbishop Sandys constituted the chapelry of Hawkshead and independent parish. About this tome too, but not necessarily in the same year or by the Archbishop as some have supposed, the naive and the chancel, hitherto low and dark, were greatly improved by the addition of a clerestory with four three-light windows on each side; windows that now have frames and mullions of oak on the north side and of stone on the south. In 1633 Hawkshead had a visitation by commissioners who reported: "ye south side of their church is in decay." A date stone as clerestory level on this side shows that it was repaired in the same year; and it is thought that the repairs, which do not seem to have been very extensive, included the substitution of stone for oak in he frames and mullions of the clerestory windows. Cowper considered that the existing oak frames and mullions on the north side might be Elizabethan. About the great oak tie-beams which span the naive and chancel there is no doubt whatever. New when the main roof was raised to its present height, they have been there ever since. Originally there were two more of them, but at the restoration in 1875-6 they were found to be badly worn at the ends, and were replaced by two new beams. they are of chestnut.

The accounts of the churchwardens for 1692 include payments to a local stonemason for two new windows, and to a decorator for whitewashing round them after their insertion. As there is no suggestion of new openings being broken out, it may be safely assumed that they were replacements. But where? The south side of the clerestory is possible, but the south aisle, where the windows were already about two hundred years old is more likely. No proper account of the windows in this aisle prior to 1875 is available, for Cowper added nothing to his statement that certain of them had simple refoil heads to the lights and looked 15th century work. Whilst Curwen in a paper read in 1913 mentioned only the two-light window towards the western end because it alone appeared to him to be as old as the aisle itself.

The churchwardens expenses in 1729 include 11s. 6d. for "fflagging the midle Alley", 2s. 6d. for "fflagging the church porch", and £1 15s. 9d. "for fflags", which were rather expensive. In point of fact they were the large blue Silurian flagstones for which the parish was long noted. Two years later more were obtained at a cost of 19s. od., evidently for paving, or more probably repaving the "little Alleys", for one of them in the north aisle has a brass tablet attached to it recording that "here lies the body of Sr. James Ramsey, late of Bamff, in Perthshire in North Britain Who departed this life, the 25th of March 1731, in the 83rd year of his age". Another flag in the south aisle this time, bears the words "Here lyes the body of Robert Robinson of Fieldhead who died the third day of April in the year 1734, Aged eighty years". when the church was repewed in 1793-4 it was ordered that the flags in the middle and side aisles should be relaid. It was also resolved that "The Iie in the w. end of the church . . . be new flagged". but even here some older flags may have been relaid, as there is one with a Latin inscription on it to the effect that "here lies Pierce Grove first born son of John grove of Tunstal in the county of Kent born in the year 1708 died in the year 1779"; and beside it there is another on which only the initials R.G. have been cut. Including this flag there are only half a dozen with memorial inscriptions on them. but the smallness of the number is hardly surprising as burials very rarely took place in the "Alleys" giving access to the pews.

during the 17th and 18th centuries the normal burial place in church was under the ground on which the pews stood; ground that until 1794 was bare earth covered only with rushes annually renewed. Prior to that date the pews had no floors, and were not fastened to the ground in any way. they could be speedily and easily removed and replaced. moreover, grave-digging in church must have been easier than in the churchyard owing to earlier burials in the same place. but far too often human remains would be encountered, and would have to be stored, pending their re-burial in an outbuilding set aside for the purpose, "the Golgotha", to use the name by which it is called in the churchwardens' accounts for 1787 and 1797. More likely than not the remains disturbed when a fresh grave was dug would be those of some earlier member of the deceased's family, or of her husband's if the burial was that of a married woman, for there is good reason for thinking that the occupiers of customary estates, which normally descended from father to son, each had his recognised pew in church, and hence this recognised burying place there. And by far the greater number of burials in Hawkshead church appear to have been of estatesmen or statesmen as they were commonly called, and their families.

From 1604 to 1704 more than 1,000 burials are noted in the oldest register book as having taken place in the church, 48 of them at the eastern end either in the chancel or in the Sandys chapel. There was a little falling off in numbers up to 1704, but after that they declined. It was not, however, until the re-seating of the church in 1793-4 with pews it would have been very costly to remove and restore to their places, and the simultaneous raising of the fee for burial in the church from 3s, 4d, to £5 5s. 0d., or in the chancel from £6. 8s. to £10 10s. 0d. that the age old practice virtually ceased.

As early as 1763 it was "resolved and agreed by a majority of parishioners" that a vestry be built on the north side of the tower, and a plan for it was to be obtained; but for one reason or another the work was not put in hand until 1793. Final specifications show that it was to be 17ft 6ins by 15ft 6ins and to have a window with a sliding sash, and a "fashionable grate with freestone hobs and slabs"; and that its floor was to be fixed high enough to permit a room beneath it, with entry thereto from the churchyard. It was decided that the room below the vestry should be used to house a hearse the churchwardens had been asked to order, presumably by the Claife ratepayers as in 1796 it is said to belong to the Claife quarter of the parish; which explains why it is not mentioned in the churchwardens accounts. The main expenses incurred in building the vestry and the room beneath it was, of course, for wallers' work. The contract for this went to Thomas Usher of Walker Ground and his partner Thomas Johnson of Ambleside, but earlier of Colthouse. Their price was £36, which was paid in instalments spread over the years 1794-5, always to Thomas Usher alone. This probably means that he did most or all of the work specified in the contract, which included, it should be said, some laying and re-laying of flags during or after the re-pewing of the church.

In 1763 it had been agreed to replace the common forms or seats which were "old, decayed, and in a ruinous condition", by new seats or pews with backs and doors, but nothing resulted from the decision. Later it was resolved to re-pew the whole of the naive and side aisles; and from 1777 onwards long entries were made in the Vestry Minutes Book regarding the old seating and erecting the new, and for joiners work required in the vestry and room underneath. The contract was secured by a Cartmel and an Ulverston joinre, whose tender for the work was £188. Just over a hundred pews were to be constructed, all to the same specification it appears.

In 1680 or slightly earlier, at a time when adorning the whitewashed walls of churches with "Sentances of Scripture decently Florished" was generally considered to be desirable, it was agreed to let the "peinting" of Hawkshead church to James Addison of Hornby, in the county of Lancaster. It is almost certain that he painted the geometrically patterned yellow and black margins, some five to six inches wide, with which he outlined the arches of the arcades, round the heads of the pillars, and that the other decoration on the pillars also began with him.

James Addison is said to have become the favourite church decorator over a wide area in North Lancashire and south Westmorland. Among churches he painted at a later date than Hawkshead were Kendal in 1684 and Grasmere in 1687.

Hawkshead churchwardens accounts refer to only one re-painting of the church in the 18th century, and that was in 1711-12 by William Mackreth. A scribbled sun in one corner of their accounts shows that Mackreth was in fact paid the sum of £3 in all for limewashing and painting the church, which would imply ample payment in the early 18th century for two months work by a skilled craftsman, and repay him for materials used as well.

Discoveries in 1955 suggest that he did a certain amount of repainting in the naive, probably because some of Addison's texts, and the painted frames in which he set them were damaged, and perhaps destroyed in one or two instances in the course of the extensive work done in the church in 1709 and 1711. He seems, also, to have extended Addison's scheme of decoration in the north aisle, where six texts and frames were uncovered in 1875-6 when the church was restored. There is sure proof that he painted the Creed and the Lord's Prayer on one side of the east window and the commandments on the other.

So far as is known, nothing further befell the wall painting until the end of the 18th century when in 1794 or 1795 they were whitewashed over during the re-decoration which followed the re-pewing and addition of a vestry.

The paintings remained hidden under the whitewash, except where it persisted in flaking off, until the restoration in 1875-6. The walls were then thoroughly cleaned down, and as a result many of the framed texts and other decorations came to light again, a few in a good state of preservation but the majority only moderately or poorly preserved. Unfortunately the greater part of the east wall of the chancel had to be taken down and rebuilt, and the plaster on the outer walls of the aisles had to be renewed; which meant that several of the 17th/18th century paintings were lost.

In 1954, at the invitation of the Vicar and Church Council, Mr E. Clive Rouse, the leading authority in this country on early mural paintings, reported on the wall surfaces in the church, and more particularly the framed texts and other paintings on them. Later in that year the walls were cleaned down and limewashed in accordance with his instructions. Then in 1955 the mural paintings were restored, in so far as restoration was feasible and desirable. In his report Mr Clive Rouse says of the texts on the spandrels of the arches in the north aisle that the most easterly has "a good 17th/18th century scroll border frame." Both these framed texts are almost certainly Addison's work, and not greatly altered since he painted them.

At the restoration of 1875-6 a considerable part of the east gable, including all but the lowest portion of the very ancient masonry, was found to be in so dangerous a state that it had to be taken down and rebuilt, and so had a bit of the south side wall. the stone ball surmounting the east gable, now lying in the chapel near the old register chest, was replaced by a cross; and on the south side of the "priest door" was walled up. At the west end the top of the tower was rebuilt, and furnished with new battlements and pinnacles.

"The roofs were all taken off and replaced", says the architect Mr. J. R. Cory; but that is not the whole story. the roof timbers were completely cleared of plaster, and the tie-beams, whether old or new, paced on wall pates. both corbels and pendants were discarded: on the other hand Curwen notes the "addition of cornice". All usable slates taken off the roofs, except the very thick ones found on all three were re-hung, but even so a considerable quantity of new slate was required. The work of slating the roofs again was said to be unsatisfactory, and with good reason it seems as the churchwardens, after receiving a report on it from two local builders, insisted on its being redone strictly in accordance with the specifications laid down when tenders for the work was invited. The architect was taken to task for not seeing that this was done in the first instance.

At the restoration the organ was removed from the gallery and rebuilt at the east end of the south aisle. The gallery itself was taken down, and the doorway beneath it leading to the base of the tower afterwards replaced by a tall, pointed arch totally out of keeping with the arches of the arcades. An oak screen was erected across the arch, with a door in it giving access to the tower. A new font was placed centrally at the west end of the nave. Efforts to find a church which would be glad of the old one failed, and it was rumoured that it was to be broken up. On hearing this, some men whose forebears, and they themselves, and their children had all been christened at it, took it from the church one night, by way of the tower door, and buried it in the churchyard, on the lower side of the footpath to Roger Ground it is said.
the naive and side aisle were again furnished with new pews, which were to be free to all. This time they were of oak, very strong and almost plain, and thus admirably suited to the church. They were made locally, but at Ambleside, not Hawkshead. A new pulpit and lectern, both of carved oak were presented to the church in place of the old ones, which were of painted deal.

In the treatment of the chancel little regard was paid to the distinctive local character of the church, or or to the style in which it was built. The old five light square headed east window was replaced by a taller one; but owing to the opposition from the vicar it was not as tall or unlike the old one as the architect wished. Its life however was short, for in 1893 it gave place to a tall pointed window in the Perpendicular style. Like the oak reredos below it, it was the gift of Col. T. Myles Sandys, a generous benefactor of the church during the incumbency of Rev. Edward W. Oak, who succeeded John Allen as vicar in 1892. The great and lesser pews which had long occupied so much of the eastern end of the chancel were remove, and the opportunity taken to repave the whole chancel with tiles tiles from Staffordshire.
The old Holy Table, which had served its purpose for something like 250 years was transferred to the vestry. A new Holy table. also of oak, but insubstantial by comparison, and too ornately carved, was placed against the east wall. And oak woodwork from Durham, much of it highly carved was introduced in the form of panelling, screen and choir stalls. It is seen at its best in the screens separating the Sandys chapel from the chancel and from the north aisle.
The wooden tablets on either side of the east window with the commandments, the creed and the Lord's prayer painted on them were put up in 1898.

the best of the stained glass, all of which is modern, is in the east window, and the Price and Cowper Essex memorial windows in the south aisle, the respective dates being 1893, 1903 and 1909. the subjects are:-
East window = The Ascension
South Aisle 1 = The Adoration of the Magi
South Aisle 2 = The Presentation in the Temple
South Aisle 3 = The Annunciation
South Aisle 4 = the Adoration of the Shepherds
North Aisle = The Good Shepherd (centre light only)
In the Sandys Chapel the family coat of arms is also modern

The first Organ was installed in 1828 on a gallery at the west end of the nave. It is unlikely that it was a new instrument. At the restoration of the church building in 1875-6 the organ was removed and placed at the ease end of the south aisle. In 1894-5 it was rebuilt at the expense of Col Myles Sandys, of whom there is an effigy in the Sandys Chapel. The Great ad Swell organs were largely increased, and the Chior and Pedal organs added. further enlargements of the organ chamber took place in 1902-3, and subsequently in the 20th century the organ received much attention but unfortunately never with beneficial results. The action was cumbersome and the music muffled and spoilt by the cramped position of the pipes. Attempts to eradicate a worm infestation were unsuccessful, and a further reconstruction was quite uneconomic.

Messrs. Rushworth and Dreaper, Organ builders, of Liverpool, and Mr E. M. Bottomley, Architect of Kendal, were commissioned to collaborate and design an instrument more suited to the church.

In 1965 the new organ was completed. It was cradled on a platform built of locally grown oak and suspended from concealed steel joists at the west end of the church. The console is in the chancel. this elevated position helps to restore the spacious perspective intended by the local mediaeval builders, as well as providing an access of light from the previously concealed south east aisle.

The St James chapel:
The removal of the organ from the south east aisle enabled the re-creation of a chapel in 1965-68. It was dedicated to St. James, Apostle and Mytre, patron saint of pilgrims, on whose day, 25th July, the church floor was strewn with fresh ruches well into the eighteenth century.

After a century of use as a vestry table the early seventeenth century alter was restored to its proper use and furnished with a stainless steel Alter Cross and linked Candlesticks, fashioned in the Lake District. The Credence Table was made in Hawkshead and contains a book of Remembrance with the names of those whose cremated remains are buried in the churchyard without any other memorial.

At the communicants' Bench the hand-woven kneeler bears the symbols of Norse Christianity as a reminder of the origins of Hawkshead town. The kneelers carry the St. James badge depicting a cockle shell, and other pilgrims' emblems such as a scrip or purse, a staff, hat and the water bottle; they embroidered by the ladies and gentlemen of the parish.

The mediaeval priest's door on the south wall, previously walled, was revealed and glazed to retain the feature and the make further access of light.

the whole cost of this work and the installation of the organ, together with the glazing of the Sandys Chapel and the Ringing Chamber Screens, amounting to £4,500, was paid for without charge upon general Parish funds or the diminution of financial support for the relief of human need.

The Old Register Chest:
The chest was provided to comply with an ecclesiastical mandate of 1603 which laid down that for the safe keeping of the register book "the churchwardens, at the charge of the parish, shall provide one sure coffer with three locks and keys, whereof the one to remain with the minister, and the other two with the churchwardens severally, so that neither the minister without the two churchwardens, or the churchwardens without the minister shall at any time take the book out of the said coffer."

the massive oak beam from which it has been hollowed out is 6ht 8ins long, but the box cavity is only 3 ft long. the bands are of oak too. There is a similar but smaller chest in the Grammer School, where it served as a muniment chest. The master had one key and two of the governors one each.

Curwen thinks that the chest in Hawkshead church, which is cambered on the top, was made out of the cambered or thickened portion of one of the old tie-beams discarded when the clerestory was added, and tat the cavity was made by enlarging the mortice hole for the foot of the king-post.

Amongst the items on display in the church are "Burial in Woolen" Affidavits:
The acts passed in 166 and 1669 seeking to protect and foster the woollen industry in this country, and to reduce the import of linen, parliament decreed in 1666 that thereafter all burials must be in cloth or clothing made wholly from wool, no other being allowed. This "Act of Burying in Woolen onely" was commonly ignored until 1669, when it was reinforced by a further enactment that within eight days of any burial an affidavit must be produced certifying that the corpse had in fact been interred in "woolen onely." Upwards of one hundred and ninety of these affidavits or certificates, relating to burials in the year 1680 to 1696 inclusive are preserved in this church. Those for the year 1681 (old style) have been mounted and bound; one of the 1696 batch has been framed and hung in the body of the church near the vestry door; and the rest have been tied up in bundles by years.

Each certificate consists of a joint declaration on oath by two witnesses, together with the name of the deceased, the date of burial, and the date of the affidavit; and each bears the signature of the justice of the peace or clerk in Holy Orders before whom the sworn statement was made, and those of the persons making the oath, or more often their names and marks, for most of them were women unable to write. Indeed, there are only six signatures by women in the whole series of documents as against seen by the few men witnesses whose names appear there. there are two usual forms of declaration, a longer and a short. In the longer, the witnesses swore:
"that the corpse. . . . was not put in wrapt or wound up or buryed in any shirt shift sheet or shroud made or mingled with sslax hempe silke haire gold or silver, or other than what is made of sheeps wool onely, or in any Coffin Lined of ffaced with any cloth or stuffe or any other thing whatever made or mingled with fflax hempe silke haire gold or silver or any other materiall but sheeps wooll onely ."
In the shorter form there is no mention at all of a coffin, nor any grave clothes, winding sheet, or shroud made wholly or partly of gold, silver, silk or hair.

Prior to 1765 Hawkshead Church possessed a great bell and two smaller bells. In that year they were replaced by a ring of six. cast and hung by James Harrison of Barrow in Lincolnshire. The cost of the new bells, weighing 36 cwts. 3 qrs. 7 lbs. at £6 4s. 0d. per cwt., was £228 4s. 6d. the founder took two of the old bells, and the third was sold to Samual Irton of Irton Hall in Cumberland, then owner of Hawkshead hall for £25. £4 11s. 5d. was charged for the carriage of the six bells from Preston. and £49 for the bell-frame and hanging and some repairs to the clock. Subscriptions towards the bells amounted to £107 4. 0d. and the balance was raised by levying a church rate for £24 per quarter of the parish in 1766, and another £4 per quarter in 1768. the fifth bell was recast in 1810. The bearing were all renewed in 1876, and the bells were quarter turned in 1911.

In 1958 the great oak beams, which were probably second hand when fitted to bear the original ring of three, had become so worn out as to make their replacement a necessity if damage to the tower, bells and ringers were to be avoided. Within a year not only had the 1765 bells been re-hung in a new iron frame resting on the rolled steel joists, but also two new light treble bells were added to make a major or eight bells ring. The total cost was £1870 , all of which was given directly by parishioners and friends of the church.
















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