Appleby in Westmorland

The Church and The Town Les Hatton


The two parish churches of Appleby lie on opposite sides of the river Eden, St. Lawrence being set by the bridge which leads directly to the town centre, and St. Michael’s further upstream, by the ford and the footbridge that has now been replaced by stepping-stones. St. Michael’s was probably the earlier foundation of the two, and can show older architectural fragments, but St.Lawrence’s cannot be far behind it, and is an integral part of the town planning of Appleby itself. This preserves the main outline laid down for it in the turbulent days of border warfare. The long, wide expanse of Boroughgate, running down frown Appleby Castle to the church at the bottom of the hill, is accessible only by the narrow passage of Bridge Street on the one side, and the still narrower High and Low Wiends on the other, and by Shaws wiend at the top the hill, curving round to Scattergate under the Castle wall. These entries could be quickly blocked and effectively defended, against raiding parties from Scotland or smaller plundering bands belonging to either nation, and the county town of Westmorland, by virtue of its design, could be quickly turned, at need into an armed camp.


The construction of the town would be effective against small marauding bands of horses, but not against attacking armies, and on two occasions at least St Lawrence was burned by the Scots and had to be rebuilt

Signs of these are visible at once, as one approaches the building through the cloister-arch. The church porch appears to have been built about 1300, but it is entered through a re-used gateway nearly a hundred years older, with the dog-tooth-molding characteristic of the early middle ages. The oldest part of the fabric still standing is the main portion of the tower, up to the level of the bell chamber window, where a change in the stonework can still be seen from outside. This is a solid twelfth-century work, and may well have withstood the burning of the church in 1174, or it may belong to the rebuilding that took place four years later. The thickness of the walls, and the narrowness of the loop light in the north wall, now blocked by the modern vestry, show that the building was designed as a real tower of refuge in time of need, and it was only as time went on, and the tower became less urgently required as a fortress than it had been. That high arches were cut through its eight-foot thick walls to throw it open in the 14th century to the nave and south aisle. The parish church was for centuries the centre of secular parish life as well as being the appointed place for public worship. Before the days of regular wooden pews, it was customary for churchgoers to stand or kneel in the open nave during the services, and at other times the space would have been in great demand for a variety of purposes. It was at once time the biggest and strongest public building in Appleby, it served as a place of assembly for public meetings, and it even performed, in a small way, the functions of a public library. The revival of learning, and the introduction of the printing-press, led in the course of time to a wide increase not only in the number of available books but in the skill and the will to read them: Certain books on edifying themes might be given or bequeathed to a parish, to be kept available for study in the parish church, but preserved from pilfering by being chained to the shelves on which they stood. The three volumes of Fox’s "Acts and Monuments of the Martyrs", chained to a modern bookcase near the font, show that the practice went on as late as the seventeenth century, for these books, printed in 1631, were given to the church by their publisher Richard More, an Appleby tailor’s son who had been an apprentice to a London printer in 1598 and had risen, in succeeding years to become Renter Warden of the Stationer’s Company. The first edition of the book had appeared in 1563, and copies had been placed, by Government order, in all parish churches, now nearly seventy years afterwards, the publisher of the newest edition was taking care to see that his own old parish church was being kept up to date in this respect. The main body of the church dates form two different periods, raids and burning would have little effect on the foundations and lower courses of the stonework, but it was a different matter higher up. The heat generated by burning thatch and burning rafters, before the roof fell in, might very well turn some of the stone at the top of the wall to calcimined, crumbling masses of lime. It is at this height, accordingly, that we may expect to find evidence of early fifteenth century replacement-work and at this height sure enough, we find it. Though the pillars of the nave date back from 1300 or thereabouts, the high clerestory windows above them, and the upper story of the tower itself, are at least a hundred years later, and represent a gradual reconstruction after the conflagration of a severs raid in 1388. (It will be noted, by the way, that the clerestory windows are so spaced that the light from each falls on the blank wall between the opposite pair, giving additional lightness to the nave.) To this period of reconstruction, also, belong the battlements of the tower and nave, the gargoyles, now sadly weathered but still grimacing over the leads of the aisles, and the worn arch upon the outside gable, where once the sanctums-bell hung to announce to all in earshot the supreme moment of Mass. The chancel contains material of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but shows traces of much alteration in the seventeenth. The arcing behind the choir stalls is filled by carved wooden screens of 1500 or earlier, two of the long stall fronts themselves date from the early sixteenth century, and on the south side of the chancel, by a mediaeval niche that once served as a piscine, or fixed basin for cleansing the sacred vessels, is a fourteenth century opening that was once a window looking out into the churchyard in the days when the south aisle did not extend the full length of the building. In the fifteenth century, apparently, the mullions and tracery were removed and the opening extended to ground-level to form the entrance to a new and narrow chantry chapel, running southwards like a miniature transept, for the use of the family of the Warps of Colby. When this chantry became part of the south aisle, the opening became a window again, the place of a window-sill being taken by a fourteenth century coffin-lid, which bears a half-obliterated figure, just recognizable from its headdress as being that of a woman, with hands joined in prayer above an elaborate floriated cross. The chancel-arch, the east window and the windows of the north and south chapels are all modern, but those in the north chapel are set with three shields of mediaeval heraldic glass. The arms of Beaumont, and the blue lion of the great Northumberland family of the Percies, are fifteenth-century work, but the small escutcheon of the arms of France and England quarterly is somewhat earlier, and belongs to the days of Edward III. Hard by, on the eastern pier of the nave, may be seen a number of mediaeval masons marks, and displayed on the wall of the chapel in glass cases are three colours of the local militia, of these the large central one was presented in the time of the Napoleonic wars, and was located in the Tower of London early in the century, and restored to Appleby in 1914, the two smaller colours, those of the 4th Battalion of the Border Regiment, were laid up in the now redundant church of St. Michael in 1908 and have recently been placed in their present position for safe keeping.


Much of this north chapel was taken up, until recently, by the organ, a fine instrument, once in Carlisle Cathedral, but given to The Corporation of Appleby, for use in Appleby church, through the instrumentality and generosity of Dean Smith who was shortly afterwards appointed to the bishopric in 1683. It had long been said to incorporate parts of an organ of 1571, and when the comparatively modern pedal action was found to be damaged in consequence of a flood in 1968, steps were taken to dismantle and overhaul the whole instrument and restore it to its original position at the west end of the church, study of the traditional form of early sixteenth century organ-cases showed that it had followed the general of a Roman triumphal arch, with a central round-headed opening flanked by two smaller ones, and broad cornice-like bands of carved ornament over all three. The side towers had been additions of the late sixteenth century, and the central one about a hundred years later still. With this knowledge it was possible to locate the strips of openwork carving that had adorned the original front, and the armorial bearing on them, still discernible under Victorian paint and varnish, established the date of the case as falling between 1542 and 1547. There was no place for them in the reconstruction organ-case when it was set up, on a classical singers gallery, in 1722, and they were used instead to adorn the Corporation pew below the pulpit, used by the Mayor and Councilors when they attend in state. The round-headed arches of the Tudor case font are still in position, and the two halves of the main arch now embrace the central tower. The scroll-bracket that once served as a keystone to the arch is now immediately above the console, as are the cherub-heads that would have originally served to support the uppermost cornice. In 1863, the singers were transferred from the western gallery to constitute a robed choir in the chancel, and the organ accordingly was move to the ambulatory behind them, remaining there, like a prisoner behind the bars of the par close screen, for just over a hundred years. The coats of arms that had surmounted the towers were fixed to the side of the case, the towers themselves and the pipes behind them were shortened by some two or three feet, and when the organ was restored to its original place and height, the new portions that had been inserted were deliberately left bright, to indicate the amount of alteration that had been necessary. The arms on the central tower were those of Lord Lowther of the time, who had contributed to the cost of the installation in 1722, and its companion coats were those of Colonel Graham and Sir Richard Sandford, members of parliament for Westmorland and Appleby respectively. An interesting feature of the central coat is the absence of any sign of a crest having been fixed upon the top, though the presence of supporters and mantling would lead one to expect a complete achievement of arms, the explanation is simply one of space. The organ loft designed in the late seventeenth century had had to accommodate the singers as well, and would have been several feet higher than the present base, as it is, the west most section of the ceiling (set in 1831) is appreciably higher than that covering the rest of the nave, but even so, there would have been too little space to spare for the achievement to heraldically complete. On the south wall, just inside the entrance door, hangs a carved and painted escutcheon that appears to have been intended originally to crown the central tower if the organ had been set up at the time of its presentation, but this was delayed for nearly forty years, and there was still a good deal of disapproval of cathedral-style music in ordinary parish churches until the advocacy and the money of the three local magnates made it possible, and their armorial bearings were mounted accordingly on the towers. The older escutcheon, like the Moot Hall one already mentioned, must be one of the earliest examples of the erroneous ‘crowned’ form that lasted for the best part of three hundred years. The swell of the organ, and of course the pedals, are later additions, but much of the interior is much older. On one of the wooden pipes, a flute, a paper label bears the words "Gloria in Excelsis" in seventeenth century script, and when the organ was dismantled, and reassembled the firm who did the work reported that the front pipes, with their simple embossed decoration, were the oldest they had ever known. It was regretfully found at the reassembling, that they could not be made sound, and indeed could not have done so since the sound-board was extended, but if the earlier details of the action are anywhere near them in date, the instrument may claim to be the oldest still-working English organ in the country, as its tone is independently reputed to be among the finest.


In the same northeastern chapel are the two most elaborate monuments in the church. The older one, formerly in the chancel, commemorates Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, widow of George Clifford, that swaggering, piratical Earl of Cumberland who was Champion to Queen Elizabeth 1 and was painted by Nicholas Hilliard in richly-decorated armour, with the Queen’s glove mounted as an ornament in his hat. His Countess lies in effigy on her marble tomb, carved in alabaster with a widow’s mantle over her stomacher and gown, and a coronet of gilded metal. The resemblance of this effigy, in style and technique, to that of Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey has given rise to the not unreasonable conjecture that it is the work of the same sculptor, Maximilion Colte. The Countess died in 1616, and the tomb was set up, in the following year, by her daughter Anne, who lies buried near by in a black marble alter-tomb enriched with a wealth of heraldry illustrating the descent of the Clifford family. For Anne Clifford, Countess Dowager of Pembroke, was a notable figure in the north, daughter of the Queen’s champion, she had been petted by Elizabeth, had withstood James I to his face in a dispute about her inheritance, had been hostess to Charles I at Wilton, had withdrawn to her northern estate and rebuilt her castles in defiance of Cromwell and his generals, and at the age of seventy, celebrated the coronation of Charles II by attending service in this very church, and afterwards proclaiming the newly-crowned king in succession on two stately high scaffolds at each end of the town, hung with cloth of arras and gold, whither, after service done at the church, the countess of Pembroke, with the Mayor, aldermen and all the other gentry of the county ascended, with I know not how many trumpets, and an imperial crown carried before them, where they proclaimed, prayed for, and drank the health of the king upon, their knees, the aged countess seeming young again to grace the solemnity. So wrote the reverend Thomas Machell, an eyewitness of the scene and brother of Appleby’s first Restoration Mayor. The two stately high scaffolds presumably stood on the site of the town crosses, one outside the castle, and the other outside the church itself, where are now two tall Regency Columns on earlier pedestals, each crowned by an elaborate sundial reminiscent of the Countess’s Pillars just outside Penrith, but still called the High Cross and the Low Cross respectively. An inscription on a rafter of the south aisle records that Ann Countess of Pembroke in ANO 1655 repaired all this building, while in 1654 she had repaired the north-east chapel and had a vault prepared for her own burial beneath it. In the next year she took down the wall of most of the chancel, removing a former vestry on the north side, partly blocking the arch to the Warcop chantry on the south and throwing this area into the south aisle by removing the dividing wall, thus giving the chancel its present form. In the process, several alabaster and plaster images curiously gilded were discovered, suggesting that the church had at one time had a reredos of those carved panels of Nottingham alabaster for which this country was famous, and at the reformation, when images were broken down and chantries suppressed, the panels were hidden for safety in the wall of the disused chapel. Their present whereabouts is unknown. To Lady Anne’s time belong the exterior buttresses, the rebuilding of the arches in the nave (though the ten Gothic heads that adorn them are an early nineteenth century addition) and, it would seem, the communion table now in the Lady Chapel. The Royal Arms over the chancel arch are those of the Stuart kings, and the escutcheon is probably part of the reconstruction carried out after the return of Charles II to his throne. Lady Ann’s earlier repairs and restorations, it must be remembered, were executed at a time when services of the church of England and the use of the book of common prayer, were prohibited by order of Parliament, in despite of which, she continued to have the service held daily after its wonted fashion, in her private chapel, wherever she happened to be. It may well have been her direction that a text from the book of Isaiah (chapter 33, verse 17) was painted under the Royal Arms, she seems to have had a fondness for that prophet, and more than once cited another (chapter 58 verse 12) to justify her great works of reconstruction in the north after the desolation and fanaticism of the Civil War.


By the eighteenth century, the seating – such as it was – had got into a rather bad way. Parish accounts of 1720 refer to the need of new pews, and it is possible that the present Corporation pew, with its three rows of seats for Councilors, and an isolated one occupied by the Mayor, may date from this time, decorated as it is with panels of carving left over from the original Tudor organ-case in when the instrument was at last set up for its official dedication in 1722. The Castle had its own private chapel, and its inhabitants worshiped there, or in the nearer church of St Michael across the river – they had no jurisdiction in or over the free borough of Appleby itself, and Lady Ann had to ask formal permission to have her mother buried in St Lawrence – but in the eighteenth century the agents for the absentee owners had a large pew at the end of the north aisle, still in living memory used by their descendants but now devoted to the activities of the Sunday School. Eastwards of this, and hard by the tomb of Lady Anne, are certain items transferred from the now-redundant church of St Michael in Bongate, notably two bells, a long-waisted one of mid thirteenth century type, and one inscribed "Campana Sancti Michaelis" and attributed to the bell-founder, William of Norwich about 1350, and two oaken chairs, dated 1675 and 1693. A large block of stone, evidently made to be the keystone of a fairly wide arch, was found to be serving as a weight on the bellows of the organ when the blowing was done by hand, and bears the date 1791, and the initials of John Sproule, who was the incumbent at the time, so that it may be assumed to have come, in later years, from the stable or coach house of the vicarage. The church possesses some fine seventeenth century plate, the oldest piece being a silver-gilt steeple cup bearing a London hallmark of 1612. This is traditionally supposed to have been given to the parish of Bongate by Bishop Nicholson of Carlisle in appreciation of an eighteenth century vicar’s action in having the vicarage roof repaired at his own expense. It is a characteristically secular vessel, and is exhibited, on indefinite loan, in the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle. Of the plate specifically associated with St Lawrence, a chalice and paten of about 1630 may have been a Restoration gift, and a full service of plate – chalice, cover-paten, stand-paten, flagon and alms-dish, may well have been another gift, to Appleby from its continued benefactor, Bishop Smith of Carlisle, as it bears the hall mark for 1694. All these pieces are necessarily kept under conditions of strict security when not in actual use. A glass case at the western end of the church formerly displayed a set of four flagons, a bowl and a stand-paten, all of pewter, but lost not long ago, when thieves broke open the case that had contained them. Left untouched were a Bible of 1617, and a Book of Common Prayer, undated but coming from the press of the seventeenth century printer Charles Bill, and two long handled collecting trays of carved wood, used in the eighteenth century. Interesting pieces of woodwork are two seventeenth century oaken stools, and the church chest, with its three locks and drawer beneath, while features that may be noted are the vertical sundial on the south porch, the fragment of a fourteenth century window-head over the side gate of the churchyard, and a little grave and mural tablet, in the porch itself, of a week-old baby who died in 1838 and may not have been formally baptized in time, and therefore lies neither inside the building nor among the regular occupants of the churchyard, but practically on the threshold between the two. Inside the baptistery is a font of local stone, commemorating John Hill, a nineteenth century magistrate, whose collection of local manuscript material is now in the Dean and Chapter Library at Carlisle, and a framed list of incumbents from 1070 onwards, among which is the name of William Paley, a distinguished eighteenth century divine and author of that once famous theological work "A View of the Evidences of Christianity".

St Michael parish church, Bongate, Appleby

St Michael’s church stands in the ward of Bongate, on the right bank of the Eden, at the head of a steep descent to the footbridge and the ford. At first sight it has the timeless appearance of many small country churches, with its cruciform plan and low, square tower, but in point of fact this characteristic outline dates only from 1885, when the present tower was built on the north side, balancing the small thirteenth century transept on the south. An indifferent eighteenth century mezzotint, in Pennant’s Tour from Downing to Alston Moor, shows a barn-like building with a low-pitched roof and a small bell-cote at its western end, and the original low pitch of the gable can still be seen in exterior masonry of the west wall. This wall, and the north wall between it and the tower, contains the oldest parts of the fabric, dating as they do from the twelfth century. The small north west doorway is now blocked, and turned to a window, but its lintel is the one set up by the original builders, and in fact a Saxon hog-backed gravestone of the tenth or eleventh century, showing that there was a churchyard here, presumably a church, some time before the construction of the oldest part of the present building. The church was declared redundant in 1975, and turned to secular use, but something of its history can be read from a look at its exterior. A change in the outside stonework beyond the southern buttress on the west front indicates that the south aisle is a later addition. It is ascribed to 1300 or thereabouts, a little later than the transept, which is itself not part of the original plan, though its footings correspond more closely to those of the west end than those of the aisle. Inside, high on the north wall of the chancel, a carved and painted cartouche displays the letters A.P. and the date 1659 amid a design of strap work, commemorating the year when the Countess of Pembroke raised this church out of its ruins, a larger inscription, on the lines of that in St Lawrence church, was still to be seen in the eighteenth century, cut in wood between the chancel and the body of the church, but this has now gone, and may have been removed at the time of the 1885 alterations. It is not clear what, or how much Lady Anne did in 1659, she was unusually keen and well informed on the habits and building-practices of her ancestors, and her reconstruction were carried out in careful correspondence with the remaining material and the probable appearance of the original. Quite possibly at St Michael’s it was largely a matter of setting up what had fallen down rather than introducing anything fresh, though the outer archway of the south porch has a seventeenth century look about it that suggests an innovation of Lady Anne’s day. The Royal Arms of Charles II, once hanging in the south transept, and now transferred to the parish church of Maryport, bore the date 1661, the year of the King’s coronation, and may well have been set up to commemorate that event. The fabric being now in private possession, the public no longer has general access to the interior, but certain architectural details of the middle ages are worth describing here for purposes of record. In the south walls of the former chancel and south transept are the recesses of two piscinas, the projecting bowl of the latter one cut away level with the wall, like that in St Lawrence’s, a small square opening in the chancel was once a locker, and a tall one in the transept, now fitted with a modern trefoiled head, was a set for a priest. A recess and effigy in the south wall of the nave are said to have been found, built into the north wall where the archway now leads into the nineteenth century tower. The figure, much worn, is that of a woman with a dog at her feet, and close fitting sleeves with long, narrow lappets, typical of the fourteenth century. The six annulets of the Vipont family are shown in a little escutcheon on her pillow, by the broken figure of a kneeling angel, half-hidden by her hands, and mantle, adorn the body of her gown. The mantle itself bears on the left shoulder the almost obliterated device of the family of Roos of Hamlake, a water-skin suggesting that the effigy is that of Elizabeth Roos, who married Thomas, Lord Clifford, survived him for thirty years, and widowhood was granted in 1394, the office of "Sheriffs of Westmorland", which had been held, a hundred years before, by another woman, that Isabel’s de Vipont whose marriage had brought the great Westmorland estates into the Clifford family. Opposite to the churchyard gate, in the garden-wall of the former vicarage, are fragments of arcading that seem to have come from the canopy of a tomb, not unlike one still to be seen at Newbiggin, and it is not surprising to find that one of them incorporate a shield on which can still be described the Vipont annulets, and the water-skins of Roos, showing that this arcading once framed the niche and effigy of the Sheriffs.

A column and its capital, and a small round-headed recess, are even earlier, dating probably from the thirteenth century while there are one or two later fragments, including a small sandstone panel, one, perhaps the cresting of a tombstone or a mural tablet, representing Noah’s Ark with the returning dove.

The soft sandstone has suffered badly from weather, but one can still see the dove, almost as big as the Ark, with the olive-leaf in her half-obliterated beak, and the vast hand of Noah filling the only window, through the inscription on the hull of the vessel has become totally illegible within living memory. Patches of new stonework in the outer walls indicate where old windows have been re-set in different positions, and an inscribed stone in the porch is possibly the base of a mediaeval font, though the inscription upon it is revealed as a comparatively modern invention by an inaccuracy in the date.

The twelfth century documentary reference indicates that at the time St Michael’s was regarded as having the status of a collegiate church, and there is a allusion to a Dean, but this can only have been of short duration, the parish was combined with that of St Lawrence and with the fell-side parish of Murton-cum-Hilton into one united benefice in 1952, and in 1972 the three became the single parish of Appleby, St Lawrence’s being the parish church, to which the other two served as chapels-of-ease. Since then, as has been stated, St Michael’s church was declared redundant, and in the Local Government Reorganization of 1974, Appleby itself lost the status of a borough, which it had held for four months short of eight hundred years.

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acknowlegements to Les Strong