PART 1 (June 1984)

It is impossible to state with certainty at what precise date the first Parish Church of Ulverston was built, whether during the reign of one of the Saxon kings, or at a period subsequent to the Norman; conquest. In any case, however, it would seem to have been originally a chapel dependent upon the Parish Church of Dalton. For when the Furness district was first divided into parishes, the parochial boundaries of Dalton included by far the larger part of it, extending from the Isle of Walney in the south, to what is now the northern extremity of Lancashire. The inhabitants at that time were few and widely scattered; but as population increased and new villages and townships were formed, the erection of new churches was rendered necessary. Thus at Urswick, Ulverston, and Hawkshead, chapels were built which were at first dependent upon the mother-church of Dalton. And as the system of subdivision still went on, chapels were built in the remoter hamlets, and priests were appointed to visit them, and perform the ministrations of religion. And so new parishes were formed, and in some cases the chapels were in process of time endowed and took rank as independent parish churches.

The usual process by which parishes were formed and churches built in England in Saxon and Norman times was for a landowner, or lord of the manor, who desired to have the services of a resident priest for himself and his dependents, to build a church on some convenient part of his estate, and assign to it the tithes and some glebe land as an endowment. The estate then became the parish, and the landowner reserved for himself and his successors the right of nominating the parish priest. And there is no reason to doubt but that some such arrangement was made with regard to Ulverston. It is generally supposed that the church was built, at the latest, in the early part of the I2th Century; and the Norman doorway on the south side of the church, appears to be a relic, indeed the only relic of the original structure. A vague tradition makes the church to have been built in the year AD. IIII and whether this be quite accurate or not, it is probably not far from the truth. It may further be noted that among the families possessing wealth and influence in the Furness district at that period, that of de Tailbois stands conspicuous. Ivo de Tailbois was one of the Norman Chieftains upon whom immediately after the conquest William I bestowed estates and honours with lavish hand, and amongst other gifts he granted him the barony of Kendal, and the lordship of that part of Lancashire which was contiguous to Westmorland. This Lancashire estate comprised an extensive tract of mountainous and wooded country in Furness Fells, extending probably to Ulverston itself; but its boundaries were not clearly defined, and that want of definition was a fertile source of difficulty and dispute between the barons of Kendal and the abbots of Furness in after years. Now the parochial boundaries of Ulverston, embracing as they did an area of some 27,000 acres and enclosing a strip of land seventeen miles in length, extending from Tilberthwaite on the north to Conishead on the south, nearly coincided with the boundaries over which the barons of Kendal claimed to exercise jurisdiction. And this fact, combined with the manner in which one of the descendants of Ivo de Tailbois exercised the rights of ownership over Ulverston church and its appurtenances, when he assigned them to the Priory of Conishead, makes it by a no means improbable suggestion that its erection and endowment were due, wholly or in part, to some members of this powerful family.

If Ulverston church were in existence in 1127, it would of course be included in the grant which Stephen, afterwards King of England, made in that year to Furness Abbey, when he endowed it with all the landed property and the rights appertaining thereto which he possessed in Dalton, Ulverston, and elsewhere in Furness. But at the first known mention of this church, we find it in the possession of William de Tailbois, baron of Kendal, who, by consent of the king, had exchanged his ancestral surname for that of de Lancaster. The Priory of Conishead was founded in the reign of Henry II., which lasted from 1154 till 1189, by one Garnet de Pennington with the help of William de Lancaster; and William, in accordance with a practice which was common in those days, namely, that of alienating tithes from the parish churches and appropriating them to some monastic institution, conferred upon the prior and canons of Conishead “the church of Ulverston with its chapels and appurtenances.” The mention of these “chapels” seems to show that chapels for the accomodation of persons living in the distant hamlets were already in existence. The effect of William de Lancaster’s gift was that the whole estate, interest, and advowson of the church and rectory of Ulverston were vested in the Priory of Conishead; and the prior and canons would never permit a Vicarage to be endowed, but, receiving as they did all the emoluments of the living, charged themselves with the duty of performing divine service in the church and its dependent chapels, and fulfilling all other parochial duties. The Valor Beneficiorum of Pope Nicholas makes the value of the living in 1291 to be £12. It is probable that one of the canons of Conishead was specially charged with the duty of attending to the spiritual ministrations of Ulverston church; for we find in the Coucher book of Furness Abbey that a claim was made on the chapel of Hawkshead about the year 1220 by a certain Robert, who is called “ persona-de Ulverstone,”—the parson’ of Ulverston. The abbot and monks of Furness Abbey looked upon the erection of Conishead Priory and the appropriation to it of Ulverston Church with anything but a favourable aspect, and the record is preserved of a claim which they made to the possession of the church on the ground that Ulverston had once been a chapelry under Dalton, and thus under the abbot’s control. A similar claim on the same grounds was put in for the church of Pennington, which had also been conferred upon the Priory. In 1208 a commission, which included Gilbert Fitz-Reinfred, lord of Ulverston, and the Archdeacon of Richmond, was appointed to examine the case, and decision was given in favour of the canons of Conishead, but with a proviso that, for for the sake of peace, they should pay an annual sum of fifty shillings to the Abbey. In 1307 an inspeximus of Edward II. confirmed all that William de Lancaster had granted to the Priory, and so the prior and canons were fully established in secure possession of their rights, and their ministrations in the church continued until the dissolution.

It may be mentioned here that the report of Henry VIII’s commissioners shows that at some period of its history a chantry was added to the church, occupying the east end of the south aisle. It was endowed with a yearly income of £3 5s. tod. for a priest to say mass daily, but on behalf of whose soul no record remains to show.

The dissolution of Conishead Priory took place in 1535, and Ulverston church sustained very serious loss in consequence. For as the church and rectory came to the Crown under the same form as that in which it had been held by the priory, it was left absolutely without endowment. It was impropriated to a succession of lay-rectors, who fee-farmed the tithes from the Crown, and paid at most 10 per annum to the minister. In 1684 the endowment was £8, but subsequently it was increased by the gifts of sundry benefactors until in I724 it was worth £28. In 1715 the lay-rectorship and advowson were purchased by John Braddyll, of Conishead. They remained in possession of that family until, after the death of the late Colonel Braddyll in 1862, they were obtained by Messrs. Petty and Postlethwaite, bankers, and soon afterwards disposed of to the Rev. Alfred Peache. Mr Peache has placed the patronage of the living in the hands of trustees; he has also munificently transferred his interest in the tithes and rectory rents to trustees, with the intention of their being sold, and the proceeds applied to the augmentation of the benefice. The benefice is now worth somewhat more than £300 per annum.

The church is a spacious building, situated upon the slope of a hill commanding extensive views over Morecambe Bay, and including Chapel Island, the woods of Conishead Priory, and the opposite coasts of Lancaster and Morecambe. For nearly 800 years successive generations have gathered within its walls for worship; but of the original structure nothing now remains with the exception of a Norman arch, semi-circular and doubly recessed, and rudely sculptured in chevron pattern. This arch, protected by a modern porch, forms the principal entrance to the church on the south side; but it seems to have been removed from some other position than that which it now occupies. It may possibly have stood at the west end of the church before the erection of the tower, which dates from the 16th century. Baines, in his “ History of Lancashire,” states that “in the reign of Henry VIII. the church was rebuilt,” and it was then that the tower was added, or at least that the erection of it commenced. The precise date is not known, but it may be regarded as certain that the work was entered upon before the confusion caused by the dissolution of Conishead Priory. As regards the tower, it is square, built of solid masonry, and has walls six feet thick. That it was in course of being built in 1542 is proved by an entry in the will of one Leonard Fell, dated in that year, who bequeaths forty shillings to the “ buildynge of the Churche stepyle.” It is also noticeable that among the cobble stones of which the tower is principally built there may be seen a large number of dressed stones, some of freestone from Holker, and some of red sandstone from Hawcoat. “Now,” says the Rev. Canon Bardsley in his “ Chronicles of Ulverston,” “Conishead and Furness Abbey were dismantled from 1538 to 1540. We have recorded, by the commissioners of Henry V III., the price the lead, timber, and bells fetched. At this very crisis St. Mary’s needed rebuilding. The Priory, the natural guardian of the fabric, being dissolved, and the parishioners of Ulverston thrown on their own resources to restore the crumbling edifice, what wonder that they should make a quarry alike of dismantled priory and abbey?” There is another point of interest connected with the tower. More than half way up the south side a tablet is inserted, protected by a dripstone, bearing the following  weather-worn inscription :—


Above it is inserted a date which was long believed to be 1164. But in 1885 the members of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society paid a visit to Ulverston and took the opportunity of inspecting this tablet. A ladder was procured, and on a close view of the letters it was ascertained that the figures were I 543. The inference to be drawn (as Canon Bardsley in the “ Ulverston Church Magazine” for July, 1885, has pointed out), is that it is not Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII. and Queen of England who is referred to, but Elizabeth,Queen of Henry VII, who died in 1503. If it be asked why an Ulverston man should occupy an official position in relation to this queen, the answer is that “ Elizabeth Woodville, by her first marriage was mother to Thomas Grey, first Marquis of Dorset, who married Cecilia, sole heiress of the Harringtons of Gleaston Castle, Lords of the Manors of Alclingham, Muchland, and Ulverston. By her second marriage with Edward IV. she was mother to Elizabeth of York, who was married to Henry VII. Therefore the owner of the manor (a moiety), was half-brother to the Consort of Henry VII. Some special local service done by Dobson, or his father, would easily secure the post at Court in question. Once grapple the fact of the close connection between the Marquis of Dorset and the Queen, and the chief difficulty melts absolutely away.” The tower contains six bells placed there in 1836, at a cost of about £800.

In 1804 the church underwent considerable alterations. The north aisle was enlarged, the outer wall being taken down, together with the roof, pillars, and arches, and re-erected at a distance of I8 feet from the original. The roof of the nave was recovered and the entire church plastered. And again in the year 1865-66 so complete a restoration was accomplished that the church was almost entirely rebuilt. The external walls were all taken down, the tower and the ancient Norman doorway alone remaining unaltered, and the north aisle was made considerably wider. Internally, the galleries and the unsightly pews which occupied the floor of the church were all removed, and the body of the church, with the exception of a portion of the columns, arches, and clerestory, were rebuilt. The restoration, which was carried out under the direction of Messrs. Paley and Austin, architects, of Lancaster, was strictly in keeping with the character of the old building, the perpendicular style being preserved throughout. The stone used for the walls was limestone from Tarn Close quarry near the town; that for the quoins and windows being a sandstone from St. Bees. The porch is lined with white freestone selected from the remains of the old walls of the church. The woodwork of the pews is pitchpine, and the accommodation is for 1450 persons. The cost of the alterations was about £10,000. On its completion it was re-consecrated by the Right Rev. S. Waldegrave, Bishop of Carlisle, on the 31st of October, 1866.‘ A few other improvements have been added since, and, to quote .the words of Canon Bardsley, it may now be said “more truly than ever that one of the finest and most well-circumstanced churches in the north of England stands in Ulverston.”


PART 2 (August 1984) 

THE church consists of western tower, nave, with clerestory, and north and south aisles, the east end of the nave being raised, and arranged so as to form a chancel. Its internal length is 115 feet, and its width 73 feet. The width of the nave is 26 feet 6 inches, of the north aisle 25 feet, and of the south aisle 16 feet 10 inches. Many beautiful memorial windows have been erected; and the mural monuments, which were removed when the walls of the church were taken down, have been carefully replaced. On entering the church the visitor cannot fail to be at once struck by its great extent, and also by the subdued light which pervades the whole interior, as in varied but harmoniously blended hues it streams through the numerous stained glass windows. On the left at the west end of the south aisle is the Baptistery, 14 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 6 inches, in which stands an octagonal Caen stone font on a York stone platform. The font has an oak cover, and is ornamented with panels showing the emblems of the Passion and of the four evangelists. There is a stained glass window in the Baptistery with three lights, representing — the south light, Noah’s Sacrifice; the centre light, Christ blessing little children; and the northern light, Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan. Beneath it is the following inscription on a brass plate: — “This window is dedicated by the parishioners of Ulverston to the honor and glory of God, and as a token of their appreciation of the long and valued services of Richard Gwillym, M.A., Honorary Canon of Carlisle, and Incumbent of Ulverston, and more especially to record his untiring energy and zeal in promoting the Restoration of this Parish Church in   the year of our Lord, 1866.” A three-light window at the west end of the church was presented by the late John Denney, Esq., of Bridgelands, near Ulverston, in memory of his daughter, who died on the 27th of January, 1866. The subject of it is Faith, Hope, and Charity, each of the three lights being occupied by one figure. The window at the west end of the north aisle cannot fail to attract particular attention. When the church was restored, two windows were placed there, and seven in the north wall, by the late H. W. Schneider, Esq., having in the lights grisaille quarries, with various devices, and richly coloured borders. But the two at the west end have since been removed, and their place is now occupied by one large stained glass window by Gray, of London, which formerly adorned the east end of the church. This window had lain neglected for 15 years; but, attention having been drawn to the fact of its existence, it was brought back to the church and restored “In Memorium”. In it’s upper compartment it has the resurrection of Christ, with on one Side the figure of Hope, and on the other that of Faith. Underneath are the four evangelists. These figures are all after Rubens. Some new glass has been inserted in the tracery of the window, as there was not sufficient of the old to fill the place which it now occupies, The glass also of one of the windows in the north wall was removed in 1892 in order to admit of a memorial window, by Swaine Bourne, of Birmingham, to the memory of John Harrison Barrow, who for 29 years held the office of churchwarden. The subject is the faithful servant approved and rewarded, as described in our Lord’s parable of the talents. The beautiful east window by Wailes, of Newcastle, was erected to the memory of Benson Harrison, Esq., who died November 25th, 1863. It consists of five principal lights, representing (1) our Lord’s agony in Gethsemane, (2) our Lord bearing His Cross, (3) His Crucifixion, (4) His Resurrection, and (5) His Ascension. The smaller lights exhibit figures of saints and angels and other appropriate designs.   The window at the east end of the south aisle was erected by the townsmen of Ulverston to the memory of the Braddylls of Conishead Priory. It has three lights, in which are represented (1) St. Paul preaching at Athens, (2) St. Paul’s Conversion, and (3) St. Paul before Agrippa. The first window on the south aisle contains the armorial bearings of the Braddyll family; the second, presented by Thomas Roper, Esq., in memory of his parents, Richard and Isabella Roper, has for its subjects (1) Jacob blessing his twelve sons, and (2) Noah’s Sacrifice, by Powell and Co., London; the third, presented by Miss Werge, has (1) King David, and (2) St. John in Patmos, by Wailes; the fourth, presented by the Fell family, represents (1) St. Peter, and (2) St. Paul, by Wailes; the fifth, also by Wailes, is a mosaic window with medallions in which are represented Christ and St. Peter walking on the sea; it was erected in memory of James Jackson, who died in 1861, and John Jackson who died in 1850; the sixth, presented by Canon Gwillym, in memory of the Braddyll family, has for its subjects the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Matthias; it is by Heaton, Butler, and Bayne, of London. The clerestory windows were the gift of the Rev. Canon Gwillym, from the designs of the Rev. N. Brady. They consist of fourteen triplets having fleur de lis quarries, with diagonal ribbon of varied colours. 

The principal monument in the church is an altar tomb in the Braddyll chapel, as the east end of the south aisle is called, having upon it the effigy, in Elizabethan armour, of William Sandys. He died in 1558 or 1559, but the monument is of modern construction, and was, in fact, erected by one of the Braddylls. The oldest mural monument in the church is that to the memory of Myles Dodding and Margaret his wife, on the south wall of the Braddyll Chapel. It is executed in marble with a brass plate inlaid, on which are engraved the full length figures of a gentleman and gentlewoman in the costume of the period, the early years of the reign of James I. Underneath them is the following inscription :— 


There are several other mural monuments in the church commemorating members of the Dodding and Braddyll families. In the Braddyll chapel are the following :—

Pacis nuper vigilantissimus. Custos .
et Comitatus Lancastriae Vice-Praefectus
MILO DODDING de Coniside Armiger
non procul hinc,
in pulverem redactus jacet
Vir (dum vivebat) vere Christianus
Ecclesiae Anglicanae filius fidelis,
Patriae et familias sollicitus Pater
omnibus benignus aequus affabilis
abomnibus amatus laudatus desideratus
sed eheu
omnes dolentes maerentes lachrymantes
lugentem prae caeteris VVillielmum filium
filiamq. AGNETAM (ipsos jam lugendos)
Ingentem SARAM (hunc superstitem unicam et heredem)
lugentem MARGARETAM conjugem charissimam
inopinata morte reliquit decimo nono
die Aprilis A.D. MDCLXXXIII.
AEtat XLI.


Here lies the Remains of
JOHN BRADDYLL, Esq., who was born at
Portfield in this County & married SARAH
Sole heiress of MYLES DODDING of Conishead
Esq. with whom he lived 42 years and
left issue by her 4 Sons and 5 Daughters
He was a Pious member of our Excellent
Church A Zealous Friend to our happy
Constitution An hearty Lover of
his country A painfull and
Impartial Magistrate An
Affectionatc Husband &
tender Parent A Constant &
Sincere Friend A Sober &
Upright man in all his
with these Qualities he lived
beloved by the Good, Feared
and respected even by the
Bad, and Deceased March
ye 3rd 1727-8 in the 70th
year of his Age.


Here lieth
In hopes of a blessed Resurrection
he Remains of Sarah Braddyll
Widow of John Braddyll of Portfield in this County Esqr
Daughter and Sole Heiress of Myles Dodding Esqr
Late of Conishead in this Parish
She died the 19th day of April
In the year of our Lord 1744 aged 79.
Having born to her said Husband
34 Sons and 5 Daughters
Of these, five early paid the debt of nature
The rest
Thro’ the Indulgence of Heaven
Survived this best of Parents,
That she might not want the
Pleasing. Consolation of
Transmitting to the latest time
Some copy of her own Perfections
Calm was her closing scene as reposing
Innocence, such is the End of those
Who spend the few moments allotted them here
In the unwearied Exercise of the duties
of Virtue and Religion.


Jane, eldest daughter of Wilson Braddyll, Esquire,
of Conishead Priory,
And relict of Frank Sotheron, Esquire,
Of Darrington Hall, in the county of York:
an Admiral of the White Flag, in the service of
Her Britannic Majesty:
obit April 4th, 1841.


Each lonely scene shall thee restore,
For thee the tear be duly shed;
Beloved till life could charm no more,
And mourned till Pity’s self be dead.


Of Charlotte,
Third daughter of Wilson and Jane Braddyll,
Who died at Bigland Hall, 22nd of Decr., 1811,
aetat. 26.


To the Memory of Margaret Sarah, second daughter
Of Wilson and Jane Braddyll, of Conishead Priory
in this Parish
and Wife of Gordon Forbes, Esqre, eldest son of
Lieutenant-General Gordon Forbes, Colonel
of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot
and late Commander-in-Chief of his Forces in Saint Domingo:
Who, accompanying her Husband to the East Indies,
in the year 1805,
fell an early Sacrifice to the Climate of Indostan,
and died at Calcutta, on the 6th Day of October, 1807;
aged 27 years.


On the south wall of the church a mural tablet, surmounted by a marble bust, bears the following inscription :—


To the Memory
Of Thomas Braddyll, Esqre.,
Of Conishead Priory,
Who departed this life
The 25th of July, 1776,
And lies in this Place.
In Grateful Remembrance
This monument is erected by his Heir and Kinsman,
Wilson Braddyll, Esqre.


Beneath the above a mural tablet to the memory of Colonel Braddyll, the last of that family who lived at Conishead Priory, bears the following inscription :— 

In Memory of
Thomas Richmond Gale Braddyll,
Late of Conishead Priory, ‘
Who departed this life July 10th, 1862,
In the 86th year of his age,
And was Interred at Lillington,
In the County of Warwick.
This Table
Is Erected by His Affectionate Children.
“Shew us Thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.”
Psalm LXXXV. VER. 7.