St. Cuthbert’s Church, Lorton

Laying midway between the twin villages of High and Low Lorton in Cumbria, lies an unassuming and modest little church with a history dating back to the 9th Century.

Lorton Church December 2008

Lorton Church December 2008

To the inquisitive and knowlegeable eye, it is possible to discern the traces of the original, circular churchyard boundary.

Over the centuries, both the church building and its boundaries has changed to become what we know today. Originally belonging to the Parish of Brigham (with the mother church in Brigham), the church belonged to the Diocese of Chester, later becoming part of the diocese of Carlisle in 1883 with Lorton becoming a parish in its own right.

The layout of the land would suggest that at one time, the chapel or church would have been the centre of one village, but there is evidence that the village was in two distinct parts by the twelfth Century.

Some of the earliest documented records of a church at Lorton are in the PRO Pipe Rolls 1198-1200, giving evidence of church “Clerks” (almost certainly Churchmen or Priests).  In a record of debts to the treasury, Michael, Chaplain at Lorton is noted to have owed two Marks in 1198 and after paying some of his tax, still owed 16s 8d in 1200.  After this he disappears from the records and the next noteable is John De Lorton in 1267, who was killed by Simon de Crostwik during a politically motivated brawl at Keswick.

No more is heard of the church or its churchmen until 1524 when Lorton enjoyed the presence of a Curate, Alan Peyll with the help of three Chaplains; Henry Wyslon, Peter Hudson and Alan Crakplace.

They were almost certainly local men who, like the majority of the parishoners, would also have farmed and worked in the village.  Strength is given to this supposition from writings of a visitation on 1571 where it states; “they have no servyce but as they provide themselves”.

A full list of churchmen/priests from 1198 to present day is displayed in the church.

The earliest known dedication of the church to St. Cuthbert is in 1416 and up until the eighteenth Century, the church as was also used as a school.

In Medieval times, burials were only allowed at the “mother church”, hence the existence of the so called “corpse-roads“, such as that from Loweswater, through Holm Wood and on to St. Bees.  There are noted to be burials at Lorton since 1538, but most of the earliest remaining gravestones in the  churchyard now date from the mid 1700’s. The earliest of all, is that of Edward Thompson, which reads “who died February 16th 164 1/2, (This is the only known record of double dating of old and new calendars in the parish records).  There is no known record of a burial within the church itself.

In 1552 King Edward VI ordered a full inventory of church goods.  Following the dissolution, there had been much unathorised personal plundering of church property and Edward wanted this in the Royal Treasury rather than in private hands.  The resultant inventory recorded silver chalices, brass candlesticks and cross, bells and alterclothes, but it is believed that these records were falsified, as there was evidence much earlier of more superior furniture which was likely hidden away.

Records in 1690 – 1711 state that the church was “modestly but decently furnished with a stone font and cover, communion table with rails before it and a fair linen cloth, a reading desk and a pulpit with a cushion and covering fit thereto”.  For administration of sacraments, there was a “flaggon of pewter and a decent Bason”.

The assembled congregation would have been everybody except the bedridden sick, “hearing lessons and prayers from King James verson of the Bible and a “common prayer book of the largest volume”.  Churchgoers would have stood or knealt in groups (there were no pews until much later). Roughly made benches, arranged around the walls, would have been used by the sick or frail, hence that saying “the weak go to wall”.  The coarse woollen cloaks and shawls would have offered little benefit in the unheated, stone walled and stone flagged building.

The church fell into disrepair in the late 1700’s with the Curate writing to the Bishop saying “the villagers take their life in their hands by entering the building” and in 1806 the question was to rebuild or substantially repair!

It would appear from markings that later appeared on the walls and from the layout of the gravestones, that major repair rather than replacement took place.  The church was now fitted with pews.  The present Chancel was added around 1880 and in 1903 the west window, made by Mayer of Munich, was inserted as a bequest of Steele-Dixon of Lorton Hall.

1911 saw improvements to the Chancel; the Altar was replaced as a gift by Mrs Burrows of Broomlands and was carved by Hawtle of Southport.  The panelling was the work of James Mirehouse living at Fernwood and in 1912 was enhanced by four panels carved by George Pallister, Vicar.

The current building has fine accoustics had has played host to top ranking instrumental performers.  These concerts have become almost an annual event of note in the district.  In 1992, the new, state of the art, electronic organ was inaugurated at a concert given by the Carlisle Cathedral Organist, Ian Hare.

The crowning glory of this little church came in 1994 when a dedicated group of valley ladies, designed and worked the beautiful kneelers, spanning the full length of the pews, each individual in its design but totalling some 4,600 hours of detailed needlework.  A notebook relating to their story is kept in the church for the benefit of visitors.

To call the population to church “two bells hung in an open bell-case”.  These bells weighed around 10 stone and would continue to be used until 1870 when the church underwent major reconstruction.  These were replaced by the single , second hand bell from Bridekirk which is still used to this day.

The graveyard can lay claim to artistic fame, as a gravestone raised to the family of Edward Nelson of Gatesgarth, is an early (and probably unknown) work of the now internationally renowned sculptress, Josefina de Vasconcellos, who was a friend of the family.  Edward was a shepherd and at the top of the headstone is carved a ewe with two lambs.

Thanks must go to the benevolence and hard work of the local villagers past and present, who’s dedication has preserved this local piece of history.

The details are taken from the Church booklet written by Ron George of High Lorton in 1995.

Parish records are now held at the Carlisle Records Office (CRO).

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