Ulpha Chapel, Cumbria

The Kirk of Ulpha was originally built as a chapel of ease to the church of Millom and is dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

Ulpha Church, Cumbria

Ulpha Church, South Cumbria

Records of a church in the Cumbrian village of Ulpha date back to the reign of Henry III.  Referred to by William Wordsworth in his Sonnets on the Duddon, Ulpha church “is as welcome as a star.”

Built of local stone, the roof of St. John the Baptist chapel is supported by Adze curved beams, open to the rafters.

In it’s earlier days, the walls would have bore no plaster, nor the interior any seats. The only service would be mass or communion, much shorter than the services of today, so the congregation would have stood or knelt.

Two holes can be seen in the north and east walls, which are thought to have been for the safe keeping of the sacrament or the books and vessels.

Later, seats or pews of oak were positioned facing the isle but these were removed in 1882 when the present seats were installed.

Water paint on plaster

During repairs in 1934, fragments of an old rough plaster, decorated in vegetable water paint dating back to 1700 were discovered.  These depict fragments of the Lords prayer and ten commandments.

The fragment of the the Royal Arms with “A.R.” inscribed, dates it to the reign of Queen Anne between 1702 and 1714.

Similar paintings were found at nearby Broughton church and are known to be the work of Salathiel Court.  His figures of “time” and “Death” bore the date 1720, suggesting that he may also be responsible for the earlier artwork at Ulpha.

The interior of the church has only one monument dedicated to the Parents of John Gunson, the founder of the local almshouses.

Two black and white murals are painted onto  the lime plaster, one bearing the names of the church wardens and the other the name of one of the Dansons who donated the oak porch and lychgate.

Danson Mural in Ulpha Church

Dedicated to one of the Danson Family

The windows in the church appear low compared to others of its time.  This is due to work in the last century where the remains of those who had been buried in the chapel were removed and the floor level raised.

Stealing water

The door was moved from the side, (a feint outline is still visible) and a ceiling was put up, covering the older beams and the walls re-plastered.

The font of Ulpha church dates to the pre-reformation period and marks can be seen in the stone where fittings would have securely held a locked lid to prevent parishioners stealing the water.

A unique altar made from the wood of a fruit tree, bears the initials of Thmoas Stephenson who was the church warden in 1882.  It is alleged that he cut down a large fruit tree and had it made into the holy table.

Vicar responsible for artworks

Brass panels behind the altar, depicting the vine, the cross and a sheaf of corn, are the work of the late Rev. Chas Whitaker BD who was the vicar of Ulpha from 1897 to 1914.  He was also responsible for carving the woodwork on the reredos and the Alms dish, which contains symbolic drawings of the four evangelists.

A local joiner, Mr Thomas Atkinson from Broughton-in-furness. made the pulpit, beginning the work at only seventeen years of age.

In the late 1800’s the first American organ was installed and has been replaced three times since.

Coloured brackets, supporting the altar curtains were made by a Newcastle blacksmith and are similar to to ones made by him in the crypt chapel in Newcastle Cathedral.

The hanging figure of Christ, the crucifix by the pulpit and and two oak standard lights were all gifted to the chapel by locals, the latter of which were made of oak taken from Howden Priory in Yorkshire and carved by a blind ex-serviceman of the first world war, Capt. Wm. Allan Smith of Huggate.


Outside the church and situated near to the entrance gate is a sundial standing around 1m high.

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