This parish, which lies on the eastern bank of the river Eden, is comprised within Leath ward; the county court district, poor law union, and rural district of Penrith; the deanery of Penrith E.; and petty sessional division of Leath ward. It gives its name to a division of the county which elects a member of the county council. The area of the parish is 5,572 acres, of which the gross rental is £5,531; the ratable value of the land, £3,477; and of the buildings, £1,449. The inhabitants, who number about 594, are chiefly engaged in agriculture, although a few find employment in a small woollen factory and carding mill. Kirkoswald is bounded by Addingham, Ainstable, Croglin, Renwick, Staffield, and the river Eden. A church was erected here at an early period in honour of St. Oswald, King of Northumbria, who lost his life fighting against Penda, the Pagan King of Mercia. "The soil in the western part of the parish is exceedingly rich and productive; in other parts heavy with a clayey subsoil; and in others light, with a sandy subsoil; altogether it is mostly arable, and very productive in all kinds of farm produce." There are several quarries of freestone, and at Haresceugh is one of porphyry, or marble of a blue colour spotted with white. This district possesses many features of special interest, whether viewed with regard to its physical character or the historical associations with which it is connected. There is some uncertainty as to the descent of this manor previous to the reign of King John, at which time it belonged to Sir Hugh Morville, said, by some writers, to have been one of the assassins of Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Here, Camden tells us, was preserved for a long time the sword with which the foul crime was committed; and Mr. J. Denton says, in his father's time, the weapon was kept at Isel, which then belonged to the Morvilles. Mr. Hodgson Hinde, in a paper read before the Archaeological Institute, has exploded this story of the county historians, and very satisfactorily proved that the murderer of Becket was Sir Hugh Morville, of Kirkoswald, in Westmorland, and not the Cumbrian family. From the Morvilles it passed to the Multons, and from them to the Dacres, and by Joan, daughter of Thomas, Lord Dacre, to Sir Richard Fienes, and by the heiress of that family to the Lennards; from the co-heiress of the latter it was purchased by Sir Christopher Musgrave, Bart., from whom it descended to the late proprietor, Sir Richard Musgrave, and is now held by his son, Sir R.G. Musgrave, Bart., Eden Hall. The other landowners are Timothy Featherstonhaugh, Esq., London; Francis Mason, Sickergill; Arthur Charles Aglionby, Staffield Hall; the Trustees of the Wetherslack Charity; William Salkeld, Renwick; Captain Sunderland; and Christopher Smith, Park Head.
The Castle of Kirkoswald, the residence of the early lords of the manor and later of the barons of Gilsland, must have boasted both magnitude and magnificence. Mr. Sandford, in 1670, describes it as "one of the fairest fabrics that eyes ever looked upon, having a hall 200 yards long* ornamented with pictures of all the kings of England from Brute." The castle was originally erected about the year 1200, by Randolph Engayne, but was enlarged and beautified at subsequent periods by its various owners. Sir Hugh Morville enclosed the park by royal license; Thomas de Multon and John de Castro each made additions to the castle about the reign of Edward II, and in the sixteenth century Thomas, Lord Dacre, added to its defences by the construction of a ditch. The castle appears to have been the occasional residence of the Dacres till about the beginning of the seventeenth century. About this time the portraits of the English kings which adorned the great hall were removed to Naworth, and the castle dismantled. In 1688 it is described by Mr. Denton as a "bare shell or heap of stones," and some 50 years later, when Buck's view was published, a great part of the walls had been pulled down. "Of this noble specimen of military architecture of the middle ages but few remains are now left. What is still visible is situated on an eminence about 200 yards south-east of the town, at the head of the demesne, and consist of three dilapidated towers, one of which, at the north end, is a fair example of ancient architecture, which still raises its lofty head as high as the tall trees, whose tops, as a mighty phalanx, stand grandly around it. Under each of the other two towers are large vaults, whose hemispherical domes support the massive superstructure. There still remain evident traces of a moat, as well as of a wall, at the north-west corner of which, near the entrance, is the site (rectangular in form) of an outer tower, where a drawbridge is said to have been, during the days in which the castle maintained its pride of place, and which commanded a beautiful view of the rich demesne down the river Eden, as well as of the town and the detached steeple of the parish church."+ With this, as with every other ruined castle or abbey in the country, there is attached the fiction of a subterranean passage, but the tradition which has perpetuated the absurdity has not preserved the memory of the spot which gave entrance to the under-ground way.
The town of Kirkoswald is pleasantly situated on the declivity of a steep hill, near the river Eden, eight miles N.N.E. of Penrith, fifteen miles S.E. by S. of Carlisle, fifteen miles S. of Brampton, and thirteen miles W. by S. of Alston. Kirkoswald can boast a very respectable antiquity; as far back as the year 1200 it was a place of considerable importance, and had a charter granted by King John in that year, to hold a market weekly on Thursday, and a fair yearly on the feast of St. Oswald, August 5th. Both of these are now obsolete, but the charter is still proclaimed from the Market Cross every five years. The officials then march up to the old Castle, and back to the George Hotel, where a good dinner finishes the proceedings. Raven Beck runs through the town, and on its banks are three corn mills, and a mill for carding and spinning wool.
There appears to have been at Kirkoswald, during the first quarter of the 18th century, a foundry for the casting of church bells. It was carried on by one Aaron Peever, whose name occurs thus on the tenor bell in the church:-
+ AARON + PEEVER + KIRKOSWALD + FA + IOHN + RUMNEY + VICK + 1729; the treble bell has evidently been cast by him also. Another bell of much older date is inscribed thus:- WILLIAM LAND MADE ME 1619 W.B.
On the lip of the bell are three old silver coins, much worn, which have clearly been put in the mould before casting. Kirkoswald was, from its position on the borders of the Debatable Land, liable to the unwelcome visits of the marauding Scots; and, accordingly, we find from the Chronicle of Lanercost, that the town was burned by Bruce, in 1314. In 1597 and 1598, it was visited by the plague, which traversed the north of England, and made its way from Newcastle to Kirkoswald and Penrith, and thence to Appleby and Kendal. We read that in the first year of the visitation forty-two persons died, and in the year following no less than 583, a mortality which must have almost depopulated the parish. Only fifty-one deaths are recorded in the church register.
The Church, dedicated to the royal saint, Oswald, stands a short distance from the town, behind a lofty conical hill, on the summit of which is a detached tower in which are three bells. The church appears to have been formerly of much larger dimensions than at present, as may be seen in the foundations of walls outside the present edifice. These are evidently the ruins of chapels north and south of the chancel. In style the building is a combination of the Norman and Gothic, and consists of nave, aisles, and chancel. The tower occupies an uncommon position, being placed on an eminence apart from the church. Several of the windows are filled with stained-glass, on which are depicted scriptural scenes - appropriate subjects of meditation for the contemplative mind. The east window represents St. Oswald and St. Cuthbert. Those on the north and south of the chancel are richly emblazoned with the arms of the Musgraves, the Dacres, the Howards, the Fetherstonhaughs, and others. The church underwent a thorough restoration in 1878 at a cost of £1,400. While the work was going on, a small leaden chalice and paten were found in a coffin under the foundations which had evidently contained the body of an ecclesiastic. Within the church are several interesting monuments to members of the Fetherstonhaugh family and others. A stream of pure water, issuing from a rock on the eastern side of the church, flows beneath the building, and may be seen as it emerges from the western side by descending a flight of steps near the church. A spring or well appears to be the usual accompaniment of St. Oswald dedications, as it is of those churches under the patronage of St. Mungo or Kentigern. The Venerable Bede tells us in his history of the church, that the spot, where St. Oswald fell fighting for his faith and for his country, was celebrated in his time for restoring health to man and beast; and that so many people carried away the earth to avail themselves of its miraculous powers, that a hole or fosse, as large as a man's body, was found. We have here the probable reason why churches dedicated to his honour are usually erected near a spring or well. The registers commence in 1577.
There is no documentary evidence by which to
determine the period of the foundation of this church, but its dedication to a Saxon saint
strongly favours a Saxon origin. The earliest record of it is dated 1246, in which year
the rector sued the lord of the manor, Ranulph de Levington, and Ada, his wife, a
co-heiress of Sir Hugh Morville, and recovered his claim to certain privileges in the
parks of Lazonby and Kirkoswald. Some sixty years subsequently we find this church the
scene of a grand ordination service, when 17 were admitted to the order of acolyte, 25 to
the sub-diaconate, 26 to the diaconate, and 21 to the priesthood. From this time until
1523, the church does not figure in the local annals; but in that year, by permission of
the Bishop of Carlisle, it was made collegiate for twelve secular priests, under the rule
of a provost. Under its newly constituted privilege it was necessary to assimilate its
interior to that of all monastic and cathedral churches. The present choir was, therefore,
erected and fitted with oak stalls for the collegiate body. This addition is supposed to
have been executed at the expense of Rowland Threlkeld, the first provost, and probably
founder of the college. But the intentions of the pious founder were soon to be
"thwarted by the avarice of Henry VIII, who seized on the college about the year
1545; when he also became possessed of the rectory. So far as Henry was concerned, he
proved his plea of reformation to be an idle subterfuge for sacrilege; for, by possessing
himself of nearly all the endowments of this church, he, in effect, closed the doors
against the parishioners, by allowing out of the ample revenues with which the college and
rectory were endowed, only £8 per annum, to a vicar; so that probably, in this case as in
others, the parish was committed to one unfitted for the office, a menial servant,
ignorant, unlettered, it might be vicious." ¶
In 1725, a vigorous effort was made by the parishioners to improve this state of things; a sum of £200 was raised by subscription, to which the Countess Dowager Gower added £200, and this was supplemented by £400 from Queen Anne's Bounty. This sum was invested in land, and the living is now worth £290, and the vicarial tithes, which amount to £24. The rectorial tithes have been commuted for £214 10s., and are in the impropriation of Timothy Fetherstonhaugh, Esq. In 1291, the benefice was valued at £48 1s. 5d.; in a valuation in the reign of Edward II, it was returned as worth £5; and in the time of Henry VIII, at £8. The patronage, originally in the hands of the Crown was exchanged for the benefice of West Ashby, Lincoln; and is now held by the bishop of the diocese. The incumbency is now held by the Rev. J.J. Thornley, M.A.
Previous to 1745 the parish appears to have been without the means of education. In that year John Lowthian, gentleman, left the sum of £100 to be expended in the building of a school and the maintenance of a master at Highbank Hill; but before the receipt of the said gift or legacy, the parishioners had, at their own expense, erected a schoolhouse, and directed that the interest of the above £100, and of £20 poor stock, should be applied towards the maintenance of a schoolmaster, who was required to receive all the poor children of the parish, boys and girls, and teach them reading at 1s. 6d. per quarter. The present school is a neat stone building, in the town of Kirkoswald, erected in 1857, at a cost of about £600. The endowment of the school arising from the rent of land and cottages is about £23 per annum.
The seeds of Dissent were probably sown in the parish during the Commonwealth; but there appears to have been no other place of worship than the Parish Church until 1653, when George Nicholson, a Nonconformist, erected a small chapel at Park Head. This was rebuilt in 1711, and is now known as the Congregational Church. The same body have also a church in the town of Kirkoswald. It is a neat building of red freestone, erected by subscription in 1864, at a cost of £300, and will seat 100 worshippers. The Wesleyan Chapel occupies an elevated site in the town, and was raised by subscription in 1871. It is built of red freestone of the neighbourhood, and will accommodate about 300 persons.
CHARITIES - John Lowthian, by will dated March 11th, 1742, bequeathed to the vicar and churchwardens a rent charge of £2 12s. yearly, to be distributed among the poor every Sunday at the church, in weekly portions. Richard Lowthian left, in 1782, a rent charge of £5 a year for the poor of the parish. This has been lost. Thomas Threlkeld left, in 1793, the sum of £40 for the poor of Staffield. Previous to the year 1760 various legacies, amounting to £62 10s., had been left to the poor of Kirkoswald parish. This sum, with the £40 above-mentioned, was invested in a turnpike trust between Penrith and Appleby. These turnpikes have, by a recent law, been abolished, and £15 only of the mortgage was recovered. This sum is now deposited in the bank.
The College, now the residence of J. Marks Wood, Esq., occupies the site of the ancient collegiate premises. The house has undergone very considerable, alterations since the Dissolution, but still a part of the original building may be detected. It is the property of Timothy Fetherstonhaugh, Esq., who also owns part of the demesne lands. The Fetherstonhaughs are a branch of the ancient family of that name long settled at Fetherstonhaugh Castle, Northumberland. The first who took up his residence at Kirkoswald was Henry, second son of Albany Fetherstonhaugh, of Fetherstonhaugh Castle, towards the close of the sixteenth century. His son, Sir Timothy, an unflinching Royalist, incurred the enmity of Cromwell by his adherence to the cause of Charles I, and was beheaded at Chester in 1651. His son, Sir Henry, knighted in the field, was killed at the battle of Worcester, and his widow was plundered by the Parliamentarian soldiers to the amount of £10,000.
Haresceugh or Harescow in this parish, was part of the possessions of Lanercost Priory, to which it was given by Ada de Engayne,, but after the dissolution of that house it was sold to Peter Barwick, physician-in-ordinary to Charles II. He conveyed the demesne and hall to the church, which his brother, Dean Barwick, had erected and endowed at Witherslack, in Westmorland, for the benefit of the said church and the poor. The rent, at that time £40 a year, is now £200, and is distributed in marriage dowries to deserving maids, and in other ways. A few remnants of the ancient castle are still to be seen. In several parts of the parish are the remains of trenches, probably formed for military or protective purposes against the marauding incursions of the Scottish freebooters. On Haresceugh Moor the traces of one may be easily distinguished; another was near Haresceugh Castle. At Old Parks one of these trenches, 500 yards in length, was levelled about 40 years ago, and another on Viol Moor has disappeared within the last twenty years. Many interesting "finds" have been made in the district. Several years ago a triangular Saxon ornament of silver and 700 Saxon coins were found; the ornament weighed 2 ozs. 12 dwts., and is supposed to have been made about the time of King Offa, nearly 1,100 years ago. It is now deposited in the British Museum. In 1894, during some excavations in the Market Place, a Roman water jar was discovered. About thirty years ago, the Rev. G. Manning, in making some antiquarian excavations, came upon an urn filled with calcined human bones, and close by was a flint spear head, from which we infer that the urn contained the dust of some British warrior, whose rude military weapon had been laid at rest with his ashes. Near to the spot where the urn was found was a circle, ten feet in diameter, the soil within being much blacker than elsewhere. In a field near Old Parks farm is a British sepulchral circle, about 80 yards in circumference; this site was recently uncovered, when urns containing calcined human bones, with incense vessels and beads were discovered, and placed in Tully House, Carlisle. The remains of similar ancient burials have also been unearthed at Todbank Hill.
* Messrs. Lyson consider this a mistake for 100 feet.
+ Whellen's "History of Cumberland and Westmorland."
¶ Jefferson's Leath Ward.
Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901
19 June 2015
© Steve Bulman