St. John's-in-the-Vale, Castlerigg, and Wythburn

Form one parish for all civil government, containing the three townships of St. Johns-in-the-Vale, Castlerigg, and Wythburn, and comprised within Derwent ward; the petty sessional division, rural deanery, county court district, and electoral division of Keswick; and the rural district and poor law union of Cockermouth. For all ecclesiastical matters, St. John's and Wythburn have been formed into two distinct parishes, carved out of the mother parish of Crosthwaite. It lies on the south-east of Keswick, and stretches from two to ten miles from that town to the confines of Westmorland, where Dunmaile Raise marks the boundaries of the two counties. Two beautiful and picturesque valleys are embraced within its limits, known as St. John's Vale and the Vale of Wanthwaite. The ridge of Naddle Fell separates the two, and at the head of the former stands Castle Rock, "detached and alone," which has given celebrity to the valley. In certain states of the atmosphere the rock presents the appearance, of a castle or fortress, and has been made the scene of Sir Walter Scott's "The Bridal of Triermain," in which he thus describes King Arthur's visit to this fairy fortress:-

"With toil the king his way pursued
By lonely Threlkeld's waste and wood
Till on his course obliquely shone
The narrow valley of St. John,
Down sloping to the western sky,
Where lingering sunbeams love to lie.

Midmost of the vale, a mound
Arose with airy turrets crowned
Buttress and rampire's circling bound,
And mighty keep and tower;
Seem'd some primeval giant's hand
The castle's massive walls had plann'd
A ponderous bulwark to withstand
Ambitious Nimrod's power."

The total area of the parish, including roads, rivers, and lake, is 19,710 acres, which are assessed at  3,582, and buildings at 8,186, and contained in 1891 1,650 inhabitants. The manor formed part of the estate of the unfortunate Earl of Derwentwater and is now held by R.D. Marshall, Esq. The other principal landowners are the Manchester Corporation; Countess Ossalinsky; Messrs. E.T. Tyson, Charles White, John Scott, L. Collier; Mrs. Hall, etc.

The Church. - Until 1863 St. John's-in-the-Vale was only a chapelry, without parochial privileges, but in that year, by powers given under Lord Blandford's Act, the chapel of St. John, with the manor of Legberthwaite, was formed into a separate ecclesiastical district containing 7,742 acres, and thus became a distinct parish for all ecclesiastical purposes. The present building, which occupies a romantic situation on the pass between the vale of Naddle and that of St. John, was erected in 1845, at a cost of 290, raised by subscription, and a chapel rate. During the incumbency of the Rev. R. Vaughan the church underwent considerable alterations, which were executed in great taste and completed in 1894, at a cost of 600. The east window was inserted in memory of S. Leathes, Esq., by his daughter. A relic of days gone by is the silver chalice in the possession of the vicar, inscribed: "The free gift of Robert Wrenn to the Chapell of St. John, 1659." The inhabitants are accustomed to pay chapel gifts to the minister, which formed originally his only stipend, and are levied upon the names of certain farms mentioned in the ancient deed of grant. These gifts only amount to about 3 per year. The living is now worth 135 per annum, and is held by the Rev. Charles Dowding. The right of presentation is exercised alternately by the Earl of Lonsdale and the landowners. The income was augmented in 1719 with 500, of which 200 was obtained from Queen Anne's Bounty, 200 was given by Dr. Galtsgarth, and the remainder by the inhabitants. The vicarage is most beautifully situated upon the Ambleside road, and was built through the active exertions of the Rev. J. Taylor, the then vicar. Near the church is the school, which is attended by about 30 children. Mistress, Miss Sarah Todhunter. The school possesses a small endowment of 5.

CHARITIES. - Thomas Williamson, in 1574, gave 20, to be invested in land, the rent thereof to be distributed among the poor, in mutton or veal, at Martinmas. The charity was afterwards increased to 40; but since 1810, money, instead of meat, has been distributed to the poor of St. John and Castlerigg - Thomas Howe, who died in 1797, gave by will, 20, to be placed out at interest for the benefit of the poor of the chapelry. - Mark Stanley left by will dated 6th June, 1808, several small legacies for different purposes, which the inhabitants refused to accept on the conditions named. - Poor Stock. Various small legacies, some left as long ago as 1645, amounting to 22 10s., have been invested in the turnpike trust and produce 1 2s. 6d., which is given away among the poor.

The ecclesiastical parish of St. John's comprises the following divisions:- Legberthwaite, Naddle, Burns Wanthwaite, and Fornside. Legberthwaite or Lyburthwaite is a small manor. Wanthwaite is a narrow dell, hemmed in by mountains, through which runs a meandering brook - a tributary of St. John's Beck. A water-spout of uncommon dimensions and force broke over this district on the 22nd August, 1749, and in less than two hours deluged the valley many feet deep, sweeping away all the bridges, walls, houses, and almost completely erasing a corn mill which stood on the banks of the stream.

The township Of CASTLERIGG is a wild and rocky district, 1 miles S.E. of Keswick, near the site of the ancient castle of the Derwentwater family. The ridge or rigg, which gives name to the district, is about 700 feet above the sea level, and from it all the glories of the lake of Derwent burst upon the vision. A ravine in the cliffs of Walla Crag called Lady's Rake is said to be the path taken by the unhappy Countess of Derwentwater, when, on hearing of the capture of her luckless husband, she fled from the Castle, bearing with her the family jewels.


Forms a township and separate ecclesiastical parish stretching along the shores of Thirlmere Lake, and extending from five to ten miles S. by E. of Keswick to the confines of Westmorland, the boundaries of which are marked by Dunmail Raise. A cairn, or pile of stones, points out the spot where Dunmail, the last King of Cumberland, fell in battle fighting against the Saxon king, Edmund I, in 945. The victor stained his laurels by a species of barbarity not uncommon in those days; the eyes of the two sons of Dunmail were put out, and the territory given to Malcolm, King of Scotland, on condition that he preserved the northern parts in peace. The manor of Wythburn formerly belonged to the Braithwaites of Warcup, till sold by them to Sir George Fletcher, of Hutton Hall, ancestor of Sir Henry Vane, Bart., the present lord of the manor. Dalehead, beautifully situated upon the banks of Thirlmere, or Leathes' Water, is the property of the Manchester Corporation, to whom the estate was sold by the Executors of the late T.L. Stanger Leathes, Esq. That body now transacts there the business connected with the water supply of Manchester, which is drawn from Thirlmere.

The Church of Wythburn is a small humble-looking edifice, with nothing about it, except the tombstones to remind one of an ecclesiastical structure.

"Humble it is, and meek, and very low,
And speaks its purpose by a single bell;
But God Himself and He alone, can know
If spiry temples please Him half so well. " - Coleridge.

It is situated towards the southern extremity of the lake and not far from the foot of Helvellyn. The date of its erection is unknown; but the registers commence in 1777. A very pleasing stained-glass window was inserted at the west end, in 1888, to the memory of the Rev. B.R. Lawson. The living, now styled a vicarage, is the gift of the Vicar of Crosthwaite, and worth 160, arising from the glebe land purchased with augmentations amounting to 800, of which 600 was received from Queen Anne's Bounty and 200 from the Dowager Countess Gower. It is now held by the Rev. W. Des Voeux Hill, B.A. There is a small mixed school belonging to the chapel.

Perhaps it would not be out of place here to quote a few lines from the gifted pen of Canon H.D. Rawnsley in reference to this chapelry:

We cannot stay - for life is but an Inn,
A halfway house - and lo the graves how near!
Yet mighty minds have hither come for cheer
Before the upward path they dared begin.
Here GRAY the pilgrim rested pale and thin,
Here WILSON laughed, and WORDSWORTH murmured here,
Here COLERIDGE mused, and ere he crossed the mere
Hence ARNOLD viewed the Goal he hoped to win.
And we who would Helvellyn's height essay
Or climb towards the gateway of the mound
Where DUNMAIL died because his realm was fair
May join their gracious company, who found
Earth's beauty, made Life's Inn, a House of Prayer
And speed refreshed of soul upon our way."

Thirlmere, or, as it is sometimes called from its situation Wythburn Water, is in this chapelry.



Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman