St. John, Beckermet

The parish of St. John, Beckermet, or Beckermont, is bounded by those of St. Bridget, St. Bees, Haile, and Egremont, and is comprised within the ward and petty sessional division of Allerdale-above-Derwent; the county council electoral division of Egremont S.; the deanery of Gosforth; and the union and county court and rural districts of Whitehaven. Its length, from east to west, is about three miles, and its breadth, from north to south, 1 miles, and within its limits are situated the suburbs of the town of Egremont, and a part of the village of Beckermet, as divided by the Kirk Beck. The parochial boundary encloses about 2,756 ratable acres, which are assessed at 4,587. The population at the commencement of the past century was 328; in 1851 it was 541; in 1881, 623; and at present it numbers about 544. The district is entirely agricultural, and the curing of the far-famed Cumberland bacon is extensively carried on in the village.

The Manor of Little Beckermet has been held for several centuries by the Flemings, of Rydal Hall, Westmorland, as a demesne of the barony of Egremont; and Rottington, Frizington, Arlecdon, and Weddicar, are held of the Flemings as fees of Beckermet.

The village of Beckermet is situated at the junction of the Black Beck and Kirk Beck, 2 miles south of Egremont. The name of the village is one among the many indications we have of the former occupation of Cumberland by the Norsemen. The word, formerly written Beckermot, is of Scandinavian origin, and signifies in that language "the meeting of the becks," which accurately describes the situation of the village; and in Kirk Beck we have preserved the very name given to the stream by the Norsemen.

The principal landowners of the parish are Messrs. S. and J. Lindow, Sir Thomas Brocklebank, John Dixon Thompson, Hugh le Fleming, and Lord Leconfield.

The Church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, occupies a delightful situation on the side of a hill. We have no evidence of the original foundation, neither do we know whether the building taken down in 1810 was the original fabric, or had replaced one still older. There are, however, some peculiarities of workmanship, happily still preserved, which lead to the latter inference. The building demolished in 1810 was 12th century work, and in the earth beneath the foundations of the west front were found fragments of a sculptured slab - "a lost relic of a far earlier age." The interlaced ornamentation which covers the stone is a characteristic feature of British sculpture, and, therefore, it may be presumed that the first church was erected here during the British period. In the restoration of that year, the porch, with its crocketed canopy and the cross at the east end, were preserved from the old building. The church was again rebuilt in 1878-9 at a cost of 2,400, which was raised by public subscription. There are several mural monuments to members of the Richardson, Todd, and Birley families, and one old gravestone, apparently 13th century work, bearing a cross and sword, is still in good preservation. The east and west windows are both of stained glass; the former representing the Resurrection, is in memory of Isaac and Agnes Burns and their son Isaac William, erected by Jonas Lindow Burns-Lindow; the latter, also of three lights, depicting Christ blessing little children in the centre, with the Blessed Virgin and St. John on each side, was inserted by William Henry Watson as a memorial to his father and mother. The church of St. John was given by the Flemings to the Abbey of St. Mary, at Calder; and in the year 1262 was totally appropriated to that house. The spiritual wants of the parish were ministered to by the monks, and when Henry VIII suppressed the monastic orders and confiscated their possessions, this church had neither endowment nor income wherewith to support a curate. At a later period we find the two churches of St. John and St. Bridget served by the same parson. The patronage and impropriation have passed through various hands, and are now owned by Messrs. I.W. and S. Burns-Lindow. The living was certified to the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty as worth 7 per annum; it is now valued at 157, and is held by the Rev. W. Gabbott.

The school is in the village of Beckermet and the parish of St. Bridget.

Grange is a hamlet on the border of the parish.

CHARITIES. - Mr. John Richardson, of Carleton, in this parish, who died in 1811, left the interest of 100, to be distributed at Easter amongst the poor not receiving parochial relief; and in 1833, Mrs. Jane Birley left the interest of 50 for the same purpose.

Near the village of Beckermet is a place bearing the curious name of Wotobank or Wodobank, which tradition says was so named from an exclamation of the lord of the manor. The wolf in those days (the tradition does not fix the date) had his lair in the forest of Coupland, and hunting bruin was the favourite amusement of many a gallant. The lord, his lady, and servants were out one day pursuing their oft accustomed sport. By some unfortunate event, the lady became separated from the other hunters. After a long and painful search her body was found on the hill or bank, slain by a wolf, which was discovered in the very act of tearing it to pieces. In the first transports of his grief the husband exclaimed, "Wo to this bank ! " This village anecdote is the groundwork of a long romantic poem called "Edwina," written by Mrs. Cowley in 1794, and contained in Hutchinson's Cumberland.

"Woe to thee, bank !   th'attendants echoed round,
And pitying shepherds caught the grief-fraught sound;
Thus to this hour, through ey'ry changing age,
Through ev'ry year's still ever varying stage,
The name remains; and Wotobank is seen
From ev'ry mountain bleak, and valley green -
Dim Skiddaw views it from its monstrous height,
And eagles mark it in their dizzy flight."

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Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901


19 June 2015

Steve Bulman