Ravenstonedale Parish

  > Comprises a picturesque region of valleys, thwaites, and fells, bounded by the parishes of Kirkby-Stephen, Orton, Crosby-Garret, and that part of Yorkshire lying north of Sedbergh. The river Rother, and several streams which form the source of the Lune, rise here, as does also the Ravenbeck, which flows northward to Smardale, through a fine open valley, formed into rich pastures, and from which the parish has its name. It is included in one manor and township, though, for the convenience of collecting rates, &c., is divided into four angles, or parts, called Town, Bowderdale, Fell-End, and Newbiggin Angles, and in 1841, it contained 973 inhabitants.

The manor with the advowson, was granted by one Torphin, to the priory of Watton, of the order of Sempringham, in Yorkshire. This order was founded by St. Gilbert, in 1148, and had numerous privileges granted to it by several Popes and Kings, in all of which Ravenstonedale participated. Pope Celestine the third, who was raised to the pontifical chair in 1191, exempted them from the payment of tithes of land which they had in their possession; besides which various privileges were granted to them by
Kings John, Henry III, Edward III, &c. The privilege of sanctuary which the church of Ravenstonedale possessed, was abolished here as well as in all other places, in the reign of James I, and many of the other privileges have been taken away by acts of parliament. The lord of the manor has still, however, the jurisdiction of probate of wills, and granting letters of administration; and the steward of his court administers the oath of office to the churchwardens. The jurisdiction of wills and administrations anciently belonged to the county court, in which all causes of ecclesiastical and temporal cognizance, (not being criminal) were determined. "Out of the county court were derived the courts baron; and with these the jurisdiction of wills and administrations was transferred to many of the lords of the manors; and their claims hath been more especially favoured where the manor belonged to any of the religious societies." Henry VIII granted the manor to the archbishop of York, during the life of that prelate, and the reversion he granted to Thomas Wharton, Knight, for the sum of 935 16s. 8d., being ten years purchase. It subsequently passed with the advowson, to Robert Lowther, Esq., of Mauld's Meaburn, so that the Earl of Lonsdale is the present lord; but nearly all the estates have been enfranchised.

The town of Ravenstonedale is pleasantly situated at the confluence of two rivulets, four miles and a half S.W. of Kirkby-Stephen, eight miles E.S.E. of Orton, and 270 miles N.N.W. of London. It contains about 100 houses, and bears evident marks of having been at some former period much larger than at present. The market, which was held on Tuesday, is obsolete; but a fair is held here on the Thursday after Whitsunday. A little to the north of it is the Lord's Park, containing an eminence, called Gallow Hill, probably on account of criminals, condemned by the manor court, having been formerly executed there. The park was walled round by Lord Wharton, in 1660, "but there is no remembrance of any deer having been kept there." Upon a hill called Ash Fell, on the north side of the park, is a house, cut out of the solid rock, capable of holding six cows; and near Rother Bridge is a circle of stones, supposed to have been a Druids' Temple. At a place designated Rosate1 are two tumuli, in which many human bones have been found. In 1774, a large copper vessel capable of containing eight and a half gallons of liquid, was found in the peat moss, about half a mile from the town head, where, in the year 1700, there was a small sheet of water well stocked with perch and eels.

The CHURCH, dedicated to St. Oswald, is a neat and commodious edifice, erected in 1744, on the site of the old fabric, which had two rows of seats below the communion table, "where it is said the steward and jury of the manor sat formerly, in their court of judicature." The malefactors were imprisoned in a hollow arched vault, the ruins whereof are still to be seen on the north side of the present church. "The great and small tithes of this parish did not pass with the manor and advowson to the Lowthers, but were sold to the inhabitants and landowners. None of these tithes or other dues were ever set out for the use of a vicar, but the cure was for the most part supplied by regulars, sent out from the monastery; and the living to this day continues, but only a perpetual curacy. In 1777, the whole glebe and houses belonging to the curate, were worth about 18 a year, exclusive of the ancient salary of 8 paid by the lord of the manor as impropriator; a rent charge of 5 1s. purchased in the manor of Bleatarn, with 100 left by the Rev. Wm. Morland; 27s. a year arising from land purchased with 20 left by John Fothergill, for a sermon on the 10th of August; and the interest of 5 left by Henry Fothergill, for a sermon on St. Bartholomew's day. But the living has been augmented with various bequests, &c., amounting to 800, with which land was purchased in 1826, at Dubbs. The interest of 20 was left in 1786, by Mr. Giles, for an annual sermon. The Rev. W. Yarker is the incumbent.

The Independent, formerly called the Presbyterian, Chapel, situate about the centre of the town, is a neat building, and ranks amongst the oldest dissenting places of worship in the county, having existed since about the year 1662, when the congregation was formed under the successful labours of the Rev. Christopher Jackson, who was ejected from the rectory of Crosby Garret, by the act of uniformity, passed in A.D. 1661.* It was endowed by Philip Lord Wharton, with 100, which was laid out in land, together with 86 left by Mr. Pindar, John Thompson, Isabella Langhorn, James Fawcett, and George Murthwalte. Various other benefactions, amounting to upwards of 100, are invested to the best advantage by the trustees. The chapel has also a burial ground and dwelling-house belonging to it. The Rev. Walter Mathison is the present minister. A Wesleyan chapel, erected here in 1839, at a cost of 200, is a neat edifice, capable of seating 200 hearers; and a Primitive Methodist chapel was erected at Newbiggin in 1837.

The FREE GRAMMAR SCHOOL at Ravenstonedale was founded about the year 1688, by Thomas Fothergill, B.D., master of St. John's college, Cambridge, and by several others of his name and kindred, all natives of this parish, who endowed it with about 450, which was laid out in the purchase of three small estates, viz., Horngill, in Asby parish; Foxhill Rigg, in Sedbergh parish; and land at Bousfield, in Orton parish; but only the last mentioned belongs to the school, "the trustees having improperly and perhaps illegally, converted the other into two rent charges, amounting to 11 per annum, though the land is now worth upwards of 70 a year, and at the time of this abusive change (1703) was let for about 30 a year." The entire endowment is now only about 42 per annum, of which 5 is a rent charge left by Lord Philip Wharton. The school is free to the whole parish, for Latin and Greek, but a quarterage is paid for the other branches of education. The present school house and dwelling for the master were built in 1758, by subscription, aided by three donations amounting to 40, given by George Fothergill, D.D., principal of Edmund Hall, Oxford; Thomas Fothergill, D.D., provost of Queen's College, Oxford, and Henry Fothergill, M.A., "all three brothers born at Lockholme in this parish." Mr. John Robinson is the present master. The Fothergills have for centuries been the most noted families in this parish, and there are several of the name still resident here.

Bishop Nicholson on his visitation in 1703, was informed by the churchwardens that they had not had a beggar in the parish within the memory of man, nor never had any gentleman amongst them "except only the curate and schoolmaster." The tenants of this manor were not allowed to divide their ancient tenements, without a special agreement from the lord; the estates were mostly kept entire, and so descended from father to son. It appears from an indenture made between Lord Wharton and the tenants in 1579, "that any tenant having no issue of his body lawfully begotten, and being of the age of sixteen years, may, by his last will in writing, or by any other lawful act done in the presence of four of the tenants of the said manor, give and bequeath his tenements to whom he will."

The Town Angle forms the north east division of the parish, and includes the neighbouring hamlets of Cross-bank, Lockholm, and High and Low Stennerskeugh, distant from one to two miles S.E. of the town. BOWERDALE ANGLE, the south-western portion of the parish, includes the deep dale, and village of its own name, with Weasdale, from two and a half to four miles W.S.W. of the town. FELL-END ANGLE, comprises the hamlets of Backside, Dovengill, Murthwaite, and Wandale, distant from two and a half to four miles S. of the town. NEWBIGGIN ANGLE, which forms the north west division of the parish, includes the village of Newbiggin, and the hamlets of Coldbeck, and Greenside, situate within about one mile N.W. of the town.

* By this act it was required that every clergyman should be ordained, if he had not received episcopal ordination; that he should declare his assent to every thing contained in the Book of Common Prayer, and take the oath of canonical obedience. All the ministers who refused to conform to the precepts of this act were ipso facto deprived; and all schoolmasters were deprived from teaching youths under pain of three months imprisonment. In consequence of this arbitrary law more than 2000 ministers resigned their benefices, and thus originated nonconformity, or protestant dissent, for the puritans had always till now remained members of the established church. The conventicle act (16 Car. 11 c.4) made it illegal for more than five, except the family, to assemble even in a private house, for divine worship. Another Act (22 Car. 11 c.5) subjected any person to a fine of 20 who taught or permitted such an assembly to be in his house. The Oxford Act (17 Car. 11 c.2) prohibited any ejected minister from residing within five miles of his former benefice, or of any corporate town. The Corporation Act (13 Car. 11 c.1) declared that no person should be elected to any corporate office of trust or profit, without receiving the sacrament according to the rites of the established church of England, within one year before such election. The Test Act (25 Car. 11 c.2) subjected to heavy penalties and the severest disabilities, every person who should accept any office of trust or profit without receiving the sacrament as aforesaid. Indulgences were, however, occasionally granted by the court, under which dissenters built places of public worship; and at length by an act of the 1st of William and Mary (A.D. 1689) they were suffered, or tolerated in forming their own creed; and authorized to appear before the civil magistrate under the denomination of Protestant Dissenters; but the Test and Corporation Acts continued to disgrace the English Statute Book till 1828, when they were both repealed, being no longer considered "as necessary to protect the interests and privileges of the church." Although most of the disabilities that affected our Roman Catholic fellow subjects were abolished by the Emancipation Act of 1829, yet some of those barbarous penal laws, against that body of Christians, remain even still on the statute book, as if to perpetuate its reproach and ignominy.


Mannix & Co., History, Topography and Directory of Westmorland, 1851




1. I can't find Rother Bridge, Rosate, or a stone circle, on the map.

Added 2005 - Chris Irwin, a Ravenstonedale resident (to whom many thanks), has advised that the stone circle was broken up and used to construct Rawthey Bridge in about 1800. This bridge is presumably the Rother Bridge of the directory. Regarding Christopher Jackson, Chris says that he wasn't ejected, but was the temporary holder of the position, and was surplus to requirements when the vicar returned to resume his post. This is why he was able to continue preaching in Ravenstonedale afterwards.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman