Shap Parish


This parish is bounded by those of Morland, Orton, Crosby-Ravensworth, Kendal, Barton, Bampton, and Lowther, and extends about five miles and a half in length, and four in breadth. It is a mountainous district, forming only one township, divided into the four constabularies of Hardendale-with-Wastdale, Rosgill-with-Wetsleddale, Swindale-with-Mardale, and Shap-with-Keld, Thornshap, Tailbert, and Rasat. There are several deep and fertile vales within its limits, refreshed by a number of rivulets, the principal feeders of the rivers Lowther and Leeth1, and the supply of the lake of Haweswater. Though the manors of Birkbeck Fells, and Fawcett forest are partly in this parish, we have included the former with Orton and Crosby-Ravensworth, and the latter with Orton and Kendal. At Thornshap and Rosgill-beck are excellent quarries of blue slate, of which pencils are made, by Mr. Dawson, of Kendal; and in Mosdale, a bleak region between Wetsleddale and Swindale, fine blue roofing slate is found. Shap Wells are not in this parish, as the name would seem to imply, but in Crosby-Ravensworth, and are already described. The population of Shap, including part of the chapelry of Mardale, amounted, in 1831, to 1084, although the return made in 1841, is only 996.

SHAP, the town, or rather the village, which gives name to this parish, extends about a mile along the great high road between Penrith and Kendal, on the western side of the Lancaster and Carlisle railway, distant from Penrith, by rails, twelve miles S. by E., by road, ten miles and a half; from Kendal, by rails, twenty-two miles N. by E., by road sixteen; from Lancaster, thirty-nine miles and a half, by rails, N., and from London, about 275 miles N.N.W. It contains only about 150 detached houses, and 600 inhabitants, but has two good inns, the King's Arms and the Greyhound, and several public-houses. In 1687, Philip, Lord Wharton, obtained a charter for a market, to be held at Shap every Wednesday, and three fairs yearly, viz., on the 23rd and 24th of April, 1st and 2nd of August, and the 17th and 18th of September, but these fairs have long been obsolete, and the only one of any consequence now held here is on the 4th of May, nor has the market had scarcely any existence for a number of years, though remains of the market cross are still visible. In ancient times, Shap was invariably written Hep, or Heppe, and probably took its name from Heps, or Hips, the fruit of the dog-rose, and which is still vulgarly pronounced choup2. Rateable value of the parish £6834 8s. 9d.

Shap Abbey. - In the deep secluded Vale of the Lowther, about a mile west of the town, and four miles from Shap Wells, are the venerable and time honored ruins of this once splendid religious establishment of our ancestors. Dr. Burn says that an abbey, for monks of the Præmonstratensian order, was founded in 1119, at Preston Patrick3, by Thomas, son of Gospatric, and that not being pleased with its situation, he, some years after, removed it hither as being a locality better adapted for religions seclusion. The monastery was dedicated to God and St. Mary Magdalen, and was endowed by the founder with land and various privileges, amongst which was that of permitting the canons to take as much of the woods as they pleased out of his forest, and grinding at his mill toll-free. He also granted them pasture in and about Swindale, for sixty cows, twenty mares, 500 sheep, and five yoke of oxen, with many other gifts and privileges, all of which were confirmed by Robert de Veteripont, whose successors gave them several other possessions in different parts of Westmorland. They had property even at Gargrave, in Craven, Yorkshire, and also the rectory of a church in Annandale, Scotland, the latter being given in 1332, by Edward Baliol, king of Scots. The abbey contained twenty religeuse, and its revenues, at the dissolution, amounted to £154 17s. 7½d., a large sum in those days. It escaped dissolution in the 27th of Henry VIII, but was surrendered in 1539, the 31st of the same king's reign, by Richard Evenwood, the last abbot, in the name of Richard Baggot, probably in order that the surrender might be void in law. It was granted to Sir Thomas Wharton, of Wharton, to be held with the manor and demesne of Shap, and its other possessions, of the king, by the service of the 20th part of a knight's fee, and paying for the whole into the court of augmentations, £4 11s. yearly. The abbey church appears to have been a spacious edifice, but the large tower is the only part now standing, all the rest having been swept away by the ruthless hand of time. Beautiful specimens of the pointed arch still remain in the tower, which shows that the style of the building was a chaste Gothic. Extensive foundations of outbuildings were discovered in 1825, on the south side of the abbey, near which the pillar of an ancient bridge may be distinguished in the middle of the river. Thomas, son of Gospatric, the founder of the abbey, was buried here, and so were several of the early Cliffords. It has been truly said that if the wealth of the monasteries was great their charities were also extensive, - no provision for the poor being required so long as they existed. They were asylums for the destitute and unfortunate, where the superannuated servant, the decayed or crippled artizan, the unbefriended orphan, the disconsolate widow, the outcast foundling, received sympathy and relief, and they served as inns for the wayfaring man, who heard from afar the sound of the vesper bell, at once inviting him to repose and devotion, and who might sing his matins with the morning star, and go on his way rejoicing.

Here is a paralellogram4 more than half a mile long, and about twenty-five yards broad, once set round with huge unhewn granite stones5, many of them from three to four yards in diameter, and at ten or twelve paces asunder. At the south end there is, or has been, a circle of similar stones, six yards in diameter, and near the north end a square plot of stones partly covered with earth. This place is called Carl Lofts Cross, the liftings of the husbandmen, but whether it was raised by the Danes, in commemoration of some victory, or was a Druidical Temple, has not been ascertained. But whether of Danish formation, or a Druidical place of worship, this venerable and stupendous monument of antiquity is fast disappearing, both by the selfish hand of man and the all devouring hand of time, tempus edax rerum.

At a place called Skellaw hill, a small tumulus was formerly visible, and at Gunnerskeld Bottom, one mile N.E. of Shap, is a circle of large stones, supposed by some to be an ancient sepulchre, and by others it has been called a Druid's Temple. Camden says, that at the abbey church there "is a fountain, which, like the Euripus, ebbs and flows several times a day.6" The Earl of Lonsdale is now lord of the manor of Shap, his ancestor, Robert Lowther, Esq., having purchased it together with the other possessions of the abbey, of Philip, Duke of Wharton.

The parish church, dedicated to St. Michael, the archangel, is a large ancient structure, with a square tower and three bells. At the end of the south aisle is a burial place belonging to Rosgill hall. It was rectorial till about the year 1170, when it was appropriated to Shap abbey, since which time it has been a vicarage. It is valued in the king's books at £8 15s. 7½d., though it was certified to the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty as only of the yearly value of £6. Burn says the vicarage was generally suffered to go in lapse, and supplied by curates, under a sequestration, as few persons would be at the expense of institution and induction prior to its augmentation from Queen Anne's Bounty. It has received grants amounting to £1300 from the governors of this bounty, with whom £900 still remain, at four per cent interest The remainder, with £200 given by the Countess Dowager Gower, was many years ago laid out in the purchase of two estates, one at Stavely, in this county, and the other in the parish of Crosthwaite, in Cumberland. At the enclosure of the commons in 1820, the vicarial tithes were commuted for an allotment of three and a half acres of land, and the rectorial, which have long been annexed to Lowther rector, for an allotment of 223 acres. The Earl of Lonsdale is the patron, and the Rev. John Rowlandson is the present vicar.

Egdale7 is a hamlet near the source of the river Lowther, two miles and a half N.W. by N. of Shap; and Hardendale is another hamlet, one mile E. of Shap, forming a joint manor with Wasdale, or Wastedale, which lies four miles S. by W. of the same town. Near the foot of the latter are Shap Wells. Dr. John Mills, chaplain in ordinary to Charles II, was born at Hardendale, and is celebrated for his learned edition of the Greek Testament. Keld, or Keilde, is an ancient village near the ruined abbey, on the east bank of the Lowther, three quarters of a mile W. of Shap; Rosat8 is a hamlet two miles and a half W.; Tailbert is a hamlet two miles and a half W. by S., and Thorn-Shap9, is a hamlet three quarters of a mile S. W. of Shap. Near the latter hamlet a large oak tree is said to have been "planted on the top of the hill for the direction of travellers;" it was known by the name of "Shap Thom," but has been recently cut down. Thornthwaite was formerly an extensive forrest, and belonged successively to the Curwens, Howards, Warwicks, and Hasels, from the latter of which family it was purchased by the Lowthers.

Rossgill10 is a small village, on the east bank of the Lowther, two miles and a half N.W. of Shap. This manor was held by a family of its own name from the reign of Henry III to that of Richard II, when it was carried in marriage to the Salkelds, one of whom sold it to Sir John Lowther, so that it now belongs to the Earl of Lonsdale.

Mardale chapelry is included in the forest of Thornthwaite, and is partly in the parish of Bampton. The chapel of ease stands in this parish, in a most picturesque situation, one mile S. of the head of Haweswater11, and seven miles S.W. by W. of Shap. It is a small edifice, surrounded by lofty fells and mountains. The living has been augmented with £800 of Queen Anne's Bounty, and £75 given by different individuals. Part of the money was laid out in the purchase of two small estates at Kenmore and Rossgill, now let for £24 a year. It is in the incumbency of the vicar, who reads prayers here every Sunday afternoon.

An ancestor of Mr. John Holme, of Chapel hill, is said to have been a native of Stockholm, whence he came to England with the conqueror, who rewarded him with an estate in Northamptonshire, where his descendants remained till the reign of king John, when the head of the family fled from his enemies to Mardale, concealed himself in Hugh's Cave, and afterwards purchased this estate.

SWINDALE chapelry, also forming part of the manor of Thornthwaithe12 forest, is a deep and narrow valley, four miles and a half S.W. of Shap. The chapel of ease, which stands about the centre of the dale, is a plain humble edifice, erected by the inhabitants in 1749. It has received several lots of Queen Anne's Bounty, with part of which land was purchased in 1822, and the remainder (£800) is still at interest in the bounty office. The vicar of Shap is the patron, and the Rev. Stephen Walker, is the incumbent.

Near the chapel is a school which was founded in 1703, by a Mr. Baxter, who endowed it with land, which has been conveyed to the Earl of Lonsdale subject to a yearly rent charge of £26 to be paid to the schoolmaster.

Wetsleddale13, which formerly belonged to Shap Abbey, is a narrow dale, margined by lofty fells and moorlands, and extends from two to four miles S.S.W. of Shap. It has not its distinctive appellation without a reason, for it is said, "If any rain is stirring, the air scoops it surprisingly into the hollow of the dale."


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




1. Now Leith.
2. Choop is still a dialectal word for the rose-hip.
3. South-east of Kendal.
4. sic.
5. The country surrounding Shap is littered with stone circles (none particularly spectacular), standing stones, and tumuli, erected by our distant ancestors. One of the stone circles is briefly visible to the south-bound traveller on the M6.
6. A narrow channel between Greece and the island of Euboea, where the waters are notoriously difficult.
7. Now Hegdale.
8. Previously referred to as Rasat, and probably what now shows on the map as Rayside.
9. Now Thornship.
10. Now Rosgill.
11. By all accounts, Haweswater, and the village of Mardale, were most attractive. This all ended in the 1930's when a dam was constructed, and a reservoir created, to water Manchester.
12. sic.
13. Now Wet Sleddale.

19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman