Saint Bridget Beckermet Parish

  > This parish extends nearly 8 miles from E. to W., but is very narrow, being no more than 1 mile in breadth. It is bounded on the S.E. by the river Calder, which separates it from the parish of Ponsonby; on the W. by the Irish sea; on the N. by the parishes of Hale1 and St. John's; and on the E. by the mountains of Copeland Forest; contains part of the villages of Beckermet and Calder Bridge, with the hamlets of Sella-Field2, Yotten-Fews3, and Skalderskew. The soil on its western side is light and fertile, but towards the east it is cold and sterile: neither coal nor lime is found in this parish, but it contains some quarries of freestone. Its rateable value is 3408 and the rent of its land, at the latter end of the last century, averaged only 15s. per acre. Population in 1841, 630.

The manor of Great Beckermet, so called to distinguish it from the manor of Little Beckermet, in the adjoining parish of St. John, includes the chief part of the village, and belongs to lieut. general Henry Wyndham, except one estate, which is hold under the earl of Lonsdale.

Calder Bridge is a pleasant village, four miles S.S.E. of Egremont, on the high road, where the river is crossed by a good bridge, and where there are two good inns, one of which is on the south side of the Calder, in Ponsonby parish. The old church of St. Bridget or St. Bride, situated about half a mile S.W. of the village of Beckermet, is now only used as a burial ground, a new church having been erected in the village of Calder Bridge, in 1842, at the sole expense of Thos. Irwin, Esq., of Calder Abbey. It is a very neat cruciform structure, with a square tower, surmounted by four pinnacles, and having a clock, with one face. The communion table is of beautifully carved oak, and both the interior and exterior of the church has a chaste and elegant appearance. The windows are narrow lancet, and it has an excellent organ, presented by Mr. Irwin.

The old church was appropriated to Calder Abbey before the year 1262, and until the dissolution, both this parish and those of St. John and Arlecdon, were under the spiritual care of the monks of that house. As the revenues of the church were not restored, but granted to the Flemings of Rydal, the parishes of St. Bridget and St. John were so impoverished, that from this time until the year 1842 they were supplied by one curate, who officiated at each church, alternately. John Fleming, Esqr., gave the church to Sir Jordan Crossland, Knight, on his marriage with his daughter, whose daughters and co-heiresses sold it to Richard Patrickson, Esq. It subsequently passed to the families of Todd and Gaitskell, and in 1840 was purchased by Thomas Irwin, Esqr., who is patron of the curacy, which was returned to the governors of queen Anne's bounty, as of the annual value of 7. Hen. Gaitskell, Esq., is impropriator of the tithes, (except the Calder Abbey estate) and the Rev. Sharp Mossop is the incumbent.

Calder Abbey was founded A.D. 1134, by Ranulph de Meschines, for monks of the Cistercian order, and, as was usual, dedicated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a filiation from the abbey of Furness, and subsequently received many valuable gifts; amongst the rest, the churches of St. John Baptist, Beckermet, and St. Michael, Arlecdon, were appropriated to it in 1262. Its principal benefactors wore John le Fleming, Knt., Cicely, countess of Albemarle, William de Esseby, and the Huddleston family. At the dissolution, which probably occured in 1536, when Henry VIII dissolved 380 of the lesser monasteries, the revenues of this abbey were valued by Dugdale, at 50 9s. 3d., and by Speed, at 64 3s. 9d. In 1538, that king granted to Thomas Leigh, L.L.D., (one of the commissioners for visiting the monasteries), and his heirs, "the demesne and site of the abbey or manor of Calder, and the church, steeple, and church yard thereof, and all messuages, lands, tenements, houses, buildings, barns, dovecotes, gardens, orchards, waters, ponds, mills, ground, and soil, as well within as nigh unto the site and precinct of the said monastery; as also all lands, tenements, meadows, pastures, woods, &c. at Calder, containing in the whole 217A., of the clear yearly value of 13 10s. 4d., to hold of the king in capite, by the tenth part of a knight's fee, and the rent of 27 0s. 1d. in the name of tenths to be paid into the court of augmentations." Ferdinando, Dr. Leigh's grandson, sold this property to Sir Richard Fletcher, Knt., who gave it in marriage with his daughter Bridget, to Mr. John Patrickson, whose son sold it to Mr. John Tiffin, of Cockermouth, by whom it was given to John Senhouse, Esq., his grandson. It passed to Thomas Irwin, Esq., its present possessor, on his marriage with Mary, daughter of Joseph Tiffin Senhouse, Esq. The ruins of the abbey are situate on the north banks of the Calder, nearly a mile E. of the high road, in a secluded valley, beautifully sheltered by majestic trees, which rise from the skirts of the level meadows to the tops of the hills that bound the sweet vale of Calder. As Hutchinson says, the solemn ruins seem "to stand mourning in their sacred solitude, concealing woe in the secluded valley, and bending to the adversity of ages; like the image of Melancholy, looking down desponding on the tomb of interred honours and wasted ornaments." The conventual church formed a cross, having north and south transepts, with a tower at the intersection, a great part of which still remains, and the weather mouldings of the roofs shew that they were high pitched. It rests upon light clustered arches, with capitals ornamented with a roll, from which spring beautifully pointed arches, which formed the cupola. In an arched recess, on the south side of the choir, was the sedilia, where the officiating priest sat during the chanting of the Gloria in excelcis Deo, and some other parts of the mass. The east end of the choir is entirely gone, and if it extended no farther than the walls now standing, must have been very small. The upper chambers shew a range of windows, eight to the west, and seven to the east; and on the ground floor are the remnants of three arches, which belonged to a small cloister; and a little to the north-east of the ruins are the remains of a large oven. On an alabaster slab, near the south transept, is the following inscription, in Lombardic capitals :- Hic jacet dompnus Robertus de Wilughby Abbas de Caldra, cujus animœ propicietur Deus; and on the north transept are three effigies of knights in mail armour, with surcoats, &c. One is supposed to be in memory of Sir John le Fleming, who was a benefactor to the abbey.

"The situation of the abbey is well suited for a life of retirement from the bustle and business of the world: 'soothed by the unseen river's gentle murmur,' the monks might here indulge in meditation and study, undisturbed by all, until Dr. Leigh cast his eye upon the pile, and obtained a grant of it from the eighth Harry."

"How often has this consecrated edifice resounded with the vocal chant and the pealing organ, and echoed the solemn strains of the Te Deum, the Jubilate Deo, and other parts of the church service; at other times the hush of midnight has been made more impressive by funeral obsequies, when the De Profundis was chanted, and

"Through the glimmering aisle faint misereres died."

"How much of all that men most value must have been sacrificed to raise this pile! How much of thought, and science, and rare intellect concentred on every part! How many generations have dwelt beneath the shadow of this temple, upheld its worship, added to its splendour, and so engraven upon the very stones their witness to the truth of that invisible world, of which they are, in every part, the symbol and the type."

The modem mansion called Calder Abbey, which occupies the site of the conventual buildings, is the seat of Thomas Irwin Esq., who has preserved the venerable ruins of this "time honoured" pile in excellent order; but it is to be lamented that the style of architecture of this stately mansion is not suited to its locality.

Prior Scales are two farms and a few houses, about a mile above the abbey, opposite the mountain called Cold Fell, near to which rises the Haycocks, and a round knot designated Great Gowder Crag4.

Sella Park, or Field, is a hamlet, near the sea, five miles S. of Egremont. It was formerly the property of the monks of Calder Abbey, who had here a deer park; but was granted, on the dissolution of chantries, to Sir Henry Curwen, of Workington, Knt., whose grandson, Darcy Curwen, Esq., built a dwelling here, now occupied as a farm house. The estate is at present the property of Edward Stanley, Esq. M. P.

Sella Field Tarn5 is a small sheet of water between the Ehen and Calder, containing fish.


Mannix & Whellan, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Cumberland, 1847




1. Hale is, of course, Haile.
2. The hamlet of Sella-Field presumably lies beneath the nuclear energy plant, now known as Sellafield, and formerly as Windscale.
3. Yotten-Fews is now Yottenfews.
4. The mountain referred to here as Haycocks is today known simply as Haycock. Gowder Crag, which appears to have lost its "Great" with the passage of time, is also part of Haycock.
5. Sellafield Tarn is mentioned in Dr. C.A. Parker's "The Gosforth District", 1904, as being "almost filled up", and is not mentioned on current maps. There is however a boggy area immediately north-west of the Sellafield complex - is this the remains of Sellafield Tarn ?

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman