Urswick Parish


This parish, which like that of Ulverston, originally formed a part of the parish of Dalton, is three miles in length from north to south, and two miles in breadth from east to west, and contains an area of 4095 statute acres. It is bounded on the south and west by the parishes of Aldingham and Dalton, on the east by the bay of Morecambe, and on the north by the parishes of Pennington and Ulverston. Its population in 1801, was 633; in 1811, 590; in 1821, 787; in 1831, 752; and in 1841, 760; viz., 372 males and 388 females; and its rateable value is 4307 10s. It is divided into the four townships of Great Urswick, Little Urswick, Bardsea, and Adgarley-cum-Stainton; and the principal landowners are Mrs. Ashburner, W. Gale, Esq., T.R.G. Braddyll, Esq., the Earl of Derby, and Thos. Petty, Esq.

GREAT, OR MUCH URSWICK, is a small village, situate on three sides of a tarn,1 at the end of a fertile vale, three and a quarter miles S.S.W. of Ulverston. Mr. West calls it "an ancient Saxon, or rather Sistuntian2 village, once the seat of a family of Urswicks, long since absorbt in that of Fleming:" and Mr. Close conjectures that its name may be a compound of the Latin words orbis, a circle, and vicus, a street - a name "probably suggested by its circular form," thus investing it with classic dignity. Another writer thinks the name is a corruption of the British word orsig, a boggy or finny place; but as Mr. Jopling observes, "the name is evidently Saxon - the village of Urse." The church, which stands between the villages of Much and Little Urswick, is a long venerable fabric, with a massive tower, on one side of which is a defaced figure of the blessed Virgin, to whom the church is dedicated, holding the infant in her arms. The tower also contains a bell, which by an inscription upon it, appears to have been the gift of William de Harrington, lord of Aldingham, and must consequently be about 380 years old. The church was re-pewed in 1828, and was repaired in 1844, and again in 1848. In the latter year new windows were put in, and one of the old ones which was purchased by Mr. Cranke, of Bolton, consists of a cinque foil head, over three pannels, and holds some fragments of stained glass. This church is undoubtedly of great antiquity. It is mentioned as existing within fifty years after the Norman conquest, but was probably founded before the Conqueror's time. Much alterations are visible in the varied styles. The living in a discharged vicarage, in the patronage of the landowners, who have presented since 1681, but the advowson formerly belonged to the monks of Furness. The vicarial tithes were commuted, in 1849, for 200 a year, and the living is now possessed by the Rev. Mathias Forrest.

The school, which is free for reading to all the children of the parish, is now taught by Mr. William Hodgson. It is endowed with 15 a year, left in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by William Marshall, a native of this parish.

In this parish are many antiquities and curiosities, well worthy the attention of the antiquary and traveller. The stone walls are singular remnants of antiquity, and open a page in the early history of Furness, which cannot fail to awaken in the mind lively associations of a remote age. They are situate upon an eminence about a quarter of a mile westward of the church, and consist of two enclosures, about twenty yards asunder, an angular and circular one, the latter being divided into several compartments, by curved walls. The walls of the former enclosure, which appear to have been formed of loose stones, have been nine feet eight inches in thickness, and about 253 yards in circumference, three sides measuring 67 yards each, and the other 52. These appear to have had two openings on the side opposite the village. The circular plot has been surrounded by a wall, of 320 yards in circumference, and of the same thickness as that of the preceding enclosure. But it is extremely difficult to trace out either the outline of this structure, or the exact position of its internal walls, on account of the site being planted. At the present entrance of the enclosure is a large stone, raised a little from the ground, and resting on two or three small ones. Mr. Close, in his edition of West, compares this circle to Mayburgh.3 The diversified aspect of the surrounding country, as seen from the natural terrace on which these ancient enclosures are situated, is extremely pleasing, with the villages of Much and Little Urswick in the valley beneath. A short distance to the north east, is another natural terrace or ridge of rock, with an elevated stone in the centre, bearing resemblance to a cromlech, raised upon two large blocks of stone. Within the manor of Much Urswick is a small tract, commonly called "Westby Lands," for which a customary court is occasionally held.

LITTLE URSWICK is about three and a half miles S.S.W. of Ulverston. It forms a joint township with Bolton, which contains only the two farms and houses of Hawkfield and Beckside, five miles S.S.W. of the same town. At Bolton, was formerly a chapel, in which a chantry was granted by Robert, one of the abbots of Furness, to Sir Richard, son of Sir Allan de Coupland, and his heirs. The remains of this sacred edifice are now employed as an appurtenance of a farm yard; but the Gothic doors and windows bear ample testimony to the use for which the building was originally designed. In a field not far from these ruins, several pieces of silver coin have been found, many of which were coins of Edward III. Little Urswick was styled a manor in the reign of Edward I, and was held by Richard Lumbard, for the abbot of Furness. Here is a Book Club, established by Mr. Wm. Cranke, in 1813. Terms - 10s. 6d. per annum for each member, and entrance money to the same amount. Mr. W. Hodgson is librarian and treasurer.

ADGARLEY WITH STAINTON are two scattered villages, the former five, and the latter five and a quarter miles S.S.W. of Ulverston. Adgarley, or as it is frequently spelled Aldgarley, is derived from the British words alt, or ald, a heap of stones, and le, a place; and Stainton is a Saxon name, meaning Stonetown, and was so denominated from the many huge detached rocks scattered about it. "The high ground above the village, called Stone Close," says Mr. West, "is in the centre of Furness, and commands the whole internal prospect of Low Furness." The iron ore obtained in this vicinity, is said to be the richest in Furness; and the lime produced from the rock here is preferred to all other in the neighbourhood for building and agricultural purposes. That the detached masses of rock which lie on the green "have been submerged by the waters of the ocean," says Mr. Jopling, "seems indubitable: for the cavities in which the lithophaga burrowed are still fresh, and tell of other aspects and other times. Marine sand and gravel beds are also found a few feet below the surface; though Stainton is now some hundreds of feet above the level of the sea. One of the boulders measures fifty-
three feet in circumference, and several are very singularly formed masses."

The manor of Bolton-with-Adgarley was originally a part of the manor of Muchland, and held at an early period by the Couplands. It afterwards belonged to the abbey of Furness, from which it passed to the family of Broughton, and subsequently by the forfeiture of Sir Thomas Broughton, to the Earls of Derby, to whom it still belongs.

BARDSEA village occupies a pleasant and romantic situation near the shore, three miles S.S.E. of Ulverston. A steam packet sails from Bardsea to Fleetwood, five times every week, and to Liverpool weekly. Malting is carried on here to a considerable extent. Mr. West says, "If there was ever a Druid in Furness - Bardsea, or Bardesey, has probably been his seat; and though the name is not literally applicable to the site, yet from its vicinity to the water, and the excellent fountain which gushes from the foot of the hill on which the village stands, it might have received the name of Bardesey, 'the isle or seat of a Druid, or bard,' more especially if any such had ever resided there." But the name is more likely to be a corruption of the British word Berthsig, which signifies a place abounding in thickets or brakes. Besides the abbey of Furness, and the priory of Conishead, there also existed in the small division of Low Furness, another religious house, viz., an hospital, at Bardsea, belonging to St. John, of Jerusalem; but when or by whom it was founded, or upon what account it was suppressed, has not been ascertained. "Probably," as Mr. West observes, "it had been endowed by the Bardseys, of Bardsea, long before either the priory of Conishead or the abbey of Furness was founded; for William de Bardsey gave the toft on which it stood to the priory of Conishead." In the village is a handsome church, erected by subscription, and opened in 1848 for Divine service, which is performed here every Sunday afternoon, by the incumbent of Trinity church, Ulverston. Bardsea school is endowed with 8 a year, arising from land at Longcroft, in this township, given by T.R.G. Braddyll, Esq.

Bardsea Hall is an ancient building, in a well-sheltered though elevated situation, with terraced gardens and gravel walks, made on shelving rocks; the whole said to resemble a chateau in the Canton of Berne, in Switzerland. It is stated that grape vines were at one time planted in the crevices of the rocks, and bore excellent fruit. This old-fashioned building, once the residence of the Bardseys, was purchased about 160 years ago, by Lord Molineaux, for a hunting seat, and subsequently became the property of the Braddyll family, by one of whose servants it is now occupied. On a hill to the north-west is a triangular domed building, containing cenotaphs to members of the family of Wilson.

At Birkrigg, in this township, there is a small Druidical temple, about twenty-four feet in diameter. The inner circle is about ninety-two feet in circumference, and consists of twelve stones, representing, no doubt, the twelve signs of the Zodiac; and the outer circle consists of nineteen stones, intended probably to represent the years contained in the cycle of the moon. At a distance of a few hundred yards, is an enclosure of an oval shape, with traces of a fosse on the outside. The vallum by which it is formed, is about ten feet in breadth, and 420 feet in circumference. There is also a similar enclosure a little to the south of Birkrigg. Both these enclosures are supposed to have been British camps or fortresses - a conjecture strengthened by the description given by Tacitus, of the camp of Caractacus, when attacked by Ontorius.

"From the top of Birkrigg," says Mr. West, "the view of Furness and of the surrounding coast is singularly beautiful. Lancaster, with its castle, appears to great advantage - set off by the high mountains that seem to overhang it. From south to east, a coast presents itself to the view, in many places bold and steep, in others sloping and cultivated, or flat and woody; distinguished and adorned with a contrast of woods, villages, towns, castles, rocks, cultivated fields, and rich meadows, stocked with herds and flocks, and yellow harvest in the autumnal months. From the east to the north-west, the scene is Alpine. Furness fells appear as descending from the clouds in all the wild magnificence of nature; their bold sides are a defence against the bleak north winds.

"lnsurgat Aquilo, quantus, altis montibus
Frangit trementes ilices."

and their lofty pointed heads serve to condense the summer clouds into showers that fertilize the plains below;

"Aquosus Eurus arva reddit imbribus
Pinquia ne siccis urantur semina glebis."

and are no less subservient to health, by fanning the sultry caniculars of July and August.

"Frustra per Antumnos nocentem
Corporibus metuemus Austrum." *

The manor of Bardsea was originally a part of that of Muchland. It had a court baron till the commencement of the last century, when some of the customary tenants were enfranchised by Lord Molineaux, and the remainder by his successor Christopher Wilson, Esq. Until the reign of Charles I, it was held by the ancient local family of Bardsey, the last of whom was Nicholas Bardsey, who died in the 18th of Charles first.

BIOGRAPHY - James Cranke, an eminent artist, was born in the village of Urswick, in the year 1709. At a very early age he evinced a taste for painting, and after practising in the country for some years, he went to London, where he received employment at the Old Academy, in St. Martin's Lane, and his talents soon procured for him considerable celebrity as a portrait painter. He afterwards took a house in Bloomsbury square, where he resided - till through intense application, and the effects of the warm atmosphere of the metropolis, his health began to decline, when he returned to his native place; and here he pursued an extensive and profitable business in portrait painting for thirty years. He died October 28th, 1781, in the 72nd year of his age: and his remains were interred in Urswick church yard, where an inscription on his tomb-stone, composed by his son, who was many years principal of Trinity College, Cambridge, records his memory, and bears testimony to the purity of his morals.


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



1. Urswick Tarn.
2. All of my efforts to discover the meaning of this word have failed.
3. See Barton parish description.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman