The Present Church
The present church is the fourth one on this site and the earliest parts of this building date from 1250AD. Remnants of previous buildings can be seen in the existing church, most obvious is the stone head above the chancel.
There are three external doors:
The South Door with porch; this has always been the main door.
The Langdale Door, (next to the vestry), so called because it was the entrance to the Langdale Chapel of Ease which now forms the North aisle.
The Lepers Door, by the altar rail covered by the blue memorial curtain, (this is sometimes called a priest’s door’).
The tower is built of unhewn boulders probably taken from the riverbed of the Rothay, the walls are up to 4 feet thick, and the tower is 65 feet tall.
The clock was given to mark the Diamond Jubilee for Queen Victoria in 1897. There are three ringing bells in the tower and a mechanism provides striking for the quarters and hour throughout the day and night.
At the foot of the tower is the old Parish Chest from 1563 in which were kept the registers and Wardens accounts. Nothing is kept in the chest now and all the parish records are lodged in the Kendal Record Office.
The font is probably 14th century but its origin is unknown. The Church was under the authority of the Abbey of Great St Mary, York from 1396 until 1538 and it may be that the font was provided by the monks.
The Nave is the main area of the church where the congregation sit and gets its name from the Latin for boat, (we also get the word navy from the same root) and reminds worshippers of the Ark, God’s boat which carries all to safety.
The Nave consists of two aisles. The Tower and South aisle are from 1250AD and the North was added as a separate building in 1490AD for the people of Langdale. Originally in 1490 this area was entirely separate from the original Church, this was used as a ‘chapel of ease’ for the Brathay valley. However, the gully between the two roofs collected snow and rainwater and in 1562 John Benson of Baisbrown bequeathed money, ‘so that the Roofe be taken down and maide oop again’. So the roof was raised up in 1563 using stone from the curtain wall, (the wall down the centre of the building) where the arches were created.
This created a new third roof overarching the other two and bringing the whole church under a single roof. Almost certainly this is unique, with the tangle of timbers described by Wordsworth in The Excursion:
‘Not raised in nice proportion was the pile, But large and massy; for duration built;
With pillars crowded, and the roof upheld By naked rafters intricately crossed,
Like leafless underboughs in some thick wood, All withered by the depth of shade above’.
The floor was raised and slated in the 1840s hereafter the annual ‘rushbearing’ became a village festival rather than performing any practical function.
The Nave Windows
The windows are all post reformation. The pair on the south side are in memory of the Olivier family and are the work of Henry Holiday, a student of Burne Jones. The other two stained glass windows are also Victorian and Edwardian.
The window in the Langdale aisle portrays the story of the Presentation.
At the foot of the tower St Oswald is portrayed in the window and this was placed in memory of Christina Ascroft in 1907.
The Nave Wall Plaques & Memorials
The verses of scripture were placed in the church during Queen Anne’s reign in 1712. The original wall paintings were lime washed and the scriptures replaced them. The plaques that were by the altar which show the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed are now on the west wall above the Langdale door.
The memorial opposite the South door has the striking profile of Elizabeth Fletcher which is by her son, the artist Angus Fletcher, who was companion of Charles Dickens; the Wordsworth Trust have her original diaries.
Further down the church the Madonna & Child sculpture is a memorial to the artist Ophelia Gordon Bell. This statue is a copy of her favourite commission for a convent in Surrey. The statue in the convent has the infant Jesus gazing at the cross.
By the lectern, the plaque in memory of Sir John Richardson remembers one of the great Victorian explorers and doctors, who as Surgeon General of the Royal Navy, introduced anaesthetics.
The chancel is the area of the church where the ministers and musicians sit, the name has the same Latin root as Chancellor and denotes that the people who sit here have the care of worship.
The most striking feature is the ‘capacious pew’ provided by Sir Daniel Fleming in 1633, which was used by the family for nearly two centuries until Rydal Church was built in 1827.
The choir stalls opposite were remodeled in 1981 as a memorial to Canon Tait, (Rector 1945-73).
Above the stalls is the memorial stone to William Wordsworth as poet laureate, which was created by the pre-Raphaelite sculptor Woolner for Westminster Abbey. However as Wordsworth gave instructions to be buried in Grasmere his memorial stone was purchased by friends from Woolner and placed in the Church in 1851.
The origin of the brass Lectern is unknown, but was probably placed here when the pews and pulpit were replaced in 1911. Next to it is the Bishop’s Chair which was also given at this time. In addition there are two older “ministers seats”in the Sanctuary dated 1677 and l703.
The Rector’s stall was made in 1990 for Keith Wood (Rector 1984-94) by a local craftsman. The church war memorial is behind the pulpit and made of local stone.
Above the altar rail the roof beams are arranged differently from the rest of the church to accommodate the Holy Rood, but this was removed in the 16th century.
The east window was given by the relatives of Sir John Richardson to mark the Coronation of George VI and originally gave clear view of the top of the fells, (trees have since grown to obscure the fells).
The memorial curtain dates from 1939, recording those who were members of the congregation at the time and it was restored in 2011.
The two tables either side of the present altar are the previous oak altar table and the communion table from the closed Methodist Church in College Street, which was placed here when the LEP was formed in 2009.
The Le Fleming/Fleming Family
The most prominent feature of the Sanctuary are the funeral plaques and memorials to the Le Fleming/Fleming families. Their distinctive symbol of a diamond shape with a cross through it is to be seen in many windows, on all these plaques and even in the wooden floor of the Sanctuary.
Sir Daniel Fleming’s memorial is on the north wall of the Sanctuary and the family’s motto is just above this, pax copia sapienta’, which means ‘peace, wealth and knowledge’. Originally the family were named Le Fleming and were given land by William the Conqueror on the West coast around Seascale. Sir Daniel Fleming dropped the French form of his surname when he moved to Rydal. The Flemings purchased the patronage of Grasmere from the Crown in 1580 before bequeathing it to Queen’s College Oxford in the nineteenth century. It was Sir Michael Le Fleming in the eighteenth century who restored the traditional surname. The present Baronet, Sir David Le Fleming is an artist and was married in Rydal Church in 2007.
In 2004 the Langdale Aisle was remodeled to incorporate the new bookshop at the West end and the pews on the North wall were turned to face South and into the Nave. At the same time an open area to gather was created and this is used now for serving refreshments after services or smaller meetings in the church. As part of this improvement a ramp was put in the Langdale aisle to provide permanent access to all parts of the Church for anyone in a wheelchair.
The church was completely cleaned and limewashed internally in January 2008 by Geoff Lancaster. At the same time all the church woodwork was treated, oiled and polished. In 2009 the PA and loop system were renewed. In 2010 a new energy efficient gas condensing boiler was installed and the Church’s heating system was upgraded. In 2011 the memorial curtain was restored and repaired by two members of the congregation.
In 2017 the failing external rendering of the Tower was completely renewed, restoring it to its former glory. Read the full story here
The fabric of the Church needs constant attention but it is well loved and looked after by the present members of the congregation.
With acknowledgments to Cameron Butland who compiled much of the material on this and other pages in various publications, 2013 – 2015.