Brampton, Cumbria – St Martin

St Martin’s church is just down the road from the centre of Brampton village. My spies told me it has wonderful glass. The church entrance is at the far end, farthest from the village centre. It has a row of difficult steps and a firmly closed door. Despite the welcoming banner it does not look welcoming. They have a reasonable website, but it does not say when the church is open. I said to Julie “it looks locked, but I’ll give it a go”. I am so glad I did – the glass is a real wow.



They are selling Arthur Penn St Martin’s, the making of a masterpiece, published 2008 by the author. He was Vicar here, and was obviously a man who loved his church. This book tells the history of the church in considerable depth, and describes all the windows – I ought to go back with the book in hand and see all the extra things I missed. The book says that the photos were taken by “Sonia Halliday … an outstanding photographer of stained glass – notoriously a difficult subject – … her photographs of Morris’s glass in Brampton are luminous”. There are some lovely images on her website (search for “Brampton”). Others in the book were taken by Martin Charles, who is now deceased. My photos are not luminous.

st martins book

The original church of Brampton stands at Brampton Old Church, 1½ miles to the west of the town in the middle of a Roman fort. It is connected to the missionary work of St Ninian. There was a 1778 plan for demolish most of it and build a church in the centre of what was by now a Market Town. An almshouse had been built a century earlier, and a church was built, attached to it. The book says “the building seems never to have attracted the love of its parishioners”, and tells the story of the rows over pew rates in the mid C19. Christopher Benson was Vicar here for 33 years. In 1871 (three years before Benson retired) William Miller was appointed as Curate in charge. He found “debts and degradations, with bells unrung and the floors unswept because the ringers and sweepers were on strike for a year’s arrears of wages”. As a High Churchman he set about reform – resisted by the organist, Christopher Benson junior, the Vicar’s son. There is a description of “Persistent attempts at disturbance by gestures and noises of contempt and ridicule from the singing gallery”. When Benson senior retired William Miller did not get the job, but he had probably laid the foundations for change.

The new vicar was Henry Whitehead (1825-1896). There are not many clergy who get a mention on the website of the Fielding School of Public Health, but this gentleman is the man who proved that cholera was communicated through drinking water. He was curate of St Luke’s, Berwick Street, Soho when 700 people died within ten days in an 1859 outbreak – imagine coping with that. There is more information here. Whitehead went on to Limehouse, then came north to Brampton – Limehouse to Brampton is even more of a move than Ponteland to Derby! He was a Broader churchman than his predecessor (I was broad churchman until I started walking the Wall), and in his 14 years at Brampton he managed to bring people together to build a new church. He ended his ministry at Lanercost Priory, which has already been blogged.


Whitehead arrived in April 1874 and called a meeting about the state of the church on 22 June. On 14 September they had another meeting and agreed that the town needed a new church. The chair had been taken by The Hon Charles Howard, brother of the Earl of Carlisle, and his son George was also present. George studied at Eton, Cambridge and South Kensington School of Art. He became a prolific painter in both watercolours and oils – Julie and I saw a lot of his paintings at an exhibition at Tullie House in Carlisle a few years ago – website. He met his wife Rosalind Stanley looking at the window of St Frideswide at Christ Church in Oxford – see my blog here. She wrote “in June 1863, George and I on the first day of our meeting first liked one another so well that as we stood looking at the painted window which tells the life of St Frydeswyde, we knew already that each liked the other.” They lived at Naworth Castle and are buried at Lanercost Priory.


At the 1874 meetings there was debate as to whether the town needed a new church or a tramway. The book gives a lot of detail about the struggles they had to raise the money for the church and the politics of it all. Philip Webb was a good friend of George Howard, and he wanted him to be architect. Webb was the architect of the Pre-Raphaelite circle and, with Morris, a founder of the Arts and Crafts movement. I like the line in the book which says “As he never employed a team of assistants and was uncompromising with his clients, his output was small.” One lovely comment, by May Morris, talks of “that look on his face that isn’t a smile but a ‘state of smiling beneath the skin’.”


After the meeting in September 1874, it only took two months before Webb presented plans for a new 500-seat building costing £6845. The committee, meeting on 11 November, asked him to get the price down to £6000. The plans were complete by March 1875. The body of the church is almost square, with a very open interior. It took another year before Webb’s surveyor was communicating with builders, and the quotations came in higher than expected. It was February 1877 before work was ready to start, and the foundation stone was laid on 12 July 1877. The public luncheon which followed the ceremony cost 3 shillings a ticket – an expensive lunch in those days! The church was open and consecrated on St Martin’s Day, 11 November 1878 – tickets for the luncheon were 5 shillings.

There was a deficit of several hundred pounds, an argument about the second-hand organ they had bought, decay in the wood block floor, problems with damp, etc., etc. In August 1885 gas lighting was installed, against Webb’s advice. And so it went on. In 1902 Philip Webb wrote that “I had never seen any representation of the building since I left it to the clumsy carelessness of somewhat unliftable citizens of a mean north country town. I can assure you that when I handed over the work to them some 25 years ago they were by no means anxious to express any pleasure in the result of my work.” I think we can say, a century on, that there is pleasure in this church.

The tower was added (again with controversy) in 1906. This terra cotta relief of St Martin was added the same year, a gift of Mrs Whitehead (widow of the Vicar mentioned above). She bought a picture of the panel from the Ducal Palace in a Venice and commissioned a Miss Rope to execute the work. They didn’t involve their architect in the work!


Entering the church, if only it didn’t have these dreadful steps, we enter a lovely building.

DSC01216The font cover in memory of Mrs Whitehead, was the work of the Keswick School of Industrial Art – we came across their work in Kendal.

DSC01215They have purposely kept the church free of memorials, using the windows as memorials instead, except for some at the back and a very traditional War Memorial.


It doesn’t seem as if there was an original proposal for stained glass to go in, and all stained glass to be made by William Morris and his firm. The first window was made in 1878 and commemorates Joseph Coulthard, a remarkable teacher. Adam (top left), Noah (top right), Enoch (bottom left) and Abraham (bottom right). A lot of these windows were designed for other places – Morris’s firm was very good at re-using its designs. Adam is in Jesus College, Cambridge, Enoch in Calcutta Cathedral.


This window is of Moses, David, Solomon and Elijah. Solomon is holding his temple. Solomon was also designed for Calcutta Cathedral. This window was given in memory of William Carrick, a local solicitor.


The East Window is in memory of Charles Howard. Morris submitted an estimate for it in June 1879 – it would cost £667 excluding packing and fixing. Burne-Jones received £200 for the design – he used his design of St George in another 44 windows! Across the bottom are SS Martin, Mary, Dorothy and George (the last three all family names), with the Pelican in her Piety, then lovely Angels, and Christ as the Good Shepherd at the top. It is wonderful.



DSC01236Here are John and Luke, in a memorial window to Alexander Thom, a local doctor. Some in the town wanted a cheaper window – the Vicar insisted on Morris.


Here is Faith, Hope and Charity, in memory of John and Mary Lee – already used a Christ Church in Oxford.DSC01237

As the windows are all memorials, they naturally remember tragedy and loss. George and Rosalind Howard had eleven children, and the tenth, Elizabeth died aged four months. There is a beautiful effigy of her at Lanercost Priory – see my blog here. This window has scenes of children in the bible.


This window is in memory of Henry Whitehead – “well done, thou good and faithful servant”.


The final window, and I have failed to photo them all, is a War Memorial window. Sacrifice and Victory. In some windows this is St George, here, and in some other windows in Scotland, George has gained wings and become the Archangel Michael – they wouldn’t really want the Patron Saint of England!


This WW1 memorial is a more recent addition. It is sensibly towards the back of the church and does not distract from anything, but I do wonder if it will still have the same resonance in fifty years time.


I am glad I had made the effort to try the door, and hope you will also pay a visit.

We should record Brampton’s most famous railway connection. Brampton station on the Newcastle-Carlisle line is at least a mile from the town, and was connected by a branch line. We should record that Thomas Edmondson (1792 to 1851) inventor of the railway ticket, worked here.edmondson

edmondson ticket









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