Penrith, Cumbria – St Andrew

St Andrew’s church, Penrith, is in the middle of the town – NY516301. It has a website. I picked up a lovely flyer “A Church for all Seasons – The Wedding Season is all year at St Andrew’s – Begin your married life with God’s blessing – Christ in the heart of Penrith”. 10 out of 10!

We started the day in their coffee shop – very nice scones, fresh out of the oven. Then we were about to visit the church and realised a hearse was pulling round the corner. We did the Brougham churches, and came back. It was a flying visit.

As we know, Christianity came to this area with St Ninian, and there is written evidence of a church here by 1133. The tower dates back to this church, most of it was rebuilt in 1605. Dr Todd became Vicar at the end of the C17. In 1716 he petitioned for the old church to be knocked down and a new one built – questions are still asked whether it was derelict, or he just wanted a new one in the new classic style. The foundation stone was laid on 10 April 1720, the church was consecrated by Bishop Nicolson, the Bishop of Derry, in 1722 – Inverness Cathedral was dedicated by a later Bishop of Derry. There must be a PhD thesis here somewhere. The church cost £2,253 16s 10½d, and the architect is believed to have been Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Christopher Wren. There is quite a lot about him – website – and an excellent article about the restoration work on one of his London churches here. The two chandeliers were bought with 50 guineas which were given to the town by the Duke of Portland as a thank you for their help in driving Bonnie Prince Charlie back to Scotland after his failed attempt to take the English throne in 1745. Each one holds 24 candles.

There was a restoration in 1863 and another in 1867 – the pews and ceiling date to 1867. More work in 1951 and Stephen Dykes Bower was behind one in 1972. The bowl of the font dates to 1661, the eagle was given to the church by George Gorton of Lancashire in 1845, a Harrison organ of 1870 (rebuilt by Wilkinsons of Kendal 18 years later), and the altar is rather lovely.

The top window is the Richard II window and he has been confirmed as the  chap with the sceptre (it does make you wonder how they know?) Early C15 glass. The second is the Neville Window, with Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, and her husband Ralph Neville of Raby Castle. Much of the rest of the glass is Victorian, although I’m sure the one with the red cross is C20. The Christ Church window commemorates the Reverend William Holme Milner, who died in 1868. He was instrumental in erecting Christ Church in the town – website – and he is pictured with the church.

The East window is a painted window, “one of the finest of the painted windows in any parish church in Cumbria” says the guide – by Herdman and Powell of Birmingham, 1870. These murals were painted in 1845, by a local artist Jacob Thompson. He was only paid 100 guineas for six months work. Apparently all the faces belonged to local people, and the landscape is taken from near Pooley Bridge and shows Ullswater.

There are two very large war memorials, and the town is continuing to remember those from WW1. They have an excellent leaflet “Penrith Remembers 1914-18 – We will remember – The hard road to the end of the First World War”. They have also produced some excellent videos on youtube. Well done!

Outside we visited The Giant’s Grave, the birthplace of Own Caesarius, the King of Cumbria between 920 and 937 AD. The hogback stones are said to represent the wild boards that the king killed, and they all date to the C10.

The final monument is that to Robert Vertue, late superintendent in the company of John Stephenson & Co, who built the Lancaster and Carlisle railway. The church guide describes him as “engineer and supervisor of the construction of the line”. I have googled him, used the NRM website, and looked in my own extensive library. I cannot find him. John Stephenson (1794-1848) is no relation to George. His company built the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway, “then offered James Falshaw the charge of the construction of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, the contract for which, as a single line, had been taken by the firm” – website. No mention anywhere of Robert Vertue. At the Ecclesbourne Railway second hand bookshop I found a copy of “Main Line over Shap, the story of the Lancaster-Carlisle Railway” by David Joy  (Dalesman, 1967) and he isn’t mentioned in there either.


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