Lanercost Priory, Cumbria – St Mary Magdalene (again)

On Saturday 19 August 2023 we drove up to the Military Road and headed west. We ended up at café next to Lanercost Priory. The menu didn’t say that breakfast was only available until 1100 (it was now almost 1200), but the chef said he/she would make us waffles and bacon – “must be in a good mood” said the lass on the till.

We walked next door to St Mary Magdalene church and the Priory – I blogged the church in 2015, nice to visit again –

This time I didn’t get decent photos of the exterior or interior of the church, and we managed to keep J away from the booksale. There was a lovely atmosphere in the building, although I do wish that tourist hotspots like this would be used as a focus to get visitors out to other, less visible, churches. I would also like to develop some material telling the visitors about Christianity – I suspect the majority have got very little clue what it is all about. It was good to see some work from the local school – be fascinating to do a simple poll as to how many of the church’s visitors could tell the story of the Good Samaritan or that of Jonah.

Last time I photoed the woollen embroidered Dossal by William Morris, which is behind the altar. It was embroidered by Mrs Bulkeley, the wife of the then Vicar, and Mrs Dodgson and Mrs Chapman, wives of previous Vicars, and first hung in the Priory on Easter Day 1887. They had a major restoration programme in 2013 and now have a good display about it too. I wrote last time that “in order to preserve it, the church has put a programme in place to protect the dossal from light, insects, mice and, to quote the book, ‘contamination by candle wax, spillage of communion wine and contact with decorative vegetation and water’.” I dared to wonder how it would work in the face of the flower arrangers. It seems to be OK! Well done.

Last time I included a photo of this window and commented that it “replaces a former window, broken by a football during a kick-around involving the then Vicar’s sons.” I had a comment from a family member telling me that they remember it as a cricket ball. The church leaflet still says “football” – I think we need a Commission to get to the truth!

Much more importantly – this time let me tell you a little about Eva Sydney Hone, known as Evie. Born in Dublin in 1894 she suffered from polio at the age of 12, was educated by a governess, and moved to London just before WW1. Wikipedia notes that her three sisters all married army officers, and were all widowed by the War. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, the Central School of Arts and Crafts and Westminster Technical Institute – one of her tutors was Walter Sickert (I’ve heard of him!). She began designing stained glass in 1933. She worked under Wilhemina Geddes, whose work we have visited in Wallsend – (that church is open for the Heritage Open Weekends next month – well worth a visit).

There are about 50 of Evie’s windows, 40 in Ireland and 10 in England (the most famous being at Eton). Some nice photos at a good article at and more information at and at

The Lanercost connection is the artist Winifred Nicolson who was a friend of Evie’s at the Byam Shaw School. She lived at Bankside Farmhouse on the line of the Wall, and the family seat was Naworth Castle, just down the road. Her grandfather, George Howard, was a friend of William Morris – hence the dosall. Evie died in 1955.

In the north west corner of the church is a cross, which I missed last time I visited the church. I looked it up in “Pevsner” – and found he describes Evie’s window as “mucky”. I will accept his words on the cross-shaft: “Dogtooth decoration runs along its edges. Inscription in Roman lettering, translated: ‘In the 1,214th year from the incarnation … Otto being Emperor in Germany, Philip reigning in France, John in England, William in Scotland, this cross was made.’ It was reused to record the death of a child in 1657. The base stands on the cross north of the church” (Matthew Hyde and Nikolaus Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cumbria; Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness, Yale UP, 2010, page 485).

Last time I quoted this memorial. It is worth quoting again. “In this church lies buried Charles Howard Fifth Son of George Sixth Earl of Carlisle also Mary his wife daughter of James Parke Baron Wensleydale, who died at the age of 21 after one year of married love. He mourned for her all his life finding his consolation in sincere and simple piety in unselfish and fervent love for old and young and in a single minded and ardent devotion to the cause of progress and liberty which cause he supported with unwavering steadfastness for 39 years as Member of Parliament for East Cumberland. He died beloved of all AD 1879 aged 65 years. Their son George Howard places this tablet in loving remembrance.” Even the aristocracy know pain.

Then, less than forty years later, two brothers died in WW1 – “the only children”. To quote Wikipedia “The Great War brought the pain and suffering of soldiers in battle directly home to Charlton. While he did attempt to record the early days of the war in two canvases painted in 1915 that now hang in Laing Art Gallery, and at Gateshead Art Gallery, nothing prepared him for the tragedy that hit hard in 1916. On 24 June, his eldest son, Lieutenant Hugh Vaughan Charlton of the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed on the Western Front aged 32. Seven days later, his youngest son, Captain John Macfarlane Charlton, serving in the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish), a keen ornithologist and author, was killed in action on the first day of the Somme, his 21st birthday. In a poignant canvas, now lost, the two bright young men sit with their grandmother; while in another painting by their father entitled The Brothers H.V.C. and J.M.C., Sandisdyke, two handsome and promising young men with their three dogs look up to the viewer. Heartbroken, the artist painted a posthumous portrait of John that was exhibited in the spring of 1917 alongside Sunset: Cumberland, 28 Sep 1916. The shock of the loss of his two sons on the Western Front was too much to bear and on 10 November 1917, while the war still raged, Charlton died after a brief illness at Banks House, Lanercost at the age of 68. ‘He felt the loss of his two suns profoundly,’ read his obituary in The Graphic.” On a happier note, earlier in his career “he had a job in the Newcastle bookshop of Mr Robinson, a keen collector of the work of Thomas Bewick, ‘the father of wood engraving,’ gave him an appreciation of graphic art. It was here that the budding artist began to imitate the master’s work, much to the delight of two of Bewick’s ageing sisters.”

Let’s finish with a happier face. High on the wall by the Chancel.

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