Church Among The Mountains

The Church Among the Mountains

In this sweet vale where peace has found
An undisturbed abode,
The everlasting hills surround
A temple reared to God;
Where one pure stream, the Gospel's sound,
Flows as it ever flow'd.

Here never reach the angry jars
Which break the Church's rest.
The unity that strife debars
Is on this Branch imprest;
Her truths of old no discord mars;
Here peace is in her breast.

One Book reveals the living lore
Of prophets, saints, and kings.
One mild apostle here its store
To every household brings;
And on this temple's sacred floor
The pure glad tidings sings.

Race follows race from field and home,
And all in earth are laid:
But steadfast as the starry dome
Above, the truth is spread
Around their feet, howe'er they roam,
Unquestioned, ungainsaid.

How blest, to live and hope in peace
Like these! nor hear the knell
Of some sure promise, made to cease
Beneath the mystic's spell,
Or subtle casuist's caprice—
And know that all is well.

In vainest strifes we cast away
Too much from life's fair page.
The flock becomes the spoiler's prey,
Because the shepherds rage.
And while the life is but a day,
The warfare lasts an age.

But here may piety rejoice
To tread the ancient ways:
Still make the one true part the choice
Of even the darkest days;
And lift an undivided voice
Of thankful prayer and praise.

Guard, Sovereign of the heights and rills!
These precincts of Thy fold;
This little Church, which thus fulfils
Thy purpose framed of old.
And this Thy flock amidst these hills
Still in Thy bosom hold.

Notes to "the Church Among the Mountains."

Wordsworth in his description of the Lake Country as it was, and had been through centuries, till within about one hundred years, thus alludes to the places of worship. "Towards the head of these Dales was found a perfect Republic of shepherds and agriculturists, among whom the plough of each man was confined to the maintenance of his own family, or to the occasional accommodation of his neighbour. Two or three cows furnished each family with milk and cheese. The Chapel was the only edifice that presided over these dwellings, the supreme head of this pure commonwealth: the members of which existed in the midst of a powerful empire, like an ideal society or an organised community, whose constitution had been imposed and regulated by the mountains which protected it.

"The religio loci  is nowhere violated by these unstinted, yet unpretending works of human hands. They exhibit generally a well proportioned oblong, with a suitable porch, in some instances a steeple tower, and in others nothing more than a small belfry, in which one or two bells hang visibly. A man must be very insensible who would not have been touched with pleasure at the sight of the former Chapel of Buttermere, so strikingly expressing by its diminutive size, how small must have been the congregation there assembled, as it were, like one family; and proclaiming at the same time to the passenger, in connection with the surrounding mountains, the depth of that seclusion in which the people lived, that rendered necessary the building of a separate place of worship for so few. The edifice was scarcely larger than many of the single stones or fragments of rock which were scattered near it. The old Chapel was perhaps the most diminutive in all England, being incapable of receiving more than half a dozen families. The length of the outer wall was about seventeen feet. The curacy was 'certified to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty at £1. paid by the contributions of the inhabitants,' and it was also certified, 'this Chapel and Wythop were served by Readers, except that the Curate of Lorton officiated there three or four times in the year.'"

Such cures were held in these northern counties by unordained persons, till about the middle of George II.'s reign; when the Bishops came to a resolution, that no one should officiate who was not in orders. But, because there would have been some injustice and some hardship in ejecting the existing incumbents, they were admitted to deacons' orders without undergoing any examination. The person who was then Reader as it was called, at the Chapel in the Vale of Newlands, and who received this kind of ordination, exercised the various trades of Clogger, Tailor, and Butter-print maker.

How otherwise than by following secular occupations were even Readers to exist? The Chapel of "Secmurthow" on the south side of the river Derwent, not far from the foot of Bassenthwaite lake, was certified to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty at £2., being the interest of £40. raised by the inhabitants for a Reader. "Before its augmentation," says Hutchinson, "the Reader of divine service had a precarious income; but an actual custom existed for several years of allowing the poor minister a whittle-gate. He was privileged to go from house to house in the Chapelry, and stay a certain number of days at each place, where he was permitted to enter his whittle  or knife with the rest of the family. This custom," he adds, "has been abolished in such modern times, that it is in the memory of many now living." (i.e. 1794.)

The inhabitants of many of the Chapelries in the north got by custom from the Rectors or Vicars the right of nominating and presenting the curate; for this reason: before the death of Queen Anne, many of the Chapelries were not worth above two or three pounds a year, and the donees could not get persons properly qualified to serve them; so they left them to the inhabitants, who raised voluntary contributions for them in addition to their salary, with clothes yearly and whittle-gate.

Clothes yearly, were one new suit of clothes, two pairs of shoes, and one pair of clogs, shirts, stockings, etc., as they could bargain.

Whittlegate is, to have two or three weeks' victuals at each house, according to the ability of the inhabitants, which was settled amongst them, so that he should go his course as regularly as the sun, and complete it annually. Few houses having more knives than one or two, the pastor was often obliged to buy his own; sometimes it was bought for him by the chapel-wardens. He marched from house to house with his whittle seeking fresh pasturage; and as master of the herd, he had the elbow chair at the table-head, which was often made of part of a hollow ash-tree, such as may be seen in those parts at this day.

Buttermere was said to allow its priest whittle-gate, and twenty shillings yearly; by other accounts, "clogg-shoes, harden-sark, whittle-gate, and guse-gate"—that is, a pair of shoes clogged or iron-shod, a shirt of coarse linen or hemp once a year, free-living at each parishioner's house for a certain number of days, and the right to pasture a goose or geese on the common.

The Wytheburn reader had sark, whittle-gate, and guse-gate.

The Mungrisdale priest had £6. 0 s. 9 d. a year.

Many worthies have appeared, nevertheless, among these unpretending ministers of the dales; most prominently so, Robert Walker, for a long period curate of Seathwaite, and surnamed for his many virtues and industry, the Wonderful: of whose life and actions an interesting and detailed account is given in the Notes in Wordsworth's Works.

The Chapel of Martindale, a perpetual curacy under the vicarage of Barton, near Penrith, was served for 67 years by a Mr. Richard Birket. The ancient endowment was only £2. 15 s. 4 d. per annum, a small house, and about four acres of land. At his first coming, Birket's whole property consisted of two shirts and one suit of clothes; yet he amassed a considerable sum of money. Being the only man except one in the parish who could write, he transcribed most of the law papers of his parishioners. Whenever he lent money, he deducted at the time of lending, two shillings in the pound for interest, and the term of the loan never exceeded a year. He charged for writing a receipt twopence, and for a promissory note fourpence; and used other means of extortion. He likewise taught a school, and served as parish-clerk; and in both these offices he showed his wonderful turn for economy and gain; for his quarter-dues from his scholars being small, he had from the parents of each scholar a fortnight's board and lodging; and the Easter-dues being usually paid in eggs, he, at the time of collecting, carried with him a board, in which was a hole that served him as a gauge, and he positively refused to accept any which would pass through. He got a fortune of £60 with his wife; to whom he left at his decease the sum of £1200. Clark says, that on account of transacting most of the law affairs of his parishioners, he was called Sir Richard, or the Lawyer. But with reference to this title, Nicholson, Bishop of Carlisle, at the beginning of the 18th century says, "Since I can remember, there was not a reader in any chapel who was not called 'Sir.'" The old designation of the clergy before the Reformation was always "Sir"; knight being added as the military or civil distinction. It has also been stated that the last curate of this parish, or of these parts at all, called "Sir," was the Reverend Richard Birket (apud 1689).

On the death of Mr. Birket no one would undertake the cure, on account of the smallness of the stipend: those therefore of the parishioners who could read, performed the service by turns. Things remained in this situation for some time; at length a little decrepid man, named Brownrigg, to whom Mr. Birket had taught a little Latin and Greek, was by the parishioners appointed perpetual Reader. For this they allowed him, with the consent of the Donee, the church perquisites, then worth about £12 per annum. Brownrigg being a man of good character, and there being no clergyman within several miles to baptize their children, or bury their dead, the parishioners petitioned the Bishop to grant him deacon's orders; this was accordingly done, and he served the cure forty-eight years.

Mr. Mattinson, the curate of Paterdale, who died about the year 1770, was a singular character. For fifty-six years he officiated at the small "chapel with the yew tree," at the foot of St. Sunday's Crag. His ordinary income was generally twelve pounds a year, and never above eighteen. He married and lived comfortably, and had four children, all of whom he christened and married, educating his son to be a scholar, and sending him to College. He buried his mother; married his father and buried him; christened his wife, and published his own banns of marriage in the church. He lived to the age of ninety-six, and died worth a thousand pounds. It has been alleged that this provident curate assisted his wife to card and spin the tithe wool which fell to his lot, viz. one third; that he taught a school which brought him in about five pounds a year; that his wife was skilful and eminent as a midwife, performing her functions for the small sum of one shilling; but as according to ancient custom she was likewise cook at the christening dinner, she received some culinary perquisites which somewhat increased her profits. Clarke adds, "One thing more I must beg leave to mention concerning Mrs. Mattinson: On the day of her marriage, her father boasted that his two daughters were married to the two best men in Paterdale, the priest and the bag piper."

In Langdale, in Clark's time, the poor Curate was obliged to sell ale to support himself and his family; and, he says, "At his house I have played Barnaby  with him on the Sabbath morning, when he left us with the good old song,

'I'll but preach, and be with you again.'"

Taking all their circumstances into consideration, it is not to be wondered at that the personal failings of these men were looked upon by their neighbours with a leniency which would hardly be intelligible elsewhere. Not very long ago an excellent old dame only recently deceased, who for her intelligence and goodness was respected and esteemed by the highest and the lowest, and was one of the finest specimens of nature's gentlewomen to be found anywhere, was heard warmly upholding the character of a neighbouring clergyman in these words,—"Well, I'll not say but he may have slanted  now and then, at a christenin' or a weddin'; but for buryin' a corp, he is undeniable!"

In 1866 the Bishop of Carlisle consecrated a new church at Wythop on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake. The old building which this edifice is intended to supersede is a decayed barn-like structure, supplied with a bell which hung from an adjoining tree. Some curious customs are associated with this Church. It was built in 1473. For some hundreds of years the inhabitants of the Chapelry were in the habit of dividing it into four quarters, from each of which a representative was elected yearly; the functions of the four being set forth in a document dated 1623. They have to elect a parish minister or reader, who was generally the schoolmaster, a layman being eligible; they had to collect "devotion money," supervise the repairs of the fabric, and look after the parish school. The stipend of the minister was 10½d. per Sunday. Here is a copy of an old receipt:—"Received of the chapelmen of Wythop the sum of 28s. 5d. for thirty-one weeks' reading wages, by me, John Fisher." The stipend was however supplemented by Whittlegate; he was boarded and lodged by the inhabitants of the four quarters in turn. The value of the living at the present day is only £51 per annum.

This old church which is to remain as a curiosity, stands high on a mountain side; and not many years ago nettles grew luxuriantly beneath the seats in the pews and along the middle of the passage. A narrow board on a moveable bracket constitutes the communion table, and the vessels employed in the celebration of the Lord's Supper are a pewter cheese-plate and pewter pot. There is no font provided for baptisms, the purpose was served by a common earthenware vessel; nor is any vestry room attached to the building.

Vestries are seldom to be found in these remote chapels. And in the chapel at Matterdale, the sacramental wine used to be kept in a wooden keg, or small cask; perhaps is so still.

It is said of Whitbeck Chapel, which lies on the base of Black Combe, near the sea shore, that smugglers frequenting that exposed part of the coast, on many occasions deposited their illegal cargoes within its walls, until a convenient opportunity arose for removing them unobserved. Sunday sometimes came round when the sacred edifice was not in the most suitable condition for celebrating divine service. The parish clerk had then to advise the minister that it would be inconvenient to officiate on that day. It was not politic to scrutinize too closely the nature of the difficulty that existed: it was sufficiently understood. A substantial sample of the intruding contraband element found its way to the house of the minister; and forthwith due notice was circulated among the parishioners that the usual service would not be held until the Sunday following. Meanwhile the stores were disposed of, and the wild and desperate adventurers were in full career again towards the Manx or Scottish shore.

In 1300 the Lady of Allerdale, and of the Honour of Cockermouth, Isabel Countess of Albemarle was summoned to prove by what right she held a market at Crosthwaite (near Keswick). She denied that she held any market there, but said that the men of the neighbourhood met at the Church on Festival days, and there sold flesh and fish; and that she as lady of the Manor of Derwent Fells took no toll. This practice being persevered in, in 1306 the inhabitants of Cockermouth represented in a petition to parliament that therewas a great concourse of people every Sunday at Crosthwaite Church, where corn, flour, beans, peas, linen, cloth, meat, fish, and other merchandise were bought and sold, which was so very injurious to the market at Cockermouth, that the persons of that place who farmed the tolls of the king were unable to pay their rent. Upon this a prohibitory proclamation was issued against the continuance of such an unseemly usage.

Things had not got quite straight in this respect within the sanctuary at a much later period. The Rev. Thos. Warcup, incumbent of the parish church of Wigton, in the civil war was obliged to fly on account of his loyalty to the sovereign. After the restoration of Charles II. he returned to his cure; and tradition says, that the butcher-market was then held upon the Sunday, and the butchers hung up their carcasses even at the church door, to attract the notice of their customers as they went in and came out of church; and it was not an unfrequent thing to see people, who had made their bargains before prayer began, hang their joints of meat over the backs of the seats until the pious clergyman had finished the service. The zealous priest, after having long, but ineffectually, endeavoured to make his congregation sensible of the indecency of such practices, undertook a journey to London, on foot, for the purpose of petitioning the king to have the market-day established on the Tuesday; which favour it is said he had interest enough to obtain.

This faithful priest long before his death caused his own monument to be erected in the churchyard, with this inscription in verse of his own composing:

Thomas Warcup prepar'd this stone,
To mind him of his best home.
Little but sin and misery here,
Till we be carried on our bier.
Out of the grave and earth's dust,
The Lord will raise me up, I trust;
To live with Christe eternallie,
Who, me to save, himself did die.
Mihi est Christus et in vita et in morte lucrum. Phil. i. 21.
Obiit anno 1653.

Thus it appears his decease did not take place until some years after the date at which he records his death; probably a period marked by some important change in his life, or of unusual solemnity reminds us that only thirty-five years ago, at a very few miles from its base, one who served the pastoral office more than fifty years, eking out a wretched maintenance upon a small farm; while his sons were at the plough, was of necessity compelled to send his daughters with horses and carts for coals and lime, and to lead manure to the fields and distribute it over the land; whilst the Dean and Chapter of his diocese were the patrons of his cure.

Such things can hardly be witnessed at this day. But a minister may be seen even now (1867) on the other side of the district, leading the choir in the aisle, in his surplice, with bow and fiddle in his hands, and then resuming his place at the desk, with becoming solemnity, until the course of the service requires his instrument again. His sense of harmony is acute; for in the middle of the psalm, his arms will fly apart, and the volume of sound be stopped, until an offensive note has been ejected, and the strain rectified, and renewed.

A curious discovery has recently been made in the venerable parish church of Windermere. The plaster having come away over one of the arches, a band of red and black was revealed. On the removal of more of the thick layers of whitewash, a beautiful inscription in old English characters was found. Further search was instituted, and similar inscriptions have been discovered on all the walls between the arches in the nave. It is conjectured that these inscriptions were placed in the church at the time of the Reformation, as they are mostly directed against the dogma of transubstantiation, whilst they give plain instructions in the doctrine of the Sacraments.

On the north side of the nave the following have been deciphered:—

"Howe many sacramentes are their?—Two: baptisme and the supper of the Lord.

"In baptisme which ys ye signe yt may be seene?—Water onelie.

"Which is ye grace yt cannot be seene?—The washinge awaie of synnes by the bloode of Christe.

"In the Lordes supper which is ye signe yt may be sene?—Breade and Wyne.

"Which is ye grace yt cannot be seene?—The bodie and bloode of Christe."

On the south wall the inscriptions are as follow:—

"In goinge to ye table of the Lord, what ought a man to consider or doe pryncipalie?—T examine him selfe.

"Is the breade and wine turned into ye bodie and bloode of Christe?—No, for if you turne or take away ye signe that may be sene it is no sacrament.