Kirkby Ireleth Parish

From Mannex's directory of Furness and Cartmel, 1882.

This parish is bounded on the south by that of Dalton, on the west and north by the river Duddon, and on the east by the parish of Ulverston. Its extreme length, measured from the county stone on the north to Dunnerholme on the south, is about 17 miles, and its breadth averages 34 miles. It is divided into the six townships of Broughton, Dunnerdale, Seathwaite, Lower Quarter, Middle Quarter, and Woodland-with-Heathwaite. Their aggregate population in 1801 was 2,344; in 1821, 2,974; in 1841, 3,449; in 1861, 3,138; and in 1881, 2,925 The parish is well watered by numerous small and nameless streams, which run down the hill-sides, and discharge their waters into the Duddon. During wet and stormy weather these rivulets become considerably swollen, and rush with such an impetuosity down the rocky steeps that huge blocks of stone are often loosened and hurled into the valleys below. The principal river of the parish is the Duddon. This river in the upper part of its course is a mere mountain torrent, but in its lower portion it opens out into a broad estuary, which on the recession of the tide forms a consider able expanse of sand. In its upper course the Duddon passes through patches of beautiful and romantic scenery, and the poet Wordsworth, in a series of sonnets, has wedded its charms to immortal verse. The Roman road into Cumberland crossed over the sands of the Duddon estuary by a ford. Though the distance from shore to shore is about three miles, and no appointed guide to show the route, yet travellers still continue to pass over by the sands from one county to the other. The beach on the Lancashire side is known as the Dunnerholme Sands, while the opposite beach is called Borwick Rails. The sands are noted for the abundance, delicacy, and flavour of the cockles found there; and Duddon mussels hold a deservedly high place in the estimation of connoisseurs of those bivalves. The river is navigable for small craft as far as Duddon Bridge, near Broughton.

This parish has long been noted for the production of excellent dark blue slate. The Kirkby quarries extend more than a mile in length, and their vast heaps of debris, rising tier above tier for about 700 feet, are a sombre appendage to the hills in which they are situated, and form a very prominent object of view from the Broughton and Furness railway, here skirting the base of these hills. The romantic positions in which they occur will amply repay a visit. A rich field is laid open for the investigation of the geologist by the immense excavations which show the strata, joints, laminae of depositions, and the planes of cleavage, the latter of which is a very singular feature in the structure of the slate, as it maintains nearly one unvaried bearing and angle with the horizon, however much the stratification may be contorted. On the plane of deposition, in some of the strata, are rows of nodular concretions formed round a nucleus, the nature of which has not yet been fully determined. The quarries are mostly open at the top, though some are subterraneous, with levels or tunnels to carry away the rock or rubbish, and allow the water to drain off. The slate is detached from the rock by means of blasting, and the huge masses thus brought down being afterwards bored and blasted, the whole is reduced by means of sledge hammers and wedges to such pieces as may be conveniently carried away. The next process is that of riving the rock into thin plates, which are formed or dressed into slates, and classed according to their size and thickness. The average weekly yield is about 150 tons, which are forwarded by rail and sea to all parts of the kingdom. The quarries are the property of the Duke of Devonshire, and are worked by his grace; and employment is thereby given to above 300 hands.

The township of Kirkby Ireleth is now divided into twotown ships known as the Low and Middle Quarter.


Township contains the villages of Kirkby Ireleth, Beckside, Sandside, and Soutergate, all on Duddon Sands, near the mouth of a rivulet, where vessels were laden with slate previous to the opening of the Furness Railway in 1847. At High Gill, in this township, is a small waterfall flowing through a deep and romantic valley. The Parish Church, dedicated to St. Cuthbert, stands in the hamlet of Beckside, six miles N.W. of Ulverston. Some attribute its foundation to Alexander de Kirkby, who, in the 2nd of Henry III., conveyed it with 40 acres of land to the Abbey of Furness; but from the Dano-Saxon etymology of the name Kirkby, i.e., Church town, it would appear to be of much higher antiquity. By some historians a church is supposed to have stood here during Saxon times ; but, though the village is named in the Domesday Book of the Conqueror, yet no mention of a church is made, nor is it named in the ecclesiastical valuation made during the pontificate of Nicholas IV. in 1291. Speaking of the Saxon origin of this church, the learned and accomplished author of the History of Richmondshire says :-

"The word Kirkby, which is expressly mentioned in the Domesday Book, though without any designation of a church as then existing, proves beyond doubt that a church had previously existed there, and as there is in that record no hint at any other place of Christian worship in the whole peninsula, it might lead to a bolder conclusion than I shall adopt, namely, that Kirkby was the mother church of Furness. This is negatived, in my opinion, by the remote and inconvenient situation of the place; but when we consider it with reference to Ireleth itself, the inference is irresistible that in this warm and fertile bottom, sheltered at once from the breeze, but placed upon a creek opening into the estuary of the Duddon, some Saxon lord had placed his hall, his kirk, and his bell, while all the wild country around lay uncultivated and unpeopled. Under his influence, or that of his posterity, and by their allotment, population would gradually creep up the vale of Lickle. Seathwaite and Dunnerdale would be essarted from the eastern bank of Duddon and Cockley Beck, while during the spread of population and the progress of husbandry the Danish inundation swept all before, and left little more than the names of the dilapidated villages and churches destroyed. But the idea of local sanctity is so deeply planted in the heart of man, that the sites of these last would be long remembered ; their cemeteries would continue to be burial places of their few remaining inhabitants ; mass would sometimes be repeated on their sites by the few itinerant or unendowed priests who are known in those days to have performed divine offices under every disadvantage ; and all these circumstances would operate, when the country acquired that wonderful stability and consistency which it did under the first Norman kings, to the restoration of ancient churches on their original foundations. Their sites were always commodious, many of the most durable materials would remain, and the relics of their ancestors, unprotected and abandoned, would form another powerful inducement to the restorers."

The church is built of stone and cased in rough-cast, and appears to have been erected about the time of Henry IV. (1399-1413). It is of the late Perpendicular style, which prevailed at that time ; but the north aisle was added in the time of Henry VIII., probably by one of the Kirkbys. It was renovated and the tower rebuilt in 1827, but the result of these renovations and modern additions has been the complete destruction of the beauty and harmony of the original style. The addition of an unsightly gallery a few years ago detracts much from the internal appearance, and was assuredly never contemplated in the original design. On the north side a small wing or side chapel was added about the time of Henry VIII., and in it Henry Kirkby, Esq., founded a chantry, where a priest was to say or sing mass daily for the soul of the founder. This foundation took place previous to 1523, as the said Henry Kirkby died in that year. He was succeeded by his brother Richard, who endeavoured at the time of the spoliation of chantries by Henry VIII. to get back the endowment. He was, however, unsuccessful in his application, for in 1553 we find Robert Burrowes, the chantry priest, pensioned by the Duchy with £6 a year, which would not have been given had the endowment lapsed to the family of the founder. This side chapel is now the property of the Duke of Devonshire ; the nave or body of the church belongs to the parishioners, and the chancel is owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The east or chancel end was originally lighted by a large Norman window, which in later years was barbarously modernised. During the past year (1881) the chancel has been restored by the Commissioners at a cost of £900. As much of the old work has been retained as possible ; the old deep, narrow, circular-headed windows which graced the church 600 years ago have been reropened, and now the chancel is an exact fac-simile of the original. The south porch seems to he a portion of the older structure, and consists of a bold Norman arch, ornamented with chevron mouldings.

In the interior of the church are preserved a few ancient monuments. The most notable of these is a thirteenth-century tombstone, bearing a sword and cross, and also the mutilated arms of the Kirkbys. There is also preserved in the church a silver paten, taken by Colonel Kirkby from the French after they had plundered Carthagena. The church contains 482 sittings, of which 131 are free. In the tower there is a peal of five bells. The living of Kirkby Ireleth is a vicarage, in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of York, who have exercised this privilege since the year 1376. The benefice is worth about £150, including funeral fees, and is now in the incumbency of the Rev. Charles H. Lowry, M.A. The vicarage stands in close proximity to the church cemetery, but a more com modious and elegant structure is now in course of erection.

The following charitable bequests are taken from boards in the church :- In 1670 William Chamney, of Burney, left the interest of £4 to be distributed annually among the poor on Good Friday; and in 1680 John Kirkby, of Coniston, bequeathed the interest of £60 to the minister, and £40 to the poor of this parish. In the same year John Woodburn, of Dove Forde, left the interest of £5, and in 1681 Roger Kirkby left the interest of £10 to the poor. John Askew left £8 6s. 8d., the interest thereof to be divided yearly amongst the poor ; and £25 was given by Mrs. Agnes Kirkby. In 1684 the Hallsteads estate in this parish was purchased with £220, ancient parish stock. The property consists of 70 acres of meadow, arable, and pasture land, and 8 acres of copse wood, with a farmhouse and a poorhouse adjoining. At the time of the Charity Commissioners' report the farm was let for £80 per annum, on condition that the tenant maintain all the parish paupers at £8 per head, if the number does not exceed six, and if more than six, at £5 per head. The proceeds of this estate are disposed of at the discretion of 24 trustees. In 1769 Samuel Wilson, of Cop, in this parish, bequeathed the interest of £80 for the education of poor children, and £20 to the poor of Middle and Low Quarter. In 1774 Thomas Holme, of Wellinghorough, Northamptonshire, clerk, bequeathed the interest of £50 to be distributed to the poor, in bread, on the first Sunday after the 18th of May. The above £100, together with £11 belonging to the parish, were in 1791 laid out in the purchase of land, called Toddas, in this parish. In 1832 John Dodgson, ot Trinkeld, left £300 to the divisions of Low and Middle Quarter, Heathwaite, and Woodland, one-half the interest of which was to be applied to the education of children of poor parents, residents in these town ships, and the other half to be distributed annually on Christmas Day to four poor inhabitants of the said townships who have never received parochial relief. And a marble slab recording the death of Miss Margaret Postlethwaite states that she left the sum of £200, the interest of which is to be divided yearly among the poor of Woodland and Heathwaite.

A little more than a mile from Beckside is Kirkby Hall, once known as Cross House or Kirkby Cross, from a cross which formerly stood before it, and which was partly demolished by order of Archbishop Sandys. From what remains it appears to have been of the Tudor style, and was the residence of the Kirkby family for ten generations. Once ranked among the most important residences of Furness, and for generations the abode of gentility, it is now the habitation of a farmer - sic transit gloria mundi. There is a singular apartment in the upper portion of the house called the Chapel, with an antique roof of oaken cross beams, but now much dilapidated. Upon the plaster walls the Lord's Prayer, Creed, and Commandments are painted in black and red letters upon a fanciful border running round the room; and below are some very rudely executed decorative designs, but now much faded from the effects of time. The entrance to the chapel is through a trap door ; and at one end of the room is a closet,- and behind this a secret hiding place, where priests were concealed in penal times. The wainscoting and oak carvings of the Kirkby Arms, which formerly adorned the banqueting hall and other rooms, have been removed to Holker Hall.

The Manor belonged for many generations to a family of the local name ; but in 1719 Colonel Roger Kirkby mortgaged the estate to a banker, who was also agent to the Duchess of Buckingham. The mortgagee became insolvent, and the manor fell to the Duchess in part payment of her claim on the banker. The Duchess left it to Lord Musgrave, who in 1771 sold it to the Right Han, Lord John Cavendish, in whose family it still continues - the present owner being the Duke of Devonshire. A court baron is held yearly at the Commercial Inn, Sandside. The following are the feudal customs attaching to this manor :-

"The widow is entitled during her widowhood to the moiety of the estate whereof her husband died seised ; but forfeits her right thereto upon re-marriage or breach of chastity. Every tenant, upon being admitted to a tenement, pays to the lord of the manor a fine of 20 years' quit-rent. Every entire tenement was formerly obliged to keep one horse and harness for the king's service, on the borders or elsewhere. These were called 'summer (?sumpter) nags,' of which 30 were kept at Kirkby. The tenant was also to furnish a boon-plough and a boon-harrow, that is, a day's ploughing and harrowing ; and no tenant is to let his land for any term exceeding seven years without a license. Tenements in this manor are forfeited to the lord by treason or felony. A tenant convicted of wilful perjury forfeits to the lord 20 years' rent, and for petty larceny 10 years' rent."

Prospect House, the property and residence of Townson Ashburner, Esq., is one of the best houses in the township. It is situated on an eminence facing the Duddon, and commands fine views of the Cumbrian and Lancashire hills and the Duddon valley.

Post Office at Thomas Barr's, Sandside, Kirkby. Letters via Kirkby (Carnforth) arrive at 5-50 am., and are despatched at 7-31 p.m.


This township contains the hamlets of Chapels, Dovebank, and a part of Grizebeck, about three miles south from Broughton; also the hamlets of Beanthwaite, about five miles south, and Bolton Grounds, five miles south-east of the same town. At Marsh Side is a Wesleyan Chapel, erected in 1870, at a cost of about £400. It is built of slate stone, and will accommodate 250 persons. A Christian Meeting House was erected at Wall End in 1876, at a cost of £600, and will seat 250 persons. Near Wall End, in this township, are the Burlington Schools, erected in 1877 by the Duke of Devonshire, K.G. These schools have superseded the old one at Beckside. They will accommodate 250 children. A substantial dwelling is attached. The buildings are of slate stone, with red sandstone facings, and form an imposing structure, arranged with every convenience for educational purposes. St. Mary's Well gives name to two or three houses which stand near it. The principal landowners are the Duke of Devonshire and the Coward family. A ridge of hills runs through the township from north to south, giving the district a wild and very uninviting aspect. They belong to the Duke of Devonshire, and afford an almost inexhaustible supply of slate. The quarries, which give employment to about 800 men, have been more particularly described in a former page.

Post, Money Order Office, and Savings Bank at Mr. Thomas Barr's, Kirkby Sandside. Letters arrive via Carnforth at 5-50 a.m., and are despatched at 7-31 p.m.