Faith in the valley

Borrowdale has a long history of Christianity, which began in the 7th century when St Herbert came to live on the island on Derwentwater that now bears his name.

In medieval times, the whole area was under monastic influence. The land was drained and cultivated for sheep pasture, as wool was a primary product of the abbeys up to the time they were ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII in the 1530s. Nowadays, Borrowdale has a thriving Christian community with three churches serving the valley.

Monastic times

In medieval times the great Cistercian abbeys of Furness and Fountains owned land in the valley up to 15367, when the land reverted to the Crown.  Borrowdale (from Sty Head to Derwentwater) belonged to Furness Abbey while Langstrath, Stonethwaite and Watendlath were managed by Fountains Abbey.   Under these monastic influences, the lands of Borrowdale were drained and cultivated and much was converted to grassland for sheep pasture.  Wool was the main product of sheep farming and a woollen mill is believed to have existed at Watendlath in medieval times).  The monks also grew barley, oats and rye and stored their grain in a ‘grangia’, thus giving the village of Grange its name.

It is likely that the monks also caught fish from the lake, produced salt from the saline waters at Manesty and mined for minerals on the surrounding fells.  In addition, Fountains Abbey ran a successful dairy farm (or vaccary) at Stonethwaite and smelted iron ore on Smithy Island.

St Andrew’s Church

Up to the 1680s, the parishioners of Borrowdale had to travel nearly 5 miles to Crosthwaite Church in Keswick for services.  The chapel of St Andrew’s was built in 1687 as a ‘chapel of ease’ to save them having to make this journey, but it wasn’t until 1765 that the church was granted a churchyard to relieve parishioners of the ‘great inconvenience, labour and expense’ of carrying the dead to Crosthwaite.  There are memorials here to Sarah Yewdale (the ‘Queen of Borrowdale’), Bob Graham (holder of many fell-running records) and Margaret Heathcote (builder of Holy Trinity Church).

Sarah Youdale (1768/9−1869), the Queen of Borrowdale, lived to be over 100 years old.  She only ever left the valley once and that was to go to Whitehaven.  She lived a self-sufficient lifestyle − making her own clothes, curing meat for the winter and always attending church every Sunday.

Joss Harry of Watendlath also never missed a service at St Andrew’s.  Whatever the weather, he and his dog walked over the fell from Watendlath every Sunday.  When the old man died, it is said that the dog continued to walk to the church for several Sundays afterwards.

Holy Trinity Church

As a young girl, Margaret Heathcote stood on Grange Bridge in 1819 and commented on how good it would be to have a church in the village.  Over the next 40 years she began to fulfil her dream by raising enough money to build Holy Trinity Church (consecrated in 1861).  The church is built out of green Lakeland slate and has an attractive interior with dog-tooth moulding on the ceiling and hand-painted boards on the Ten Commandments, said to have been painted by Margaret herself.  And, if you visit the Borrowdale Gates Hotel, you will be in the very house that Margaret built as her residence and where she had her own private chapel and ran a school for local children.

The original bell at Holy Trinity Church was said to have been made of glass!  This was replaced by one of iron, but its sound was so tuneless that in exasperation a third bell was given to the church by a neighbour.

Wesleyan Chapel

Like many rural and isolated valleys, Borrowdale was a focus for Non-Conformist worship and became part of the Keswick and Cockermouth Methodist circuit.  From 1847, services were held in local houses until the Wesleyan Chapel was built next to the river in 1893.  Kenneth Robinson of Troutdale was organist here from the age of 14 up to 2 weeks before he died at 78.

Nowadays, the Methodist and Anglican churches worship and work together for the common good of the valley.

Emmie Mounsey of Grange remembers . . .

Grange Methodist Church has always been an important part of my life since I came to live here in 1956. There was no heating in the church, just an old stove in the back that we used to roast chestnuts on.  We had a very good congregation in those days with two services on Sundays. Local preachers came from all over the circuit and I remember some very lengthy sermons. In recent times, membership of the church has dwindled away and I am the only Wesleyan left in the village.

Every year thousands of people visit our churches, and many leave requests for prayers. In the frenetic world in which we live today, our churches provide places for peace and tranquillity. All the churches in Borrowdale are open every day throughout the year and used regularly for worship.

For times of services, see www.upperderwent.org.uk, church noticeboards, church magazine or Kesmail.

We warmly welcome enquiries about weddings and other special occasions (www.yourchurchwedding.org).

Borrowdale Church of England Primary School is next door to St Andrew’s Church and welcomes all enquiries. Telephone 017687 77686 or see www.borrowdale.cumbria.sch.uk.

St Andrew’s Church
Stonethwaite
Rev Charles Hope 017687 75855 or email: charleshope@btopenworld.com

Holy Trinity Church
Grange-in-Borrowdale
Rev Charles Hope 017687 75855 or email: charleshope@btopenworld.com

Wesleyan Chapel
Grange-in-Borrowdale
Reverend Jennet McCleod
Tel: 017687 72379

For information on where to find churches in your local area, go to www.achurchnearyou.com.