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St Mary, Gosforth, Cumberland

(54°25′6″N, 3°25′53″W)
Gosforth (see also Whitehaven Museum)
NY 072 035
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cumberland
now Cumbria
medieval York
now Carlisle
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • James King
20 May 2014, 07 Aug 2015, 20 Aug 2018

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Gosforth is a village in Cumbria, situated between Whitehaven and Barrow-in-Furness. The church of St Mary has a long history and is well-known for its early standing cross. It has a complex post-medieval history. In 1654 a bell turret was added to a church consisting of a simple nave and chancel with walls of about eleven feet. At that time the church was thatched. In 1759 the south wall of the nave was rebuilt, and the pointed north doorway of the chancel walled up. However, in 1789 the church underwent considerable alterations, the walls heightened and a porch built off the western end. Subsequently, in 1858 the chancel was lengthened and a north transept built. At this time the north doorway of the chancel was re-discovered and opened up, revealing a number of re-used carved fragments. In 1879, the vestry was enlarged, but in 1896-9 the church was largely rebuilt. Some carved stonework from the 12th-century church survives, particularly the lower part of the chancel arch, and a blocked south doorway. There is also an incised stone with incised cross at the east end of the north nave aisle, as well as a section of impost or stringcourse decorated with rosettes in beaded circles. Another head of a cross found at St Mary’s is now in the museum in Whitehaven (See Whitehaven, Beacon Museum). Further stones have been re-used in the walling of a structure in the NE corner of the churchyard. This part of Cumberland became part of the diocese of Carlisle in 1856.


Domesday Book does not cover this part of Cumbria. Gosforth (previously called ‘Gosford’ and ‘Goseford’) appears, from the numerous surviving carved stones, to have had a pre-Conquest church. In the 12th century, Gosforth became part of the barony of Egremont, established about 1120 by William le Meschin. After he died, in the 1130s, his wife, Alice de Romilly, married William fitz Duncan, nephew of King David of Scotland. King David gained control of Cumberland in 1136. The church of Gosforth was given to St Bees Priory by William de Romilly, grandson of William de Meschin who appears to have died in the 1160s. This was subsequently confirmed by his sister Cecily, Countess of Albemarle and Roger, Archbishop of York (1154-81). King Henry II took Cumberland back into his control in 1157. ‘Jordano cleric de Gosford’ witnessed a grant made by Clement, abbot of St Mary’s Abbey, York (1161-84). The chief local family of Gosforth took the name ‘de Gosford’, but the earliest person of this family in Gosforth is not certain. The first of a family of falconers of Gosforth listed in the Register of the Priory of St Bees was ‘Galfrido fol[canario] de Gosford’, who was active in the first half of the 13th century. The last of the male line of the ‘de Gosford’ family was Robert de Gosford, who died before 1316, when an inquisition of his estate took place, his five daughters subsequently inheriting. There is uncertainty about how the falconers of Gosford are related to the main ‘de Gosford’ family, if at all. William Pennington, of Muncaster, died in 1334, and was seized of the advowson of Gosforth church. Thereafter, it seems to have been vested in the crown until 1552, when King Edward VI granted it to Fergus Greyme. In the Taxatio Ecclesiastica, the 1291-2, the ‘Ecclesia de Goseford’ is assessed at £20.0s.0d.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Interior Decoration

Loose Sculpture


Thurlby suggested comparisons between carved Romanesque work at Gosforth and that in the church of Kirkby Lonsdale.

The two chevron voussoirs, now built into the storage structure, were mentioned in Parker's article published in 1883. Both chevrons have the same profile and may therefore have come from the same arch. The structure, itself, seems to have been built after this, as two voussoirs carved with chevron appear to have been lying loose at the time. In 1903, Parker's article referred to two chevron voussoirs as 'in the churchyard wall'. Only two chevron voussoirs were found on site in 2018, both built into the structure.

It has been suggested that the stone carved with rosettes may have once formed part of an arch (Parker, 1902). One should also consider the possibility of it having formed part of an impost (compare, for example, imposts on the monk's doorway of Ely Cathedral).

The use of chevron points to a post-1120 date for the Romanesque church of Gosforth, while documentary evidence seems to suggest a date no later than the 1160s.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications: or, England’s Patron Saints, vol. 3, London 1899, 133.

W. Calverley, Notes on the Early Sculptured Crosses, Shrines and Monuments in the present Diocese of Carlisle, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra series: 11 (Kendal, 1899),

J. Campbell, A Study of Stone Sculpture in Cumberland and Westmorland c.1092-1153 within a historical context, unpublished PhD thesis (University of Edinburgh, 2008).

W. Hutchinson, The History of the County of Cumberland, 1 (Carlisle, 1794), 583-4.

M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumbria (New Haven and London, 2010), 367-9.

W. Jackson, ‘A Sketch of the History of Egremont Castle’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, series 1: 6 (Kendal, 1883), 150-62.

C. Parker, “Notes on Gosforth Church and Churchyard, and on Sculptured Fragments there”, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 6 (Kendal, 1883), 405-12.

C. Parker, “Early Sculptured Stones at Gosforth, Ponsonby, St. Bridget’s, Haile and Egremont”, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, second series: 2 (Kendal, 1902), 84-98.

C. Parker, ‘Gosforth Registers’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, series 1: 8 (Kendal, 1886), 70-81.

C. Parker, ‘Gosforth Hall’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, series 2: 3 (Kendal, 1903), 227-239.

P. Ryder, The Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in Cumbria, Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archeological Society, extra series: 32 (Kendal, 2005), 82.

The Surtees Society, The Register of the Priory of St. Bees (Durham and London, 1915).

Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae Auctorite P. Nicholai IV. circa A.D. 1291 (London 1802).

N. Thompson, “Gosforth in the Chartulary of St. Bees”, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, series 2: 2 (Kendal, 1901), 307-21.

M. Thurlby, “Romanesque Architecture and Architectural Sculpture in the Diocese of Carlisle”, British Archaeological Transactions: Carlisle and Cumbria, 27 (Leeds, 2004), 269-84.