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St Mary, Ulverston, Lancashire

(54°11′56″N, 3°5′29″W)
SD 2889 7868
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Lancashire
now Cumbria
medieval York
now Carlisle
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • James King
  • James King
20 May 2014, 09 April 2017

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Feature Sets

The church of St Mary is built with a long nave, chancel and W tower. Much of the church was rebuilt in 1804, with aisle walls rebuilt in 1864-6. The E bay of the chancel, which extends out from the E wall, was built in 1903-4. The W tower appears to be the result of rebuilding in 1540. All that remains from the Romanesque period is the S nave doorway, which has been rebuilt from an arch whose original location is unknown.


Ulverston is located on the Furness peninsula, which in the Domesday Book was recorded under Yorkshire. At that time, Ulverston, listed as a separate manor, was mentioned briefly, 'Thorulf. 6 carucates to the geld', with no reference to a church. Later, Furness became part of the Honour of Lancaster, which was given by King Henry I to Stephen (Count of Mortain and Boulogne, and later King of England). In 1127 Stephen gave Ulverston to his newly re-founded Savigniac Abbey of St Mary in Furness (previously established at Tulketh near Preston, Lancs. in 1124). The manor of Ulverston, held under the abbot of Furness, was part of the lands of William of Lancaster, possibly already owned by that family before 1127, which later passed to his heirs. The parish of Ulverston was located withing the archdeaconry of Richmond, in the diocese of York. The ownership of Ulverston by Furness Abbey, however, came into question in 1148 after the abbey at Savigny (mother house of Furness) became Cistercian and the abbot of Furness contested the transference of his own abbey to that order. After an investigation, led by the archbishop of Rouen, the decision went in Savigny's favour, causing Furness Abbey to become Cistercian. In 1127, Count Stephen of Mortain and Boulogne had actually given two grants, one to Furness Abbey and the other to that at Savigny, in which Ulverston had been included in each. In the early 1180s Ulverston's church was transferred to the canons of a new hospital at Conishead in Furness, which not long afterwards became an Augustinian priory (Lancs. Pipe Rolls, 356-8). This was confirmed by the archdeacon of Richmond between 1198 and 1208, at which time it was also stated that the monks of Furness had claimed that the church of Ulverston had belonged to the church of Urswick (in Furness) but had afterwards relinquished it (Lancs. Pipe Rolls, 362-4). In the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of 1291-2, the church of St Mary was assessed at £29. 6s. 8d.


Exterior Features



In his book on Ulverston in 1885, Charles Bordsley, vicar of Ulverston, listed the church as founded in 1111 (p. 36), but this is based on nothing more than 'tradition' (p. 43). Bordsley also suggested that some stones for building the church might have come from either Conishead Priory or Furness Abbey (p. 44) following the dissolution of the monasteries, but this is pure supposition on his part. He refers to dressed stones that can be seen re-used in the tower as freestone form Holker and red sandstone from Hawcoat. He makes no mention of the sources of the different coloured stones used in the doorway.

The earliest known document which specifically refers to a church at Ulverston seems to occur in the 2nd half of the 12thC.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications: or, England’s Patron Saints, 3 (London, 1899), 289.

C. Bardsley, Chronicles of the Town and Church of Ulverston (Ulverston, 1885).

W. Farrer, ed., Lancashire Inquests, Extents, and Feudal Aids. A.D. 1205 - A.D. 1307 (Liverpool , 1903), xi and 299.

W. Farrer, ed., The Lancashire Pipe Rolls of 31 Henry I., A.D. 1130, and of the Reigns of Henry II., A.D. 1155-1189; Richard I., A.D. 1189-1199; and King John, A.D. 1199-1216 (Liverpool, 1902).

W. Farrer, 'The Domesday Survey of North Lancashire and the Adjacent Parts of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Yorkshire', Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 18 (Manchester, 1901), 96-7.

Greenlane Archaeology Ltd., Ulverston Parish Church, Ulverston, Cumbria: Archaeological Watching Brief (Ulverston, 2008).

M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumbria (New Haven and London, 2010 reprinted with corrections 2014), 647-9.

R. O'Neill Pearson, 'The Dispute between the Abbots of Furness and Savigny in the light of twelfth century documents now at Paris', Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 8 (Kendal, 1908), 2-3 and 7 fn.

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

A. Williams and G. Martin, eds., Domesday Book (London, 2002), 796.