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St Michael and All Saints, Isel, Cumberland

(54°41′15″N, 3°18′5″W)
NY 162 333
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cumberland
now Cumbria
medieval Carlisle
now Carlisle
  • James King
21 May 2014

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The church at Isel consists of a rectangular chancel and nave. There is a S porch and a W bell turret. The church building is primarily of Romanesque, with later medieval changes, such as the 15thc window in the S wall of the chancel. In 1878, the church was restored. Romanesque features include the chancel arch, S doorway and a fragment of roll moulding built into an interior wall of the porch.


The manor of Isel was originally a demesne of Allerdale. The lord of Allerdale in the late 11thc was Waltheof, son of Gospatric, who managed to hold onto his lands after the Normans arrived in Cumbria. Waltheof’s son, Alan, succeeded to the barony after his father died, probably about 1138. In the 12thc, Alan granted the manor of Isel to Ranulph de Engayne. The church was given to the prior and convent of Hexham Priory sometime before 1362, as the prior and convent of Hexham established their title to the living of the church at Isel (‘Isale’) before Gilbert de Welton, bishop of Carlisle (1353-62). In 1559, Elizabeth I granted the advowson and right of patronage and all rectorial rights to Thomas Leigh, lord of the manor. Later, it passed to the Lawson family.

In the 1291/92 taxatio, the church at Isel (‘Issal’) was valued at £22, 14s, 0d.


Exterior Features



Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Thurlby compared the carved work at Isel with that at Carlisle Cathedral and the chevron with Corbridge, which belonged to Carlisle Cathedral. A lack of a close comparison between the chevron at Carlisle and that at Isel led him to suggest a possible lost source at the cathedral. Campbell also suggested a comparison with the earliest surviving capitals in the cathedral. A priory on the cathedral site in Carlisle was founded in 1122 and the cathedral established in 1133.

A religious site earlier than the Norman settlement in Isel is also confirmed by the Anglo-Saxon stones surviving. The likelihood is that the Romanesque church replaced whatever was there. A date for the church at Isel in either the 2nd or 3rd quarters of the 12thc is likely.

The base type with raised claw-like triangles can be found also at Bridekirk and Torpenhow.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications: or, England’s Patron Saints, Vol. 3, London 1899, 164.

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.

J. Cox, County Churches: Cumberland and Westmorland, London 1913, 96-7.

J. Curwen, ‘Isel Hall’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 2nd series, 11 (1911), 122-8.

T. Graham, ‘Allerdale’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 32 (1932), 28-37.

W. Hutchinson, The History of the County of Cumberland, Vol. 2, Carlisle 1794, 239-43.

M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumbria, New Haven and London 2010, 423-4.

J. Nicolson and R. Burn, The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, Vol. 2, London 1777, 95-98.

J. Raine, The Priory of Hexham: Its title deed, black book, etc., Vol. 2, Surtees Society publications 46, Durham 1865, no. XLIX, 142-3.

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

M. Thurlby, “Romanesque Architecture and Architectural Sculpture in the Diocese of Carlisle”, Carlisle and Cumbria: Roman and Medieval Architecture, Art and Archaeology, British Archaeological Association conference transactions 27, Leeds 2004, 269-84.

W. Whellan, The History and Topography of the Counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, Pontefract 1860, 362-3.