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St Michael, Bowness-on-Solway, Cumberland

(54°57′10″N, 3°12′47″W)
NY 224 627
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cumberland
now Cumbria
medieval Carlisle
now Carlisle
  • James King
  • Leslie Milner
01 September 2015

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Bowness-on-Solway is a small on the Solway Firth village about 13 miles NW of Carlisle. The church lies to the S of the village and its fabric appears to include re-used Roman stones. The structure consists of a rectangular building under a single roof, which covers both the chancel and the nave. There are also a S porch and a W bell turret. Repairs were undertaken in the 18thc and there was extensive restoration work carried out in 1891, at which time a number of changes were made to the church, including the addition of a N transept. A watercolour sketch inside the church shows the building before changes were made. Surviving Romanesque sculpture is found on the S and N doorways, on the E and N windows and, inside the church, there is also a Romanesque baptismal font with carved decoration.


Domesday Book does not cover this part of England. Bowness (formerly written ‘Boulness’) was a dependent manor of the barony of Burgh. One of the first barons of Burgh granted the manor of Bowness to Gamel de Brun. The church was rectorial and the advowson of it was an appendage to the manor. It fell within the deanery of Carlise. In the taxatio of 1291/92, the church of Bowness (‘Bounes’) was valued at £30.0s.0d.


Exterior Features


Interior Features

Interior Decoration




Wilson stated that the church and baptismal font are Norman; he also said that it should be compared with the font at Crosby-on-Eden. But, except for the general shape with angled corners, there is nothing else to connect the two. The carving at Crosby has no carved decorations. Tradition states that the bowl of the font at Bowness was dug up at the beginning of the 19thc. In 1808, it was to be found in a garden near the church and subsequently moved to yet another garden, where it was used as a flower pot. From there, in 1848, it was moved into the church and set up on a new support and base.

The basketwork carved on the bowl can be compared with that on a loose capital found on the site of Carlisle Priory, with beaded strands but without interspaced decoration. The interspaced motifs found on the font at Bowness - of two forms: nailhead and round nob - are not dissimilar to those found on the side edges of the font at Kirkbride, which is about 3.5 miles S of Bowness.

Similarities between the font and other carved work in the church include the use of nailhead. The long stems with concave leaves find parallels with the N doorway capitals, despite the fact that the foliate forms are not identical. A late-12thc date for both the church and the baptismal font seems likely.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications: or, England’s Patron Saints, vol. 3, London 1899, 59.

J. Cox, County Churches: Cumberland and Westmorland, London 1913, 52-3.

T. Graham, ‘Bowness-on-Solway’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 28 (1928), 167-78.

W. Hutchinson, The History of the County of Cumberland, vol. 2, Carlisle 1794, 484-95.

D. Lysons, and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. 4, London 1816, CXCIV, 30-31, 177.

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

W. Whellan, The History and Topography of the Counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, Pontefract 1860, 149-50.

J. Wilson, ‘The Baptismal Fonts in the Rural Deanery of Carlisle, N.’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 10 (1889), 229-43.