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St Bridget, Bridekirk, Cumberland

(54°41′26″N, 3°22′16″W)
NY 117 337
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cumberland
now Cumbria
medieval Carlisle
now Carlisle
medieval St Briget
now St Bridget
  • James King
19 May 2014, 04 October 2016

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Bridekirk is a small town about two miles N of Derwent, and the church lies to the N of the town. The building was constructed about 1870 in Neo-Romanesque style, incorporating parts of the previous church, the ruins of which survive E of the present structure. The re-used Romanesque sections include two doorways and the chancel arch from the 12th-c building. The E doorway of the S transept and the S doorway of the nave consist of decorated arches, abaci, shafts and bases. The S doorway also has a carved tympanum. The original chancel arch, with capitals and bases, is positioned around an organ in the N transept. A Romanesque font also lies close to the W wall inside the church. Two loose fragments, of uncertain date, are preserved in the nave: a small length of cable moulding and a section of panel carved with a crowned figure. There is also the head of an Anglo-Saxon cross. Outside the E apse, a number of carved grave covers have been placed against the exterior wall of the church. Lying loose within the ruins of the medieval chancel E of the 19th-c church is a scallop capital carved for an attached corner shaft.


The Anglo-Saxon cross head at the church, along with the dedication to St. Bridget would appear to indicate that Bridekirk was a religious site before the Conquest. Domesday Book does not cover this part of the country, and the earliest surviving Pipe Roll, dating from 1130, is concerned with Carlisle and not with the rest of Cumberland. Bridekirk is located within Allerdale, whose lord in the late 11thc was Waltheof/Waldeve, son of Gospatric. Waltheof (d. c. 1138) managed to hold his lands after the Normans invaded and appears to have been enfeoffed to him by Ranulph Meschin, who held all of Cumbria through the crown. After Ranulph Meschin became Earl of Chester following the White Ship disaster of 1120, his brother William seems to have sub-granted a thin section of land in Copeland to Waltheof, which was to become the honour of Cockermouth. The church and manor at Bridekirk were given by Waltheof to Guisborough Abbey (Yorkshire), founded 1119-24. Dugdale stated that the gift of Bridekirk church was done by ‘Aelicia Rumely’, daughter of William fitz Duncan (lord of Egremont), but he appears to be alone in stating this. Nicolson and Burn (1757) stated that it was Waltheof who made the gift, and that Alice de Romeley confirmed it. Waltheof seems to initially have had his seat in Papcastle, but moved it later to Cockermouth. Waltheof’s son Alan (d. c. 1150) succeeded as lord of Allerdale when his father died. In the taxatio of Pope Nicholas IV of 1291-2, the church of Bridekirk (spelled ‘Bricekirk’ in 1802 transcription) was assessed at £60.0s.0d. After the Reformation, the manor of Bridekirk was granted to Henry Tolson by Henry VIII. The vicarage was presented to George Elletson by Queen Mary in 1553, but a year following this she sold the advowson and right of patronage of the vicarage of the church to George Catton and William Manne of London.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches




Loose Sculpture


The three Romanesque arches are typical of many in small 12thc churches in Cumbria. Two features do stand out, however, the decorated left shaft of the S doorway and the unusual triangular claw motifs on the bases of the interior chancel arch and S doorway. The latter can be found elsewhere in the region at Isel (chancel arch and S doorway) and at Torpenhow (S doorway). All three doorways use both light brown and red sandstone and were within the territory controlled by Waltheof and his successors.

The tympanum appears to have been cut down at some point in the past and is extremely worn. Unlike the other carved stones re-used in the church, which are of a light brown sandstone, the tympanum is carved from a red sandstone. It is difficult to be precise about its date but there seems no reason to suggest that it different from the rest of the doorway. Carved tympana are not unusual in Cumbria, examples of which can be found at Kirkbampton and Bromfield.

The font is exceptional in quality and unique in design and composition. It stands as a rare and remarkable piece of Romanesque sculpture and a fortunate survival. There is no comparable sculpture in stone in Cumbria. Camden (late-16th or early-17thc) says that the baptismal font was found in the ruins of Papcastle and taken to Bridekirk. A letter to William Dugdale in 1681 (or 1685) confirms that it was in Bridekirk by this date. Nicolson and Burn (1757) re-stated Camden’s statement that the font had been found in Papcastle. In 1899, Calverley suggested that the baptismal font dated to the 2nd half of the 12thc and suggested Italian influence. Cox accepted a date of 1120-80 and Zarnecki proposed the 3rd quarter of the 12thc, while Campbell offered a date in the 3rd or 4th decades. She also said that there were a variety of sources for the carving found on the four sides of the font, but that there was no evidence for direct connections with Italian works.

Thurlby makes stylistic comparisons between the Romanesque features of the church at Bridekirk and Carlisle Cathedral. A priory was established at Carlisle in 1122 and the cathedral in 1133. Bridekirk was within the diocese of Carlisle, but before 1133 it seems to have been in the diocese of either York or Durham.

Dates in either the 2nd or 3rd quarters of the 12thc for both the church and the baptismal font seem most likely.

Butler gives a late-12thc date for the grave cover and Ryder repeats it.

The stone carved with the crowned figure is difficult to date.


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications: or, England’s Patron Saints, vol. 3, London 1899, 64, 344.

F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers, London 1985, 107.

W. Browne, ‘Bridekirk, and its Registers’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 4 (Kendal 1880), 257-79.

T. Bulmer, History, Topography, and Directory of Cumberland, Preston 1901, 675-7.

L. Butler, ‘Some early Northern Grave Covers - A Reassessment’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th ser., 36, Gateshead 1958, 207-20.

W. Calverley, Notes on the Early Sculptured Crosses, Shrines and Monuments in the Present Diocese of Carlisle, Kendal 1899, 60-71, 289.

W. Calverley, ‘Tympanum at Bridekirk Church’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 12, Kendal 1893, 463-9.

W. Camden, Britain, or a Chorographical Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, trans. P. Holland, London 1610, 768.

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, 54-6.

R. Cramp and R. Bailey, The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture, vol. 2, Oxford 1988.

W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, vol. 1, London 1718, 259.

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

W. Hutchinson, The History of the County of Cumberland, vol. 1, Carlisle 1794, 81-6.

M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumbria, New Haven and London 2010, 183-5.

J. Nicolson and R. Burn, The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, vol. 2, London 1777, 70, 98-106, 294, 530.

P. Ryder, 'The Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in Cumbria', Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra series, 32 (2005), 116-8.

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

W. Thompson, The Register of John de Halton, Bishop of Carlisle, A.D. 1292-1324: Diocese of Carlisle, vol. 1, London 1913, 162, 222-3, 247-8, 284, 291.

M. Thurlby, ‘Romanesque Architecture and Architectural Sculpture in the Diocese of Carlisle’, Carlisle and Cumbria, British Archaeological Transactions, 27 (2004), 274.

E. Venables, ‘The Dedications of the Parochial Churches and Chapels of the Modern Diocese of Carlise’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 7 (1884), 123, 140.

J. Wilson, ed., The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Cumberland, vol. 1, London 1901, 276, 280.

A. Winchester, ‘Early Estate Structures in Cumbria and Lancashire’, Medieval Settlement Research, 23 (2008), 14-21.

G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210, London 1953, 59.