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St Michael and the Holy Angels, Pennington, Lancashire

(54°11′13″N, 3°7′56″W)
SD 262 774
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Lancashire
now Cumbria
medieval York
now Carlisle
  • James King
5 August 2015

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About 1810, W. Close, in an unpublished document, described the doorway of the old church at Pennington as: ‘the great doorway on the south is a circular arch with a cheveron or zig-zag moulding’. The nave and W tower of St Michael’s Church were re-built in 1826-7. Following this, in 1924-6, restorations were carried out and a polygonal chancel and S porch added. Stones carved with chevron have been built into the exterior of the S nave wall and inside the S porch. Also re-set inside the porch is a scalloped capital and a carved stone with foliate forms and shield-like motif. Built into a stone bench in the churchyard S of the church is a base, while inside the church is the upper section of an early grave cover and a carved tympanum. The tympanum was found in 1902 being used above a doorway of an outbuilding at Beckside Farm in Lopperworth, Pennington. It was subsequently moved into St Michael's Church.


Domesday Book records that Pennington (‘Penigetun’) was in ‘Hougun’ and that Tostig owned two carucates of land there. No other information is recorded about it. Gamel of Pennington is usually considered the first of the Pennington line, but information about this Gamel is illusive, which has led to much speculation and confusion. In 1774 West stated that Gamel flourished around the time of the Norman Conquest and that he had a son, also called Gamel. There seems to be no actual proof for this assertion, but Roger, archbishop of York (1154-1181), did confirm the grant by Gamel de Pennington of the churches of Pennington, Muncaster and Whitbeck to the Hospital of Conishead (which only later became a priory). It has been asserted that Conishead Hospital may have been founded around 1160. Sometime between 1180 and 1199 (probably about 1190), Benedict of Pennington, son of Gamel, confirmed the grant of the church of Muncaster and chapel of St Aldeburg to Conishead Hospital. Jocelyn of Pennington became abbot of Furness about 1181/1182 and may have been a brother of Benedict of Pennington. Benedict of ‘Penytona’, as well as Swift of ‘Penigtona’ endorsed a charter of Henry II sometime between 1157 and 1163. It is likely that this Benedict was the same one mentioned in the Pipe Roll of Henry II for 1186-7. Benedict of Pennington had a son named Alan, who succeeded him. Between 1198 and 1208 (probably in or about 1198), a dispute arose between the abbot of Furness and the prior of Conishead about their claims to the churches of Ulverston and Pennington (‘Penigtun’), churches said to belong to that of Urswick, which was owned by Furness Abbey. An agreement was reached through which Furness Abbey relinquished the two churches to Conishead Priory. In the Taxatio Ecclesiastic of 1291, ‘Ecclesia de Penigton’ was assessed at £5.6s.8d. In 1328, one William de Pennington made an agreement with the abbot of Furness concerning the demise in fee-farm of the manor of Pennington.

The peninsula of Furness, within which Pennington was located, seems to have been given to Roger the Poitevin during the 1090s, but this was taken from him in 1102. It remained in the hands of the Crown until the Honour of Lancaster was incorporated about 1114-16 and bestowed on Henry I’s nephew Stephen (later king). In 1127, Stephen moved his Savigniac foundation in Tulketh (founded 1124) to Barrow in Furness. By 1141, the Honour of Lancaster appears to have been in the hands of David, king of Scotland, but in 1149 he ceded it to Ranulf, earl of Chester. After Ranulf’s death, William, Earl of Warenne and son of King Stephen, took over the Honour through agreements in the Treaty of Wallingford. William died in France in 1159, but is has been suggested that the Honour may have formed part of his widow’s dower. By around 1164, however, it had reverted back to the Crown. In 1189, John, at that time Count of Mortain, was granted the Honour of Lancaster by his brother King Richard.


Exterior Features

Interior Features

Interior Decoration



Loose Sculpture


It is not unlikely that at least one of the chevron stones comes from the earlier S doorway with chevron, mentioned by Close in his notes. There is no mention of a tympanum, but it seems the notes were in some disarray and it is possible the part of the notes had disappeared by the time they were read. At what date the tympanum was moved to Beckside Farm does not appear to have been documented.

Little is known about Gamel and a wide range of theories have been put forward about him. It has been suggested, for example, that one of his sons was also called Gamel, even if there appears to be no proof of this. The Gamel referred to on the tympanum must surely refer to Gamel of Pennington, but which one? Some have even suggested that it refers to another Gamel of Pennington, supposedly active in the late 12thc, but the style of the carving on the tympanum appears to be earlier.

The figure with wings and cross carved behind his head has led previous writers to refer to the figure on the tympanum both as Christ and as an angel. A date for the tympanum seens unlikely to be after 1180. If it did come originally from St Michael's Church, Pennington, it is likely to be contemporary with the stones carved with chevron and therefore no earlier than about 1120. There is indeed a strong likelihood that the tympanum comes from St Michael's Church, as the site where the tympanum was found is only about one to two miles SW of the church. Nonetheless, there remains no definitive proof for its original setting. Whatever its origins, a stylistic date during the Romanesque period is certain.

Ryder described the upper section of grave cover now inside St Michael’s Church as possibly 12thc, a date which does seem likely. The grave slab was outside the church in 1930, but had previously been in the vestry, where it was used as part of a fireplace. A suggestion was put forward that the carved stone might have originated at Conishead Priory, but there is no apparent evidence to support this theory.

The two stones carved with chevron are similar (although only part of the face of that built into the S nave wall is now visible) and may therefore have been part of the same arch.

The stone in the porch carved with a beaded shield and foliate decoration is enigmatic. Its date and original use remain uncertain.


J. Atkinson (ed.), The Coucher Book of Furness Abbey, part 1 (Manchester, 1886), 90-91.

J. Atkinson (ed.), The Coucher Book of Furness Abbey, part 2 (Manchester, 1887), 499-500: no. CCCXI.

W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, 6 part 1 (London 1849), 556-8.

W. Farrer, The Lancashire Pipe Rolls, also Early Lancashire Charters of the Period from the reign of William Rufus to that of King John [check exact title] (Liverpool, 1902), 65; 302-3: fn.; 306-7: fn.; 310-14, Series IV: no. IX and fn.; 356-67, Series XII: fn for no. I, no. III and fn, no IV and fn, no V and fn, and no. VI and fn.; and 438 fn.

W. Farrer and J. Brownbill (eds), Victoria County History: A History of the County of Lancaster, 8 (London, 1914), 338-42.

M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumbria (New Haven and London, 2010), 21 and 564.

P. Kelly, ‘Excavations at Conishead Priory’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2nd series: 30 (Kendal, 1930), 162.

J. Nicolson and R. Burn, The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, 2 (London, 1777), 19-20.

P. Ryder, The Medieval Cross Slab Grave Covers in Cumbria, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra series: 32 (2005), 194.

J. Tait, Mediaeval Manchester and the Beginnings of Lancashire (Manchester, 1904), 161-76.

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

T. West, The Antiquities of Furness, new edn by W. Close (Ulverston, 1805 ), 216, 304-7 and 408.

A. Williams and G. Martin (eds), Domesday Book, a Complete Translation (London, 1992), 796.