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St Bridget, Brigham, Cumberland

(54°39′53″N, 3°25′6″W)
NY 086 309
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cumberland
now Cumbria
medieval York
now Carlisle
  • James King
  • James King
21 May 2014, 04 Oct 2016, 10 April 2017

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The basic layout of St Bridget's Church consists of a nave with S aisle, a rectangular chancel and a W tower. A number of loose, carved stones and the S nave arcade remain from the 12thc. The church appears to have been extended in the 13thc., and in the mid-14th century the S aisle was widened, at which time a chantry was founded within it. The S porch was probably added in the late-14thc., but after this no further information about the church building has been uncovered prior to the churchwardens’ accounts, which begin in 1709. The church was restored by Butterfield in 1863-76. During these works, evidence for a former E apse was found. In Calverley's Notes, published in 1899, he states that 'Of the Norman church some bits are kept in the chancel'. At present (2021), the stones are kept in the S aisle of the nave.


Domesday Book did not cover this part of England, but surviving carved stones appear to show that there was a religious site in Brigham at least as early as the 10th century, and possibly as early as the 8th century. King William II went into Cumbria in 1092, when he claimed Carlisle and ordered that a castle be built there. It is not certain when Ranulf Meschin was entrusted with Cumbria, but it appears to have been confirmed about 1106 by King Henry I. In 1122 Ranulf, having succeeded to the earldom of Chester, surrendered Cumbria to Henry I, under the condition that the feoffees should hold their land in capite of the crown. King Henry, in turn, granted Allerdale above Derwent (i.e. Allerdale south of the Derwent) to William Meschin, brother of Ranulf. This new barony of Copeland became known as the barony of Egremont. William sub-granted a section of this, between the rivers Cocker and Derwent, to Waldeve (Waltheof) lord of Allerdale below Derwent (i.e. Allerdale north of the Derwent), son of Gospatric. It is this area between the two rivers that became the Honour of Cockermouth, which contained the vills of Brigham, Easlesfield, Dean (with Branthwaite), Greysouthen, and the two Cliftons (with Stainburn), all of which lay within the diocese of York. The Honour of Cockermouth continued to be dependent on the barony of Egremont rather than on that of Allerdale below Derwent. Waltheof gave Brigham, with the advowson (advocatione) of the church to Dolfin, son of Ailward, who had married a sister of Waldeve named Matilda. In 1136, King David I of Scotland recovered this part of Cumbria, which remained under Scottish control until 1157, at which time King Henry II of England took back possession of it. After Waldeve died, his lands went to his son Alan, who died without living issue. This meant that the lands passed to William fitz Duncan, who seems to have been Watheof's grandson. William fitz Duncan is said to have died before or about 1157, at which time the estate passed to his widow, Alice, heiress of Copeland.

In the Register of the Priory of St Bees (nos. 77, 79, 83 and 100), Thomas and Waltheof, parsons/clerics (persona, clerico) of Brigham are found as witnesses to documents dating from the second half of the 12thc., at least one of which can be dated to the period between 1178 and 1184. In later references to clerics of Brigham, they are usually, though not exclusively, referred to as rectors. In the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of about 1291, the church of Brigham was rated at £80, one of the highest taxes listed in Cumberland. In 1437 the patronage of the church of Brigham was given to the collegiate church of Staindrop, but in 1579, the Bishop of Carlisle assumed it.


Interior Features





Loose Sculpture


Fletcher is the main source of information for many later articles. He suggested a date of about 1080 for the first Norman church, along with a proprosal that this early church had a N nave aisle. He also thought that a date of about 1150 was about right for the S nave arcade. These dates are entirely his own opinion and not based on historical sources, though they are often repeated elsewhere as fact. According to Fletcher, the apse arch had been decorated ‘with chevron and other mouldings’, which he judged from the various carved stones that were found. Unfortunately, he does not specify if the carved stones were found in the apse area. He also wrote that only one of the S arcade capitals was entirely preserved, the others ‘having had their lower volutes cut away’. There is, however, no obvious physical evidence to support this claim.

The carved Chequer Ornament is not particularly common in Romanesque architecture. In Cumbria, it can be found on the tympanum of the S doorway at Bromfield, on a capital at Kirkbampton and on an impost at Torpenhow. The use on a chequered, facetted voussoir is less common, but surviving examples do appear elsewhere in the region: at St Cuthbert's Church, Plumbland and at St Mary's Church, Kirby Lonsdale. Certain other decorated stones at Brigham find similarities with the carved work at Kirby Lonsdale. The cushion capital with meander, for example, is best compared with decoration on capitals of the N nave arcade of Kirby Lonsdale. As well, the voussoir carved with coffered lozenges finds a striking parallel with one of the archivolts of the W doorway there.

Some of the waterleaf arcade capitals have forms that are distinct and comparable to certain others in Cumbria. The plain discs instead of volutes at the ends of leaves, along with a lower double circle between the leaves, can be found at such places as St Bees Priory and Furness Abbey. The Brigham capital with layers of waterleaf and broadleaf on the corners is a very unusual type. Capitals on the S doorway of St Mungo's Church, Dearham (not far north of Brigham) are stylistically related and are equally idiosyncratic.

Fletcher proposed a date of about 1250 for the distinctive baptismal font, but this date is somewhat difficult to support when compared with other 13thc. fonts. The Buildings of England have even suggested a possible 17thc. date. The upper bowl, of octagonal shape with cushion shaped faces is reminiscent of the 12c. baptismal font at nearby Workington, which also has a recessed circular inner bowl. The lower fluting on the Brigham font, however, suggests that it may be somewhat later than that at Workington. Fluted baptismal fonts of the second half of the 12thc. occur at various places in England as, for example, St Nicholas' Church, Great Kimble (Bucks.) and St Peter's Church, Dunstable (Beds.). Within Cumbria, fluting is not common. It appears on capitals of the W doorway of Kirby Lonsdale and the S doorway of Dearham, both of which have been compared above with Brigham. A date in the late-12thc. should not be discounted as a possibility for the Brigham font.


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T. Bulmer, History, Topography, and Directory of Cumberland (Penrith, 1901), 677-9.

W. Calverley, Notes on the Early Sculptured Crosses, Shrines and Monuments in the Present Diocese of Carlisle, Ed. W. Collingwood for the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra series: 11 (Kendal, 1899), 72-9.

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