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Upper Denton (also called: Over Denton), Cumberland

(54°58′57″N, 2°36′5″W)
Upper Denton/ Over Denton
NY 616 655
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Cumberland
now Cumbria
medieval Durham
now Carlisle
medieval unknown
now none
  • James King
08 April 2017

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Upper Denton is located on the old Roman Stanegate, which ran from Corbridge (Coria) to Carlisle (Luguvalium). The church of Upper Denton is located about 0.6miles S of Birdoswald Roman fort.

The church consists of chancel, nave and belfry. In the 18thc, the W wall of the nave and the bellcote were rebuilt. The church was later restored in 1881 and again in the 1930s. It has been redundant since the late 1970s. The earliest carved features in the church are the chancel arch, the S doorway of the nave and one window on the N side of the nave.


Upper Denton was located in the old barony of Gilsland, which was not covered in Domesday Book. Hugh Puiset (bishop of Durham 1154-95) appropriated the church of Over Denton and the church remained in the diocese of Durham until long after the Reformation. The advowson of the church was given to the Priory of Lanercost by David son of Terri and Robert son of Asketill, and confirmed by Robert de Vallibus and Hugh Puiset. Land in Denton was also given to Lanercost Priory at or around its foundation (1169) by David son of ‘Terreci’, by Robert son of ‘Asketilli’ and by Robert son of Bueth. Robert son of Asketill was also one of the witnesses of the 1169 foundation charter for the priory. This was then confirmed by Pope Alexander III in 1181. The Taxatio Ecclesiastica for 1291-2 assessed Upper Denton for tax as £5.11s.0d. But in 1318, a tax return stated that it was ‘Vastata et penitus destructa’ and therefore of no value. It does not appear in the valuation of Henry VIII and it has been suggested that the church may have been largely abandoned from the 14thc and only returned to service later. The first jurisdiction over the church by the bishop of Carlisle dates from the 18thc.


Exterior Features



Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

In medieval times, Upper Denton was part of the diocese of Durham, located within Northumberland. It has been said that only at a post-Reformation date did Upper Denton became part of Cumberland. There is, however, some disagreement about this and about when it became part of Gillsland, the latter so as Upper Denton is listed in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica as ‘Denton in Gillesland Rectoria’.

Due to its proximity to Birdoswald Roman fort, it is believed that much of the stone for the church is, in fact, re-used Roman, Birdoswald being thought to be the probable source. Differing dates for the church have been suggested, but most recent scholars suggest early-12thc. Cox conjectured it was pre-Norman, but he never actually visited the church. The S doorway has a unique form and it is difficult to find a parallel for it.


J. Cox, County Churches: Cumberland and Westmorland, London 1913, 14-15 and fn., and 80.

R. Fergusson (ed.), J. Denton, An Accompt of the most Considerable Estates and Families in the County of Cumberland, Kendal 1887, 139-40.

C. Ferguson, ‘Over Denton Church’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 1st Series: 3, Kendal 1878, 157-66.

W. Hutchinson, The History of the County of Cumberland, 1, Carlisle 1794, 144-8.

M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumbria, New Haven and London 2010, 333-4.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland, Harmondsworth 1967, 121.

J. Prescott (ed.), The Register of the Priory of Wetheral, London 1897, 31: no. 11 fn. 26; 73-74: fn. 3.

M. Snape (ed.), English Episcopal Acta: Durham 1153-1195, Oxford 2002, 77: no. 89.

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, 675.

J. Wilson (ed.), The Victoria History of the County of Cumberland, 2, Haymarket 1905, 116 and fns.