Anyone entering Barton Church is likely to sense its long history. The visitor may even feel that, as T. S. Eliot says in Little Gidding:
You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
And prayer is more
Than an order of words,
… the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
While the fabric of Barton Church is Norman, there are clearly mediaeval, renaissance and modern contributions.
However the site, a mound within a circular boundary wall, may be both man-made and prehistoric. It lies between the ancient British stronghold of Dunmallet, the ceremonial avenue on Moor Divock, with its stone circle and burial chambers, and the twin bronze age ‘henges’at Eamont Bridge, known as Arthur’s Round Table and Mayburgh Henge. There are springs to the East, and a well to the west, known as Michaell Well. As the Reverend Gordon Scott suggested in 1978,
‘The building of the church here may have been prompted by an early mediaeval tradition of preaching and baptism among the Britons by a Celtic mission, possibly connected with St Patrick or St Kentigern“.
A dedication to the all-conquering St Michael often implies a pagan site that has been Christianised: the stained glass of the west window depicts him slaying a demonic presence. But the Archangel Michael was also commander of the heavenly host, and this church may be dedicated to him for that reason.
The tower may have been built partly to provide defence during border raids, serving as an additional Pele Tower, like Dacre Castle and Yanwath Hall. Cumbria changed hands between England and Scotland many times in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries and such towns as Penrith and Appleby were invaded and sacked even in the 13th and 14th centuries. The nature of the original tower can be glimpsed in its arrow-slit south window, which was an external window for over a century.
Approximate date of foundation when the nave, the tower and a smaller chancel were built in the Norman style. The ancient parish included the whole of Eamont Bridge, Tirril, Sockbridge, Pooley Bridge, Martindale and Patterdale.
First written reference contained in an agreement about the use of a mill pond at Barton.
South aisle of arcade built.
North aisle of arcade built.
Lancaster chapel built probably as a chantry.
The monastic connection
The Church is given by Sir John de Lancastre to the care of the Augustinian canons of Warter Priory near York
The Chancel is rebuilt and extended, and to improve access to it, the Norman arch in the tower is widened to give its present appearance.
At the dissolution of the monasteries, the Church was granted to the Earl of Rutland. The present patron are the Bishop of Carlisle and the Earl of Lonsdale.
Efforts by Individuals
Presentation of a silver chalice.
First vicarage built by Lancelot Dawes. Now Barton Church Farm.
Foundation of a Grammar School between Barton and Pooley Bridge by Gerrard Langbaine and others.
Two bells inscribed ‘St. Mikhaell for Barton’.
The parish register begins.
Pewter flagon presented.
Vicar’s stipend was £5 per year with the right to allow his goose to feed on the common; the privilege of free accommodation, called ‘whitt legit’, at any house in the parish for a week at a time; and a shirt of coarse linen.
The nave roof needed re-thatching and ended up being slated for the first time.
“In the Chancel there is not one window with glass in it. Only a few years ago, hounds actually killed a hare in it.”
Second vicarage built.
Patterdale became a separate parish.
Martindale became a separate parish.
The Church was extensively restored. The stonework was pointed in its present style.
Pooley Bridge became a separate parish.
Construction of vestry on site of coach house and stabling.
Eamont Bridge transferred to Clifton parish.
Treatment against death watch beetle in roof timbers.
New heating system installed.
Work begins on re-pointing the church