St Mary, Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland

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Feature Sets (3)


Kirkby Lonsdale is not unusual in north-west England for its great width, as the larger parishes of the 14thc. led to a need for extra aisles. What is unusual is the scale of its earlier, pre-Perpendicular work. The church has a very showy aisled 13thc. choir with an E counter-facade of rich Early English ornament. This is still out-done by the Romanesque work, with its three full-length arcades in a clean rectangle. The earliest section is the N arcade which clearly echoes Durham Cathedral at some remove. The later S arcade is Transitional late Romanesque, and probably goes with the priest's door preserved in the S aisle of the current chancel. The major W portal and S doorway are mid- to late 12thc..

The church has been much altered: a 16thc. clerestory above the Romanesque arcades has been added and removed, meaning the walls above the Romanesque arcades are all rebuilt. The biggest interference to the Romanesque fabric seem to be the 1705 reconstruction of the tower, attested by a date stone, when work was probably done on the west portal. However, Neo-Norman replacement is confined to the ringing gallery on the E face of the tower; otherwise the sculpture is occasionally damaged but untouched by restoration efforts.


In the 1090s Ivo de Taillesbois gave the church and its land to St Mary's Abbey at York, which kept it as an appropriated vicarage. The parish had the usual high income for the north-west, assessed for tax in Domesday at 43 geld units, and in the 1292 Taxation at £102,14,13.


Exterior Features


E doorway to tower

Very plain doorway to the interior of tower. No shafts, flat caps with a slight chamfer. Probably contemporary with the exterior W door.

Height of opening 276 cm
Width of opening 121 cm

S doorway to chancel

The second S doorway is set in the outer S aisle, but was probably part of the original, unaisled termination of the Norman church. It has flanking free-standing shafts on standard bases (all replaced); the original capitals have acanthus volutes that suggest a transitional, Gothic date of c.1200, later than both the western portions of the main arcades inside, but earlier than the eastern arcades.

Height of opening 111 cm
Width of opening 262 cm

S doorway to nave

Now inside a Neo-Norman porch, the S doorway must have been reset when the S aisle was extended to its current width. Its flanking members are no more than a shallow hollow chamfer, with plain capitals: no abaci, necks or ornament. The only real piece of ornament is the single arch over the doorway. It has two orders of lateral chevron, curved section, which meet on the soffit. This decoration of the soffit means there cannot have been a tympanum.

Above this is a label formed by a fat roll with a thin strip above.

The arch voussoirs with chevron ornament may be the only original element, and the jambs of the doorway left plain so as not to distract from the reused arch.

Height of opening 310 cm
Width of opening 147 cm

W doorway to N aisle

Very plain, round-arched so probably Romanesque, but, if so, must have been relocated in the widened N aisle. The only sculpture is a label with stops.

Height of opening 276 cm
Width of opening 121 cm

W portal to tower

The W doorway is an impressive piece, but is very worn and was probably reassembled in 1705 when the upper stories of the tower were rebuilt. The first order is the best preserved, two orders of lateral chevron, curved section, as on the S door. Here every unit of chevron is on its own voussoir. The inside of the doorway, the chevron on the soffit, and a plain door to the stair can be seen from inside the tower.

The second order has a chequered, scaled motif of adjacent recessed and raised squares. The third order is basically a saltire cross with foliate ornament in the interstices. The fourth, outer order is mostly blank stones of varying sizes, except for the left voussoir, perhaps a tall warrior figure, and the adjacent voussoir, which is definitely a coiled serpentine dragon. Above this is a similarly plain label.

Each order is supported by a reeded capital. The outer two pairs have free-standing shafts (entirely replaced), the inner two are engaged (original).

Height of opening 315 cm
Width of opening 163 cm

Interior Features



N arcade

The N arcade is of quite exceptional ambition for a parish church. As the arcade continues in E.E. style for a further four bays, the members will be discussed exceptionally from west to east. The profiles of the arches differ in each bay: the first arch has three parallel fat rolls, the second is simply chamfered, the third a half-roll flanked by two half-hollows. All have a simply chamfered hood on the S side, except for the third, which has a roll. The N side has no real hoods to the arches, and the relieving arch is visible. The N side is now easiest to observe because of the 16thc. outer south aisle.

Each column stands on a plinth approx. 1m tall. Each plinth is of four sections: a chamfered base, then a narrower stage surmounted by a wider stage with a upper and lower chamfer, then a narrower stage on top.

Average height of arcades (floor to peak of arch soffit) 5.81 m (approx.)
Average width of bay (pier drum to pier drum) 2 m
Height of plinths 1 m (approx.)
1st pier from W

The second column of the arcade has a trellis of three parallel incised lines. The capital is a triple scallop with a square abacus.

The scallops on the S side facing the central vessel of the nave have received ornament and figurative sculpture.

W side: the face of the central scallop has what appears to be a spiral of foliage treated with beading, with further such ornament, without the beading, underneath. The R-hand scallop contains further entwined foliage.

The underside of the south-west corner of the capital has a face with a morose expression, and deep, expressive lines, set to the R amid looped foliage (commonly referred to as a "green man" and given its own spotlight by the church).

S side: The L-hand scallop has a quadruped curled up in the semi-circular face; its head turned backwards. The centre scallop face is plain, and the R-hand one has been knocked away. Underneath the damage, the SE corner has what appears to have been a pair of hybrid centaurs fighting. The one on the R is well-preserved, but only a curled tail and raised front leg remain of that on the L.

E side: The L-hand scallop has a bird, probably an eagle, with its head curled under its body to fill the semi-circle. Half of the central scallop is filled with a curled vine with volutes, the other half is on a separate piece of stone and is plain. Below a quadruped clutches a book, perhaps the Agnus Dei. 

From the way the carving interacts with the architectural contours and does not cross separate blocks of stone, it does not appear to have been carved in-situ.

2nd pier from W

This pier is a compound type. It has three shafts attached to each side, with the central capital carrying the soffit and the outer capitals carrying the hood. The W capitals are simple cushion capitals, and those to the E are reeded with three vertical lines on each face.

The N and S sides have a a shaft with no capital but a circular abacus, as if to carry a vault. There are no such corresponding shafts on the W respond, so it is difficult to see how the vault would have been supported. 

3rd pier from W

The final pier of the first campaign is circular with criss-cross ornament around the drum, but only one deep groove. The capital and abacus are octagonal with a big scallop to each face.

W respond

The respond is a pier of compound type. The main capital has volutes either side of interlace; the flanking capitals have simple volutes (the S minor capital largely destroyed).

S arcade

The S arcade represents a major reduction in ambition from the earlier N arcade. It appears to be of two campaigns. The respond and 1st pier have the same tall plinths (165 cm and 102 cm respectively), but the remaining third and fourth more austere piers have more typical plinths (61 cm and 76 cm). The arches seem to have been built over the two sets of piers at the same time as all are the same with single chamfers and chamfered hood to the central vessel.

Height of arcade (floor to peak of soffit) 5.7 m
1st pier from W

This circular pier stands on a standard base on top of the small plinth. The base has nailhead ornament around its rim. Its capital appears a simple scallop capital type, with four large bold units to each face, but it is heavily remade: the W half is all very clean red stone. The NW corner is lighter but is also very clean, and incorporates half of one scallop on a separate piece of stone. This half of a scallop has bead ornament on the rim. The whole N face of the capital probably had this motif, like its pair in the N arcade.

2nd and 3rd piers from W

These piers are standard drum columns with circular capitals with narrow central bands and abaci.

W respond

The W respond is extremely simple in profile, a chamfered square, with part of the wall itself chamfered to form the flanking members. This has a narrow capital with an extremely thin abacus. The middle band has unusual very flat, abstracted ornament. Reading the ornament is not helped by the destruction of that of the flanking elements and N corner, which have been almost entirely knocked off (presumably for installation of a W gallery).


Comparisons are usually made between the monumental N arcade and Durham Cathedral. While these are certainly evident, Malcolm Thurlby has argued that the ideas may have been mediated through other buildings, such as Selby Abbey nave and fragments from St Mary's Abbey, York.

The fact that the institutional rectors were from St Mary at York is not sufficient to explain the ambition of the early 12thc. work. Such a plan is probably connected to the existing status of the church at the time of the Conquest, as it may have been a particularly ancient Saxon foundation and/or a minster church with a relatively large clerical staff. 


  • M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Cumbria, New Haven and London, 2010, 2nd edition, 458-62.

  • An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Westmorland, London 1936, 133-140 (Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England survey).

  • M. Thurlby, 'Romanesque architecture and Architectural sculpture in the Diocese of Carlisle', Carlisle and Cumbria: Roman and Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 27, Leeds 2004, 269-290, esp. 277-280.

View from SW, including Neo-Norman S porch
View from SE, 13thc. E end


Site Location
Kirkby Lonsdale
National Grid Reference
SD 610 788 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Westmorland
now: Cumbria
medieval: Carlisle
now: Carlisle
now: St Mary
medieval: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
James Cameron 
Visit Date
30 March 2016