St Cuthbert’s Church

St Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle – a post about the church, and about memorial inscriptions.

St Cuthbert’s church may be in the shadow of the lovely cathedral (and the literal shadows of the back walls of shops in English Street). But it is a little Georgian gem inside. And its historic churchyard is a pleasant spot to sit and reflect on life. Possibly (respectfully!) with a plastic glass of wine from the neighbouring Sportsman inn, officially the oldest recorded pub in the city

The state management system of public houses in Carlisle is a topic in itself. But, back to the church…

St Cuthbert’s…

has a unique moving pulpit, a fourteenth century window, a window commemorating our hospitality to a Latvian Lutheran congregation, and a very attractive series of windows depicting the life of St Cuthbert. It is open every day from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm (see above). Our motto is: “Christian Hospitality”

Source HERE

The present church was built in 1778. And the churchyard closed to burials in 1856.

You can read why in this post (Caldewgate churchyard was another that closed that year).

In 1889, the Carlisle Patriot lamented that this was ‘a whole generation ago’.

‘Lamented,’ because it meant there were few living people with close connection to those buried there, and very few who cared enough to 

bestow on them a periodical coat of paint, as was formerly done pretty regularly’.

‘The consequence is that damp and frost run unchecked their career and every severe winter sees the surface of one or other grave stone shell silently fall off, and the inscription deposits itself on the ground in a heap of sand and scales.’

The Patriot was writing about a new book just published, of memorial inscriptions in the church and churchyard of St Cuthbert, which numbered about 550 inscriptions.

Memorial inscriptions

So useful to family historians, they can give us information we cannot get elsewhere. For instance, we may find deaths recorded in parish registers, but when they are just ‘1785. John Sewell, buried July 17,’ we have no way to know if this was the John Sewell we are looking for. Or his cousin or his father or his son…

Memorial inscriptions can confirm we have the right person. And give us so much more, if they include other members of the family.

Many people today realise their value and transcribe what is left – you can find a lot of Cumbrian churchyards covered in publications (downloadable PDFs) sold by Cumbria Family History Society.

But visit any old churchyard today and you can see how ‘damp and frost have run unchecked their career’. Indeed, there are graves I (thankfully) have family photos of taken at most 40 years ago that are barely legible today.

Back to St Cuthbert’s

The Patriot was writing 134 years ago, but even then:

Very few (memorials) are older than the present church (ie 1778)

In fact, THAT degradation was far from recent:

Bishop Nicolson, in his miscellany accounts of the diocese, 1703 …says “the gravestones are shabby or broken, the graves unlevelled.”

The Patriot’s view will resonate with any family historian today:

It wasn’t a case of:

the names of obscure dead’: 

‘..this book may preserve important links in the pedigrees of heroes and heroines as yet unborn’.

You can find a copy of the 1889 MIs book in Carlisle Archives.

Those that remained in 1889

The Patriot says the book included ‘names well known in Carlisle in the last century’: Atkinson, Armstrong, Backhouse, Barnes, Beaumont, Beck, Blacklock, Blamire, Boustead, Carrick, Carruthers, Carlyle, Connell, Elliott, Ferguson, Graham, Halton, Hodgson, Liddells, Losh, Mounsey, Robinson, Sewell, Sowerby, Stubbs, ‘and etc’. 

It singled out those that pre-dated the Georgian church (which is likely the fourth built on the site, by the way):

There is one to Alderman and Town Clerk Pearson, dated 1774, and another to Alderman Pears, dated 1772, a third to Alderman Backhouse, dated 1765.


St Cuthbert’s churchyard may have been closed to burials in 1856, but there were a few exceptions:

From a note we gather that the last interment in the churchyard before it was closed in 1856 was Mr T. A. Kendale, of Henry Street. 

Since that time Fawcett and Mr Ferguson have been interred under orders granted by the Home Secretary. 

Which Mr Ferguson, the Patriot doesn’t say. Nor can I find a T A Kendale.

Reverend John Fawcett

I thought ‘Fawcett’ (from elsewhere in the article) had to be the Rev John Fawcett. But he actually died in 1851. (His widow Eleanor died in 1857, perhaps she was granted the exception, to be buried with her husband?).

John Fawcett was 83 and had been perpetual curate of St Cuthbert’s for some 50 years. He died on December 4, having preached his last sermon on November 23.

This simple stone honours the Reverend John Fawcett and his wife Eleanor Fawcett

He was buried at St Cuthbert’s on December 12. Shops closed for three hours, spectators lined the streets, and the funeral procession included the mayor and councillors and ‘upwards of 200 citizens’. 

Sadly, the fact the mayor etc wore their civic robes and carried the Corporation sword and mace wasn’t universally approved of. And led to a debate, a week or so later, on whether or not they should do the same at the funeral of the late Alderman Steel. 

The James Steel statue

Mind you, there were (in august 1856) councillors who were opposed to a statue of James Steel being erected in the city centre – objecting that the fish market had been pulled down to clear the site, and if they put up a statue to one worthy man, everyone would want one!

I shall revisit James Steel at some point. Meanwhile, you can see the statue in this post.