The story of Crosscrake church is a story of dilapidation and renewal, of almost-endings and beginnings. Its position as a centre of Christian worship goes back, perhaps, to the days when there were Scandinavian settlers in this part of Britain and one Kraki set up a cross such as his people delighted in. Kraki's cross. Did the cross influence the decision to build a chapel on this particular site? Had the place been associated with Christian worship many years before the Norman conquest? We do not know.
The Medieval Chapel
1190. Anslem de Furness founded a chapel at Crosscrake.
1275. William de Stirkland [Strickland) gave to the prior of Kermel (Cartmel) perpetual cure and custody of the chapel of Crosscrake, formerly founded by Anselm, son of Michael of Furness, whose father, Michael le Fleming, was sent to aid William the Conqueror in his conquest of England.
- In the absence of evidence to the contrary we may assume that for three hundred years Crosscrake served as a peaceful place of worship.
Nothing now remains of the old chapel, except a stone thought to be part of the font. This was found in the wall of a local farmer. It now lies in the north window of the sanctuary.
1534. Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England. His policy of dissolving the monasteries and seizing their revenues for himself put an end to Cartmel Priory. Crosscrake, having no provision for a priest, fell into disrepair. But like many churches of that time it was used as a school. It seems to have met a need, for as a school it remained in use until the mid nineteenth century, even when the chapel was once more a place of worship.
1692. In this year, Lawrence Machel, the antiquarian vicar of Kirkby Thore, visited the chapel. He commented on its ruinous condition which he attributed to the Civil War, and he noted that it had salary, no prayers said, no choir, no seats, and no bell, this last having been sold to provide a school-house. It did, however, have a heating system. He writes, 'Here is an ancient chapel also re-edified, having a chimney in the north-west corner with a smoke hole out of the west end of the wall, about two yards high from the ground. And here l saw a number of well-faced children, but there were no houses near it as I can remember.'
At this time and for many years after, Heversham was the parish church for Stainton, Sedgwick and Crosscrake.
From Chapel to Church
1757. Dr. Keene, Bishop of Chester, in whose diocese Crosscrake then was, procured it to be put on the list of chapels to be augmented by the governors of Queen Anne's bounty - a charity to increase clergy stipends. Crosscrake was entitled to £400 with which lands were bought at Dillicar and Killington, so clearing the way for the lurch to have an incumbent of its own. The living was further increased by 1763 by a grant of £400.
1773. The chapel was rebuilt 'In the purest ugliness' of the eighteenth century wrote a commentator a century or so later and went on to say, 'No conventicle of the old style could rival it in the simplicity of its whitewashed walls, its square doorways and its square doorways and its rounded windows: yet to all this some zealous reformers ……..seem have added a Gothic west tower'. Inside there was a huge gallery 'and the ponderous pews of other days'.
1823. A burial ground was added to the chapel.
1842. The building was improved and enlarged.
1359. The chapel was licensed for marriages. Before this, couples and their guests had to go to Heversham for their weddings which was inconvenient for some.
All this time the school flourished. The Revd. John Wilson, who was the incumbent in 1780, recalled he had learned writing there in about 1733, when the school was “without one farthing endowment and for many years taught with much credit and reputation by an industrious master, Mr. Wells'. In 1823 there were about 70 children of whom 12-15 were boarders. As late as 1867, Mr.Threlfal left money in his will to support a school-master and Mr. Philipson bequeathed a sum to pay for three poor scholars.
The Wakefield Building
1874. Crosscrake church was re-sited about fifty yards east of the old chapel. The land was given by Mr. Wilson of Rigmaden, but the prime mover was William Henry Wakefield, of Sedgwick House, the principal landowner of the district, and the owner of gunpowder works in Sedgwick and Gatebeck. He had recently rebuilt his house and is reported to have said, 'I have built myself that good house at Sedgwick; and it seems to me a great shame that God's house should be such a poor miserable place.' The cost of the building - £4,1 36 - was raised by public subscription, but more than half that amount was contributed by Mr. Wakefield.
Probably the architects, Paley and Austin of Lancaster, were his choice as he had already employed them and was satisfied with the stately Gothic pile they had designed for him. The church had a central tower holding a bell and there was a stained-glass east window as a memorial to John Harrison of Summerlands (died 1884). Three other windows were later installed in memory of William Henry Wakefield. His funeral must have been the grandest the little church has ever witnessed. Eight relays of six bearers carried the coffin from Sedgwick House through lanes crammed with mourners to the church which was too small to hold all those who wished to pay their last respects, some three thousand of them; they stood in the grave-yard and surrounding fields. Mr Wakefield's grave was, by his own request, at the exact spot where he used to sit in the old chapel. Besides him lies the little child who died that spring; and his daughter, Augusta Mary Wakefield, founder of the great music festival, held in Kendal every other year. Her head-stone is inscribed with a suitably musical psalm.
Crosscrake St Thomas in the 20th Century
Troubles for Crosscrake were not at an end, not even after the restoration or 1897. By 1962 when the Revd. John Reay was vicar, the building was declared structurally unsound and services were held in the school, instead of the school being held in the church as in earlier times. The vicar was told by the bishop that if the building could not be restored by the parish it would have to be closed for good! John Reay accepted the challenge; the cost of the restoration - about £9000 - was raised mostly by the parish from functions and donations. The first sale yielded a total of £1100 - and on a wet day too! But a church is people not buildings. St Thomas, Crosscrake is kept alive by the people who worship here and join in its many activities. Perhaps the buildings have ended their tale of new beginnings but the people who come here have not. And nor has the faith to which the church bears witness. For at its heart is the cross which is both end and beginning, death and life, crucifixion and resurrection.
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again.
The Story of St Thomas Crosscrake
St Thomas, Crosscrake drawn by
the wife of the Revd. Evans