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St Luke's, Torver

by Margaret Clunan

One of the delights of England, and of Cumbria, is its churches. Small or large, plain or ornate, rural or urban, they are invariably worth a visit, and our villages and towns would be poorer architecturally without them. So, for a little “refreshment” while on a walk or other expedition, why not seek them out, and where better to begin than in Torver.

The present building dates from 1884. Its architects, Paley and Austin, designed many Lancashire buildings, including (in present-day Cumbria) St. Mary’s Church, Dalton; St. George’s Church, Millom; and Ulverston and Barrow railway stations. They also enlarged or restored other Cumbrian churches, such as St. Mary’s in Broughton.

A “lap” around the exterior of St. Luke’s reveals that the building stone is Silurian, a sedimentary mudstone and siltstone, with some large dressed blocks (quoins) at the corners. This local stone was generously donated by Mandalls, who were then the quarry owners, and moved without charge by the parishioners. The building was enhanced with sandstone, which would have been expensive as it had to come from outside the area, probably from Low Furness; but the Furness Railway Company also helped by moving building materials free of charge. Sandstone features in the window surrounds (embrasures), the horizontal band (string course) near the top of the tower, and the roof gable and buttress cappings. The incorporation of sandstone gives the church a wealthier appearance, perhaps thanks to the generous financial contributions of the Barratt family of Coniston and John Robinson of Brown Howe, and to many other local contributors. The subscription list is regally headed by Queen Victoria, who as Lady of Torver Manor donated £50.

We are so accustomed to seeing St. Luke’s that it is easy to dismiss it as “just an ordinary little village church”. In fact, the rather plain rectangular building, which might otherwise be a village hall with narrow arched windows, has been made more interesting, solid-looking and dignified by the addition of the central (it isn’t quite in the centre) tower with its buttresses, which also give structural support. There are some pleasing decorative additions: if you look at the east end of the church you will see an ornamental sandstone cross on the roof peak, and a simpler but slightly unusual sandstone cross in the east wall. You can’t miss the weather-vane, shaped like a fat fish, atop the pyramidal roof.

While in the churchyard, look at the three ancient walled yew trees. Evergreen yew was the symbol of immortality, but on a more practical level the trees provided shelter for the fabric of the church, as well as bows for archers in days of yore. There are some gravestones worth inspecting. Buried here are Rev. Thomas Ellwood, who as minister from 1861 until his death in 1911 did so much for this parish: campaigning for a parsonage, a new school, and organising the re-building of the church. His wife and daughter, both named Dorcas, are buried with him, and his son William is in a separate grave. William Barratt of Holly How, Coniston – the Torver landowner and benefactor who owned the copper mines – is buried with his wife Sarah, of Hoathwaite. There are also two military graves from World War I: J. Inman and T.H. Brocklebank.

Unfortunately, being situated on a main road, the church is locked except during services, so you have to contact a churchwarden to see the interior. It is fairly plain inside, with typical Victorian features. The stained glass windows on either side of the chancel commemorate Thomas and Dorcas Ellwood. “Dorcas” is the Greek name for “Tabitha”. Tabitha was a Christian who lived in Joppa, a seaport 30 miles from Jerusalem. She spent her time making shirts and coats for the poor, and when she fell ill and died, people were so upset that they sent for Peter, who brought her back to life. The window depicts Dorcas sewing. The east window, which has three separate lights, was donated to the new church by Sarah Barratt in memory of her late husband; one light depicts Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey – quite an unusual window theme. On the wall below is painted “holy holy holy”, which I have not seen in any other church. There are two windows in the west wall; after Sarah Barratt’s death, stained glass depicting “Faith” and “Hope” was installed in her memory. It would have been appropriate, perhaps, if three windows had been available so that “Charity” could have completed the trio. The west wall also carries two large wooden panels on which are inscribed the words of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed, and the Ten Commandments – good teaching aids. In the porch is a small stained glass window given in 1913 by the children of St. Luke’s Guild, which must have been a flourishing organisation at a time (one year before the school was extended) when there were schoolchildren in abundance in Torver.