St Michael’s Kirkby Thore – Summary Statement of Significance

St Michaels’ church stands in its own ancient churchyard, ringed by mature sycamore, lime and cherry trees, on rising ground on the north western edge of the village of Kirkby Thore and with extensive views of Cross Fell and the Pennines to the North. As its II* listing confirms, the church is a fine example of an important country parish church, showing the effects of a chequered early mediaeval history as well as significant later, mainly Victorian, renovations. It was for many years the Mother Church in a large rural parish extending from the River Eden in the south and west across the Pennines to the river Tees in the north and east. Chapelries were established from the early 13th century at Temple Sowerby, Milburn and Newbiggin, finally becoming independent parishes during the 19th century.

The earliest part of the building, around the tower, dates from 1150 with a major rebuild at the end of the 14th century. The church was very largely destroyed during the Scottish raids at the end of the 14th century. A new church was built on the old foundations by the early 1400s: the chancel was raised and extended, the north aisle and the south porch were added and seven new windows installed. Later an extra floor was added to the tower. One single 13th century lancet window remains to the left of the porch and there are pieces of medieval glass in two of the windows. The East window is Victorian, necessitating the raising of the ceiling throughout the church with the addition of purely decorative hammer beam supports and choir arch. Built throughout in local squared sandstone on a chamfered plinth, the stone itself has been subject to weathering. The walls were supported by three stepped buttresses on the south side and a fourth added in the recent restoration. The roof throughout is slate.

Inside St Michael’s consists of a simple narrow nave and relatively long choir and chancel with added north aisle, now cleared of pews to enable more social use of the church and awaiting completion of a small kitchen at the back. The fine organ (c 1900) was purchased from Rose Castle and has now been moved to the west end of the nave and rebuilt, leaving room for a toilet behind. The piscine by the altar is 14th century. The most important furniture in the church, apart from the Big Tom bell from Shap Abbey, is the gift of Thomas Machell, rector, Royal Chaplain and antiquarian at the end of the 17th century: the octagonal font, with later carved wood cover, the pulpit made from 17th century secular panelling, and the simple altar table and rails. The silver communion vessels are dated 1633 and a large pewter platter dated 1660 and carrying the Birds of Brougham arms is said to be the oldest such plate in the Diocese.