windermere panoramic
St Michael’s Church, Hawkshead Kendal
Main Street
Cumbria LA22 0NT
Standing on a mound overlooking Hawkshead Village is the 16th century parish church of St Michael and All Angels.  The churchyard rises behind the building affording superb views of the surrounding countryside.
A young William Wordsworth spent many happy hours sitting up there.  In spring, clumps of daffodils flower between the graves reminding us once again of the famous poet.
This Church dates from the 12th Century
The church is quite large with some interesting features.  It started life as a chapel in the 12th century which was extended to its present length around 1300, but the major work to create the present north and south aisles was done in 1500.  Such massive pillars and round arches are found nowhere else in England.
At the time of the major renovations Hawkshead was an important wool centre and the church belonged to Furness Abbey.  Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it became a separate parish in 1578. This change was brought about by Archbishop Edwin Sandys of York, a local man born at Esthwaite in 1519.  Landowners since the 13th century, the Sandys were a rich, influential family and visitors will notice they have their own chapel within the church.
About the same time, 1585, the roof of the nave was raised and clerestory windows were installed to give extra light.  The windows on the north side still have their Elizabethan oak frames and mullions. The oak beams of 1585 still support the roof of the nave.
The painted texts on the walls and decoration on the pillars and arches dates from the 17th century.  In 1680 James Addison was invited to Hawkshead to clean the church walls and “…peint 26 Sentances of Scripture ... and to border and flourish them.”
A local decorator, William Mackerath, repainted some of them in 1711/12 and added some of his own ‘sentences’, including the list of churchwardens on the west wall.  If you look carefully at the ‘sentence’ in the nave near the pulpit you will see that it is written in the local dialect with the letters ‘he’ missing from the word ‘the’.
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William Wordsworth
St Michael’s was well known to William Wordsworth because from the age of 8, Hawkshead was his surrogate home.  Following the death of his mother William and his brothers were sent to the free Grammar School at Hawkshead where they boarded with local families.  Boarders regularly attended church and there are several references to St Michael’s in William’s poems.  During the last of his 9 years at school William was taught by the headmaster, Rev Thomas Bowman, MA whose memorial can be seen on the south wall of the nave.
St Michael and All Angels did not escape the attentions of the Victorian restorers despite resistance from the parishioners.  Pinnacles and battlements were added to the plain tower, carved screens were added, plain glass windows were replaced with stained and a new pulpit and font installed.  It is said that the villagers were reluctant to lose their ancient font so secretly buried it somewhere in the churchyard!
There is no doubt that the structure of the church was in urgent need of repair but the congregation did not want their plain and simple church elaborately enhanced with unnecessary decoration.  As a result St Michael’s has not suffered as much from Victorian Gothic restoration as some other English country churches.
The relatively new chapel dedicated to St James contains a couple of other treasures.  The unusual old chest created in 1603 to store parish registers, was probably made from one of the much older beams that were taken down when the roof was raised in 1585.  The stone ball used to be on the roof above the large east window until it was replaced with a cross in 1875.
This chapel is lit by plain glass windows allowing views of the distant Claife Hills.  A medieval priest’s door previously blocked up by the Victorian renovators was used as the insertion point for the windows.
Eight Ancient Bells are regularly rung
Tradition is important to the Hawkshead community.  Eight ancient bells are regularly rung to call worshippers to services and Music for a Summer Evening concerts, are held every Tuesday evening at 20:00 hours during July and August.  Visitors are more than welcome to attend.
Taking pride of place in the churchyard is the village’s War Memorial - a fine Celtic Cross designed by W G Collingwood (the same man who carved John Ruskin’s cross in Coniston Village).
Tracing Family History
Many tourists come to Hawkshead tracing their family history.  The church has a most up to date web resource of grave sites in the churchyard and memorial inscriptions.  Check the link on their official website.
St Michael and All Angels is in a beautiful location especially when approached from the hills behind the churchyard.  The path is ‘hedged’ by huge flagstones instead of the normal Cumbrian dry-stone walls.
Every day
A comprehensive booklet is available describing the history of the Church.
Contact & Further Information
Telephone  +44 (0)1539 436 301
Mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Getting There
The Hawkshead Church website has a map showing how to get to Hawkshead
Google Map - St Michael's Church, Hawkshead


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