Chapter Six: Schools, churches and chapels
Schools, churches and chapels are often the focal points for the social life of village communities, and Ireleth and Askam are no exception. The age and type of these institutions in the two villages illustrate some important aspects of the area’s development. While the actual buildings themselves are of roughly similar ages, the Church of England school and church in Ireleth, and Askam’s National schools, Nonconformist chapels and Catholic church all have very different histories.

St Peter's Church of England school and church
Some time in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, a young man named Giles Brownrigg of Ireleth went to seek his fortune as a tailor in London. Giles must have done well for himself, for in 1607 he bought a three hundred year lease on land at Fitchett’s Field for £160. The original lease had been granted in 1579, and by the time Giles bought the lease an underlease had been granted allowing building to take place on the land. A tenement known as Lincoln’s Inn Grange[1] was built, and this provided Giles with the small but steady annual income of £13 6s 8d.

No-one will know what obstacles of education or social background Giles overcame in London, but perhaps they influenced his decision to dedicate the income from his lease to the establishment of a school in his home village in far away Lancashire. Giles endowed a school master’s salary for a school at Ireleth, an act which is commemorated in an oak panel still at the school. It reads:


Although the panel is dated 1608 there was some delay in building; a document dated 1612 states that work had begun, and that it would be completed within one year, under condition that the tenants of Ireleth provided the following:

(a) to fence and inclose a piece of land adjoining the school-house known as Hobkin’s Garth, also another plot in the common Town Fields, for the sole use of the master.
(b) to grant him pasturage and feeding for his ‘nagge’ in the Moor Close, and also pasturage for two cows, one with the tenants’ kine on the Marsh, the other similarly in the Cow Close.
(c) every tenant, for each 13s. 4d. of rent, would once a year provide and deliver at the school one cartload of good peat from Angerton Moss ‘if the weather be seasonable for that purpose’.
(d) the tenants would, whenever needful, provide all necessary material for keeping the school building in good repair.
(e) they would take to the school-house, as soon as required, stone, sand and lime, whereupon Giles Brownrigg promised to erect a ‘handsome porch and sufficient before the dore of the house’.

However more delays followed, and it was 1624 before the school master’s stipend was actually available. This wage was made up of the income from Brownrigg’s lease receipts, less ground rent and a £2 annuity to an Alice Bolton of Marton. This left £10 for the master, who was also responsible for repairing the glass windows of the school house, in what has been described as a ‘somewhat ingenious provision for ensuring his attention to good discipline of his pupils’.[3] Under the terms of the original agreement (signed in 1624) the master was to be appointed by the tenants of Ireleth, a loose body of people, only four of whom are named in early documents. The informality of this arrangement suited the times. The four named tenants — Christopher Brownrigg, Thomas Pirrie, Thomas Youdall and George Brockbank — were possibly friends and family of Giles’s, and it would have made sense for him to have people he knew administering the spending of the money which he was sending from London. There was a negative side to this informal arrangement, however, as became apparent in later years.

Giles Brownrigg died on 20 December 1633, and was buried at Dalton. Hobbs states that the original schoolhouse was ‘well situated on an eminence in the village at the junction of the road leading to Askam’[4], though given that there was no road to Askam at the time this could be a couple of places: at the Ireleth Road/Saves Lane junction; or at Ireleth Brow, where Ireleth Road meets Broughton Road. (This latter site is the more likely; the site of the Old Parsonage at the top of Sun Street.) The building was oblong in shape and had two floors, with a porch on the south side.

As early as 1637 some of the villagers were using the schoolhouse as a chapel, as no place of worship existed in the village at that time. A previous attempt to carry out worship in the schoolhouse had been stopped by the Bishop of Chester, who deemed the building ‘neither decent nor large’ enough for divine worship. Eventually the villagers got their way, and permission was granted to pull down the upper floor, or loft, and extend and beautify the lower floor ‘to the satisfaction of the vicars of Dalton, Urswick, Pennington and Aldingham’.[5] In order to make the most of limited resources the offices of minister and schoolmaster were combined in one person, an arrangement which carried on until the end of the nineteenth century. Although the combining of offices solved an immediate problem it brought a much more powerful party — the established Church — into the relationship. From this time on and for the next 250 years, the school often took a back seat to the chapel, and the building was in later years often referred to as a chapel with a schoolroom attached rather than the other way around.

On 27 July 1639 an agreement was signed between the villagers and James Waller, the minister and schoolmaster of the time, allowing Waller to build a large house, at his own cost, on Ireleth Green. The agreement was that this house would be Waller’s for his lifetime, and his wife’s afterwards, provided she kept it in good repair. Thereafter the house would be available for succeeding ministers and masters rent free — a bargain for the villagers. This house still stands; it is the (much altered) Old Parsonage on Sun Street, and must be one of the oldest houses in the village.

Over the years the curate/masters’ lands were increased by gifts from various villagers. In 1733 land adjoining the master’s garden (known as the Butts) was donated by villagers, and in 1734 Mr John Hart donated land known as Back Green, or Hopkin Garden.[6] The chapelry received other monies through grants from the Governers of Queen Anne’s Bounty. In 1749 £200 was received, and the chapel used this money to go halves with Walney Chapel to buy land at Cocken. Other lands, at Ulverston and surrounding districts, were also bought following further grants from Queen Anne’s Bounty in 1753 and 1772.

The villagers’ gifts would have been welcomed by the curate/masters, who at the time were still living on the original £10 stipend allocated by Giles Brownrigg almost 150 years before, supplemented by money from the church for the curate’s position. To add to the financial pressures, claims came from London demanding that Ireleth pay a proportion of the land taxes on the Grange Inn land, though these claims were strongly resisted by school master Hugh Hunter in 1695 (in fact he put in a counter claim for an increase in stipend) and also Thomas Tyson in 1765.

This Thomas Tyson completed a questionnnaire (undated) about the chapelry, which provides some background to conditions at Ireleth in the late eighteenth century. Tyson’s answers are reproduced below:

1. The Chapel of Kirkby Ireleth is a Chapel of Ease under the parish church of Dalton in the County Palatine of Lancaster. The Chapelry consists of one small village comprehending Nineteen Dwelling Houses and many/most of the Inhabitants are Tenants at Rack Rent.
2. and 3. No Sectaries of any Denomination within the said Chapelry.
4. There are none who obstinately or previously absent themselves from public Worship on the Lord’s Day.
5. I reside constantly upon my Curacy, not in the House belonging to the Chapel, but in one of my own, and am in Priest’s Orders.
6. Divine Service is duly performed twice every Lord’s Day and one sermon preached. Prayers are mostly read on such days as are appointed by the Rubrick, the Children are catechised every Year in Lent and an expostion read either from Bishop Beverige or Dr. Clark during that season. The Sacrament administered three times in the Year; there are generally above twenty Communicants and last Easter twenty-seven.
7. The Chapel of Kirkby Ireleth was first endowed with the yearly Salary of four Pounds ten Shillings by Gyles Brownrigg of the Parish of St. Clements Danes in the Strand in the County of Middlesex in 1624. It received the Benefit of £200 Queen Ann’s Bounty in 1749 and a Purchase of Lands made in 1750. A second lot came in 1753 and a Purchase of Lands made in 1754, a third lot fell in 1772 and a purchase of Lands made in 1774. All which said several purchases now let at the Yearly Rent of Thirty one Pounds.
8. The Inhabitants have heretofor elected and the Vicar of Dalton nominated to the said Chapel/Curacy of Kirkby Ireleth. The Chapel House is in good repair. And as there are no Glebe Lands, there is no Terrier. We have no public Register, there being a proper Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials regularly kept at the Church at Dalton for the whole parish.
9. I teach a Free school at Kirkby Ireleth (for want of School House) in the Chapel. It was endowed by the said Gyles Brownrigg at the time of his endowing the sd Chapel, with the yearly salary of £5/10/- together with £5 which the inhabitants have obliged themselves to contribute yearly for ever, Make the whole Income to ten guineas a year. For which said School I obtained a licence from S. Lord Bishop of Chester the 23th December 1744. The number of Scholars are about 30, and are taught Greek and Latin, Writing and Accts and such other kind of Learning as are most likely to ground them in the Principles of the Ctn Religion.
10. No Alms-houses etc.
Tho. Tyson curate of K. Ireleth.
Kirkby Ireleth Curate — Tho. Tyson nominated 21 Dec 1743.
Deacon, 24th Sept. 1744. Saml Chester. Priest May 25th 1746 S. Chester.

This Thomas Tyson died in 1790, at which point Robert Ashburner (father of Margaret, who appears in chapter two) became curate and schoolmaster. His appointment caused considerable trouble between the Ireleth residents, the vicar of Dalton (Rev Christopher Couperthwaite) and the Bishop of Chester. The dispute dated back to Giles Brownrigg’s establishment of the original school almost 200 years before. Then, Brownrigg vested the appointment of the school master to a number of tenants, residents of Ireleth. The intention was that as any of this group died or left the village, the remaining tenants would elect a new person to their body. The problem for the villagers was that, by the end of the eighteenth century no elections had been held in living memory, and the electors had become a somewhat loose bunch. At the same time, the vicar of Dalton believed that he held the right to nominate curates to chapelries within his parish (remembering that, to all intents and purposes, Ireleth was by 1790 a chapel with a school room attached rather than vice versa). Couperthwaite nominated John Singleton (who at the time was curate and schoolmaster at Dendron) to the position. Who should nominate the position? Was it the vicar of Dalton, as in all the other parishes, or the residents? If it was the vicar, then did the residents retain the right to nominate the school master? The Bishop refused to licence either candidate and effectively gave the residents and the vicar six months to settle the dispute; if the dispute wasn’t resolved by then the title would lapse to him.

Eventually it was decreed that, while the vicar had the right to nominate curates within his parish, a court would preside in favour of an alternative method of appointment if it could be shown that this practise followed ‘ancient usage’.[7] Although the dispute almost went to expensive litigation, common sense prevailed and the vicar of Dalton backed down, and on 14 March 1791 nine inhabitants and landowners signed a nomination for Robert Ashburner, in agreement with Couperthwaite. This Robert Ashburner remained in office until his death in 1840 at the age 81; at 49 years the longest of anyone in the history of the school and chapel.

By now times were changing in Ireleth, and Ashburner’s successor, Rev HN Walton, was the last of the combined curate-schoolmasters. By 1859 the influx of iron workers resulted in a huge growth in the population and an application was lodged for Ireleth to become a parish in its own right, separate from Dalton. This application was made in 1860, along with a request to have the offices of curate and schoolmaster separated. In 1862 Walton resigned as master in order to become curate full time. From the beginning of 1863 the old Free School established by Giles Brownrigg ceased to exist, and scholars began paying ‘a few pence’ tuition fee weekly towards the new master’s salary.[8]

The Duke of Buccleuch funded the building of a new school house in 1862, and that part which is the core of the current school was built. In the following year the old school was demolished. All that survives of the older building is the font, pulpit and the oak plaque. The font was taken to Cliff House (where it was still at in the late 1940s); the pulpit is in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church. The chapel bell is believed to have ended up at the mission church at Newton-in-Furness.[9] The oak plaque is, of course, still in place — though hidden behind a blackboard installed in the early 1970s by the then headmaster, the late Mr Roger Plane.

The present St Peter’s Church was consecrated on 29 June 1865. Hobbs (writing in 1948) said that, ‘Ireleth tradition has it that [John Todd of the Guards, Kirkby] owned the site now occupied by ‘Bankfield’ and intended that the church should be erected there, but a conference at the “Bay Horse” Inn resulted in an exchange of land, and so the church came to occupy its present position’.[10] I can just imagine what sort of a ‘conference’ that was.

St Peter’s Church, Ireleth. This picture is from a postcard sent to Mrs Crellin of 37 Hood Street, Barrow, on 21st August, 1917.

The separate parish of Ireleth-with-Askam, which had been requested in 1860, was finally formed on 12 May 1874. In 1879 the original lease purchased by Giles Brownrigg expired, and so the trustees of King’s College Hospital (which by then partly occupied the Grange Inn site) offered £1,000 in settlement of all claims.

The school building was enlarged in 1898, but has almost closed a couple of times since then. The Education Act of 1944 made many schools redundant, though Ireleth survived, and again in the late 1950s/early 1960s — when pupil numbers were low — local government sought to rationalise the number of schools. At the end of the twentieth century, over 370 years after its establishment, Ireleth school has undergone a resurgence. Pupil numbers have continued to climb throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s under headmasters Mrs Ainslie, Mr Plane and Mr McPherson. In 1997 there were over 100 pupils enrolled, some occupying the new schoolrooms at the eastern end of the playground which were erected in 1990s.

Askam's schools
The National School on the corner of Duke and School Streets was built in 1873. It cost £2,500 to build and originally had three departments: boys, girls and infants. The building was intended to accommodate 500 children, but according to the Directory of Furness there were ‘about 720 children’ in attendance.[11] By 1910 this number had declined to about 300 children; due both to the opening of the Victoria Council School on Lots Road in 1888 and the movement out of Askam following declines in the steel and iron ore industry. Askam School closed some time in the 1970s, at which point all pupils were transferred to the Victoria School, and the old school was converted into a community hall.

The Victoria Council School on Lots Road was built to accommodate 278 children, and in 1910 had approximately 240 in attendance.[12] It has been fully renovated, and is now the main school for Askam.

Catholicism and nonconformism
There is a strong tradition of Nonconformism in Furness which dates back to at least the mid-seventeenth century. Probably the most well-known local nonconformists are the Quakers, who still have strong links in the area at Swarthmoor. Separate histories of the Quakers are widely available, but for this history it is worth noting that George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, married Margaret Fell of Marsh Grange in 1669. Margaret, known as the ‘nursing mother’ of Quakerism, was born at Marsh Grange, and very likely attended Giles Brownrigg’s school.[13] Strong Quaker links were maintained between the Askews and Lowers of Ireleth and the Fells of Swarthmoor for many years after. The most prominent surviving artefact of the Quakers is the Temperance Hall on Saves Lane, built in 1872 as a meeting house for the Society of Friends. The ‘Temps’ is still in use today, though mainly by the Women’s Institute.

Historically Furness was a relatively tolerant place for dissenters and nonconformists. Particularly tumultuous was the period during the English Civil Wars, barely a century after the Reformation, the dissolution of Furness Abbey, and the establishment of the Church of England. During the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell the Book of Common Prayer was abolished and the Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists and others vied for religious and political supremacy.[14] Throughout all this Furness folk generally kept a distance from dissenters whilst allowing the Nonconformists among them to continue unmolested.

Throughout the Civil War period, and after, Catholicism maintained a low but constant profile in Furness. Some prominent families, such as the Kirkbys of Kirkby Hall, remained true to their faith — though the Kirkby family lost the hall following the Oates Plot of 1678.[15] Catholicism could well have been kept alive in the area by the arrival of migrants to work in the infant steel industry. Irishmen were brought in to build the furnaces at Backbarrow, and perhaps these men — or others like them — stayed on in Ireleth and district to work in the Park iron ore mines.[16] I believe that Brow Foot, former home of Mrs Sherwood and the Donnellys, has a priest hole, indicating committed but hidden links. The local Catholic community worshipped at the Christian Meeting Room in Crossley Street, which was built in 1907 at a cost £350.[17] This is now St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church.

(At the time of writing this section I had yet to come across Anne C. Parkinson’s excellent book A History of Catholicism in the Furness Peninsula 1127­1997 (published by the Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster, 1998). While it lacks an index (thus making searches for references to our particular area difficult), there is a very good bibliography at the back of the book.)

During the period of Furness’s industrialisation a wave of nonconformists arrived with the Cornish miners and other migrants who came to work the iron ore mines, and hereafter Askam’s religious life was predominantly nonconformist. The Zion Chapel (as it was then known) of the Primitive Methodists on Beach Street was built in 1870 and improved in 1902 (it has since be converted into a private residence). At this time a Sunday School was added at a cost of £500.[18] The Wesleyan Chapel on Duddon Road was also built in 1870; it too was enlarged for a Sunday School, at a cost of £800. There is also a United Methodist Chapel on Duke Street.

The nonconformists were heavily involved in industry at local and national levels. Barnes believes that, ‘Perhaps exclusion from public office and the state church made dissenters concentrate their energies on industry and commerce; or perhaps the spontaneity and individualism of Quakers and Methodists flourished in industry where self-reliance, assertiveness and enterprise were essential’.[19] For whatever reason, there is a strong legacy of buildings in the village — though not so much of practising worshippers.

Bulmer, in the North Lonsdale Parliamentary Division, also notes that there was a Salvation Army Hall on Duke Street in 1910/11.

1 This was later known as the Grange Inn, and is still marked in the London A-Z, map A2.
2 Hobbs, p.147
3 Hobbs, p.148
4 ibid.
5 ibid.
6 Hobbs p.157
7 Hobbs p.162
8 Hobbs p.164
9 Hobbs p.165
10 Hobbs p.165
11 Directory of Furness, p.188.
12 Melville and Hobbs, ‘Askam: the modern settlement’, p.1
13 For info on the ‘nursing mother’, see Quaker booklet p.6; for attendance at Ireleth school, see Melville & Hobbs.
14 Foulds, p.4
15 Barnes pp.69­70
16 See Barnes; also footnote 53 of Harris, p.398
17 Melville and Hobbs, ‘Askam: the modern settlement’, p.1
18 ibid.
19 Barnes p.78