Burgh by Sands St Michael

Form 1A

(Rules 3.2 and 4.6)

Standard Information (parish churches etc.)

Burgh by Sands St Michael
Carlisle Diocese Code: 2120
National Church Code: 607076
LB Unique ID: 78230
Latitude: 54.922099
Longitude: -3.048807
Situated prominently in the heart of the village.
Burgh by Sands St Michael
Burgh by Sands
Barony of Burgh

Dating from the 12th century, this is one of the few fortified churches in Cumbria.  It has two towers, one lowered to roof level in the 1700s.  It consists of a nave, chancel, and a north aisle. A corresponding south aisle was probably demolished in the 14th century. Built on the site of the Roman fort of Aballava, on the line of Hadrian’s Wall, it suffered turbulent times during cross-Border warfare and later at the hands of the notorious Border reivers.  There are still many architectural features in the church from those times. The atmospheric west tower, where villagers sheltered during Border warfare, is defended by its original yett and incorporates material from the Roman fort and the early church, including some nteresting Norman carvings of creatures. At the west door and the door of the west tower, provision was made for wooden draw-bars which would have increased security. There are also arrow slits and a musket loop. Illustrated historical display panels provide fuller information on the history of the church. There is a granite time-line of events down the centuries, alongside the churchyard path.



Grade I
The church stands on the site of the Roman fort of Aballava, so the land immediately outside the churchyard wall (except on the S) is Scheduled and is thus included within the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. The modern cemetery is excluded from the Schedule but the surrounding ground is included.
Burgh-by-Sands, Carlisle City Council.
Solway AONB
In 1307 King Edward I died nearby on Burgh Marsh on his way to wage war against Scotland. His body was brought to Burgh Church and lay in State there for ten days, visited by his Court and his Heir who came to the church to pay homage to the King's body.
Situated close to Burgh Marsh, which is part of the internationally important Upper Solway Flats and Marshes Nature Conservation Site.
There is one which is on the south side of the church.
There is a granite War Memorial in the new churchyard burial ground opposite the church, commemorating the fallen from both World Wars. Two yew trees on each side of the main pathway in the old churchyard were planted in 1840, and these mark the original churchyard boundary up to 1882. In the new churchyard burial ground, in the North East corner, is the Millennium Yew Tree, planted in 2000 and marked with a hardwood plaque. This tree was propagated from the Kentchurch Yew in Herefordshire, which was estimated to be at least 2,000 years old in the year 2000.
Alastair McGregor, Johnston and Wright, Architects, Castle Street, Carlisle.

St. Michael’s, Burgh-by-Sands is built on the site of the Roman Fort Aballava, on Hadrian’s Wall and constructed, in red and grey sandstone, of stones from the fort and the Wall itself.  The present day Hadrian’s Wall Path and Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway, on the line of the Wall, run past the church, resulting in a much increased number of visitors since the Path opened in 2003, and currently it is estimated that 10,000 walkers use the Path each year, and 10,000 cyclists use the Cycleway.

 The earliest church was documented as being on the site in 1100 and the dedication to St. Michael dates back to that time, although little remains from that date and the church was almost wholly re-built in the late 12th century, with the addition of the north aisle in the 13th century, providing a small side chapel.  Use of the side chapel subsequently ceased and in 1880 the area it had occupied was filled with pews.  In 2004 the side chapel was restored and dedicated to St. Kentigern, patron saint of the now redundant church at Grinsdale, also part of the Barony of Burgh Benefice.

The bell tower was built in 1360 and still houses its original bells (restored and re-hung in 2003), the treble dedicated to St. Michael and the tenor to the Virgin Mary.  Although built as a belfry, it was also intended as a defensive tower and is entered today through the heavy iron “yett” or gate.  This would have originally been boarded on both sides, and bolted to defend villagers sheltering in the tower from Border raids, having been summoned to safety by the same bells which, in the 21st century, still call parishioners to worship in the church.  (The word “yett” is of Norse origin and dates from the time of the Viking invasions.  The word is still used in Cumbrian dialect for “gate” today).  A doorway, built up in the 1880s, at the west end of the north aisle is likely to have replaced the original Norman doorway, when the tower was built in the 14th century, as an entrance at that part of the church could more easily be defended from the fortified tower.  In 2013, as part of a major development project, the west doorway was re-opened and a short, sloping path laid to connect it to the main churchyard path, providing the alternative of level access into the church, for those unable to negotiate the steps at the north doorway.  The re-opening of the doorway revealed two pairs of apertures at each side of it, where stout oak drawbars would have been placed to reinforce the door during Border warfare.  These important links with those violent times in the Borders have been retained and are of great interest. During Border Raids farm animals were driven into the church for protection. 

St. Michael’s is one of only three fortified churches in Cumbria, the others being at Newton Arlosh and Great Salkeld, although Burgh is probably the earliest of these surviving examples. St. Michael’s has been described as the most impressive fortified church in the Borders.  The church is unique in having two towers, the east tower having been added in the 15th century, although it was lowered in height to the level of the main church roof in the 18th century.  An independent survey of all its churches, undertaken in recent years by the Diocese of Carlisle, identified St. Michael’s, Burgh-by-Sands as being of “high significance architecturally, historically and archaeologically”.

In addition to the re-opening of the west doorway and provision of level access described above, the 2013 development project included the installation of a WC suitable for able bodied and disabled use and a small kitchen to enable the provision of refreshments.  A time-line of twelve granite slabs was laid along the churchyard path, describing historical events of significance for the church and area, from the building of Hadrian’s Wall to the present day and excellent visitor information relating to the history of the church, using illustrated panels and associated lighting, was installed in the ground floor of the west tower.  New visitor literature and a new guidebook have also been produced.

Burgh-by-Sands is a pleasant and relatively unspoilt village, with a population of about 1200.  There are a small number of working farms, a primary school, and part-time Post Office and public house.  The village enjoys a good community life.  The Parish Hall has been completely restored and was re-opened in 2011 and the Village Green and Wildlife Area, which had been many years in coming about, was formally opened also in 2011.  In 2003 the village won the Village of the Year title, both for Cumbria and for the North of England.

The church is near the entrance to the village, approaching from the City of Carlisle, which is six miles away.  A visitor to the church, entering via the main gates, sees a well kept churchyard with memorials going back to the 18th century, as well as the new granite time-line described above.  The view of the church is framed by the ancient yew trees half way up the path, marking the original western boundary of the churchyard until 1882.  In spring the grass is carpeted with snowdrops, presenting a tranquil scene far removed from the turbulent times which this Border village would have experienced in earlier centuries.

On entering the church the visitor would see an attractive, surprisingly spacious interior, with a three bay, north aisle arcade of pointed arches on octagonal columns, with stiff leaf capitals.  The open timber roof to the nave dates from 1881.  There is a corbel stone, carved as a head, in the sanctuary, which is believed to be 12th century and may have come from the first church on the site.  There are interesting carved stones above the doorway in the bell tower and two 12th century grave slabs, which were re-used in the construction of the tower in 1360.  The stained glass windows are all 19th century.  The five windows in the north aisle depict St. Cuthbert, St. Kentigern, St. Aidan and St. Ninian, and also King Edward I, who died on Burgh Marsh and was brought to the church to lie in State in 1307, when his heir and the Court came to the church to pay their respects to the deceased monarch, before King Edward II was declared King in Carlisle.  A visit to the church by HRH The Duke of Kent in 2007 marked the 700th Anniversary of these momentous events.  The church has oak pews, dating from 1880, and a small pipe organ.

In March 2014 HRH The Duke of Gloucester visited the church and attended the celebration to mark the completion of the Three Solway Churches’ Development Project.

St. Michael’s is well used, with a service each Sunday at 11 am.  Its Sunday School was re-established in 2005 and takes place on two Sundays each month.  Activities for children are available every Sunday.  On the 1st and 2nd Sundays there is a Holy Communion Service, and the 3rd and 4th Sundays have a Service of the Word, one of them lay led.  On any fifth Sundays the service that week is moved in rotation around the other four Benefice parishes.  A service of Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion is held each Wednesday morning in Burgh church.

The church attracts a large number of visitors, particularly since the completion of the Three Solway Churches’ Development Project.  It takes part in Heritage Open Days and in 2013 received around 150 visitors over the four days.  Pre-booked guided tours are offered and a number of tours have taken place each year, one run in collaboration with Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.  School visits are encouraged and some have already taken place; this is an area which the church is planning to develop further now that the development project is complete and the necessary facilities are in place.  Lectures and concerts also take place from time to time. The church is open during daylight hours all year round. Trained guides/stewards welcome visitors and provide information and facilities for ten hours each week, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Easter and the end of October.  There is a drinking water facility outside the church for the use of visitors when the church is not stewarded and its availability is advertised on the Hadrian’s Wall Path and Cycleway route.

St. Michael’s can be described as being in good heart and still serving well the community to which its priests have ministered for over 900 years.

View Fuller Statement of Significance

As referred to above, the church is built on the site of the Roman fort of Aballava, alongside Hadrian’s Wall, and is largely constructed from Roman stones from both the fort and the Wall.

The church serves the largest community in the Benefice, and has a Sunday and a Wednesday morning service each week.  It has a Sunday School on two Sundays a month and is used for baptisms, weddings and funerals on a regular basis.  Concerts and lectures take place regularly in the church and from Easter to the end of September a rota of trained guides receive visitors at identified busy times on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.   The church occupies a prominent site near the entrance to the village.  It is the most significant building which the thousands using the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail and the Hadrian’s Wall Cycleway - both of which pass alongside the church - will encounter between Bowness-on-Solway and Carlisle.  In 2014 over 1,300 people, from all parts of the world, signed the Visitors’ Book.  Using the nationally recognised Rank Organisation Formula for calculating visitor numbers (as most do not sign a visitors’ book) this suggests that the church is visited by in the region of 9,000 people each year.  The church has a small kitchen, enabling the serving of light refreshments, a WC suitable for able bodied and disabled use and full level access for those with mobility problems, or for prams.

Visitors remark on the very real sense of peace and of centuries of prayer in the
church.  A beautiful setting for worship.

(Please also see ‘Social/Cultural/Economic Significance’ above). The church is used regularly by the local primary school for Christmas and Harvest Assemblies, and for educational visits. It has professionally written educational materials and re-enacted outfits reflecting its history and is actively working to increase the number of school visits. Tour groups also visit the church on a pre-booked basis for guided tours\refreshments.

Please see Social, Cultural and Economic Significance and Community Use above.

Carolyne Baines
Church Warden