Henry’s decision to establish the Church of England
had profound consequences across the nation and many of the subsequent
changes can be seen through a careful study of religious and other
buildings across Low Furness.
Henry Birkett in his ‘History of Ulverston’
(1949) says that there is little doubt that the century following
the dispersal of the monks was hard throughout Furness. Their industry,
their business acumen as well as their philanthropy were greatly
missed and ‘not until a new Order had been established and
modern England was almost in sight did prosperity return’.
It is true that the dissolution of the monastries in
1536-9 and the chantries in 1546 curtailed developments in educational
foundations but within a few years of the accession of Elizabeth
1st it was clear that the new Church of England was firmly established
and that the prospect of stability coupled with the increasing wealth
of the middle classes encouraged gentlemen to endow more schools.
Urswick Grammar School was founded in 1580.
School and Church constructed at Dendron by the gift of Robert Dickinson
and completed in 1642 was in the midst of considerable religious
turmoil and was not in fact used much until at least 1652. Other
examples of fine buildings of this period can be seen across Low
Furness, for example in Little Urswick, Leece, Dendron and particularly
at Sunbrick which became a significant Quaker settlement, visited
by the ‘notorious’ George Fox (who also preached at
Dendron in 1652 to good effect) who is associated with Judge Fell
and Swarthmoor Hall.
The suppression of the Catholic faith and the growth
of the Anglican Church allowed Puritans to thrive under Elizabeth
but James 1 declared himself not in sympathy with Puritan beliefs
and non-conformist groups emerged, particularly Presbyterians, Congregationalists
and Baptists as a result.
With Parliamentary victory in the Civil War of 1642-5
the Presbyterians assumed nominal control of worship but with the
re-imposition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in 1662 many
refused to conform and were ejected from their churches.
George Fox became a religious itinerant in 1643 ands
commenced his public ministry in about 1647. He met significant
opposition but was apparently well received in Gleaston, Rampside
and Dendron. The Society of Friends Meeting House above Ulverston
was given by Fox to the founders of the Society in 1688. Bulmer
notes that ‘after encountering innumerable sufferings, opposition,
and afflictions, though generally brought on by himself by his violent
attacks on the clergy, and his strictures on them in their public
ministry, this singular and extraordinary man died on the 13th November,
It is from such ‘non-conformist’ seeds
that Methodism grew and took a hold. From 1750 until 1791 John Wesley
preached to ‘the world my parish’ although preaching
out of doors was still not considered the done thing.. Many unconsecrated
chapels were established, including in Low Furness hamlets and villages
and they were ‘serviced’ by itinerant lay preachers.
It has been suggested that the growth of Methodism
prevented the French Revolution from being repricated here but in
some ways it emphasised the different class divisions within English
society and the difference between ‘church’ and ‘chapel’
which was further emphasised during the 19th Century as the new
wealth and prosperity of the nation led to a ‘mushrooming’
of building of both churches and chapels across the country and
the further advances in education- a mixed blessing!
It has to be said that the 18th Century was not a good time for
those Churches without significant patronage and endowments and
even where there were often the clergy were absent from their ‘livings’.
Even Aldingham, a significant Crown living since the demise of Lady
Jane Grey, was found to be badly neglected and in need of considerable
repair when Revd. Doctor Stonard arrived there in 1812.