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Rampside and St.Michael’s church

‘The small village of Rampside, at the southern extremity of Furness, is frequently a place of resort for genteel company, who repair thither to bathe, or for the advantage of the sea air’ So noted West in his Descriptive View of Furness and its Antiquities in 1805. The Conckhole a little distance from the village was noted for its saline bath and its healing qualities. He recorded then that the Harbour called the Old Garth was now ‘rendered useless by the accumulation of sand and pebbles at its entrance’ whereas fifty years earlier it had been much frequented.

The Parish currently has a population of some 700 folk who reside mainly in Rampside or on Roa Island across the causeway; those who work commute mainly to Barrow and Ulverston. There is an active Lifeboat Station and a popular Yachting Club on Roa Island ; windsurfing also takes place there.

Formerly a chapel of ease under Dalton, St. Michael’s Church is on a mound open to the elements some half a mile outside of the village; it affords excellent views towards Piel Island.

As with many of our churches St.Michael’s can trace its roots way back into the mists of time: it claims to occupy one of the oldest religious sites on Furness. Tradition has it that it was built on the site of an ancient barrow.

In the 1860’s William Jackson, the sexton, found a stone axe-hammer of the Neolithic Age. He also found what has been named ‘The Rampside Sword’, a Viking relic possibly from the last resting place of a Scandinavian sea-rover.

He also uncovered a large freestone slab covering a skeleton; this slab bearing a circumscribed cross is believed to be a medieval gravestone; it is now retained inside the church. Other graves revealing large stones resting on human skeletons or bones, the ‘graves of ancient warriors’ have been unearthed.

The graveyard contains the remains of a number of drowned sailors and the remains of a giant of a man buried in a sea chest having been removed from a vessel off Piel Island with the plague on board.

Despite its past strong associations with the sea it has also been regarded as the ‘farmers’ church for the area; many generations of the same few families have worshipped there and are buried in the churchyard. The farming community, like the maritime activity before it, has declined over the years, leaving a faithful remnant behind who keep the church going.

The chapel of ease was probably built by the monks of Furness Abbey before 1292; the old chapel was built of cobbles, with freestone quoins, and paved with cobbles.
A foundation stone dated 1621 is to be seen in the wall, marking its rebuilding. Nothing else of the former building can now be seen.

The present church was built in 1840 and a new porch and vestry added in 1866.
The church fabric seems to have been allowed to fall into a bad state because in 1879 the sexton was required to ‘ keep the church and pews cleanly swept and sufficiently dried’…

In 1892 the new chancel was built by public subscription and material from the old Sunday School used in its erection. Further work was undertaken in 1920 but a great deal more was required to be done. In 1997 the vestry, kitchen and toilet areas were developed from funds generated by the sale of the old ‘mission’ church on Roa Island; the communion table and ornaments were also introduced to St. Michael’s at the same time.

In the south west wall of the baptistry is a life-size representation of Simeon holding the infant Jesus; this picture was executed in tiles by J A Gibbs and Howard of London.

A ‘hidden gem’ in what appears to be a very ‘ordinary country church’ is the East Window; this contains three lights. The central one depicts the Crucifixion. This is a fine example of the celebrated work of Shingley and Hunt working out of Lancaster and London. The window was presented in memory of Thomas Huddleston, Esq. MP. of Arrad Foot House near Ulverston.