About this church
Grade I listed, it is one of the finest examples of a late medieval, vernacular Lake District church. It has literary connections with Wordsworth and was also the home the home of Archbishop Sandys in the 16th century.
Local masons built this church by eye rather than from a plan. Edwin Sandys, 16th century Archbishop of York and Hawkshead’s most famous son, raised the roof and installed a clerestory. William Wordsworth worshipped here when a boy at Hawkshead Grammar School. The tower contains a peal of eight bells, five of them dating from 1765. Unique 17th and 18th century scripture texts adorn the walls as do some fine Georgian monuments including one to a Lord Mayor of London.
This historic Lake District church, a key feature of the village, has several unique features. There was a Norse chapel here once, and an early church was built in the 13th century. The present building is mostly 16th and 17th century with some 14th century work in the tower. The round arches of the arcade suggest Norman work, but are in fact the work of local masons, who built this church by eye rather than from a plan.
Edwin Sandys, 16th century Archbishop of York and Hawkshead’s most famous son, raised the roof and installed a clerestory. He also commissioned the memorial tomb to his parents found in the church.
William Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School between 1779-87. There are numerous references to the church in his work, particularly in The Prelude.
The interior, little altered over the centuries, is dressed with lime plaster and decorated with 17th and 18th century painted scripture texts, there is also a decorative dogtooth border around the pillars and arches.
In the chapel dedicated to St James, look for the symbols (rucksack, boots and waterbottles) embroidered on the kneelers by church members and the Viking designs acknowledging Hawksheads (Haukr-saetr) Norse beginnings. Note the unusual old church register chest made in 1603 from a hollowed oak beam nearly 7 feet long.
The exterior was rendered in lime plaster, see Wordsworth’s reference to ‘a snow white church upon a hill’ but this was stripped during the 1875 renovation.
The War Memorial cross, put up after the 1919-18, was based on the design of the ancient Gosforth cross, from around 1000AD.