Colleges: Kirkoswald

Pages 208-210

A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.

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The collegiate church of Kirkoswald, situated in the Eden valley about fourteen miles to the south of Carlisle, was of late foundation and only existed for about twentyfive years before it was dissolved. It served as the parish church for an area of 11,000 acres. Though the instrument of ordination cannot be traced, there is evidence enough to show that the institution was founded by Thomas, Lord Dacre, who died in 1525. The value of the benefice before the church was made collegiate was taxed at £48 1s. 5d. in 1291, (fn. 1) and at £5 in 1318, (fn. 2) owing to the devastation of the Scottish wars. In 1486, (fn. 3) on the death of Lord Dacre, the advowson was declared to be appurtenant to the manor and to belong to Thomas, his son and heir, at that time eighteen years of age.

In the ecclesiastical survey of 1535 the college is called 'the rectory and college of Kyrkowswald and Dacre,' and the superior is styled 'the master or provost of the collegiate church of St. Oswald of Kyrkoswald and Dacre.' The college was endowed with the advowsons and fruits of the associated churches of Kirkoswald and Dacre, both of which were in the patronage of the Dacre family. The foundation consisted of a master or provost and five chaplains, together with two perpetual vicars for the pastoral oversight of the parishes. (fn. 4) The total value was assessed at £78 16s. 6d., out of which several payments were due in rents, stipends and pensions. The perpetual vicars of Kirkoswald and Dacre received individually a stipend of £8 a year, and each of the five chaplains £6 13s. 4d. After all outgoings were deducted, there remained £27 17s. for the stipend of the master, £4 of which was in dispute between the college and the Bishop of Carlisle. The names of the collegiate staff were John Hering, LL.D., master or provost; Thomas Moyses, perpetual vicar of the church of Kirkoswald; Thomas Langrig, perpetual vicar of Dacre, and John Scailes, Roland Dawson, John Blencarne, Peter Levyns, and William Lowthyan, perpetual chaplains of the college. (fn. 5) The patronage of the college in head and members belonged to Lord Dacre.

The advisers of Edward VI. were a little too precipitate in their attempt to dissolve this college under the authority of the Act of 37 Henry VIII. cap. 4. On 19 April 1547 they despatched letters to Rowland Threlkeld (Thirkeld), the provost, intimating the alteration of the college to another use and promising pensions of reasonable sort to the members. On the following day, when the commissioners arrived at Kirkoswald and took possession, it seems that the provost refused to surrender the house and offered resistance. There are no signatures to the deed of surrender, (fn. 6) and as the impression of the seal is broken and very much obliterated, it is impossible to say whether the official seal of the college, if one existed, was used for that purpose. Later on, 8 June, it was intimated that the privy council had once resolved to have punished the disobedience to the king's commissioners and make an example for the terror of others, but as the members of the college were now grown more manageable and were bent on compliance, and seemed sorry for their former stubbornness, it was thought fit to continue them on the premises till further orders should be taken for their pensions and for the disposal of the college. For the present only an inventory of the goods should be taken. (fn. 7) In this way a virtue was made of a necessity and the commissioners retired with as much dignity as they could under the circumstances.

Under the Act of 1 Edward VI. cap. 14 the privy council was on surer ground. The surveyors of chantries and colleges, appointed on 14 February 1547-8 by the powers given under the above Act, stated that the parish of 'Kirkeswolde' contained 500 'howseling people,' and that the 'colledge in the parishe churche there' was 'off the foundacon of Thomas late lorde Dacres, (fn. 8) father of the lorde Dacres that nowe is.' The lands and tenements belonging to the college were valued at £89 10s. 9d., and 'Rowlande Threlkelde, clerke, provoste there, of th'age of 68 yeres, hathe yerely for his salarye, over and besides £52 in other places, £20. (fn. 9)

Some of the particulars of the dissolution of the college are not devoid of interest. It transpired that 'one thowsand howseling people,' no doubt including the inhabitants of the parish of Dacre, were dependent on the college, and that there were 'too vycars indewyd in the sayd colledge, viz. John Scoles, vycar ther, and Rowlande Dawson, serving in the churche of Dacre appropriate to the same colledge, eyther of theym having £8 yerely.' The total revenue of the house was set down at £79 19s. 6d., and 'so remayneth clere' £71 19s. 6d., after deducting £8 'for the wages' of the vicar of Dacre. The net stipends 'whych the sayd incumbents yerelye recevid for ther lyvynges' were as follow: 'Roland Threlkeld, master of the sayd colledge, for his pencion and fyndynge of the howse, £35 19s. 6d.; John Scalles, £7 6s. 8d.; Robert Thomson, John Blenkerne, Robert Redshawe, William Lauthean and William Hayre, £6 each.' The incumbents of the two parishes were allowed to remain in spiritual charge, but the master and five chaplains were ejected, the former receiving an annual pension of £17 10s., and each of the latter £5. (fn. 10)

As the last master of the college was in many respects a remarkable man, the account of him written in 1677 by Richard Singleton may be given here. In describing the church of Melmerby, of which Roland Threlkeld had been rector, he says:—

The window at the east end of the quire hath 3 lights, proportionable to the rest of the building, wherin formerly hath been store of curious painted glasse. In the midlemost of which lights towards the top ther is yet to be seen a coat of the Threlkelds in its colours, a maunch gules in a ffield argent: and in the midst of the uppermost part of the maunche there is, I take it, a trefoil. In the light between the said midle light and the vestry hath been set up or painted in his gown and cassoke I conceive (not much unlike to ours at this day) one Rol[and] Thr[elkeld] which is yet to be seen entire from his midle to his feet, and his right arme is yet extant, with this inscription underneath at the bottom, in black letters: 'Orate pro anima Rolandi . . . . . (under that these words) Dutton.' I suppose this inscription hath gon all along the bottom of the three lights and sett out all his titles, ffor report tells us, he was rector of Dufton and vicar of Lazonby as well as rector of Melmorby: he was rector also of Haughton in the Spring neer Duresme and prebendary of Carlisle and master of Kirkoswald Colledge. 'Twas he that built a bridge at Force mill for his own convenience to passe between Melmoreby (wher he most resided) and Lazonby. He was not married, nor did he admitt any womane to manage about his house, but kept (as I have heard by some) a dozen men, by another, sixteen men to wait on him, and for every man he usually kild a biefe at Martinmasse time (pluralities sure were not scrupled then since a man might have enjoyed tot quot).

From the same narrative (fn. 11) we learn that while master of Kirkoswald he made considerable additions to the church of Melmerby.

Masters of Kirkoswald

John Hering, LL.D. 1523, (fn. 12) 1535 (fn. 13)

Roland Threlkeld, last master, 1539, 1543, (fn. 14) 1548.


  • 1. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 320.
  • 2. Ibid. 333.
  • 3. Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII. i. 157.
  • 4. The editors of Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 1450, were misled by Tanner (Notitia, p. 78) and Nicolson and Burn (Hist. of Cumb. ii. 426) in supposing that Kirkoswald was a college of twelve secular priests founded by Robert Threlkeld.
  • 5. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v. 290-1.
  • 6. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii. App. ii. 25.
  • 7. Collier, Eccl. Hist. v. 231, ed. Lathbury; Acts of P.C. 1547-50, p. 504.
  • 8. In 1536, when Drs. Layton and Legh compiled their celebrated Black Book or Compendium Compertorum, they reported that 'Dominus Dakres' was founder of the college and that its revenues were worth £71 (L. and P. Hen. VIII. x. 364).
  • 9. Chant. Cert. (Cumberland), No. 11.
  • 10. Chant. Cert. (Cumberland), No. 12.
  • 11. The MS., entitled 'The Present State of the Parish and Manr of Melmerby in Cumberland from Mr. Singleton, Rector there, and sent to me 19 of June, 1677. T[homas] M[achel],' is bound up in vol. vi. of the Machel collection in the custody of the dean and chapter of Carlisle. As Singleton's information was only traditional, his facts should be accepted with great caution.
  • 12. On 5 December 1523, Thomas Lord Dacre, the founder of the college, appointed Thomas Moyses, one of the five perpetual chaplains in the said college, John Hering being at that time 'provost of the church of St. Oswald, Kirkoswald' (Add. MS. 24965, f. 123b; L. and P. Hen. VIII. iii. 3606). The college cannot have been founded long before this date.
  • 13. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v. 290.
  • 14. Mentioned in the First Fruits Composition Books under 1539 and 1543 in connection with the college of Kirkoswald; rector of Halton in Lancashire in 1542 (Jackson, Papers and Pedigrees, ii. 295). Singleton confounded Halton with 'Houghton in the Spring near Duresme' as aforesaid. At the time of his death in 1565, Threlkeld was rector of Melmerby and Dufton (Carl. Epis. Reg., Best, f. 21). By his will proved at Carlisle on 3 October 1565, he made certain bequests to poor people in the parishes of Melmerby, Dufton, Halton, Kirkoswald and Lazonby; his body 'to be buryed within the quere of the parish church of Melmerby.' In his will the ancient phraseology was maintained (Jackson, Papers and Pedigrees, ii. 306-12).