A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST GEORGE’S CHURCH
Originally a chapel-at-ease of the Kendal Parish Church of Holy Trinity situated in Kirkland, the first St George’s Chapel of 1754 was not unlike the Victorian idea of heaven, earth and hell. It occupied the upper part of a building which used to be in the Market Place, close to the present war memorial. The upper storey was the chapel; the ground floor was used as the butter market, whilst below this was the notorious dungeon of the town jail.
The position of the original St George’s Chapel accounts for the odd shape of the parish which, apart from a large area on the Gooseholme side of the river from Sedbergh Road northwards, forms, on the west side of the river, a wedge shape which seems to divide the Parish of Holy Trinity to the south from the parish of St Thomas to the north. When the new church of St George was built on the present site in 1841, to cope with the expansion of the town on the east bank of the river it still retained its old parish area including the Market Place and Finkle Street; and does to this day. However, modern preferences of worship mean that Anglican worshipers from all over Kendal choose whichever of the three parish churches offers the style of worship they like the best.
The present building, designed by the local architect George Webster, was opened in 1841. A little later, associated schools were built in the locality, but they are now used for other purposes. There was also a cemetery, now closed, in Castle Street.
When the church was opened, the east end terminated at what are now the chancel steps, but there were no rooms at the west end as now – the porch opened directly into a longer nave.
Additionally, there was a large gallery, of which only the front remains, across the back of the nave, approached by winding stairs in both towers. This gallery continued along both sides of the church. By positioning the pulpit where the lectern now stands, it was said that every one of the 1066 seats had a clear view of the preacher.
It is interesting to note that, because the River Kent was prone to flooding, the church ground was raised four feet and walled round. This has saved the Church from flooding, although Storm Desmond in December 2015 saw the water rise just up to the main doors. The twin octagonal towers were originally 100 feet high, surmounted by spires, but in 1978 it proved necessary to remove these for safety reasons.
In 1963 the length of the nave was reduced to create a Committee Room at the back of the church and a porch. Above, in place of the gallery, is a large upper hall approached by the original tower stairs or by the staircase at the back of the nave.
In the early 2000s a new foyer was built at the front of the Church incorporating new toilets, including disabled facilities, and the provision of a Parish Office.
Then in 2013/14 the Kitchen was extended and equipped to modern catering standards to allow for the preparation of meals. Also, the Committee Room was completely refurbished, carpeted and new heating installed allowing more use to be made of the building by Church and Community groups. This is now named The Radley Room.
There are a number of interesting artefacts in St George’s. In the porch is a stone plaque which was designed by a pupil of a school in the parish to commemorate the church’s 150th anniversary. It was made by a parishioner. An icon of St George is also to be found in the porch.
At the back of the nave is a list of past clergy and a stone memorial listing past benefactors from the time of the old chapel. We also have several brass memorial plates which are self-explanatory. Look up and you will see the beautifully decorated ceiling which was restored in the 1990s. At the time of the original alterations at the west end of the church, the font was moved from the traditional position nearer the west door to a new site at the south east corner of the nave, where all may observe the christenings. In the Sanctuary are a number of banners, including those of the Mothers’ Union, both a new one as well as the old one which is now too fragile through age to be used. Around the nave are to be found the Stations of the cross.
At the far end of the South transept is a small, framed explanation of the aumbry lamp. This lamp, on the sanctuary wall, was made by a local student Lisa Murphy. It can be turned to show each of its three faces which represent the Holy Trinity. The choir with its beautifully carved oak stalls, and the sanctuary, are the most cherished part of the church. Note the sanctuary floor made of white marble from Carrara in Italy and crinoidal limestone from a local quarry in Dent.
At the end of the vestry corridor to the left of the font is a Chapel in which is to be found a wall hanging created by a local weaver, Susan Foster (now deceased).
In the north aisle, beneath the union flag, there are two memorials. One for those members of the Parish and the other for employees of Provincial Insurance who gave their lives in the service of their country in two world wars. The Provincial Memorial was moved to the Church when Sandaire House was sold for redevelopment.
The pulpit, on its columns of Peterhead granite, stands nearby, this was originally taller and stood on the opposite side of the chancel. Also in the north aisle is the cabinet containing the book remembering parishioners who have died, whilst the book listing gifts to the church in memoriam is on the far side of the Church by the Font.