Visit Hidden Britain


Further information on St. Matthew's church, Dendron

Dendron an odd name for an English hamlet, since it is highly improbable that the Greek word for tree should become a village name in Furness, J. Richardson in his book "Furness Past and Present" gives the derivation as being Den-rann Anglo-Saxon for a sheltering place for deer. This would appear to be a reasonable conjecture as in the year 1239 A.D. an agreement was entered into between William le Fleming and the monks of Furness "that they could hunt in common over the lands at Lies" (Leece).

St Matthew's Church was originally built as a Chapel of Ease in 1642 for the people of Leece, Dendron and Gleaston as stated on the brass plate over the door into the nave, at the cost of Robert Dickinson, a citizen of London, who was born in Leece. This gentleman also provided sufficient capital to maintain, when invested at 8 percent, a Minister to read Divine Service on Sundays, and to teach the village children on weekdays. According to the book published by S. Soulby in 1852, "Public Charities of the Hundred of Lonsdale North of the Sands", the money was invested by the trustees not in land as laid down by Mr. Dickinson's will, but was "secured by mortgage on certain premises in Ulverstone, belonging to Mr. Fell, at 4 percent only."

Up to 1652 no one seems to have been appointed to the "living" since George Fox (the renowned Quaker) states in his diary for that year - "I went to a Chapel beyond Gleaston, which was built, but no priest had ever preached in it", and goes on to say that many of the country people at the meeting he held were convinced of the truth.

It is doubtful indeed if the Divine Service, referred to in Mr. Dickinson's will (which would be the 1604 revised version) was ever read in St Matthew's. The reason being that this was the time of the 'Long Parliament', the troubled times of the decline and fall of the 'Divine Right' of Kings' in this country culminating in the rise of Oliver Cromwell to power through Civil War and the execution of King Charles I in January, 1649. During the ensuing years of Puritan England, the church may have been visited by itinerant preachers, many of whom had been dispossessed of their livings by-the "Commonwealth" established by Cromwell.

It was not until eleven years after the return of Charles II to the throne of England, that one James Penny was appointed to the curacy of Dendron in 1671.

Probably one of the longest serving curates in the district was Thomas Fell who was born at Gleaston, and held the curacy at Dendron from 1715 to 1767, a total of fifty-two years. It was during Mr. Fell's incumbency that George Romney - the famous artist - was sent to school at Dendron from his home at Cocken near Dalton. Romney who was boarded out with a Mr. Gardner, apparently made little progress, and was removed by his Father, who had a small farm and joinery business.

The expense of £1 per annum for tuition and threepence a day board and lodging would probably have some bearing on the decision. The year was 1745, notable for the attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the crown. His armies passed through Carlisle, Penrith and Lancaster on their road to Derby and return to Scotland, where' the Stuart's hopes disappeared in April, 1746 at the fateful Culloden Moor. However, the threat of the approaching Highlanders under Charles persuaded a Mr. Thomas Greene of Slyne, near Lancaster, that his own district was liable to be decidedly unhealthy for a while, so his wife, being a daughter of a Mr. George Barker of Rampside, chose to settle quietly in this area until the uprising was over, When he returned home to Slyne he left his son Thomas, then eight years old, at Dendron School, from which young George Romney had just been removed. Romney's younger brother was still at school and became a friend of young Greene, the friendship lasting throughout their lifetime.

In April, 1774, Mr. Thomas Greene, writing from Grays Inn, in reference to the consecration of Dendron Chapel, states that "the townships to be benefited by an augmentation of £200 ought to contribute to now glaze the windows and whitewash and put the chapel in thorough repair" It was consecrated on 2nd August, 1774 by Bishop Markham of Chester. The same Thomas Greene in 1795-6 bore the cost of rebuilding the church and school where he had received his early education (see marble tablet in the church).

The Vicarage at Dendron was built in 1833 on a piece of ground purchased from James Gardner. In the same year the new (now old) school was built on the ground opposite the churchyard entrance.

In May, 1892, St Matthew’s was made the parish church of the new parish of Dendron and the Rev. MH Hayman who had been the curate became the first vicar since the Rev. Hayman had been responsible for the raising of the £210 required to refurbish the church he no doubt deserved the preferment.

The children of the parish were originally educated in the chapel-cum-school, until 1833 when the "new" school was built, the building across the road from the church gate, now known as the Sunday school. The school at North Hill was built in the eighteen seventies to cater for the children of the parish, latterly becoming a primary school. The former school continued to have a role as Sunday school and parish meeting room. The North Hill school was replaced in 1995 by the new Low Furness primary school at Urswick, built at a cost of some two million pounds.

The fabric of church and Sunday school was not neglected. In 1990 it was found that the church bell had worn through its bearings and was becoming dangerous. Repairs were carried out by a parishioner and the bell re-hung. The church roof was renewed in 1991, in time for the 350 year anniversary celebrations in 1992, when there was a magnificent flower festival and a display illustrating the history of church and parish. A toilet was installed in the Sunday school in 1991, and the Sunday school roof was renewed in 1993.

In 1995 the seven Low Furness parishes began a policy of co-operation in a variety of ways, and in 1996 they were formally joined in a group ministry, served by two clergymen, the Revs Simon Rudkin and Charles Potter. The seven parishes hold joint services in one of the churches in turn whenever there is a fifth Sunday in the month.

Although rather reduced in numbers, the parishioners of Dendron church continue to show a strong loyalty to their church. The church has been fortunate in the way many people have helped in practical ways, both in maintaining the buildings and in raising money in the ever increasing struggle to make ends meet.

There is always a welcome to newcomers to the church, where the emphasis is on simple services and applying Christian principles to everyday life.