The Norman Castle at Beaumont

Histories of the Three Solway Churches

Going westwards from Carlisle the first of the Three Solway Churches is

St Mary's Beaumont which is situated on the site of a Roman Milecastle, and so actually on the site of the Wall itself.  Believed to be the only church so sited – it offers fine views of the Solway and surrounding countryside, from its elevated position.  Later, long after the Romans had departed, the site it occupied was again recognised as ideal for defensive purposes and a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle was constructed there – the village green at Beaumont, a popular stopping place for a rest or a picnic by those using the Hadrian’s Wall Path and Cycleway, occupies the site of the Bailey (or courtyard) of that castle.

The next church along the coast is St Michael’s, Burgh-by-Sands.  It is the most impressive fortified church in the Border counties and is unique in having two towers, one lowered to roof level in the 1700s.  It represents many layers of history, being built on the site of the Roman Fort of Aballava, directly alongside the line of Hadrian’s Wall.  A cohort of Moors guarded the Fort and the Wall, amongst other nationalities, and they formed the first recorded Black African community, living as a community, in the United Kingdom.  This features in the BBC 2 series Black and British: A Forgotten History in November 2016 and is commemorated by plaques on the church railings and in the church tower. Built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier church, the current church suffered turbulent times during cross-Border warfare and later at the hands of the notorious Border Reivers – and there are many visible architectural features in the church today which date from those times.  The church was where the powerful Plantagenet King Edward I (known as Longshanks) lay in State, following his death nearby, on Burgh Marsh in July 1307.  The Royal Court came to Burgh Church, with the King’s heir, to pay homage and the day after he visited the church, the future King Edward II was proclaimed King in Carlisle.  Edward’s body lay in Burgh Church for ten days, and during that time that small church, in the middle, in effect, of “nowhere” was the focus of the life of the Nation.

Copyright: John Stanger-Moore

The Roman Fort of Aballava

All three churches are built from the stones of Hadrian’s Wall – which provided a ready “quarry” from which building materials could be plundered for local use, for many centuries after the end of the Roman Empire..

The third of the Three Solway Churches is St Michael’s, Bowness-on-Solway.  Its bells have a fascinating history.  During the regular exchanges of hostilities north and south of the Border, a party of Scots raided Bowness Church and stole the church bells.  Pursued by angry locals, the raiders realised that the weight of the bells in their boat was hindering their speedy return and those following were likely to overtake them, so the bells were dropped into the Solway Firth.  The people of Bowness retained their strong sense of grievance over their loss, and a subsequent raiding party was despatched (this time successfully) to steal two bells from a Scottish church, and bring them to Bowness as replacements!