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Home Holme Eden History

Holme Eden History


Peter Dixon Of Holme Eden
The story of Holme Eden Church is closely bound up with the history of the Dixon family - a very familiar name around the Carlisle area. Peter Dixon Sr had been a successful merchant and ship-owner in Whitehaven, who had moved to Carlisle early in the nineteenth century some years after his marriage to Mary Ferguson. Her family were engaged in cotton manufacturing at Langthwaite Mills, Warwick Bridge, which they had built in 1793. Peter Dixon Sr took over the management of the Warwick Bridge mill on the death of his brothers-in-law, Richard and John Ferguson, and created the new firm of Peter Dixon and Sons.

Holme Eden Church was the brain child of Peter Dixon Jr, the second of Peter Dixon's sons, who has been described as "decidedly the ablest and most energetic" of the sons. In 1807 he was placed in full charge of Langthwaite Mills, even though he was only eighteen years old at the time. In these early years the business flourished and a new mill was built in 1835 in Carlisle's Shaddongate, with a towering three hundred foot high chimney "Dixon's Chimney". Meanwhile Peter Dixon Jr had married, and commissioned the Newcastle architect John Dobson to design a family home in Warwick Bridge. The result was the mansion house of Holme Eden.

The later years of Peter Dixon's life were overshadowed, first by the blindness and sudden death of his eldest son, Peter Sydenharn Dixon, and then by the stroke he himself suffered about the time of his son's death in 1857. Having all but lost the power of speech, Peter Dixon was forced to withdraw from the family business, and for the last six or seven years preceding his death in 1866 he never left Holme Eden.

Founding A Church
However, alongside his business and political interests (he was the second Mayor of Carlisle under the Reform Act of 1832) Peter Dixon was a devout Christian. It was said of him that he "loved to attend the services of God's House on the Sabbath Day, and after coming into residence at Holme Eden, he superintended the Sunday School on Sunday mornings and read the Scriptures to the sick and aged in their homes in the afternoons". Shortly after moving into Holme Eden he had offered to build and endow a church for the district. It was recognised that a new church was needed, as the existing parish church at Wetheral could "not afford accommodation for more than one third of the inhabitants", so Dixon's offer was gladly accepted by the Diocese of Carlisle.
Peter Dixon provided the land for a church, churchyard and burial ground, met the cost of the building itself (said to have been about £1,500) and gave £2,500 at 4 per cent per annum towards the stipend of the Vicar. The stipend of the minister was to be augmented by rents paid by the regular occupants of the pews at church services. The level of these rents varied from three shillings (fifteen pence) to twelve shillings (sixty pence) per seat per annum. One third of the pews were free. In view of the seating habits of many modern churchgoers, it is interesting to note that the best (i.e. the most expensive) seats were towards the front of the church! The new church (dedicated in the name of St. Paul) and the surrounding churchyard were consecrated by Hugh Percy, Bishop of Carlisle, on Tuesday, 2nd September 1845 (though it was not licensed for marriages until 1861). A new district was assigned to the church formed chiefly out of the parish of Wetheral, together with a small part of the parish of Hayton. Peter Dixon was the sole patron of the living

The Church Building
The Church had been designed by John Dobson (as was also, almost certainly, the adjacent vicarage). Dobson was a versatile architect whose works included city crescents and squares, hotels, railway stations and other public buildings. Nowadays he is probably best known for his designs for country houses, of which the mansion he had designed at Warwick Bridge for Peter Dixon was one of his most ambitious projects. In his own day, however, as a recent study of his work points out, Dobson was regarded as an ecclesiastical architect par excellence; church architecture represented more than a quarter of his work. So it was not surprising that Peter Dixon should once more turn to him when he was seeking an architect for the proposed church.

John Dobson's early training as a gardener (his father had been in business as a market gardener) gave him a special interest in the actual site of his buildings - it has been suggested that he almost preferred the landscape surrounding his works to the buildings themselves! So it is easy to imagine that the beautiful site beside the River Eden that was put at his disposal for Holme Eden Church would give him especial pleasure.

The Exterior of the Church is virtually unchanged from Dobson's original building. It is a very simple design in red sandstone with a slate roof and consists of a nave, a small chancel with an apse at the east end, a spire 110 feet tall at the west end, over the entrance porch, and a small vestry at the south-east comer.

The Interior of the Church, however, has undergone considerable change during the last hundred years. As is generally the case, some of the changes have been eminently practical, while others have been cosmetic.

No doubt the congregation appreciated the installation of a new heating system in 1895, at a reported cost of £45, which was an appreciable sum in those days, though now it would barely cover the cost of a routine servicing of the church boiler.

Among the most noteworthy additions to the church are the following items:- the two-manual Organ, built by Wilkinson and Sons of Kendal, and installed at a cost of £150; the eagle Lectern, beautifully carved in oak: a new Pulpit, given in memory of Mrs Isabella Wardman, and placed in the church by her family in September 1899; oak Choir Stalls, erected in memory of the Revd G. T. Valentine; a Reredos, erected in memory of Dr Pearson in 1918.

Among the more recent additions to the church furnishings are oak Communion Rails, installed in memory of the Revd Thomas Featherstone in 1948, made by the Yorkshire craftsman Robert Thompson; the Communion Table (with matching cross and candle-sticks) made of English oak, in memory of Canon H. Robson; the Display Cabinet with a Memorial Book which was given in memory of Donald Southern; and the Hymn Boards given in memory of members of the Laidlaw family. The Table, Display Case and Boards were all made by local craftsman and former churchwarden Watson Taylor.

During the incumbency of the Revd Thomas Featherstone there was a wholesale renovation of the Church interior in the Spring of 1904. The ceiling was boarded with pitch pine (though we have discovered to our cost, in recent years, that this boarding has had to bear a considerable weight of the original plaster!); the position of the pews was altered, the floor of the East end was raised and the walls were painted - all this at a cost of £240. In addition, the system of pew-rents mentioned earlier was abandoned, and from this time all seats in the church were free.

As a consequence of all these additions and alterations, the church is quite considerably different from the original ground plan. The line of pews that ran down the centre of the church has disappeared completely, leaving a reasonably broad central aisle, and some of the pews have been removed from the back of the church to create some open space. The sandstone font, which originally stood at the front centre of the church, is now in the space at the south-west comer, beside the main door. The pulpit, originally on the south side, behind the Vicar's stall, now stands on the north side of the church, between the choirstalls and the front row of pews.

Yet despite the many changes, the building still reflects John Dobson's proper concern that design should be functional. The church is very simple, with no pillars or other obstructions; thanks to the large clear windows it is fight (the only stained glass is in the East and West windows, which depict our Lord and St. Paul respectively) and it is acoustically excellent for both speaking and singing, well adapted for a congregation that would hear God's Word and share in His worship.

This extract is taken from St. Paul's Holme Eden 1845-1995 and compiled by Stuart Casson

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