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*All Dalton Heritage Trail artworks** including the logo, leaflet, map, signage art, films and photographs are copyrighted to the artist Rachel Capovila and Barrowfull. Permissions are granted for the use of the Dalton Heritage Trail and educational resources relating to the trail ONLY under the administration of DACH. Any other use or reproduction must have permissions from the artist.

**Except where stated and the copyright remains with the named eg photographer or writer.

According to Jim Walton, it is “virtually certain” that the first church in Dalton was built on the same site on which the parish church now stands, probably in the eighth century when a church was placed in a secure spot away from attacks and this high spot was ideal. There is also evidence that a defensive settlement existed on the site of the present graveyard, an “unassailable” spot.

Later, as Dalton became the chief town of the area, the church would became the Mother Church of a vast parish stretching from Walney to Coniston and even the Langdale valleys and there is reference to the dead of Hawkshead having to be brought from that area to Dalton for burial.

Photo: St Mary’s – Ron Grierson


The first mention of the church is in the deeds of Furness Abbey of 1181, mentioning a “Gilbert, persona de Dalton” as witness : he was almost certainly a parish priest at the time. Then, in 1228, as Furness Abbey grew, the patronage of Dalton church was handed to the Abbey who paid the vicar from the tithes it received from the people.

As time went by, the old 12th Century church was replaced by others and, over the years, largely due to decisions made by the Abbot of Furness Abbey, the parish was reduced. A surviving document from 1574, during the reign of Elizabeth I, says of Dalton, “the vicar kepeth no hospytalyty, the lyving is very small.”

Photo: St Marys from the church yard – Ron Grierson


Eventually, as Barrow grew from a small village to an industrial hub in the nineteenth century with its own churches, Dalton’s parish shrank accordingly. The parish may have been reduced but the town did not suffer the same fate as iron ore mining brought many more people to the town and the old medieval church was no longer sufficient for the number of worshippers. So a new building was needed.

Dalton St Mary’s Church was built between 1883-1885 on a site where it is believed there have been churches since the eighth century. Certainly there is evidence of one from 1138. It was designed by Paley and Austin, and is one of their most spectacular buildings. It is built of red sandstone in a 14th Century Gothic style. The red and white chequered stonework on the square tower and the upper walls is distinctive.

Photo: Ron Grierson


The decision to rebuild the Church was taken with the promise of financial help from James Ramsden, Henry Schneider and others of wealth in the area who felt that Dalton as the leading church in the area, should not be less imposing than ones recently built in the new borough of Barrow-in-Furness.

There is a 14th Century font, much weathered, and bearing the shields of Furness Abbey. There is a peal of ten bells in the large tower. The ancient glass in the North porch is of figures of saints, and is believed to be from the ancient Church 1320-1360. All the rest of the stained glass is Victorian, in the chapel by John Hardman, and elsewhere by Burlison and Grylls, Shrigley and Hunt, and Heaton Butler and Bayne.

The church dedication service from June 1st 1885 has in its order of service a list of the Rebuilding Committee. Sir James Ramsden was the Chair and William Butler, HW Schneider and Edward Wadham were members. Paley and Austin were the architects, James Garden the contractor and Rev J M Morgan was the Vicar. It also records that the total cost of the rebuilding of the church was £11,533.

Photo: George Romneys Grave-Rachel Capovila


In the churchyard can be found the grave of George Romney, the famous portrait painter, who was born in Dalton in 1734 – see separate entry on him. Also in the churchyard is a plaque which outlines the devastating effects of Bubonic Plague which hit the town in 1631.

From an article by Cllr FGB Wynn in the NW Evening Mail in 1968 on the 166th anniversary of GR’s death:  Romney’s fee for a full length portrait and the height of his success was 250 guineas, equivalent to £100,000 today and he often had five or six sittings a day, a total of 11,500 in a period of 19 years. Cllr Wynn wanted an Arts Scholarship set up in Romney’s name for Dowdales students going to art college.

In the 1885 booklet by John Fell called “Notes on the Parish Church of Dalton-in-Furness” he notes that in 1789 Romney made four pews for the church at a cost of £8 16 shillings and six pence.

Photo: Font (from Furness Abbey) – Ron Grierson

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Dalton is the ancient and historic capital of Furness and has approximately 8,000 residents at the current time. Ideally located less than thirty miles from the Lake District and close to the Irish Sea coast and nature reserves, Dalton is home to one of the Counties largest tourist attractions, South Lakes Wild Animal Park.