After St Mary’s Kirkby Lonsdale this is the oldest church in the Rainbow Parish, but at first sight it is rather plain and ordinary looking. However this Grade 2 listed building amply repays closer inspection since it has a number of interesting features that are unique in the area, and has an interesting story to tell.
Parish Registers dating back to 1691 record a chapel of St Columba in High Casterton but little is known of it and prior to 1833 villagers would have travelled to Kirkby Lonsdale to worship.
The event which would eventually change this situation was the establishment in Cowan Bridge in 1824 of a school for clergy daughters by the then vicar of Whittington the Rev. William Carus-Wilson. By 1832 a combination of growing pupil numbers and the desire for a more healthy location for the school, resulted in it being moved to a new building in Casterton. Carus-Wilson already had the idea for a school chapel which would also be open to the people of the village, and he donated the piece of land known as ‘Kiln-Haw’ on which to build it. Funds were soon raised and the chapel quickly built, and on October 5th 1833 ‘Casterton Chapel’ was consecrated by the Bishop of Carlisle.
The architect was names Crowther but no builder is recorded and it is likely that a number of local builders farmers and others assisted in its construction. It is said that the limestone was donated by the Underley Estate from their nearby quarry and lime from a kiln close by in Mill Lane. Such a communal effort would help to explain the very low cost of the building, only £750, when Barbon church built 60 (low inflation) years later cost more than four times as much.
The chapel, which was built to hold 480 people including 130 housed in a wooden gallery at the west end, was plain and functional with little adornment to minimize cost, and all windows had plain glass. This was very much in the manner later recommended by Carus-Wilson in his book ‘Helps to the Building of Churches, Parsonage Houses and Schools’ published in 1842. For example the walls are of rough-hewn stone which the author thought gave the appearance of antiquity, as well as economy, believing that regular-coursed walling greatly increased the cost while adding nothing to the strength of a building. A single tolling bell was provided for the steeple, the organ on the gallery was purchased second hand from a chapel in Highgate for £40, and the font of ‘Dent Marble’ was donated by Mr Nixon, a marble manufacturer.
The gallery was disliked by the Clergy Daughters on account of its poor ventilation, and Miss Williams, the Head Teacher, convinced the trustees to commission the design of a chancel to be added to the eastern end of the church, enabling the gallery to be removed. There was much opposition to these changes in the village, but in 1864 the Carlisle consistory court gave their approval and the shape of the church became much as it is today. The sandstone used in the chancel extension contrasts oddly with the limestone of the nave.
In 1888/9 the new parish of Casterton was established, and the anon, Arthur Burton, became the first vicar and chaplain to Casterton School. Under his stewardship many improvements were made including replacement of the roof, floor, seats, pulpit, font, and communion table, installation of a tower clock, additional bells and gas lighting. The crenellations on the tower were removed in 1913 (compare the pictures). Much more importantly, during this period Holy Trinity acquired its stained glass and also the wall paintings which make it unique in the Rainbow Parish.
The painter and designer Henry Holiday created all 5 stained glass windows in the chancel as well as the 2 very fine lancets in the west wall at his studio in Hampstead between 1893-7. The pre-Raphaelite influence is clear. Most were paid for by the Misses Bickersteth of Casterton Hall, who were considerable benefactors in the village over a considerable period. The remaining 7 windows in the nave, designed by Canon Burton with advice from James Clark, were installed in 1919 in commemoration of the Armistice, but the maker is unknown. The costs were shared between the previous benefactors, the school, the people of Casterton and Canon Burton himself.
The paintings which adorn the walls of the chancel and nave are by the same 2 artists. Those of the biblical scenes in the chancel are by Henry Holiday, painted on canvas in 1894/5, are believed to be the last of this type. They share strong composition and excellent use of colour, and a certain likeness to Burne-Jones’ work. Those above the south window of the chancel showing Christ preaching are the author’s personal favourites. The wall paintings in the nave, all on the theme of “The Coming of Christ’ were painted by James Clark on canvas which was then cemented to the walls.