Lanercost William Morris Dossal

St Mary’s church, part of historic C12th Lanercost Priory just north west of Carlisle has recently completed a major project to repair and conserve their beautiful dossal which was designed by William Morris in the late 1800s and embroidered by Mrs Bulkeley, wife of the then vicar of Lanercost, working over five years with Mrs Chapman and Mrs Dodgson, widows of the two previous vicars. The dossal, a 24 foot textile hangs behind the altar and was being eaten by white spot spider beetle and possibly mice. A big fundraising effort followed by months of careful conservation and cleaning (which included the textile travelling to Belgium for flatbed suction cleaning) saw the dossal repaired and returned in all it’s glory to it’s original location in April 2013.

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A careful regime of monthly cleaning around the dossal has been instigated to make sure there are no crumbs of food or provisions which attract the white spot spider beetle and other wildlife which could pose a threat to the delicate embroidered textile.The area is also monitored for damp which could cause mould and accelerated decay.

Lanercost Priory and church hosts a popular festival for 2 weeks at the end of June each year. As this involves construction of staging in the area beside the dossal it is taken down during the festival and stored safely out of harms way in a specially constucted ‘dossal box’.

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The ‘Dossal team’, headed up by local volunteer Christine Boyce, is now looking for some more volunteers to help with the monthly and annual care of the dossal.

To find out what was involved I joined the team on 19 June for the annual putting away of the dossal before the festival. The process included careful removal and hoovering of the dossal and its adjacent carpets, checking for any signs of animal or damp damage before rolling it up and fitting carefully into its dossal box which is monitored for moisture to ensure optimum storage conditions.

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It was a lovely practical and sociable day and a rather a thrill to handle an actual piece of William Morris textile – albeit very carefully and with gloves on. Sadly I wasn’t able to join the team to rehang it after the festival and this is one of the things that Christine is looking for more help with – a day’s time in mid June and again in early July to help with the putting away and taking out of this wonderful historic fabric.

It is through the ongoing care of the volunteers that this historic art work can still be displayed in situ in its original home rather than ‘boxed in’ under more museum display style conditions. If you are interested in finding out what’s involved in helping with the annual putting away and taking out of the dossal, or in other ways you coud help please contact Christine Boyce at

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ITV Border News report on Cumbria Maintenance Co-operatives Project

Following the Diocese of Carlisle press release in support of the Maintenance Co-operatives Project, ITV Border news contacted us to see if they could do a short piece about the project for their 6pm Lookaround news magazine slot on Thursday 3 April.

The news editor was keen to interview not only someone from Carlisle Diocese but also me with a volunteer involved with caring for a local church.

There followed lots of ringing around to see if any of the churches who’d expressed an interest in being involved with the project were willing and able to come and do some filming with Paul Crone the cameraman/presenter from Border News the following morning. Mike Higginbottom from St Michael’s at Kirkby Thore near Appleby bravely stepped up to the mark on the basis that all publicity is good publicity so the shoot was arranged.

St Michael’s is a grade 2* church on the Heritage at Risk register due mainly to the chancel walls wanting to part company with the roof – with visible cracks appearing in an arch put in by the Victorians. They are in the process of trying to raise significant funds to undertake the repair works.

The filming itself took about an hour and a half, with the presenter and cameraman doing the whole thing single handed – involving much running backwards and forwards to adjust the camera when filming his own introduction. He then sped off to Keswick to interview the Venerable Richard Pratt, Archdeacon for West Cumbria, for his thoughts about the project.

It’s always interesting which bits of the interviews make the cut and hopefully the finished piece, which can be seen for a limited time on the ITV website gives a good indication of what the project is about. It’s fantastic publicity for us to launch the project and raise awareness about it in Cumbria and we’re delighted that Border felt it was important enough of a story to focus on it for the regional news.

Huge thanks to Dave Roberts Diocese of Carlisle Communications Officer, Mike Higginbottom St Michael’s Treasurer, St Michael’s Churchwarden Margaret and the Venerable Richard Pratt, not to mention Paul Crone from Border TV too of course.

Link to the ITV Border News – Lottery funding to help maintain historic churches 4 April 2014

Sue Manson
SPAB Maintenance Cooperative Project Regional Project Officer Cumbria

Kirkby Thore filming Paul 2.4.14 Kirkby Thore Mike filming Higginbottom Kirkby Thore ITV filming team cropped Kirkby Thore setting up the shot Kirkby Thore filming 2.4.1