For the past three weeks, The Way We Were has been looking at life within the various churches in Lakeland, with the help of elderly people for whom going to church was not the occasional Christmas or Easter, wedding or funeral occasion it often is today; the churches were so central to peoples' lives that religion of one sort of another was one of the few common experiences shared by almost everybody.
But how did the different denominations regard each other? Although the Anglican Church dominated the religious horizon, there were strong non-conformist elements in Westmorland, including Methodists or Chapel people, Quakers, Congregationalists,Roman Catholics, Christian Bretheren and Christian Scientists. Considering that religious feuds have caused the downfall of monarchy or even civil war, how did different faiths co-exist when church attendance was still such an important part of life?
Children, it seemed, were more tolerant than their parents. Roman Catholics always seemed to have been more isolated than other denominations, perhaps because of the old rule that they were not allowed to take part in other peoples' services:
"There was no animosity towards Catholics, people were not unkind to us in any way at all, no, though I thought they might have been but there was nothing. We always got treated just as anyone else.
"I often used to take part in Rush Bearing, walk in the procession with them, but never went into the Parish Church, not until all this reforming was done and we were allowed to go into different Anglican churches. I would walk round with the procession, we used to have our rush bearing taken off us at the door and we stopped there and we got our piece of gingerbread when they came out and then we went to Rushbearing Sports on the Monday.
"All the other religions went in, Methodists and all those, they all went in and there were just one or two of us, very few that would walk in the procession and stop out at the door and wait until they came out."
Children may have failed to notice the difference between religions, or feel any prejudice, but adults could be less tolerant:
"As you grew older and came into contact with other adults, it didn't go down with them so well, they were more one-sided as if you shouldn't be there at all, but as years travelled on and it got smoother and smoother as different priests came, the change eventually happened..."
The building of several non-Conformist churches in the area relied heavilyon the influence and endowment of local businessmen whose family firms were thriving, for example the Fell family at Troutbeck Bridge and their involvement with the Congregational Church, and the Pattinsons of Windermere, and their close association with Christian Science.
For Roman Catholics in Lakeland, still excluded widely from holding important public office, life was harder; there were few Irish immigrants to swell numbers, as there were in the industrial towns of West Cumberland; and there was little of the wealth of the large and thriving Catholic families of such towns as Blackburn and Clitheroe. It was only when the old Tin Church in Ambleside was declared unsafe that a new church was finally built after the last War.
Dwindling congregations and empty churches are serious problems throughout the country despite the popularity of charismatic, born-again and fundamental churches; but not in Lakeland, it would seem, for two very good reasons. One is that rather more elderly people than young people go to church, and retirement to the Lakes brings the area more than its fair share of elderly churchgoers to the population:
"We haven't what we call a lot of Methodist families here - but lately we've got a lot of people who have come to retire here and they've been Methodists, and they've joined in with us very happily."
Retired "offcomers" have certainly boosted church congregations; and as mass tourism has increased since our grandparents packed the aisles, thousands of visitors now flock to local churches:
"I can remember when I was a little girl every seat in every pew was taken most Sunday mornings. Everybody went to church, because we daren't not. Even when I worked in service, and Sunday was my day off, I still had to go to church with the household, and the mistress would turn round to see that we were all there and there was no running off. We hardly dare lift our heads for fear of being caught.
"Well, nowadays children talk in church, and they let them run about, and I don't like it. But the church is as full as it ever was, I like to see it, even if its the visitors who keep coming all the year round, and not the local people that always used to go. I can't see our church being turned into holiday flats or a bingo hall."