St Michael’s is a fine example of a medieval country parish church. The parish extended from the River Eden across the North Pennines to the River Tees, admittedly with more sheep than people but nonetheless, in its heyday, one of the richest livings in the diocese.
The church enjoys a fine position at the northern edge of the village of Kirkby Thore within a large walled churchyard ringed by sycamore trees and with uninterrupted views of the hills in the distance. The current sandstone building dates from c1150 when land was given for a church by the Whelp family, Lords of the Manor. Largely destroyed in Scottish raids at the end of the 14th century, St Michael’s was rebuilt and extended.
Many changes over time are clearly visible outside with windows replaced or enlarged and the tower raised to accommodate the large Big Tom bell brought from Shap Abbey at the dissolution by the Abbot, who had previously bought out the living of St Michael’s.
Later, inside, the Victorians raised the nave and choir ceiling to put in a taller east window, and replaced the medieval screen with a false Gothic plaster arch and purely decorative hammer type roof supports. The fine Jacobean furniture, including pulpit, altar table and font were given to the church by the then Rector Thomas Machell, a distinguished antiquarian and local historian, an ardent royalist and Chaplain to Charles II.
Kirkby Thore is now a large village, growing in the second half of the 20th century beyond the Main Street and Cross Street of the medieval village, sited beside the much older Roman cavalry fort of Bravoniacum at the road division to Carlisle and Houseteads on Hadrians Wall. Nothing of the fort remains above ground.