St Martin's church is a 'very remarkable building with windows glowing with gemstone colours' according to architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.
The old church that stood in the lower churchyard dated back to 1169 when it was given to the nearby Lanercost Priory. At the dissolution it was given to Lord Darce and then Lord William Howard. There are no traces of this building only the dedication board to George I that hangs in the new building. The new church was built in 1860 and was funded by subscription, the donors included The Earl of Carlisle, Robert Stephenson MP and John Bell, father of Joseph Bell Chief Engineer on the RMS Titanic. A memorial to the Titanic engineers is part of the family head stone in the church yard.
The church stands at the top of a hill with views west towards the lake district. It was built to an Anthony Salvin design, it is described as early English style and is grade II listed. Two bells hang in the bellcote above the large slate roof of the nave. The original design could seat 400 people. The money was raised by subscription with most local farmers contributing. The Thompson family, owners of the local mines and the Earl of Carlisle were major contributors. The Rocket locomotive ended its working life as a static engine here. Contributions were also collected from employees in the mines and the nearby spelter works at Tindale. The total raised was £1,735. Many of the stained glass windows were commissioned subsequently as memorials. Most notable is the Diamond jubilee window for Queen Victoria.
The old churchyard has many fine head stones. Those for the Bell family are numerous but one is notable: Joseph Bell. His grandson was baptised in the new church in May 1861 and grew up not to be a farmer like his ancestors but an engineer. After serving an apprenticeship at Stephenson works in Newcastle he went to sea and worked his way up to become Chief Engineer. His last commission was on RMS Titanic where he lost his life when it sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912. The family headstone bears a memorial to him and his fellow engineers.