Saint Patrick's return home to Cumbria after his shipwreck off Heysham

Patrick (Patricius) was born around 388 AD into a Christian Romano-British family during the final years of the Roman occupation of Britain. As a teenager he was kidnapped by sea raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland.  At that time Britain was Christian and Ireland pagan, a situation which would be reversed in the following centuries.

Patrick learned the Irish language and customs, and determined to become a missionary to convert Ireland to Christianity.  After six years in captivity he escaped and somehow managed to board a ship bound for Britain.  However, the ship was wrecked when it ran aground on a shoal off the coast of Heysham, which is now known as 'St. Patrick's Skear' [1]

A chapel was later built at the place where he waded ashore [2]. From there he made his way home travelling northwards along the shoreline of Morecambe bay, stopping to drink at  St Patrick's well at Hest Bank. According to Morecambe historian R.C. Quick, this well was still in existence in 1962 and was situated in a field between the golf course and the canal [1]. There is also a St Patrick's well in Heysham village, which has recently been restored.

St Patrick's home must have been fairly close to the Irish sea, otherwise he would not have been kidnapped by pirates. It must also have been somewhere north of Hest Bank and south of Hadrian's wall.

The possibility that Patrick came from south west Scotland can be excluded, because Romanised Britons were not popular with the folks north of the Solway Firth (Hadrian hadn't built his wall just to be a decorative landscape feature).

So it seems likely that Patrick was an inhabitant of a Roman settlement near the Cumbrian Coast.

Another place name which may be associated with Saint Patrick's journey home is Preston Patrick near Milnthorpe. This would at first sight seem strange, as this location implies he was headed eastwards and inland. However a map of Roman Britain shows that this would be a logical route to south west Cumbria.  The main Roman military road north from Lancaster corresponds to the present A683 through the Lune valley.  From this route another road branched off westwards to the Roman fortress of Alauna (south of Kendal) [3], with possibly another branch to Hincaster and the Cartmel and Furness Peninsulas [4]. The exact course of these routes is unknown, but either might have passed through Preston Patrick.

The alternative to taking this circuitous Lune Valley route would have been a hazardous direct crossing of Morecambe bay at low tide. It is possible that with his experience at Heysham fresh in his mind, Patrick might not wish to make any further acquaintance with the treacherous waters of the Bay.

Having reached home, Patrick began his vocation as a missionary by training as a priest. 

Views of Saint Patrick's Chapel, Heysham, Lancashire

View of St Patrick's chapel, Heysham from St Peter's Church.

View of St Patrick's chapel, Heysham, from seaward side

Photo of archway in Saint Patricks's chapel Heysham

Path to St. Patrick's chapel, Heysham

Saint Patricks Chapel, Heysham

Saint Patrick's chapel looking out to sea.

Saint Patrick's Chapel, Heysham, interior

Graves cut from rock, Heysham Head, Lancashire

Graves cut out of rock, Heysham Head, Lancashire

Side view of stone graves, Heysham Head, Lancashire

Adult and child sized graves with St Peter's church in the background. Heysham, Lancashire

Heysham adult and child sized stone cut graves, close up

Looking out to sea from Heysham Head

View out to sea from Heysham Head

Plaque on St Patrick's Well - Heysham Village

Plaque near Saint Patrick's well, Heysham village.

Notes and References

[1] Quick, R C (1962), The History of Morecambe and Heysham - publ Morecambe Times, page 58.

[2] Websites describing St Patricks chapel:

[3] The course of the Roman road to Kendal is not known, it may possibly have branched off the main north-south road at Hawking Hall .

[4] 'According to Rauuthmell and R. S. Ferguson, a Roman road from Lancaster crossed the sands of Morecambe Bay for about seven miles to Wyke, in Cartmel, and across Cartmel Sands (three miles) and Duddon Sands (two miles) to the west coast of Cumberland. A Roman road is said to be visible in Cartmel, and in Furness between Conishead and Duddon Sands, but the crossing of the wide, treacherous sands by a road appears to be inconceivable.' see ref 55 to Archaeological Survey of Lancashire, and Trans. Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiq. Soc., vol. iii p64

The Roman road referred to at Conishead may have been visible in the nineteenth century, but there's no obvious sign of it now. The only road that looks vaguely Roman in this area is a short length of cobbles on Birkrigg where the track from Bardsea comes on to the common. A Roman Road at Conishead would imply a crossing from Sand Gate via Chapel Island.

In her history of Ulverston, Dorothy Ashburner states that 'parts of a Roman pavement are recorded as having been found near to the old Red Lane, as well as a Roman coin found in the vicinity of the old Town Mill '  [Ashburner, Dorothy ' A Story of the Growth of Ulverston' (1993) page 2, Published Fletcher and Robinson, Ulverston]

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