St. Bees' Heads, anciently called the Cliff of Baruth, are a
conspicuous sea-mark for all vessels sailing in the N.E. parts of
the Irish Sea. In a bay, one side of which is formed by the
southern headland, stands the village of St. Bees; a place
distinguished, from very early times, for its religious and
"St. Bees," say Nicholson and Burns, "had its name from Bega, an
holy woman from Ireland, who is said to have founded here, about
the year of our Lord 650, a small monastery, where afterwards a
church was built in memory of her.
"The aforesaid religious house, being destroyed by the Danes,
was restored by William de Meschiens, son of Ranulph, and brother
of Ranulph de Meschiens, first Earl of Cumberland after the
Conquest; and made a cell of a prior and six Benedictine monks to
the Abbey of St. Mary at York."
Several traditions of miracles, connected with the foundation of
the first of these religious houses, survive among the people of
the neighbourhood; one of which is alluded to in these Stanzas;
and another, of a somewhat bolder and more peculiar character, has
furnished the subject of a spirited poem by the Rev. R. Parkinson,
M.A., late Divinity Lecturer of St. Bees' College, and now Fellow
of the Collegiate Church of Manchester.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, Archbishop Grindal
founded a free school at St. Bees, from which the counties of
Cumberland and Westmoreland have derived great benefit; and
recently, under the patronage of the Earl of Lonsdale, a college
has been established there for the education of ministers for the
English Church. The old Conventual Church has been repaired under
the superintendence of the Rev. Dr. Ainger, the Head of the
College, and is well worthy of being visited by any strangers who
might be led to the neighbourhood of this celebrated spot.
The form of stanza in this Poem, and something in the style of
versification, are adopted from the "St. Monica," a poem of much
beauty upon a monastic subject, by Charlotte Smith: a lady to whom
English verse is under greater obligations than are likely to be
either acknowledged or remembered. She wrote little, and that
little unambitiously, but with true feeling for rural nature, at a
time when nature was not much regarded by English Poets; for in
point of time her earlier writings preceded, I believe, those of
Cowper and Burns.