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William Hutchinson's "History of the County of Cumberland", of which the first volume, featuring Eskdale, was published in 1794, is not the best book ever written on the history of the county. It is, however, tremendously useful for its information on places as they were then, supplied by local residents. In fact, much of this information is available in two forms, because Hutchinson reprinted as footnotes the information gathered a short time earlier by John Housman- also on this website. For this page, most of the historical material had been removed; also, the order of paragraphs has been rearranged.


[much of this information was supplied by the Rev. J. Nicholson]:

On numbering the inhabitants in 1791, there were then 421 in the whole, and all of them of the church of England.
State of population from 1593 to 161380254168
1771 to 17914821765

This great decrease is attributed to the vast increase of manufactures, and sailors; and the low wages for husbandmen and artificers in the lower crafts.- A labourer in husbandry, has 10d a-day and his mess, and a carpenter 1s 2d a-day and his mess.

Muncaster… consists of one manor only, of which Lord Muncaster is lord: he also has all manner of tithes within the parish, of the yearly value of 40£. or thereabouts. Tolls are taken for goods and merchandise, brought to Ravenglass fair; the first fair, toll is paid to Mr Stanley; the second fair, toll is paid to Lord Egremont and Lord Muncaster. The River Esk is navigable for about four miles from the sea. Salmon are taken in this river, and seldom exceed three pence a pound; near the sea, place, turbot, and soles are taken.

The park is large and well stocked with deer and rabbits; little wood. The small rivers here abound with trout; and, within the wash of the tide, great variety of sea fish. The Earl of Egremont is proprietor of the fisheries in the Esk, Mite, and Irt, and leases them out to the family of Muncaster. The oysters are the chief article of trade.
We were informed, that formerly so great abundance of woodcocks frequented the woods in this manor, that, by a special custom, the tenants were obliged to sell them to the lord for one penny each; they were taken by springs, and traps: but since the country was stripped of wood, they make a short stay here in their passage, and are, of late years become very scarce.

We passed on to RAVENGLASS, having attended to the time of the ebb tide, that we might ford over the gullies formed by the influx of the sea.
The little town of Ravenglass contains some pretty tenements, and a good inn for travellers, made agreeable to us by the great civility of the owners.

Though Ravenglass stands on the very brink of the sea banks, having the advantage of a creek for small craft, it is so situated as to enjoy little or no trade. The adjacent country furnishes nothing for export. It is famous for the best oysters on the coast, and the attention to their beds is the chief employment of the inhabitants; some few small vessels come up from Whitehaven and Furness for oysters, and bring in coals for the lime kilns. The owners of estates here, except Lord Muncaster, have neglected this country, and make little or no attempt to its improvement, or increase of wealth. Sea ware, shells, &c. are objects of great importance in agriculture, and are overlooked by the husbandman: his Lordship, by a constant residence, and judicious works, hath shewn an example that will promote emulation, and that proves, where due measures are pursued, suited to aspect, climate, and soil, that great advances are to be made in the improvement of the lands of Cumberland. The price of fat ewes, when we visited this parish, of the breed of the country, was about 10s and wedders, 10s 6d: the horned cattle are very small, and the horses mean. Part of the country we passed through to Ravenglass, is of a strong, but poor clay, which might be brought to great improvement by the produce of the sea shore.

This manor is dependent on the barony and paramount of Egremont, and at present, the Earl of Egremont holds the fair of Ravenglass, on the eve, day, and morrow of St. James. There are singular circumstances and ceremonies attending the proclamation of this fair, as being anciently held under the maintenance and protection of the castle of Egremont. On the first day, the lord’s steward, is attended by the serjeant of the borough of Egremont, with the ensignia (called the bow of Egremont) the foresters, with their bows and horns, and all the tenants of the forest of Copeland, whose special service is to attend the lord and his representative at Ravenglass fair, and abide there during its continuance; anciently for the protection of a free-trade, and to defend the merchandize against free-booters, and a foreign enemy… for the maintenance of the horses of those who attend the ceremony, they have by custom, a portion of land assigned in the meadow, called, or distinguished, by the name of two Swaiths of grass in the common field of Ravenglass. On the third day at noon, the earl’s officers, and tenants of the forest depart, after proclamation; and Lord Muncaster and his tenants take a formal repossession of the place, and the day is concluded with horse races and rural diversions.

Near to Ravenglass are the ruins of an old castle called Walls Castle, said to be the ancient place of residence of the Pennington family: the building is strongly cemented with run lime. This has been a place of great consequence in ancient antiquity; broken battle axes of flint, arrow heads, and coins of different people have been found, many of them Roman, and some Saxon.

[extracts from a section including Wasdale, which is likely to be included in some statistics.
Much information was supplied by the Rev. Aaron Marshall, curate of Eskdale]

Number of inhabitants, 321, all of the church of England.
Number of houses in the chapelry [i.e. Eskdale only] 65, now inhabited 58.- The register book began, 1625:
In the first 20 years of the register49277165
In the last 20 years52199110

Here are about 13 linsey weavers, constantly employed.- Labourers wages from 8d to 15d per day, the lowest wages for threshing, the highest for mowing.- Carpenters and masons, from 1s to 14d and taylors, 10d- The custom is for all hirelings to have their victuals. The rental of the lands &c. on a medium, is about 1300£ a-year, the poor are ten in number, and the rate seldom exceeds 7d in the pound.

The general aspect of the country, is rocky and mountainous. The produce of the arable lands, oats, barley, potatoes, and turnips; the price of inclosed lands on sale, about 20£ an acre, attended with a very extensive common-right: lime is 16d per bushel. About 3000 sheep are bred yearly, and 13000 kept in stock, chiefly supported on the common lands. The air is clear, thin and salubrious, the ague, was never known in Eskdale, and seldom a fever. The people are social, and enjoy many comforts of life, with that excellent associate, contentment.

The high road, leading from Whitehaven to Kendal, lies through Eskdale: and the road from Whitehaven to Broughton in Lancashire, crosses, the dale. The river Esk receives two brooks, called Whillan Beck, and Birker Beck. The river Mite, that flows down Miterdale, empties itself into the Irt, at Ravenglass. Here are 13 stone bridges, and four wooden bridges, only one supported by the county.

This chapelry consists of two villages, Eskdale and Birker, which are divided by the river Esk; the latter is in the parish of Millum, and the other in the parish of St. bees, where the chapel stands, being about 18 miles distant from the mother church. The dale takes its name from the river; its western extremity is about four miles from Ravenglass, the nearest market-town... Awsthwaite, now called Dalegarth, lies on the south side of the river. Eskdale has a separate constablewick, Wasdale, Dalegarth, and Birker, lie in the constablewick of Birker and Ulpha. The manors of Eskdale and Mitredale, Awsthwaite and Birker, comprehend this whole district. Lord Egremont is lord of the manors of Eskdale and Mitredale, and Mr Stanley is lord of the manors of Awsthwaite and Birker.

Three miles to the east of Muncaster, near the head of the river Esk, stands the chapel, a stone building covered with slates; the steeple is small, ornamented with an iron cross; at the east end is a stone cross; the edifice is about 20 yards in length within, and in width seven yards. There are two bells, on the larger a date of 1687, when probably it was recast, as there is another date engraved on it, 1287. There is painted glass in several of the windows, particularly a figure of Saint Catharine and the wheel; the dedication is to that saint, The income of this chapelry was certified in 1717, at 9£ per ann. five pounds of which, was the interest of 100£ given by Edward Stanley Esq. There is a small glebe belonging to it, which has been augmented by Queen Anne's bounty, so that the present income is about 30£ a-year, This is a perpetual curacy, to which the inhabitants anciently presented, but through what right or authority we have not learned; George Edward Stanley Esq. is the present patron.

There is a tradition that the chapel bell, hung in an oak tree, on an eminence on the north side of the chapel; and this notion is supported by the name of Bell hill; as there is no other evidence, we are rather inclined to believe, that this hill was the place of the Bel-teing, from the many remnants of antiquity, which we have before noted.

The great tithes of Eskdale and Mitredale, Wasdale and Nether Wasdale, are the estate of Mr Stanley, whose ancestor, Edward Stanley Esq. purchased them in 1577; they are now of the yearly value of 106£ or thereabouts, Lord Lonsdale is the proprietor of the tithes of Birker and Awsthwaite, which are about the yearly value of 24£. Mr Stanley pays a yearly sum to the Bishop of Chester, but what denomination it bears, we are not informed.

There is a poor stock here of 97£ 10s the interest of which is distributed at easter. The interest of 130£ stock, is paid to the school-master at Candlemas, as his stipend; the school was founded in 1770.
Besides the stipend, the master has quarter-pence.- For every scholar reading English, 1s 6d- For writing, 2s- Arithmetic, 4s- Latin, 2s- Greek, 2s 6d- The number of scholars seldom exceeds forty.

The lands within Eskdale and Mitredale manors, save only two tenements, have lately been enfranchised, and are now discharged of fines, heriots, and customary services, except the payments of door-toll, and greenhew, doing suit and service at the leet and court baron, and riding Ravenglass fair on St. James's day, the 5th of August, when the tenants of the manor are bound to join in the procession. The two customary tenants, hold under arbitrary fines, set at the will of the lord, and payable on the death of lord and tenant, or upon alienation, they render a heriot, and pay a customary rent; the special services, due by custom, we are not informed of.

Several of the customary estates, within the manors of Awsthwaite, Birker, and Birkby, have lately been enfranchised. The remaining customary tenants of Awsthwaite and Birker, pay a twenty-penny fine, on death or alienation, and a heriot, where the tenant leaves a widow. The tenants of Birkby, pay a seventeen-penny fine, on the death of the lord, and a twenty-penny fine, on the death or alienation of the tenant, together with a heriot. The tenants of Awsthwaite, pay forest-mail, and do the boon services, of getting peats, boon-leadings, bracken-boons, carriage-services, shearing-boons, and mill-service, every year, and pay a town-term rent every other year. The tenants of Birkby pay an intake rent every year, and a town-term rent every seventh year... All the customary tenants of Mr Stanley's manors, are bound to appear and ride the fair at Ravenglass, called May-fair, now held on the 8th day of June, yearly.

As a specimen of the rigour of the lords courts, in this part of the country, we transcribe an order, as communicated to us from the rolls of Birkby manor.
"Item, We do order and put in pain, that every the inhabitants, within the manor of Birkby, who shall hereafter take, or catch, kill, or come by any wild fowl whatsoever, shall not sell them to any foreigner or stranger, but shall bring them to the lord, or his bailiff, for the time being, at the prices and rates hereafter specified, viz. for every mallard, 4d- Duck, 3d- Every long mallard or widgeon, 2d- Woodcock or partridge, 1d- Feelfaws, throsles, ousles, each four for 1d- Every curlew, 3d- For two seals, 1d- Plover, 1d. Lapwings, one halfpenny, under pain and forfeiture of 3s 4d for every fowl, otherwise sold, as formerly accustomed."
Dalegarth-hall, the ancient manor-house of Awsthwaite, was the place of residence of the family of Stanley... The house was a very spacious building, but part of it has been pulled down by the present proprietor's father; the remains shew the mode of architecture used in those distant ages, when that country abounded in timber trees, each beam is formed of the entire stem of an oak, and each step in the stair-case is a solid block of the same wood: this profusion is not to be wondered at, when we are informed that a squirrel could travel from Dalegarth to Hardknot mountain, by the tops of trees, the forest was so closely wooded. The old dining-room is 24 feet long, and twenty one feet wide; on the ceiling are the initials of the builder's name, &c. E, S, A, surrounded with figures of stags, hounds, &c. in the stucco, with the date, 1599. In almost every window of the house, were the arms of different branches of the family, blazoned in painted glass. Here was preserved a curious antique bed, of excellent workmanship, in oak, carved in various parts, with the arms of the family, quartering the arms of Awsthwaites: we are informed that it is now at Ponsonby Hall.

On the 5th day of December, O.S. yearly, being the feast of St. Catharine, a fair is held on the north side of the chapel-yard, when corn, drapery, hardware, woolen-yarn, hats, sheep-skins, &c. are brought for sale.- Wakes and doles are customary; and weddings, christenings, and funerals, are always attended by the neighbours, sometimes to the amount of 100 people. The popular diversions are hunting and cock-fighting. The ordinary fuel is wood, heath, furze, and peats,- Wood is bought at 1s per cart load.

In the manor of Awsthwaite, some small veins of copper have been discovered, but no mine has been wrought. Near the chapel is a well, called St. Catharine's well, from its salubrious quality in ancient time, esteemed holy; now neglected. There are several small lakes, and a variety of Waterfalls in this district; they arise near the tops of the mountains: the rivers have salmon trout, and eel; the lakes, trout, perch, pike, and eel: Devoke-water has the finest trout known in the north for size, redness, and flavour. Salmon, in the month of August, seldom exceeds threepence a-pound.

Birds common in this district, are eagles, grouse, partridge, cranes, crows, magpies, ousles, thrushes, ravens, night-crows, bats, &c.: among the reptiles, are the slow-worm, asp, and hag-worm or snake, of which latter, some are of a large size.

This country has several remarkable scenes and curiosities; the mountain Scofell or Scowfell in this chapelry, is 938 yards in height, from the level of the lake of Derwent, at Keswick, as taken in 1790, by Mr Banks. That species of moss grows upon it, which is the food of rein deer: within this century, several red deer were there, one was chased into West-water and drowned, within the memory of several persons living.

On a stone near Buck-Cragg, are the impressions of the foot of a man, a boy, and a dog, without any marks of tooling, or instrument; and much more wonderful than the heifer's foot in Borrowdale, shewn by the guides on the lake, to the amazed traveller. Doe-Cragg, and earn-Cragg, are remarkable precipices, whose fronts are polished with marble, the one 160 perpendicular yards in height, the other 120 yards.
The cliffs, called Eskdale Screes, are truly formidable: our correspondent says, they are computed to be two miles and a half in extent, and a mile in height; we presume the mile is computed in traversing the slopes in the ascent, he speaks of a phenomenon worthy the attention of the naturalist, and which he thus describes:
"Part of the cliffs or scar, consists of rotten stone and red gravel, which is continually running down into Wastwater lake with grat precipitancy, which sometimes, when a more than ordinary break, or rent, happens, causes a prodigious noise, fire and smoke, which in the night time appears like lightning to the inhabitants of Nether Wasdale, which lies opposite the Screes, on the north side of the lake. In some parts of the Screes, is the finest soft red ore, used for what is there called smitting, (rudding or marking) the sheep. On the top of the Screes, stood for ages, a very large stone called Wilson's horse, but about twenty years ago it fell down into the lake, when a cleft was made about 100 yards long, four feet wide, and of incredible depth."
Hardknott Fort
…the remains on Hardknot mountain, of which we have given an exact plan communicated to us by Mr H. Serjeant of Whitehaven, who informs us that he and another gentleman took it in the summer of the year 1792. [See digitally enhanced version]
It is built of the common Fell-stone, except the corners, which, according to the report of the country people, among whom it is known by the name of Hardknot Castle, were of free-stone, but has all been taken away for buildings in the neighbourhood; there being no freestone nearer than Gosforth: but for that circumstance, it is probable, the fortress would have been standing at this day, in a state of admirable perfection. In digging, to clear the foundations of the inner buildings, Mr Serjeant says, they met with a great many fragments of brick, apparently Roman, which must necessarily have been brought from a considerable distance; also several pieces of slate, and near the entrances some small arching stones, or pen stones, of freestone with remains of mortar on them; shewing that in all probability, these entrances, or gateways were arched. The gateway to the east, leads to a piece of ground of about two acres, at the distance of 150 yards, which, by great labour, has been cleared of the stones that encumbered it, used perhaps for a parade, and military exercise. On the north side of that plot, is a forced, or artificial bank of stones, now slightly covered with turf, having a regular slope from the summit, near which, on the highest ground, are the remains of a round tower. From this, the road is continued along the edge of the hill to the pass, where it joins the highest part of the present road to Kendal.
[Notes on Hardknott Fort and Barnscar by the Rev. Aaron Marshall, curate of Eskdale]:
" the centre area of that fort, are the remains of two buildings, which seem to have been very considerable. At the four gates lie a larger heap of stones, than at any other part of the walls, except at the four corners, where, it is evident, were round towers: amongst the stones, which are chiefly a rough granite, with which the mountain abounds, are many freestones and some bricks; the freestones must have been brought upwards of of fourteen miles through an, almost, impassible country, ans last up a mountain, at this time, barely possible for a light cart to be drawn; and the bricks could not have been obtained nearer than Drigg, the adjacent country affording no materials. Its situation is on the summit of the first ascent of Hardknot, and commands the only pass into Westmorland, and an extensive view of the sea coast, and the Isle of Mann: 150 yards above the fort is a level plot, the work of art. A road leading to Ambleside, is called the King's Coach road; not many years ago, several pieces of leaden pipe were found in a direction to the fort, leading from a well, called Maddock-how-well, about a mile and a half distant, which indisputably supplied the fort with water."
"It may possibly not be thought improper to mention another piece of antiquity in this neighbourhood, though out of the chapelry, the RUINS of the CITY OF BARNSCAR, which is situated on a verdant hill, in the manor of Birkby, at the foot of the lake, called Devoke Water... This place is about 300 yards long, from east to west; and 100 yards broad, from north to south; now walled round, save at the east end, near three feet in height: there appears to have been a long street, with several cross ones: the remains of house-steads, within the walls, are not very numerous, but on the outside of the walls they are innumerable, especially on the south side and wets end: the circumference of the city and suburbs, is near three computed miles; the figure an oblong square: there is an a ancient road through the city, leading from Ulpha to Ravenglass. About the year 1730, a considerable quantity of silver coin was found in the ruins of one of the houses, concealed in a cavity, formed in a beam; they were claimed by the lord of the manor."
[Hutchinson adds: "We have no further information of this treasure, which, perhaps, would prove the antiquity of the place."]