THE BIRKER BOUNDARY CASE- RIDING OR PERAMBULATING THE BOUNDS
The following notes are based mostly on the lawyer's brief for the 1794 King's Bench hearing [in Whitehaven Record Office- D/Pen/bundle 74a]
Before the days of Ordnance Survey maps, the theory was that manor boundaries should be checked at least once in a generation, which for practical purposes meant whenever the manor passed on by inheritance (or when the inheritor came of age- both George Edward Stanley and Mary Singleton were children when their fathers died).
The procedure in this area was to get as many people as possible (of all ages) to join in, and travel slowly from one marker point to the next. In 1769, when he came of age, George had been told "You ought to begin at or before 8 O'Clock every Morning. There are Persons who remember ye Boundary Marks, & where Halfpennies were strewed & where they dined upon ye Mountains, very well." In the legal case, there are also references to "the colours", suggesting that a flag or emblem was carried to indicate whom everybody was supposed to be following. The scattering of low-value coins such as halfpennies ("brass") at each official marker point, for children to scramble for, was perhaps the cleverest feature of the process. A child of 1734 was quite able to remember, 60 years later, the significance of a particular spot (even one poor girl who had been beaten to the brass every time by big rough boys could point out the relevant places in her old age). It was also, of course, very important to invite the Lords of the neighbouring manors to join in as well, so that differences could be settled. In theory.
In practice, old Mr Stanley's perambulation in 1734 had been a slightly odd occasion. Mr Hudddleston, Lord of Ulpha (and also, as Lord of Millom, technically Stanley's "Lord Paramount") had quite happily followed Stanley along their mutual boundary from the Stake of Green Cragg to a point near the Parrock on Seat, but then he refused to go by the Old Wall, making the excuse that it was too boggy for him. Instead, he went to Devoke Water over the shoulder of Seat (not right over Seat How, but on the slope to the south, round the north side of the Parrock). At Devoke Water there was a real dispute. Stanley claimed the whole lake as his own; Huddleston disagreed, and insisted that he and his tenants had a right to fish in it. His reluctance to get wet (and possibly his size- witness Edward Tyson remembered him as "a great heavy fellow") made him reject the suggestion of going across the middle of the lake by boat, so he decided to go round the north shore- whereas of course Stanley proposed to go by the south shore. Stanley warned him that, given the legal significance of the occasion, he had no right to do this. Huddleston replied that as Stanley's Lord Paramount he had the right to walk where he wished. So the two (with their respective tenants following) set off in opposite directions, to meet again at the Grey Borrens, near the head of Linbeck. They then settled down for a picnic, with food laid out on a sheet (again, having mealbreaks at important boundary points proved a very effective aid to memory 60 years later).
George Stanley's perambulation was equally interesting in its own way. Mr Singleton met him, with many Ulpha tenants, at the west end of Devoke Water and, like Huddleston before him, claimed a right to fish in the lake. Stanley's lawyer, Mr Tatham, then went to an Ulpha tenant who was angling on the south shore of the lake, and took from him a trout he had caught; showing it to Singleton, he advised him that he had done this to give him grounds for legal action if he chose, "at as little expence as possible". No such action was ever taken. Indeed, it seemed that the perambulation concluded amicably, as Singleton accompanied Stanley to the evening meal in Eskdale.
Mary Singleton sent the required notice of her perambulation to neighbouring landowners, including George Stanley, and also had a notice posted in Ulpha church. Stanley, however, "not conceiving that it was material for him to pay regard to the Defts. notice did not attend". Mary took full advantage of his arrogance- and as soon as she had established her boundary, her tenants made sure that their animals took full advantage of it too.
Devoke Water (and Woodend)
Sheepheaves and other uses
Cast of characters