This parish covers an area of about seven square miles, and is bounded on the north by Cumwhitton, on the south by Kirkoswald, on the east by Croglin, and on the west by the river Eden. It is comprised within Leath ward; the petty sessional division of Leath ward; the rural deanery, poor law union, rural and county court districts of Penrith; and county council electoral division of Kirkoswald.

The surface of the district is vary uneven, rising into lofty swells, but nowhere approaching the mountainous. The soil is a light and fertile loam, with a substratum of clay-sand or gravel. Freestone is abundant. Ainstable contains an area of 4,433 acres, 4,185 of which are under assessment. The ratable value of the land is £3,186, and of the buildings £1212, and the gross rental £4,928, The inhabitants number 439, most of whom are employed in agriculture. The parish is divided into High Quarter and Low Quarter, which are not, however, in the strict sense of the term, townships. It contains two manors, Ainstable and Armathwaite. The former "reacheth from the river Eden on the west, up eastward into the mountains, and bordereth upon Staffol lordship towards the south." It adjoins the barony of Gilsland, from which it is separated by the Northskeugh Beck. Ainstable formed part of the possessions of Hubert de Vallibus or Vaux, lord of Gilsland, and was by him granted to his kinsman, Eustace de Vaux. From this family it passed by the marriage of the heiress to the Burdons, and in a similar manner to William, Lord Dacre. It came to the Howard family by the marriage of Lord William with Elizabeth Dacre, and was in the possession of the Earl of Carlisle for many years. The present owner is Edward Ecroyd, of Low House. There are many estates held under this manor, subject to the payment of yearly customary rents and fines certain, and others by the payment of yearly free or quit rents.

ARMATHWAITE is another manor within the parish, now long held by the Aglionby family, and has "rents, services, ward and fines, both certain and arbitrary, with this further privilege, that not only the demesne itself, but all the customary estates held of it, are toll-free all over England. Free or quit rents are also paid for other estates in the parish to different proprietors."

The owner of this manor possesses in right of his lordship one-third of a fishery in the Eden, the remaining two-thirds belong to E. Ecroyd, Esq.

NUNNERY, the capital seat of the manor, stands in a romantic situation near the confluence of the Eden and Croglin, ten miles N. by E. of Penrith, and thirteen miles S.E. of Carlisle. It was erected in 1715 by H. Aglionby, Esq., upon the site of an ancient Benedictine convent, supposed to have been founded by William Rufus in the first year of his reign. According to the testimony of Dr. Todd, this convent had its origin in early Saxon times. "St. Cuthbert," he says, "laid the first foundation of it at Carlisle, and gave the veil to Ermenberga, queen-dowager of Northumberland, as the first abbess. William Rufus removed it from the city to a village called Armathwaite or Heremitethwaite, where it continued for some ages. At last it was translated a mile or two eastward, to a place to which it gave the name Nunnery." The new house was dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin, and was endowed by the king with two acres of land, upon which the conventual buildings were erected, three carucates of land and two acres of meadow adjoining the monastery; 216 acres of land in Inglewood Forest, on the north side of Tarn Wadlyn, with common of pasture for the nuns and their tenants through the whole forest, and sufficient timber for their houses; a yearly rent of 40s. out of his tenements in Carlisle, to be paid by the governor of the city; freedom from tolls throughout England for them and their tenants; pasturage on Ainstaplith common; and free warren in all their lands; and they were to have and to hold all the said premise, as freely "as the hert may it thynke or ygh (eye) may it see."

During the wars between England and Scotland in the time of Edward II, the lands of the sisterhood were so wasted by the enemy that the confraternity was unable to discharge its debts, and Edward III, in consideration of their poverty and losses sustained, remitted to the prioress and nuns ten pounds "which they owed for victuals in Karliol in Edward II's time, they not being able to pay off so great a score;" he is also said to have freed them from the payment of the yearly rent of £10. The convent suffered again from the Scots in the reign of Edward IV, when the buildings were nearly destroyed, and the jewels, religious books, and other valuable property carried off. There is little else to record of the nunnery until the days of bluff King Hal,1 when it fell in the general wreck of religious houses. Its inmates consisted of a prioress and three sisters, with an income as valued by Dugdale at £18 18s. 8d. It was granted in the 6th Edward VI (1652), to William Greyme, alias Carlisle, with all its possessions. These were the site and conventual buildings, one garden, three orchards, and two acres of land at Ling Close; four acres of arable land at Pete Bank; four acres of arable land, four acres of waste and ten acres of meadow at Studholes, and about 270 acres in divers places with numerous messuages and tenements. This family continued in possession till 1685, when George Graham, Esq., sold the estate for £1,436, to Sir John Lowther, Bart., who exchanged it with John Aglionby Esq., for Drumburgh Castle, in 1694: His grandson, Henry Aglionby, Esq., pulled down the old conventual buildings and erected the pleasant mansion now known as the Nunnery. It is the property of Arthur C. Aglionby, Esq., of Staffield Hall, and is at present in the occupation of Mr. George Dixon, farmer.

The only portion of the old monastery now remaining is an upright pillar in a field called Cross Close, having on one side of it a cross, round which is inscribed "SANCTVARIVM 1088." This is supposed to mark the limit of the privilege of sanctuary, within which criminals were safe from pursuit. When the old nunnery was taken down a small painting on copper was found in a niche in the wall, representing a nun, with a rosary, a cross and a book in her hand. On a stone inserted in the present mansion is inscribed -

"Though veiled Benedictines are removed hence,
Think of their poverty, chastity, faith, obedience."

Whilst the Aglionbys resided at the nunnery, there were preserved there a curious piece of embroidery, said to have been the work of the nuns, and also an old bedhead, called the nun's bed, on which were inscribed the words -

"Mark the end and you shall never doow amis."

The scenery around the nunnery, and on the banks of the river Croglin and Eden in this vicinity, is of a most picturesque and sublime description. From the house neat gravel walks wind through groves of oak and other trees along the upper banks of the Croglin, in the vale of which river for about a mile, is some of the finest "close scenery in the county" consisting of cascades, towering rocks, sylvan colonades, and fanciful walks, sometimes descending by flights of steps to the water's brim, and then suddenly raising the the traveller to the highest eminence, and decoying him into their tortuous labyrinth. Other walks lead to the delightful banks of the Eden, which may be viewed for miles from some of the heights, displaying its varied and beautiful meanders, sometimes flowing in smooth volubility, then pouring forth its loud murmurs amongst opposing rocks, for a while hiding itself from view beneath rugged and precipitous cliffs, and then bursting forth in a luminous expanse amidst woods and sloping meadows. At the head of the beautiful walks, and situated in that portion of the village of Armathwaite, which is in this parish, is the hall, the seat of J.A. Dixon, Esq.; where the Eden tumbles over a weir, four yards in height, and seventy in length; and when the river is swollen, the roaring of this cataract, and the tremendous shuddering in the ground contiguous, is awfully grand. In short, the scenery of this neighbourhood has scarcely an equal, and must be seen to be duly appreciated. Visitors are admitted to the walks on payment of sixpence each.

LOW QUARTER contains 2,306 acres of land subject to assessment, of which the ratable value is £1,709, and of the buildings £707. The principal landowners are Edward Ecroyd, Esq., Low house; Rev. L.M. Wilford, J. Dixon, Esq., J.H. Parkin, Esq., Joseph Dodd, and Joseph Young.

The village of Ainstable is in this division, and occupies a pleasant situation about half a mile east of the Eden and twelve milles S.E. by S. of Carlisle. In old records the word is variously spelt Ainstaple, Eynstable, Aynstaplelith, the etymology of which is not very clear, but is probably connected with staple, Anglo-Saxon, a store or market.

The Church, dedicated to St. Michael, was rebuilt in 1871, and consists of nave, chancel, south transept, and a west tower. It is built of red freestone, in the Early English style, and cost about £2,000. A beautiful oak screen with brass mountings was erected in 1885, at a cost of £400, to the memory of Elizabeth H. Aglionby, of Staffield Hall, who died February 4th, 1885. In the same year a new window was placed in the west side of the church as a memoriam to Charles Featherstonehaugh, of Staffield Hall. Previous to the dissolution of the neighbouring convent, the church was totally appropriated to that house, the chaplain of which performed all religious service. After the suppression of the nunnery, the rectory and advowson became the property of the Crown, and was granted by Edward VI to Sir Thomas Peryent and Thomas Rowe, to hold to them and their heirs as of the manor of East Greenwich, by fealty only, in free socage, and not in capite. The patronage and tithes (now worth £350 a year), were purchased from R.L. Ross, Esq., by Francis Aglionby, Esq., and are now in the possession of Colonel Arthur Aglionby, of Staffield Hall. On the enclosure of the commons in
1821, an allotment of 300 acres was awarded in lieu of vicarial tithes. The living is now held by the Rev. L.M. Wilford, and is worth £319 a year, which is derived from the rent of 533½ acres of glebe land. An old sepulchral slab, formerly in the churchyard, but now in the chancel, bears a cross florče and sword, and four coats of arms of the Dentons, of Cardew. A Latin inscription round the edge records the memory of John de Denton, lord of Ainstaple. In the interior of the church are two recumbent monuments to the memory of John Aglionby and Catherine Denton, his wife, bearing the date 1420. They were formerly in the old church of St. Cuthbert, at Carlisle, and were removed when it was rebuilt. A new organ was placed in the church in 1898 at a cost of £150.

A school was founded here as early as 1743, and endowed with four acres of land. In 1874 the endowment was capitalised, and with the proceeds a new school and master's house were erected close to the village. A School Board was formed in 1884, consisting of five members, for the government of the school. The attendance averages 74. The Wesleyans have a chapel near Ainstable Hall, erected in 1861. It is a neat stone building, ornamented with two small pinnacles. The chapel of the United Methodists (Free Church), near Armathwaite, was erected in 1876, at a cost of £300. The same religious body have recently built a new school at Armathwaite at a cost of £600, to seat 150 persons.

HIGH QUARTER contains 1,878 acres, the ratable value of which is £1,396, and of the buildings, £504. The principal landowners are A.C. Aglionby, Esq., Staffield Hall; J.H. Parkin, Esq.; J.D. Dixon, and E. Fisher.

Ruckcroft or Rucroft is a small straggling village in this quarter, ten miles N. by E. of Penrith. It is said to have derived its name from its ancient possessors, the family of Rewe or Rowe. Nunnery is also in High Quarter. Langdales is a small hamlet, one mile from Ainstable.


Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901




1. i.e. Henry VIII.

19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman