Distington

Is a small parish of about three square miles, with no dependent townships, in Allerdale-above-Derwent ward and petty sessional division; the deanery of Whitehaven; the poor law union, rural, and county court districts of Whitehaven; and the county council electoral division of Moresby. It is bounded by the parishes of Harrington, Arlecdon, Lamplugh, Dean and Moresby. Coal is plentiful within its limits, and is extensively worked by the Moresby Coal Co., at their pit called the Oatlands, at Pica. The seams, from four to six feet deep, are reached at a depth of 108 fathoms. About 270 hands are employed. The air of the parish is remarkably salubrious and conducive to longevity. The soil varies from a fertile loam to sand and clay, and is refreshed by a small brook and numerous springs. The ratable area is 3,065 acres, which are assessed at 1,752; buildings, 5,111; and the population in 1891 numbered 1819.

History has not recorded much of the early possessors of this manor; the first of whom there is any documentary evidence is Gilbert de Dundraw, who held it in the reigns of Richard I and John. He was descended from Odard de Logis, grantee of the manors of Wigton, Crofton, Dundraw, and Distington, from Waltheof, lord of Allerdale. He left no male issue, and his four daughters became co-parceners of his estates. In the 6th Edward I (1277-8), a part of the manor of Distington was conveyed to Thomas de Moresby and his wife Margaret. At a later period (1485) we find it in possession of the Dykes; and in 1578 it was held conjointly by Leonard Dykes and William Fletcher, by homage, fealtie, suit of court, and knight's service, and by the rent of 12s. 11d. By an intermarriage in the families of the co-heritors, the Fletchers became sole owners, and after the death of the last of that family, it was sold under a decree of Chancery in 1720 to John Brougham, Esq., of Scales, who, in 1737, conveyed it to Sir James Lowther, Bart., from whom it has descended to the present owner, the Earl of Lonsdale. The land has been enfranchised, but at what time does not appear, and each landowner claims the manorial rights of his own property. The Earl of Lonsdale exercises the privileges of his lordship over the common lands only. These were inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1768, and a portion allotted to the church in lieu of tithes.

The village of Distington, consisting chiefly of one long street of well-built houses, is on the high road between Whitehaven and Workington. Here are two Public Halls, the Victoria, seating 300, and the Albert, with accommodation for 200. The latter contains the Parish Reading Rooms, instituted in 1899.

The Church occupies an elevated position overlooking the village. It was erected in 1886 at a cost of about 6,000, on the site of an older one, the arch being the only portion remaining of the ancient structure. Towards the funds the late Hugh Munroe Mackenzie, of Prospect House, contributed 3,000, and to whose memory a beautiful pictorial window representing the Passion of Our Lord, has been inserted in the church. There are several other handsome stained memorial windows. The parish registers carry us back nearly three centuries, but a church probably stood here anterior to the Reformation, for in the King's Book the living is valued at 7 1s. 0d., no inconsiderable sum in those days. To the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty it was stated to be worth 67 19s. 2d. The glebe attached to the church consists of 530 acres, which, in consequence of the increased value of land in the district, has very considerably augmented the income. The patronage of the living has descended with the manor to the Earl of Lonsdale. The stipend is now worth 450. The village also contains a Wesleyan, and a Primitive Methodist chapel, the former erected in 1830, and the latter in 1838.

A very fine board school was erected in 1878 at a cost of 3,000. It is a red sandstone building in the shape of the letter m, and will accommodate 300 children. Another, called the Dyson School, was built in 1886, with accommodation for 154, and an average attendance of 124.

About half a mile south of the village are the venerable ruins of Hay or Hayes Castle, once the manor house of the lords of Distington, and the residence of the Moresby family. The foundations, which may still be traced on the elevated ground, show the building to have been a single square tower; and a portion of the north wall still standing gives an idea of the immense strength of the feudal castles of England. It appears from its construction, and the great thickness of the walls, to have been one of the numerous Pele or border castles which were erected as places of security against the Scottish freebooters It was formerly possessed by the Dickinsons, from whom it was purchased by the late Mr. John Hartley, in whose family it still remains. Gilgarran is a hamlet about two miles from Distington, in which is the stately mansion of Mrs. Robertson Walker. Built into a wall, near the site of an old orchard, is a stone bearing the following inscription to the memory of Henry Birkett, who was buried in his own orchard at Gilgarron, and is given as a specimen of the tombstone literature of the age:-

"July 9, 1669.
Here Henry Birkett
lyes, whoe lived and dyed
A Godly Christian led by
Scrypture guide.
Whose trade at sea
from port to port was cast;
Now he arrives the haven
of havens at last."

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Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901


19 June 2015

Steve Bulman