Little Salkeld

Formerly a township in Addingham, has, in accordance with the Local Government Act of 1894, been constituted a distinct parish for all civil business, but for matters ecclesiastical it still remains united with the above-mentioned parish. It covers an area of 1,040 acres, of which the gross estimated rental is 2,926. The ratable value of the land is 1,052; and of the buildings, 1,062. The parish is comprised within Leath ward and petty sessional division; the county council electoral division of Edenhall; and the poor law union, and rural and county court districts of Penrith, The soil is generally fertile, and in a high state of cultivation.

The Manor, which also includes Hunsonby, was held in the reign of William Rufus by one Walter, a Norman, who granted it to St. Mary's Priory, Carlisle; and this grant was confirmed by Edward I, in 1292. After the dissolution of religious houses, it was given with other estates to the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle, for whom it is held by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There was anciently a Chapel or Church at Salkeld. In 1360 the sacred edifice was profaned by the crime of murder; and the parish church being at a great distance, the vicar was permitted to hold the services in his own house, until it could be reconsecrated. This chapel was situated, according to tradition, in a village called Addingham, on the east bank of the.river; and the human bones, crosses, and other remains which have been found here seem to countenance the belief.

The Village of Little Salkeld is situated near the Eden; one mile south of the parish church, and six miles N.E. of Penrith. In the village is Salkeld Hall, originally the residence of a family bearing the local name. During those unhappy Civil Wars, which proved so disastrous to many adherents of Royalty, Mr. George Salkeld, we are told, was obliged to part with his ancestral home to Colonel Chomley, a Cromwellian general, for a trifling consideration. Before 1688, it became the property of the family of Smalwood, and was purchased in 1790 by Lieut.-Col. Lacy, who added a new front to it, and formed on the romantic banks of the Eden four caves, called the Grotto, or now more frequently the "Lacy Caves." They contain five apartments, excavated out of the solid rock, similar to those at Corby, and from the darkness of the cavernous recesses several small openings, piercing the rocky wall, permit glimpses of the beautiful scene beyond. The hall was sold in 1826 to Robert Hodgson, Esq., who made several additions and improvements, but despite all these alterations, its thick walls remain an unimpeachable witness of its antiquity. It is now the residence of R. Hodgson Horrocks, Esq. The Midland railway runs through the parish, and has a station at Little Salkeld. The principal landowners are Messrs. A. and T. Sowerby; R. Hodgson Horrocks, Esq.; the Rev. T.W. Stephenson, Thomas Longrigg, and the Master and Fellows of St. John's College, Cambridge.

The most interesting geological feature of the parish is the extensive bed of alabaster rock, incumbent upon red sandstone and marl, lying along the vale of the Eden. Gypsum or alabaster is one of the varieties of native sulphate of lime, and is found in the London and other clays, but it occurs in the greatest abundance among the rocks of the new red sandstone series in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire, where it is quarried to a large extent. Works were established here in 1880 for the manufacture of plaster of Paris from this rock, and are now wrought by A.K. Busby, Carlisle. The mill is situated on the bank of the Eden, not far from the Lacy Caves. On the summit of the hill above the quarries is the Druidical circle, "Long Meg and her Daughters," which the firm have, appropriately adopted as their trade mark.

The alabaster lies from 30 to 40 feet below the surface. This covering of earth is entirely removed, and the rock quarried by gunpowder. The dislodged masses of gypsum are then broken up by the "breaker" and passed through rollers and millstones until reduced to a fine powder. From the last machine the powder is conveyed by a "worm " to pans, in which it is boiled or burnt, in order to extract all the moisture amounting to about 20 per cent. During this calcining process great care is taken to apply the heat equally throughout the mass, for which purpose the powder is continually stirred by agitators. It is then cooled, bagged up, and sent to all parts of the kingdom. Besides the use of steam the firm have availed themselves of water-power from the Eden. A powerful Turbine has been fixed in the river below the falls; and, as a proof of the great improvement effected in modern machinery, we may state, that whilst this Turbine is equal to 25 nominal horse-power, an old-fashioned water-wheel on the opposite side of the river gives only five-horse power with the same fall. The sweepings and commoner plaster form an excellent manure.

Whilst claiming for modern appliances an immense advantage over primitive methods we are compelled to admit that in the science of architecture and the art of building, our forefathers, of the dark ages, were vastly our superiors; the grand old cathedrals and majestic abbey ruins which still adorn the land, attest the former, and a huge block of masonry, a portion of a bridge, lying in the bed of the river near the mill, is evidence of the latter. Though subject for centuries to the corroding action of the water, the cement remains harder than the stone.

In this parish are the remains of one of the most interesting pieces of antiquity to be found in the country. They consist of sixty-nine unhewn stones, of which 27 are erect and the rest prostrate, placed so as to form an irregular oval, 350 yards in circumference. Some of them measure from eight to ten feet by fifteen in girth, and one standing about seventeen paces from the southern side of the circle far exceeds them all in magnitude, being 18 feet high, 15 round, and weighs by estimation 161 tons. This one bears the name of Long Meg, and the rest are called her daughters. It stands upright, and though unhewn is nearly square, its four corners indicating the direction of the cardinal points. The stones are of various kinds, and have been brought from different localities; Long Meg is a red freestone, whilst some of the others are granite, some blue. and grey limestone, and the rest of a flinty nature. How these large masses of rock could, in that far off age, when no mechanical power was known except the lever, be transported from their native quarries to the spot they now occupy is a puzzle to modern engineers.* Nor are we better informed as to the people by whom they were raised, or the purpose for which they were erected. They have been attributed to the Romans, Britons, Saxons, Danes, but a Druidical origin finds most favour. Equally numerous have been theories advanced to account for the object of these circles. They are supposed to have been by some writers supreme courts of judicature; by others temples to the supreme Deity, in which the Druids were wont to meet for sacrificial purposes. Many recent writers ascribe to them a sepulchral use. But be their origin what it may, their antiquity is undoubted; and neither history nor tradition can now aid us in penetrating the mystery which obscures them. The circle has its legends. According to one superstition, Long Meg and her daughters were a company of witches, who chose this sacred spot to perform one of their infernal dances, and were, at the prayers of a saint, transformed into pillars of stone. Another story invokes the aid of the famous magician, Michael Scott, who, it is said, endowed the stones with some of his magical power, so that no person could count them twice alike.+ These huge blocks of stone, standing in their solitary circle, with Long Meg, like the guardian spirit of the place protecting her daughters, cannot fail to excite in the mind of the visitor strange sensations at the wierdlike spectacle he sees before him;

"Mark yon altar,
This wide circus,
Skirted with unhewn stones; they awe my soul,
As if the very genius of the place
Himself appeared, and with terrific tread
Stalked through this drear domain.
Know that thou stand'st on consecrated ground;
The mighty pile of magic planted rock,
Thus ranged in mystic order, marks the place,
Where, but at times of holiest festival
The Druid leads his train." - Mason.

* A recent writer (C.W. Dymond, C.E., F.S.A.), regards them as erratic blocks found on the spot.

+ The various numbers of the stones as given by different writers would appear to confirm this belief; Camden says there are 77 stones; Dr. Todd, 72; a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine gives 70 principal ones, and one or two doubtful; Nicholson and Burn say about "72," Hutchinson, 67; and Jenkinson, 68.

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Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901


19 June 2015

Steve Bulman