Is a parish of small extent, in Leath ward and petty sessional division; the deanery of Penrith E.; the poor law union, county court and rural districts of Penrith; and the electoral division of Edenhall. It is about two miles in length and one in breadth, and has a ratable area of 2,985 acres, of which the gross rental is 2,970; the ratable value of land, 1,990; and of the buildings, etc., 709. The population in 1891 numbered 191; at the present time it is calculated to be not far short of 220. The boundaries are, on the west, Addingham; on the south, Ousby; and on the east, Alston. A considerable portion of the parish is covered by the mountain mass of Hartside Fell, which rises to a height of 1,300 feet above the village. The hill rises with a gradual ascent of about one foot in twenty, and presents generally a smooth surface, affording good pasturage for sheep. The high road from Penrith to Alston crosses over the northern extremity of the fell, attaining at its highest point an elevation of 1,883 feet. A lead mine was wrought here for many years, but is now laid in. In one part, above a spacious valley, rises abruptly the bold front of a limestone rock, called Melmerby Scar, which was once so intermixed with lead ore, that the rays of the setting sun falling upon it, rendered it visible at a great distance. The Helm winds, which are felt here in all their violence, will be described on a subsequent page. The soil, in the lower and cultivated part of the parish, is of a dry sandy nature, resting on a red freestone rock, and producing good crops of oats, barley, and potatoes. There are two mineral springs in the parish, but they do not attract much attention. In 1857, about 1,300 acres of the common were inclosed.

The parish constituted a manor within the barony of Adam Fitz-Sweyn. In the reign of Henry III it was held by Odard de Wigton. This family terminated in an heiress, who, having no issue by either of her two husbands, granted Melmerby to Sir Robert Parving, Kngt., the King's Sergeant-at-law, and afterwards successively Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Lord Chancellor, and Lord High Treasurer. Sir Robert was succeeded by his nephew, Adam Peacock, who thereupon assumed the name of Parving. On the death of this Adam, in 1380, the manor came to the Threlkelds, from whom it passed by the marriage of an heiress, to Thomas Pattenson, Esq., of Breck, Westmorland. The manorial rights and privileges are now held by J.J. Houghton, Esq. The other principal landowners are John Smith, Thomas Ewebank, G. Scott, John Sander, and the Rev. W.Y. Craig.

Gale is another small manor, partly in this parish and partly in Ousby, which formerly belonged to the Huttons, of Hutton Hall, but is now possessed by the lord of the manor of Melmerby. Gale Hall, the ancient manorial residence, was rebuilt in 1866, and is occupied as a farmstead.

The village of Melmerby is situated on the road from Alston to Penrith, nine miles N.E. by E. of the latter, and ten miles S.W.. by W. of the former town. It is said to have derived its name from Melmor, a Dane, who took possession of the district in the ninth or tenth century.

The Church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is a small ancient fabric, consisting of nave, chancel, and small bell-tower, beneath which is the porch. It has recently been thoroughly renovated at a cost of about 200. In the south wall of the chancel may still be seen the ancient piscina, a memento of the very different services formerly offered up within its walls. Sir Robert Parving obtained, in 1342, the royal license to found and endow, within the church of Melmerby, a college of eight chantry priests, with a custos collegii at their head. The college was to be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the Saints, and was endowed with the tithes of the parish, the patronage of the church of Skelton, and a messuage and land in Melmerby. The scheme, however, was never carried out, or if so, soon abandoned. The living is a rectory in the gift of J.J. Houghton, Esq., and in the incumbency of the Rev. W.Y. Craig, M.A. In the valor of Pope Nicholas, 1291, it is valued at 13 13s. 4d., and in the King's Book (Henry VIII), it was certified at 12 11s. 4d. The tithes have been commuted, and are now rated at 103 10s. The total income, including 76 acres of glebe, is about 231 a year.

The School was erected in 1862, by Canon Hill; it has accommodation for 100 children, but is only attended by an average of 50.

The Wesleyan Methodists have a chapel here, erected about thirty years ago. It was renovated and an organ added in 1882. A Reading Room was established in that year, and fitted up at considerable cost. It numbers about 20 members.

The parish possesses but few features of interest to the antiquarian reader. The old Roman road, known as the Maiden Way, passes through the eastern portion, and will be found accurately laid down in the map which accompanies this volume. It leaves the great Roman road at Kirkby Thore, in Westmorland, and, passing between Cross Fell and Kirkland, takes a northern direction a little to the west of Alston, and then enters Northumberland. "It is still in some places above 18 feet broad, but almost impassable from great stones, the fragments perhaps, of its original pavement." The origin of the name of this road has been the subject of much conjecture. Some have thought it the Celtic word Madan, fair, whilst a recent writer deprecates these far fetched derivations. "The road," he says "is translated into Latin in earlier Border records by via puellarum, and there is a story among the peasantry of the district through which it runs, that it was made by women carrying the stones in their aprons." This he conceives is the degraded representative of some early mythic legend connected with the road and its name. Dr. Bruce derives it from Mai-dun, the great ridge, whilst another writer tells us it is a Celtic word and signifies the raised way.

This parish is subject to the devastating effects of a phenomenal wind called the Helm wind, a name of uncertain derivation, but probably connected with helm, or helmet, a covering, from the cloud which, like a cap, covers the top of the mountain. Various theories have been offered to account for this curious phenomenon, but, perhaps none so satisfactory as that propounded by Dr. Barnes, F.R.S.E. "The air or wind," he says, "from the east, ascends the gradual slope of the western side of the Pennine Chain or Cross Fell range of mountains, to the summit of Cross Fell, where it enters the helm or cap, and is cooled to a low temperature; it then rushes forcibly down the declivity of the western side of the mountain, into the valley beneath, in consequence of the valley being of a warmer temperature, and this constitutes the Helm Wind."

The sudden and violent rushing of the wind down the ravines and crevices of the mountains occasions the loud noise that is heard.

At a varying distance from the base of the mountain the helm wind is rarefied by the warmth of the low ground, and meets with the wind from the west, which resists its further course. The high temperature it has acquired in the valley, and the meeting of the contrary current occasion it to rebound and ascend into the upper region of the atmosphere. When the air or wind has reached the height of the helm, it is again cooled to the low temperature of this cold region, and is consequently unable to support the same quantity of vapour it had in the valley; the water or moisture contained in the air, is therefore condensed by the cold, and forms the cloud called the Helm Bar. The meeting of the opposing currents beneath, where there are frequently strong gusts of wind from all quarters, and the sudden condensation of the air and moisture in the bar-cloud, give rise to its agitation or commotion, as if "struggling with contrary blasts." The bar is therefore not the cause of the limit of the helm wind, as is generally believed, but is the consequence of it. It is absurd to suppose that the bar, which is a light cloud, can impede or resist the helm wind, but if it even possessed a sufficient resisting power, it could have no influence on the wind which is blowing near the surface of the earth, and which might pass under the bar.*

The variable distance of the bar from the helm is owing to the changing situation of the opposing and conflicting currents, and the difference of the temperature of different parts of the low ground near the base of the mountain. When there is a break or opening in the bar, the wind is said to rush through with great violence, and to extend over the country. Here, again, the effect is mistaken for the cause. In this case, the helm wind, which blows always from the east, has, in some place underneath the observed opening, overcome the resistance of the air, or of the wind from the west, and of course does not rebound and ascend into the higher regions to form the bar. The supply being cut off, a break or opening in that part of the bar necessarily takes place. When the temperature of the lower region has fallen and becomes nearly uniform with that of the mountain range, the helm wind ceases; the bar and the helm approach and join each other, and rain not unfrequently follows. When the helm wind has overcome all the resistance of the lower atmosphere, or of the opposing current from the west, and the temperature of the valley and of the mountain is more nearly equalised, there is no rebound or ascent of the wind, consequently the bar ceases to be formed, the one already existing is dissipated, and a general east wind prevails. There is little wind in the helm cloud, because the air is colder in it, than in the valley, and the moisture which the air contains is more condensed, and is deposited in the cloud upon the summit of the mountain. There is rarely a helm, helm wind, or bar during the summer, on account of the higher temperature of the summit of Cross Fell range, and the upper regions of the atmosphere at that season of the year.

The different situations of the helm, on the side, on the summit, and above the mountain, will depend on the temperature of these places: when the summit of the mountain is not cold enough to condense the vapour, the helm is situated higher in a colder region, and will descend down the side of the mountains if the temperature be sufficiently low to produce that effect.

The sky is clear between the helm and bar, because the air below is warmer, and can support a greater quantity of vapour rising from the surface of the earth, and this vapour is driven forward by the helm wind, and ascends up in the rebound to the bar. In short, the helm is merely a cloud or cap upon the mountain, the cold air descends from the helm to the valley, and constitutes the helm wind, and when warmed and rarefied in the valley, ascends and forms the bar.

An objection has been taken to this theory, on the ground that there is no helm wind in the valley of the Tyne; but the circumstances are very different; this valley is situated much higher than that of the Eden, and the summit of the mountain on the east, is considerably lower than the top of Cross Fell. The former valley has also a high bridge of mountains on the west, the latter a low and expansive plain. The fact that the helm wind never extends farther than the bar, tends to prove the truth of the theory. The following are the Rev. John Watson's observations:

The places most subject to it are Milburn, Kirkland, Ousby, Melmerby, and Gamblesby. Sometimes when the atmosphere is quite settled, hardly a cloud to be seen, and not a breath of wind stirring, a small cloud appears on the summit, and extends itself to the north and south; the helm is then said to be on, and in a few minutes the wind is blowing so violently as to break down trees, overthrow stacks, occasionally blow a person from his horse, or overturn a horse and cart. When the wind blows the helm seems violently agitated, and on ascending the fell and entering it, there is not much wind; sometimes a helm forms and goes off without a wind, and there are easterly winds without a helm. The open space is clear of clouds with the exception of small pieces breaking off now and then from the helm, and either disappearing or being driven rapidly over the bar; but through this open space is often seen a higher stratum of clouds quite at rest; within the space described the wind blows continually; it has been known to do so for nine days together, the bar advancing or receding to different distances. When heard and felt for the first time it does not seem so very extraordinary, but when heard or felt for days together, it gives a strong impression of sublimity. Its sound is peculiar, and when once known is easily distinguished from that of ordinary winds ; it cannot be heard more than three or four miles, but in the wind or near it, it has been compared to the noise made by the sea in a violent storm.

Its effect on the spirits is exhilarating, and it gives a buoyancy to the body. The country subject to it is very healthy, but it does great injury to vegetation by beating grain, grass, and leaves of trees, till quite black.

A similar phenomenon occurs at the Cape of Good Hope; Professor Stavely had noticed one of the same kind near Belfast; and Professor Buche, when crossing the Alps, observed the like appearance on Mount Cenis, and one, called the Bora wind, occurs on the high ground near Trieste.

*The open space between the helm and bar varies from eight or ten, to thirty or forty miles in length, and from half a mile to four or six miles in breadth; it is of an elliptical form, as the helm and bar are united at the ends.

A representation of the helm, bar, and space between, may be made by opening the forefinger and thumb of each hand, and placing their tips to each other; the thumbs will then represent the helm on the top of the fell, the forefingers the bar, and the space between, the variable limits of the wind - Rev. J. Watson.


Bulmer's History & Directory Of Cumberland, 1901

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman