Ainstable Parish

  > Covers an area of about eight square miles, with an uneven surface, rising into lofty swells, and is divided into two townships, called High and Low Quarters. It is bounded on the N. by Cumwhitton parish, in Eskdale Ward; on the W, by the river Eden, which divided it from Hesket; on the S. by Kirkoswald; and the E, by Croglin. The soil is a light and fertile loam, with a substratum of clay-sand or gravel; and both hard and soft freestone are very prevalent in the parish.

The population of the parish in 1841 was 501 souls, and it comprises 4200 acres of land, of the rateable value of £2912.

The parish contains two manors, Ainstable and Armathwaite, the former "reacheth from the river Eden on the west, up eastwards into the mountains, and bordereth upon Staffol lordship towards the south," being divided by the Northskeugh1 Beck from the barony of Gilsland. It is now possessed by the earl of Carlisle, having descended to him with the barony of Gilsland, from Lord William Howard, who obtained them by his marriage with Elizabeth, a co-heiress of the last male heir of the Dacres, of Gilsland. There are many estates held under this manor, subject to the payment of annual customary rents and fines certain, and others, by the payment of small quit rents. The manor of Armathwaite, of which Nunnery is the capital seat, and Henry Aglionby, Esq., the lord paramount, 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." There is a fishery on the Eden, of which the earl of Carlisle has two-thirds, and Mr. Aglionby one-third.

ainstable.jpg (36929 bytes)Ainstable village occupies a pleasant situation in the Low Quarter, within half a mile E. of the Eden, and twelve miles S.E. by S. of Carlisle. In old records it is variously spelt, Ainstaple, Eynstable, Aynstapelith, and its name is said to be a corruption of On-Steep-Hill, from the abruptly ascending eminence on which it is partly situated. The Church, dedicated to Saint Michael, was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, and consists of a nave and chancel, with a small square tower, at the west end, through which is the entrance. Previous to the dissolution of the neighbouring nunnery it was totally appropriated to that house, and supplied by their own chaplain. The rectory and advowson after the suppression of the nunnery were granted by Edward VI or his advisors, to Sir Thomas Peryent and Thomas Rewe, to hold to them and their heirs as of the manor of East Greenwich, by fealty only in free soccage, and not in capite. Henry A. Aglionby, Esq. is the present impropriator and patron, the late Francis Aglionby, Esq. having purchased both the advowson and tithes of Richard Lowthian Ross, Esq. about ten years ago, and the Rev. John Bird, M.A. is the vicar. On the enclosure of the commons in 1821, an allotment of 300 acres was awarded in lieu of vicarial tithes; and this land has been since much improved by the present incumbent; so that the net value is now worth £200 per annum. In the church yard is a curious grave stone, with a cross floreč, and a sword, and four coats of the arms of the Dentons, of Cardew; and in the interior of the church are a few marble monuments.

The parish school is endowed with four acres of land, purchased with Wm. Elan's bequest and a subscription, now let for £6 15s. a year, and paid over to the masters; together with 15s. as the interest of Margaret Dixon's legacy, which with 10s. from a piece of common, makes £8. The vicar and some of the principal inhabitants are the trustees both of this and the other charities [see Alston]. Here is also a parochial library, but the donor is unknown.

Ruckcroft, or Rucroft, a small straggling village in the High Quarter, or township of Ainstable, ten miles N. by E. of Penrith, derived its name from its ancient possessors, the family of Rewe.

Nunnery, the picturesque and beautiful seat of Mrs. Aglionby, stands in a romantic situation near the confluence of the Eden and Croglin rivers, ten miles N. by E. of Penrith, and thirteen miles S.E. of Carlisle, and was built in 1715 by Hen. Aglionby, Esq. on the site of the ancient Benedictine nunnery of Armathwaite. This convent was founded, or re-established by William Rufus. Dr. Todd says it was removed hither from Carlisle, and was "of as ancient an origin as any in England;" Saint Cuthbert2 having laid the foundation of it at Carlisle, and given the veil to Ermenburga3, queen dowager of Northumberland, as the first abbess. The convent was founded here by William Rufus, in the second year of his reign, and dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin. He bestowed on the prioress and nuns two acres of land whereon the house was built; three carucates of land, and two acres of meadow, adjoining to the monastery; 216 acres of land in Inglewood Forest, on the N. side of Tarnwadelyn4, with common of pasture for the nuns and their tenants, through the whole forest; 40s. rent of tenements in Carlisle, to be paid by the governor of the city; pasturage on Ainstaplith common, and free warren in all their lands; freedom from toll throughout England for them and their tenants to have and to hold all the said premises as freely "as the hert may it thynke or ygh may it see." In the reign of Edward IV it was nearly destroyed by the Scottish invaders, who plundered it of jewels, reliques, books, and other valuable property. It was granted in the sixth of Edward VI to William Greyme, or Graham, alias Carlisle, together with all its possessions. This family of Greyme, or Graham, held the estate till 1685, when George Graham, Esq. sold it for £1436 to Sir John Lowther, Bart. who, in 1694, exchanged it for Drumburgh5 Castle, with John Aglionby, Esq. whose descendants have since possessed it, and whose ancestors were anciently seated at Aglionby, and afterwards at Drawdykes Castle6. At the time of the dissolution, about the year 1536, there were a prioress, and only three nuns, and though they had considerable property, their revenues are only valued by Dugdale at £18 18s. 8d. per annum.

"The monasteries were not only places for daily oft-times-repeated Divine worship, but "they filled up the gap in which the public libraries have since stood;" they served also the purposes of infirmaries and hospitals, charity schools, foundling asylums, inns for the wayfaring man, and alms-houses for the poor; and often has "the blessing of him that was ready to perish," and of him that had none to help him, descended on their inmates in grateful prayer."

The principal remains of the monastery which once flourished here, is an upright pillar, having on one side of it a cross, round which is inscribed "Sanctuarum, 1088," no doubt referring to the ancient sanctuaries. Near to a spring called chapel well are some stones, supposed to be the remains of an oratory or chapel, sacred buildings having frequently been erected near a well for baptismal purposes. On taking down the old nunnery, a small painting of a nun, with a rosary, cross, and book in her hand, was found in a niche in the wall. There is also a stone inserted in the present mansion, inscribed -

"Though veiled Benedictines are remov'd hence,
Think of their poverty, chastity, faith, obedience."

Here is also a curious piece of embroidery, in the centre of which are the letters I.H.S.7 with a cross and chalice; in the corners are four cherubim, and round the sides many figures emblematical of our Saviour's crucifixion. There are also two recumbent monuments of John Aglionby and Catherine Denton preserved here, said to be 400 years old; and on a bed-head, called nuns bed, are inscribed in very old characters :-

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

The scenery around Nunnery, and on the banks of the rivers Croglin and Eden in this vicinity, is of the 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 colonnades, and fanciful walks, sometimes descending by flights of steps to the water's brim, and then suddenly raising the traveller to the highest eminence, and decoying him into their tortuous labyrinth. Other walks lead to the delightful banks of the Eden, which from some of the heights may be viewed for miles, 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 of Armathwaite is Villa, the seat of Mrs. de Whelpdale, where the Eden tumbles over a weir, four yards in height, and seventy in length; and when the river is swollen, the sullen murmur 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.

Biography. - Dr. Leake, an eminent physician and obstetrical practitioner in London, was a native of the parish of Ainstable. He published 'A Dissertation on the Properties and Efficacy of the Lisbon Diet Drink8;' and in 1765 purchased a piece of ground, which he made over to the governors of the Westminster Lying-in Hospital. In 1773 he published 'Practical Observations on the Child-bed Fever;" also, 'Medical Observations and Instructions on the Nature, Treatment, and Cure of various Diseases incident to Women,' which was afterwards translated into the French and German languages. He died in 1792, and is described as having been "one of the best bred and politest physicians of the age."


Mannix & Whellan, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Cumberland, 1847



1. Northskeugh is now Northsceugh.
2. St Cuthbert was active in the mid seventh century.
3. Ermenburga, or Iurminburg, was the second wife of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria.
4. Tarnwadelyn was more usually rendered as Tarn Wadling, a lake which features in the Arthurian legends. This lake, which was situated just east of the Carlisle-Penrith road, was drained in the 19th century.
5. Drumburgh is in the parish of Bowness.
6. Drawdykes Castle is in Stanwix Parish.
7. I.H.S. are the ancient Greek equivalents of I.E.S., standing for Iesous, or Jesus.
8. A description of this book, and the diseases the drink was supposed to cure, can be found here.

Photo © Steve Bulman.

19 June 2015


© Steve Bulman