Bewcastle Parish

  > Comprehends an area of eight square miles, lying partly between the two branches of the river Line, denominated the Black and White Line, and bounded on the E. by Northumberland, on the S. by the parishes of Stapleton and Lanercost, and on the N.W. by Kirk-Andrews parish. The soil, which consists chiefly of a sandy gravel, incumbent on clay and limestone, has been much improved of late years by drainage. Many of the valleys are very productive, and the hills afford a fine verdure, wild thyme, with other aromatic plants, and are excellent sheep walks. Coal is found at Oakshaw, and limestone in various parts of the parish, and a search is making for lead on Grey-fell common1 - which is now being enclosed. Here are two medicinal springs - one chalybeate and the other sulphurous; and at Low Grange, a quarter of a mile east of the church, is a petrifying spring. This parish is very extensive, comprising 26,640 acres of land, rated at 5775 12s. 6d., and is divided into the four townships of Bailie, Belbank, Bewcastle, and Nixons, which, in 1841, contained a population of 1274 souls.

Bewcastle2 township contains 181 inhabitants and about 36 scattered houses, ten miles N. by E. of Brampton. The Church stands at the extreme S.E. end of the parish, on the site of a large Roman station, where, it is supposed, there was anciently a considerable town. It is dedicated to St. Mary3, and is a plain edifice, rebuilt in 1793, with a small square tower, but no side aisles. The date of its foundation is unknown, but, about the year 1200,the advowson was given to the prior and convent of Carlisle, and is now in the patronage of the dean and chapter of Carlisle, and incumbency of the Rev. John Maugham. The benefice is a rectory, valued in the king's books at 2, but has been augmented With a prescript of 60 0s. 6d. a year, in lieu of tithes, commuted, in 1842, for the same sum, and a few years since it was still further augmented by Sir James Graham, with 20 a year for ever, out of the rents of his estates; and in 1844 the ecclesiastical commissioners gave 13 a year to the living, which is now worth 120 per annum. Near the church is a very commodious rectory house, built in 1837, at a cost of about 600, of which 400 was obtained from queen Anne's bounty, 50 from the bishop, and the remainder was contributed by the rector himself. The other place of worship in this parish is a Presbyterian Chapel, built in 1790, and now under the ministry of the Rev. Wm. Tweedie. The late Rev. William Lauder, who was minister of this chapel from its foundation till his death, furnished several valuable corrections for Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, and rescued the industrious and hospitable inhabitants of the parish from the dismal shade which is thrown over their character in the first volume of that work, and for which a deep regret is expressed in the second. Though this parish was for ages the receptacle of desperadoes, and the very name of "the men of Bewcastle had carried with it a degree of terror," the inhabitants have for a number of years been as moral, honest, and courteous as those of any neighbouring parish. Here is a school, aided by public subscription, and to which the Presbyterian synod of England granted 10 in 1847. There was, until lately, another school, also assisted by subscription, and the masters were in the habit of going about with the scholars, in rotation, for victuals; but the present master's family being inhabitants of the place, he declines availing himself of the privilege of the "whittle gate."

Bewcastle township contains 2285 rateable acres of land, rated at 1290 5s., mostly the property of Sir J. Graham and Henry Farrar, Esq.; and on the demesne belonging to the former are the antique ruins of a once strong fortress, built by Bueth, lord of Gilsland, and called Bueth Castle, afterwards Botchcastre, and now Bewcastle. Bueth held this manor before the Norman Conquest, and his son, Gilles Bueth, afterwards claimed part of Gilsland, but was murdered by Robert de Vallibus, at a meeting convened for the purpose of settling the dispute; and his possessions having come to the crown were granted by Henry II to Hubert de Vallibus, the last of that name in Gilsland, whose daughter and heiress, Matilda, married Thomas de Multon, from whom Bewcastle passed to the Swinburnes, who held it for several generations. Edward I, in the 7th year of his reign, granted to John Swinburne, the privilege of holding a market and fair here. In the reign of Edward II, Sir John Scrivener held the manor in right of his wife, the heiress of the Swinburnes, but it afterwards passed to the crown, and was granted by Edward IV to his brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester. In the reign of Henry VIII it was held by one Jack Musgrave; but James I, in 1615, demised it to Francis, earl of Cumberland, for the term of 40 years, rendering for the same the yearly sum of 5; and finally, Charles I, in 1630, granted it, in consideration of 200, to Richard Graham, Kt., to be held by him and his heirs in capite by one entire knight's fee, and the annual rent of 7. 10s. This deed is now in the possession of Mr. George Routledge, of Bankhead. The Right Hon. Sir Jas. R. G. Graham, Bart., M.P., is the present lord of the manor, and owner of the castle demesne. This castle was destroyed in 1641, by the parliamentary forces, and the garrison removed to Carlisle. Many of the tenants are enfranchised, but several still pay customary rents, heriots at the death of a tenant, and fines at the death of the lord, or change of tenant, &c. The custom of the manor was established under a decree in chancery, in the 6th Charles I.

bewcastlecross.jpg (28724 bytes)The runic monument, or obelisk, in Bewcastle church yard, has for a length of time engaged the attention of the curious. It is a cross of one entire square stone, about 15 feet high, springing from an octagonal pedestal, and "is nearly the frustrum of a square pyramid, each side being equal, 2 feet broad at bottom and 1 at top, wherein a cross was fixed, which has been demolished long ago by popular frenzy and enthusiasm." Each side of this ancient Danish obelisk has a profusion of inscriptions, figures, &c., emblematic of the conversion of the Danes to Christianity, and commemorative of the death and interment, as is supposed, of one of their kings. The remains of another cross are visible at Cross-hill, about 3 miles N. of the church, near the black line river, and about 6 miles from Bewcastle, at a place called Currocks, in the midst of a moss, is a large collection of stones about 10 yards high and 130 in circumference. A Roman spear, found here a few years ago, may be seen at Mr. G. Routledge's. The Maiden Way4 runs through this parish, and within half-a-mile of it is another heap of stones called Hemp's graves, probably a corruption of Camp's graves, as there is every vestige of a camp in its vicinity. Another heap of stones, about 30 yards in circumference, may be seen at a short distance from this place, and here many human bones, ancient coins, &c. have been found.

Bailie, or Bailey, township, contains 11248 acres, rated at 2311 17s. 6d., and extends from 2 to 6 miles N.N.W. of Bewcastle. Here is a lofty range of crag, stretching to the point where Cumberland, Scotland, and Northumberland unite, and there are several romantic localities in this township. Its population, in 1841, was 431, and its principal landowners are Sir Wastel Brisco and John Charlton, Esq.

Belbank comprises 2849 acres, rated at 1203 15s., and a population of 445 souls, resident in 97 houses, distant from one to four miles W. of Bewcastle. Near to the hamlet of Oakshaw are coal and lime works; and on the opposite bank of the white line, in Stapleton parish, is another township of the same name.

Nixons township comprises 217 inhabitants, and 47 dwellings, including the small hamlet of Cross Hills, distant 3 miles N. by W. of Bewcastle. It contains 4501 acres of land, rated at 969 15s. Christenbury Craggs5, which cover about three acres of ground, are situate on the summit of a hill near the borders of Northumberland, in this township. They command extensive prospects, and when viewed at a distance, have the appearance of a ruined fortress. "The front of the rock is between 50 and 60 feet high, and finely broken by innumerable fissures, which run from top to bottom, and separate the half isolated masses, which in some places assume the appearance of columns, and display an air of rude uniformity more pleasing to contemplate than the most admired production of art. The caves and apertures of these rocks were sought in former times as an asylum by the freebooters." The remains of several old houses in this parish clearly evince that they were once used as places of defence against the attacks of the mosstroopers; the lower part of the house affording shelter and protection to the cattle, whilst the family occupied the upper part. Pelawhill farm house is the only one of this class now inhabited or in a habitable state.


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




1. Grey-fell common is now Greyfell Common.
2. Bewcastle and the surrounding area were associated with the infamous Border Reivers. These were bands of freebooters who rustled sheep and cattle, and were quite likely to kill anyone who got in their way. The parallel with the Wild West is not stretching things too far. There is a famous story of a Reiver arriving home one day and asking where his dinner was, to which his wife replied by passing him a dinner plate on which were his spurs !
3. There is some confusion regarding the dedication of the church; according to Bulmer (1901), Nicholson and Burn ascribe it to St. Mary, but Hutchinson has St. Cuthbert; Bulmer says "it is now invariably named after the northern saint"; i.e. St. Cuthbert. This is also the dedication used by Pevsner.
4. The Maiden Way is the Roman road from Bewcastle to Hadrian's Wall to the south, and beyond.
5. Christenbury Craggs is now Christianbury Crag; it is very reminiscent of the "tors" of south west England.

Photo Steve Bulman.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman