Diocesan Histories : Carlisle


Chapter II.


The Romans on their arrival in Britain found the country in possession of a Celtic race, called by Gibbon and by some other historians Gauls, as being a tribe of the Gauls, who inhabited the neighbouring continent; called by Freeman and others Welsh, being the progenitors of the present inhabitants of Wales; called by Dr. Todd and by the Dentons, in their manuscript histories of Cumberland, Irish; and by many called Britons, or British, as being found in Britain by the Romans. After the Romans left Britain this Celtic race was conquered, superseded, and thrust aside by a Teutonic race from near the mouth of the Elbe, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, from whom we English are descended. Both the Celtic and Teutonic races are Aryan in origin, descended from that common stock, which has peopled nearly all Europe, and great part of Asia. It seems certain that the Celts, or Celtic race, were preceded in Britain by a non-Aryan race, who were unacquainted with the use of metal, a knowledge which the Aryan race appears always to have possessed. History tells us nothing about these people, but the spade does, and it informs us that the people whose remains are found in conjunction with instruments of the stone age had skulls of a dolicho-cephalic or long-headed type, and disposed of their dead by inhumation: the same instrument also tells us that the people of the next age, the bronze age, were a round-headed (brachy-cephalic) people, who used both inhumation and cremation. The implements of the stone age have frequently been found in Cumberland and Westmorland, but it is to be noted that all those so found belong to the newer stone age, to the neolithic period. Of the older stone age, of the palæolithic period, of the man coeval with the cave hyena, the cave bear, with the woolly elephant and the hairy rhinoceros, no remains have yet, we believe, been found in either Cumberland or Westmorland in either caves or river drift.

Of the brachy-cephalic people of the bronze age fewer relics can be catalogued. Bronze celts, spearheads, and palstaves [both celts and palstaves are axe-like implements] have all been found in Cumberland and Westmorland, and if more are not on record it is due to the fact that thirty or forty years ago it was common for the brass-founders to buy them for two pence apiece and melt them. Barrows of this period have been opened in the two counties by the Rev. W. Greenwell, F.R.S., F.S.A. But of these people, the Celtic brachy-cephalic people of the bronze age, other traces remain to us in the names they gave to the country they dwelt in, and in their influence on the local dialect. Scholars have differed much as to the amount of this influence, and the curious must refer to "The Northmen in Cumberland and Westmorland,"1 and to the "Dialect of Cumberland,"2 both by Robert Ferguson, F.S.A., and to "Cumberland and Westmorland, Ancient and Modern," by J. Sullivan.3

Both the historians and the philologists agree that there were two waves of Celtic migration into Britain; to the earlier one belonged the ancestors of the people who speak Erse in Ireland, Gaelic in the Highlands of the North, and Manx in the Isle of Man, and are called by Professor Rhys Goidels; to the later one belonged the ancestors of the people who speak Welsh in Wales, and Breton in Brittany, and are called by Professor Rhys Brythons.4 Traces of the language spoken by both these people can be found in the place-names of Cumberland and Westmorland, so that it is evident that both waves reached these counties; and thus we have, prior to the advent of the Romans, three peoples settled in the district whose ecclesiastical history we have to write, two Celtic and one pre-Celtic. Professor Rhys, however, in his map of Britain, showing the relative positions of its chief people during the Roman occupation, assigns the district wholly to the Goidels, with faint traces of the pre-Celtic race in the hill district.

Thus far all our knowledge about Britain has been merely conjectural and speculative: the time when we first really begin to know anything about the country is about fifty or sixty years before the commencement of the Christian era, for in B.C. 55 and 54, Julius Cæsar made expeditions into the south of the island. There seems to be no doubt that, in the southern and maritime parts of the island, he found a state of civilisation much greater than is generally supposed.5 The tribes that Cæsar came across were even then acquainted with the use of iron, and appear to have had a large mixture of Belgic immigrants from the comparatively civilised Gaul. This civilisation would not extend very far, and the tribes that inhabited the north and west (including Cumberland and Westmorland) would be much more barbarous than their southern and eastern neighbours; might still be using bronze or even stone implements, while iron was common to their neighbours, or even to their own chieftains and wealthy men. Cæsar speaks of the number of the population and the frequency of buildings, but this can only refer to the maritime provinces under Belgic influence: they were corn-growing countries. The wild tribes of the interior, and of the north and the west, did not cultivate the earth, but lived on milk and flesh, and clothed themselves in skins. They stained themselves with a blue dye, made from woad, to give themselves a more terrible appearance in battle, and wore their hair long, and shaved all but the upper lip. They wandered to and fro, driving their herds and flocks from pasture to pasture, but throwing up temporary dwelling-places for security to themselves and their cattle, living much as their kinsmen, the wild Irish, did three centuries ago. Their dwelling-places were mere temporary establishments, formed in the forests by enclosing a space with felled trees, within which they made huts of reeds, and logs, and stones, and sheds for their cattle. Men such as these were the Brigantes, a tribe, or federation of tribes, which inhabited, probably sparsely, the mountainous and woody districts now known as Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmorland, Cumberland, and Northumberland.

Another question arises: that is - What kind of country was that, which is now called Cumberland and Westmorland, when the Romans arrived? It was mainly forest, resembling the uncleared forests of Canada and America, and covered with dense scrub of oak, ash, thorn, hazel, and birch: the hill near St. Bees in Cumberland, known as Tomline, was at the beginning of this century covered with such scrub, high enough to hide a horse, while at the other end of the county, at Alston, the stools of ancient hazel and birch trees are buried beneath the peat. Other parts, particularly a great tract north of the present Carlisle, must have been impenetrable bog and morass, while the tops of the higher hills probably stood up bare and naked. Even in the time of Charles II great part of Cumberland was forest, as we learn from Sandford, who about that time wrote a history of the county, which remains in manuscript.

Ptolemy, in his geography, allocates nine cities to the Brigantes; seven of these are situate to the eastward of the great central water-shed, but Galagum or Galacum, and Rigodunum have been allocated, one to or near Kendal, and the other to Ribchester, in Lancashire. Such cities were probably mere collections of miserable wigwams.

We have little information about the religion of the people of Britain. Professor Rhys, of whose interesting volume on Celtic Britain6 we have already made large use, classifies the people of Britain, as regards religion, into three groups: the Brythonic Celts, who were polytheists of the Aryan type; the non-Celtic natives, under the sway of Druidism; and the Goidelic Celts, devotees of a religion which combined Aryan polytheism with Druidism. The epigraphy of the local Roman remains will presently serve to throw a little light on the polytheism of the Brythonic Celts.

It would be superfluous here to go into the details of the Roman conquest of Britain; an excellent summary of it has been written by Prebendary Scarth.7 - Prior to the year A.D. 78, the Romans had established themselves, more or less precariously, in the southern parts of the island. The real conqueror of Britain was Agricola, the third of three great generals sent over by Vespasian. The first of these, Petilius Cerealis, effected the reduction of the Brigantes in Yorkshire, in the years A.D. 69 and 70. Agricola came from Rome to take the chief command in Britain, in A.D. 78, and held it until 84, during which time he reduced all Britain, up to the friths of Forth and Clyde, to the condition of a Roman province. His first proceeding was to put to the sword the Ordovices or inhabitants of North Wales, who had been troublesome; he then reduced to entire submission the Isle of Mona, i.e. Anglesey: this he did by fording the strait which separates the island from the mainland. The winter of 78-9 he spent in quarters among the Ordovices; in correcting many abuses connected with requisitions of corn and other supplies, which pressed hard upon the Britons, and seem to have been learned by the Roman officials in the school of Verres. Thus having pacified and secured the country in his rear, Agricola pushed his conquests northwards. When the warm weather of 79 came, he drew together his forces again, and started off from North Wales on a second campaign, and this time to the northwards. Where he went, the twentieth chapter of his Life, by Tacitus, tells, in the words "æstuaria ac silvas ipse prætentare," words that can only apply to the estuaries of Lancashire and of Cumberland, of the Dee, of the Mersey, of the Ribble, to the sands of Cartmel and of Ulverstone, and of the Solway, - a district that has already been mentioned as well and thickly wooded, even so late as the time of Charles II. The use of the word æstuaria shows that Agricola crossed the rivers just mentioned as near the sea as possible, and we think that he proceeded north by the coast of Cumberland, and by a road and chain of forts which can still be made out. This we fancy he did that he might be supported by his fleet,8 and might also avoid the trackless woods and wild mountains of the interior; indeed, the passes into Cumberland and Westmorland from the south are few and hard to force, defended, as they would be, by swarms of Britons, who would have every advantage of shelter and knowledge of the country. At the end of this year's campaign, he encircled the territory gained by a chain of forts, "multæ civitates . . . et præsidiis castellisque circumdatæ." Tacitus, in his account of Agricola's third campaign, defines for us the limits of the second year's conquests: "tertius expeditionum annus novas gentes aperuit," showing that in the second year Agricola did not get beyond the Brigantes, who were well known to the Romans, having been in Yorkshire defeated and subdued by Petilius Cerealis. Thus Agricola, in his second campaign, marched round the Cumberland coast, subduing the country up to the Solway and the Tyne, and establishing the chain of forts which stretched round the Cumbrian coast and from the Solway to the Tyne, and whose ruins still excite curiosity and admiration.

In his third year, Agricola marched as far as the Frith of Tay, and in his fourth year (A.D. 81) he drew a line of forts from the Frith of Forth to the Frith of Clyde, while in the following two years he made further use of his fleet, and campaigned north of his upper line of forts, north of which line, however, he never made any permanent conquests.9 Agricola's successors were unable to retain the northern part of his conquests, and when Hadrian came to Britain, in A.D. 120, he found it necessary to connect the line of Agricola's forts between the Solway and the Tyne by a continuous fortification, known to this day as "The Roman Wall." The military engineers who planned this great barrier had a twofold object in view; accordingly they planned the great barrier with an embattled stone wall as a defence to the north against the attacks of hordes of barbarians that might be called armies; with a palisaded earthen vallum to the south against the attacks of guerillas, banditti, and dacoits that infested the scrub and forest in their rear. Into this system the engineers incorporated most of Agricola's camps; they also provided smaller ones at intervals of about a mile for the shelter of the large guards that would have to mount day and night, and they provided a military road. For a more detailed description the curious must refer to Prebendary Scarth's "Roman Britain;" to Dr. Bruce's magnificent works, "The Roman Wall" and "The Lapidarium Septentrionale," while the visitor to the remains of the great barrier should not fail to carry with him the little Handbook the same learned scholar has provided; many valuable papers on the Roman Wall are also to be found in the Archæologia Æliana of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries.

Antoninus Pius, the successor of Hadrian, united the upper line of Agricola's forts, those between Forth and Clyde, by an earthen barrier.

The Roman rule in Britain lasted for about 350 years, if we reckon from Agricola in A.D. 78 to Honorius in A.D. 410, a period of time about three times as long as that during which we have borne empire in India. With the history and incidents of that period we are hardly concerned; but some brief inquiry into other matters during the Roman sway, so far as they concern the district with whose ecclesiastical history we are dealing, will be of interest.

We have already said somewhat of the condition of the country through which Agricola forced his way; it may be well here to give a picture of Britain as the Romans found it, from the pen of a master, and then to apply it locally:-

"It was a land of uncleared forests, with a climate as yet not mitigated by the organised labours of mankind. The province in course of time became a flourishing portion of the Empire. The court orators dilated on the wealth of Britannia Felix and the heavy corn-fleets arriving from the granaries of the North; and they wondered at the pastures almost too deep and rich for the cattle, and hills covered with innumerable flocks of sheep with udders full of milk and backs weighed down with wool. The picture was too brightly coloured, though drawn in the Golden Age. It is certain that the island, when it fell under the Roman power, was little better in most parts than a cold and watery desert. According to all the accounts of the early travellers, the sky was stormy and obscured by continual rain, the air chilly even in summer, and the sun during the finest weather had little power to disperse the steaming mists. The trees gathered and condensed the rain, the crops grew rankly but ripened slowly, and the ground and the atmosphere were alike overloaded with moisture. The fallen timber obstructed the streams, the rivers were squandered in the reedy morasses, and only the downs and hill-tops rose above the perpetual tracts of wood. . . .  The work of reclaiming the wilderness began in the days of Agricola. The Romans felled the woods along the lines of their military roads; they embanked the rivers and threw causeways across the morasses; and the natives complained that their bodies and hands were worn out in draining the fens, and extending the clearings in the forests."10

The truth of this picture is testified by the numerous remains the Romans have left behind them in the district with which we are dealing. It is sad to note that the majority of the monumental inscriptions found in Cumberland and along the great barrier of Hadrian, record persons who died in youth or middle age. The effigies of the dead on their monuments indicate that warm clothing, probably of some woollen material, was worn.11 Small camps in sheltered positions, - for instance, one in the park at Netherhall - seem to have been sanatoria for men invalided from the more exposed ones. The colds and chills of the climate were guarded against by various contrivances, occasionally by double walls, as at the camp known as the King's stables, on the Poltross Burn; more frequently by elaborate systems of heating apparatus, known as hypocausts. A magnificent instance was uncovered at the Roman villa near Ravenglass. Its draught and consumption of wood must have been tremendous, showing that it was required to produce a large amount of heat. Other instances occur in most of the Roman camps in Cumberland and Westmorland. The Roman villa near Ravenglass is an exception; no others have been found in the district now the diocese of Carlisle; the climate repelled the wealthy and luxurious; no tessellated pavements are on record as having been found here, and the only settlers so far north were the officers and officials of the Roman Empire. The villa at Ravenglass, from its position close to a great camp, was clearly the residence of a military commander, and all the Roman remains in Cumberland, Westmorland, and North Lancashire nestle up close to the camps, or great fortified barracks, with which the Roman dotted the land, and whose names still afford the epigraphist and antiquary ample opportunity for ingenious conjecture. The occupation of this district was a military one; nowhere within it do we find great villas, as in the south of England, far away from military stations, and surrounded by numerous offices that bespeak great agricultural operations. The Roman, during his stay in the north, probably did little for local agriculture; for horticulture he probably did more; salads and vegetables were a necessity to the Roman, and he is by local tradition accredited with introducing chives and potherbs. But he worked the mines in the district, or made the natives work them for him; the best authorities all consider that he worked the lead mines in Alston,12 and ancient beds of scoriæ in High Furness, marking the sites of ancient iron bloomeries, are, on good ground, attributed to Roman times.13 The Romans also established, it is believed, a trade in cattle between Ireland and the Cumberland ports in their occupation, and probably established the great local cattle fairs of Stagshawbank, in Northumberland; Brough Hill, in Westmorland; and Rosley, in Cumberland. Under these circumstances the Britons, who dwelt away from the Roman camps and roads, would not come much under the influence of Roman civilisation, and would retain, even down to the departure of the Roman, their own ways and manners. Luguballium, the modern city of Carlisle, was a station of great importance, though it is doubtful if it was walled with stone; we hereafter find the citizens showing its Roman remains as antiquarian curiosities to St. Cuthbert. Leland says of it :-

"In diggyng to make new buildyngs yn the towne, often tymes hath bene, and alate fownd diverse foundations of the old cite, as pavimentes of stretes, old arches of dores, coyne stones squared, paynted pottes, mony hid in pottes, so hold and mouldid that when yt was strongly touchid yt went almost to mowlde. . . . In the feldes about Caerluel yn plewhyng hath bene fownd diverse Cornelines [cornelians] and other stoneys wel entaylid for seals."

A temple to Mars was standing in the reign of William Rufus. Carlisle must thus have been the seat of a high degree of Roman civilisation. For accounts of the great camps at Birdoswald, at Old Carlisle, at Maryport, and elsewhere in the limits of the diocese of Carlisle; for their names, and for accounts of the roads which connected them one with another, and with the rest of Britain we must refer our readers to books on Roman Britain.14 It is certain that Carlisle is the ancient Luguballium; Birdoswald, Amboglanna; Maryport, Axelodunum; Brough-on-Stainmoor, Verteræ; Brougham, Brovonæ; and Old Penrith, Voreda; and it is certain that Concangium is nowhere near Kendal. One great trunk road ran from York to Carlisle by Bowes, Brough, Kirkby Thore, and Old Penrith: another ran from Chester over the Morecambe Sands round the coast of Cumberland, with a branch by Kendal to Old Carlisle near Wigton, while the Maiden Way ran through the Tebay Gorge via Kirkby Thore, Alston, Birdoswald, and Bewcastle, into Scotland.

The garrisons that held these camps, pursuant to the usual Roman policy, were drawn from various distant nations, so that in addition to Italians proper, there were settled in this district, Spaniards, Gauls, Germans, Thracians, Dacians, Moors, and many more - a motley crew, some of whom brought with them their own peculiar deities as will presently be shown.

Numerous inscriptions are found near the line of the Roman Wall, and in or near the Roman camps in Cumberland and Westmorland, addressed to the various deities worshipped by the legionary and auxiliary troops. These divide themselves into some four classes: first, those addressed to the gods and goddesses of the Roman mythology. Thus many altars have been found in Cumberland dedicated to Jupiter, for instance, by the Dacians at Birdoswald, Lanercost, and Bewcastle; by the Tungrians at Castlesteads, by the Gauls at Old Carlisle; by the Spaniards at Maryport; by the Ala Augusta at Old Carlisle; and by other auxiliary troops elsewhere in the district, while many altars also occur dedicated to Jupiter by individuals. It has been noted that altars to Jupiter are generally larger and more ornate than those to other gods. Dedications to Mars are by no means so numerous: they occur at Birdoswald, Castlesteads, Old Penrith, Old Carlisle and Brougham, and there was a temple to Mars at Carlisle. Dedications have also occurred to Hercules, to Silvanus the god of hunting, to Victory, personified as a goddess, and to other deities worshipped by the Romans in their own Italy. The genii of the camps and the cohorts, and of the emperors, the nymphs of the fountains, all have their altars. The size and workmanship of these altars, particularly those to Jupiter, lead to the idea that they were inspired by the Roman commanders, and belong to an early period of the occupation.15 The second class of these dedicatory inscriptions are to gods with strange uncouth names, the local gods of the Brythonic Celts. These altars are generally small and rudely carved, indicating a late period of the occupation, and that they were the work of the rank and file of the Roman legions and their auxiliaries who had intermarried or cohabited with the native women, and so become acquainted with their gods. Thus in Cumberland altars have been found dedicated to Belutucador, to Mogontis, to Vetiris, to Maponus, and to Setlocenia: those to Belutucador have also been found in Westmorland. Some have endeavoured to identify this god with the Phoenician Baal, in which case he would belong to the next class: both he and Cocidius appear joined in dedications with Mars, and so may be Brythonic gods of war. Maponus is conjoined once or twice with Apollo, and may be his native equivalent. These deities are frequent in, if not peculiar to, Cumberland, and must have been found there by the Romans. The third class consists of dedications to deities imported by the auxiliary troops. This class includes the deæ matres, whose altars and inscriptions are numerous in Belgic Gaul and in Germany, and especially along the banks of the Rhine. They belong to the Teutonic race, and are represented as three seated female figures, with baskets or bowls of fruit on their knees; instances occur, locally, of either dedications to or representations of the deæ matres at Brougham, Old Penrith, Stanwix, Carlisle, Netherby, &c. These are generally rude and poor in execution. The fourth class consists of slabs and sculptured figures, telling of the wave of Mithraic superstition that from the time of Hadrian swept from east to west. The great Mithraic find at Housesteads, in Northumberland, is outside of the district we are dealing with; but sculptured stones, indicative of Mithraic worship, have been found at Drawdikes and Murrill Hill, both near Carlisle, and at Maryport.

Little has, as yet, been done towards investigating and recording the folklore of this district; the results might curiously connect the present day with those that preceded the Romans. It might be possible to recognise in the wise men and wise women, the charmers away of disease, to whom the peasantry at the present day somewhat secretly and shamefacedly resort; the soothsayers, medicine men, and magicians of Goidelic Druidism; while the Beltain fires of the first of May may be relics of the worship of some fire god. So late as the year 1840, a large farmer at Brampton passed all his cattle through the Need fire, as a charm against the rinderpest; later still, in the Lake district, a calf has been buried alive for a similar reason, and even as we write a friend tells us that his herd advises him to bury a calf under the threshold of his byre, as an antidote to abortion among his cattle. The peasants, and better than the peasants, still believe that a holed stone hung up in a stable will avert nightmare from the horses. From what period of heathenism do these and similar superstitions descend?

No allusions to Christianity can be found on the lapidary remains left by the Romans in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire North of the Sands; and although there was, during at least the latter part of the Roman occupation, a Christian Church in Britain, it seems to have been mainly confined to the Roman towns and settlements further south than the wild districts we are dealing with, whose occupation by the Romans was purely military.

The conjecture that Christianity had penetrated to this distant corner of Britain during its occupation by the Romans receives some support from what is recorded of the life and labours of St. Ninian. A Briton of noble parentage, his birth-place was somewhere on the shores of the Solway whether on the Scottish or the Cumbrian side is uncertain, though some antiquaries hold there are reasons for inclining to the latter. Trained under a Christian father, he grew up to manhood distinguished for piety and zeal for religion, and he went to Italy with a view to obtaining instruction beyond that which his native land afforded. After dwelling at Rome for fifteen years, Pope Syricius sent him to Britain to spread Christianity among the people of his native Cumbria. His station as a chief's son, and his acquaintance with the native language, would be great helps to him in his work. On his way back to Britain he made the acquaintance of St. Martin at Tours, who had just instituted the monastic life in Western Europe. St. Martin instructed him in the ascetic discipline, and gave him workmen for the purpose of building a church in his own country. In returning he must have traversed Cumberland and Westmorland by the great Roman road from York to Carlisle; thence he proceeded to Whithern [Whithorn], in Wigtownshire, where he built the "Candida Casa," which then became the Mother Church of this district, and the Cathedra [seat] of its earliest bishop. Near to the Roman road just mentioned, at Brougham, in Westmorland, is the church of St. Ninian's, Brougham; and it is suggested that there, on his return journey, 200 years before the mission of St. Augustine, St. Ninian for a short time preached the Gospel to the Britons in their native tongue, and that he afterwards sent a presbyter to take charge of the converts; the idea is so fascinating that one would wish it had a more solid historical basis. St. Ninian returned to Britain in 397, just 200 years before St. Augustine preached the Gospel to the Saxons in Kent. At Canterbury St. Augustine found an old British church dedicated to St. Martin; there was possibly a church at Brougham of as early, if not an earlier date.16


1. London: Longman & Co. Carlisle: Steel, 1856.
2. London: Williams & Norgate. Carlisle: Steel, 1873.
3. London: Whitaker & Co. Kendal: John Hudson, 1857.
4. "Celtic Britain," by J. Rhys, M.A. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882.
5. Vide Evans' "Ancient Stone Implements," p. 10. Evans' "Coins of the Ancient Britons," pp. 42, 263, and alibi.
6. "Celtic Britain," by J. Rhys, M.A. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882
7. "Roman Britain," by the Rev. H. M. Scarth, M.A. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
8. This is matter of controversy.
9. See a paper entitled "An attempt at a Survey of Roman Cumberland and Westmorland, with Remarks on Agricola's line of march, &c.," by the Author. - Transactions
10. "Origins of English History," by C. Elton. Quaritch, London, 1882, p. 222.
11. Transactions Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society, vol. viii. pp. 317, 320.
12. Transactions Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society, vol. viii. pp. 7, 11.
13. Ibid., vol. viii. pp. 85, 89.
14. See "An Attempt at a Survey of Roman Cumberland and Westmorland," by the Author. - Transactions Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Sociely, vol. iii. p. 64.
15. "Lapidarium Septentrionale," p. xv.
16. "St. Ninian's Church, Brougham," by the Rev. T. Lees, F.S.A. - Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. iv. p. 420. "Church Dedications in Diocese of Carlisle," by Precentor Venables. Ibid., vol. vii. pp. 118, 121. There is a St. Ninian's Well near Carlisle, and another, under his more popular name of Ringan, at Oldchurchland, Loweswater.


Diocesan Histories : Carlisle,
by Richard S. Ferguson, Chancellor of Carlisle
Published by SPCK, London, 1889


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19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman