Egremont Town and Parish

  > Egremont is an ancient market town, consisting principally of one wide street, pleasantly seated on the west bank of the river Ehen, over which there is a bridge of two arches, 6 miles S.E. of Whitehaven, and about 3 miles W.1 of the Irish sea. It was anciently a borough, and the principal town in the barony of Copeland or Egremont, but was disfranchised, on the petition of the burgesses, to avoid the expense of representation in Parliament. The ordinances of Richard Lucy, for the government of the borough, made about the reign of king John, declares that those who hold burgage tenure in Egremont were to find armed men for the defence of the castle, forty days at their own charge; twelve men for the lord's military array; be bound to aids for the redemption of the lord and his heir from captivity, for the knighthood of one of the lord's sons, and the marriage of one of his daughters; to hold watch and ward; not to enter the forest with bow and arrow; nor cut off their dogs' feet within the borough.* The burgesses who had ploughs were to till the lord's demesne one day in the year, and every burgess was obliged to find a reaper; their labour was from morning, ad nonam, that is, from six to three. By the rule for inspecting the dyers, weavers, and fullers, it seems those were the only trades within the borough, under the character of craftsmen, but many of the inhabitants are now employed in the manufacture of linen, thread, and paper, and in the tanning and dressing of leather, there being five tanneries in the town and neighbourhood. There are also in the parish, extensive ironstone mines, belonging to the Messrs. Ainsworth and Lindow; the ore is shipped at Whitehaven chiefly for the iron foundries at Cardiff and Newport, in Wales. Large quantities of limestone are got and burned here, and there are some quarries of red freestone in the parish, which extends about 3 miles from north to south, and 2 miles from east to west, and contained, in 1841, a population of 1750 souls.† The soil of the parish is mostly a thin light hazle mound2, incumbent on gravel; and the principal land owners are Thos. Hartley, Anthy. Dixon, Thos. Nelson, Wm. Bragg, Robt. Jefferson, and John Birley, Esqrs., the Rev. John Gaitskell, and Mr. B. Caddy, but general Wyndham is lord of the manor. The parish contains 2708 rateable acres of land, rated, in 1846, at 5054 18s. 4d. The common land, called Cowfield, on which each burgess had a right of pasturage for a cow, has been enclosed and sold by mutual consent. Part of the mountain called Dent is in this parish, and being a fine lofty green eminence, it affords excellent food for sheep. It is now totally denuded, but was formerly a dense forest.

The market, which is now held on Saturday, but anciently on Wednesday, is well supplied with corn, butchers' meat, and other provisions. Annual fairs for horses, cattle, &c., are held on the 17th of February, and third Friday in May; and on the three days following the 18th of September, a sort of feast is kept, when the burgesses are allowed to sell ale without licence. A hiring for servants is held on one of the market days at Whitsuntide and Martinmas. A court baron, for the recovery of' debts under 40s. is held here, by adjournment, every sixth Friday, under general Wyndham, the lord of the barony of Egremont.

A court leet and a customary court for the purpose of appointing inspectors of nuisances, &c. are held annual in the spring. The ancient court room in the castle being suffered to go to decay, all these courts are held at the King's Arms Inn. Formerly the tenants paid 1d. each to the lord yearly, for the burgage tenements. Two bailiffs, together with constables, hedge and corn viewers, and assessors of damages, are chosen annually at the court leet; but the office of borough sergeant, though still preserved, is not now an annual appointment.

The Church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a neat edifice, consisting of a nave, chancel and square tower, containing two bells. The interior is well pewed, and has a handsome appearance; the outer walls are plastered, and the whole of the church, except the eastern end, is greatly disfigured by tasteless modern alterations. "The chancel, a mere recess with a rounded east end, is an unsightly projection of modern date. The font is stone, and of an octagonal figure: it bears marks of antiquity, but is painted." The church was given by William de Meschines to the priory of St. Bees, which was a cell to St. Mary's Abbey, in York, and it still continues to pay a pension to the church of St. Bees. The benefice is a rectory, valued in the king's books at 9 11s., and certified to the governors of queen Anne's bounty at 45 15s. 10d. General Wyndham is the patron, and the Rev. W. H. Leech is rector, and resides at the rectory, a commodious house rebuilt about thirty years ago by the Rev. Alexander Scott. The tithes have been commuted for a yearly rent charge of 206 4s. 3d., and the net annual value of the living was certified at 249. The church had anciently a stipendiary and a chantry priest, both peculiarly endowed with lands, &c., which Edward VI in the 2nd and 3rd years of his reign granted to Wm. Ward, Richard Venables, Henry Tanner, and Thomas Bocker. There is in the town a Methodist Chapel, built in 1821, and a Parochial School, rebuilt in 1844, and now endowed with about 6 per annum. Mr. Robert Railton is the present master. The Rev. Thomas Benn, who died vicar of Millom, in 1743, bequeathed the interest of 25 to be given to the poor in bread at the church, but the amount is now given in coals or clothing by the churchwardens. Mrs. Jane Birley, of Carlelon Lodge3, who died in 1833, left the interest of 50 to be distributed annually on Good Friday, to the poor of the parish, not receiving parochial relief. In 1846, a young men's Improvement Society was established here, and has now about thirty members, who pay 2d. per week each. There are a few of the London newspapers taken in, and its utility is beginning to be duly appreciated. About half a mile from the town is Gillfoot, the pleasant seat of Thomas Hartley, Esq., banker.

Egremont Castle - The venerable ruins of this ancient fortress, once the seat of the potent lords of the great barony of Copeland or Egremont, stand on an eminence, about 150 yards S.W. of the town, and exhibits indubitable marks of great antiquity and strength. It was built about the end of 11th century, by William de Meschines, the first baron of Copeland. The approach and grand entrance from the south was by a draw bridge over a deep moat, and the entrance to the castle was by a semicircular archway with a grained roof4, and guarded by a strong square tower, which is the principal part of the fortress now standing. The outward wall inclosed a large square area, but is so much destroyed by age that no probable conjecture can be formed as to the particular manner in which it was fortified. On the side next the town is the remains of a postern; and on the west are three narrow gateways, which have communicated with the outworks, and are of a more modern style of architecture than the rest of the ruins. Beyond these gates is an artificial mount, on which there was a circular tower, 78 feet perpendicular height above the ditch, built, as is supposed, upon the crown of the Danish fort. Though much of this strong fortress has yielded to the all-destroying hand of time, enough still remains to point out to posterity its former magnificence. "There is a traditional story here of a lady of the Lucy family, on an evening walk near the castle, being devoured by a wolf. The place is distinguished by a cairn of stone, and by the name of Woful Bank," now Wodow Bank, but this is supposed to be no more than an emblematic allusion to the bloody conflicts here during the invasion of the Danes. "The present name of Egremont," says Houseman, "seems derived from its ancient possessors, the Normans, and being changed by a trifling corruption of their language, carries the same meaning, and implies the Mount of Sorrow." The town and ruins of the castle display from many points on the river Ehen and adjacent lands, some pleasing assemblages of the picturesque, and the road from hence to the lake of Ennerdale is easy, and beautifully diversified with the bold and chaste features of nature. William Egremont, D.D. is supposed to have been a native of this town. He wrote many learned works, and was suffragan under the bishop of Lincoln. He died in 1390.

* The dogs on the borders, appointed to be kept for defence, were called Sleugh Dogs. Inhabitants within the limits of the forest keeping dogs for defence, were to lop off one foot or more, to prevent their chasing the game, but this precaution was not necessary in a town.

† The population of the parish has not increased more than 10 in 30 years, though there were during that time more baptisms than burials registered, by 859.


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




1. Egremont is east of the Irish Sea.
2. "hazle mound" - sic; presumably this should be "hazel mould", soil of the colour of a hazelnut.
3. "Carlelon Lodge" - probably a mis-spelling for Carleton Lodge, Carleton being about a mile S.E. of Egremont.
4. "grained roof" - does this mean that the stonework had been carved to take on the appearance of wood ?

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman