Muncaster Parish

  > This parish is bounded on the west by the Irish sea, on north by Irton and Drigg, on the east by Ulpha and Eskdale, and on the west by Waberthwaite. It consists of two townships, Muncaster and Birkby, the former comprising the lands between the Mite and the Esk, and Birkby lying on the south side of the latter river, and it extends about four miles from east to west, and nearly three miles in breadth from north to south. The soil towards the sea is loamy, and tolerably fertile; but farther eastward it is mossy, and near the mountains gravelly. It contains 3408 acres of land, rated at 2652, exclusive of the uninclosed fells of Muncaster and Birkby. A vein of iron ore is supposed to exist at a place called Brankenwalls gill, the property of the Rev. Samuel Dupre, of Bridgenorth, but neither coal, limestone, nor freestone is found in this parish. Lord Muncaster is the principal land owner, and the population of the parish, in 1841, was 602 souls. The Esk, Mite, and Irt abound with trout, and there was formerly so great an abundance of woodcocks in the parish, that, "by a special custom, the tenants were obliged to sell them to the lord for one penny each."

ravenglass.jpg (25231 bytes)Muncaster township contains the ancient, but now insignificant, town and sea port of Ravenglass, situate 6 miles N. by W. of Bootle, and about 16 miles S.S.E. of Whitehaven, on a small creek, at the confluence of the rivers Esk, Mite, and Irt, which here form a large sandy harbour. There are 22 feet of water on the bar in spring tides, and 12 feet at neap tides; but there is scarcely any trade in the place, the only vessel belonging to the port being a sloop, the property of Mr. Richard Taylor. Richard Lucy, as lord paramount, first received a charter for a market and fair at Ravenglass, from king John ("dated the tenth year of that king's reign"), and in the same year he confirmed to Allan Penninglon, as mense lord, and his tenants, "all the land and fee of Ravenglass, to hold of him and his heirs, with estovers to make fish garths1 in the river Esk." A cattle fair is now held on the 6th of May, and fairs for horses and cattle are held on the 8th of June and 5th of August; but the only appearance at present of the market (which was held on Friday) is the remains of the market cross. The latter fair, until within the last few years, was attended by some singular circumstances. Nicholson and Burn, who wrote in 1777, say "at present, the earl of Egremont holds the fair of Ravenglass on the eve, day, and morrow of St. James. On the first of these days, in the morning, the lord's officer, on proclaiming the fair, is attended by the sergeants of the bow of Egremont, with the insignia belonging thereto; and all the tenants of the forest of Copeland owe a customary service to meet the lord's officer at Ravenglass, in a place set out for that purpose. On the third day at noon, the earl's officer discharges the fair by proclamation; immediately whereupon the Penningtons and their tenants take possession of the town, and have races and other divertisements during the remainder of the day." Mr. Sandford speaks of it as "a grand fair of three days long at St. James' time, for all sortes of cattle especially, and all other commodities from Ireland, Isle of Man, and Scotland." The name, according to Nicholson and Burn, is derived from the Irish renigh fern, and glass, green, meaning "green of ferns." Mr. John Denton says "Ravenglass, now a village, anciently a green of ferns, corruptly called of two Irish words, Rainigh, Fernsand. Glass Green was anciently another fee of Egremont. Camden says "some will have it to have been formerly called Aven-glass, (i. e. cœruleus) an azure sky-coloured river, and tell you abundance of stories about king Eveling, who had a palace here." The Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway, now in operation, passes close to the town.

The Church of Muncaster, dedicated to St. Michael, is an ancient structure, standing nearly in the centre of the parish, about one mile east of Ravenglass, in the park closely adjoining the castle, and being entirely surrounded by trees and partly covered with ivy, has a peculiarly interesting appearance. This church, "in the stillness of the country, is a visible centre of community of the living and the dead; a point to which are habitually referred the nearest concerns of both." It consists of a nave and chancel, with a bell turret carrying two bells: it has been lately painted. The principal entrance is from the west, beneath a window of three lights, with cinque-foiled heads under a circular arch, the north door being walled up. On the apex of the gable at the east end of the nave is a small turret, which probably was built for the sancte bell, or mass bell.* The church was appropriated to Conishead priory, by Gamel de Pennington, in the reign of Henry II. On the dissolution of the religious houses, it again reverted to that family, who have since retained the advowson. It is a perpetual curacy, certified at 10, but augmented in 1723 with 200 from queen Anne's bounty. The benefice was returned to the commissioners for inquiring into the ecclesiastical revenues, at 97 per annum, but the tithes are now commuted. Lord Muncaster is patron, and the Revd. Thomas Robinson is the incumbent. The walls of the chancel are nearly covered with monuments of the Pennington family; and in the church yard is an ancient cross, four feet nine inches high.

" . . . . . may ne'er
That true succession fail of English hearts
That can perceive not less than heretofore
Our ancestors did feelingly perceive,
What in those holy structures ye possess
Of ornamental interest, and the charm
Of pious sentiment dispersed afar
And human charity and social love." - Wordsworth.

Muncaster Castle2 is a handsome modern structure, having been nearly rebuilt by John, first baron Muncaster. It is delightfully situated on the side of an eminence north of the Esk, amidst beautiful walks, gardens, and plantations, and commands fine views of Hardknott, Wrynose, and Scafell mountains, and also an extensive sea prospect. It is now in the possession of Gamel Augustus Pennington, lord Muncaster, lineal descendant of the family of Pennington, who have enjoyed this estate ever since the Conquest, the first of whose ancestors after that period bore the name of Gamel. They took their name from Pennington, in Lancashire, and the Muncasters are descended from one David de Mulcaster, the son of Benedict Pennington, who lived in king John's time. In the 35th of Henry VIII, Sir William Pennington "held the manor of Mulcaster of the king, as of his castle of Egremont, by the service of the sixth part of a knight's fee, rendering yearly for seawake 12d. and the picture of two sergeants," together with the 17th part of a knight's fee "for the hamlet of Ravenglass." Several of the Penningtons were knighted for their valour, and their estate was settled in tail mail3 in the 23rd of Edward IV. Sir William Pennington was created a baronet, 29th Charles II, and was succeeded by Sir Joseph, Sir John, and Sir Joseph; the latter had three sons, one of whom (John) was a colonel in the army at the time of the French revolution, when he was created lord Muncaster, an Irish peerage, without a seat in the House of wallscastle.jpg (50519 bytes)Lords. In ancient evidences Muncaster is called Meolcastre, Mealcastre, and Mulcaster; and the ruins4 called Wall's Castle, near Ravenglass, is said by some to have been the ancient place of residence of the Penningtons. Others suppose that these ruins are of early English origin, Roman and Saxon coins having been found here, with stone axes and arrow heads, "the undoubted arms of our Celtic ancestors." The walls are cemented with run lime. A glass vessel has been preserved at the castle for several centuries, called "The luck of Mulcaster," said to have been presented to Sir John Pennington by Henry VI, in 1461. (See Eden Hall for an account of a similar relic). Lowther Auguston John, the late baron, died in 1838, aged 35 years, and was succeeded by his son Gamel Augustus, who was born 3rd December, 1831, and is consequently a minor. He is the fourth baron Muncaster, and eighth baronet.

Low Esk Holm5 is a small hamlet in Muncaster township, 2 miles E. by North of Ravenglass, consisting of three farm houses and a few cottages, near the farm called High Esk Holm5.

Birkby is a small township containing a few scattered houses, three miles E. of Ravenglass, on the south side of the river Esk, which is here crossed by a good bridge. At a place called Chapel garth, in this township, some ruins were dug up in 1822, supposed to have been those of the chapel or church which formerly stood here. Mr. William Russell, of Eskdale, has a bobbin turning mill at Broad Oak, in this township.

There is a poor stock of 23. belonging to this parish, and twelve penny loaves were distributed in the church to the poor every Sunday, pursuant to the will of Joseph Pennington, Esqr., who died in 1641, but now only one loaf is given each Sunday, and the like bequest to Drigg has been altogether discontinued. Several other benefactions to this parish were lost on the death of John, lord Muncaster, in 1813.

* It was rung when the priest came to those words of the mass, Sancte, Sancte, Sancte, Deus Sabaoth, in order to give notice to such as could not see the altar, of certain more solemn parts of the sacrifice, to recall the wandering mind from distraction, and to excite all to greater fervour of devotion.


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




1. "estovers to make fish garths" - the right to take materials (presumably wood) to construct fish traps.
2. Muncaster Castle is still in the possession of the Pennington family, and is open to the public.
3. "tail mail" - mis-spelling for "tail male", meaning that the property could only be inherited by male heirs.
4. Walls Castle is Roman, the remains of the bath-house belonging to the fort of Glannoventa. It's one of the tallest remnants of Roman Britain, still standing at over 12 feet in height.
5. Both Esk Home's are now rendered Eskhome.

Photos Steve Bulman.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman