Penrith Town and Parish

  > The parish of Penrith extends about 4 miles in length from north to south, and 3½ in breadth from east to west. It is bounded on the south by the river Eamont, which divides it from Westmorland, on the east by Edenhall, on the west by Greystoke and Newton, and on the north by Lazonby. The extensive common, consisting of about 5000 acres, has been enclosed and divided, together with the other waste lands in Inglewood Forest1, pursuant to an act of Parliament obtained in 1803. The total number of acres in the parish, according to a survey made in 1839, is 7663A. 3R. 27P. including roads, water, quarries, &c. &c., and the number of rateable acres is 6519. The rateable value in 1810, was £18,847 and the gross value of the parish in 1843, was £23,775. The soil is generally a light red mould, and is in some parts very fertile, especially near the Eamont, where a little loam prevails. The large and lofty fell, called Beacon Hill, which adjoins the town, has upon it a fine plantation, belonging to the earl of Lonsdale, covering 500 acres, with a square stone building, which was erected in 1719, and was repaired about 70 years ago. This beacon has four windows, which command extensive views of the beautiful and impressive mountain scenery of this and the adjoining counties. But the prospect from two of the windows is now much obstructed by plantations which are rising rapidly. Fine red freestone and slates are got in the parish, on the west side of which the soil rests upon limestone. The duke of Devonshire is lord paramount of the whole parish, but the earl of Lonsdale, John Cooper, Esq., of Carleton Hall, Miss Dent, of Skirsgill, Anthony Preston, Esq., of Musgrave Hall, James Barrett, Esq., Maiden Hill, and Mrs. De Whelpdale, have estates here. The parish supports its poor, but for the purpose of collecting rates, is divided into seven divisions, viz., Burrowgate, Dockray, Middlegate and Sandgate, Netherend, Townhead, which forms the town, and Plumpton-head, and Carleton and Bridge, which are two distant hamlets. These divisions have four overseers appointed annually, with a permanent assistant overseer. The population of the parish in 1841, was 6429 souls.

Penrith is an ancient but respectable and well-built Market town, consisting principally of one very long street, and an extensive market-place, situated at the foot of Beacon hill, at the junction of the great western line of road from Lancashire and London to Glasgow, and on the Lancashire and Carlisle line of railway, 18 miles S. by E. of Carlisle, 14 miles N. W. of Appleby, 27 miles N. of Kendal, and 284 miles N.N.W. of London. The houses are constructed of red freestone, and most of them are plastered and whitewashed, so that they contrast beautifully with the sylvan ornaments in the vicinity. The town was greatly improved in 1807, when the New Shambles, behind the George Inn, were erected; and that ancient and clumsy pile of buildings called the Market-cross, Old Shambles, and Moot-hall, was removed from the market-place, which is now a spacious area, lined with well stocked shops, of which there are many in other parts of the town, as well as a number of good houses, and commodious inns and taverns. The markets and fairs of Penrith are as well supplied as any other in the north of England, especially the corn market, which is held every Tuesday, when large quantities of grain and all kinds of provisions, swine, &c. are exposed for sale. Here is also a small market every Saturday, and on every alternate Monday is a large market for fat cattle and sheep. Fairs for horses are held on the three Tuesdays after Feb. 20th, and for cattle, &c., on March 1st , April 24th and 25th, Whit-Tuesday, Sept. 27th, and the first Tuesday after Martinmas. Hirings for servants are held on Martinmas and Whit-Tuesdays. "These numerously attended markets, &c. are the principal support of the town which has now lost all its former participation in the cotton trade, except about 100 weavers, who are employed here by the Carlisle manufacturers. On the north side of the town is an excellent one-mile race course, enclosed with a stone wall, and ornamented with a handsome grand stand, which was built in 1814, though this great national sport has fallen almost entirely into disuse here; but a stag hunt, which is held in the last week in October, generally attracts a large concourse of people from the neighbouring districts." At the George Inn is one of the finest assembly rooms in the north of England, and is occasionally used for exhibitions, lectures, &c. At the Two Lions, in Great Dockray, is a good bowling green; at the George, a billiard table, which with the news room at the Crown, the subscription library of upwards of 300 volumes, the library and reading room of the Mechanics Institute, which has 1200 volumes, and the excellent circulating library at Mrs. Brown's, form an ample source of amusement for the inhabitants, who have also the healthy and recreative enjoyment of many pleasant and picturesque walks, which diverge from the town, within five miles of which are the beautiful seats of Lowther Castle, Brougham Hall, Eden Hall, Greystoke Castle, Skirsgill House, Hutton Hall, and Carleton Hall; and, in the town is a neat Station, on the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. About the year 1400, bishop Strickland conferred a lasting benefit upon the town by cutting a water course through it from the Petteril to the Eamont. The town is now well lighted with gas, which is sold at 7s. 6d. per 1000 feet. Waterworks are also about to be established here. Petty Sessions are held at the George Inn, every alternate Tuesday, when two or more of the following magistrates are usually on the bench, viz., Edward W. Hasell, Esq., (chairman), Sir Geo. Musgrave, Bart., colonel Lowther, M. P., Wm. James, Esq., Joseph Salkeld, Anthony Preston, Thos. Scott, Wm. Crackenthorpe, Esqrs., and the Rev. Wm. Jackson, who have for their clerk Mr. Richard Jameson. Robt. Railton is the manor bailiff, Benjamin Slee, corn inspector, and James Carruthers, toll collector. A Quarter Sessions for Cumberland is held here in October; and the House of Correction is a substantial building, erected in 1826, at the cost of £400 paid out of the county rate. The name of this town has been variously spelt Penreth, Perith, Peteth, and Penrith. Some have derived its name from the British words Pen, a hill, and rith, red.; and its situation at the foot of a hill seems to sanction this opinion. But Dr. Todd derives it from Petriana2, where the Alma Petriana kept garrison, about three miles further north; and says that Mr. Camden's conjecture of its being derived from Pen and rith, that is, red hill, is contrary to the nature of the soil and the situation of the town, which lies in a vale, &c.

Penrith Church, dedicated to Saint Andrew, is a large and handsome building, in the Grecian style, built in the years 1720 and 1722, at the expense of £2253 raised by a parochial rate and voluntary contributions. "The outward fronts are constructed after a plain but neat plan, and connected with the old tower; but the inside of the edifice, for convenience and propriety, exceeds most churches in the north of England." The galleries are supported by twenty Ionic pillars, each cut from one solid block or stone, of a pale red colour, and veined. The old tower, which is of massive masonry, was suffered to remain, and in it is a peal of six bells, with chimes. In the walls of the church are preserved several inscriptions found in the old fabric; and in the south windows of the chancel are some fragments of stained glass, which have also been preserved from the old church. The chancel is also ornamented with two beautiful paintings, representing the Agony of Our Lord in the Garden, and the Angels appearing to the Shepherds, executed by Mr. Jacob Thompson, a native artist, who now resides at Hackthorpe, near Lowther. There are several marble monuments and slabs, with appropriate inscriptions, in this church, and on a brass plate is the following inscription, commemorative of the visitation of the plague, which is noticed in a previous page of this work -


Ex gravi peste, quę regionibus hisce incubuit, obierunt apud
Penrith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2260
Kendal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2500
Richmond . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2200
Carlisle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1196

Peateri avertite vos et vivite. Ezek. xviii. 32.

In the church yard is a curious antique monument, called the Giant's Grave, consisting of two large pillars, each of one entire stone; one of which is about eleven, and the other ten feet eight inches in height, and distant fifteen feet from each other, having the space between them partly enclosed on each side by four large stones of a semicircular form, placed about two feet asunder. The upper parts of the shafts seem to have been ornamented with the cross, "at once the memorial of man's salvation, and the distinguished badge of the Catholic church." There is also in the church yard a single pillar called the Giant's Thumb. Several rude and now unintelligible figures appear on some of these stones, which are said by some to have been raised in memory of Owen Cęsarius3, an ancient hero of gigantic stature.* The church was given by Henry I to the see of Carlisle, and the bishop of that diocese is still the patron and appropriator, and Mrs. De Whelpdale is the present lessee of the great tithes, which, in 1846, amounted to £766. Bishop Smith, in 1702, gave £600 for the augmentation of the living, with which sum land was purchased at Clifton, but exchanged in 1816, with the earl of Lonsdale, for about 36 acres in the parish of Penrith; besides which the vicar has about 91 acres at Sleagill, which were allotted to him at the enclosure of Sleagill Common, in lieu of the tithes of that township, which were bequeathed to this vicarage, in 1699, by Mr. William Mawson, of Timpaurin. In 1740, Mary Bell bequeathed the interest of £250 to the vicar or his curate, for reading prayers every morning throughout the year, and every evening during Lent. Three donations, amounting to £2 10s. 6d. yearly, were bequeathed by W. Robinson, in 1661; Mrs. Bland, in 1757; and Wm. Bleamire, in 1782, for three annual sermons. The bishop also pays £32 per annum, out of the great tithes, to the vicar, so that the benefice is now worth about £200 a year, and is possessed by the Rev. Wm. Holme Milner, who has for his curate the Rev. C. Lipscomb, B.C.L. The living is valued in the king's books, at £12 6s. 3d. In 1395, William Strickland, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle, founded a chantry in the church, in honour of St. Andrew, and bequeathed £6 per annum, for the maintenance of a chantry priest, who should teach children music and grammar. This chantry being dissolved in the reign of Edward VI the £6 came to the king's exchequer, and was paid to the crown for fifteen or sixteen years.† A house of Grey Friars, of the order of St. Augustine, was founded here in or before the reign of Edward I, but it was dissolved in the 34th of Henry VIII, and its site is now the property of the earl of Lonsdale. There are in the town five dissenting places of worship, viz., the Independent Chapel, of which the Rev. Wm. Brewis is minister; the United Secession Church of Scotland; and the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Chapels. Here is also a small Catholic Chapel now under the pastoral care of the Rev. George Leo Haydock.

The Penrith Union Workhouse, a very neat building situate about half a mile from the town, was erected in 1838, and is capable of accommodating 240 inmates, but the average number in the house in 1846, was only 170. The union comprises the following parishes and townships, viz., Ainstable and Ruckcroft, Berrier and Murrab, Bowscale, Castlesowerby, Catterlen, Croglin, Culgaith, Dacre, Edenhall, Gamblesby, Glassonby, Greystoke, Gt. Salkeld, Hesket-in-the- Forest, Hunsonby and Winskill, Hutton and Thomas Close, Hutton John, Hutton Roof, Hutton Soil, Kirkland and Blencairn, Kirkoswald, Langwathby, Lazonby, Little Salkeld, Matterdale, Melmerby, Middlesceugh, &c., Mosedale, Mungrisdale, Newton, Ousby, Penrith, Plumpton Wall, Renwick, Skelton, Skirwith, Staffield, Threlkeld, and Watermillock. The affairs of the Union are conducted by a board of 49 guardians, to whom Anthony Preston, Esq. is chairman, the Revd. Beilby Porteus, vice chairman, J. Bell, Esq., Breakshall, auditor, Mr. John Simpson, agent to the Whitehaven Joint Stock Banking Co., treasurer, Mr. Thomas Smith, clerk, Mr. John Rayson, acting overseer, and Mr. John Scott, relieving officer. Mr. John Slee is master of the workhouse, Mrs. Slee is matron, and Dr. Pearson is the medical attendant. The vicar or his curate performs divine service here every Sunday afternoon, for which £25 a year is allowed; and here is a school, at which about sixty children receive the rudiments of education.

The Savings' Bank, established here in 1818, has been broken up, and a branch of the Carlisle Savings' Bank was opened in 1843. It is managed by a committee selected from the clergy and gentry of the neighbourhood, and in November 1846 held deposits amounting to £12,059, belonging to 575 depositors. It is kept at the National School, and is open every alternate Tuesday, from twelve to one o'clock. The other Provident Institutions in the town are the Unanimity Lodge of Free Masons, No. 424, held at the King of Prussia Inn; and lodges of Odd Fellows, Druids, and Foresters. A neat Hall for the Odd Fellows was erected in 1847. The benevolent ladies of the town have established a Lying-in Charity.

The Free Grammar School, at Penrith, appears to have existed as early as 1340, under the patronage of the bishop of Carlisle. It was re-founded in 1564, by queen Elizabeth, who endowed it with £6 a year, belonging to the dissolved chantry of bishop Strickland. The charter ordains that there shall be a master, usher, and five governors, to be a body corporate, with a common seal, and power to elect successors, and receive lands and tenements to the amount of £30 a year, for the use of the school. Many benefactions have been given to it, but some of them have been lost. We shall, therefore, enumerate those which it now enjoys. In 1663, Sir John Lowther conveyed to it some seats under the Old Cross, or Archer's Hall valued at £1 6s. 8d. per annum, which sum was afterwards increased to £2 2s. now paid by the duke of Devonshire. In 1661, Mr. William, Robinson left to it £10 per annum; and in 1782, W. Blamire, Esq. left £5 a year, to be paid out of Spillamire closes, to the master, together with £2 per annum, to provide a silver medal, a silver pen, and a book of arithmetic; the medal to be given at Christmas to the composer of the best Latin verse or theme, and the pen and book to him who had made the greatest proficiency in writing and arithmetic. An annual rent charge of £1 is paid to the master out of a plot of ground called Lingstubbs, and 4s. 6d. out of a house in Great Dockray, besides which he has the benefit of about three roods of land, given at the enclosure of the wastes in the Honour of Penrith; but the whole of his annual income is only £27. The school is entitled to send, once in five years, a candidate for one of lady Hastings' Exhibitions4, at Queen's College, Oxford. It is open to all the boys of the parish, but to none free, except those who learn Latin and Greek. The Revd. William Whitelock is the present master.

Charity Schools- Robinson's School was founded in 1661, by Mr. W. Robinson, a native of the parish of Penrith, who endowed it with £20 per annum to be paid for ever, out of his tenements in Grub-street, London, by the Grocers' Company, to the churchwardens of Penrith, for the education of poor girls in reading, writing, knitting, sewing, &c. In 1671, the endowment was augmented with the interest of £100 left by Mrs. Johanna Lascelles, of Penrith, and it afterwards received various other donations, amounting to £60, of which £40 was expended in the purchase of land, so that the yearly revenue of the school is now about £32, for which the mistress teaches fifty poor girls. The school house is in Middlegate.

The School of Industry, at Netherend, also affords instruction to sixty poor girls. It was established in 1813, and is so liberally supported by subscriptions, and the purchase of needle work, &c., done by the children, that in Jan. 1847, it possessed a balance of £292. A change has lately been made in the constitution of this school with a view to increase its general utility, and to educate, if necessary, one hundred girls instead of fifty, and that instead of clothing all the children, as heretofore, the committee give presents of clothing to such girls as appear most deserving; that each child pay one penny per week, and that no child be admitted under eight years of age. Miss Brougham is the secretary, and Miss Atkinson is mistress of this school.

The National School, in Benson's Row, was erected in 1816, on ground given by the late earl of Lonsdale, and now affords instruction to about 150 children. The balance in the treasurer's hands in December, 1846, was £44, besides £200 in the funds. Mr. Robert Rumley is the present master

Here is also a Wesleyan Day School, established in 1844, and conducted on the Glasgow system. The subscribers to this school have the privilege of placing children in it at half the usual charge. Mr. John Nicholson is the master.

An Infant School was established here in 1828, and is now attended by about 120 children. Miss A. Scott is secretary to this useful institution, and since its establishment 1365 children have been admitted. The Sunday Schools of the town are attended by about 650 children.

In 1831, a Mechanics' Institute was established in the town, and, in 1816, a reading, room was added, the consequence of which addition is that the institute is now a very flourishing one, numbering about 150 members, and possessing a library of about 1200 volumes. The reading room is well supplied with the principal periodicals of the day, newspapers, &c. The late H. Wilkinson, M.D. bequeathed to the town nearly 1000 casts from the antique, of eminent men, classical and historical subjects, &c. together with a number of standard works, all of which are now deposited in this institute. John Nicholson, Esq. Ph. D. is the president, Mr. James Graham, secretary, and Mr. Thos. Dawson is librarian. It is open daily, from ten in the morning till ten at night.

"The Honour Of Penrith forms the south-eastern part of Inglewood Forest, and is a paramount manor, belonging to the duke of Devonshire, but was anciently a royal franchise, alternately possessed by the English and Scottish monarchs, as has been already seen. Penrith is recorded as being a place of consequence long before the Norman Conquest. In the 19th of Edward III it was pillaged and burnt by 30,000 Scots, who carried many of the inhabitants away prisoners, though they received several feeble attacks from the English, commanded by the bishop of Carlisle, Sir Thomas Lucy, and Sir Robt. Ogle. In the 30th of the same reign the inhabitants obtained a royal grant of pasturage for their cattle throughout the whole forest, in consideration of the calamities they had suffered. The town was again sacked by the Scots in the reign of Richard II. The last momentous event witnessed by Penrith was the flight of the Scotch Rebels, in 1745, when they were closely pursued by the duke of Cumberland, and about eighty of them taken prisoners by the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood. Tradition says that the rebels halted upon Beacon Hill to overlook the town, for the purpose of planning its destruction, but having mistaken a distant plantation of young trees for the pursuing enemy, they precipitately fled. The said plantation was for a long time afterwards jocosely called "Wully's Black Horse5," as it had been designated by the fearful rebels. Penrith Castle, the majestic ruins of which overlook the town from the west, is supposed to have been erected about the close of the 14th century, and was sometime the residence of the duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. It was dismantled in the reign of Charles I by the adherents to the Commonwealth. It was fortified with a rampier6 and a very deep ditch. From the remaining parts of the walls the castle appears to have been a very strong and large fortress, having beneath it spacious vaults. Some authors have erroneously supposed that it was built out of the ruins of Old Penrith, distant five miles northward."

At the west side of the town, close to the above venerable ruins, is the Penrith Station, on the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, erected in 1846. It is a neat building in the Elizabethan style of architecture, occupying with its adjacent buildings, coal slaiths7, &c., an area of some acres, and commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country.

There are three inferior manors within the precincts of Penrith, viz., Bishop's Row, having about 12 tenements in Penrith, held by lease of the bishop of Carlisle; and two others, formerly belonging to the Huttons and the Carletons. The following are the detached hamlets within the parish.

"Carleton, a hamlet and constablewick, one mile S. by E. of Penrith, on the north side of the Eamont. Carleton Hall8 is the beautiful seat of John Cowper, Esq., who purchased it and the manor, in 1828, of the Right Hon. Thomas Wallace, Baron Knaresdale, who was born here. The hall is a plain modern edifice, adorned with fine plantations and shady walks, and commanding a delightful view of the vale of Eamont, in which is seen the antique ruins of Brougham Castle, in Westmorland, and many other picturesque objects."

Eamont Bridge is a hamlet adjoining the above, one mile S. of Penrith, and comprised in Netherend Constablewick.

Plumpton Head, a hamlet and constablewick, on the high road, three miles north of Penrith.

Biography - Isaac Ritson, born at Eamont Bridge in 1761, ranks amongst the most brilliant of all the departed geniuses of Cumberland. At nine years of age he attained a great proficiency in the Greek language, at the Quakers' school, in Kendal, whence he was sent to study mathematics under Mr. John Lee, of How-Hill, in Mungrisdale. So clear and acute were his ideas, that he understood the propositions of the first six books of Euclid almost as soon as he had read them. At the age of 16, he commenced teacher in Carlisle, but he soon afterwards removed to Edinburgh, where he studied medicine two years, and supported himself by writing thesises9 for the students. He next proceeded to London, where he translated Homer's Hymn to Venus, and for some time wrote the medical articles in the Monthly Review. He died in an obscure lodging at Islington, at the early age of 27 years, and his numerous MSS. could never be found.

Sir Richard Hutton, Judge of the Common Pleas, was a native of Penrith, and died at London in 1638. Though he opposed Charles I in the case of Ship Money10, and some other questions, yet his Majesty kept him in favour, and called him the "Honest Judge."

Dr. George Carleton, of Carleton Hall, who died in 1628, was educated by the celebrated Bernard Gilpin, A. M., and esteemed a good divine, philosopher, orator, and poet. His writings are very voluminous.

Anthony Harrison, an attorney of Penrith, published in 1806, 'Poetical Recreations,' in two volumes 8vo.

Rev. Thomas Hobson, who died in 1777, at Holwell Rectory, Somersetshire, was born near Penrith, and published a poem, entitled 'Christianity the Light of the Moral World.'

George Thompson, an eminent schoolmaster of Penrith, published in the years 1796 and 1798, 'A Sentimental Tour through England;' and 'A Candid Address to the Public, in reply to a certain character in London.'

About 76 years ago, Mr. Daws, a schoolmaster at Penrith, lay several days as a corpse, and narrowly escaped a premature inhumation, by awakening from his trance on the shoulders of his coffin bearers.


* "Giants' caves - About three miles E. by S. of Penrith, on the north side of the river Eamont, are two singular excavations in a perpendicular rock, called Giants' Caves, or Isis Parlis. They can only be approached by passing along narrow ledges of the cliff, and holding by the shrubs on its rugged side. The first cave is but a small narrow recess, but the other is capable of holding a great number of people, and appears to have had a door and window; a massive column, with marks of iron grating and hinges upon it still remains, though the opening has been greatly altered by the falling in of some of the upper stones. The whole is miserably dark and damp, and the roof hangs in a shaken and tremendous form. A vulgar tradition says that this secluded cavern was once the residence of Isis, who, like Cacus of old, seized men and cattle, and drew them into his den, to devour them. Some authors have called it the cave of Tarquin, and applied to it the old ballad of Sir Launcelot du Lake, a famous knight of king Arthur's Round Table."

† Dr. Todd.


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




1. More information is available on Inglewood Forest.
2. The Roman fort of Petriana is usually identified with the now buried remains at Stanwix, a suburb of Carlisle.
3. Owen Cęsarius was, as far as I was aware, entirely mythical. However, Amanda Langley has been in touch to add that another tradition has the grave as being that of Owain ap Urien, who certainly is historical. On looking into this further, even Owen Cęsarius has some historical validity. See Wikipedia where both kings are mentioned. Whether either king was really buried here is, of course, unlikely ever to be proven.
4. "Exhibition", in this sense, means a scholarship.
5. "Wully's Black Horse" - Wully, or Willie, for William, Duke of Cumberland.
6. "Rampier" - presumably a bank built from the material excavated from the ditch.
7. "Slaith" - a mistake; "staith" is used elsewhere, particularly in connection with the coal industry of the west coast.
8. Carleton Hall is now the headquarters of the Cumbria police force.
9. "Thesises" - we would use "theses" nowadays. Are we to understand that it was normal practise for students to buy their degrees through the talents of others? All of the other worthies mentioned seem to have passed into obscurity - I can find no mention of them in my sources.
10. Ship Money - revenues raised for the purpose of building a fleet.

For more on horse racing, the Giant's Caves, and Holy Wells, see Sports and Festivities.
A history of the Wesleyan movement in Penrith has been transcribed by Les Strong.

19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman