Torpenhow Parish

  > This parish lies on the south side of the river Ellen, and is about six miles in length from north to south, and 2 in breadth, being bounded on the east by Ireby, on the south by Isell1, and on the west by Gilcrux. The soil, towards the north-west is of a sharp gravelly nature, and in the other parts a strong loam, cold clay, or limestone earth prevails, producing, in general, good crops of wheat, oats, barley, &c. Limestone is got here in abundance; and it is supposed there is coal in this as well as in most of the neighbouring parishes. It includes the four townships of Bewaldeth and Snittlegarth, Blennerhasset and Kirkland, Bothel and Threapland, and Torpenhow and Whitrigg, which, together, contain 9670 acres of land, and 1067 inhabitants.

Torpenhow2 village occupies a pleasant situation, a short distance from the Cockermouth road, about seven miles S.S.W. of Wigton, and 8 miles N. by E. of Cockermouth. Every syllable of its name had the same meaning in the several languages of the people who inhabited these parts. The Britons3 called a rising hill Pen, i. e., head; the Saxons, who next succeeded, called it Tor-pen, that is, the pinnacle head; and their successors, not understanding perhaps either of the former names, denominated it Tor-pen-how, that is the how, or hill Torpen. Others suppose it took its name from the Saxon word Dorp, or Thorp, a village, and the British word Pen, a head or hill top, and hence Dorpen-how, the town hill. At the Conquest, it was an ancient demesne of Allerdale, till Alan gave it in marriage with his sister to Ughtred, son of Fergus, lord of Galloway. The manor was afterwards held successively by the Valomes, Stutvills, Mulcasters, Tilliols, Moresbys, and Colvills, from whom it passed by purchase to Sir George Fletcher and Thomas Salkeld, Esq., the latter having for his moiety the customary lands, the parks and mill. W.J. CharIton, J. Hambleton, and Joseph Railton, Esqrs., are now the principal proprietors of the township, and the former is lord of the manor. It contains about 1300 acres, rated at 1309, and its population in 1841 was 315 souls. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, is an ancient structure, and contains some good specimens of Saxon architecture4. The advowson was granted by Sabilla de Valoncois, and Eustacius de Stuteville, to the prioress and nuns of Rossdale, in Cleveland; and in 1290, bishop Irton endowed the vicarage, ordaining that the vicar should keep in his house three priests and one sub-dean. It is valued, in the king's books, at 33 4s. 10d. At the enclosure, which was made in 1808, about 650 acres were allotted in lieu of all tithes; those of Torpenhow and Bewaldeth townships belong entirely to the vicar, for which he has about 329 acres, viz., 240 for the former, and about 80 for the latter. He has also 40 acres for the tithes of Bothel, and 25 for these of Blennerhasset; the great tithes of the former belong to Mr. Charlton, for which he has 80 acres; and for the tithes of Threapland 125 acres have been awarded. The bishop of Carlisle is patron, the Rev. John Fenton, of Ousby, is vicar, and the Rev. Joseph Thexton the resident curate. The parish enjoys the benefit of an ancient endowed school, which was made free in 1686, "and the appointment of the master settled in the vicar, the heirs of Mr. Salkeld, of Threapland, and a majority of the sixteen select vestrymen." The school stands at Bothel, and was rebuilt about 40 years ago, by the 16 trustees. It is free to all the poor children of the parish, but the farmers and others who send their children to it pay 2s. 6d. per quarter. The endowment produces about 50 a year. The poor of the parish receive 10 a year in bread, the bequest of Mr. Addison, in 1702; those of Bewaldeth, 1 13s. 4d. as the interest of 40 left by John Simpson in 1753; and those of Blennerhasset, 10 14s. 6d., arising from land left by Richard Bouch, in 1713. Joseph Birbeck, Esq., who died in 1840, left the interest of 80, to be distributed every Sunday in bread to the poor of the parish.

Whitrigg, or Whiterigg, said to have been "so called of the waste ground there fashioned like a corn rigg5," is a village and joint township with Torpenhow, from which it is distant one mile south. Its principal landowners are J. Hambleton and J. Railton, Esqrs.; but Sir Wilfred Lawson is lord of the manor, which was anciently held by the Brunes, and afterwards by the Skeltons, of Armathwaite. Here that lofty green hill, called Caer Mot6, on which, Mr. West says, are manifest vestiges of a square encampment enclosed in a double fosse, extending from east to west, 120 paces. It is subdivided into seven cantonments, and the road from Keswick to old Carlisle has crossed it at right angles. On the northern extremity of the hill are the remains of a beacon, and a smaller encampment, having a fosse and rampart of 60 by 70 feet. This camp commands a view of Blatum Burgii, Bowness, Oleanum, Old Carlisle, and of the whole extent of Solway Frith7, so that it "would receive the first notice from any frontier town, where the Caledonians made the attempt to cross the Frith, or had actually broken in upon the province."

Bewaldeth, or Bowaldeth, forms a joint township with Snittlegarth, and lies behind the lofty mountain, called Binfell8, two miles N. of the foot of Bassenthwaite lake, and four miles S.S.W. of Ireby. It was a dependant manor of Allerdale, and granted by Waldeof, to Gilnim, whose posterity assumed the local name of Bowet. The Mulcasters held it for nearly 400 years, until sold by Bensen Highmore to the late James Spedding, Esq. Snittlegarth, now the seat and property of Joseph Railton, Esq., is supposed to have been formerly a village of considerable magnitude.

Blennerhasset village, and joint township with Kirkland, stands on the banks of the river Allen9, seven miles S.W. of Wigton. Here is an Independent chapel, erected in 1828, at a cost of 240, of which 100 was given by Mr. Dawson. The manor was successively held by the Mulcasters, Moricebys, and the Pickerings, "whose heiress sold it to Thomas Salkeld, of Whitehall, to be held in capite by a third part of a knight's fee, 12s. cornage, 6d. seawake, and puture."

Kirkland manor belonged also to the Salkeld family, who had it granted to them after the dissolution of the priory and convent of Rosdale10. It was let, on a lease of 999 years, by Launcelot; father of Sir Francis Salkeld, for 6 15s. 1d. per annum; each tenant being subject, every 21 years, to a 20d. fine, called a gressom on which new leases are taken, and a heriot, on change by death.

Bothel11 village stands on the side of an eminence, on the Wigton and Cockermouth road, one mile S.W. of Torpenhow. Here was formerly kept the watch for seawake, on which account it was named the Bode, or Both-hill. It was a demesne of Allerdale, till given by Waldeof to Gamel, son of Brun, in the time of Henry I. His mansion was at Brunskeugh, beneath the river Eden, near the wastes, whereupon his son, Radulph, was called Radulphus de Feritate, Rauf of the wastes.

The manor, which forms a joint township with Threapland, after passing through several families, was sold to various freeholders. A strong spring rises here, and runs through the village. It is said in Housman's notes, "the old inhabitants assert, with confidence, that the stream ran blood on the day of king Charles's martyrdom12."

Threapland (contentionis terra)13 is a village, seven miles N.N.E. of Cockermouth. The manor, says Hutchinson, "passed through several purchases to Roger Greg, Esq., of Mirehouse, whose heiress married (John) Storey, vicar of Dalston." He calls it a "customary manor, arbitrary fines, boons, and services."


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




1. Isell is now referred to as Isel.
2. Torpenhow is pronounced something like Tre'penner.
3. Britons - i.e. the Celtic peoples who lived in these islands before the arrival of the Romans
4. "some good specimens of Saxon architecture" - Pevsner only mentions Norman features, and the directory always seems to confuse Saxon with Norman survivals.
5. Whitrigg - I don't understand the supposed derivation of the name.
6. Caer Mot - now Caermote. Grass covered mounds are all that is visible of this Roman fort. Modern scholarship names Bowness as Maia, Old Carlisle is tentatively given Maglone.
7. Solway Frith - now Solway Firth.
8. Binfell - now Binsey.
9. The river Allan - a mis-spelling for Ellen.
10. Rosdale - previously spelled Rossdale.
11. Bothel - why seawake should have been appropriate here is unclear. Bothel is about 6 miles from the sea.
12. King Charles's martyrdom - Charles I was beheaded in 1649.
13. Threapland (contentionis terra) - Bulmer says that "The manor of Threapland would appear from its name to have been at some early date a 'bone of contention,' the terra contentionis," but doesn't enlarge on the comment.

Photo Steve Bulman.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman