History Index

Westmorland Villages

Events of the 18th Century around Penrith

The ancestral estate of the Huttons, of Hutton Hall, Penrith, passed from the family in 1734, although, it appears by authentic accounts of the Rebellion of ’45, that Addison Hutton occupied the hall at the time of the retreat of the rebels, and entertained the Duke of Cumberland, the commander of the King’s army. The estate was sold to John Gasgarth by Addison, the last male heir of the family of Hutton. The family of Hotons dates back to the reign of Edward I. as being connected with Penrith. Adam de Hoton appears in that reign along with the warrior bishop, Anthony Beck, to have been connected with the Manor of Penrith. The Manor had been granted to Beck, and, in all probability, Hoton became Beck’s representative in Penrith, and the Mesne Manor of Hutton Hall was allotted to him for his maintenance. In the reign of Henry VIII. a member of the family figured as ambassador at Brussells, and was mixed up in the negotiations in connection with the king’s fourth wife, but diplomatically evaded the responsibility sought to put upon him by Cromwell. This was John Hoton. The father of John,-William* -and the son of John,-Anthony,-also held responsible posts in or about the Court. The Huttons laid claim to that part of the chancel of the parish church which was dedicated to St. Andrew, and which contained the family monuments. When the church was rebuilt the greater part of the monuments, including the effigies, referred to on page 132, were lost. The effigies were afterwards discovered in the yard at Nunwick Hall, and were placed in Great Salkeld Church.

* On the 20th January, 1495, William Hoton and Henry Woodford received £26 13s 4d., from the privy purse, as a reward for successfully negotiating with Sir Robert Clifford, who came over to England, and was pardoned for the part he took in Perkin Warbeck’s plottings.

The ancestors of the immortal Wordsworth, on both the paternal and maternal side, were connected with Penrith. The following entry in the parish register may appropriately be given here;

1778, March 11th,- Mrs. Wordsworth, wife of John Wordsworth Esq., of Cockermouth, aged 30. Buried.

This, the mother of Wordsworth, was the daughter of William Cookson, mercer, of Penrith, and Dorothy Crackenthorpe, of Newbiggin, Templesowerby. William Cookson occupied the premises which stood on the site now occupied by Arnison’s drapery establishment, in Devonshire Street; and John Wordsworth was then serving his articles with his father, at Sockbridge, from whence it was a pleasant easy walk to Penrith, where he became acquainted with Annie Cookson, to whom, after he had become a fully-fledged attorney at Cocker mouth, he was married, as the entry in the parish register attests:

1766, Feb, 5th John Wordsworth of Cockermouth, bachelor, and Annie Cookson, of Penrith, spinster, a minor.

Twelve years of happy married life, in which period five children were born, and then came the termination of the wife’s earthly career; her end being brought about through sleeping in a damp "best bed’ in London, whilst on a visit to some friends. Four sons and one daughter were left to John Wordsworth’s care-Richard, William, the poet, Dorothy, John, captain in the East India Marine, who was lost at sea, and Christopher, D. D., Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

On the death of John Wordsworth, his children were left but ill provided for, since the Earl of Lonsdale had got from John his savings, presumably as a loan, amounting to £5,000, and now refused to restore it. In this sad state of affairs, the two uncles, Richard Wordsworth, of Whitehaven, and Chistopher Crakenthorpe of Newbiggin, stepped in and gave the children a liberal education. We ought to say that the Earl of Lonsdale’s successor did a graceful act in restoring the borrowed money, with interest, amounting to the sum of £8,500. Little William was much at Penrith, and attended Mrs. Birkett’s school, where he formed an early attachment to Mary, daughter of John Hutchinson, which was afterwards consummated in marriage. Wordsworth went to Cambridge in 1787, but we find him on a visit to Penrtih the following year, which is noticed by his biographer, who says; " His mother’s relatives resided at Penrith, on the southern frontier of Cumberland.

Here he was restored to the society of his sister, and of one who was one day to be nearer to him than a sister. He enjoyed with them those delightful scenes by which Penrith is surrounded. He mounted the Border Beacon on the north-east of the town; and on that eminence, now (1851) overgrown with fir trees, which intercept the view but which was then free and open and displayed a glorious panorama, he beheld the wide plain stretched far and near below, closed by the dark hills of Ullswater on the west, and by the dim ridges of Scotland to the north."

Again, in 1794, Wordsworth visited Penrith, to see his friend Raisley Calvert, and stayed at the "Robin Hood" inn, in King Street (now Cockbain’s spirit store). Calvert afterwards bequeathed £ 900 to the poet. Wordsworth and Mary Hutchinson were married at Brompton, near Scarborough. Wordsworth’s mother and many of her ancestors and relatives lie buried in nameless graves in the parish churchyard. Monuments there may have been, but, if so, being of old red sandstone, they are quite illegible, and no wonder, since the churchyard was then open to the street, and was the playground of the children! the resort of dogs! the burrowing-place for pigs! and the depository of debris for the town until 1826, when it was closed; but this measure of protection came too late to save many of the old monuments and their inscriptions.

The year 1766 witnessed a very saddening incident in the annals of the district. This was the murder of the man named Thomas Parker, a butcher, of Langwathby. He was returning home from Penrith market, and, calling at the "Cross Keys", Carleton, for a refresher, the landlord noticed his drunken state, and desired to see him home; but his help was declined, and the next day the body of Parker was found in the Langwathby road, near the junction with the Beacon road, bearing evidence that life had been beaten out of him. A man named Nicholson, said to have been Parker’s god-son, was apprehended on suspicion, and condemned at the next Carlisle assizes to expiate his guilt at the said place by being gibbeted. This was carried out August 31st, 1767, and the body hung exposed until the skeleton was all that remained, and the gibbet having been blown down, the people of Edenhall gathered the bones wrapped them in a winding sheet and buried them the Edenhall parish register contains the following:

"Thomas Parker, householder, November 21st. This man was found murdered on the road from Penrith to Edenhall, near the place called Nancy Dobson’s Stone, on Tuesday night, the 18th of this instant, for which murder Thomas Nicholson was executed and hung in chains near the same place, August 31st, 1767."

A man named Lee was subsequently hanged at York, but previously made a confession that he was an accomplice with Nicholson in the murder, he being the instigator and Nicholson the perpetrator, though Lee escaped in the first instance, vengeance overtook him at last, though he ought to have kept Nicholson company in chains on Cowrake Quarry. Prior to the enclosure of the Penrith Fell the place where the murder was perpetrated was marked in the sod with the characters "T P M."

The roads through Westmorland, in the vicinity, in the early part of the eighteenth century had the repute of being the worst in the kingdom, consequently the greater part of the traffic through these two counties was carried on by means of pack horses. The traffic between Kendal and Penrith employed two gangs of horses, twice weekly fifteen in each gang, making 60 in all. The farm produce of the neighbourhood was brought to market in the same manner. This, no doubt, explains why so many inns studding the great thoroughfare bear upon their signboards the picture or name of the "pack horse,"-as Pack Horse, Plumpton, and Pack Horse, Middlegate, Penrith; the latter of these will not exist when this book is completed, but will have been converted into business premises. After the passing of the Local Highways Act, better roads came into existence, and wheeled traffic took the place of the pack horses. The carriers’ waggon-a specimen of which is still in existence at the Lowther Home Farm, and was exhibited in the Victoria Jubilee Demonstration, in Penrith in ,1887,-and the "tummel" cart were the first introductions. The wheels and axle of the latter were fixed like those of wheelbarrows. Next followed the stage coach in 1763, when the "Flying Machine" traversed Shap Fells, and passed through Penrith. The following was the publci announcement, by bills, of the runnign of the coach ten years later:



By way of Borough Bridge, Will begin to Run from the Bush Inn, in Carlisle, On Sunday Evening, the 26th Dec., 1773, at Half-past Nine o’Clock , and go to London, in Three Days and will continue to set out from the same place, at the same time, every Sunday evening.

A Coach will set off from the George and Blue Boar Inn, Holborn, London

at the same hour every Wednesday evening. To carry six inside and two outside passengers, inside to pay £3 16s., outside to pay £2 6s., from Carlisle to London,and allow 14lbs. luggage, all above to pay 5d, per lb., or in proportion to the number of miles they go. Those taken up on the road 3d. per mile, outside 2d, per mile. They have a covered hind boot, fixed upon springs, Which will carry fish, game, or any parcels without the least damage. The proprietors will not, upon any con-sideration whatsoever, carry in their coaches any parcel above the value of £15, nor will they be answerable for any parcel above that value. All parcels to be paid for when received by the coach and which will be delivered immediately upon their arrival. Small Parcels from Carlisle to London 4s., fish and other parcels to be charged according to value, weight or size. If any pro-prietor suffer any dog to go in the coach, he forfeits £5. No children under two years old to be admitted; all above to pay full price.

In going from Carlisle, lies at Ferry Bridge, the first night, at Stamford the second, and London the third; from London lies at Newark the first night, New Inn the second, and Carlisle the third. The proprietors are determined to spare no expense to Render every accommodation agreeable as possible, and by that means hope to merit the encouragement of the public in general. All favours will be gratefully ack-nowledged by their obedient humble servants.


During the reigns of George I. and George II. the local constituencies were largely Whig in their political character, judging by their representatives they sent to Parliament. The Lowthers were Whig supporters of the Government, and the Howards and Lawsons were also Whigs, whilst the Musgraves, of Edenhall, were Tories. It was in 1717 that Gilfrid Lawson made his famous speech against the King’s message to the House asking for supply without giving any estimate as to how the money was to be expended. Gilfrid replied to the Secretary, that "he was justified in saying that if every member of the House used freedom of speech on any subject of debate must be accounted an enemy to the King, when he happens not to fall in with his Ministers, he knew no service they were capable of doing for their country in that House, and, therefore, it was his opinion that they had nothing else to do but to retire to their country seats, and leave the King and his Ministers, to take what they pleased." The Lowthers, Grahams, and Lawsons were mixed up in the South Sea Company’s swindling transactions, which ruined so many of the middle class people throughout the county.

In 1722, Sir Christopher Musgrave turned James Lowther out of the representation of Cumberland. From 1760 onwards, for five or six successive Parliaments, Sir James Lowther became, to all intents and purposes, a political dictator to the five local constituencies, and also carried war into other neighbouring boroughs. This position enabled him to carry on the political and legal battle with Bentinck, Duke of Portland, in the matter of Inglewood Forest and the Manor of Penrith, * almost to a successive issue. Sir James was a constant opponent of Lord North’s Administration, and it was during this period (1780) that William Pitt became his nominee for Appleby. In doing so Pitt was still a consistant Whig, and, by this act, sought to oblige the Duke of Portland, to whose politics, in 1768, he had been opposed. About the latter date a "Bill to Alter the Marriage Laws" was before the House and elicited a speech from the Earl of Surrey, who was Member for Carlisle, which is of local interest. He said: "In the town in which I myself have the honour to represent, all the inhabitants who wanted to be married found it extremely convenient to go a little further north, to a place called Gretna Green, where they were under no legal restrictions, and where they stood not in need of licence or publication of banns. He was sorry they could not find this convenience at home, and that the inhabitants of South Britain were not in this respect as free as their fellow subjects of the north. At the same time the City of Carlisle would suffer somewhat in their traffic by the repeal of that Act, for they reaped considerable advantages from the numerous excursions that were made from different parts of England to Gretna Green. The travellers came through that place on their journey and the town was enlivened and benefited by the wedding parties. But this was a species of trade which he was sensible they would willingly forego for the more general comfort of freedom in this important point."

Penrith, also, benefited greatly from these runaway wedding excursions to Gretna, and many stories are still current of parties hastily changing their tired horses for fresh ones at Penrith, that they might elude their irate pursuers, and gain the brief period needed for the blacksmith’s service at Gretna. This Son of Vulcan is credited with being a greater adept at welding hands and hearts than ironwork. Gretna flourished as a "Shrine of Hymen", till 1848, and there are those living in Penrith now who were wedded at Gretna Green by the ubiquitous blacksmith.

In the eighteenth century Penrith seems to have enjoyed some distinction as the residence of clock and watchmakers, for the entries of the parish register of persons connected with the business number eleven between 1712 and 1817. The families of Cheesebrough and Porthouse apparently take the lead. The entries occur as follows:

  1. Aaron Cheesbrough made a new clock for the church, as per Churchwarden’s book.
  2. John Washington buried. He mended clock and chimes in 1664.
  1. William Porthouse, daughter baptized. (He is mentioned in the churchwarden’s book as repairing the clock several times.)
  1. John Porthouse, clockmaker, daughter baptised.
  1. John Cheesbrough, clockmaker, aged 85, buried.
  1. Miles Henderson, clockmaker, daughter buried.
  1. John Savage, clockmaker, daughter buried.
  1. George Porthouse, watchmaker, child baptised.
  1. William Porthouse, clockmaker, aged 51, buried.

1817 George Porthouse, aged 74, buried.

There were a few centenarians in Penrith in the last century, if the parish register be correct. The following entries are to be found :

  1. Henry Taylor, an old man aged 105 years.

  1. December 13. James Bell, a German, poor, aged 113, buried.
  2. April. Jane Martin, poor, aged 108.

  1. November 19. Elizabeth Greenhow, spinster, aged 100.

A descriptive account of Penrith in the later half of the century is given by Mr.James Clark, of the Swan Inn, Penrith, in his "Survey of the Lakes," part of which is reproduced below:*

"Though an inland town, there are some very considerable manufactories of checks, which are daily increasing; two common breweries, in good employ; two hair merchants, who (limited as their business may seem to be) are both men of property; and a tannery, where some business is done. Yet, as these employ but a small part of the inhabitants, perhaps the manners of no place are more strongly or generally stamped with the marks of ease and peace. Few are rich, but as few miserably poor. Whoever wishes to enjoy a social glass is seldom at a loss for a companion. A regular assembly during winter, and small, though agreeable, private parties all the year round, furnish the fair sex with ample amusement; whilst two well frequented bowling greens afford, during the weather, exercise and amusement to such of the males as have no better employment. During the races and assizes, a more gay and agreeable place cannot be imagined, the more than usual bustle of those times rousing the inhabitants out of their placid dreams of existence they at other times enjoy, and animating them to a degree of real mirth and festivity rarely met with in more populous scenes.

"But why should I not here, as well as anywhere else, pay the tribute due to the general manners of the country? They deserve it. Every reputable farmer in the neighbourhood prides himself upon the goodness of his ale, and is never so happy as when his friends have taken as much of it as they can carry home. The gentlemen are remarkable for affability and hospitality. True it is, that, like trees which grow single, every little irregularity has ample room to expand and show itself; but at the same time all is pur nature, undisguised by art. To rise still higher, even a cynic would acknowledge, were he at Greystoke, that there is at least one nobleman who has the art of joining the polish of France with the hospitality of Britain, and whose chief delight is to shrew that true nobility can reside alone in superior worth."

" Penrith has an excellent market on Tuesday, and a smaller one on Saturday. The Tuesday’s market for a live cattle, both fat and lean, from Lammas till Whitsuntide; but from Whitsuntide till Lammas the cattle market is held upon the Nolt Fair. The markets here are disposed in a manner truly astonishing in so small a town: the wheat market is in one part, rye and potatoes in another, barely in another, oats and peas in another; live cattle, horses, and hogs, have all their distinct markets.

" Penrith is, perhaps, the greatest thoroughfare in the North of England. The Irish now cross the sea at Port Patrick, and consequently take this way to the metropolis; shuld they come by Whitehaven this is still their road; besides, since the recent improvements, those who are travelling from Scotland to London generally chuse this road. Another set of never failing travellers are those whom nature, in opposition to an absurd law, prompts to connubial ties; this way they must come to Gretna Green; more famous, though less dangerous, in our days, than the promontory of Leucothoe was in days of yore. Those, likewise, whom a taste for natural beauties impels to visit the Lakes, always consider Penrith as a kind of home in those solitary regions; and the consequence is natural; all the inns here seem to vie with each other in attention, and strain every sinew in making the country as agreeable as possible."

* Clark’s Survey of the Lakes, fo.ed., 1787, p.15.

Ullswater, at this time, was plentifully stocked with fish, and Pooley and Patterdale were the resorts of numerous Waltonians, to enjoy their favourite pastime. A dish of Ullswater trout was reckoned a great delicacy in any part of the kingdom, and, therefore, fisheries commanded good rents, yet, notwithstanding this, fish did not command large prices. According to Clark, the prices were: "Sea fish in general, 2d per 1b.; salmon, 3d.; Ullswater trout, 3d.; char, 3d.; stream and Esk trout, 2d.; mussels and cockles, 1d. per quart; oysters, 2s.6d. per hundred. The facilities which the placing of stage coaches on the road afforded both for visitors and the carriage of fish, Penrith became the centre for the fishing fraternity, since there were no inns near the lake, and the Penrith inns, as a consequence were improved and enlarged to afford accommodation.

Houseman, in his book entitled "Discriptive Tour of the Lakes," published in 1808, writing of Penrith at that time, says: "The town of Penrith is well built, with its principal street running north and south. The houses are of red freestone, and, in general, covered with blue slate. The town contains some good and commodious inns, and the market is well supplied with provisions. The population, at present, is about 4,000 souls. There is no manufacture of much consequence in or near this town, the bulk of the inhabitants being farmers, innkeepers, shopkeepers, mechanics and labourers."

In the eighteenth and early portion of the present century Penrith had some notoriety for the manufacture of checks, for aprons, bed hangings, etc.; linen cloth, and ginghams. These manufactures kept a considerable portion of the population in employment; the sons of the working classes being sent to learn weaving as soon as they were able to throw a shuttle. The principal manufacturers were William Blamire, who had his place of business in the old workhouse premises in Queen Street; William Bliss, in Sandgate; Jacob Thompson- grandfather of the great Penrith artist of the same name-whose factory was in Friar Street, and the yard is still known as Factory Yard; John and Peter Foster, James Jameson, William Wilson, William Wilkinson, George Currie, John Nelson, Robert Dixon, etc. There were also several customs weavers, who worked for the country people, who brought their own home spun material. It was no unusual occurance at this period, during long winter evenings, for the wives and daughters of the statesmen and farmers to spin their tow line on the foot wheel, meeting in companies at one another’s houses, so that the kitchen where they met to spin by light of rushes-peeled and greased for the purpose-looked like a small manufactory. In the spring, when their farming duties demanded their entire attention, the yarn which they had spun was sent to the woven into a web. This was bleached for several weeks on the grass in autumn, and then sent back to the owners for use; thus, during the spring and summer, the custom weavers were busy with the work sent in by their customers, but during winter, when rhat kind of work was scarce, they manufactured on their own account. The introduction of machinery in course of time put an end to weaving in Penrith, except in the case of rag carpets, and the looms employed in this branch have dwindled down to two at the present time-one in Graham Street, and one in Blue Bell Lane.

It was customary during the early part of the century and the latter part of the seventeenth century, for the parishioners to assemble round the Cross when any great occasion for rejoicing presented itself; and on such occasions beer barrels were tapped on the street, whilst numbers of tar barrels lighted up the principal street. Frequently the expenses were paid out of the Church funds, as it was also customary to relieve distressed travellers from the same source. The following from the Church book bears testimony:

"1688 To the ringers at Christmas, 12s., paid to distressed travellers, 8s.; to a distressed traveller with three children, 3s,; to a poor seaman, 1s. 6d.; to a poor sea boy, 4d.; to a poor boy, 3d.; to a poor traveller with his and two small children, 3s.

"1715 November-Ale at the Cross at the news of the defeat of the rebels, 6s.; to the ringers, 4s.; tar barrels, 3s.

" ,, November 5-Ale at the Cross, 6s.; to the ringers 4s.; four tar barrels, 2s.


" ,, December 5-When Stanthope’s house came through, paid the ringers 2s.

"1716 February 12-AT the Pretender’s leaving Scotland, ale at the Cross, 3s,:the ringers that night, 2s.

" ,, March 10-To William Brown, for ale the ringers had for cleaning the church plate, 2s.

"1721 May 28-King George’s birthday, ale at the Corss, 3s.; three tar barrels, 1s. 6d.; to the ringers, 4s."

Penrith was also celebrated for its bull baits, and its cock fights, as were also the surrounding villages, but the chief mains were fought out in Penrith.

The Penrith bull baits were largely attended both by the country and the townspeople, who took pleasure in such pastime. The common, vulgar idea was that every bull brought into a market town, for slaughter, ought to be baited, in order, in order that the public might be aware that the butcher had bull beef in his shambles. Five such bulls have been known to be baited in one day. Penrith became noted for its breed of bull dogs, in which celebrity Stainton shared. Great Dockray was originally the place for these exhibitions, but after the watercourse along Brook Street and across Sandgate, have been covered in, Sandgate became the popular resort.

The cock pit was on the south side of the churchyars, where the St. Andrew’s Parish Rooms now stand, and near to the "Observer" Printing Works, which was fitted up with every convenience for the purpose. It is said that on one occasion when the minister was reading the burial service, he was suddenly interrupted and his voice completely drowned by the loud cheering from the pit, on the victory of a favourite cock.

Certain Sundays in the year were observed as special occassions for rejoicing, especially amongst the young people. The first of these "Well Sundays" was held on the first Sunday in May, at Skirsgill; the second on the following Sunday at Clifton; the third on the Sunday following that, at the Giant’s Caves; and the fourth on the fourth Sunday in May, at Dickey Bank. The young people filled bottles with water at the respective wells, putting Spanish juice into the bottles, and then shaking them until the froth boiled over, when they sucked the froth. This was repeated until the bottle was empty. Clifton Sunday was the most popular, and the well there had the repute of being the best in the district. Stalls were numerous, and laden with short-cakes, ginger bread, etc., and the whole aspect was that of a village fair. A ditty was current in that neighbourhood-

"The Second Sunday in May

Is shaking- bottle day."

These Sundays had to be discontinued through the bad repute that attached to them, from fighting and other irregularities with which they often ended.

Two other Sundays held high place with out ancestors. These were Howtown Cherry Sunday, and Langwathby Plum Sunday.

Taken from "A History of Penrith" by Ewanian

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