Monday, 17 August 2009


Cumberland (pronounced /ˈkʌmbərlənd/) was a historic county of north west England, on the border with Scotland, from the twelfth century to 1974. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 (excluding Carlisle from 1914) and now forms part of Cumbria.

Early history and formation of county
What was to become Cumberland had a complicated political history prior to the twelfth century. The first record of the term "Cumberland" appears in 945, when the Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded that the area was ceded to Malcolm I of Scotland by King Edmund of England. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 most of the future county remained part of Scotland although some villages in the far south west, which were the possessions of the Earl of Northumbria, were included in the Yorkshire section with the Furness region.

Carlisle Castle

In 1092 King William Rufus of England invaded the Carlisle district, settling it with colonists. He created an Earldom of Carlisle, and granted the territory to Ranulf Meschyn. In 1133 Carlisle was made the see of a new diocese, identical with the area of the earldom. However, on the death of Henry I of England in 1135, the area was regained by David I of Scotland. He was able to consolidate his power and made Carlisle one of his chief seats of government, while England descended into a lengthy civil war. In 1157 Henry II of England resumed possession of the area from Malcolm IV of Scotland, and formed two new counties from the former earldom: Westmorland and "Carliol". The silver-mining area of Alston, previously associated with the Liberty of Durham, was also added to the new county of Carliol for financial reasons. By 1177 the county of Carliol was known as Cumberland. The border between England and Scotland was made permanent by the Treaty of York in 1237.

Boundaries and subdivisions

The boundaries formed in the 12th Century did not change substantially over the county's existence. It bordered four English counties and two Scottish counties. These were Northumberland and County Durham to the east; Westmorland to the south, the Furness part of Lancashire to the south-west; Dumfriesshire to the north and Roxburghshire to the north-east.
To the east the county was bounded by the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. The northern boundary was formed by the Solway Estuary and the border with Scotland running east to Scotch Knowe at Kershope Burn. The boundary ran south from Scotch Knowe along the Cheviot Hills, then followed a tributary of the River Irthing and crossed Denton Fell to the River Tees.
From Tees Head the boundary crossed the Pennines to decend Crowdundale Beck, from where it followed the River Eden to the centre of Ullswater lake. The line then followed the Glencoin Beck to the the top of the Helvellyn ridge, thence to Wrynose Pass and along the River Duddon to the sea near Millom.
The highest point of the county was Scafell Pike at 978 m (3,208 ft); it is the highest mountain in England. Carlisle was the county town.

Division into wards

Map of Cumberland showing wards, 1824

The Earldom of Carlisle was divided into baronies, but on the creation of the county these were replaced by wards. These took the place of hundreds found in most other English counties, and originated in military subdivisions organised for the defence of the county from incursions by Scottish troops.
Each ward was composed of a number of parishes, areas originally formed for ecclesiastical administration. In common with other counties of northern England, many parishes in Cumberland were very large, often consisting of a number of distinct townships and hamlets. These subdivisions were eventually to become civil parishes and form the lowest level of local government.

Cumberland Heritage by Molly Lefebure (Chapters include Camden, Briathwaite, Millbeck, Fellwalkers, Carlisle Canal, Armboth, John Peel (Farmer) and The Blencathra), with endpaper maps of old Cumberland

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