UK Genealogy Archives logo

Carlisle, Cumberland

Historical Description

Carlisle, a city in Cumberland, and a diocese in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire. The city stands on the river Eden, between the rivers Petteril and Caldew, on the great western line of communication both by rail and road from England to Scotland, within a mile of the Roman Wall, 9½ miles SSE of Gretna, and 301 NNW of London. Eight railways give it communication with all parts of Great Britain. All of them meet in a central station, which is one of the largest in England.

History.-A town of the Brigantes stood on the city's site, and bore the name of Caer-Lywelydd, which the Romans made into Luguvallum. This was shortened by the Britons into Luel, and again prefixed with Caer, their word for a fort, and the name Caer-Luel passed in course of time into Carleol and Carlisle, which is the only town on English soil which bears a purely British name. Roman altars, inscriptions, vases, coins, and other relics have been found within the city, and Roman roads went from it to north, south, east, and west. A British capital succeeded the Roman station. The Cumbrian king Arthur figures in two famous ancient ballads-the one on the marriage of his knight Sir Gawaine, the other entitled the "Boy and the Mantle"-as having held his court at Cardueil or Carlisle. But the great battle of Ardderyd or Arthuret on the Esk in 573 subjected the Cumbrian Britons to the kingdom of Strathclyde. In 605 they were defeated by the English of Bemicia. The Northumbrian king Egfred conquered them, and founded at Carlisle a religious house, and placed it under the See of Lindisfarne. The Danes took and wasted the town in 875. William Eufus found it a ruin, drove out Dolfin its ruler, added it to the English kingdom, and ordered the castle to be built; he or Henry I. encircled the town with a wall. Stephen resided some time in it, and greatly improved its defences. The Scots besieged it under their kings David I., Malcolm IV., William the Lion, and Alexander II., and held possession of it during an aggregate of 18 years. Edward I. retreated to it from Falkirk in 1298, convoked his barons and knights at it in 1300, and held his last Parliament in it in 1307. It suffered much and often in the subsequent wars, resisted a siege in 1315 by Bruce, and both then and afterwards endured great disaster. It also figured in the raid in 1388 which led to the battle of Otterburn, and served for ages as the main bulwark in the west against the Scottish forays. Mary Queen of Scots was brought here in custody; Kinmont Willie, the notable Border trooper, celebrated in song and story, was rescued from dnrance here by a bold exploit of Scott of Buccleuch; and "Hughie the Graeme" Hobbie Noble, and other famous Scottish reivers, were here put to death. The city endured much in the troubles which followed the Reformation, stood a siege of nine months in 1644-45 from General Leslie's army, and was held by Prince Charles Edward in 1745 from the time of his advance into England till after the retreat of his main force to Scotland. Executions in it during about two centuries were numerous, and those which followed the affair of Prince Charles Edward were rendered memorable and ghastly by the fixing of the heads of the victims on the city gates.

Site and Streets.-The city occupies a swell or gentle eminence in the midst of an extensive, fertile, well-wooded plain, and is so encircled by the three rivers on which it stands as to be almost an island. The environs are all rich low country, profusely adorned with water, culture, parks, and mansions. The higher points, both within the city and around it, command a brilliant panorama, away to the Northumberland hills, the Scottish mountains, Criffel beyond the Solway, and the group of Skiddaw. The exterior of the city, as seen from various approaches, presents a striking appearance, and looks as if combining modern elegance with remains of antiquity. The interior, as entered from the railway station, seems entirely, neatly, and briskly modern. The castle, which most prominently links it with the past, does -not come immediately into view, and the cathedral, which also speaks largely of the past, has been so outwardly renovated as to appear almost new. The three principal streets, English Street, Scotch Street, and Castle Street, diverge from the market-place, adjacent to the central railway station, and are wide and handsome. Other streets are straight, airy, and well built; and the city, as a whole, seems little different from a well-planned, lively, thriving, modern town.

Public Buildings.-The court-houses and the county jail form a grand suite of buildings, and were erected after designs by Smirke at a cost of about £100,000. The court-houses stand partly on the site of what was called the citadel, comprising two very strong circular towers for defending the city gates, and they themselves form two circular Gothic towers, on opposite sides of the south end of English Street. The county jail stands partly on the site of the garden of a blackfriary, was partly remodelled and principally rebuilt in 1869, and now has capacity for 112 male and 56 female prisoners. An elegant bridge of five elliptical arches spans the Eden on the great road to the north, was erected by Smirke at a cost of upwards of £70,000, and is connected with the city by an arched causeway, nearly one-fourth of a mile long. Two smaller bridges span the Caldew, and one the Petteril. The central railway station, immediately south of the site of the citadel, presents a neat front to Court Square, is along, spacious, well-contrived arcade, and contains handsome refreshment and waiting rooms. The news-room and library is a modern Gothic building, erected by subscription, from a design by Rickman. Many tall chimney stalks are conspicuous objects. Other noticeable things are a market-cross of 1682, a quaint picturesque old town-hall, where the magistrates' court and the city sessions are held, and where the city council and other bodies meet, a statue of the late Earl of Lonsdale on a pedestal in Court Square, a statue of Mr Steele in Market Square, and a theatre. The corporation own both the gas and water works, and of the profits obtained therefrom have recently built public baths. They have also completed, about three years ago, the largest and finest covered market in the North of England, at a cost of £50,000 or £60,000. Outside the town they have built large and complete public slaughter-houses. They completed in 1893 the task of converting Tullie House, a fine 17th century mansion, into a school of art, free library, museum, and art gallery, at a cost of £20,000. Many fine buildings, residential and otherwise, are due to private enterprise.

The Castle.-The fortress built by William Rufus occupied a site which must in all ages have been utilized for defence. Buildings were added to it or erected adjacent by several kings, forming fortifications, prison, and palace, and all were called the castle; but they have in recent times been greatly altered. The site is a bold but not high eminence, overlooking the Eden, and commands one of the best prospects which the city or the environs afford over the rich surrounding country. The entrance is through an embattled gateway, with the ancient portcullis, and a defaced sculpture over it; this admits to the outer ward, now disfigured by modern barracks and offices. A half-moon battery formerly defended the inner court, but is now dismantled. The entrance to the inner ward is through another tower; in this ward the great keep stands, and is a lofty massive tower, but has been converted into an armory. The palace also stood in this ward; in its long hall Edward I. held his Parliaments, but it was destroyed in 1827; the chapel was turned-into barracks in 1835, and a small staircase is the only part of it that remains. Sir William Wallace rested a night under the castle gate, and Waverley, in Sir Walter Scott's novel, watched from the gatehouse Fergus Maclvor going out to execution.

The Cathedral.-This was originally the church of an Augustinian priory, commenced in 1092, completed in 1101, and converted into a cathedral in 1133; it has undergone sweeping changes, and great recent restorations. The cloisters have disappeared, but the entrance-gateway and the fratry or refectory remains. The gateway has a circular arch, with an inscription recording it to have been built by the prior, Christopher Slee. The fratry was recently restored by Mr Street, R.A., and contains a curious stone chair with impanelled foliated ceiling, most absurdly called the confessional.. It is the pulpitum for the readers at meals. The fratry is now used as the chapter-room. The cathedral is cruciform. and has a square embattled tower 127 feet high rising over the intersection of the cross. The nave and the transepts are Norman, narrow and without aisles. Their columns are very massive, each 17½ feet in circumference, and 14 feet 2 inches high. The nave was deprived of about 90 feet of its length in the time of Cromwell to yield material for the erection of guardhouses and batteries, and the rest of it was afterwards closed with a wall and refitted up as a parish church, which it had always been. The transepts measure 124 feet in length and 28 feet in width, and the north one is now used as the consistory court. The choir was built at great expense, with vast effort, by aid of money obtained through sale of indulgences and remissions, in the reign of Edward III. Most of it is Early English, but the east end is Decorated. Its length is 137 feet, its width 71 feet, and its height 75 feet. The east end shows rich grandeur of design, having a most magnificent central window, with bold buttresses, crocketed pinnacles, and gable crosses. The interior is arranged in side aisles and central aisle, with tri-forium and clerestory. The columns are clustered, and the capitals are adorned with carved figures and flowers indicative of the occupations of the seasons. The clerestory has a rich parapet pierced with foliated circles. The great east window, as seen in the interior, has been pronounced by many competent judges the finest decorated window in the kingdom. It measures 60 feet by 30, contains nine lights, and is filled in the head with surpassingly rich flowing tracery. The windows of the side aisles have a corresponding character. A row of beautiful arcades appears below them, and is continued all round the walls. A very fine organ, erected in 1856, stands above the entrance to the choir. The stalls are embellished with tabernacle-work in carved oak, black with age. The bishop's throne and the pulpit are modern and not so rich in design, yet elegant and stately. The screens in the aisles show some curious legendary paintings from the histories of St Augustine, St Anthony, and St Cuthbert. A fine mural monument to Dr Paley, simply recording his name and age, appears in the north aisle, and monuments to Bishops Bell, Law, Smith, Robinson, Barrow, Waldegrave, and Goodwin, Dean Close, and other distinguished men, are in other parts. A small chapel, dedicated to St Catherine, founded and endowed by John de Capella, a citizen of Carlisle, stands in the angle between the chancel and the south transept. The deanery stands within the precincts of the cathedral. It was built by Prior Senhouse in 1507, and contains a fine apartment used as a drawing-room, with a remarkably ornate ceiling in carved emblazoned oak.

Churches.-St Mary's Church formerly occupied the cathedral nave, but was removed from its ancient and historical position to a new building about thirty years ago. St Cuthbert's Church is a plain structure of 1778, on the site of a previous very old one, and has a monument to Chancellor Carlyle. Trinity Church, in Caldewgate, and Christ Church, in Botchergate, are handsome structures of 1830, each with a tower and spire, and are remarkable for having their altars at the west end. St Stephen's and St John's are beautiful edifices of 1865, the former in Early and Decorated English, the latter in pure Early English. St James' and St Paul's are also new churches. Value of each, £300. Patrons of the first four, the Dean and Chapter; of St Stephen's and St Paul's, the Bishop; of St John's and St James', five trustees. The nonconformists possess several large and handsome churches, while the Roman Catholics erected in 1893 a fine church (to supersede an older structure), which is dedicated to Our Lady and St Joseph. It is a building of the Perpendicular style, and occupies one of the finest sites in the city. A rectory is connected with it.

Schools, &c.-The grammar school was founded in 1546 by Henry VIII., but it was reconstructed about 1882, when large new buildings were built for it, partly from public subscription, partly from funds supplied by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. A girls' high school was recently founded. There is a school of art, which will presently move into new premises in Tullie House. The infirmary was built by subscription in 1828, but was enlarged and the accommodation doubled in 1878.  It is an imposing pile, situated in the west of the town, where are also a fever hospital and a home for incurables.  The dispensary, a very old-established charity, is within the town. There are two workhouses, both in the city.

Trade, &c.-The cotton trade, once the staple trade, has almost disappeared from Carlisle. The chief manufactures now carried on are hat-making, biscuit-making, lithographic printing, brewing for colonial export, and iron-founding. These and the railways employ very large numbers of hands. The corn, seed, and bacon trades have attained large dimensions. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and fairs on 26 Aug., 19 Sept., and the first and second Saturday after 10 Oct. The city was formerly connected with the Solway by a ship canal, now superseded by the Silloth railway, and it ranked as a seaport, with Allonby and Port-Carlisle as creeks or sub-ports, but the custom-house has been removed, and Carlisle is a creek to Whitehaven. The city has a head post office, several banking offices and first-rate inns, and publishes several newspapers.

The, Borough.-The city is a borough by prescription, was chartered by Henry II., is governed by a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 30 councillors, and sends one member to Parliament. Its borough limits, both for government and for representation, comprise the townships of Botchergate and English Street in St Cuthbert parish; the townships of Scotch Street, Fisher Street, Castle Street, Abbey Street, and part of Caldewgate, in St Mary parish; and the extra-parochial place of Eaglesfield Abbey. Assizes are held generally three times a year. Population of the municipal borough, 39,176; of the parliamentary, 38,112. The city gives the title of Earl to a branch of the Howard family.

The Diocese.-The see was founded in 1133 by Henry I. The first bishop was Æthelwald, the king's confessor, and among his successors have been De Everdon, De Kirkby, Merks, Oglethorpe, Usher, Nicolson, Sterne, Vernon Harcourt, and Goodwin. The bishop's income is £4500, and his residence is Rose Castle. The chapter comprises a dean (salary £1425), 4 canons (£700 per annum each), and 24 honorary canons. The diocese comprehends all Cumberland except Alston Moor parish, with Garrigill and Nenthead, all Westmorland, and the Lancashire deaneries of Cartmel, Dalton, and Ulverstone, and the ecclesiastical parishes of Beathay, Hawkshead, Satterthwaite, Lawray, Seathwaite, and Wray, and is divided into the three archdeaconries of Carlisle, Westmorland, and Furness. Population of the diocese, 424,913.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCumberland 
Poor Law unionCarlisle 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Carlisle from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Cumberland is available to browse.


Online maps of Carlisle are available from a number of sites:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Cumberland, 1615 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionNorth West
Postal districtCA3
Post TownCarlisle