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Penrith, Cumberland

Historical Description

Penrith, a market and union town and a parish in Cumberland. The town stands on Watling Street, and on the Lancaster and Carlisle railway, at The junction of the Cockermouth and Penrith railway, 1 mile N of the river Ramont at the boundary with Westmorland, 5 miles from Ulleswater, 17½ SSE of Carlisle, and 283 from London. It dates from remote times; was early a place of military strength, and long a chief post in the hotly-debated tract of Inglewood Forest; was given to Alexander III. of Scotland with his wife Margaret, and again given by Edward I. of England to the military bishop Beck; passed to the Nevilles, who built a castle; suffered devastation in 1342, 1345, and 1386 by the Scots; had so large a population in the time of Elizabeth as to lose 2260 inhabitants by a pestilence; was taken in 1648 by General Lambert; was occupied in 1715 by Foster for the Chevalier, and again in 1745, both on the advance to Derby and on the return, by the army of the Pretender. It consists now of one long street and several smaller ones, well built; of red sandstone, but occasionally plastered and white-washed; is supposed to have got its name of Penrith, signifying " the red hill," from the colour of the building material, and has been much improved; is a seat of petty sessions and county courts, and the head of one of the four parliamentary divisions into which the county is divided. It publishes three weekly newspapers, and has a head post office, a railway station, several banks, some good hotels, ruins of the ancient castle, two churches, two chapels of ease, Congregational, Presbyterian, Primitive Methodist, and Roman Catholic chapels, a Friends' meeting-house, a Gospel hall, a grammar school, endowed mixed school, a workhouse, and large charities. A drill and concert hall was erected in 1893. There are Liberal and Conservative clubs, a public library and museum opened in 1883, and an agricultural hall, at which sheep and cattle are sold on Mondays. The ancient castle stood on the W side of the town; was inhabited for some time by the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III.; remained long in the possession of the Crown; was seized and dismantled by the Parliamentarians in the Civil Wars of Charles I.; went at the Revolution to the first Earl of Portland; was sold in 1783 to the Duke of Devonshire; passed subsequently to other parties; appears to have been a quadrangle, with towers at the corners, and with a moat; and is now a fragmentary, ivy-clad, picturesque ruin. The body of the parish church was rebuilt in 1722, was since improved, and now consists of chancel, nave, aisles, and an embattled western tower containing eight bells. The previous church was given by Henry I. to the Bishop of Carlisle, and had a chantry founded by Bishop Strickland. The churchyard contains a curious monument, called the Giant's Grave, supposed by many antiquaries to commemorate Owen Csesarius, a regulus of Cumberland in the Saxon times, and contains also a stone pillar, 4 feet high, called the Giant's Thumb. Christ Church is a modern edifice in the Perpendicular style, and was thoroughly restored in 1892. The grammar school was founded in 1340 by Bishop Strickland, was refounded by Queen Elizabeth, and has an endowed income of £30. The endowed school, founded in 1661, has £60 per annum. A weekly market is held on Tuesdays. There are several breweries, iron foundries, and sawmills. Beacon Hill is in the NE vicinity, rises to an altitude of 1020 feet above sea-level, was used in old times as a post for beacon-fires, and has a tower on the summit, built in 1719 and repaired in 1780, which commands a magnificent and extensive panoramic view. The environs for several miles abound in curious antiquities, splendid parks, and picturesque scenes.

The parish contains also the hamlets of Carleton, Plumpton Head, and Eamont Bridge, and comprises 7587 acres; population, 8981. It is governed by an urban district council, to whom both the gas and water works belong. The Duke of Devonshire is lord of the manor. The parish is divided for ecclesiastical purposes into two-viz., St Andrew's (population, 6033) and Christ Church (2841), formed in 1862. The livings are vicarages in the diocese of Carlisle; net value, £280 and £350 respectively with residence. Patron, the Bishop.

Penrith or Mid Parliamentary Division, of Cumberland was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1880, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 45,643. The division includes the following:-Penrith or Leath Ward-Ainstable, Alston, Berrier and Murrah, Bowscale, Castle Sowerby, Catterlen, Croglin, Culgaith, Dacre, Edenhall, Gamblesby, Glassonby, Greystoke, Hesket-in-the Forest, Hunsonby and Winskell, Hutton-in-the Forest, Hutton John, Hutton Roof, Hutton Soil, Kirkland and Blencarn, Kirkoswald, Langwathby, Lazonby, Matterdale, Melmerby, Middlesceugh and Braithwaite, Mosedale, Mungrisdale, Newton, Ousebv, Penrith, Plumpton Wall, Renwick, Salkeld (Great), Salkeld (Little), Skelton, Skirwith, Staffield, Waterffilllock; Keswick-Above Derwent, Bassenthwaite, Borrow-dale, Briery Cottages, Keswick, Skiddaw; St John's, Gastlerigg and Wythburn; Threlkeld, Under Skiddaw; Wigton (part of)-Ireby (High), Ireby (Low), Allhallows, Waverton (High and Low), Wigton, Woodside, Westward, Blencogo, Bolton (High), Bolton (Low), Caldbeck (High aud Low), Sebergham (High and Low), Uldale, Dundraw and Kelsick, Thursby (High and Low), Torpenhoe and Whitrigg, Blennerhassett and Kirkland.

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 
Ecclesiastical parishPenrith St. Andrew 
Poor Law unionPenrith 

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

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Penrith from the following:

Land and Property

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


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

Villages, Hamlets, &c

Carleton (Penrith)
Plumpton Head

Visitations Heraldic

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

RegionNorth West
Postal districtCA11
Post TownPenrith