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St Bees, Cumberland

Historical Description

Bees, St, a village, a township, a sub-district, and a parish in Cumberland. The village stands on the coast, adjacent to the Whitehaven and Furness railway, 4 miles S of Whitehaven. Its site is a narrow vale, watered by a streamlet, near the shore. It has a station on the railway, a post, money order, and telegraph office, and two hotels. It sprang from a religious house, founded about the year 650 by St Bega, an Irish female Culdee. Her institution was destroyed by the Danes, and a Benedictine abbey was erected on the site of it, in the time of Henry I., by William des Mescliines. The abbey property was given at the dissolution to Sir Thomas Chaloner, passed to the Wybergs and the Lowthers, and now belongs to the Earl of Lonsdale. The church, retaining much of its original masonry in combination with reconstructions at various periods till 1810, still stands. It is a cruciform pile of red freestone, mixedly Norman and Early and Late English, with a central tower and some fine carvings. The nave and transept, with a short chancel, are used as the parish church, and the choir was fitted up as a lecture ball for the clerical college established in 1817 for students not going to Oxford or Cambridge. A new lecture room was built in 1803. A grammar school, near the church, was founded in 1587 by Archbishop Grindal. The poet Wordsworth, pointing to the origin of the village, and alluding doubtless more to the present than to the prior character of its church, says— "When Bega's voice, that instrument of love, Was glorified, and took its place above The silent stars, among the angelic quire, Her chantry blazed with sacrilegious fire, And perished utterly; but her good deeds Had sown the spot that witnessed them with seeds Which lay in earth expectant, till a breeze With quickening impulse answered their mute pleas, And lo 1 a statelier pile—the Abbey of St Bees! ". The township includes the village, and comprises 1811 acres of land and 252 of foreshore and water. The sub-district includes also the townships of Preston-Quarter, Sandwith, Rottington, and Lowside-Quarter, and the chapelry of Hensingham. The parish includes likewise the town, township, or sub-district of Whitehaven, the townships of Ennerdale, Kinniside, Weddicar, and Wasdale Head, and the chapelries of Nether Wasdale and Eskdale. Population of the civil parish, 1041; of the ecclesiastical, 2096. The surfaceis very diversified, and contains much of the admired scenery of the Lake country. Gill-Foot and Linethwaite mansions are in the vicinity, and a number of other fine residences are in other parts. Sfc Bees' Head, a large bold promontory, overhangs the Irish Sea, 2¼ miles NW of the village, forms the most westerly ground of Cumberland, and is surmounted by a lighthouse, showing a fixed light 333 feet higli, visible at the distance of 30 miles. Coal, lime, and freestone are extensively worked, and lead and iron ores are found. Several vestiges of ancient work occur along the coast, appearing to be remains of fortifications raised by the Romans against incursions of the Irish and the Scots. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Carlisle; value, £103. Patron, the Earl of Lonsdale. There are within the parish dissenting chapels of ten denominations., See WHITEHAVEN.

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 parishSt. Bees St. Bega 
Poor Law unionWhitehaven 
WardAllerdale above Derwent 

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

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for St Bees from the following:

Land and Property

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


Online maps of St Bees are available from a number of sites:

Villages, Hamlets, &c

Eskdale and Wasdale
Lowside Quarter
Nether Wasdale
Preston Quarter
Wasdale Head

Visitations Heraldic

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

RegionNorth West
Postal districtCA27
Post TownSt. Bees