button to main menu  Camden's Britannia, edn 1789

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  roman fort, Hardknott Pass
The foundations on Hardknot may have belonged to some chapel or cross, built there as an eminent place. The large tract of mountains on the east side of the county called Cross Fells, one of the highest mountains in the north [h], have the name given them on that account, being before called Brinds fell, Devils fell; and Dilston, a small town under them is contracted from Devilston [2].
  Irton. British Pearls
  Irt, River

On the Irt stands the town of Irt or Irton; the manor of which belonged to an antient family of that name in the reign of Henry II. of whom was Ralph Irton prior of Gisburn and bishop of Carlisle 1280 [i]. Muscle pearls are found in this and other rivers hereabouts as also in Wales. A patent was granted to certain gentlemen for pearl fishing here, but they are not very plentiful, and may be had cheaper from the straits of Magellan, where sir John Narborough and sir Richard Hawkins tell us they abound in every muscle [k]. Tacitus [l] describes the British pearls as of bad colour, subfuscae ac liventes; but this is not their general character. Bede [m] gives a juster account of them when he says they are of all colours. Those that are not bright and shining , and such are met with in the Irt, &c. are usually called Sand pearl, which are as useful in physic as the finest. Dr. Lister says he has found sixteen of these in one muscle, but that they are all only senescentium musculorum vitia [n]. The poor people gather them at low water, and sell them to the jewellers, and it is said Mr. Patrickson of How in this county got as many as sold for 800l. [o]
  St. Bees.
  St Bees Abbey
  St Bees School

"St. Beges in Coupland hard on the west side a celle longing to St. Mary's abbey at York [p]." Bega is said to have founded a nunnery here A.D. 650, which being destroyed by the Danes was refounded for Benedictine monks by Ranulphus de Meschines earl of Cumberland, and valued at £.143. [q] The conventual church, now parochial, has a west door adorned like that of Ifley c. Oxon. The chancel, which is ruined, has narrow lancet windows. In the church is a wooden figure of Anthony last lord Lucy of Egremont [r]. In the yard are two battered figures of knights. Archbishop Grindal, who was born here, founded a good grammar-school, to which belongs a library, and it was much improved by the bounty of Dr. Lamplugh archbishop of York, Dr. Smith bishop of Carlisle, sir James Lowther of Whitehaven, &c. The right of presenting a master is in the master and fellows of Queen's college, Oxford, to which its founder was also a benefactor [3]. The vicarage-house seems to have been built out of the ruins of the monastery, whose foundations extend to the south. A bridge leading to the village has the archbishop's initials 1588 [s].
  St Bees Head
The great cliff called Bamhead or Bees head abounds with plenty of sea fowl.
  Egremont Castle

"Egermont, south from Cokermouth, longith to the lord Fitzwalter, and standith by the market town of Egremont [t]."
Egremont castle passed from the Meschines to the Lucys, of whom Maud, only sister and heir of Anthony lord Lucy before-mentioned, married Henry Percy first earl of Northumberland, in whose male line it continued till Elizabeth sole daughter and heiress of Joceline last earl of Northumberland of that line, married Charles duke of Somerset 1682, and transferred it to his family. Their son Algernon was created 1749 earl of Egremont with remainder to his nephew sir Charles Wyndham, who succeeded to the title on his decease 1750, and was succeeded 1763 by his son George, present and 2d earl of Egremont. The town of Egremont once sent members to Parliament [u].
  coal mines

Below St. Bees and in its parish is Whitehaven a handsome regular town, so called from the white rocks and cliffs. It is chiefly beholden for its improvement to sir John Lowther, who took his title of distinction from it, and whose descendants have a considerable estate here [4]. It contains 1200 inhabitants, and has 190 great ships, mostly employed in the coal trade; three chapels, four meeting-houses, and a good artificial harbour with a long pier. The collieries lie at the foot of an hill 80 fathoms deep, by an easy descent bricked and vaulted. The town and collieries produced a revenue of 16,000 a year to the late sir James Lowther, who had here a magazine of oats, which he always sold to the colliers at 5s. per bushel Cumberland or three Winchester measure [x]
Whitehaven in 1566 had but six houses and only one pickard of eight or nine tons; in 1582 twelve small ships. Sir Christopher, 2d son of sir John Lowther, purchased the lands of St. Bees priory here, and settled here and died 1644. The late sir James lived to see about 11000 inhabitants, and about 260 sail ships of near 30,000 tuns burthen. Thirty of them are employed in foreign trade and the rest in the coal trade, and export yearly above 20,000 tuns. He devised his estates here to sir William Lowther of Holker, bart. who dying the next year was succeeded in the said estates, reckoned 14,000£. a year, by the present sir James Lowther, created earl of Lonsdale 1780. The coal mines here are perhaps the most extraordinary in the world; sir John Lowther, father of the late sir James, first worked them for exportation, and he and his son in the course of half a century are supposed to have expended in one of them about half a million sterling. The mines are sunk to a depth of 130 fathom, and extended under the sea to places where there is over them a depth of water for ships of large burthen. Here are three strata of coal at a considerable distance, one above another, but not always regular, being interspersed by breaks of hard rock called dykes. Four fire-engines belong to this colliery, which, when all at work, discharge from it about 1228 gallons every minute at 13 strokes, and after the rate of 1,768,620 gallons in 24 hours. Three chapels have been erected by the Lowther family for the inhabitants, who now amount to about 2,200 families.
Sir John Clerk, in a letter to Mr. Roger Gale 1739, gives this account of Whitehaven and its collieries:
"The greatest curiosity at Whitehaven is sir James Lowther himself; whenever his death happens [y] it will be much felt by the people of this place, for when his money comes to be divided the coal will be set in farm and consequently brought to the verge of ruin. Amongst the extraordinary works of this place, I could not but admire those on the sea-coast to the westward. The sink goes down
[h] Burn, II. 364.
[2] G.
[i] G. Burn, II. 22.
[k] Voy. p.7. Observations, 1622, p.88.
[l] Vit. Agric. c.12.
[m] I. 1.
[n] de Conchil. fluv. § 2. G.
[o] Burn, II. 24.
[p] Lel. VII. 71.
[q] Tan. 73.
[r] Burn, II. 41.
[3] G.
[s] Grose.
[t] Lel. VII. 72.
[u] Burn, II. 31-34.
[4] G.
[x] Pennant, 1772, p.47-50.
[y] He died 1755.
gazetteer links
button -- "Cross Fells" -- Cross Fell
button -- "Egremont Castle" -- Egremont Castle
button -- "Egremont" -- Egremont
button -- "Irt, River" -- Irt, River
button -- "Irt" -- Irton
button -- (roman fort, Hardknott Pass)
button -- "Bamhead" -- St Bees Head
button -- St Bees School
button -- "St Beges" -- St Bees
button -- St Mary and St Bega's Church
button -- Whitehaven Coalfield
button -- "Whitehaven" -- Whitehaven
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