Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
It seems dull. It tells just the plain facts. For instance: Blencogo's acreage is 1778 acres. 400 were common land enclosed in 1848. Its population rose from 167 in 1801 to 220 in 1861, but declined to 139 by 1931. The land granted to Sir Richard Cholmley by Henry VII, was held by Richard Barwis in 1578 and later by the Thomlinson family. In this predominantly agricultural parish a mission hall was opened at Leegate in 1888 and the school which opened in 1854 now serves as the village hall.
Scotby encompasses an area of 1,681 acres; Wetheral 11,489 aacres; Borrowdale 18,663 acres and Bewcastle 28,563 acres. The vast acreage of Bewcastle is divided between the townships of Bailey, Bellbank, Bewcastle and Nixons.
The commons in the parishes were enclosed at different times. The commons in Berrier and Murrah were enclosed in 1791, along with other commons in Greystoke. 4000 acres of common pasture in Skelton were enclosed in 1767. 140 acres in Kirkandrews on Eden were enclosed ninety years later in 1857.
If the population of Blencogo had risen from 167 in 1801 to 220 sixty years later and then fallen to 139 after a further seventy years, the population in other parishes followed different patterns. In 1801 there were 128 people living in Newton Reigny. 130 years later there were 40 more people in the parish. The population of Allonby declined from 700 in the early nineteenth century to less than 400 in 1981. The 2,969 acres of open forest that made up Skiddaw Forest were probably uninhabited until c.1829 when Skiddaw House was built as a keeper's lodge and a shepherd's house.
There were 5,716 people in Workington in 1801. After the opening of the ironworks in Seaton the population rose rapidly. In 1871 it was 8,413; in 1881 it was 14,316 and ten years later it had increased by more than 50% to 23,749. John Leland in 1540 had described the port and small fishing community as the place where "shyppes cum to wher ys a lytle prety fyssher town". Almost four centuries later, in 1927, the Lonsdale Dock was deepened and widened and renamed The Prince of Wales Dock. Today, we are told, "Decline of heavy industry after Second World War resulted in downward drift in population across later 20th century, from a peak of 29,552 in 1961, to 24,295 by 2001."
In Carlisle, the "last crane was built at St Nicholas engineering works in 1987; Victoria Ironworks closed 1998. Losses were counteracted to some extent by the growth of new firms including Kangol, Pirelli and Nestle." "Remains of Northumbrian-age sculpture suggest an Anglo-Saxon monastic site" and the Jehovah's Witnesses purchased a Meeting House in Finkle Street in 1982. The Carlisle Grammar School was recorded as early as 1186 and a new school was built in West Walls in 1806.
But this wonderful Historical Gazetteer is far from dull. All the facts are here, everything about the county's history encompassed in a brief picture of each of the 348 civil parishes. The book is an immense work of scholarship. It draws on census returns and ordnance survey maps, on many of the old histories of the county from men such as Thomas Denton and Sir Daniel Fleming and on the nineteenth century directories and many other sources.
It provides a secure foundation for the immense project currently under way to complete the Victoria County History, which itself is part of a national project to produce "historical 'biographies' of every community in England. A large team of volunteer historians have been involved in compiling the Gazetteer under the direction of the project's leader, Dr Angus Winchester of Lancaster University.
The Gazetteer is one key part of a very exciting project. It is very far from being dull.