Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Dalston: The Story of a Cumberland Parish by David Wilcock. Bookcase. £15.
On 23rd October, 1536, 15,000 men assembled at the Burford Oak at Broadfield on the edge of Dalston parish. There had been similar meetings at Moota, Catterlen and Greystoke. Their purpose was to gather support for the Pilgrimage of Grace. The Pilgrimage was an uprising throughout the northern counties of men opposed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries which had been instigated by Henry VIII and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell. These muster meetings brought many people, often unwillingly, to pledge themselves to the cause. The Rector of Caldbeck and the parson of Melmerby attended the meeting at Catterlen on fear of execution and “having their heads displayed on the highest point in the diocese”. Thomas Dalston of Dalston Hall was present at Moota, where it was determined to capture Carlisle. Dalston was one of four men deputed to go to Carlisle and secure a truce for the rebels. He may have been acting under duress, because he later received a letter from Thomas Cromwell declaring that “he had done good service in the time of the rebellion”. Eight years later he was able to acquire the manors of Caldbeck, Brundholme, Kirkbride, Uldale and Upton.
Dalston is a parish with an interesting history. There is evidence of Roman presence in the area with inscriptions in the quarries at Chalk Beck and a probable Roman camp at Stockdalewath, but the first record of this village on the edge of Inglewood Forest occurs in 1187 when the “unfree” tenants of Dalston paid Henry II tallages or rents totalling £10 6s 4d. King Richard I appointed a rector to Dalston at the end of the twelfth century. Dalston came to play an important role in the religious history of the area when Rose Castle in the parish became the residence of Walter Malclerk, the bishop of Carlisle, in the thirteenth century. The bishops of Carlisle have lived at Rose Castle until recent years.
One clergyman of national importance was Dean William Paley. He was vicar of Dalston from 1776 to 1793. His argument for the existence of god based on design – the idea that just as the complexity of the watch implied a watchmaker, so creation implied a creator - was profoundly influential in the nineteenth century.
Other Dalston people of significance were the poet, Susanna Blamire, who gave a long and detailed description of Cumberland village life in the eighteenth century in her poem, Stocklewath, and her nephew, William Blamire, who did much to further land and agricultural reform.
This thorough and detailed village history is, however, above everything a history of the ordinary people of Dalston. David Wilcock shows how life changed in the parish over the centuries. In medieval times, when the area was subject to raids from Scotland, they were the impoverished copyholders and cottagers. In the sixteenth century, “for the poorer tenants life seems to have been peculiarly difficult and barely tolerable”. In the seventeenth century the lot of the customary tenant improved as they obtained the right to inherit property. In the latter half of the eighteenth century Dalston was “a prosperous, yeoman farming community” and the population grew significantly. Cotton manufacturing came to the village over the following decades and agriculture improved. In the twentieth century Dalston grew and developed to become the prosperous village we know today.
David Wilcock, a Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science for Ulster University, has made Dalston his home since 2006. .