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Cumberland ( ) was a historic county of North West England, on the border with Scotlandmarker, from the twelfth century to 1974. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 (excluding Carlisle from 1914) and now forms part of Cumbriamarker.

Early history and formation of county

What was to become Cumberland had a complicated political history prior to the 12th century. The first record of the term "Cumberland" appears in 945, when the Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded that the area was ceded to Malcolm I of Scotland by King Edmund of England. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 most of the future county remained part of Scotlandmarker although some villages in the far south west, which were the possessions of the Earl of Northumbria, were included in the Yorkshiremarker section with the Furness region.

In 1092 King William Rufus of England invaded the Carlisle district, settling it with colonists. He created an Earldom of Carlisle, and granted the territory to Ranulf Meschyn. In 1133 Carlisle was made the see of a new diocesemarker, identical with the area of the earldom. However, on the death of King Henry I in 1135, the area was regained by Scotland's King David I. He was able to consolidate his power and made Carlisle one of his chief seats of government, while England descended into a lengthy civil war. In 1157 Henry II of England resumed possession of the area from Malcolm IV of Scotland, and formed two new counties from the former earldom: Westmorlandmarker and "Carliol". The silver-mining area of Alstonmarker, previously associated with the Liberty of Durham, was also added to the new county of Carliol for financial reasons. By 1177 the county of Carliol was known as Cumberland. The border between England and Scotland was made permanent by the Treaty of York in 1237.

Boundaries and subdivisions

The boundaries formed in the 12th century did not change substantially over the county's existence. It bordered four English counties and two Scottish counties. These were Northumberlandmarker and County Durham to the east; Westmorlandmarker to the south, the Furness part of Lancashiremarker to the southwest; Dumfriesshiremarker to the north and Roxburghshiremarker to the northeast.

To the east the county was bounded by the Solway Firthmarker and the Irish Seamarker. The northern boundary was formed by the Solway Estuary and the border with Scotland running east to Scotch Knowe at Kershope Burn. The boundary ran south from Scotch Knowe along the Cheviot Hillsmarker, then followed a tributary of the River Irthingmarker and crossed Denton Fell to the River Teesmarker. From Tees Head the boundary crossed the Pennines to decend Crowdundale Beck, from where it followed the River Eden to the centre of Ullswatermarker. The line then followed the Glencoin Beck to the the top of the Helvellynmarker ridge, thence to Wrynose Passmarker and along the River Duddonmarker to the sea near Millommarker.

The highest point of the county was Scafell Pikemarker at 3,208 feet (978 m); it is the highest mountain in England. Carlislemarker was the county town.

Division into wards

Map of Cumberland showing wards, 1824
The Earldom of Carlisle was divided into baronies, but on the creation of the county these were replaced by ward. These took the place of hundred found in most other English counties, and originated in military subdivisions organised for the defence of the county from incursions by Scottish troops.
Each ward was composed of a number of parishes, areas originally formed for ecclesiastical administration. In common with other counties of northern England, many parishes in Cumberland were very large, often consisting of a number of distinct townships and hamlets. These subdivisions were eventually to become civil parishes and form the lowest level of local government.
The wards and their constituent parishes in 1821 were:

Ward Parishes Notes
Allerdale above Derwent
Beckermetmarker St John Included part of township of Calder & Beckermet or Calderbridge
Beckermet St Bridget Included townships of Ennerdalemarker & Kinniside, Eskdale & Wasdale
Brighammarker Included townships of Blindbothelmarker, Buttermeremarker, Cockermouthmarker, Eaglesfieldmarker, Embletonmarker, Greysouthernmarker, Mosser, Setmurthey, Whinfell
Crosthwaite (part) Included township of Borrowdalemarker
Drigg and Carltonmarker
Gosforthmarker Included township of Bolton
Irton with Santon Included township of Santon & Murthwaite
Lamplughmarker Included townships of Kelton & Winder, Murton
Lortonmarker Included townships of Brackenthwaite, Wythop
Millommarker Included hamlet of Birker with Austhwaite, township of Ulpha
Moresby Included township of Parton
Ponsonby Included part of township of Calder & Beckermet or Calderbridge
St Beesmarker Include townships of Hensingham, Lowside Quarter, Netherwasdale, Preston Quarter, Rottington, Sandwith, Wheddicarr, Whitehavenmarker
Workingtonmarker Included townships of Great Clifton, Little Clifton, Stainburn, Winscales
Allerdale below Derwent Allhallowsmarker
Aspatriamarker Including townships of Hayton & Mealo, Oughterside & Allerby
Boltonmarker Including townships of Bolton Gate, Bolton Wood & Quarry Hill, Bolton Lowside, Isel Old Park, Sunderland
Bridekirkmarker Including townships of Dovenby, Great Broughton, Little Broughton
Bromfieldmarker (part) Including townships of Allonbymarker, Langrigg & Mealrigg, Papcastlemarker, Tallentire, Westnewton
Caldbeckmarker (part)
Cammerton Including township of Seaton
Crosscanonbymarker Including townships of Birkby & Canonby, Blennerhasset & Kirkland, Crosby, Maryport
Crosthwaite (part) Included townships of Castlerigg St John's & Wythburn, Keswick, Ribton, Underskiddaw
Dearhammarker Including township of Ellenborough & Ewanrigg
Holme Cultrammarker Including townships of Abbey Quarter (or Holme Abbey), Holme East Waver Quarter, Holme St Cuthbert's Quarter, Holme Low Quarter
Irebymarker Including townships of High Ireby, Low Ireby
Iselmarker Including township of Blindcrake and Redmain
Torpenhow Including townships of Bewaldeth and Snittlegarthmarker, Bothel & Thrupland
West Ward
Cumberlandmarker Aiktonmarker
Bownessmarker Included townships of Anthorn, Drumburg, Fingland
Bromfield (part) Included townships of Blencogo, Dundraw
Burgh by Sandsmarker
Carlislemarker, St Mary's (part)† Townships of Caldewgate Quarter, Cummersdale Quarter, Wreaymarker
Carlisle St Mary Within† Included township of Rickergate Quarter
Carlisle St Cuthbert's Within†
Carlisle St Cuthbert's Without†
Kirkandrews upon Eden
Orton Included township of Baldwinholme
Sebergham Low and High Quarters
Wigtonmarker Included townships of Oulton Water, Waverton High & Low, Woodside Quarter
Arthuretmarker Included townships of Braconhill, Lineside, Longtown, Netherby
Crosbymarker High & Low
Cumrewmarker Outside and Inside
Cumwhittonmarker Included township of Northsceugh
East Farlam
Haytonmarker Included townships of Little Crosby, Fenton & Faugh, Talkin
Irthingtonmarker Included townships of Kingwater, Laversdalemarker, Newby, Newtown
Kingmoor (hamlet) Extra-parochial liberty belonging to the Corporation of Carlisle
Kirkandrews upon Esk Included townships of Kirkandrews Moat, Kirkandrews Nether Quarter, Kirkandrews Upper Quarter, Nichol Forest
Kirklinton Included townships of Hethersgill, Westlintonmarker (or Levington)
Lanercostmarker Included townships of Askerton, Burtholme & Banks, Lineside
Nether Denton
Scaleby East and West
Stapleton Included townships of Belbank, Solport Quarter, Trough
Upper Dentonmarker
Waltonmarker High and Low
West Farlam
Addingham Included townships of Gamblesby, Glassonbymarker, Hunsonbymarker & Winskillmarker
Ainstable and Rushcroftmarker
Alston with Garrigillmarker
Caldbeck (part) Township of Mosedale
Carlisle, St Mary's (part) Township of Middlesceugh & Braithwaite
Castle Sowerby
Edenhallmarker Included township of Langwathbymarker
Great Salkeldmarker
Greystoke Included townships of Berrier & Murrah, Bowscale, Matterdale, Mungrisdalemarker, Threlkeldmarker, Watermillock
Hesket in the Forestmarker
Hutton in the Forestmarker Included townships of Hutton Johnmarker, Hutton Roof, Hutton Soilmarker, Thomas Close
Kirkland Included townships of Culgaith, Kirkland & Blencarn
Kirkoswaldmarker Included township of Staffieldmarker
Lazonbymarker Included township of Plumpton Wallmarker
Newton Reignymarker Included township of Catterlenmarker
Penrithmarker Included townships of Middlegate, Netherend & Bridgemarker, Burrowgate, Sandgate, Town Head, Dockray, Plumpton Head and Carletonmarker
† These parishes and townships constituted the City of Carlisle, and were largely outside the jurisdiction of Cumberland Ward.

Local government from the nineteenth century

During the nineteenth century a series of reforms reshaped the local government of the county, creating a system of district with directly-elected councils.

Poor law and municipal reform

Map of Cumberland in 1845 showing poor law unions and parliamentary divisions
The first changes concerned the administration of the poor law, which was carried at parish level. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 provided for the grouping of parishes into poor law unions, each with a central workhouse and an elected board of guardians. Cumberland was divided into nine unions: Alston with Garrigill, Bootle, Brampton, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Longtown, Penrith, Whitehaven and Wigton.

In the following year the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 was passed, reforming boroughs and cities in England and Wales as municipal boroughs with a uniform constitution. The corporation of the City of Carlisle was accordingly remodelled with a popularly elected council consisting of a mayor, aldermen and councillors.

Local boards and sanitary districts

Outside of municipal boroughs, there was no effective local government until the 1840s. In response to poor sanitary conditions and outbreaks of cholera, the Public Health Act 1848 and the Local Government Act 1858 allowed for the formation of local boards of health in populous areas. Local boards were responsible inter alia for water supply, drainage, sewerage, paving and cleansing. Eleven local boards were initially formed at Brampton, Cleator Moor, Cockermouth, Egremont, Holme Cultram, Keswick, Maryport, Millom, Penrith, Whitehaven, Wigton and Workington.

Further reform under the Public Health Act 1875 saw the creation of sanitary districts throughout England and Wales. The existing municipal boroughs and local boards became "urban sanitary districts", while "rural sanitary districts" were formed from the remianing areas of the poor law unions.

Three more local boards were formed: Arlecdon and Frizington in 1882, Harrington in 1891 and Aspatria in 1892. In addition Whitehaven and Workington received charters of incorporation to become municipal boroughs in 1894 and 1883 respectively.

Local government acts of 1888 and 1894

In 1889, under the Local Government Act 1888, a county council was created for Cumberland, taking over administrative functions from the Court of Quarter Sessions. The Local Government Act 1894 reconstituted the existing sanitary districts as urban districts and rural districts, each with an elected council.

The 1888 Act also allowed any municipal borough with a population of 50,000 or more to become a "county borough", independent of county council control. In 1914 Carlisle successfully applied for this status, ceasing to form part of the administrative county, although remaining within Cumberland for purposes such as Lieutenancy and shrievalty.

Reform in 1934

The Local Government Act 1929 imposed the duty on county councils of reviewing the districts within their administrative county so as to form more efficient units of local government. In general, this meant the merging of small or lightly-populated areas into larger units. A review was carried in Cumberland in 1934. The following table lists the urban and rural districts before and after the changes.

District 1894 - 1934 District 1934 - 1974
Alston with Garrigill RD
Arlecdon & Frizington UD Part of Ennerdale RD
Aspatria UD Absorbed by Wigton RD
Bootle RD Part of Millom RD
Brampton RD Part of Border RD
Carlisle RD Part of Border RD
Cleator Moor UD Part of Ennerdale RD
Cockermouth RD
Cockermouth UD
Egremont UD Part of Ennerdale RD
Harrington UD Absorbed by Workington MB
Holme Cultram UD Absorbed by Wigton RD
Keswick UD
Longtown RD Part of Border RD
Maryport UD
Penrith RD
Penrith UD
Whitehaven RD Part of Ennerdale RD

The distribution of population in 1971 was as follows:

District Population
County Borough of Carlisle 71,580
Cockermouth Urban Districtmarker 6,366
Keswick Urban Districtmarker 5,184
Maryport Urban Districtmarker 11,612
Penrith Urban Districtmarker 11,308
Municipal Borough of Whitehavenmarker 26,721
Municipal Borough of Workingtonmarker 28,431
Alston with Garrigill Rural Districtmarker 1,917
Border Rural Districtmarker 29,267
Cockermouth Rural Districtmarker 21,520
Ennerdale Rural Districtmarker 30,983
Millom Rural Districtmarker 14,088
Penrith Rural Districtmarker 11,380
Wigton Rural Districtmarker 21,830

In 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, the administrative county and county borough were abolished and their former area was combined with Westmorlandmarker and parts of Lancashiremarker and the West Riding of Yorkshire to form the new county of Cumbriamarker. The area from Cumberland went on to form the districts of Carlislemarker, Allerdalemarker, Copelandmarker and part of Edenmarker.


The name continues in use as a geographical and cultural term, and survives in Cumberland sausages, HMS Cumberland which is nicknamed 'The fighting sausage', Cumberland County Cricket Club, Cumberland Fell Runners Club, Cumberland Athletics Club and organisations and companies, such as the local newspapers The Cumberland News, and The West Cumberland Times and Star, and the Cumberland Building Society.

In June 1994, during the 1990s UK local government reform, the Local Government Commission published draft recommendations, suggesting as one option a North Cumbria unitary authority (also including Applebymarker, the historic county town of Westmorland). It also suggested that Cumberland could be reinstated as an independent ceremonial county. The final recommendations, published in October 1994, did not include such recommendations, apparently due to lack of expression of support for the proposal to the commission.

As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the Grass-of-Parnassus as the county flower. Parnassus flowers had been associated with the county since 1951, when they were included in the coat of arms granted to the Cumberland County Council. They subsequently featured in the arms granted to Cumbria County Council and Copeland Borough Councilmarker, in both cases to represent Cumberland.



  1. 1971 Census; Small Area Statistics
  2. Detail taken from a copy of Cumberland Heritage published by Victor Gollancz London in 1970 with an ISBN of 0 575 00376 6

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