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The history of Carlisle, Cumbria.The history of Carlisle, Cumbria.The history of Carlisle, Cumbria.The history of Carlisle, Cumbria.


Carlisle - the history.

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Carlisle. Cumbria and the Lake District.
Carlisle Castle. See the Carlisle Castle photo gallery.

Romans dark ages 1000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 today

Welcome to the EDGE Guide to the history of Carlisle. The history of Cumbria is bloody, more so than most English counties, and Carlisle has had more than its fair share of war and devastation from Roman times onwards, mainly due to its proximity to the border with Scotland.

The Romans came to the area that is now Carlisle around 80AD under the leadership of Agricola, and established a fort from which they could mount raids to the north against the Scots. The fort was built with earth and wood and occupied the site where the Cathedral now stands.

Emperor Hadrian gave up the struggle against the Scots and stabilised the frontier by ordering the building of the now famous Roman Wall (also known as Hadrians Wall). The Wall stretches from the Solway Firth on the Cumbrian coast to Newcastle on the east coast of the country.

As part of its defensive system he built a new fort at Carlisle, this time using stone: named Petriana and located at Stanwix on the north bank of the River Eden, it was the largest fort on the Wall, with a garrison of 1,000 cavalry and the headquarters of the Wall system as a whole. No trace now remains of Petriana.

The Romans eventually left Britain shortly after 400 AD. The Wall and its forts were abandoned and fell into ruin, and Cumbria became part of the Celtic Kingdom of Strathclyde.

In turn this separated into the smaller Celtic Kingdom of Rheged (the name means 'Given Land') so that the division possibly occurred between a father King of Strathclyde and his son.

In time, and probably during this period, the name Luguvalium was shortened to Leul and the Celtic prefix 'Caer' (meaning castle or fort) was added to give the name Caerluel and finally Carlisle.

From the departure of the Romans onwards Cumbria and the neighbouring county of Northumberland were fought over by various local tribes and invaders, successively Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and most latterly Norse(Viking).

The Danes in particular destroyed Carlisle, killing all its inhabitants. For 200 years thereafter the settlement remained largely depopulated: trees grew over the site, and it lost its identity as a place of any importance.

With the coming of the Northmen, who landed first probably at St.Bees (a village on the west coast), a century of stability began. It ended when the Norse King Dunmail was defeated in 945 by the Saxon King Edmund. From then until 1070 Carlisle and Cumbria were ruled by the Kings of Scotland.

Gospatrick, an Anglo-Saxon Earl of Northumberland recaptured Carlisle in that year, and it passed to his son Dolfin in 1072.

The modern history of Carlisle begins in 1092 when Dolfin was driven out by William II of England, (called Rufus because of his red hair). Rufus was the second son of William the Conqueror, and because his conquest of Cumberland occurred after the compilation of the Domesday Book of 1086.

It was Rufus who recreated the town, built the first castle and populated both with loyal retainers who would defend his interests against the Scots.

His brother and successor King Henry I built a Priory where the Cathedral now stands, but when he died in 1135 and England lapsed into civil war the Scots reoccupied the castle.

The Scots King David occupied the Castle in 1153, then his son (the boy-king) Malcolm 'The Maiden' ruled until Henry II of England recaptured Cumbria in 1157 and granted Carlisle its first Charter as a City in the following year.

The Scots Kings unsuccessfully pressed their claims on Carlisle and Cumbria until the English King John (1199 on) became so unpopular because of oppressive taxation that the populace did not resist the Scots King Alexander II's invasion in 1216.

John's son Henry III paid Alexander to return to Scotland and in 1251 granted another Charter to replace the first, which had been lost by fire, as indeed was Henry's Charter in 1292, along with most of the city itself.

In the next year (1293) Henry's successor King Edward I of England gave the town a new Charter but also began to develop the town as a major military base in preparation for his invasion of Scotland.

There followed more than 100 years of intermittent warfare between the two countries, during which the rapacity and savagery of Scots leaders such as William Wallace and Robert Bruce was matched by the cruelty, arrogance and stupidity of the English kings.

The period brought destruction, poverty, hunger and death to the common people on both sides of the Border but - worse - the mutual pillage and destruction engineered by their respective leaders gave birth to many later centuries of false mythology, misery and mistrust.

Carlisle Castle. See the Carlisle Castle photo gallery.

Throughout these centuries Carlisle was physically in a terrible state: ravaged by wars, it became little more than a collection of hovels. Investment in permanent and handsome buildings would only have invited the certain prospect of destruction in the next savage raid.

Then came the Black Death. The ravages of the Black Death were followed by savage Scots sieges in 1380, 1385 and 1387, and then by a devastating fire in 1391.

Thereafter the English King Henry V's wars with France led to a few years of uneasy peace between Scotland and England. During the Wars of the Roses in England the citizens of Carlisle sided with the Yorkists and ejected the Lancastrian garrison from the Castle. As a reward for their loyalty the Yorkist King Edward gave the City a new Charter.

In 1463 even the sporadic fighting between Scotland and England came to an end, largely thanks to the efforts of the Duke of Gloucester, based in Penrith and later to become King Richard III so misleadingly portrayed by Shakespeare.

The Duke built a hunting lodge with his badge upon it, which still stands in Devonshire Walk in Penrith.

In 1509 Henry VIII of England reopened hostilities with Scotland, and these persisted in the shape of vicious Border raid and counter-raid for the next 50 years. Carlisle Castle and its defences were strengthened by a handsome gun battery in 1541, to the design of the famous German military architect Stefan von Haschenberg.

By the time of Henry's death in 1547 the absurdity of the continuing conflict at national level was becoming so clear that in 1552 a conference set about clearing up the problems which appeared to separate the two sides. Thus came about the end of the last 'official' war between the neighbouring countries.

However, the cross-border raiding which had been the main feature of the wars throughout history continued in the shape of brigandage. The so-called Border Reivers (or Riding Clans or Surnames), alliance of families on either

(and in some cases both)

sides of the Border, continued to raid each other in conditions of indescribable violence and cruelty. Words which have since entered into the language now appeared for the first time, such as 'blackmail' and rustling'.

Deadly feuds between families persisted in unabated savagery for decades, and kept the flames of tribal hatred alive long after reason prescribed peace and co-operation.

Carlisle Cathedral. See the Carlisle Cathedral photo gallery.

This period provided the setting for the mawkish romanticism of the Border Ballads and some of the novels and poems of Sir Walter Scott.

Fictional brave deeds were thus enshrined in the national mythologies to obscure the abysmal misery in which the poor peasants on both sides of the Border lived and died.

Even after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, after which the two countries shared the same King, the brigandage continued.

In 1561 Carlisle received a set of bye-laws dealing with the security of the city and the appalling state of its sanitary arrangements: these were written down in the 'Dormont Book' part of which survives in the Old Town Hall.

Around this time also, horse-racing began in the area, and two of the oldest horse-race prizes in the world - the Carlisle Bells' - date from this time. Despite these signs of progress, Carlisle had to be defended against the depredations of Scots raiders, and improvements to the city defences continued to be made.

In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots fled to England and was imprisoned in the Castle for six weeks while her cousin Queen Elizabeth I considered what to do about this threat, as she suspected, to her position. The rest is history.

1597 saw the Treaty of Carlisle between England and Scotland, designed to put an end to Border squabbles, in which it was only partially effective. But it also addressed the poverty of the citizens who had suffered so much from the ravages of the raiders and from centuries of warfare and destruction.

Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by James VI of Scotland (and I of England) the son of Mary Queen of Scots. James had long been familiar with the Border troubles, but as King of Scotland had been as ineffective, though possibly more conscientious than, his cousin Elizabeth in attempting to impose order on the Riding names.

He put the Border under the supervision of a Royal Commission which not surprisingly reported that if it were not for the activities of a relatively few families Carlisle and the lands around it would be more peaceful.

As a result James ordered the exile of a number of Border clans to Ireland and elsewhere. From this time stems the propagation of some of the most typical Border surnames to countries all over the English-speaking world.

Charles I, son of James, gave Carlisle a new Charter in 1637. In 1642 the English Civil War broke out and Carlisle declared its loyalty to the Crown. Retribution followed.

In 1644, General Lesley with a Scots army siding with the Parliamentarians laid siege to the city. The citizens held out for eight months against Lesley's destruction by fire and cannon of their defences, homes and livestock, but starvation after their diet of horse meat, dogs and rats ran out drove them to surrender.

Though retaken by the Royalists in 1648, the city was recaptured by Parliament later the same year. By this time Carlisle was devastated, its cathedral, walls and houses in ruins, and the end of the war in 1648 brought a merciful few years for recovery.

In 1707 the Act of Union united England and Scotland as Great Britain, with a common Parliament as well as a common Crown, though their respective systems of law and justice were preserved. The Act was never popular with the majority of Scots.

Eventually this discontent was reflected in Scottish support in 1715 for the Jacobite Rebellion. The object of which was to restore the Scottish dynasty of the Stewarts to the joint throne from which it had been deposed in the person of King James II of England and VII of Scotland during the English 'Glorious Revolution' in 1688.

The leader of the Rebellion was James, known as 'The Old Pretender', son of James II and VII and referred to as James III. The Rebellion faded for lack of support south of the Border.

The citizens of Carlisle for once chose the winning side by imprisoning all of their number suspected of having Jacobite sympathies.

Thereafter a more settled time began, and some of the buildings from this date still exist, notably the Old Town Hall in the city centre.

But trouble from Scotland loomed once more with the landing on the west coast of the Old Pretenders son Charles Edward ('The Young Pretender' / 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'), in July 1745.

He raised the Jacobite standard once more and after a series of successful manoeuvres in Scotland, he and his small army reached Carlisle in early November. Carlisle surrendered without a fight, the city militia deserted and the citizens panicked.

Charles Edward's progress into England faltered and stopped at Derby for lack of the support expected from the Jacobite families in Lancashire. He retired northwards, pursued by the Duke of Cumberland, and retreated through Carlisle, which surrendered to the Duke after two days of heavy pounding by cannon.

Savage and often unjust judgement followed for the citizens and garrison who had welcomed Charles Edward, and the severed heads of those executed remained impaled on spikes on the city walls until as late as 1766.

Carlisle was the last city in England to be besieged in war.

The years which followed saw the development of such manufactures as textile spinning and weaving, fish hooks, whips, candles and soap. In the 1750s new roads were built between Newcastle and Carlisle, and between Carlisle and the rapidly expanding west coast ports of Maryport, Whitehaven, Workington and Silloth.

Around the turn of the century Telford and Macadam engineered main roads into Scotland to replace the miry trackways of the reivers.

In 1838 the railway from Newcastle was opened after ten years of construction. A canal from Port Carlisle to the north west of the city, on the Solway Firth, led to a brief period of shipbuilding, but it soon closed and was replaced later by a railway.

Indeed it was the railway which secured the future of the city - at one time no less than 8 busy lines centred on Carlisle, and six of them remain in operation today.

This rapid expansion of industry and therefore population was not matched by the prosperity of the inhabitants.

In 1812 living conditions were so bad that hunger riots occurred. In 1819 the weavers of Carlisle petitioned the Prince Regent to be sent to America to escape the terrible conditions in which they lived and worked.

As late as 1838 a further enquiry into their plight was ordered, huddled as they were in 'Warrens' of insanitary hovels.

In the middle of the C19 up to 25,000 people had only 5,000 houses to live in, herded together with animal houses, slaughter houses and communal lavatories all with open drains running between them.

Only in the last years of the century did matters improve with the erection of hundreds of new houses to the west of the city walls.

Since then the balance between material progress and general prosperity has been established. The twentieth century has been one of continual improvement for the city and its people over the conditions of its harrowing past of centuries of war, fire and destruction. Today it is a peaceful and friendly town.

Carlisle's diminutive size (for a city) adds to its charm. Why not come and spend a fascinating holiday exploring the museums and historic locations in Cumbria.