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Historic County of England

Image right - County flag of Cumberland - By Hogweard - Own work, Public Domain, Wiki Commons
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  • Administrative centre Carlilse
  • County Flower - Grass-of-Parnassus (Cumbria)
  • People from Cumberland are called - Cumbrian

Cumberland was a an historic county of England. The county of Cumbria was created in 1974 from the traditional counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, the Cumberland County Borough of Carlisle, along with the North Lonsdale or Furness part of Lancashire, usually referred to as "Lancashire North of the Sands", (including the county borough of Barrow-in-Furness) and, from the West Riding of Yorkshire, the Sedbergh Rural District. Its strategic authority is Cumbria County Council.

This project concentrates on the former historic county of Cumberland in the North West of England which bordered Northumberland to the east, County Durham to the southeast, Westmorland and Lancashire to the south, and Dumfriesshire in Scotland to the north. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 (excluding Carlisle from 1914) and now forms, along with Westmorland and parts of historic northern Lancashire, Cumbria. Link to follow

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 Scotland although some villages in the far south west, which were the possessions of the Earl of Northumbria, were included in the Yorkshire section with the Furness region.

The name was first recorded as Cumbriland in 945.

The area is a landscape of moors and high fells - harsh, heathery uplands delivering magnificent scenery. The barrier between Scotland and Cumberland was formed by the Pennines. The highest point of the county was Scafell Pike at 3,208 feet (978 m); it is the highest mountain in England.

The northern portion around Carlisle, is generally flat or undulating, the soil consisting principally of dry loam. In the South the country becomes more and more rugged and barren, featuring short green turf, with grey rocks cropping out here and there; the only fences are "stone dikes" - walls of loose stones, about 5 feet high.

The highest mountains are in the South West where some of the largest and most beautiful lakes and waterfalls in England are found. Here the soil is frequently boggy, alternating with mossy gravel, covered to a large extent with heather. On the sides of the smaller hills, however, there is a fair proportion of good, dry, brown loam, very suitable for cultivation. The more elevated districts are used mostly for pasturage. The cattle are of both the long and short horned and the Galloway breeds; the sheep chiefly belong to the native class, called "Herdwicks", of a rather small size, with speckled faces and legs, and short coarse wool.

The principal lakes were, Ulleswater, Thirlemere, Bassenthwaite Water, Derwentwater, Buttermere, Crummock Water, Loweswater, Ennerdale, and Wastwater. Ulleswater is the largest measuring 9 miles long by 1 mile wide. The others vary from 1 mile to 4 miles in length, and from half a mile to 1 mile wide. All are very deep; Wastwater is the deepest at 270 feet.

The name Cumberland continues in use as a geographical and cultural term, and it survives in Cumberland sausages, the HMS Cumberland, which is nicknamed "The fighting sausage", the Cumberland County Cricket Club, the Cumberland Fell Runners Club, the 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.

The Earldom of Carlisle was divided into baronies, but on the creation of the county these were replaced by wards. These took the place of hundreds found in most other English counties, and originated in military subdivisions organised for the defence of the county from incursions by Scottish troops.

The Wards of Cumberland were:

  • Eskdale
  • Cumberland
  • Leath
  • Allerdale above Derwent
  • Allerdale below Derwent


Map of Cumberland showaing wards, 1824; by George Carrington Gray - Gray's Book of Roads, Public Domain, Wiki Common

The first three, with the city of Carlisle, formed the division called East Cumberland; the others formed West Cumberland; each division returned two members to the House of Commons. There were three parliamentary boroughs, Carlisle and Cockermouth, which returned two members each, and Whitehaven, which returned one. There were 106 parishes (see map below), and 18 market towns:

  • Carlisle, where the assizes, and Easter and Midsummer sessions, were held;
  • Cockermouth and Penrith, where the Epiphany and Michaelmas sessions were held;
  • Whitehaven,
  • Wigton,
  • Alston,
  • Bootle,
  • Brampton,
  • Longtown,
  • Aspatria,
  • Egremont,
  • Hesket-Newmarket,
  • Ireby,
  • Keswick,
  • Kirkoswald,
  • Maryport,
  • Ravenglass, and
  • Workington.

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Parish Map


Image from The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers 1984.

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