Records of Holm Cultram.
I. Physical Character.
The Holm district is a westerly extension of the plain of
Carlisle. It differs in general aspect from the rest of Cumberland
by the absence of stones and rocks, which creates a scenery the
reverse of rugged and makes building material scarce. The rock
lies at a great depth and forms the floor of a depression known to
geologists as the Carlisle basin, an underground valley filled with
looser soils. This extends from Maryport on the west to Hethersgill on the east, the southern boundary of the basin running
through Plumbland and south of Wigton and Dalston to Brampton, and on the north it reaches beyond Annan and as far as
Canobie. The late T. V. Holmes, F.G.S., in 1883 recorded borings
which show its actual depth (Transactions, Cumberland Association, vol. viii, pp. 19ff.)—at Kelsick Moss near Abbeytown,
198 ft. 6 ins.; at Bowness-on-Solway, 41 ft.; at Lynehow, below
Westlinton, 36 ft. 3 ins.; and at Garlands Asylum, 28 ft. At
Kelsick Moss the beds traversed were sandy and gravelly to a
depth of 92 ft.; below that, to the rock floor, was mainly clay.
At Garlands the borings found 26 ft. of sand and gravel with 2 ft.
of clay beneath.
The floor of the basin is St. Bees sandstone, overlaid in the
southern and western area with gypseous shales. The whole of the
north-eastern part has been planed down by denudation and
further depressed by a fault with the downthrow to the north,
running from Brackenbank on the Eden to about Dalston. The
surface of the Holm, therefore, lies far above the rocks which are
so conspicuous in the scenery to the south and east, and its only
stones are glacier-borne boulders.
Further information was obtained in the making of the Silloth
dock, recorded by Dr. J. Leitch (the same Transactions, 1885,
vol. ix, p. 170). From the surface downwards the formations
were:—(a) blown sand, about 8 ft.; (b) layers of sand and gravel,
altogether 8 to 10 ft., in which was a shell-beach about 2 ft. deep
at about 11 ft. from the surface; the shells were of species at
present existing in British waters; (c) gravel, 10 ft. thick; and
(d) to a depth of at least 30 ft. though not probed further, red and
sandy clay containing great waterworn boulders from Criffel,
Ennerdale and other sources. Of fossil remains were found Red
deer (Cervus elaphus), the extinct Ox (Bos primigenius) and a Fin
whale of a species of Balaenoptera still existing. All the mammalian remains were in the gravel, mainly at about 28 feet and
just above the boulder-clay.
An ancient raised beach was traced by Messrs. R. Russell and
T. V. Holmes between Workington and Bowness (the same
Transactions, part. ii, p. 68; 1876–7), pointing to an elevation of
the land like that which has been observed on the Scottish coast
north of the Solway. From Workington it stretches almost
continuously to Silloth. Between Silloth and Grune point there
extends along the coast a gravel ridge, on the east of which the
land is some 4 or 5 feet below its level. North of Moricambe Bay a
similar ridge runs through Cardurnock and Herd Hill to a point
just west of the Solway viaduct. The general elevation of this
beach is 20 to 25 ft., occasionally rising to 40 ft. It is apparently
the result of a very gradual rise of the land, taking place before
historical times, followed by a slight depression. Messrs. Russell
and Holmes, with other writers, thought that the marsh between
Drumburgh and Burgh was lower in Roman times than at present,
and that—as it was under water—the Wall was not carried across
this stretch of country. But Professor Haverfield, after considerable exploration, decided against the view that the Wall had run
to the south of the present coast-line; and as he could not believe
that this part was undefended, he said that he would not reject the
view that the Wall had been continuous between Burgh and
Drumburgh, although its existence there had not been proved
(C. & W. Antiq. Soc., Transactions, o.s. xvi, 96). This would
mean that the marsh has been formed since Roman times; and it
may be remarked that submerged forests from St. Bees to Skinburness, and ploughed ground close to the shore at Skinburness—
not to mention the inundation of about 1303, of which later—give
good reason for believing that the erosion has been continued or
repeated within the historical period. Whether this is the result
of actual subsidence of the land is not clear; the opinion of
geologists has negatived such a theory, but there has been considerable loss of foreshore all along this coast.
II. Prehistoric Ages.
The late Mr. Steel of Southerfield owned a collection of stone and
bronze relics which were dispersed after his death, and no list is
known. It perhaps included the stone implements, celts, etc. and
the bronze spear-head from Southerfield shown at Carlisle in 1859
at the visit of the Royal Archaeological Institute, and named by
Chancellor Ferguson in his Archaeological Survey of Cumberland,
1893. Other objects mentioned by the same were stone hammers,
polished celts and a stone adze from Mawbray, and polished celts
from Newtown of Mawbray (Proceedings, Society of Antiquaries,
N.S. viii, 493–4).
The Ordnance Map notes:—a stone hammer, found S.W. of St.
Roche's in 1873; a celt, found halfway between Hayrigg Hall and
Gillbank in 1890; a stone axe found 200 yards west of Mireside in
1898; a spearhead found half a mile S.S.E. of Aldoth in 1898; and
an arrow-head, found half a mile S. of Aldoth in 1899. And in
1916 a stone axe-hammer, 10½ ins. long, was found south of the
railway near Causeway head (C. & W. Ant. Soc., Transactions,
N.S. xvii, 254) and is now in the Carlisle Museum.
There are no hut-circles or other British remains known in the
parish. The nearest were three "British Settlements," now
obliterated by agriculture, between West Newton and Newtonfield, close to the southern border of the Holm.
There are also no British place-names in the Holm. Rivers are
usually called by the names given to them in remote antiquity,
showing some continuity of tradition in spite of invasion and alien
settlement; but here we have only the Waver, written Waura in a
charter dating soon after 1150, and Wafyr in Earl Gospatrick's
charter of about 1060. Professor Ekwall (Place-names of Lancashire, 112, 229) comes to no conclusion about its derivation;
waver in place-names connected with water is wide-spread, but
may be of O.E. (Anglo-Saxon) origin and cannot be claimed as one
of the ancient British river-names, so far as our information goes
III. Roman Remains.
Roman occupation left one important relic, the fort at Beckfoot,
Mawbray. Its site was more or less conjectural until 1879, when
Mr. Joseph Robinson of Maryport made a partial exploration.
He found the remains lying chiefly in the third field west from
Beckfoot mill. Mr. Robinson described his finds (C. and W. Ant.
Soc., Transactions, o.s. v, 139) in these terms:—
"A hole six feet in depth was dug. The first obstacle was a
pavement of cobbles. I preserved the first dug up and it is much
worn on the surface. Underneath was a bed of black earth mixed
with slate, pottery and stones bearing signs of work and fire; at
3 feet sand was reached, and 18 inches beneath this a block of welldressed freestone was brought up. We afterwards found this
part of the field to consist largely of such layers as are here described . … The four corners of the camp [read fort] have all
been found and uncovered, and thus we have its dimensions, viz—
interior, east and west, 405 ft.; north and south on west side 283
ft., on east side 267 ft. The area of the camp is about 2¾ acres …
It has no gate on the west or seaward side and the gates on the
north and south sides are nearer the west gate of the camp than
the east. There is a gate in the east or landward side. Two
guard chambers occur at the south gate and two at the east, but
only one at the north. The walls are each 2 ft. 6 ins. in thickness
and the interior space nine feet square; buildings have existed
outside the camp to the north-east, and probably elsewhere."
At the south-western corner of the fort were found an altar
measuring 17 ins. by 7 ins. and bearing a figure of Diana (now no.
146 in the Carlisle Museum, given by Mr. Thomas Carey in 1914);
a mutilated Victory; three querns; a coin of Trajan, much worn,
and one of Constantine; two copper beads; fragments of copper
and iron; a round stone, 11 ins. in diameter, with a hole near the
edge; also Samian, Castor, Upchurch and Salopian ware. The
carved stone mentioned in Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, ii,
346, Mr. Robinson re-found in 1880 built as a gatepost into a wall;
it is given in Lapidarium Septentrionale as no. 903; in Huebner's
Corpus vii, no. 417; and it is now at Netherhall, no. 25 in Mr.
J.B. Bailey's Catalogue. The stone, broken in two, is 5ft. long,
with an inscription in letters 3 ins high,—]LIA . PRAEF . COH . II .
PANNON . FECIT, which is the conclusion of a statement that a
certain piece of building at Beckfoot fort had been done under the
care of an officer of the second cohort of Pannonians.
In 1908 there was found near this fort a large, narrow-necked
store-vessel (olla), 10½ ins. high, now in the Carlisle Museum.
Messrs. T. May and L. E. Hope (C. & W. Trans., N.S. xvii, 173)
say that such vessels, of Belgic origin, ornamented with cordons,
raised bands, comb-markings, etc., and with a black polish, date
until near the end of the first century A. D.
In 1921 Mr. Harold Duff presented to the same museum pottery
found by him in the sand-dunes near Beckfoot, including many
fragments of Castor ware. One of these is part of a beaker with
ornament of stems and leaves en barbotine. Another is a nearly
complete cooking-pot, 8 ins. high, of brown ware, with lattice
ornament; this has been said to date from the first century before
Christ, but Mr. R. G. Collingwood remarks that in form it is
identical with the ordinary cooking-pot of the second century A.D.
In 1922 further specimens were given by Mr. Duff to the
museum, including roof-tiles, rims of mortaria and cooking-pots,
Castor ware and part of a white clay flagon coated with black slip.
He also found at Beckfoot iron nails, half a silver ring which had
been subjected to fire, pieces of carved bone (perhaps from a
knife-handle) and much charcoal mixed with the debris, suggesting cremations and burials on the sandhills. In 1925 Mr. Duff
found the fragments of a Samian vessel, shape 33, with potter's
stamp dagomorvs, probably made about A.D. 110–120, and a
small brass of Carausius, A.D. 287–293.
The second field to northward of the fort yields large quantities
of pottery and tiles, and may therefore be the site of the vicus
outside the fort.
About 80 ft. from the northern end of the seaward wall, a
T-shaped structure of large red-sandstone blocks was found,
measuring 4 ft. 9 ins. by 5 ft. 5 ins. Its position, Mr. R. G.
Collingwood says, forbids the supposition that it was the spina of
a gateway, and it may have been a base for a statue or altar.
More information is needed before it can be said when the fort
at Beckfoot was first established, but it certainly existed in the
second century A.D. It was ruined and burnt at least once, and
rebuilt to survive until the time of Constantine.
This is the only fort or great Roman station in the Holm, but
there are several other places where Roman remains have been
found, and such discoveries have caused some confusion in the
past, when every site yielding relics was supposed to have been a
'station' and every 'station' a garrison-fort. In the next
paragraphs we give the interpretation of these, as recently
suggested by Mr. R. G. Collingwood.
Mr. Robinson in 1879 found remains in a field belonging to New
House farm adjoining Wolsty Bank, a little under a mile from
Beckfoot fort and about half a mile to the west of Wolsty Castle.
The tenant had noticed that he got better crops on a small hill than
on the neighbouring land, and digging there exposed the remains of
a square building. The whole of the freestone had been removed,
leaving foundations of cobbles, eight courses set in clay, altogether
3 ft. 3 ins. deep. The corners were towards the cardinal points.
The wall facing north-east measured 20 ft. 6 ins. externally and
was 4 ft. thick. The entrance appeared to be on the south-east,
as a rough pavement, 6 ft. by 4 ft., was outside the wall. The
interior, 12 ft. 6 ins. each way, had not been paved, but the floor
was about a foot below the modern ground-level. Samian,
Upchurch and Salopian pottery was found, and traces of a burial
near the doorway, covered by fragments of a dish of Upchurch
ware. The size of the building, Mr Robinson said, resembled
others at Risehow (near Flimby; C. & W. Trans. o.s. v, 124) and
Campfield near Bowness.
On this it is to be remarked that better crops would not result
from ruins of stone walls, but presumably from a ditch surrounding them. This suggests that the building was a Roman signalstation, consisting of a stone tower surrounded by a ditch and
palisade, resembling therefore the second-century Wachttiirme of
the German Limes and intermediate in type between the small
wooden signal-towers at Gask and thelarge stone towers, 30 ft.
square internally, on the Yorkshire coast. This site, together
with Risehow and others, indicates a hitherto unrecognised
system of Roman signal-stations on the Cumberland coast.
Further, a find of coins was made in 1894 at Cotebank, half a
mile south-west of Skinburness; and the altar (Huebner, Corpus
vii, 418) described in 1866 by Dr. J. Collingwood Bruce as 10 ins.
high with an inscription matribvs parcis ('to the Mother Fates,'
like no. 35 in the Carlisle Museum) was found among boulders on
the coast near Skinburness (it is now in the British Museum).
These finds have suggested a Roman fort at Skinburness; but
Mr. Harold Duff has recently made careful search in that neighbourhood without finding anything to justify this belief, even
allowing for coast-erosion. This may perhaps be another signalsite, one of a series to watch the coast when invasion from Ireland
As to Roman roads in the Holm, Mr. Robinson discovered one
running west in the direction of Maryport, and traced it eastwards
for 430 yards towards the mill. It was composed of large cobbles
with smaller stones on the top, and measured 15 ft. in width.
The Causewayhead, running N.E. and S.W. through the parish,
used to be thought the Roman road between Beckfoot and
Bowness (Whellan, p. 238), but of this we cannot offer any
Finally, in 1920 Mr. Duff observed a rectangular enclosure on
the shore, 400 yards below high-water-mark and 500 yards west of
Mawbray Yard. It is made of rough granite boulders and
measures 106 yards from N.W. to S.E. by at least 99 yards,
an N.E. side not having been located. There is nothing to show
that this is Roman. Perhaps it may be compared with the fishgarth at St. Bees described by Mr. F. W. Smith (C. & W. Trans.
N.S. xxiv, 368).
IV. The Anglian Period.
In the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., after the period of direct
Roman government, no doubt the Romano-British remained in
Cumberland. We have, however, not only no traces in the Holm
of habitations that can be ascribed to them, but place-names
indicating their presence are wanting. This may have been the
result of the exposed site of the Holm, liable to attack from the
unquiet Irish Sea, and especially open to the first inroads of the
Vikings in the ninth century. That the Angles, coming by land
from Yorkshire, did not exterminate the native Britons, is seen
by the presence of Brythonic place-names in north-eastern
Cumberland and in the Eamont valley, where there are many,
and to some extent in the country between the Holm and Carlisle,
and south of the Holm as far as Eskdale (Prof. Ekwall, Scandinavians and Celts in the N.W. of England, 1918).
As to the time of the Anglian settlement, we know from Bede's
account of St. Cuthbert's visit to Carlisle (Life of St Cuthbert,
chap. xxvii) that in 685 there was already a monastery in that
city, the abbess of which was the queen's sister. Bede says also
that the saint himself had come there to dedicate the church of
another monastery. This means that Carlisle was a considerable
place; it must have been Anglian for some time. Now from the
philology of the place-names Professor Ekwall concludes (English
Place-names in -ing, 1923, p. 157) that though "we do not know
for certain when Cumberland became Anglian … it is quite
possible the southern, like the northern, part was added to
Northumbria by Æthelfrith (593–617)." That is to say, Æthelfrith perhaps overcame any resistance offered by the natives;
and after that, Angles began to settle. The names of Addingham,
Hensingham and Whicham (anciently Witingham) are of a type
suggesting settlement early in the seventh century, so that there
must have been at least two generations of Anglian colonization
round the Cumberland coast before St. Cuthbert's visit.
We have a possible trace of their presence in the Holm. In the
'Recapitulation' appended to the History by Symeon of Durham
(Surtees Society, vol. 51, pp. 67–8) an entry under the year 854
mentions places belonging to the bishopric of Lindisfarne. Beginning with "Lugubalia, that is Luel, now called Carleil," it goes
on to "these mansions, Carnham (Carham) and Culterham" and
others. The late J. Hodgson Hinde, editor of the volume, identified the last with Holm Cultram. There is nothing we know
either to support or to dispute the identification; (fn. 1) but it is, at
any rate, possible that (Holm) Cultram was already in the ninth
century an estate belonging to the see of Lindisfarne, as Cartmel
was—not a monastery but a possession of the bishopric. This
would give an explanation of the difficult name as originally the
homestead (ham) of an Angle, perhaps named Ceolthryth; and the
derivation is much more likely than others that have been
proposed from Latin. When, in 1150, 'Holmcoltria' was given
to the monks, it was already so called; it was wild forest and
hunting-ground, anything but cultivated; it could hardly have
been known by a Latin name as culta terra or cultura.
The other place in the Holm which seems to betray Anglian
occupation is Mawbray, in 1150 'Mayburg.' This may be
'mægburg' (found in Beowulf, line 2887) meaning a tribe or clan,
and in this case used for a family settlement.
The Holm in Anglian days must have been a poor place. No
remains of carved stones are known to show the burial of wealthy
persons, as at Carlisle, Irton, Waberthwaite and elsewhere.
V. The Viking Settlement and the Place-Names.
The Danish conquest of eastern Northumbria did not touch this
district, which continued as it was for another fifty years until, in
the first quarter of the tenth century, the Vikings, who had often
raided the coast, began to settle on it. Their earlier raids are
shown by the pagan burial of a chief at Beacon Hill, Aspatria, in
the barrow explored in 1789, and in another at Hesket, of which
the relics are in the Carlisle Museum. The silver fibula found at
Brayton before 1790, when Pennant published it (Tour, ii, 44), is
further evidence of the Vikings in this neighbourhood. When
they settled, at first already half-christianized, they left one
interesting monument at Aspatria, in the rude grave-slab with a
swastika, the form of cross they had learnt from contact with
Eastern Christianity. Later, and in the second half of the tenth
century, they set up their monuments at Aspatria, Crosscanonby,
Bromfield, Dearham, Plumbland, Bridekirk, Brigham and elsewhere, round about the Holm, though none have been found in
the Holm itself. Across the Solway their traces are plentiful; so
that the Holm was the centre of a great area of Viking occupation,
and could hardly escape their presence.
They were of Norse origin, but much mixed with Gaelic Celts,
from Ireland, Man and the Hebrides; and their language was Old
Norse. Where they settled, they left their place-names; and in
the Holm we find them. Only a few show evidence of the
original early settlements as indicated by purity of the Norse
forms; for during the twelfth century the language became
changed by mixture with English, and developed into the
dialect of Cumberland, from which most of the names in
the Holm are given. We can pick out some that appear
to be of the tenth or eleventh century:—Raby (Rabi in
1150) is obviously of this type; rá means a boundary or
landmark, and Lindqvist and Ekwall, who are both authoritative, agree that this is the best interpretation of a not uncommon word. Skinburness is the promontory of the 'Skinburg,' so named in 1175, and this in Old Norse might mean the
'shining fort,' suggesting a beacon, which was not impossible in
the eleventh century as shown by instances in Orkney (Orkneyinga-saga, capp. 71, 74) though it is hardly possible that any
tradition of a Roman signal-station remained; the site, however,
would be still one where history could repeat itself. Edderside
looks like the usual form in -side for O.N. sætr, a shieling, though
the name does not occur before 1537; Professor Sedgefield
(Place-names of C. & W., 46) suggests the Anglian personal name
Eadhere, and it is conceivable that an Englishman kept the
Norse lord's herds there. Holm for 'island' is Norse, adopted
late into Anglo-Saxon; in this case it describes the island, always
in Latin insula, cut off by the Holm and Black Dubs from the
mainland. Arlosh (in 1185 Arlosk) was a waterlogged district;
just possibly from some such phrase as O.N. ár-löskr, the sluggish
(reach) of the river (Wampool).
The condition of the Holm in the twelfth century is hinted by
the charter of 1150, which mentions Holmcoltria and Rabi as
forest, i.e. uncultivated. In 25 years more, the monks had
established granges at sites with names suggesting former settlement. They were the Old Grange, most probably at Sandenhouse near the abbey, Mawbray, Skinburg, Rabi, and the grange
de Ternis, of the Tarns (O.N. tjörn). Arlosh is not named until
1185. In 1189 the charter of Richard Cæur-de-Lion gives the
names of Cocklayc on the Wampool ('haunt of wild fowl'),
Cromboc or Crombroc, i.e. Crummock beck (from crum, crooked,
with alternatively O.N. bekkr or O.E. bröc, brook; Eyntrepot or
Antrepot, 'one tree pool' on the Waver; St. Laurence holm (now
Lawrenceholme) on an island in Wedholme marshes, perhaps a
hermitage; Midelrigg (now Mealrigg); Polneuton, the stream
running through Westnewton; Waytheholm (now Wedholme)
which might be O.N. veidi-hólmr,' island (preserved) for hunting';
Wytheskeld, O.N. vídis-kelda, 'spring of the willow,' the source
of a tributary of the Crummock beck. All these show the generally
uncultivated condition of the country in the twelfth century, as
well as the survival of Norse as the basis of Cumbrian dialect.
Wolsty is mentioned 1348, originally perhaps O.N. Ulfs-stigi,
the 'path (?) of one Wolf,' like Swinsty in the Holm, 'of Swein,'
and Thorphinsty in Cartmel fell, 'of Thorfinn.' Kingside hill was
Kyngesete in 1292, before the visit of Edward I, to which it is
popularly referred; Professor Sedgefield compares Kinniside in
West Cumberland and explains it as the sætr or summer dairy of
one Kenneth, O.N. Kinadr. Swaby was Swaleby in 1268, which
looks like O.N. Svö-býr, the 'house of Swallow,' used as a
woman's name. Ellerby, 1292, might be the 'farm of alders.'
In the Dissolution Surveys occur places which seem to be of
medieval origin (the list in Nicolson & Burn ii, 177–8). Abbey
Cowbier and New Cowper (Cow-byre); Acredale (the commonfields); Aldoth (printed Adlath by N. & B.) is perhaps the
Aldelathe, or 'old barn' of about 1230 in Register no. 234 (Rev.
W. Baxter, Trans. N.S. xiv, 276); Blatterlees or Blitterlees,
possibly from 'blitter,' the bittern; Brownrigg; Calfehow
(Calvo); Coats; Dubmylne (Dubmill); Fowlesyke (Foulsyke);
Hayrigg (the ridge with the hedge or fence round it);
Hielaws; Mireside; Moss side; New parke (parrock or close);
Pollathow, 'pool-lathe-how,' now Pelutho; Plasket lands, in
early Court rolls Plassegaytt, 'path through a wash'; Saltcoates;
Sevehill or Sivill (Seaville), 'hill of sieves or rushes'; Selathe
(1299), Silleth, Silloth, perhaps 'sea-lathe' or barn by the sea;
Sowterfield (Southerfield), possibly 'shoemaker's field,' for
'field' is English, and the O.N. sauda, 'of sheep' is unlikely here.
Sandenhouse cannot be from 'sand,' of which there is none; an
explanation has still to be found.
Grune point is mentioned in 1567 as 'Groyne.' The Oxford
English Dictionary quotes a statement that in 1367 Corunna in
Spain was called "le Groyne, like a swine's snout [sticking out]
into the sea, where they entered the land." This seems to explain the name. Goody hills was known in 1580 as Guddihills;
the neighbourhood of God's house law (see chapter XII) makes
one suspect a corruption.
A few names may be ancient, but we have no forms old enough
to be certain about them. Aikshaw would be good Norse, eikskógr, for oak-wood. Angerton in Arlosh, like the place of the
same name in Furness, looks like O.N. (but not Icelandic) angr,
as in Hardanger, Stavanger, with tún, 'farmstead.' Cunninggarth is said by some to represent O.N. Konungs-gardr, 'king's
court,' but it has no s and this very common word is usually
from M.E. conyng-erthe, 'rabbit-warren' (O.E.D.). Professor
Sedgefield interprets Lowsay as 'Laghi's island.' Overby was
Outhby in 1580; possibly 'Aud's farm.' Slightholme might be
O.N. slêtt-hôlmr, 'meadow-island,' and Troddersyke perhaps O.N.
tradar-sik, 'sike of the cattle-pen.' Waitefield may be named
from a person, but the medieval Watelands in Salkeld (Prescott,
Wetherhal, p. 373) and Waitewra in Whitbeck (c. 1200, Cockersand
Chartulary) are to be considered, and they seem to suggest
'wheat,' in spite of the lost aspirate.
The rest of the place-names in the parish are either modern or
to be understood at their face-value. What we learn from the
survey is that none are British, unless very doubtfully the rivername Waver; two are Anglian; a few are relics of the Norse
settlement. In the twelfth century we find the country something
like a wilderness, which was only gradually brought into cultivation by the monks, under whose management it became
habitable and profitable.