W. Nicholls.

The history and traditions of Ravenstonedale, Westmorland online

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LONDON : Simpkin, Marshall, & Co. KIRKBY STEPHEN : J. W. Braithwalte.
APPLEBY : J. Whitehead. PENRITH : J. Hodgson. KENDAL : Atkinson & Pollitt,
and E. Gill. SEDBERGH : Jackson & Sons. SETTLE : Wildman & Son. HAWES :
J. Hunter.



I HAD intended to publish my researches into the various features of
the traditions and history of Ravenstonedale, rearranged, and composed
in a written rather than a spoken style ; but, after mature consideration,
I have determined, for several reasons, to present my lectures to the
public in the style in which they were delivered, except that they have
undergone careful revision, and several additions have been made to
them which could not be introduced when they were delivered for want
of time. I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of expressing my
obligations to the Rev. R. Robinson, of Mallerstang ; Mr. John
Robinson, of Ash Fell, who is in possession of some of the most
important MSS. ; but most of all to Mr. A. Metcalfe, of Park House,
wno was my chairman each evening, and through whose invariable
kindness; and courtesy I have been able to obtain much of the information
contained in the following lectures. To my critics I may say that I am
responsible for the blunders, and that my rushing into print has not
arisen from the cacoethes scribendi of which one has so often heard, and
the disease from which one would wish to be free, but from the desire
to comply with the unanimous request of a crowded audience to which
the last lecture was delivered, and to preserve, if possible, in a permanent
form, facts and traditions which might otherwise be lost to the finest
drag-net of any chronicler who might come at all remotely after me.
The following record is a contribution to English history, although an
atom, still an atom, and so a part of the mass, and thus furnishing the
reader with an insight into the self-contained and independent rule in
some of the more highly favoured dales, such as Ravenstonedale was.

In the Appendix the reader will find some notes containing valuable
information. My aim has been to notice the facts connected with the
parish which have been hitherto unrecorded.

The Manse, Sept. i^th, 1877.


Lecture 1 7

Lecture II 40

Lecture III 78

Appendix 103

List of Subscribers , 123


"N presenting you with the history of Ravenstonedale I
shall first attempt the etymology of its name by noticing
the different derivations which have been suggested,
and then furnishing you with the one which I accept,
together with my reasons for accepting it.

The derivation given by Burns and Nicholson, in their
" History of Westmorland," is that our Dale takes its name
from a brook flowing through it, called the Raven; but,
after careful inquiry and the examination of the oldest MSS.
of the parish, I cannot learn that there is, or ever has been,
a beck in the dale called by that name. Then another
attempted etymology is that there is a dark grey stone in
our dale called the Raven stone, and for this etymology I
have the influential authority of the Rev. R. Robinson, of
Mallerstang ; but concerning this, too, I have made inquiry,
and cannot find that in Scandale Gill, where it is said to be,
there is any such stone. These are the only two etymologies,
I believe, which have appeared in print, and neither of them
is satisfactory. But some of you with whom I have con-
versed have asked, " Does it not refer to a raven on a stone? "
and, though I was at first sceptical of such an etymology and
was disposed to look for an explanation less manifestly on


the surface, I am now inclined to think that the easiest and
most apparent etymology is the true one. I was not aware
until informed of it by Mr. William Metcalfe, in a note
written to his father on this subject, that the word " Raven-
stone" is used by Lord Byron, but I find it is in the
following passage :

" Do not think

I'll honour you so much as save your throat
From the Ravenstone by choking you myself."

And in a note, explanatory of Ravenstone, Lord Byron says
that " The Ravenstone (Rabenstein) is the stone gibbet of
Germany, and so called from the ravens perching on it."

To this day we have Gallows Hill as a feature in our
dale, where, up to comparatively modern times, capital
punishment was inflicted, and possibly in very early days, of
which we have no historical record, executions were fre-
quent here; and the essential stone was often occupied by
the raven, which is a carrion bird. Hence the distinguishing
name of our dale came to be Ravenstonedale.

Since delivering the preceding, I have received a com-
munication from Mr. Cornelius Nicholson, who is an
authority on such questions. He says, " Rafen-stan-dale
(for that is the true spelling) is one of many names left in
the northern counties of England by the Danes. The
/ and v are interchangeable. The raven was, perhaps still
is, the national symbol of Denmark. It figured, still figures,
I believe, on the national standard, until the standard itself
is called the Rafen. The bird was esteemed to be sacred
in Scandinavia, in pre-Christian times, as the dove was
among the Slavs. In England the raven was held to be a
bird of ill omen, and this arose, I believe, from the terror
with which the Danish standard filled the minds of Picts,


Scots, and Angles, in the piratical invasions of the North-
men. The second syllable would be added to Raven when
the first road was made, and by the same people. Dale is
English and comparatively modern."

This is as much perhaps as can be said of the derivation
of the name of our dale.

We have evidence that in the remote past our dale was
well wooded. Roots are constantly being found in different
parts, wherever there is sufficient soil to preserve them ;
and they are generally found to be those of oaks and firs,
and branches of hazelnut bushes, embedded in mosses, in a
state of wonderful preservation. Then some of our local
names still in use indicate the prevalence of wood.
Thwaite, which means wood, is, you know, a part of several
compound names of places, as, e.g., Adamthwaite, Narth-
thwaite, and Murthwaite. And then I have been informed
that a hill under Green Bell is called Nout-(nut)-berry,
and that nuts covered up in the moss have there been
found. There can be no doubt that the fells which are now
so bare were at one time covered with wood; as, indeed,
only 100 years ago they were covered with ling, and, in con-
firmation of this, Burns (in speaking of the county of West-
morland generally) says, " It is very certain that long after
the Conquest this county was overrun with wood. We read
of nothing but forests, and chases, and parks, and mastage,
and pannage, and vert, and venison, and greenhue, and
regarders, and foresters, and verderers, and a hundred
other names and titles respecting the keeping or preserva-
tion of the woods and game therein. And the reason why
it is now so scarce he ascribes to the fact that it was
industriously destroyed to prevent its affording shelter to
Scotch invaders.


If I may at this point venture a word of suggestion, it is,
that as trees are most useful for protection from storms on
these wind-swept hills, whenever a landowner cuts one down
he should plant two in its stead. It is to me always a
matter of regret to see fine timber prone on wood carts, and
being hauled out of the parish.

Fifty years ago there was a circle of stones on the high
road leading from Kirkby Stephen to Sedbergh, near
Rawthey Bridge, supposed to be a monument of Druid
worship. These stones, I have been informed by Mr. Wm.
Alderson, of Brigg, were blocks of limestone, about three
feet high, and were inconsiderately removed for the purpose
of helping to build the abutment on the Ravenstonedale
side of the present bridge which spans the Rawthey, and
bears date 1822. The holes in which the stones stood are,
however, yet visible, although overgrown with grass. Col-
lectively they form a circle. On Windy Hill, at a still
higher elevation, and against our boundary wall, though
outside of it, there are two barrows, which were opened by
the Rev. Canon Greenwell and others about ten years ago,
in each of which they found a skeleton, one being in a
sitting posture. The skulls were supposed to indicate the
race and period of the Ancient Britons. We know that in
those early times the chiefs ruled each over his own district
with kingly sway, and that when buried the summit of some
lofty hill was chosen that their tombs might be conspicuous.

And now we come to what is perhaps the greatest ancient
curiosity in the dale, although it is one, probably, which
many of you have not noticed the earthen dyke within the
park. It is two miles in circumference, and at the base
fifteen feet wide. When constructed this dyke must have
been nine feet high, and at present it is in several places


six feet. It encloses a rough, rocky, woody gill, together
with a considerable quantity of level land. On close
inspection we find that in its day it was an important work,
for the completion of which in twelve months the labour of
several hundred men would be required. Many theories as
to its design and use have been suggested, and without
giving you all I will mention one or two of the most
probable. One is that the dyke was thrown up for self-
defence. The objection to this conjecture is, that it sets
the assailed at a disadvantage, as in most places the dyke
runs below the crest of the hill. Then, another theory is
that the enclosure was intended for religious purposes, and
so comprises a vast temple. The objection to this is found
first in the dimensions of the enclosure, and secondly in the
rocky nature of the ground enclosed. Another theory, and
the one which to myself seems most probable, is that it was
used as an enclosure for game, whither they were driven and
despatched as they were needed, very much as in Africa
the corrall is used in the present day. For whatever pur-
pos the enclosure was made there is abundant evidence of
its antiquity. Within it there is no ploughed land, although
there is ploughed land outside and right up to it;
and on the ploughed land, too, we have the oldest system
of cultivation, viz., traces of ploughing sideways (crossways),
not up and down, as at present. This system has thrown
the land into very deep ridges, forming, in fact, terraces,
which is to-day the evidence of the style of ploughing at a
very early date. Then there are abundant traces of the
succeeding or modern style of ploughing, which commenced
at an early period, but no trace of either the ancient or
modern style of ploughing exists within the aforesaid dyke,
although, as I have said, on the outside both methods are


seen close against it. Within a few hundred yards of this
important enclosure we come to the foundation of a town,
now called Severals, consisting of many scores of dwellings.
The foundations prove that these dwellings were of a very
primitive construction. The foundation stones, being set up
edgeways, show that the walls of the houses were very low,
and that the ground floor was probably excavated and the
timber then placed on the stones, as it was formerly on old
thatched houses. If the period of the construction of these
dwellings be as far back as the ancient Britons then we
have a corroboration in the writings of Diodorus Siculus,
who says, " The Britons dwelt in wretched cottages, which
were constructed of wood, covered with straw." At the
present day the openings for the doorways are visible, and
there are also traces of the roads leading from the town, as
also of a wall by which it was surrounded, just outside of
which there is a barrow, similar to the one on Windy Hill,
but which has not as yet been opened. The probability is
that it contains the skeleton of the chief of the town or
district. Foundations of other dwelling-houses of the same
period are found in that part of the park grounds. These
foundations have all been found on the dry hills. They extend
beyond all local history, or even tradition, and, judging from
their position and the character of their foundations, must
be very ancient. Tradition tells us that the inhabitants, for
some cause of which we are not informed, were banished
from their homes, and they took up their abode at Newbiggen.
Tradition also states that they called it Newbiggen it was
a new beginning. Here I should be disposed to say that
tradition was at fault and that the word meant "new building."
Other objects of interest of about contemporary date are
found in the "Giants' Graves,"* situated in the neighbourhood

*See Appendix, page 105.


of the dyke and the remains of the town. They are from
twenty to thirty in number, and consist of huge mounds in
the shape of gigantic graves, fifteen feet in width, and from
thirty to forty-five feet in length, and, when made, were
probably from six to eight feet high. Some are found in the
level, others on the slope. Many have been the suggestions
as to their origin and their use ; but, judging from their form
and traditional name, the most probable seems to be that
they were burial-places the only difficulty we see in this
being that on the opening of several of them no remains of
any kind were discovered. But as their probable date is so
remote this difficulty is not insuperable, since bones, and
even teeth, decay.

No doubt some of you are aware that no notice of this
part of Westmorland is made in Domesday Book. Burns,
in his history, says : " In the Domesday Survey an account
is taken of many places within the barony of Kendal,
together with the adjoining places in Lancashire and York-
shire, whereas of Westmorland, properly so called, no
survey was made, being all wasted and destroyed, and worth
nothing." From which I conclude we are to understand
either that it was the scene of border conflicts, and so
devastated, or that the land was in a swampy and uncul-
tivated state. The probabilities are that at about that
period the inhabitants of this dale were in a barbarous

We have evidence of the existence at an early period of
* several fishponds here. There was one near Garshill, at
the bottom of the present Ash Fell turnpike road. The dam
which was cut through in constructing the present road was
found to be artificial, the remaining portion of which may
be seen close against the right-hand side of the road in


ascending, and has growing upon it a few slender firs.
Within that dam there was doubtless at one time a large
sheet of water.

Greenside and Sunbiggen Tarns still exist. These and
other large pieces of water were stocked with fish, and
supplied the early inhabitants with food. Traces of red
deer have also been found the antlers of one, now in the
possession of Mr. Anthony Metcalfe, being found in the High
Wood Mire in the park. Boars were known also to abound
in this dale, and I am indebted to the same gentleman for
information respecting the discovery which men, working
under his direction at Dogbar, made of the teeth and tusks
of wild boars, whilst digging for the foundation of the
schoolroom, which has since been removed.

The majestic hill forming the head of our dale is, as you
know, called Wild-boar Fell.* Upon it is a place called
Dauphine Stve. and for several years the tradition has been
current that the last boar seen in this part of the country
was shot on Wild-boar Fell by Sir Richard Musgrave ; and in
remarkable confirmation of this tradition I have been
informed that when the grave of the late Sir Richard
Musgrave was removed, owing to alterations occasioned by
the restoration of the Kirkby Stephen church, it was
discovered that the tusk of a boar had been buried with him.

We have evidence therefore of several large tarns stocked
with fish, and that boars and red deer abounded here. The
probability is that the people lived by fishing and the chase,
and that it was not until a later period that the land was
brought under cultivation, and cattle fed.

In the time of William the Conqueror we know that this

*See Appendix, page 104.


part of Westmorland was given to Ranulph de Meschines,
one of the Norman knights, and that the people were in
due time brought under the rigour and order of feudal law.

I shall now call your attention to the roads,* a proof and
necessity of advancing civilisation.

The ancient road or high street from Borrowbridge to
Brough entered this parish at Hanskew, and so along to
Riggs, now in the occupation of Matthew Bell, where there
was an inn. From thence, through Brownber, over Badger
Hill, it passed Friar Bottom, and over Smardale Bridge,
where there has been a bridge for the last three hundred
years, but previous to that there was a ford, the marks of
which remain until this day.. Near that bridge there was
another inn, the foundation-stones of which have been
removed for building purposes, though the corner-stone still

Then there was another main highway which entered the
parish of Rawthey Bridge, and came through Fell End and
along the street immediately in front of the house at present
occupied by William Bradberry, and so along past Stenner-
skeugh, where there is still an old county bridge. It then
goes forward on the high side of Flass and across Tarn
Mire, and past Tarnwath Hole, a well-known boundary-
mark of this parish ; from thence over Ash Fell End, and
so along the tracks which are still visible to Kirkby Lane

And now I come to the cross-roads, leaving the old
king's highway at Rigg End, past Sandwath, up Scot Rake,
past Hunt Hoof, over Green Bell, down Spen Gill, past
Adamthwaite, past Murthwaite, down Sally Brow, the

*See Appendix, pajfe 107.


steepest of all roads, over Bow Bridge, and so on to the
ancient highway from Kirkby Stephen to Sedbergh.*

The present road between Newbiggen and the town was
made 100 years ago. The old road previous to that time
left the old highway at High Lane, came down past Cause-
way End, and across the swamp on a paved causeway to
the village of Newbiggen. The paved causeway may still
be seen, being now laid to the pasture belonging to Mr.
William Dixon, and running alongside of the present
causeway. Another piece of pavement of the same date
can be distinctly seen at the present day at Foul Dubbs,
where the old road passed over the marshy ground at that
place. All the roads at that time were over green tracks,
or, as they were called, " rakes." The road came through
Coldbeck, where there was no bridge, up High Dykes (this
part doubtlessly called High Dykes on account of a wall or
dyke which enclosed the church and church road), thence
on to the town. From here there were three roads to the
highway between Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen one up
the town to Cross Bank, and so on to the Street; the
second, by way of Back of Hobers, past Mr. John
Robinson's residence at Ash Fell, and over the fell, past
Waitby Scar, and down to the said old way at Kirkby
Lane Head ; and the third went past Banks, over Adam-
thwaite Cross, through Murthwaite and Murthwaite Park,
over the river Rawthey, and up Blue Caster, where it
joined the highway. t

* Connected with this cross-road I have had the following incident handed to me :
The Scots, in passing over Scot Rake, looked back and discovered, as they thought,
a village which they had neglected to plunder. On their going back they found that
the village was nothing but rocks. These rocks were the " Bents Craggs."

t There is a tradition that the inhabitants of the town, hearing that the Scots
were in the neighbourhood, and fearing their depredations, many of them fled with
their pewter to Adamthwaite Cross, intending to bury it there in the earth; but
whilst they were digging the Scotch came out in numbers from ambush in which they
had concealed themselves, and seized the pewter which the Ravenstonedale people
left in making their escape.


We now come to a monastery, which I think there can be
little doubt at one time existed here. Unfortunately we
have few documents, but we have evidence which, with the
documents we possess, is quite as good, viz., the names of
the places. There is Friar Bottom, and Capel (chapel)
Rigg, Capel (chapel) Butts, an archery ground, Saint Helen's
Well, and near it the foundation of a building which was
undoubtedly St. Helen's Chapel, and, contiguous to Friar
Bottom, a fishpond, now dry.

Documentary evidence shows that in the year 1336 the
manor of Ravenstonedale, with the advowson, was given by
one Torphin to the Priory of Watton, of the order of Sem-
pringham. Burns and Nicholson, in their valuable history,
say, "The tenor of Torphin's grant, including the manor,
with the advowson appendent, is set forth in an account
given to the Rev. Thomas Machel by Mr. Anthony Prockter,
curate of Ravenstonedale, and Mr. George Fothergill of
Tarn house, as also in a manuscript, written in the year 1645,
by Anthony Fothergill, of Trannahill, great grandfather of
the late Mr. Anthony Fothergill, of Brownber, whose
account was taken from an office copy of the charter of
donation remaining amongst the evidences in the tower or
palace of the late abbey of St. Mary, without the walls of
York ; which tower was blown up with gunpowder by Oliver
Cromwell in the year 1644, and this, with many othe
valuable . charters belonging to the religious houses, was
thereby destroyed and lost. The said charter was in English
as follows : ' Know all men present, and to come, that I,
Torphin, son of Robert, son of Copsus, have given, and by
this my charter confirmed to God and the blessed virgin,
and all the holy men serving God in the monastery of
Watton, all the whole vill. of Ravenstonedale, with that


part of the vill. called Newbiggin, with the boundaries
and limits thereof, as well without the vill. as within ; that
is to say, from the head of Beversdale, as the water of
Beversdale runs, till it comes into the water of Tebey ; and
from thence by Hanscus to the Blea Tarn ; and from thence
into Rasett, and so to Couling stones, and from Couling
stones to Skeat beck runs into Smerdale beck ; and so
by Smerdale beck till it comes to Smerdale flatt, and from
thence till it come to the highest place on Ash Fell ; * and
so to Tarnwarth hole ; and from Tarnwarth hole, as Kirkby
way goes, till it come at Scandal water, and so going up
that water into a path-way that goes to Mallerstang scarth ;
and then on the top of Wild-boar Fell to the head of the
water of Ulnedale ; and as the water of Ulnedale runes till it
comes into the water of Rothay, and as the water of Rothay
runs till it come betwixt Washingham and Keldon, and
from thence to the head of Beversdale.' "

From this viz., the manor and advowson we learn that
there was a church here at that early period, but of its minister
we have no record. On the completion of the transfer of this
manor from Torphin to the Priory of Watton it would seem
that the monks of that order came and settled down here, in
all probability at Friar Bottom, as Newbiggen is especially
mentioned in the deed of gift ; and we are also told that
King Henry III., in the 36th year of his -reign, granted to
the monks of Watton a privilege of free warren in Watton
and Staneton, in the county of York, and Ravenstonedale
and Langdale, in the county of Westmorland, which would
not have been of much use to them had there not been some
residents here. At Newbiggen they built a chapel near a

* The ancient foundation of the boundary-mark at this point is plainly visible at
the present day.


spring, to which they no doubt attached some healing
qualities, and which they dedicated to St. Helen. Chapel
Rigg they cultivated, for we have evidence of the crosswise
ploughing upon it, which I mentioned in the first part of this
lecture. On the Chapel Butts they recreated themselves by
shooting at a target, and perhaps, seeing that the bow and
arrow was the weapon of war at that day, they taught others
to shoot with power and accuracy. We wonder whether

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