Introduction | Cumberland | Keswick | Workington | Cockermouth | Cockermouth Pt 2


"Baptism, 1770, September 16th Isaak son of John Cragg and Betty Cragg his wife in the Poorhouse."
Crosthwaite Parish Church Register, Cumberland

The Parish of Crosthwaite is in the northern region of the Lake District, and is one of the more beautiful parishes of the area. Its principal town is Keswick, in which Crosthwaite Parish Church has existed for hundreds of years on the northern outskirts of the town. The name Crosthwaite comes from 'crosfeld'. This derives from a legend that recalls Saint Kentigern placing a cross in a field and preaching to the local people, around 553 AD. Yet others argue that the church itself was established in the 12th century, sparked off by a renewed interest in Saint Kentigern that was taking place at the time. The 'thwaite' in Crosthwaite is actually of Scandinavian origin, and suggests that Vikings also had a hand in establishing the area and maybe its church. Keswick is understood to mean 'Cheese Farm', and is Anglic in origin.1

Keswick on Derwent

Keswick the town is nowadays very much a tourist town dripping with history and surrounded by majestic natural landscape. On the south-eastern edge of the town is Derwent Water, one the most picturesque lakes in Britain. It runs three miles south, a mile wide, and is host to a few islands that have interesting stories to tell. Beatrix Potter's tale of Squirrel Nutkin is based here, where Nutkin journeys across the lake on a raft in search of nuts. Dominating the town on three sides are the fells Derwent, Castlerigg, and Lonscale. Often these are snow capped above their slate grey sides, with brown-green lower slopes that line the valleys. The fells themselves have interesting geographical features that have names like High Crags, Walla Crags, Black Crag and Cat Bells. It is not difficult to see where inspiration for the Cragg name came from as Cragg and Crag have the same meaning. The most prominent peaks as far as Keswick is concerned are Latrigg and Skiddaw north of Keswick, which loom over the tiny town, leading some commentators to suggest that they add an air of oppression.2 The remaining area is well farmed with a patchwork quilt of paddocks separated by meandering dry-stone walls. Herdwick and Swaledale sheep are the most popular stock. The Swaledale's curious black face peers out at you from underneath a substantial thick white fleece, if you happen to disturb its peaceful grazing. Thomas Sanderson was obviously touched by the rural scenes around Keswick when he penned this poem in 1820:

    Where Keswick’s cliffs o’er hang the dale,
    Responsive to the Shepherd’s tale,
    Oft ‘midst its wild romantic grots,
    I hear thy long-protracted notes.
    O may no clarions rude invade
    It’s peaceful vale, its sylvan shade;
    But, with the rural choir around,
    May thy soft symphonies be found;
    And when I hear the Shepherd’s song,
    The bleating flocks that range along,
    The breeze that, though the silent grove,
    Bears the soft sigh that steals from love;
    The Woodman’s oft-repeated stroke,
    The stream that falls from the hanging rock,
    The dashing of the neighb’ring mill,
    When all around is dark and still;
    The sweeping oars that gently break
    The slumbers of the peaceful lake,
    The music of the vocal lawn,
    The Hunter’s horn at Morning’s-dawn
    O! When I hear their chorus swell,
    Sweet Echo! give it to thy shell.

Keswick's Moot Hall

The market square is naturally the focal point of activity in Keswick, with its distinctive Moot Hall in the centre, which now houses the Tourist Information Centre. On Market Day covered stalls are set up in the square and eager sellers draw attention to their goods, with their thick Cumbrian accents bellowing out. This keeps a tradition stretching back to 1276. Some of the more interesting merchandise on sale is the haggis, and Cumberland sausage, which is about a foot long and cooked in a spiral.

If one were to stand in the Market Square and wind the clock back to around 1770 Britain and the world stage would be very different from that of today. George III was in his 11th year of reign, while Lord North was Prime Minister of Britain. Captain James Cook claimed Eastern Australia for Britain in April this same year after he sailed into Botany Bay on the Endeavour. In America the seeds of revolution were being sown as colonists continually clashed with the British authorities. The most notable confrontation that year was the Boston Massacre where five colonists were killed by British troops. In 1775 the American Revolution commenced, eventually resulting in Britain losing control of one of its most prized colonies. In 1770 Keswick's then cobblestoned market square and main street would only have had only a few buildings that are recognisable today. The Moot Hall would be there, but was to be rebuilt in 1812. Main Street was essentially the only street the town really had. It was lined with 'timber-framed houses, with an enclosure behind for a garden, or an orchard or other domestic use.'3 Beyond these enclosures were open fields. The houses and their yards must have been crowded places as the population in 1787 is recorded as being around 1000. It has been reasoned that the narrow entrances to the yards were for defensive purposes as the Scots frequently crossed the border on raids from 1138 onwards. With turnpike roads firmly established throughout the country by 1770 the invasions were now of a different kind. It was becoming fashionable to travel to Keswick, and many notable romantics, writers and commentators made observations, which they subsequently published as tours of enlightenment for their fellow gentry. One such person was Thomas Gray who visited the area in 1769 and wrote down his romantic observations in his journal 'Tour of the Lakes'. This was later widely read and a source of increased tourism in the area.

'In the evening I walked down to the lake... after sunset, and saw the solemn colouring of the night draw on, the last gleam of sunshine fading away on the hilltops, the deep serene of the waters, and long shadows of the mountains.'

Some notable people consequently stayed in the area such as the poet Coleridge who made his home in Keswick in 1800, living in Greta Hall, and the poet Robert Southey in 1803.4

Looking again to the Market Square the weekly markets flourished during this time with trading of the fruit of local industry and agriculture. On sale were salmon, eel, perch, trout, mutton, woollen goods, linen and blankets.5 A cotton mill had been in operation in the town only a short while on the banks of the Greta, which runs parallel to the main street and empties into the River Derwent. The Industrial Revolution while only thirty years old in 1770 had already made its presence felt in the Lake District, which will be further evidenced when Cockermouth is discussed later on.

Keswick Workhouse circa 1819 by William Green

Walking north-east along the Market square about 50 metres one would have seen on the right the Parish's 'Poor House', or 'Workhouse'. It was here that Betty Cragg resided when she had her son Isaac christened on September 16th, 1770. It is not known why they were in the Poor House at this time, as the records available do not show them receiving any handouts of money. Thus we cannot know for sure how long they actually lived in the Poor House. This building was built in 1645 with £200 Sir John Bankes' had bequeathed to raise “a stock of Wool, Flax, Hemp, Thread, Iron and other necessary wear and stuff to set the poor on work who were born in the Parish of Crosthwaite”. Every succeeding year £30 from this fund was contributed to what was termed in 1811 as the "manufacture of course [sic] cottons in the town" and was deemed by an observer as being quite a successful endeavour.6 The Workhouse held children (who were unable to be kept by their parents), orphans, widows, the ageing poor, and destitute paupers. "Profits from the sale of cloth and linen made by the inmates were to be directed to helping the lame and the blind and the incapacitated, and to organising apprenticeships."7 The Poor House in Keswick actually became more comfortable for the needy than its infamous cousins in the larger towns and cities. So much so it was called the 'Great House', and found itself playing host to up to eighty inmates, among them whole families. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 changed this, and made eligibility for entry to the Workhouse more stringent. George Crabbe's description of the typical Poor House in 'The Village'8 written in 1783 adequately describes the conditions that the inmates endured:-

'Theirs is yon House that holds the Parish-Poor,
Whose walls of Mud scarce bear the broken door;
There, where the putrid vapours, flagging play,
And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day;-
There Children dwell who know no Parents' care;
Parents, who know no Children's love, dwell there!
Heart-broken Matrons on the joyless bed,
Forsaken Wives and Mothers never wed;
Dejected Widows with unheeded tears,
And crippled Age with more than childhood fears;
The Lame, the Blind, and, far the happiest they!
The moping Idiot and Madman gay.
Here too the Sick their final doom receive,
Here brought, amid the scenes of grief, to grieve,
Where the loud groans from some sad chamber flow,
Mixt with the clamours of the crowd below;
Here sorrowing, they each kindred sorrow scan,
And the cold charities of man to man:
Whose Laws indeed for ruin'd Age provide,
And strong compulsion plucks the scrap from pride;
But still that scrap is bought with many a sigh,
And pride embitters what it can't deny.'

The Crosthwaite Parish Poor House no longer stands today, as it was torn down and replaced by another building in 1891, which is Keswick's current Post Office. The only reminder of the Poor house is a plaque on the southern wall of the Post Office that reads:-

“This building stands on the site of the "Workhouse" founded by Sir John Bankes who was born in this town in 1589, became Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and died in Oxford in 1644, his love for his native place and his wise and generous sympathy for the poor and needy, are shewn by the endowment which happily still endures, and is known as ‘Sir John Bankes' Charity’.”

We know nothing of what happened to John Cragg after or even while his wife Betty was pregnant with Isaac. He simply disappears from sight. We can conclude this because it was common for a family to have a child every two to four years. The next time Betty Cragg is recorded as having brought forth a child is in the following christening entry on September 7th 1783, in the Crosthwaite Parish Register:

'Sarah daughter of Betty Cragg, illegitimate'

That is the last Betty Cragg is heard of, and so it is a mystery as to what happened to marriage of John and Betty Cragg. John's burial is not recorded in the Parish Register's of Crosthwaite, but this does not necessarily mean he did not die in the Parish. Sometimes the poor were buried without any record of the event. There are some entries of interest in the Gilcrux Parish Bishop's Transcripts (1663-1837). Gilcrux is a small village 20km north-west of Keswick, 8km north of Cockermouth and 5km north-east of Dearham. The entries that interest us are:

1776 'John Cragg (collier, died suddenly) was buried June 27th'

1775 'Joseph son of John Cragg was baptized May 21st'

There are no other Cragg's mentioned in the Gilcrux Bishop's Transcripts which suggests that John Cragg may have relocated here so he could work in one of the local coal mines. The Joseph mentioned in the transcripts may just be Isaac's younger brother. Without additional research it can only amount to speculation at this stage. The National Burial Index does have the following entry " 8 Nov 1825 at Cockermouth John CRAGG aged 74". This was the town the family were eventually associated with. If this is the John Cragg we are looking for he would have been 19 when Isaac was born.

Another possibility is that John Cragg did leave his wife to pursue another life and died in another Parish, or even another country, since the sea was just over 20 miles away. Yet another possibility, albeit fairly slim, could be that John Cragg had joined a British Army Regiment that fought in the American War of Independence. The 34th Foot Regiment for example served in North America 1775-1778. This regiment was later to be called the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment of Foot. Later, in 1881 it was amalgamated with the 55th (Westmorland) Regiment of Foot (which had also served in North America 1775-1778) to form the Border Regiment. Then in 1959 the Border Regiment joined with the King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) to form the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. This regiment has its Head Quarters at The Castle in Carlisle, Cumbria.9,10  It just may be possible that the records of these regiments can reveal John Cragg's whereabouts after 1770.

These reasons may have forced Betty Cragg to enter the Poor House pregnant with Isaac. One important source that has not been checked as yet are the Quarter Sessions Records for Cumberland.11 These may tell us of a conviction brought against John Cragg and possible sentence, which could explain his absence. Unfortunately however the real story will most likely remain a mystery.

When an illegitimate birth in England occurred during this period there was sometimes a Bastardry Bond that the father had to enter as punishment for his lack of moral fibre. It usually meant a guaranteed source of income for the mother and the child.12 However in Betty's case no such bond exists at the County Record Office in Cumbria. Neither do they have a Settlement Paper, or Removal Order for John or Betty Cragg. These documents were used to control the flow of needy people from one Parish to another, and helped prevent the Parish resources from becoming over-burdened. The Parish Registers of Great Britain appear to contain no record of John and Betty's marriage. However this is not an uncommon occurrence. There are also no records of John Cragg being born in Crosthwaite Parish. Thus his history is very difficult to fathom, especially with a plethora of John Cragg's living in Britain at that time.

Of interest is a biography of a Joseph Birkett published in 1897 as part of the Pennsylvania Biography Project for Lackawanna County in the US13:

The mother of our subject, in maidenhood Ruth Cragg, was born in Cumberlandshire, of Scotch ancestry, and in religious adherence was a Congregationalist, the faith of her family.

Ruth Cragg was the daughter of Isaac Cragg, and married a John Birkett in 1821. So the search back into the past may need to venture into Scotland.


1. George Bott, Keswick (The Story of a Lake District Town), 1994, Cumbria County Library et. al.

2. James Bunting, The Lake District, 1973, B.T.Bertsford Ltd., London.

3. George Bott, Keswick (The Story of a Lake District Town), 1994, Cumbria County Library et. al.

4. George Bott, Keswick (The Story of a Lake District Town), 1994, Cumbria County Library et. al.

5. George Bott, Keswick (The Story of a Lake District Town), 1994, Cumbria County Library et. al.

6. Worthies (1811 ed.) II. 237. As quoted in C.M.L Bouch and G.P. Jones, The Lake Counties, 1500-1800 by, 1961, Manchester University Press.

7. George Bott, Keswick (The Story of a Lake District Town), 1994, Cumbria County Library et. al.

8. George Crabbe, The Village, pp. 16 and 17., 1783.

9. Richard Simkins, Uniforms of the British Army 1985, Webb and Bower, Great Britian

10. Arthur Swain (ed.), A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army, 1972, The Archive Press, London.

11. Cumbria Archive Service, Cumbrian Ancestors (Notes for Genealogical Searchers), 2nd ed., September 1993, Cumbria County Council.

12. Cumbria Archive Service, Cumbrian Ancestors (Notes for Genealogical Searchers), 2nd ed., September 1993, Cumbria County Council.

13. Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania Biography Project - 1897(PORTRAIT AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD. 487 - Joseph Birkett b. 1823)

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