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

Cockermouth

Cockermouth: Painted by Thomas Allom. Engraved by various engravers and published in London c.1833 - 1838.
Cockermouth: Painted by Thomas Allom. Engraved by various engravers and published in London c.1833 - 1838.

In 1794 George III was in the 35th year of his reign and William Pitt in his eleventh year in office was the youngest Prime Minister Britain had ever seen. The French Revolutionary War had begun the previous year. Consequently with the threat posed by French Armies invading the Austrian Netherlands, Britain became involved in halting the French advance. On February 1st, 1793 France declared war on Britain which was to stretch out into 23 years of intermittent conflict eventually culminating in the Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The most notable military engagement of 1794 was the British naval victory over the French called the Glorious First of June1.

Map of Cockermouth 1775 by Hodkinson and Donald
Map of Cockermouth 1775 by Hodkinson and Donald

Isaac and Ruth Cragg moved to the market town of Cockermouth in early 1794. They would have travelled seven miles east, going back towards Keswick, which was thirteen miles beyond Cockermouth.

The town they discovered would be best described by the following 1830 directory entry, which illustrates the town and its principal inhabitants:

"Cockermouth is a borough and market town, in the Parish of Brigham, and in the ward of Allerdale above Derwent, 305 miles from London, 25 from Carlisle, 15 from Whitehaven, and 7 from Maryport and Workington. It is seated on the south side of the river Derwent, and is at the mouth of the Cocker, whence its name is derived; the latter river flowing through the town previous to its junction with the Derwent is crossed by a bridge connecting the eastern and south-western parts of the town. Another bridge of two arches, 270 feet in length, crosses the Derwent. The town, although neat and clean, is not regularly built; lying between two hills, upon one of which are the remains of an ancient castle, built by William the Conqueror, which was besieged and burnt by Oliver Cromwell; and upon the other, the Church of All Saints, first erected in the reign of Edward III. Rebuilt in 1711, and in 1825 considerably enlarged. It is now a commodious edifice, surmounted by a steeple, containing a peel of six bells, with a clock and chimes; the curacy is perpetual, in the gift of the Earl of Lonsdale, and the Rev. Edward Fawcett is the present curate. The other places of worship are, a methodist and independent chapels, and a friend's meeting house. Here are a free grammar school, charity and Sunday schools; and an alms-house for six poor widows, founded by the Rev. Thomas Leathers... The town possesses many local advantages of situation, the surrounding country being populous and fertile, having a plentiful supply of water from two fine streams, and three sea ports within a short distance. Its trade comprises the manufacture of woollens, cotton checks, thread, tanned leather, hats, &c. Upon the streams of the Derwent and Cocker are corn and spinning mills, a paper mill, and a carding mill; and about three miles distant, at Greysouthern and Broughton, are extensive coal mines. The views from the high grounds over the country around here, are of a pleasing and varied character, embracing clear streams, fertile valleys, and wood-clad hills..."2

The town has seen many famous faces in its streets such as Mary Queen of Scots, James I, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert the Bruce. Two notable people born in the town were William Wordsworth and Fletcher Christian. Wordsworth was born on 7th April 1770, in a large Georgian house that still stands in Main Street. He went on to be perhaps England's most famous poet, earning the title Poet Laureate in 1842. His memories of the time spent in Cockermouth until 1778 are recorded in 'The Prelude' .3 He recalls the river Derwent that ran behind his house.

Was it for this
That one, the fairest of all rivers, loved
To blend his murmurs with my nurse's song,
And, from his alder shades and rocky falls,
And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice
That flowed along my dreams? For this, didst thou
O Derwent! winding among grassy holms
Where I was looking on, a babe in arms,
Make ceaseless music that composed my thoughts
to more than infant softness, giving me
Amid the fretful dwellings of mankind
A foretaste, a dim earnest, of the calm
That nature breathes among the hills and groves.

Isaac Cragg (1770-1858)

Isaac and Ruth had moved to Cockermouth by June 1794. This is known because they baptised their first child Mary on the 9th of that month at All Saints Church. Yet the exact date of her birth is not known, because it was not included in the register entry.

Over the next seventeen years Isaac and Ruth had eight children that are recorded as having been baptised. In order they were John, Jane, Ruth, Joseph, Isaac, Solomon and Elizabeth. It is interesting and helpful to note that there was a strong tradition in naming children after their parents or grandparents. Other children may have received names of Biblical figures or Royalty.

Fortunately Isaac and Ruth had chosen an "exceedingly healthy"4 town to settle in where the average life expectancy was 83 years in 1842. Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, published in 1795 mentions that market day for the town at that time was Mondays, and the town also came alive with shows of cattle, and fairs which included the hiring of servants. By 1811 12 of Cumberland's towns had 1000 or more inhabitants and those towns people constituted 40 percent of the whole county population. Cumberland was in the process of swapping agriculture for industry and trade as the population grew dramatically somewhere between 34.6 and 50 percent between 1750 and 1801.5

All Saints Church
All Saints Church

All Saints Church figured prominently in the life of Isaac's family, as it was the most favoured church in the town. As mentioned in the 1830 directory description of Cockermouth the church has been sitting on the hill overlooking the town since the reign of Edward III (1327-77). It has been enlarged and rebuilt a number of times. The most dramatic reconstruction however was completed in 1854 due to a fire that had destroyed All Saints in 1850. It is interesting to note that a midwife was even licensed to All Saints. One of her roles was to supervise baptisms. The grave yard adjacent to the church includes the bodies of 1647 plague victims, and next to this are the Church Rooms. In Isaac's day there would have been the Free Grammar School standing there instead, which was founded in 1676. Both Wordsworth and Christian were educated for a while here. In the upper room a Sunday School was held for poor employed children who were taught reading and writing, by a paid teacher.6 In 1806 a School of Industry was established in the town for 30 poor girls where knitting and sewing were taught along side the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic. In 1811 the first Sunday School was established with the second in 1817. By 1829 there were 3 such schools with 600 pupils.7 By 1847 there were numerous schools including the Grammar School, National School and British School.8

Isaac was a serving man in Workington, but in Cockermouth he was recorded as a husbandman (tenant farmer) for the baptism of his daughter Ruth in 1801. As a tenant farmer Isaac may have leased and worked on land owned by the Earl of Egremont who was lord of the manor. In 1829 it was recorded that 7,222 farms existed in Cumberland and about 4,559 leased by tenants such as Isaac.9 A Board of Agriculture Report written in 1794 gives some insights into the nature of farming in Cumberland around the time Isaac would have taken up his tenement in Cockermouth:

'There are probably few counties where property in land is divided into such small parcels as in Cumberland and those small properties so universally occupied by the owners, by far the greatest part of which are held under the lords of the manors, by that species of vassalage, called customary tenure, subject to the payment of fines and heriots on alienation, the death of the lord...or the tenant, and the payment of certain annual rents, and the performance of various services called Boondays, such as getting and leading the lord's peats, plowing and harrowing his land, reaping his corn, haymaking, carrying letters etc., whenever summoned by the lord. We cannot pretend to be accurate, but believe that two thirds of the county are held by this kind of tenure in tenements from 5 to 50 a year, but the generality are from 15 to 30.'10

Cultivation of the land by Cumberland's inhabitants came under the critical eyes of numerous experts and commentators who tended to agree that backwardness and poor land management contributed to poor crops yields. Though the weather was less kinder to farmers in the north of England, than the south. One such reminiscent commentator called William Dickinson remarked in 1876 that:

Their crops consisted chiefly then In barley, oats and hay; Some rye was sown, some beans and peas, But these in a small degree; And both on small and middling farms There was no wheat to see.11

Men's wages on average in 1795 were 10 a year, and women's wages 4.12 Later on Isaac must have given up farming, and found that the wage of a tanner more attractive. The agricultural depression following Waterloo and marked fall in prices after 1820 most likely encouraged this transition. Tanning was listed as his trade in the 1841 Census, and his death certificate in 1858. In choosing tanning as a trade Isaac initiated a trend within the family that would exist for the next century and a half. A tanner would treat animal skins making them into leather. An extract of the bark from oak trees, called 'tannins' would help preserve the skin keeping it pliable and strong. Once the tannin was mixed with water, the skin was soaked in this mixture in a pit or vat for a considerable length of time, sometimes months.13 Cockermouth was second only to Kendal in the tanning trade in Cumberland.14

The 1841 census was the first detailed census that was taken in England and Wales. Fortunately the Cragg family did not move too far so it is not difficult to locate Isaac and his family still living in Cockermouth on June 6th 1841. Isaac and Ruth lived in the last house on Sand Went (now called High Sand Lane), just before Waterloo Street (formerly called High Sand). At the back of the house, just beyond the yard, the Cocker River flows into the Derwent River. Across the river was the Castle Tannery where Isaac may have been working. Unfortunately most of the original houses do not still stand in this street. They have either been refurbished or replaced. This census also tells us that both Isaac and Ruth were born in the county of Cumberland, and had their daughter Sarah living with them along with two visitors.

1841 Census entry for Isaac Cragg's household in Sand Went, Cockermouth
1841 Census entry for Isaac Cragg's household in Sand Went, Cockermouth

The census had an unusual way of recording ages, as the census collectors were instructed to:

'write down the age of every person under 15 years of age as it was stated to you. For persons aged 15 years and upwards, write the lowest of the term of 5 years within the age is reached.'

Thus a person who was 34 years of age would be recorded as 30. This makes it difficult for those wishing to ascertain a person's correct age. The census states that Isaac was between 70 and 74 years of age, which fits with him being born in 1770 and being 4 months away from his 71st birthday. Ruth however is recorded as between 75 and 79 years of age. This agrees with her death certificate that states she was 84 in 1849, which means she was born in 1765. Ruth states in the census that she was born in the county of Cumberland, and the only christening of a Ruth Osborn around that time was in 1771. This can be explained though, as her parents were married in 1763, and she may have been christened as a child rather than as an infant.

The next occasion Isaac and Ruth are heard of is in 1849, when Ruth passed away on December 15th. Ruth died at their residence at the end of Sand Lane (renaming of Sand Went), in Cockermouth, at the age of 84. The cause of death was listed as '12 hours of diarrhoea', but no doctor was present at the time of death. Joseph, their son, was present at Ruth's death, though he lived in Brewery Lane near the castle.

Part of Survey Map of Cockermouth 1832 by John Wood for the Earl of Egremont
Part of Survey Map of Cockermouth 1832 by John Wood for the Earl of Egremont. Includes Sand Went and Brewery Lane Lane

Cockermouth today
Cockermouth Today

After Ruth's death Isaac must have left Cockermouth and had gone to live with one of his children's families in Bridekirk parish or nearby Brigham. We know he was not in Cockermouth in 1851, because he in not listed in the census as residing there the night the census was taken. In this census Isaac's son Solomon Craigg[sic](Railway Labourer) and his wife Elizabeth (an Inn Keeper), were living in the village of Dearham with no children. The 1847 Directory of Cumberland however lists Solomon Craigg[sic] as the Victualler of Queen's Head (Inn) in Dearham. The Directory also remarks that the Parish of Dearham is known for its "excellent crops of wheat and corn, &c. Coal is raised here in abundance and shipped to Maryport for the Irish market." The township of Dearham "has a village situated 2 miles E. of Maryport, and in 1841 contained 1037 inhabitants."

In a letter written in 1927 John Cragg (born 1855 to Joseph) described his Great-Grandfather Isaac, as "he used to wear knee breeches, yellow stockings and buckles on his shoes; he was a quaint old man, very interesting. His mind was clear up to when he passed away'.

It is in Dearham that Isaac is found in 1858, though he is not listed as living there in 1851. Both Solomon and Elizabeth were present at Isaac's death in Dearham on November 28th 1858. Isaac is recorded as being 92 years of age when he died of 'old age', which presents another problem regarding when he was born, similar to his wife's situation. If he was really 92 then he would have been born in 1766, and would have been 4 years old when he was christened in the Poor House. Unfortunately this still places him in the correct age bracket for the 1841 census (70-74 years old) if he had not yet had his birthday that year. So the 1841 census cannot be used for the verification of Isaac's birthdate. The 1851 census would give the final answer, if only Isaac's whereabouts in 1851 could be ascertained. According to the 1928 letter Isaac is buried in the Churchyard in Cockermouth.

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