COCKERMOUTH: a chapelry, borough and market town in Brigham ancient parish, Allerdale-above-Derwent ward, Cumberland.
Origin and growth of the town. Cockermouth was a seigniorial borough, established, probably in the later 12th century, at the foot of the castle which was the caput of the honour of Cockermouth and barony of Allerdale. The core of the town appears to have been the Market Place to the east of the River Cocker; a planned extension, the wide, bowed Main Street to the west of the Cocker, had been laid out by the early 13th century. A surviving rental of c.1270 shows that it was by then a thriving borough, its wealth based on the woollen cloth and leather trades. By the 1670s, Sir Daniel Fleming could call Cockermouth ‘the best Market Towne in this part of the county’, with many fine buildings and ‘no small reputation’. Its weekly market, fortnightly cattle fairs and Whitsuntide and Martinmas hiring fairs drew custom from a wide hinterland. Water power provided by the rivers Cocker and Derwent and two major becks, drove corn and fulling mills from the 12th century and later (1750 onwards) powered Cockermouth’s industrial revolution, adding mills and factories to the already important market town. By the later 19th century, the mainstays of the town were flax and woollen mills and agricultural service industries (implement making; auction mart). By the late 20th century, the town remained a focus for the rural hinterland but its location on the fringes of the Lake District saw tourism growing in importance.
Cockermouth was an Urban District from 1894 to 1974. Boundary changes in 1935 saw The Gote (with Hames Hall and Derwent Mills area), formerly in Papcastle township transferred into Cockermouth UD and land which had formed part of the medieval park attached to the castle (including Newton and Howfoot woods) being transferred from Cockermouth to Setmurthy CP. In the early 1990s an area to the west of the town, including The Fitz, Fitz Park and the sewage works, was transferred from Brigham CP to Cockermouth CP to facilitate westward expansion.
before boundary changes in1935, Cockermouth CP comprised 2425 acres [981 ha]. As a result of the 1935 changes, 133 acres [54 ha] were transferred from Papcastle CP and 518 acres [210 ha] transferred to Setmurthy CP. Prior to the most recent boundary change noted above the area was 2040 acres [826 ha].
1500 acres [607 ha] of common moorland, including ‘The Moor’ (onto which the town expanded in the later 19th century) were enclosed in 1832.
The pre-industrial medieval population has been estimated at around 1000 (year 1270) with a similar level in the 17th century. The prosperity and industrial growth of the town is reflected in the increase to 2652 in 1785 and 2865 in 1801, with a doubling to 5775 in 1851. Thereafter, with the shift of manufacturing from small local enterprises to the large industrial centres, the population levelled at around 5300 from 1861 to 1951, (actually dipping under 5000 in 1921 & 1931). Cockermouth again flourished in the second half of the 20th century, due largely to its increasing popularity as a dormitory town, growing steadily from 5235 in 1951 to 7877 in 2001.
Documentary evidence points to Cockermouth being founded during the 12th century at the heart of the extensive estates of Alan son of Waldeve, who was lord of Allerdale barony(north of, or ‘below’,the river Derwent) and of the Honour of Cockermouth (comprising the ‘Five Towns’ and the ‘forest’ of Derwentfells, south of the river Derwent).
The castle at Cockermouth has been the focal point of an extensive lordship, covering varying proportions of the Allerdale barony, the honour of Cockermouth and the barony of Egremont from the 12th century through to the present. In the early days ownership followed the descendants of Waldeve, through marriages and title disputes, notably including the families de Lucy, de Fortibus (earls of Albemarle) and de Multon. In 1323 a protracted title dispute ended with the estates being awarded to Anthony de Lucy. His granddaughter, Maud, settled the estates on her second husband Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, thereby beginning an often turbulent succession through the Percy family, to Joscelyn, the 11th Earl, who died in 1670.
The estate passed to the 6th Duke of Somerset through his marriage to Elizabeth Percy, Joscelyn’s daughter. The 7th Duke of Somerset became 1st Earl of Egremont (1749). Through the marriage of this 1st Earl’s sister began the long association of the Wyndham family with Cockermouth Castle. The title ‘Earl of Egremont’ ended with the 4th Earl (mid 19C), subsequent owners holding the title ‘Baron Leconfield’ and also, from 1963, the title ‘Baron Egremont’. The present Lord of the Manor is Max Wyndham, 7th Baron Leconfield, 2nd Baron Egremont, and Cockermouth Castle remains a private home of the family.
J Bernard Bradbury, Bradbury’s History of Cockermouth, Cockermouth & District Civic Trust (2006); Angus Winchester, Landscape And Society In Medieval Cumbria, J Donald Publishers Ltd. Edinburgh ( 1987); Angus Winchester, ‘Medieval Cockermouth’, CW2, 86 (1986)
Compiled by: Roger Asquith