Ancient parish in Leath ward, Cumberland. Includes market town of Alston, chapelry of Garrigill and mining village of Nenthead.
36,967 acres [14,960 ha], of which 20,224 acres [8,185 ha] was Pennine moorland, enclosed 1820. Smaller areas of common at Crookburn Moor (129 acres [52 ha]) and Wanwoodside (211 acres [85 ha]), enclosed 1843 and 1856 respectively.
manor of Alston held by de Veteripont (Vipont) family from mid-12th century until early 15th century. Settled by trial in Chancery on Stapleton family 1426 and passed by marriage to Hiltons of Sunderland later in 15th century. Leases for 1,000 years granted to tenants by Henry Hilton 1611; he sold manor to Edward Radcliffe of Dilston (Northumb.) 1629. Forfeited to Crown 1716 after Jacobite rising and passed to Greenwich Hospital 1734; sold to Catholic Trust for Charitable Purposes 1964.
Economy and growth of settlement:
pastoral farming and lead mining and smelting from medieval period until 20th century. Lead mines, famous by 17th century, expanded across 18th century, particularly after London Lead Co. leased mineral rights between 1750 and 1765. Population, estimated at 555 in 1688, had reached 4,746 by 1801 and rose to peak of 6,858 in 1831. Town of Alston grew up haphazardly around parish church; tightly-clustered knot of lanes had evolved by 1770s. Small weekly market there by later 17th century. Nenthead, by contrast, originated as model village, laid out by London Lead Co. from 1825. Other extractive industries included quarrying of both sandstone and limestone and coal mining. Falling price of lead from 1870s (resulting in withdrawal of London Lead Co. 1882) led to long period of stagnation and decline. Population had fallen to 3,134 by 1901 and continued to decline across 20th century to low of 1,916 in 1971, before rising slightly to stand at 2,156 by 2001. Although some mining continued into 20th century – particularly for zinc, barytes and flourspar – mining had almost ceased by 1950. Other industrial activity included textiles (new mill at Alston on River Nent, built c.1802 for ‘spinning cotton and flax’; used for woollens from 1820s and for carpet-making from c.1870; closed c.1889); brewing from 1780s to 1880s; tile-making in mid-19th century; hosiery manufacture in former brewery by 1906; and commercial lime-burning 1938 to c.1960. Steel foundry established on site of woollen mill, to manufacture munitions during Second World War; closed 1989. Precision metal castings from 1947 to present.
Places of worship:
medieval parish church of St Augustine; rebuilt 1770 and again 1869-70. Chapel of ease (St John) at Garrigill, first recorded 1215: building of 1790 reconstructed 1888-90. Church of St John, Nenthead, built 1845. Numerous nonconformist places of worship, earliest being Independent chapel at Loaning Head, near Garrigill (erected c.1690; replaced 1756 by new chapel at Redwing, near Garrigill 1756; closed 1977) and Quaker meeting houses in Alston (built 1732; discontinued 1902; reopened 1981) and Wellgill, near Nenthead (1724, out of use before 1800). Wesleyan Methodist chapels in Alston (first built 1760; rebuilt on new site Back o’ the Burn 1797 and enlarged 1825; rebuilt as St Paul’s Church on prominent site at Townhead 1864; closed by 1990s); Nenthead (met in school which was rebuilt as chapel and school 1816; rebuilt on new site 1827; rebuilt again 1873; closed c.2002); Garrigill (met in former Independent chapel at Loaning Head from c.1763; chapel at Low Houses built 1795; rebuilt 1859; closed and converted to dwelling); Nentsberry (built 1825); Low Brownside near Leadgate (built 1849; closed c.1968); Nest (built 1844; closed 1935); and Tynehead (built c.1823). Primitive Methodist chapels at Whitehall, Nenthead (1823; rebuilt 1847; renovated 1893, closed 1938); Alston (1825; rebuilt 1843; closed 1932); Gatehead, Garrigill (1825; rebuilt 1856 and again 1885; closed 2004); Nentsberry (1830; rebuilt 1868); and Blagill. Congregationalist chapel in The Butts, Alston (built 1804; closed and converted to art gallery by 1980s). Mormon church from 1837 to 1850s but no place of worship recorded. St Wulfstan’s RC church founded 1953 in former town gaol; church later shared with Methodists.
Alston Grammar School, recorded 1775; rebuilt 1828, closed 1909. Free school built 1811; became elementary school 1909; closed c.1957. National school for girls built 1844, closed c.1957. Infant school built 1845; closed c.1957. Samuel King’s Grammar School built 1909; rebuilt on new site 1957 (now Samuel King’s High School); former building became Alston Primary School. At Garrigill endowed school in village recorded early 19th century, and girls’ school at Gatefoot, built 1850; combined into newly-built mixed school at Gatefoot c.1875, which closed in 1960s. At Nenthead non-denominational school built by London Lead Co. by 1818; replaced by imposing new building 1864 (now used as village hall). County Council school opened 1899; now Nenthead Primary School. Outlying schools at Nenthall (built 1843 and supported by Hudgill Burn Mining Co.; demolished in 1950s); Leadgate (from c. 1770; but described 1847 as having been built (with a library) ‘a few years since’; closed 1932); High Plains (closed 1873); and Tynehead (held in Wesleyan chapel; closed c.1933).
Alston subscription library, founded 1821. Mechanics’ Institute established 1847 and had library, reading room and museum by late 1850s. It was housed in Alston Town Hall, opened 1858, which also contained public room, board room and ‘gentleman’s reading room’. At Nenthead London Lead Co. built reading room (1833; rebuilt 1855), shambles, public washhouse and covered market. Reading room at Gatefoot, Garrigill, mid-19th century. Garrigill village hall converted from church institute 1989. Workhouse at Fairhill, Alston, recorded 1777; enlarged after parish became Poor Law Union, 1837. Ruth Lancaster James Cottage Hospital, named after principal benefactress, built 1908 and extended several times since.