Eskdale and Wasdale

Township in St Bees parish, Allerdale above Derwent ward, Cumberland. In 1934 Wasdale Head was transferred to Nether Wasdale CP and remainder of township absorbed Birker and Austhwaite to create Eskdale CP.


17,419 acres [7,049 ha], including extensive unenclosed fells on Eskdale Common, 7,590 acres [3,072 ha] of common land, and open summits of Sca Fell massif, which were not common land but lord’s freehold. Fells around Wasdale head were enclosed 1808. Population: rose from 201 in 1801 to c.350 for much of mid-19th century. Industrial activity resulted in peak of 535 in 1881, from which population fell back to mid-19th century levels, standing at 338 in 1931 (last census year before boundary changes).


southern section of Copeland forest, assigned to Margaret, wife of Thomas de Lucy 1338 and descending with Lucy share of barony of Egremont (q.v.) thereafter. Ownership of manorial waste passed to The National Trust 1979, who also owned several farms. Estate centred on Gatehouse, rebuilt 1896-1901 as villa for James Henry Rea, Liverpool ship-owner, included property in Miterdale, which passed to Forestry Commission 1957.


predominantly hill farming; small fair called ‘Dog-skin fair’ held on St Catherine’s day (25 November) in later 17th century. Industries in 19th century included bobbin mill at Longrigg in Miterdale; carding mill at Gill Bank; granite quarrying; iron mining. Iron mine at Nab Gill, opened 1871, resulted in construction of Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (1873-5). Tourism developed from later 19th century: Stanley Ghyll built as hotel 1894; youth hostel built 1937; Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (‘the Ratty’) became tourist honeypot from mid-20th century. Wasdale Head was centre for rock-climbing from later 19th century (Wastwater Hotel built by 1860) and Outward Bound centre at Gatehouse, Eskdale Green, became focus for outdoor pursuits in 20th century.

Places of worship:

St Catherine’s church, Eskdale, parochial chapel which gained burial rights 1445; chapelry also embraced Birker and Austhwaite (q.v.), south of River Esk. Chapel at Wasdale head (now St Olaf’s church), a tiny dales chapel, recorded 1552; without burial ground until c.1901. St Bega’s mission church, Eskdale Green, built by Lord Rea, opened 1890. Wesleyan Methodist chapel at Key How built 1849; enlarged 1890; closed c.1964.

Schools and other institutions:

school in Eskdale endowed 1723. ‘High School’ near Boot built 1863; closed later 20th century (now bunk barn accommodation). School at Eskdale Green by 1860; ‘Low School’ there, held in St Bega’s mission church from 1890; moved to new site in 1960s; now St Bega’s CE Primary School. School at Wasdale Head by 1855; closed c.1900. Village hall, Eskdale Green, in former school on lower floor of St Bega’s church.