|All Saints in Kirkgate|
ZOIS is based at Stag House, Kirkgate
in Cockermouth, a market town of about 6,000 inhabitants in north west
For several days in November, 2009 Cockermouth appeared as the top
story in the UK national News. Floods of almost biblical proportions have
destroyed a large number of properties in the centre of the town. We,
based higher up in Kirkgate, were unaffected, but we've a series of
flood photographs from around town.
Cockermouth is situated in the extreme north west of England on the West Cumberland coastal plain at the confluence of the rivers Cocker and Derwent. The Cocker flows into the Derwent which continues to the sea at Workington and it is how Cockermouth gets its name. The Cocker river is thought to be named from the ancient British for crooked or red.
Cockermouth can by reached be road along the A66 going west from
Junction 40 of the M6 motorway. As it no longer has a railway of its own
a bus journey is required to get to either Penrith or Workington
Although there is evidence around Cockermouth of pre-Roman activity, the Romans at Derventio now Papcastle, a Roman station in support of Hadrian's Wall can be considered the founders of Cockermouth. Papcastle is now a village just north of the present town.
After the Saxons and the Danes, who succeeded the Romans the Normans were the next power to make an impact on Cockermouth. Initially settling in a manor house in Papcastle, William de Fortbus erected the castle on its present site, the confluence of the two rivers in the mid 13th Century. The town of Cockermouth then grew up around it.
The medieval history of Cockermouth is dominated by wars with Scotland, the castle being sacked several times and the town generally plundered and put to the sword most notably by William Wallace and Robert Bruce, who had made a successful claim to the Scottish crown by killing the rival claimant (as one did in those days).
Cockermouth was latterly embroiled in the English Civil War where the castle was besieged.
The town became prosperous with the advent of water mills in the
early part of the 19th century but later saw its fortunes reversed when
steam overtook water power in later half of the same century. Today the
town is a market town serving a fair portion of the West Cumberland
coastal plain; a dormitory town to the industries that have survived in
West Cumberland (once an important Coal and Steel area, but now
practically wholly dependent upon Sellafield nuclear re-processing plant)
and as a tourist town with overspill from the nearby Lake District.
Cockermouth's principal claim to fame is that William Wordsworth was born here, and spent the first years of his life at the school in Kirkgate (now the Church Hall). He certainly wrote about it in one of his poems.
"A little croft we owned - a plot of corn,
A garden stored with peas, and mint, and tyme,
And flowers for poises, oft on Sunday morn
Plucked while the church bells rang their earliest chime,
Can I forget our freaks at shearing time!
My hen's rich nest through long grass scarce espied;
The cowslip-gathering in June's dewy prime;
The swans that with white chests up reared in pride
Rushing and racing came to meet me at the waterside
From Guilt and Sorrow - XXIV
Wordsworth is not the only well known person to have come from
the town or its environs. Both Fletcher Christian, the mutineer,
of the Bounty and John Dalton of atomic theory fame came
from villages close to Cockermouth and are claimed as its own.
As it is situated on the confluence of two fast flowing rivers it was natural that Cockermouth be well suited to being a mill town. A host of these sprang up between the middle of the 18th and the 19th centuries. Several tanneries developed in the town too, and these were centred on Bitter Beck and Skinner's Lane. Bitter Beck getting its name from the gross pollution that Tanning caused. There is evidence that the principal trade carried out at the Stag House complex was indeed that of a Tannery but it is also documented as having been a Hat factory, of which there were several in the town too. The latter half of the 19th century, with the advent of steam saw increased competition from other larger factories which were not tied to water power. Cockermouth then saw a decrease in fortunes falling back on its rôle as a market town. The town's population decreased and maps made during this period show a number of the smaller mills as being disused.
The largest mill in the Cockermouth stands on the opposite bank from the Town Centre and was owned by the Harrises (who donated the Park) and who gave their name to many parts of the town. This succumbed to the recession in the 1930s became a shoe factory and is now partially renovated as business starter units and housing.
The most famous industry of late in Cockermouth, aside from On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP)
Consultancy, that is, is brewing beer. If one is pedantic there are
actually three commercial breweries. They are a micro brewery associated
with a pub; a vanity brewer, who will brew beer for you and Jennings,
who have a number of pubs in Cumbria and who's brewery stands between
the river Cocker and the castle.
Further information can be gained from J. Bernard Bradbury's Book - A History of Cockermouth (1995), Richard Byres, publisher, Cockermouth ISBN 0 9529812 0 3, or from the Tourist Information Centre, telephone +44 1900 822634.
When this page was written and published, these 1000 or so words were about all there was about Cockermouth on the Web. The Web, however, is an ever evolving animal and there are now a number of Cockermouth sites. You can read more about Cockermouth elsewhere on the Internet.