Market town and ancient parish in Leath Ward, Cumberland, including village of Carleton.


7,587 acres [3,070 ha], including extensive common land on Beacon Fell, enclosed under Forest of Inglewood enclosure award 1819.


Honour of Penrith created 1242 and granted to king of Scots; seized by Edward I 1295 and conferred on Antony Beck, bishop of Durham, 1298, who soon forfeited it to Crown. Granted by Richard II to John duke of Brittany 1378 and to Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland, 1397, who is said to have built Penrith Castle; his grandson Richard earl of Warwick (d. 1472) forfeited honour to Crown. In 1696 William III granted honour of Penrith to William Bentinck, duke of Portland, whose descendant, 3rd duke, sold it to his brother-in-law William Cavendish, 5th duke of Devonshire, 1787. Penrith contained three inferior manors: manor of Bishop’s Row, held by bishops of Carlisle from 12th century; manor of Penrith and Hutton Hall, held by Hutton family until sold to John Gaskarth 1734, whose son sold it to Lord Lonsdale 1790; and manor of Carleton, held by Carleton family until 1707, then passing through several families in 18th century until bought by John Cowper 1828; his descendant G. T. M. C. Cowper sold Carleton Hall 1947.

Origins and growth of the town.

Penrith area, at meeting of north-south and east-west routeways, was probably focal point from an early date. It developed as market centre for Eden valley and was on a par with Cockermouth in importance as urban settlement by later middle ages. From later 18th century Penrith became centre for textile manufacture and place of social gatherings on race days and when assize courts were held. Its position close to ‘picturesque’ scenery of Lake District made it an increasingly fashionable resort during 19th century. Not a major tourist centre in itself, railway (from 1846) and road connections (M6 Junction 40 crossroads with A66, opened 1970) contributed to Penrith’s importance in 20th and 21st centuries. Market function probably developed by 12th century around early church of St Andrew, which became core of medieval town. Gained borough status by early 13th century (burgages recorded in 1220s), though this was later lost. Market charter (with fair) granted 1222. In addition, special great fairs for cattle and horses were held. Industries included dyeworks and weaving shops (recorded 1310) and tanneries (recorded from 1379). By 17th century it had become major market centre: Sir Daniel Fleming described it 1671 as ‘a large Towne, well built and accounted the second in [Cumberland] ... Here is a very great market every Tuesday for all sorts of provisions’. Both he and Thomas Denton, writing 1688, reported that up to 400 ‘beeves’ were slaughtered on market days in autumn and Denton noted importance of livestock and hiring fair on Whit Tuesday. By 1688 there were four guilds: merchants, tanners, shoemakers and skinners. Penrith also specialised in pewter manufacture during later 17th and earlier 18th century. Outside urban area stone quarrying on Penrith fell (Beacon Hill). Population estimated at 1,350 in 1688. By 1769 population estimated to have grown to c.2,000. From later 18th century Penrith began to be known as manufacturing town, specialising in ‘checks for aprons and bed hangings, linen cloth for shirting and sheeting and a few ginghams’. By 1829, however, textile trade was much reduced. Tanning, brewing (two breweries recorded 1787) and clockmaking also important. Altham’s iron works, Albert Street, established early/mid-19th century. Market continued to flourish on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with Devonshire Arcade built 1807. Population almost doubled from 3,801 in 1801 7,387 in 1851. Gas light company founded 1830; piped water supply from River Eamont came with opening of water works 1854. Arrival of railway further consolidated town’s prosperity: Lancaster and Carlisle railway opened 1846, followed by Eden Valley railway 1862 and Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith railway 1865. In 1850s ‘a rage for improvement was manifest’: Penrith Building Society formed 1850 (dissolved 1878) acquired land for new streets on slopes of Beacon Fell, leading to expansion of built-up area to north-east of medieval urban core. In early 20th century Penrith still boasted brewery, foundry, agricultural implement makers, and some basket making. Railways transformed transportation of farm produce: Agricultural Hall, built 1870, enabled livestock sales to be conducted under cover. Penrith Farmers & Kidd auction company formed 1922; moved to new premises in Skirsgill 1987. Modern agricultural service businesses include BOCM Paul, animal feed mill, and Alba Proteins, processing animal by-products for industrial use. Population continued to grow across later 19th and 20th century, to stand at 14,756 in 2001.

Places of worship.

Medieval parish church of St Andrew, a pre-Conquest foundation to judge from important Viking Age sculpture in churchyard (‘Giant’s Grave’ and ‘Giant’s Thumb’). Medieval tower survives; body of church rebuilt 1721-2. Augustinian Friary in existence from c.1299 until Dissolution. Second Anglican church, Christ Church, built 1848-50, to serve increased population and also to provide new burial ground. Town cemetery opened 1872. Presbyterian chapel, Rowcliffe Lane, built 1785, replacing earlier place of worship; in turn replaced by United Reformed Church, Lowther Street, 1884. Quaker meeting house, originally farmhouse, purchased 1699; enlarged 1730, 1803 and 1992. Roman Catholic chapel in Bishop’s Yard, blessed 1833; replaced by St Catherine’s Church, Drover’s Lane, 1850; enlarged 1860. Wesleyan Methodist chapel, Sandgate Head, built 1815; replaced by present Methodist Church, Wordsworth Street, built 1873. Primitive Methodist chapel, Arthur Street, built 1857; converted to Temperance Hall 1873 when Primitives moved to former Wesleyan chapel at Sandgate Head; which closed 1967; used by Pentecostalist church late 20th century; converted to housing 2014. Ebenezer Independent chapel, Duke Street, built 1824; replaced by Congregational Church on same site 1865; closed c.1990; converted to housing. Plymouth Brethren Gospel Hall, Queen Street, built 1873. Salvation Army barracks built 1882 in Castletown; later moved to Hunter Lane. Church in the Barn community established 1980s; moved 1997 to Wetheriggs. Kings Church Eden established 2002-3. Bangladeshi Eden Mosque established c.2009.


John de Eskeheved licensed by bishop of Carlisle ‘to teach the art of grammar’ 1340. Chantry in parish church founded by Bishop Strickland 1395 with priest to teach music and grammar; chantry dissolved 1547. Grammar school in St Andrew's churchyard and Bishops Yards, endowed by Elizabeth I 1564; moved to new premises on Ullswater Road 1915; now Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. Robinson’s school for education of poor girls founded 1661; spinning and knitting school later added; closed 1971 (now museum and tourist information centre); replaced by new school on Scaws housing estate, now Beaconside CE Primary School. Girls’ National school of industry, Drovers Lane, established 1813; rebuilt 1853; enlarged 1882 with classroom for infants. Boys’ National school, Benson Row, established 1816; rebuilt 1871; closed 1979; demolished. CE infant school established 1828; moved 1833 to house in Meeting House Lane; now used by pre-school nursery and toddler group. Wesleyan schools established in Meeting House Lane 1844. British School, Castlegate Head, built 1847. Ragged (mission) school erected 1853 in Drovers Lane, for children from Townhead district; discontinued 1874. St Catherine’s Catholic primary school, Drovers Lane, built 1882; enlarged 1899; rebuilt 1970; continues. Brunswick Road Board schools opened 1894; extended 1901; now Brunswick Infant School. New schools built in post-War period: secondary modern schools, Tynefield (girls) and Ullswater (boys), established 1950s; merged 1980 to become Ullswater High School, now Ullswater Community College; and Wetheriggs Junior School; now North Lakes Primary School. Independent preparatory school (Hunter Hall) moved from Great Salkeld to Frenchfield, Penrith, 1986.

Other institutions.

Moot Hall, where manorial court leet held, dates from 1678, probably replacing earlier structure; occupied by draper’s shop since 1850. Town Hall, Stricklandgate, converted from houses 1905-6. Penrith Beacon, in use before 1363, an important landmark in times of border warfare; stone tower erected 1719. Lock-up (now known as ‘The Old Jail’), Scotland Road, recorded 1547; replaced by new house of detention at Town Head, built 1825, along with constable’s residence; in turn replaced police station, Hunter Lane, built 1859. Carleton Hall became headquarters of Cumbria Constabulary, formed 1974. Penrith magistrates’ court opened 1973; closed 2011. Parish workhouse, Queen Street, replaced by Penrith Poor Law Union Workhouse, a mile west of town, built 1838; closed 1960s. Isolation hospital at Fairhill built 1895; closed and demolished later 20th century. Jubilee Cottage Hospital, Beacon Edge, built 1898-9; closed 1987 (converted to housing); replaced by new Penrith Community Hospital, Bridge Lane. Book society and general news room formed c.1829 at Crown Inn; a number of subscription libraries also existed. Mechanics’ Institute founded 1830-1; reading room added 1846. YMCA public library founded 1853. Working men’s reading room built 1853; converted into free library and museum 1883, which was moved to new Town Hall building 1906 and to St Andrew’s churchyard 1992. Newspapers published in Penrith: Cumberland and Westmorland Advertiser and Penrith Beacon Advertiser, both established 1854; and Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, established 1860 under different title. Assembly room at George Hotel, described 1847 as ‘one of the finest ... in the north of England’. Parish rooms (now Masonic Hall) built 1882. Drill hall and concert hall, Portland Place, built 1893. Alhambra Buildings housed skating rink and hall in 1911; later became cinema. Albion Hall, Castlegate, formerly dance hall, converted to theatre 1925-6. Race course built to north of Beacon Fell 1814; converted to golf course 1890. Castle Park opened 1923.