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THE CELTIC COLONISATIONS OF CUMBERLAND AND
THE district of country that contains the modern counties of Cumberland and Westmorland (which in the ensuing pages will be included under the general name of Cumbria), is enclosed on two sides, the east by the Pennine, the west by the sea. Rugged and unattractive, the most inhospitable portion of primæval England, we can scarcely imagine it to have been peopled, except by the overflowing of the more favoured districts. Such an inference is, however, not borne out by history. All historical evidences tend to show that Cumbria, at its first occupation by the Romans, was as thickly populated as any part of Britain, in proportion to its power of furnishing the means of support. And there is scarcely a doubt, that man in his earliest migrations, as in his latest, was in search not only of food, but of health and independence.
As a consequence of the peculiar local condition of these counties, we are enabled to judge with some certainty, from the ancient names, of the direction in which the immigrants were proceeding. It has been stated that Albion was explored southwards, a conclusion that is strengthened considerably by Cumbrian evidence. The oldest settlement of this district shows clearly, even in its present state, that the colonists came in from the north. It extends southwards along the slope of the Pennine, from Castle Carrock (including Croglin and Cumrew) to Culgaith, the end of the garden, where it was stopped by the nature of the ground. The people of this ancient settlement—the date of which cannot be assumed at less than four centuries before our
Hiberno-Celts, and doubtless by them was erected the finest monument of the north, the Druidical circle popularly known as Long Meg and her Daughters. In the same neighbourhood we find Great Dun Fell, Crowdundle and Knock Pike, which belong to this people, if not to so early a period.
Around the coast appear traces of another colony, the people of which drew the main part of their subsistence from fishing. The statement of Dio Cassius, that the Celts of Britain would eat no fish, may, with many others, be declared wholly false, or founded on something of very limited application. Judging from present appearances, the centre of the coast settlement was at the northern Morecambe, a name that originally could only be applied to the Solway with all its inlets. Dundraw, Cultram, the Esk, with many other names in the same neighbourhood, proceed from this people. About the southern Morecambe, the Kent, and the coast, probably as far as Ravenglass, an immigration may be traced northwards, which at the last-mentioned place would probably come in contact with the other colonists of the coast.
We have several traces of central settlements, a principal one being in the neighbourhood of the Keswick Circle, and from thence to Ullswater, Glencoin, Glenridding, and Dunmaile. The centre of another very important settlement was at Blencowe, around which names may be traced to a considerable distance. The name Ray, variously spelled Wreay, Rea, and Wray, is indicative of the first colonisation.
These first settlers, the pioneers of British civilisation, were partly a pastoral people, and partly subsisted on hunting and fishing. In them we see a tendency to avoid the vallies, and, for permanent residences, to seek the highest ground, suited to their occupations. The reasons are obvious; the vallies were impenetrable thickets, and pestilential marshes,—the high grounds were healthier, and less obstructed by forest. Those traces of the plough that have been observed on hills and commons uncultivated even at the present day, belong to this early period, and show that agriculture had made progress on the lands of the first colonists. But the phenomenon has remained a puzzle to the latest times, and
on it has been founded the popular story, that it was laid as a penance on King John's subjects during the interdict, to till no enclosed fields, or lands ordinarily cultivated, for the space of a year and a day.
The Cambro-Celtic colonists, having migrated altogether from the north and west coasts of Gaul, landed on the south and south-west of Britain. Just as we trace the Hiberno-Celts on the east coast, so do we find the Cambro-Celts on the west. In Cornwall, North Wales, and Lancashire, they were the explorers of the seashore, Liverpool and Lancaster being of their foundation.
Thus the second Celtic colonists entered Cumbria on the south. Yet they have not left many names in Westmorland, and this favours the opinion that they were proceeding in a great measure by the coast, and in their first movements seeking for districts uncolonised by any earlier people. The Lowther, the Leven, and the first part of Nan Bield, received their names from this people; and Corney, now the name of a river, is derived from the original appellative of the peninsula west of the Duddon, namely, corn, the horn.
In the central districts of Cumbria, we find certain evidences of conflict with the earlier occupants. The Hiberno-Celts being established at Blencowe, the Cambro-Celts fixed themselves at Penrith. Barco in this quarter appears to have been the battlefield for the contending parties. Nevertheless both held their ground, for, in the neighbourhood of the Peterill, they were separated only by the river. About the foot of Ullswater, which they called the Pool, and thence to Penruddock, little Penrith, ample traces of the Cambro-Celts are likewise found. Helvellyn was named by them, and certain places on the right shore of the lake. Their attempts to pass up the left bank, appear to have been checked at Glencoin, the glen of tribute, the place being of course named by the victorious party.
Farther north, and in contact with the settlers on the “fellsides," we can trace the Cambro-Celts in Cumwhitton, Cumwhinton, and in the name which they gave their neighbours, the Cumrew, or people of the hills, now preserved in the name of a village. Still lower do we find them, at Lanercost, though this may be a much
later settlement, as it is unquestionably a later name, and at Torpenhow, as appears from the second syllable; and again in the centre at Derwent and Lowdore.
The arrival of the Cambro-Celts in the North, can hardly be estimated at a less interval than two centuries subsequent to the coming of the Hiberno-Celts. This conclusion is arrived at from the fact that the whole of northern Europe was, at one time, in possession of the latter people, who must have given way in various places, and whose emigrations must, to some extent, have ceased, before those of the latter began. The intercourse carried on between both peoples in Cumbria, was of an imperfect kind, unless aided by interpreters.
It is highly probable that the earlier colonists exclusively brought with them the people of the Stone age, and that to a considerable extent the Celtiberians were a mixture of the later or CambroCeltic people. But there have already been mentioned two mixed tribes, or confederacies, the Brigantes and Silures,-and another important tribe remains,—who did not belong to the second division of the Celts. Of the presence of the Stone people, our imperfect linguistic remains afford no traces; but we have yet to ascertain, in the proper place, what evidence of their colonisation of Cumbria may be found in the monuments and burial places of the district. Concerning the Celtiberian mixture, however, various words present themselves that cannot be reconciled to any pure Celtic dialect, or to any language of the Indo-European stock.
Among the invading tribes of ancient Irish history, none is more easily recognised by continental names, than the Fir Bolg, the men of Belgium. Some time before the complete conquest of Britain, a part of this tribe left the continent, and sailing down the channel, threw out colonies right and left as they proceeded. We can trace them by a peculiar use of the word caer (car), that is cathair, the city, which they prefixed to the older names of places conquered by them,-names that they frequently did not understand. The first of this class is found in Caer Odor (the ancient Bristol), then follow Caerleon and Caerwent in Monmouthshire, Caermarthen and Cardigan in Wales, Carlow in Ireland, Carnarvon
in Wales, Carlingford in Ireland, Cardurnock and Carlisle in Cumberland, and Caervorran on the Wall in Northumberland. That this tribe reached Cumbria is almost certain from the Blatum Bulgium of Antoninus's Itinerary, which is correctly placed in this part of Britain, and signifies the Belgian conquest.
Carlisle, the name in which we are principally interested, is evidently the composition of a later people, whose arrival was subsequent to that of the Romans, but, as appears from Blatum Bulgium, during the Roman occupation. The word caer was quite intelligible to all the Celtic tribes, every city in Ireland might have had it placed before its name; but the simple fact is, the Irish people did not use it as a prefix to the names of places. The visits of those Belgæ were not favourably regarded by their neighbours, for Belgian in the Welsh language became a synonyme for a ravager, as Gaul in Irish for a stranger, until put out of the field by Saxon. It can hardly be said with certainty, to which division of the Celts these colonists belonged; but more probably they were Hiberno-Celtic, and, being few in number, would have little influence on the language of either country.
The Roman occupation of Britain furnishes us with important information on the population of Cumbria. The conquest of the Brigantes, A.D. 121, gave the signal for the fall of the whole northern district, and Cumbria was not long saved from invasion by its mountains. We may assume that this district was overrun by the Roman legions at some time in the second century. The population that they found here was even then considerable, but it no doubt increased vastly during two and a half centuries of steady government.
The forts and camps erected by the Romans afford, by their position, the most important evidence. As the centre of a colony could rarely have been a proper site, wherever we find a principal station, we may look for a native population in the neighbourhood. Many of the camps were, however, intended merely to facilitate the removal of troops; and the seven forts on the wall, being designed for external defence, afford only indirect evidence on the internal state of the country.