Raising a Hue & Cry

We complain about the police all the time. As if their role was to apply a governmental rubber to all the ills we see around us – and those ills are usually, going by a radio programme I heard just before the recent UK general election – litter, noise and People Who Aren’t Like Us.*

As every British schoolchild should know, our first police force was instituted in 1749 when Henry Fielding founded the Bow Street Runners, although that was long after Edinburgh established its Town Guard in 1707 and the City of London hired its first official night watchmen in 1663. But all that was a fat lot of good to most of the country, especially in this particular rural backwater, three hundred miles from London and over a hundred from Edinburgh – which was, of course, in a different country until James VI/I ascended the throne in 1603 anyway.

Border territory copyright DMcIlmoyle

Border territory copyright DMcIlmoyle

Before that, law for ordinary folks had been kept by common agreement enacted via an elected constable and the ‘hue and cry’ system. It wasn’t complicated. If someone killed your pig, abducted your wife, stole a fork or murdered your aunt, you yelled very loudly and neighbours, friends and passers-by were all equally required to chase after the felon, apprehend him/her and hand them over to the constable, who would then turn him over to the justices for punishment.

Any historical dictionary will tell you that ‘hue and cry’ comes from the Anglo-Norman phrase, ‘hu e cri’ and from that, people can assume it was an introduction of the Norman Conquest. But there seems to be plenty of evidence that finding and turning in criminals was a legal responsibility in the pre-Norman version of the feudal system and in all truth, likely represents the way wrongdoing was managed for millennia.

The hue and cry system worked well until somewhere around the mid-14th century. This is probably connected to the de-population of the country following the first major Black Death, when perhaps as much as half of the population died in a few years. Villages disappeared, not only because they failed to function when half the agricultural labourers, the miller and the baker had died, but because those people who survived realised that their labour was now so valuable that they could flog their skills to the highest bidder… likely in the next village or two down the road. As a result, communities broke down and re-formed, and traditional communal obligations became looser.

Cumberland – the northern part of Cumbria – had an additional problem. From the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), long-standing poor relations between Scots and Cumbrians deteriorated into a pattern that would last for three hundred years. Carlisle had been tossed between kings for centuries – Edward I himself died at Burgh-by-Sands at the end of one campaign with the Scots – but as time went on the real problem was increasing poverty in areas around the borders. The land was thin, then as now, and the only real way to create value was to raise cattle. An ancient inheritance custom on the Scottish side also meant that land was divided equally amongst sons when a father died, so men had smaller and smaller patches of land on which to raise their cattle and their wealth, their families and their worth. So, as always happens when people can’t feed their own, people invented their own way to address the economic balance. And, as isn’t rare, the method they chose also functioned to get their young disaffected to focus their dissatisfaction on people outside their own community – it was, in a way, a morale-booster, awful though it sounds.

Naming this time The Era of the Border Reivers rather over-aggrandises a period when communities from one side or other of the border area would take a day’s ride towards a well-off household or community, with the aim of nicking stuff, be it livestock or church silver or whatever else came to hand. Penrith’s 13th century town seal – a brass medallion featuring a cross of St Andrew’s – is considered to be an early casualty, turning up 600 years later under a hedge at Brampton, outside Carlisle.

View from the East Fellside towards the Lake District

View from the East Fellside towards the Lake District

With all this additional aggravation from armed, horseback gangs, it’s easy to see why, at the time of attack, people would either a) hide in a hedge until the gang had ridden past or b) focus on walling up your valuables, human, animal and otherwise, in the nearest peel tower or defendable yard. People who had suffered loss at the hands of the reivers were allowed under special border law to launch counter-raids, as long as they were within six days and were heralded by people shouting in the old ‘hue and cry’ style and carrying a lighted torch; in theory this was to warn locals that they were on a legitimate return mission, rather than reiveing, but the difference was perhaps a moot point!

The reiver raids eased up with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603, and with the decrease in general threat, people’s inclination to support the hue and cry for communal good declined. By 1657, the local court decreed that, ‘..every Tenant or other Inhabitant neglecting their duty or right in their several Turnes or ye Constable or any other p’son refusing to raise Hue and Cry after a felon, or to follow ye same shall be amercyed for every default 6/8’. People could now be fined for failing to help with communal policing.

By the nineteenth century, the days of the reivers had passed but we were still a distance from the newly-established ‘police’ in London and Edinburgh. The hue and cry was still technically in force but local inclination to engage had deteriorated to the extent that local parishes, rather than fining the populace for not helping, were now offering enormous financial rewards to get their help. In Holm Cultram in 1814, the following policy was drawn up and published in the Carlisle Journal:

‘Whereas divers felonies and other Misdemeanors have lately been committed within the Parish of Holm Cultram in the County of Cumberland, the offenders having frequently escaped Justice NOTICE IS THEREFORE GIVEN That for the prevention thereof an ASSOCIATION is entered into amongst the Inhabitants of the said Parish for the Prosecution of all future offenders and that the most effectual means will be used to discover all suspected persons and bring the delinquents to condign punishment. Signed the 4th day of December, 1812 by the Committee appointed by the said Association… it was resolved and agree that the following rewards should be paid by the Treasurer out of the public fund to any person of persons not being a Member of the Association who shall apprehend any person or persons guilty of the following offences against any Member of the Society on conviction of such offender or offenders.

For Murder, Burglary, Highway or Footpad Robbery, or privately stealing from any shop, warehouse &c., to the value of five shillings or more                                                                                     £10 10 0

Stealing any horse, mare, gelding or cow                                                £5 5 0

Burning houses, barns, sacks of corn, hay, straw or wood                      £10 10 0

Stealing calves, sheep, lambs or pigs                                                       £3 3 0

Stealing poultry                                                                                           £1 1 0

Stealing turnips or cabbages, grass or hay, corn or grain out of any field, yard or bar, threshed or unthrashed                                                                                                                                    £0 10 6

Breaking or stealing any gates stiles or any iron work belonging thereunto           £0 10 6

Stealing or damaging any waggon, cart, plough, harrows or other implements of husbandry

                                                                                                                                               £1 1 0

Breaking or stealing and hedges, posts or rails                                                                   £0 10 6

Stealing any timber or working tools                                                                                       £0 10 6

Robbing any Orchard or Garden                                                                                            £0 10 6

and for any other felonious act not before particularly mentioned such reward as the Committee shall think proper to allow.

Any accomplice making a discovery to conviction shall be entitled to the same reward and means used to obtain a pardon.

By order of the General Meeting, Joseph Steel & Son, Solicitors’ **

The terrifying thing about the Holm Cultram society’s policy is that it applies only to crimes against paid-up members. I don’t know who could afford to pay and who couldn’t, but it seems certain that Ordinary Joe and Average Jill could not expect their rights to be defended by this new group with their fancy newspaper notice and solicitor-drawn contract. I do wonder, though, whether implicit in this contract is the acknowledgement that those excluded knew exactly who the criminals would be, and knew they could band together to grab them and claim the (hefty) rewards. And perhaps that’s how they dealt with offences against them, too. I think it’s probably a good thing that the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary was established in 1856.

Hurrah for modern policing, and the rights to all for justice.

Copyright Diane McIlmoyle 21.05.15

*Of course, none of my readers think that because we’ve got brains and know what the police are really for!

** Spelling and punctuation is as the 19th century original. Fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will know this!

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Cumberland: Land of the Cumbri, or Britons

If you live on this island at the moment, there’s no avoiding a certain debate about the land that lies at its northernmost end. It’s a particularly odd moment for Cumbria, as we share a border with Scotland and indeed for large chunks of its history, large chunks of Cumbria actually were in Scotland. I could wade through a list but perhaps this is best exemplified by Carlisle Castle; the ‘mighty keep’ (tower) was built by King David of Scotland and he died right here in 1153.

Carlisle Castle copyright Neil Boothman

Carlisle Castle copyright Neil Boothman

It’s made a lot of us think about how we define ourselves. Like many people around these parts I’m a real northwestern mongrel, with a mixture of Cumbrian, Irish and Scottish blood, names, appearance, and history. I’ve drawn the conclusion that I should side-step recent history – by recent I mean several hundred years’ worth – and decide that I’m British.

‘Britain’, of course, is as Tim Clarkson says in this excellent post, not a political entity but an historical one, describing an island off mainland Europe. That’s the whole island, north to south, east to west, and it includes a whole bag of ethnic micro-identifiers, ancient and modern.

I can even claim Camden, the 16th century historian, in evidence. In the wonderfully lyrical first English translation by Philemon Holland of 1610 – perhaps, appropriately, Camden’s 1586 original was not written in English or Welsh or Gaelic but Latin – Cumberland remembered it was peopled by Britons long after everyone else had adopted other labels.

Eden Valley from the Long Meg signpost

Eden Valley from the Long Meg signpost

‘Westward, Northward from Westmoreland lieth Cumberland, the utmost region this way of the Realme of England, as that which on the North side boundeth upon Scotland. On the Southside and the West the Irish sea beateth upon it, and Eastward above Westmorland it butteth upon Northumberland. It tooke the name of the inhabitants, who were the true and naturall Britans and called themselves in their owne language Kumbri and Kambri. For the Histories testifie that the Britans remained heere a long time, maugree [despite] the English Saxons, howsoever they fretted and stormed thereat: yea and Marianus himself recordeth as much, who tearmed this Country Cumbrorum terram, that is, The land of the Cumbri, or Britans, to say nothing of the places that everywhere here beare British names, as Caer-Luel, Caer-dronock, Pen-rith, Pen-rudocc, &c., which declare the same and as cleerely proove mine assertion.’ (William Camden’s Britannia, 1610 Philemon Holland translation, opening part of entry for Cumberland.)

(North-west of Westmorland is Cumberland, the furthest part of England, which borders Scotland. In the south-west it meets the Irish Sea, and to the north-east, Northumberland. It is named after its inhabitants, who were the original Britons, who called themselves cumbri. History says that the Britons were here long after the anglo-saxons arrived. Marianus [an 11thcentury writer] said this, calling it land of the Cumbrians, or Britons, and also there are British place-names everywhere, such as Carlisle, ***, Penrith and Penruddock, which proves my point.)

The word, ‘Cumbria’, as we all know (after three years of Esmeralda’s!), is from the same brythonic language root as the Welsh cymru and cymry, the Welsh words for Wales and Welsh. It’s usually translated as ‘fellow countrymen’ or, as I like to think of it, ‘people like us’. Everyone on this island spoke a dialect of that language when the Romans arrived, and it was gradually pushed back by successive language invasions from variants of anglo-saxons and to a lesser extent, gaelic speakers. Now the remnants of the language of the Britons are to be found in Wales and Brittany and a scattering of enthusiasts in Cornwall. Cumbria retains it in the oft-quoted sheep-counting dialect (‘yan, tan, tethera’), but we spoke it to some extent until the 10th century, well after the pesky anglians started putting their oar in.

Catbells over Derwentwater

Catbells over Derwentwater copyright D McIlmoyle

I’d like to think that Camden was particularly keen to include these facts because despite being born and bred in London, he knew that, ‘Wirkington, a place famous for the taking of Salmons, and now the seat of the ancient family of the Curwens… heere have they a stately house built Castlelike, and from whom (without offence of vanity be it spoken) my selfe am descended on my mothers side’. I’m also descended from Workington on my mother’s side (albeit not via the Curwens) and it seems we feel the same, 400 years apart.

Whatever whoever wants to call whichever part of the island of Britain after The Vote, I know one thing. Cumberland will hold as true to its Camden/Holland description as it ever has.

…although it be somewhat the coldest, lying farre North, and seemeth as rough by reason of hilles, yet for the variety thereof it smileth on the beholders, and give contentment to as many as travaile it. For after the rockes bunching out, the mountaines standing thicke togither, rich of mettal mines, and betweene them great meeres stored with all kinds of wilde-foule, you come to prety hills good for pasturage and well plenished with flocks of sheepe, beneath which againe you meet with goodly plaines spreading out a good way, yeelding corne sufficiently. Besides all this, the Ocean, driving and dashing upon the shore…

Roll on Cumbria, land of the Britons.

Castlerigg, view south

Castlerigg, view south

©Diane McIlmoyle

Notes

1. This is not part of the political argument, and I have no view on whether Scotland’s political future should lie within or outwith the UK. People bringing politics to Esmeralda’s will be subject to the usual punishment of defenestration.

2. The Camden quotes are all from the first English version, translated by Philemon Holland in 1610. Isn’t his language marvellous? The spelling and punctuation, with all its idiosyncracies and inconsistencies, is Holland’s original.

3. If you’re seeing a really weird page layout, that’s WordPress’s idiosyncracies. Grrrrrr.

The Danger of Charms: 18thc Hawkshead spells

If you cut your hand in 21st century Britain, you’d be fairly surprised if someone seized it and started chanting verse about Judea, Jesus, the Holy Ghost and Bethlehem. You’d think a) that’s no substitute for Savlon and a packet of plasters and b) how extraordinarily devout. And yet for much of the 16th and 17th centuries, what sounds like a prayer to modern ears would have been seen as evidence of a pact with diabolic forces. Just a few miles north over the border in Scotland, it could have had you burnt at the stake1.

The Witch by George Walker, 1892

The Witch by George Walker, 1892

In the third quarter of the 19th century, this charm2 was found Continue reading

The wind, the demons, and the ghost

Is it true that every pleasure has its price? Certainly, it’s not unusual for people to assume that if you live in Cumbria, your life out-of-season must be made a misery by the weather. It’s true, it rains a lot – that’s where the lakes come from! – but up here on the east Fellside (the Cumbrian side of the Pennines), we have another little trial. The Helm Wind.

Helm bar over Cross Fell c.D McIlmoyle

Helm bar over Cross Fell c.D McIlmoyle

Whilst plenty of folks across eastern Cumbria claim to get the Helm Wind, in fact, they don’t. The whole area can get a fairly strong north-east wind, but only a little strip about 20 miles long and two or three miles wide, extending from about Renwick to Warcop, actually gets it. This is a wind that roars incessantly for two or three days at a time, blowing over walkers and sheep, ripping roofs off, tearing up trees and burning leaves into blackened, scorched rolls. Continue reading