Townships: Upper Holker

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.

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, 'Townships: Upper Holker', in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8, (London, 1914) pp. 276-278. British History Online [accessed 22 May 2024].

. "Townships: Upper Holker", in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8, (London, 1914) 276-278. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024,

. "Townships: Upper Holker", A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8, (London, 1914). 276-278. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024,

In this section


Walletun, Dom. Bk.

The chief feature of the township is the hilly ridge which extends from north to south and occupies the whole of the eastern half. On the west the hill rises somewhat steeply, descending more gently on the east towards Staveley and Broughton. The highest point, just south of Bigland Hall, attains 670 ft. above sea level, but at other points 600 ft. is reached. There is a magnificent view from the hill. The western part of the township lies low and level beside the Leven estuary, into which runs Skelwith Pool. Several large woods adorn it and others clothe the hill sides. Low Wood is a considerable village in the north-west, where there is a bridge over the Leven; Backbarrow lies to the north-east of it, and Bigland Hall, with the Tarn adjacent, to the east. Frith lies in the south-west, on the bank of the Leven. On the eastern side of the hill lies Walton Hall, with the town of Cartmel on the more level ground at the border. Part of this town is within Upper Holker, the little River Eea forming the division, so that, while the church is in Lower Allithwaite, the old market-place and cross, with the priory gateway to the north, stand within Holker. The area is 7,140 acres, (fn. 1) and there was a population of 825 in 1901.

On the eastern side of the hill a road from Cartmel leads north and then over the hill north-west, past Bigland, to Low Wood, with a branch north to Backbarrow and Newby Bridge, while another road goes south to Cark. Along the foot of the hill on the west runs the road from Cark to Low Wood. The Furness Railway Company's single-line track from Greenodd to Newby Bridge crosses the northwestern edge of the township.

Chapel Island, (fn. 2) off Conishead and formerly belonging to its priory, is now within Upper Holker, some change in the course of the Leven probably accounting for this. West, writing in 1774, described the shell of the chapel as still standing, but parts of the present ruins were erected as such in 1823 by Colonel Braddyll at the time when the new mansion at Conishead Priory was being built. The chief feature of the bogus work is a high gabled wall built of slate and pierced by three lancets and a circular opening above. An investigation of the foundations of the other parts might reveal the plan of the ancient chapel. (fn. 3)

The Leven side of the township is noteworthy in the history of the iron industry for several ancient bloomery forges and furnaces, one at Burnbarrow, by Low Wood, being worked 1603–20, and another at Backbarrow starting in 1685 (fn. 4); that at Low Wood was planned in 1728, the 'Bigland Dock' on the Leven being named and begun in 1747. (fn. 5) A gunpowder factory succeeded the furnace about a century ago and is still at work. In 1825 there were two cotton mills at Backbarrow.

The township is administered by a parish council of six members.


The manor of WALTON is recorded in Domesday Book, as already stated, (fn. 6) and a family surnamed Walton held a ploughland there till 1342, (fn. 7) when it was transferred to the Prior of Cartmel. (fn. 8) Thomas Preston held Walton Hall in 1 508–9, paying a free rent of 3s. (fn. 9) The heir of Richard Palfreyman held some land there by a free rent of 1d. (fn. 10) Walton Hall now forms part of the Holker estate of Lord Richard Cavendish.

The remainder of the land in Upper Holker was held by customary tenants of the priory of Cartmel, (fn. 11) or by the canons themselves in demesne. To the latter division probably belonged Frith Hall, which after the Suppression was granted out with Holker Hall. (fn. 12) To the former belonged the BIGLAND tenement. Among the customary tenants in 1508–9 appears Henry Bigland, who paid 12s. a year for his chief tenement, 2s. 2d. for Riddings, 3 bushels of oats for tithe corn; for Selyknop, on which his dwelling-house was built, he rendered 8d. a year and one hen. He also held the meadow called Langshaw at 8s. a year rent. The widow of William Bigland is named also. (fn. 13) The family have retained possession of the Bigland Hall estate to the present time, (fn. 14) the owner now being Mr. George Braddyll Bigland. (fn. 15)

Bigland of Bigland. Azure two ears of big wheat in pale couped and bearded or.

But few notices of the township occur in the records. (fn. 16) The Park family had lands, (fn. 17) and Giles Park had his estate sequestered and then forfeited for his 'delinquency' in taking the side of the king in the Civil War. (fn. 18)

The Wesleyan Methodists have a church at Backbarrow.

A school at Browedge was built through a bequest by George Bigland in 1685.


  • 1. The Census Rep. 1901 gives 7,247 acres, including 42 of inland water; there are also 414 acres of tidal water and 2,727 of foreshore.
  • 2. Known as Harlesyde Isle in 1593; Furness Lore, 45; Proc. Barrow Nat. Field Club, xvii, 48–50. It is stated that the name Chapel Island was given to it by Mrs. Radcliffe in her Tour to the Lakes (1795). It is referred to by Wordsworth, Prelude, x.
  • 3. a Proc. Barrow Nat. Field Club, xvii, 48–50. There is an illustration of the island at p. 48. 'The ruins of a kitchen to the east, and another room with a ruinous loft or sleeping place on the west with remains of a scullery and a detached outbuilding on the south (possibly the shell of the ancient chapel), are all that now remain. The walls are from 2 ft. to 3 ft. thick and roughly built of limestone set in mortar,'
  • 4. A. Fell, Early Iron Industry of Furness, 199, 200.
  • 5. Ibid. 218.
  • 6. The bailiwick of Walton and Barngarth was one of the recognized divisions of the manor till recent times. In 1601 William Kellet, bailiff of Barngarth and Walton and clerk of the courts of Cartmel, made complaint against Thomas Preston, deputy steward of the manor of Furness, concerning the unlawful exercise of the office of bailiff, &c.; Ducatus Lanc. (Rec. Com.), iii, 464.
  • 7. This estate does not seem to have been called a manor. In 1276 John de Walton claimed common of pasture in Holker, Broughton and Flingthwaite against the Prior of Cartmel, but withdrew; Assize R. 405, m. 1 d. William de Walton was prior of Cartmel c. 1280–1300. Robert and John de Walton occur at Holker in 1332; Exch. Lay Subs. (Rec. Soc. Lancs, and Ches.), 95. In 1337 William de Raysthwaite in right of his wife Alice claimed two messuages, &c, in Holker against Agnes widow of Gilbert de Walton; De Banco R. 310, m. 158. In 1344 the claim was pursued, Thomas de Walton being defendant; it was alleged that Alan de Michelhope, formerly husband of Alice, had demised the disputed tenement to Gilbert de Walton, but the verdict was for the defendant; ibid. 340, m. 435.
  • 8. Robert de Walton and Margaret his wife in 1342 released their right in one plough-land in Holker to the Prior of Cartmel, receiving 20 marks; Final Conc. (Rec. Soc. Lancs, and Ches.), ii, 115. See Cal. Pat. 1340–3, p. 195. Alan son of Robert de Walton was plaintiff in 1353; Assize R. 435, m. 32 d. John son of Alexander de Walton of Cartmel was plaintiff in 1347; De Banco R. 352, m. 473 d. John de Walton and Rosa his wife in 1385–6 made a settlement of lands in Lancaster, Bare and Cartmel, the remainders being to lawful issue, and in default to John's base son John by Agnes St. Paul, to William de Stockenbridge, and to the heirs of John de Oxcliffe; Dep. Keeper's Rep. xxxii, App. 364–5. Gilbert Walton of Churchtown buried his wife Ellen 22 Apr. 1621 and married Elizabeth Addison 30 Oct. following; Reg. Walton and Grisgarth, lately belonging to Cartmel Priory, are named in a grant dated 1630; Pat. 6 Chas. I, pt. x.
  • 9. Duchy of Lanc. Rentals and Surv. bdle. 4, no. 9.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid. Miles Pool took a tenement called Aftymanfield at a rent of 9d. at each term, 9d. for services, 20d. and two hens for ingress (the two and a half years' fine), and two bushels of oats for tithe corn. Other tenants held by similar rents. Among the surnames are Hyne, Fell of Glovercroft, Casson, Barwick, Burn, Greenhide, Sawrey (Salrey), Bloomer, Brockbank and Slater. Hugh Lancaster took a tenement including a croft by Ingriggs, an intake by Paddock Meadow, and lands in Fellclose, Godderside and Court. Richard Mokeld took a tenement including land in Castle Meadow; this surname is now spelt Muckalt. Other fieldnames are Cross Close and Greenhurst. A fulling mill is named; it was held by Thomas Hodgson, who paid 2s. 8d. to Cartmel Priory and 20d. to Furness Abbey. From this double rent it was probably on the River Leven.
  • 12. In the grant to Sir Thomas Holcroft in 1545–6 it is called Frith Hall Grange, which indicates its purpose; Pat. 37 Hen. VIII, pt. iii. It is mentioned again in grants to Christopher Preston and George Preston; Pat. 3 & 4 Phil. and Mary, pt. iv; 35 Eliz. pt. ix. See Stockdale, Annals of Cartmel, 511.
  • 13. Rental cited above. Roger Bigland is named at Cark. In 1576 Miles Bigland, second son of James Bigland, who died about 1560, claimed lands lately occupied by his uncle Edward (youngest brother of James). James Bigland had left these lands (which had been occupied by George his brother) to his youngest son, also named George, with reversion to plaintiff Miles. Nevertheless James the son and Agnes the wife of Edward Bigland had entered the lands, and he claimed restitution; Duchy of Lanc. Plead. Eliz. c, B 27. The defence was that the elder George Bigland, brother of James, had lawfully conveyed a moiety to Edward according to the custom of the manor of Cartmel; ibid, ciii, B 1. Closes called Stribus and Burnbarrow are mentioned. A moiety of Barnbarrow was in dispute in 1585, Henry Bigland claiming against James Bigland, and Robert Kellet (in right of Miles Bigland) claiming against R. Newby and others; Ducatus Lanc. (Rec. Com.), iii, 157, 160, 169.
  • 14. A long pedigree appeared in the Lonsdale Mag. of 1822 (iii, 241), ending with George Bigland, then in possession. He was succeeded by his brother Wilson Braddyll Bigland, rear-admiral, whose brother John followed in 1858, and was in 1862 succeeded by his son John, the owner in 1870; Stockdale, op. cit. 503. In 1670 John Bigland held Barnbarrow and Bigland field by a rent of £2 5s. 6d. and 5d. for knowing silver; Pat. 22 Chas. II. About the same time Henry Bigland of Grange was a convicted recusant; Misc. (Cath. Rec. Soc), v, 253.
  • 15. John Bigland (of 1870) died in 1893, and his brother George in 1901, being succeeded by his son George Braddyll.
  • 16. Corn mills at Backbarrow and Staveley were in dispute after the suppression of the priory, the Newby family appearing to be chiefly interested; Ducatus Lanc, i, 157, 301, 307, between 1537 and 1558. There was a fulling mill at Backbarrow in 1599 held by the Barwicks; ibid, iii, 414. The estate of Townson Hill is noticed by Stockdale (op. cit. 531). He records the adventurous career of Robert Mackereth of this place, who acquired a fortune in India and was knighted; he was living in 1793.
  • 17. George Park died in 1623 holding the moiety of 6 acres called 'Wheanerave' and an acre in Paddock Meadow, with the reversion of the other moiety of the 6 acres after the death of Jane widow of his father John Park; he also had some other lands, and left as heir his son George, aged seventeen. The tenure is not stated; Duchy of Lanc. Inq. p.m. xxvi, no. 43. George Park died in 1640 holding of the king by the fortieth part of a knight's fee. His heir was his uncle Giles, aged thirty-four; Towneley MS. C 8, 13 (Chet. Lib.), 963. Giles Park, who had been living at St. Kitts in the West Indies, came back to claim; Westmld. Note-bk. 363.
  • 18. Cal. Com. for Comp. iv, 2996; Index of Royalists (Index Soc), 43. He had taken part in the 'second war.'His wife Elizabeth is named.