We are indebted to Iain Parsons, who is well known to Brampton residents for his interest in the history of Brampton and early photographs of the area. He has kindly written a 'potted' history of Brampton.
BRAMPTON’S origins, like those of so many towns and villages across our land, have left no written record of the earliest days. Undoubtedly people have lived in the area for many centuries – various finds have shown this and one very early one was a beautifully-formed Neolithic flint arrowhead unearthed near Capon Tree Road some years ago.
It is reasonably certain that a small community would have sprung up around the southern side of the Roman Wall fort of Camboglanna, which was where the house now known as ‘Castlesteads’ is situated, some two miles from the present town.
Masonry purporting to be of Roman origin has been found in the old churchyard and, in the nineteenth century, an amphora was found by the sexton when digging a grave.
Tradition has it that a small chapel was founded on the banks of the River Irthing by St. Ninian, the evangelising saint of South Scotland in the fourth or fifth century, but all trace of this early building has vanished, as has any evidence of St. Martin’s Oak where Christian teaching was supposedly given. This tree was a little way from Brampton Old Church, roughly where the new cemetery gates now open on to the lane to the church. Certainly, a stone-built church has stood on much the same site for almost a thousand years and this still exists, showing signs of its early construction. It still sees occasional services, even though the town which it served is now some distance away.
The settlement was almost certainly relocated to its present position when a deer park was formed for the benefit of the Norman overlords. Traces of this are still found in the town’s street names such as Park Head. The whole district came into the possession of these new owners some time after the conquest of 1066, but it should be remembered that this area belonged to Scotland until 1092.
The castle in Carlisle was erected in that year to guard the crossing of the Eden and to protect the new border against Scottish incursions. (There is doubt as to whether or not Brampton had its own castle – the top of the hill known as ‘The Mote’ appears to have been levelled at some time in the distant past, perhaps for a fortification.) The hill and its accompanying ridge with extensive visibility to the north and west would have been a wonderful vantage point for raising the alarm when reivers from both sides of the border would have rampaged across the area virtually unchecked – the town lies close to the ‘Debatable Lands’ where the frontier between the two countries was not clearly defined, bringing anguish, confusion, loss and terror to the populace.
Regrettably, the outlook is now overgrown by unchecked tree growth and the view across the Solway plain and up into Scotland which in past years brought travellers from other towns is now lost.
The town was granted a market charter in 1252, which must have given impetus to the further development. However, the instability of the border would have created problems for the inhabitants. However, after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, these raids lessened and the presence of Lord William Howard (Belted Will) at Naworth also established a powerful deterrent, although he was never a Warden of the Marches. These were men responsible for settling the many disputes which arose in those times. Over the course of years, life became settled and Brampton developed the various industries which were characteristics of any small town. Here lived many weavers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Agriculture on the fells and the better arable land in the valley bottoms was another occupation which involved many of the local population. The town has, however, had its moments of excitement!
In November 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) made the town his headquarters when the Highlanders besieged Carlisle on their march to the south. It was here that he received the keys to the city when the aldermen surrendered. It is not recorded whether or not the keys were given back as they straggled back over the border after their defeat at Clifton near Penrith in the last pitched battle on English soil. Following this, six prisoners were sentenced to be hanged on the now-vanished Capon Tree, the site of which lies about one mile south-west. The place is marked by a monument to their memory.
The patronage of the Earls of Carlisle has been of benefit to the town in many ways. The coal deposits on their land on the fells above Hallbankgate provided employment for a lot of people and the distribution of that product was aided by the development of railways in the immediate area. All this industry is now but a memory, leaving nothing more than easily-traceable scars along the hillsides.
In the 1950s, a further source of employment came to Brampton with the development of the Spadeadam Rocket Research Establishment. There was a large influx of skilled workers which led to a large number of houses being built in the town. That project has now also closed, but many of the people who came to service it have remained.
Despite the ups and downs of life, Brampton survives as a pleasant market town.