Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group



Copy of 1538 Survey

After the dissolution of the Abbey in 1538, stewards appointed by the Crown managed the Holm manor. One of the early duties under the new regime was a survey of the parish – undertaken to determine its wealth, and thereby the income that the Crown could expect from it.

A copy of the 1538 survey was made by Jeremiah Barwise, Junr of The Nook in 1776 when he was only twelve years old.

 Examples of his fine penmanship can be seen on the left.

As well as the rents, the abbey had collected Tithes, these were a payment, originally of one tenth of the produce from the land.

In 1553 the right to the tithes from the manor were given to the University of Oxford on condition that they maintained a graduate clergyman at the abbey.

The University remains the lay rector of the Parish and still appoints its vicars.

Its coat of arms is still displayed on the church gates.

Gates to Holm Cultram Church

By the beginning of the 17th century, the manor was responsible for every facet of the lives of its tenants. Changing ownership of a house or land would require a fine to be paid at the manor court, which met quarterly. Disputes were settled by the manorial jury. Tenants could be instructed to repair hedges and dykes, and fined quite considerable sums if they failed to do so.

Much of this work was determined by a local parliament in the manor who were known as the Sixteen Men. These men acted under the Steward of the Manor, who was originally responsible to the Lord Warden of the West Marches and, subsequently, to the Governor of Carlisle, who represented the Crown. The members of the Sixteen were taken equally from the four Quarters into which the parish was divided, four being elected from each Quarter.

They had many duties: the maintenance of the sea-dyke, the care of Wedholme Wood, the maintenance of local bridges, the levying of local rates and the appointment of a local school master. They supervised the accounts of the churchwardens, reviewed local byelaws, and were often used as arbitrators or as a court of appeal in local disputes.

Page from Manor Records for 1728 Page from Manor Records for 1728
Two pages from the records of the sixteen men in 1728. These show the names of men appointed to supervise, the amounts they awarded to the poor of the St. Cuthbert Quarter of Holm Cultram and their own 'expenses'.

The maintenance of the sea dyke was probably the most important duty of Holm Cultram’s Sixteen Men. Early records have constant references to the dyke, which ran all along the coast of the parish from Skinburness to Dubmill. Storms frequently caused damage and breached the dyke, allowing the sea to flood nearby fields, which would then be too salty for growing crops.

Skinburness and Sea Dyke
The Sea Dyke protecting Skinburness Village, early 1900s.

It was also the duty of the Sixteen Men to manage Wedholme wood. The wood had been given to the parish by Elizabeth I to ensure there was a plentiful supply of material to repair the sea dyke. When there was surplus wood it was sold and the money used to benefit the parish. There are records of some kind of Poor Relief being provided from 1640 for parishioners, maimed soldiers, orphans and other destitute people.

18th Century map of area
This 18th century map of the area shows Wedholm Wood
at the bottom right.

Surplus money from the sale of wood continued to accumulate and by 1765 there was enough to purchase West House Farm, Pellutho for £930. It was agreed to open a workhouse in part of a barn at there. Presumably this was a cheaper option than paying for destitute parishioners to be sent to workhouses outside of the parish. In 1776 the first part of Swinsty was purchased for £1920 and in 1804 a farm at Skinburness was bought for £810.

In 1778 the last wood from Wedholme was felled and sold for £100. The land had not been replanted and was let to Sir William Musgrave for a small yearly rent.

By 1888 most of the responsibilities of the Sixteen Men had been taken over by the County and Parish Councils. It was decided that the funds should be registered with the Charity Commission and the Sea Dyke Charity was set up. Sixteen trustees were to administer the fund, four landowners from each of the four quarters of the parish, elected every four years. The rules and regulations of the charity set down in 1889 are still the same today.

Up until 1995, the Charity was still responsible for the maintenance of a small section of sea dyke around Skinburness Marsh, then the National Rivers Authority took over the work. The sea dyke is still visible round the edge of Skinburness Marsh and is there to protect the farm land and the village from the sea.

Group of well-dressed tennents
Rent Day at Silloth in the early 1900s. The farmers have gathered
to pay their dues to the manor.

The Charity still owns Swinsty Farm (91.24 acres), Stankside Cottages and the allotments in Abbeytown. The main object of Sea dyke charity is, ‘the maintenance of a specific Sea Dyke and if the income can not be spent for those purposes, then for the general benefit of the inhabitants of the ancient parish of Holme Cultram’.

The early Holm Cultram surveys have been transcribed and are available here in word processed format to view or down-load.

Click on the year below to link to these:

1538 Survey

1570 Rentals

1589 Survey

1604 Rentals



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