Cockermouth

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Cockermouth (/ˈkɒkɚməθ/) is an ancient market town and civil parish in the Borough of Allerdale in Cumbria, England, and is so named because it is at the confluence of the River Cocker as it flows into the River Derwent. The 2001 census records the population at that time as being 7,877.

Historically a part of Cumberland, Cockermouth is situated just outside the English Lake District on its northwest fringe. Much of the architectural core of the town remains unchanged since the basic medieval layout was filled in the 18th and 19th centuries. The regenerated Market place is now a central historical focus within the town and reflects events during its eight hundred year history. The town is prone to flooding, being flooded in 2005 and again much more severely on 19th November 2009.

Cockermouth owes its existence to the confluence of the rivers Cocker and Derwent, being the lowest point, historically, at which the resultant fast flowing river powered by the Lake District could be bridged. Cockermouth is situated a few minutes travelling distance from lakes such as Ennerdale, Crummock Water, Loweswater, and Bassenthwaite.

The Romans created a fort at Derventio, now the adjoining village of Papcastle, to protect the river crossing, which had become located on a major route for troops heading towards Hadrian’s Wall.

The main town developed under the Normans, who after occupying the former Roman fort built Cockermouth Castle closer to the river crossing: little remains today of the castle thanks to the efforts of Robert the Bruce. The resultant servicing and market town resultantly developed its distinctive medieval layout, of a broad main street of burgesses’ houses, each with a burgage plot stretching to a “back lane”: the Derwent bank on the north and Back Lane (now South Street), on the south. The layout is still largely preserved to this day, resulting in the British Council for Archaeology in 1965 noting it being worthy of special care in preservation and development.

The town market pre-dates 1221, when the market day was changed from Saturday to Monday. Market charters were granted in 1221 and 1227 by King Henry III, although this does not preclude the much earlier existence of a market in the town.  In recent times, the trading farmers market now only occurs seasonally, replaced by weekend continental and craft markets.

In the days when opening hours of public houses were restricted, the fact that the pubs in Cockermouth could open all day on Market days made the town a popular destination for drinkers, especially on Bank Holiday Mondays. The Market Bell remains as a reminder of this period (inset into a wall opposite the Allerdale Hotel), while the 1761 and Castle pub (which spans three floors) have been renovated to reveal medieval stonework and 16th and 18th century features.

Much of the centre of the town is of medieval origin substantially rebuilt in Georgian style with Victorian infill. The tree lined Kirkgate offers examples of unspoilt classical late 17th and 18th century terraced housing, cobbled paving and twisty curving lanes which run steeply down to the River Cocker. Most of the buildings are of traditional slate and stone construction with thick walls and green Skiddaw slate roofs.

Many of the facades lining the streets are frontages for historic housing in alleyways and lanes (often maintaining medieval street patterns) to the rear. An example of this may be observed through the alleyway adjacent to the almost time-frozen Market Place hardware merchant (J.B.Banks and Son) where 18th-century dye workers’ cottages line one side of the lane and the former works faces them across the narrow cobbled lane. Examples of Georgian residences may be found near the Market Place, St. Helens Street, at the bottom of Castlegate Drive and Kirkgate.

Curiously, Cockermouth lays claim to be the first town in Britain to have piloted electric lighting, reputedly in 1881.

The centre of Cockermouth retains much of its historic character and the renovation of Market Place has been completed, now with an artistic and community focus. The Kirkgate Centre is the town’s major cultural focus and offers regular historical displays by the Cockermouth Museum Group in addition to holding major cultural events including theatre, international music and world cinema. The tree-lined main street boasts a statue of Lord Mayo, formerly an MP for Cockermouth, who became British Viceroy of India and whose subsequent claim to fame was that he was assassinated.

The renovated arts and cultural zone in the 13th century Market Place has undergone something of a “regeneration” following European Union funding, and is now pedestrian-friendly adorned with stone paving and roadways, underground lighting and controversial seating in bright colours to reflect the area’s facades. Pavement art and stonework commemorate eclectic historical events, John Dalton’s atomic theory, local dialect, flooding and a curious range other memorabilia.

There is a cycleway which runs along the former Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway route, and spans a high bridge over the Cocker affording views of the town and river-scape.

Cockermouth suffered badly in the nationwide flood on 19 and 20 November 2009. Over 200 people needed to be rescued, with helicopters from RAF Valley, RAF Boulmer and RAF Leconfield retrieving about 50 and the remainder being rescued by boats, including those of the RNLI. Water levels in the town centre were reported to be as high as 2.50 metres (8 ft 2 in) and flowing at a rate of 25 knots. Many historic buildings on and adjacent to Main Street sustained severe damage, as did a number of bridges in and around the town. Recovery from the devastation was slow, with residents placed in temporary accommodation and some businesses temporarily relocated to Mitchells auction mart. By the summer of 2011 most of the damage had been repaired and buildings re-occupied, though some remained empty or boarded up.

Cockermouth Castle is a sizeable but partly ruined Norman castle, the home of Pamela, The Dowager Lady Egremont. Built at the confluence of the Rivers Cocker and Derwent, the castle has a tilting tower which hangs Pisa-like over Jennings Brewery. The castle, with its preserved dungeons, is only opened to the public once a year during the annual town festival.

Wordsworth House has been restored following extensive damage during the November 2009 floods, and features a working eighteenth century kitchen and children’s bedroom with toys and clothes of the times. Harris Park offers riverside walks and views down over the historic Town.

Jenning’s Brewery offers regular public tours and occasional carriage rides pulled by a shire horse. Other attractions include William Wordsworth’s birthplace, and the Lakeland Sheep & Wool Centre which offers daily shows in its theatre.

Culturally, the Kirkgate Centre offers international music, theatre and world cinema (including critically acclaimed and art-house movies on Monday evenings) and the town has an annual festival of concerts and performances each summer. Cockermouth has an annual Easter Fair, fireworks display and carnival. In April 2005 it hosted its first Georgian Fair, which was repeated in 2006, again in May 2008. At Christmas the town presents festive lighting throughout its main and subsidiary streets, accompanied by competing shop displays.

The main cemetery on the Lorton Road is something of a walker’s garden, featuring streams, humped stone bridges and views of the nearby fells.

The adjoining village of Papcastle is also picturesque in its own right, and stands on the site of the Roman fort of Derventio, lined with grand 18th and 19th century houses.

Two and a half miles northwest of the town lies Dovenby Hall Estate, a 115-acre (0.47 km2) park and woodland estate. Dovenby Hall is the home of the Ford Rally team. The estate was bought in January 1988 by Malcolm Wilson for his M-Sport motorsport team and in 1996 they were selected by Ford Motorsport to build, prepare and run a fleet of cars for entry into the World Rally Championship.

Created as a market town, being located close to a fast flowing river in a farming area that had always created cloth, meant that during the industrial revolution, Cockermouth became a hub for spinning and weaving. Records show that the town had a fulling mill by 1156, by the mid nineteenth century there were over forty industrial sites – mills (wool, linen, cotton), hat factories, tanneries and smaller concerns making chairs, churns, mangle rollers, nails, farm machinery etc.

With the need for steam power, industrialisation declined, but the coming of the railway and the Victorian holiday, together with the power of Wordsworth’s publications, meant that Cockermouth became an early inland tourist centre. The local economy is still reliant today on farming and tourism, with light industrial facilities servicing local needs. Industrialisation and hence work has moved to the west coast around Carlisle and Workington, and servicing the nuclear facilities at Sellafield.

Many of the shops offer a distinctive and local appeal, and yet there are three supermarkets, two chemists, a cycle shop, a Wilkinson’s store, a sports centre, three bakers, over twenty hairdressers, a music shop and two art galleries. Cockermouth has several churches, three medical and dental surgeries, a complementary health centre, a sports injuries and physiotherapy centre.

There are many restaurants and of course lots of pubs, many selling the locally brewed Jennings beers, who are a major local employer. The Bitter End pub in Kirkgate has its own micro-brewery and visiting ales. The largest hotel is the Georgian fronted Trout which still has a faded photo on its walls of Bing Crosby who used the hotel as a base for his fishing in the town’s rivers. At the end of Harris Park, there is a small youth hostel sited in a 16th century mill on a bend in the River Cocker’s approach to the town.

The Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway served the town. The original Cockermouth & Workington Railway station was replaced on a new alignment when the Cockermouth railway station opened to passenger traffic on 2 January 1865. The station was immortalised in 1964 in the song “Slow Train” by Flanders and Swann. The station closed on 18 April 1966. The site is now occupied by Cockermouth Mountain Rescue and the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters. The old track bed now a public walkway, with the nearest railway stations now being Maryport on the Cumbrian Coast Line, and Penrith and Carlisle, the latter two located on the West Coast main line.

Two cycle routes pass through the town, the Sea to Sea Cycle Route from Workington to Tyneside, and the Reivers Cycle Route.

The town has a thriving youth football club, Cockermouth F.C. In the 2007–2008 season, the Under 12 team were County Cup Champions. Cockermouth beat Allerdale Leisure, from Workington, 1-0 in the final.

Both Keswick Hockey Club and the West Cumbria teams play their home games at the Cockermouth School Astro Turf pitch.

Cockermouth is the home town of Belfagan Women’s Morris, an all-female team established in 1981 who perform North West morris wearing traditional wooden clogs and using garlands, sticks and hankies in their various dances.

Cockermouth is twinned wtih Marvejols, France.

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