Embleton and District. – Historical Information

Origin of the name Embleton:

The first written historical record of Embleton is in the Fines Records of 1195. It is recorded as a village in Cumberland and is written in the form of “Emelton”. The name derives from an Old-English pre-7th Century personal name “Eanbald” and the Saxon term for an enclosed settlement “tun”. Thus, the name Embleton means “Eanbald’s enclosure” or “Eanbald’s tun”.

Origin of the name Wythop:

There seem to be two possible explanations for the origin of the name Wythop. The first is based on information contained in charts, maps and guides engraved before 1700. On such documents the area immediately to the south-east of what is now Wythop Mill is identified as a substantial enclosed settlement called Widehope. It is easy to imagine how, given the influences of speech patterns, dialect and accent, Widehope would evolve to Wythop. – The second possibility seems equally plausable. It is that Wythop is derived from the old English name for willow, “whythe” coupled with “op..” a common shortening of the term meaning an unenclosed (open) area of land. Thus, the name means “the place of willows”.

Origin of the name Setmurthy:

The origins of the name are not clear but reliable records show that what is now Setmurthy was, in earlier times, called both “Setmurthow” and “Seatmurthow”. The name Murthow is that of one of the Celtic clans (it is a surname common in Co. Meath, Ireland, even today and it is also found in the west of Scotland). The term “set” is a common dialect shortening of the word “seat” so, given that “Seatmurthow” is one of the area’s predecessor names, it seems reasonable to deduce that the name “Setmurthy” means “the seat of the Murthows”.

Origin of the name Dubwath:

The term “dub” is in common usage in old English, although it probably derives from Norsk. It means a pool, pond, or mire, usually in the course of a river or stream. The term”wath” is a Viking word meaning a ford or shallow stream. Thus, Dubwath means “ford across the mire”

The Ouse Bridge Inn. - A drawing by Peter Crosthwaite - late 18th century


 Early Settlement :


Human settlement in the Lake District dates from over 5,000 years ago. This initial settlement resulted from a need for hard stone for making stone tools such as axes and blades. Pike O’Stickle and other mountains became important sources for such tools.



In Neolithic times, the Lake District was a major source of stone axes, many examples of which have been found throughout Britain. One of the primary sites, on the slopes of Langdale Pikes, is often described by historians as a ”stone tool factory”. There is much evidence of this early habitation and associated activities in many parts of the Lake District, including the stone circle at Elva, near Embleton. Other such circles and associated works can be seen at Castlerigg, Long Meg and at several other locations.


Later inhabitants excavated parts of the Lake District for a wide range of minerals including copper, iron-ore, graphite, granite and green slate. Indeed, quarrying, mining, stone working and mineral extraction have always featured importantly in the history of the area and has left its marks and legacies everywhere, most obviously in vernacular architecture and building materials but also in landscape, the locations of today’s communities and in the transportation features and infrastructure of the region.

Celtic Iron-Age:

A community certainly existed in Embleton in Brigantian times. – The Brigantians were the pre-Roman Celtic tribes that ruled the northern part of England. – The Embleton community was of tribe called Carvetii and it was centred around the south-western area of the parish in the area of what is now Brook House Farm. This historical period, the so-called Celtic Iron-Age, is chararacterised by the wider establishment of Celtic culture – including certain art forms and languages. Additionally, of course, it is associated with a significant increase in the production and use of iron. In west Cumbria there were easily-worked, large and rich deposits of iron ore, hematite and near-surface coal as well as abundant clay deposits and forests of timber , indeed all of the necessary materials to make iron.

At this time the people of Britain were divided into various tribes. In the north of  Cumbria the Carvetii dominated until they were incorporated into the vast Brigantes which ruled most of northern England. Their spoken language would have been Brythonic, the predecessor of modern Welsh. They were probably responsible for naming many of Cumbria’s most notable topographical features such as its rivers (e.g. Kent, Eden, Cocker, Levens) and mountains (e.g. Blencathra).

The Embleton Sword:

There is much evidence of Iron Age settlement in Cumbria, including hill forts such as those at Maiden Castle and Dunmallard Hill, Pooley Bridge and many hundreds of smaller settlements and field systems but it was in Embleton that, from a cultural, artistic and technological standpoint, one of the most exciting Iron-Age artifacts ever found in Britain was unearthed. The artifact, discovered in the mid 18th Century, is a beautiful iron sword with a bronze hilt and scabbard, thought once to have belonged to a Brigantian and dating to around 50 BC. The Embleton Sword is presently in the possession of the British Museum.

The church of St Cuthbert, on the south side of the valley occupies a very ancient site, reputed to be one of the places where Cuthbert’s body rested during the long journey made by the monks of Lindisfarne.

Embleton is subsequently also recorded as a Norman Manor.

Embleton Station was opened in 1865, on the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway and was closed by British Rail in 1958 although the railway through the village survived until 1966. The trackbed has now been used for the route of the A66 road.

Watch Out For:

Evidence of Medieval and pre-enclosure strip cultivation (especially when the sun is low in the sky). Many of the field and fellsides in and around Embleton exhibit, in regular patterns of surface ridges and undulations, the systems of cultivation used in medieval times and those in use prior to the Agrarian Revolution and the Enclosures Act.

Strip cultivation is a method used when a slope is too steep or too long, or when other types of farming may not prevent soil erosion. Strip farming alternates strips of closely sown crops such as hay, wheat, or other small grains with strips of row crops, such as potatoes, beans, or beet.

Strip farming helps to stop soil erosion and over-drainage by creating natural dams for water, helping to preserve the strength and vitality of the soil. Certain layers of plants will absorb minerals and water from the soil more effectively than others. When water reaches the weaker soil that lacks humus and minerals it can wash it away. When strips of soil are strong enough to slow down water from moving through them, the weaker soil don’t wash away easily and because of this, the land remains more fertile.

The term ridge and furrow is used to describe the pattern of peaks and troughs created in a field, caused by the system of ploughing used during the Middle Ages. Early examples date to the immediate post-Roman period and the method survived until the seventeenth century in some areas. The characteristic shape arises from the use of non-reversible ploughs on the same strip of land each year. Traditional ploughs turn the soil over in one direction, to the right. This means that the plough cannot return along the same furrow. Instead, ploughing is done in a clockwise direction around a long rectangular strip (a land). On reaching the end of the furrow, the plough is removed from the ground, moved across the unploughed headland (the short end of the strip), then put back in the ground to work back down the other long side of the strip.

The width of the ploughed strip is fairly narrow, to avoid having to drag the plough too far across the headland. This process has the effect of moving the soil in each half of the strip one furrow’s-width towards the centre line. In the Middle Ages each strip was managed by one small family, within large common fields, and the location of the ploughing was the same each year. The movement of soil year after year gradually built the centre up of the strip into a ridge, leaving a dip, or “furrow” between each ridge (note that this use of “furrow” is different from that for the furrow left by each pass of the plough). The building up of a ridge was called filling or gathering. The raised beds offered better drainage (on some well-drained soils the fields were left flat). The dip often marked the boundary between plots.

Although they varied, traditionally a strip would be a furlong (a “furrow-long”) in length, (220 yards, about 200 metres), and a chain wide (22 yards, about 20 metres), giving an area of one acre (about 0.4 ha), or about a day’s ploughing. Where ploughing continued over the centuries, later methods removed the ridge and furrow pattern. However, in some cases the land became grassland, and where this has not been ploughed since, the pattern has often been preserved. Surviving ridge and furrow may have a height difference of 18 to 24 inches (0.5 to 0.6 m) in places, and gives a strongly rippled effect to the landscape.