button to main menu  Gents Mag 1790 p.505

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Gentleman's Magazine 1790 p.505


Customs in Cumberland

Digg, Cumberland, June 2.
THE South of Cumberland, the place of my nativity and general residence, has of late years experienced as rapid an improvement as, perhaps, any part of England. This, in a great measure, may be attributed to the increase of the coal-trade that is carried on from this coast to Dublin, and most other ports of Ireland. This trade alone employs upwards of two hundred and fifty vessels, from seventy to two hundred tons in burthen. So that coal may be termed the great staple of Cumberland, proving the source of a continual influx of money into the country. At the beginning of this century, the inhabitants were in a state bordering on extreme indigence and ignorance. Large families on small estates could but with difficulty earn a subsistence for themselves; they lived barely on the product of their little farms, without either a hope or desire of raising fortunes. Knowing no better condition, they, however, enjoyed their lot with content, and that was their happiness. Hospitality was prevalent in every heart; though the means of indulging it were bounded within a narrow compass. A disposition social and agreeable smiled serenely in poverty. Thus Horace says,

Vivitur parvo bene, cui paternum
Splendet in mensa tenui salinum;
Nec leves somnos timor aut cupido
Sordidus ausert.
Indeed with these good qualities they were generally very superstitious; there was some gloomy place or other, in almost every village, supposed to be the haunt of spirits and apparitions. Besides, there were witches and fairies in abundance. If any person wiser or more learned than his fellows rose among them, it was well if such escaped without the imputation of being conversant with the devil. Some traits of this weak superstition are still discernible.
Schools at this time were rare, and a master's wages not more than six pence a quarter. But about fifty years ago, many free-schools were founded in different parishes, and endowed at the bequest of the more liberal-minded, and such as were well-wishers to learning. A salary of about ten pounds per annum was settled upon these schools; a sum thought sufficient for the maintenance of the master, without any expence to the scholar, the freedom of the school being granted to the respective parishes. Here are several chapels with stipends under twenty pounds; some fall short of ten; which, notwithstanding, have each a clergyman. Prior to their augmentation by Queen Anne's bounty, the inhabitants hired lay-readers for about forty shillings a year.
To give some idea, Mr. Urban, of their acquaintance with foreign luxuries, a circumstance has occurred to my remembrance, which happened here within these few years, and may be depended on for a fact. A good house-wife received a pound of tea as a present from a friend abroad; so she called her neighbours together to partake of this great rarity, prepared indeed in a manner truly novel. First she boiled the herb, and strained off the liquor, and then served it up in a dish, after it was properly seasoned with salt, butter, and other choice ingredients. Her guests, ignorant about it as herself, en-
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