Blackhall

Blackhall (Blackwell)
Looking towards Carlisle Racecource at Blackwell
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Blackwell shown near Carlisle
Coordinates Latitude: 54.8698715
Longitude: -2.9354288
Civil parish St Cuthbert Without
District City of Carlisle
County Cumbria
Historic county Cumberland
Region North West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
This article is about the location used by the Lonsdale Battalion during the Great War.
For a brief history of the Lonsdales at this location, see Blackhall Camp - Formation and training.

Blackhall, also known as Blackhall Camp and Blackhall Racecourse, especially during the time of the Great War, was the name synonymous with the small village of Blackwell, approximately two miles south of Carlisle, Cumberland. Blackwell, and the racecourse situated in the village, was the location of the headquarters of the Lonsdale Battalion, a Pals battalion formed by Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale and an executive committee.[a] The Lonsdale Battalion was raised in three detachments, those of Carlisle, Kendal and Workington.[1][b]

The village is one of several settlements within the civil parish of St Cuthbert Without, comprising Blackwell, Durdar, Carleton, Brisco and Wreay.[2] These villages formed the scattered populace of St Cuthbert Without in what were mainly fields with small areas of developing settlements, although between 1891 and 1901, the population dropped dramatically from 16,152 to 3,456.[3] Whilst much of the present-day parish is still predominantly farmland, the area around Blackhall during the start of the Great War, shows a different backdrop of rural life, a short distance from the centre of the city of Carlisle.

The term Blackhall appears in various places throughout the site. Whilst the administrative area known as Blackhall, or Blackhall Low as it was known (see below), did exist prior to the end of the 19th Century, both Blackhall and Blackwell have been used interchangeably in other source materials contemporary with the Great War after it ceased to be used as an official authoritative area.

Historic maps[edit | edit source]

Historic maps have a wealth of information. Even to the novice they can reveal interesting facts and provide a timeline of events. The primary sources used here are the Ordnance Survey maps from the National Library of Scotland. This resource enables the user to view historic maps side by side, allowing for study and comparison, not only with other historic maps but also with satellite imagery. This tool aids in understanding how the geography of an individual’s area of interest has changed over time.

The Ordnance Survey maps of 1868, 1901 and 1926 show the various settlements of St Cuthbert Without prior to, and for a period of time after, the Lonsdale Battalion were in residence at Blackwell. These three maps provide us with a long enough period of time to see the subtle differences that occurred and how the landscape changed. There are various other maps that provide a broader look at the area, typically with less detail the further back in time the maps were published,[c] although this is not always the case. Comparing the different maps, especially those after 1926 discussed here, significant developments have revealed once small, singular hamlets and villages to have been swallowed by the expansion of Carlisle as it continued throughout the 20th Century. That said, the purpose of this text is to outline the settlement of Blackwell, its environs and how that relates to the Lonsdale Battalion and their tenure at the racecourse.



1868 Ordnance Survey map of the Parish of St Cuthbert Without / National Library of Scotland


Before the Lonsdale Battalion’s residency in the village, Blackwell can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map of 1868.[d] It is here that the name Blackhall Low is prominent, however, on subsequent maps published in 1901[e] and 1926,[f] there is a distinct absence. The name Blackhall all but disappears from the Ordnance Survey maps from these years, and is survived only by Blackhall Wood House, a short distance east of Durdar. To understand why this happened is to realise what Blackhall Low was and the purpose it served.

Township of Blackhall Low[edit | edit source]

Blackhall Low served as a township, a subdivision or local district of the larger parish of St Cuthbert Without. These usually contained a village or small town[4] and a church. Townships were used for administrative purposes but these were becoming obsolete by the end of the 19th century due to government reform.[5] This reform essentially removed the townships by converting them to civil parishes, which by modern standards are used for similar administrative purposes for local government. During this reform, some townships were amalgamated into other civil parishes, whilst others simply gained civil parish status in their own right.[5] The term township is no longer used officially in England today, and is little used in its original historical context, but it has seen a recent revival, especially as subdivisions of boroughs in the north of England.[5] The various different tiers of ecclesiastical and civil authority in England can appear convoluted and is beyond the scope of this text.



The later maps of 1901 and 1926, whilst no longer showing the township of Blackhall Low, still furnish the reader with information about the size and names of settlements, the number of dwellings within a settlement, the various authority boundaries, and the removal and addition of dwellings as various settlements progressed through time. An example of this can be seen in the 1868 map, where the wooded area directly south of Blackwell Hall was called Blackhall Wood. In later maps and through to present day, it is known by the name of Toddhills Wood. Other places of note in the 1868 map for Blackhall Low are Blackwell Terrace and Blackwell House, both in close proximity to the White Ox inn, which was demolished in 1904 and rebuilt as the current building we see today. This is now used as a private dwelling.[6] Blackwell Common is named in the 1901 map and still serves as a green space today in exactly the same footprint. The racecourse did not exist in the 1868 and 1901 maps. It was built in 1904 and moved from its previous site called the Swifts, near the centre of Carlisle.

Two historic maps of note are Christopher Saxton's map of 1576 and John Speed's map of 1611 that show these exquisite hand-coloured engravings with Blek Hall as the first main settlement south of Carlisle.[7] This conjures intrigue as to what may have survived in the village from that time. However, according to a 2017 strategic landscape appraisal of the Carlisle South area, "nothing of that date is now identifiable in the hamlet." [8]

Blackwell[edit | edit source]

The name Blackwell, along with its variations, gets its name from the black, heathy land of the ancient royal forest of Inglewood, which stretched from the southern boundaries of Carlisle to Penrith. The land is steeped in history and is described in John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales of 1870 as a place "long stocked with red deer, fallow deer, and other beasts of the chase." [g][9] Today, like other royal forests that still survive in name, the trees have long since disappeared. Inglewood Forest is mainly arable, with a few small pockets of wooded areas within this open landscape.

There has been a settlement in the immediate area of Blackwell since prehistoric times and the Roman occupation of Britain, evident in cropmark features from aerial photography.[10] This is strengthened given Blackwell's proximity to Carlisle, the once Roman stronghold of Luguvalium, and the Carvetii tribe of Celtic Britons who inhabited the land, and much of present-day Cumbria, prior to Roman intervention. In addition to this, there is surviving medieval archaeology evident in a settlement, with cultivation remains, near the racecourse[11] providing moderate-to-high archaeological potential within this area.[12]



1926 Ordnance Survey map of the village of Blackwell, now showing the racecourse / National Library of Scotland


Throughout this site the term Blackhall or Blackhall Camp is used to signify the location of the Lonsdale Battalion at the racecourse, known today as Carlisle Racecourse. Blackhall refers to Blackhall Low, a subdivision of St Cuthbert Without, and is used frequently in various source material.[h] While Blackhall Low ceased to exist before the start of the Great War, the name had stuck, at least for some, and continued to be used during the Lonsdale occupation of the racecourse and surrounding area of the village.

So, when did the Lonsdale Battalion begin using this quiet little village as their headquarters, and what was it they actually did there?

The camp officially commenced on 25 September 1914, with 75 recruits under the command of Major Binning and Captain Sale. On 15 October 1914, West Cumberland recruits from Workington were transferred to Blackhall and with an increase in numbers there was greater need for proper accommodation instead of sleeping in the Grandstand, the stables and other various temporary shelters. Hutments to house all the men needed to be built. Whilst there was ample space for the accommodation, the Westmorland men remained at Kendal until 5 January 1915. From this date the hutments had been completed and were ready for use.[1] The Westmorland men moved to Headquarters under the command of Colonel Haworth. He handed over C Company, 280 strong[1] and at this point, with all four companies situated on site, Blackhall became the epicentre of the Battalion. Men that had grown up together were enlisting together and "during these formative days of the Battalion’s earliest history it became clear to everyone in the Border Counties that this really was a Battalion of 'Pals,' of comrades, and of Border men. From its Commanding Officer to the last joined recruit, all ranks worked together with a will, and in the friendliest spirit of unity, to make a Battalion which should eventually prove itself to be worthy of the best traditions of the British Army." [1]



During the early recruitment drive it would become clear that the call for duty to serve one's country and, maybe even more accurately, one's county, stirred the patriotism of border men; these men from the hills, valleys and plains of Cumberland and Westmorland. Here, in this small village, men from all walks of life: miners, bricklayers and steelworkers, to farmers, tailors and postmen[i] all trained together. Most were there to do their bit, no matter how difficult the challenge. Some, were a little more disobedient due to drunkenness.[j] The village of Blackwell saw all manner of goings-on, daily accounts from recruitments to discipline, recorded and retained in the surviving Lonsdale records.

The Lonsdale Battalion would continue to supply further recruits, appoint officers and rigorously train the men in readiness for the journey across the English Channel to join hostilities in France. Almost everything was funded by the Earl of Lonsdale, from the mens' uniforms[k] to the huts they were sleeping in.[l] During the last quarter of 1914 "a great deal of hard spade work was done, and the foundations of the Battalion were well and truly laid in a spirit of practical patriotism, with every consideration for local feeling and good comradeship, and for the democratic ideals of the twentieth century worker.[1]

The battalion had a job to do and everyone had a role to fulfil. Times were difficult, especially during the winter months for those who had not yet received their greatcoats or blankets to fight off the incessant cold. Lord Lonsdale addressed these issues with attention to detail, maintaining constant communication with Lt-Col. Machell, to ensure that even during these hard times "there was here no suggestion of men working while the officers looked on. In the 'Lonsdales' all realised that in this time of national emergency it behoved them to develop self-reliance to the utmost limit of their capacity. Lord Lonsdale’s unfailing generosity and watchful care were of the greatest possible value and assistance. The growing Battalion made its own non-commissioned officers; the Border Counties furnished its officers; and recruits, at the rate of some fourteen or fifteen a day, began to say that they would join the Lonsdales or nothing. The Battalion, in short, became an accomplished fact, a reality of Border Counties life.[1]



Men of the Lonsdale Battalion involved with bayonet training


On 3 January 1915, the Lonsdale Battalion had reached a total strength of 1,152 non-commissioned officers and men[1] and on 5 January all four Companies were now stationed at Blackhall and the Battalion was, on paper, attached to the 124th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Collings. Training would continue in much the same manner until the men, some just boys, were deemed ready for battle. They were not ready just yet. The various skill-sets included scouts, stretcher bearers and signallers. Digging entrenchments and bayonet fighting had to be second nature, as would firing a Lee-Enfield rifle and being able to handle the water-cooled Vickers machine gun, which would in late 1915 be replaced with the lighter Lewis machine gun.

The Lonsdales were transferred to the 112th Brigade on 16 March 1915, under Brigadier-General Mackenzie. The work the officers and men had put into creating a disciplined and well-trained unit did not go unnoticed when those who inspected Blackhall[m] during March 1915, reported to Lt-Col. Machell that his Battalion was "far ahead of other service battalions." [13] The Lonsdales were starting to turn heads in the upper echelons of the Brigade. On 8 May the early group of recruits that formed the initial strength of the Battalion would finally leave Blackhall for training grounds beyond their familiar home counties: Prees Heath, Wensleydale and Salisbury Plain.

Durdar[edit | edit source]

Further south but still in historical Blackhall Low is the hamlet of Durdar. It was here that large tree plantations of various sizes existed. Durdar comprised a cross-roads, a few dwellings one of which was the Black Lion inn.


St Cuthbert Without[edit | edit source]

The parish of St Cuthbert takes its name from St Cuthbert’s Church in Carlisle. The size of the original parish of St Cuthbert was larger than what exists today. In 1866 it was divided creating two separate parishes, that of St Cuthbert Within and St Cuthbert Without.[14] This was not the only change to the parish boundaries over the years. The expansion of Carlisle saw further changes to the boundaries and the separate parish of Wreay would eventually be incorporated into St Cuthbert Without in 1934.[15]

Naming the parish St Cuthbert "Without" may at first appear unusual but there is a simple reason this was done. That part of the ecclesiastical parish was outside the city boundary or walls. On the other hand, St Cuthbert "Within" was part of the ecclesiastical parish located within the city boundary, which was eventually absorbed into Carlisle civil parish in 1904.



1926 Ordnance Survey map showing part of the Parish of St Cuthbert Without, the village of Blackwell and the racecourse used by the Lonsdale Battalion as their headquarters and training ground / National Library of Scotland


Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The Earl of Lonsdale was appointed Chairman, with Colonel Weston, M.P., as Vice-Chairman, Major Binning, Mr. F. R. Hodgson, and Captain Wakefield were appointed Goveners of Local Committees, at Carlisle, Workington, and Kendal, respectively, and Mr. Gerald Spring-Rice became Hon. Secretary of the Executive Committee.
  2. There were four companies in the three detachments: A Company and B Company from East and North Cumberland were based at Blackhall Racecourse, C Company from Westmorland was based at Kendal, and D Company from West Cumberland was based at Workington.
  3. Historic maps can be less detailed depending on the amount of street-level information they provide: do they show streets, dwellings, county, parish or even countour lines? And at what scale are they drawn? Historic maps drawn to include only the place name and possibly dwelling type can be considered less detailed but does not mean they are in any way less ornate.
  4. The map was originally surveyed between 1865-67 and published 1868.
  5. The map was originally surveyed between 1861-63, revised in 1899 and published in 1901.
  6. The map was originally surveyed between 1861-63, revised in 1924 and published in 1926.
  7. John Marius Wilson describes Inglewood Forest thus: "A quondam forest in Cumberland; extending from Penrith to the neighbourhood of Carlisle, and measuring about 60 miles in circuit. It was given by the Conqueror to Ranulph de Meschiens; was long stocked with red deer, fallow deer, and other beasts of chase; was the scene of hunts by Edward I., when residing at Carlisle; formed an object of keen contests between the Scots and the English, for possession of its fastnesses; was finally ceded by the Scots in 1237; became afterwards the property of the Crown; continued to be strictly a forest till the time of Henry VIII.; and was given to the first Earl of Portland by William III."
  8. See the list of source material here.
  9. See statistical data of D Company men from the Lonsdale Battalion Roll of Honour, provided by Peter Sloan.
  10. See 12 November, 28 November and 22 December where Ex-Sergeant E.J. Caine, on more than one occasion, causes a disturbance to others and trouble for himself.
  11. In the early days and weeks of the Lonsdale Battalion at Blackhall, not all the new recruits had uniforms, and photographs of them parading in their civilian clothes were commonplace. It would take a great deal of planning and money to kit the men out with the proper uniform and weapons. Letters between Lt-Col. Machell and Lord Lonsdale were written discussing the issues, one of which was written on 1 December about the shortage of greatcoats.
  12. There were exceptions with various gifts and offerings from local businesses and individuals, with one example being half a ton of jam. See 26 November (1914).
  13. The inspector of Recruiting from the War Office, the Musketry Staff Officer from Headquarters (Western Command), and a Staff Officer for Physical Drill (Inspector of Gymnasia).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 The Lonsdale Battalion Border Regiment, September 1914 to June 1915.
  2. The Parish St Cuthbert Without Parish Council. Accessed 20 December, 2022.
  3. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, St Cuthbert Without CP through time. A Vision of Britain through Time. Total Population. Date accessed: 20 December, 2022.
  4. Township Collins English Dictionary.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Wikipedia article: Township (England). Date accessed: 19 December, 2022.
  6. LUC & Haynes. Section 6.16, p. 32.
  7. Guide to the Lakes Date accessed: 18 December, 2022.
  8. LUC & Haynes. Section 6.14, p. 32.
  9. John Marius Wilson (1870). Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. vol. 3, p. 1044. Archive.org Date accessed: 20 December. 2022.
  10. LUC & Haynes. Section 6.2, p. 28.
  11. LUC & Haynes. Section 6.3, p. 28.
  12. LUC & Haynes. Section 6.4, p. 28.
  13. Record of the XIth (Service) Battalion (Lonsdale) - In England.
  14. History of the Parish St Cuthbert Without Parish Council. Date accessed: 20 December, 2022.
  15. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, St Cuthbert Without CP through time. A Vision of Britain through Time. Wreay Ch/CP Date accessed: 21 December, 2022.

Sources[edit | edit source]