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Carlisle Main Image.jpg
Carlisle views
Grid reference: NY395555
Location: 54°53’28"N, 2°56’38"W
Population: 71,773  (2001)
Post town: Carlisle
Postcode: CA1-CA6
Dialling code: 01228
Local Government
Council: Cumberland

Carlisle is a city and the county town of Cumberland. The city stands at the meeting of the rivers Eden, Caldew and Petteril, 10 miles south of the border with Dumfriesshire. It is the largest town in Cumberland, with a population of 71,773 and forms the chief commercial centre for many miles around.

Nicknamed the 'Border City', Carlisle today is the main cultural, commercial and industrial centre for Cumberland. It is home to the main campuses of a new university and a variety of museums and heritage centres. Carlisle Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Carlisle.

Carlisle was founded as a town by the Romans, established to serve the forts on Hadrian's Wall. During the Middle Ages Carlisle became an important military stronghold guarding the border with Scotland. Carlisle Castle was built in 1092 by King William II and served as a military castle until the accession of King James I, when it became redundant.

In the early 12th century Henry I allowed the foundation of a priory in Carlisle. When the Diocese of Carlisle was formed in 1122, the priory became Carlisle Cathedral.

The introduction of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution began a process of transformation in Carlisle, which developed into a densely populated mill town. As the town sits on the one accessible route between Glasgow and the mill towns of Lancashire and beyond, Carlisle swiftly became a railway hub, with seven railway companies sharing Carlisle railway station at one time.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle was built in 1092 by King William II and served as a military castle until the accession of King James I, when it became redundant. It remains relatively intact, once served as a prison for Mary, Queen of Scots. The castle now houses the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment and the Border Regiment Museum.

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral

The see of Carlisle was created by William II after his conquest of the town.

Carlisle Cathedral has a larger east window than any other cathedral in Britain or indeed any in Europe. The original western end of the cathedral however was demolished.

City centre

Carlisle has a compact historic centre, including a castle, museum, cathedral, and semi-intact city walls. The former law courts or citadel towers which now serve as offices for Cumbria Council were designed by Thomas Telford.[1]



The Romans called their settlement at what is today Carlisle, Luguualium, meaning "the place, or wall, of Lugus" (possibly a local deity). Around the 11th and 12th centuries it is recorded as Cardeol, Luel or Caer Luel or Llewelyn, and it has been proposed that Luel was the ancient local name for the place in the British tongue before Roman days on whose name the Romans had based their own version. In Modern Welsh, Carlisle is known as Caerliwelydd.

Roman Carlisle

Around AD 72/73, a Roman timber fort was built at Carlisle and demolished around 103 to 105, to be replaced by a second timber fort. In AD 165 this fort was replaced by a stone fort.[2] It was probably later the civitas capital of the Carvetii tribe.


Carlisle was in the heart of the Kingdom of Rheged in the seventh century. Much of our knowledge of the kingdom is from the poems of Taliesin, writing in the Old Welsh of that land, and whose references to "Adon" (Eden), Llwyfenydd (probably Lyvennet rather than Carlisle) and similar names surviving today give us an idea of Rheged as a kingdom in Cumberland and Westmorland. Later legend associates King Urien of Rheged with the city of Carlisle. Rheged and Carlisle had by the early eighth century become English.

Middle Ages

At some time possibly as early as the tenth century Cumberland became part of the Scottish kingdom.

In 1092, King William II (William Rufus) of England invaded the Carlisle district, settling it with colonists.[3] He expelled Dolfin, the former ruler, and built Carlisle Castle. King William also created an Earldom of Carlisle, and granted the territory to Ranulf Meschyn. In 1133 Carlisle was made the see of a new diocese, identical with the area of the earldom.

On the death of King Henry I in 1135, Carlisle with Cumberland and Westmorland was regained by Scotland's King David I. He was able to consolidate his power and made Carlisle one of his chief seats of government, while England descended into a lengthy civil war. King David died in Carlisle in 1153. In 1157 Henry II of England resumed possession of the area from Malcolm IV of Scotland. The border between England and Scotland was made permanent by the Treaty of York in 1237.

Later history

English Street becomes Scotch Street in the town centre

Because Carlisle was sometimes the last town in England before Scotland and sometimes the last town in Scotland before England, in the days when the two were separate kingdoms, it developed importance as a military stronghold, and Carlisle Castle was maintained at strength, for which reason it survives relatively intact. Queen Elizabeth I spent a large proportion of England's defence spending on the strengthening of the Castle. In her reign, Carlisle Castle once served as a prison for Mary, Queen of Scots.

Carlisle's active military role was ended at once on Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603 as her nephew, James VI King of Scots, then succeeded to the English throne and put an end to the threat of war.

In December 1745 the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart captured Carlisle after a siege. During the retreat of Charles Edward Stuart's Jacobites in 1746 he ordered that the Manchester Regiment be left to garrison Carlisle so that he "continued to hold at least one town in England". The King's army advancing in pursuit under Cumberland then besieged and took Carlisle.

In 1916, during First World War, the government took all the public houses and breweries in Carlisle over because of endemic drunkenness among construction and munitions workers from the nearby munitions factory at Gretna. This experiment in nationalised brewing, known first as the Carlisle Board of Control then after the war the Carlisle & District State Management Scheme, lasted until 1971.


The Tullie House Museum, an award-winning museum, tells the story of the Border country, including much material on Hadrian's Wall, the Roman defensive structure the course of which runs through the Stanwix area of Carlisle, and many items of Roman architecture. It also features an exhibit explaining the history of the Border Reivers. Tullie House used to house an excellent lending and reference library, but that has now been placed on the upper level of The Lanes, Carlisle's main shopping area in the city centre.

Military town

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle was largely a military town from the founding of Carlisle Castle in 1092 until the union of the crowns in 1603. The town had a military role more recently too.

RAF Carlisle

RAF Carlisle also known as 14 MU was located at Kingstown. The station closed in 1996 after nearly sixty years in a variety of roles. First established as RAF Kingstown in 1938, it was originally a bomber station, then one of the RAF's Elementary Flying Training Schools and latterly a post war storage facility.

Royal Observer Corps, Carlisle Group

During the Second World War the air raid warning organisation No 32 Group Carlisle Royal Observer Corps operated from a building in the city centre although it was controlled administratively from RAF Kingstown. The association with Kingstown developed further in 1962 when the ROC ceased its aircraft spotting role for the RAF and took on a new role of plotting nuclear explosions and warning the public of approaching radioactive fallout for the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation.[4] A new administration building and a protected, hardened Nuclear Reporting bunker was built at RAF Carlisle.[5] The nuclear bunker was a standard above-ground structure and both the bunker and Headquarters hutting stood on a separate site at Crindledyke just outside the main gates of RAF Carlisle and roughly opposite the station's officers mess. The Carlisle group was redesignated no 22 Group ROC.

The ROC also constructed a smaller nuclear reporting post called Kingstown post (OS ref:NY 3837 5920), on the main RAF Carlisle site. The post was also an underground protected bunker but designed for a crew of three observers.[6] The headquarters bunker accommodated an operational crew of around 100 with dormitory and canteen facilities included with the operations room and life support plant.

The Royal Observer Corps and its parent organisation the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation were disbanded in December 1995 after the end of the Cold War and as a result of recommendations in the governments Options for Change review of UK defence. The ROC buildings were demolished in 1996 and replaced by a cellphone communications mast. The foundations of the nuclear bunker can still be partially seen outlined in the concreted yard, which also contains the Air Training Corps hut during recent further development of the site.[7]

Curse of Carlisle

The Curse of Carlisle is a 16th-century curse that was first invoked by Archbishop Dunbar of Glasgow in 1525 against border families, known as the Border Reivers, who lived by stealing cattle and pillage. The curse was not directly aimed at Carlisle or its people. For the millennium celebrations, the local council commissioned a 14-tonne granite artwork inscribed with all 1,069 words of the curse.

In 1998 some Christians, among other projects, began campaigning to prevent the City of Carlisle from installing the stone. In the wake of this controversy, superstition about the stone grew and a number of the town's setbacks were blamed on the curse stone, including an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a flood, various crimes, rising unemployment statistics and even the fate of Carlisle United, which was relegated out of its league.

In March 2005, Councillor Jim Tootle proposed the stone either be moved outside the city boundaries or destroyed altogether. A council meeting on March 8, 2005 rejected Tootle's proposal, a move welcomed by council leader Mike Mitchelson, who had earlier questioned whether moving the stone was a good use of council funds.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Carlisle)


  1. Visit Cumbria Carlisle Citadel
  2. Vindolanda Tablets Online - mentioning Carlisle
  3. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Laud Chronicle) 1092: On þisum geare se cyng Willelm mid mycelre fyrde ferde norð to Cardeol. 7 þa burh geæðstaþelede. 7 þone castel arerde. 7 Dolfin utadraf þe æror þær þes landes weold. 7 þone castel mid his mannan gesette. 7 syððan hider suð gewænde. 7 mycele mænige Eyrlisces folces mid wifa 7 mid orfe þyder sænde. þær to wunigenne þæt land to tilianne. ("In this year King William with a great army went north to Carlisle and restored that town and built the castle and drove Dolfin out who had been that land's ruler, and the castle he manned with his own men and afterwards returned hither southward and sent thither a great many rustic folk with wives and with cattle to dwell in the land and till it.
  4. ROC role
  5. ROC HQs
  6. Kingstown Post
  7. Demolished ROC bunker
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