This record is held by Cumbria Archive and Local Studies Centre, Whitehaven

Details of D Cu
Reference: D Cu

It is unfortunate that some of these interesting aspects of Curwen history do not emerge as clearly from the Workington Hall documents as might be hoped. However the collection does provide a valuable source for research in other fields. The colliery records, coupled with those of the harbours, illustrate the development of the coal industry and trade in West Cumberland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and they are complemented by records from c.1750 of the Christian family's Broughton and Unerigg Collieries, which survive in the solicitor's collection of Messrs Benson of Cockermouth (D/Ben) and in the Senhouse family papers (D/Sen), both at Carlisle Record Office. Another source for research is present in the records of the central management of the estates, kept by the agents from the time of Charles Udale onwards. The series of ledgers, correspondence, etc. are supplemented by the records of the work Yard and its successor from the 1830s, the New Yard, which acted as supply depots for the collieries and the Workington Foundry as well as for the rest of the estate.


So far as the town of Workington is concerned, the early material is surprisingly scanty, particularly as regards the medieval and Tudor deeds which for the most part concern the township of Winscales, some two miles away. From 1700, however, the Manor Court Books yield a comprehensive picture of the state and growth of the town, and in the 19th century the receipt books for ground rents supplement the picture. Winscales itself is well covered by deeds from 1358, which together with the 'strays' in the Lonsdale collection (D/Lons at Carlisle Record Office) may provide a clue to the early settlement and land use of a community which seems at one time to have had more importance than it has today.


Finally may be mentioned those 'strays' within this collection which relate to other families. Those concerning the Christian estates at Unerigg or Ewanrigg (including the Broughton Colliery papers) are here as of right for the period when the two estates were merged in the person of John Christian Curwen, but some earlier papers and deeds have also come into the collection at this time. The Christians were an ancient family prominent in the Isle of Man and holding the hereditary office of deemster there. They produced some colourful character including the legendary 17th century rebel leader Illiam Dhone, who was executed for his pains, and the 'Bounty' mutineer Fletcher Christian, who was first cousin to John Christian Curwen. In the late 17th century the family was settled at Unerigg in Cumberland, although the seat at Milntown was maintained at least until the latter half of the 19th century. John Christian in the early 18th century was an attorney, and steward to many manors in West Cumberland, including Workington. When John Christian Curwen died in 1828 the estate reverted to his son by his first marriage, John Christian, but following the death in 1886 of this John's son, the Rev William Christian, the estate was for a time managed by Curwen Estate Office [see D Cu/5/36].


Those 'strays' belonging to the Richmond and Brougham families [D Cu/1/110 - 125, and /4/128 - 158] are here in connection with executorship duties, and have some interest as supplementing knowledge about these families and about the descent of the manor of Highhead.


Abbreviations used


[C] Deposit from Messrs Curwen, Solicitors


C & W n.s./o.s. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. New Series/Old Series, followed by Volume number and page


C & W Ragg. F W Ragg's article on 'de Culwen' in C & W n.s. XIV


[H] Deposited by C Roy Hudleston, esq.










Housekeeping accounts




Workington town & Manx affairs


Probate & settlement papers


Richmond-Brougham Executorship papers


Legal & lawsuit papers




Manor of Calder


Manor of Harrington


Manor of Workington


Mineral royalties




Family letters


Letter books


Estate letters


Post-1883 letters (by subject)


Yearly bundles from 1870


Estate Office & Solicitor's files




Workington & Winscales




Calder (Sella Park)


Sowermire & Raikes in Gosforth


Richmond & Brougham family deeds


Skelton of Branthwaite Hall deeds


Other deeds


Colliery, Harbour, & industrial leases


Bonds on securities


19th.-20th. c. estate leases & agreements


Schedules of deeds & leases






Works Yard & Foundry


Accounts, main series






Ground rents








Estate maps


Sale particulars




Colliery records


Colliers' societies


Colliery plans & diagrams


Harrington harbour


'Yorkington harbour


Admiralty charts




Schoose Farm


The following records form additional deposits of records of the Curwen family. The descriptions are in summary form and, in some cases, were actually prepared whilst the records were still in the custody of the Curwen estate office.


Consequently, the descriptions are not fully representative of the records in our custody: some items do not seem to have actually been transferred and others are unlisted.


Catalogue section 1


Additional deposit, 1974 including Curwen estate records (described in compartments)


Catalogue section 2 Additional deposit 1970:


Description Dates


General ledgers 1725-1946


Housekeeping accounts and day books 1784-1928


Securities 1798-1915


Unerigg estate 1730-1790


Windermere 1803-1919


Collieries: Workington 1734-1862


Collieries: Harrington 1776-1907


Collieries: Banklands 1794-1805


Collieries: Broughton, Birkby and Unerigg, 1774-1829


Collieries: pay bill books 1802-1859


Iron stone 1770-1852


Foundry 1820-1836


Workyard 1800-1861


Quarries 1809-1857


Buildings 1777-1790


Labourers' pay bills 1767-1826


Cartage 1782-1862


Workington estate: farm accounts 1787-1862


Workington estate: miscellaneous books 1810-1828


Workington and Harrington Harbour 1773-1902


Rent ledgers and rentals 1783-1894


Workington societies 1797-1855


Various accounts 1729-1928


Vouchers 1792-1797


Letter books 1818-1904


Miscellaneous accounts 1761-1848


Miscellaneous 1596-1910


Distington and Flimby 1718-1837


Catalogue section 3 Additional deposit 1970:


Description Dates


Estate plans 1755-1890


Colliery plans 1791-1922


Miscellaneous 1768-1890


Trade catalogues 1872-1921


There follows a descriptive list, submitted in part requirement for the University of London Diploma in Archive Administration by Charles Roger Davey, August 1966.

Date: 1358-1939
Related material:

Some Printed Sources for Curwen and Christian History


1. "A History of the Ancient House of Curwen," by John F Curwen (1928). 'A collection of extracts from monastic cartularies, inquisitions, wills, English and Scottish Public Records, historical manuscripts, and other available sources.' Continues to 1928, giving brief biographical summaries in later years, and including a number of collateral branches. Full and useful, although he apparently did not use many of the Workington Hall MSS, excepting those printed by Ragg.


[note: John F Curwen was also the author of various articles and works on Cumberland and Westmorland history and antiquities, being especially an authority on local castles and forts].


See also YDX 195/1


2. C & W, o.s., V, p.181 (1880). "The Curwens of Workington Hall and Kindred Families," by W Jackson. Covers the period to 1728; an important first attack on the subject, now mostly superseded by Ragg. Has a detailed and useful PEDIGREE, which needs minor modifications.


3. C & W, n.s., XIV, p.343 (1914). "De Culwen," by the Rev FW Ragg. A scholarly examination of the evidence relating to the Curwen family down to c.1450. He prints (not always accurately) transcripts of important early documents, and is the only person to have studied the early deeds in the Lonsdale archives relating to the Curwens. He also explored sources in the British Museum. His PEDIGREE emends that of Jackson.


4. C & W, n.s., LXII, p.95 (1962). "The Parentage of William de Lancaster, Lord of Kendal," by George Washington. The most recent thoughts on 11th. and 12th. century Curwen ancestry.


5. C & W, n.s., IV, p.217 (1903). "The Christians of Ewanrigg," by Alan D Curwen. Brief biographical notes on the family from the 15th. century, with PEDIGREE.


6. "North Country Life in the Eighteenth Century," Vol. II, Cumberland and Westmorland 1700 - 1830, by Edward Hughes. A volume which reflects particularly the author's interest in the Curwens and Christians, and in their mining, shipping, farming, and political activities. John Christian Curwen is perhaps the central figure of the book. Essential reading for the man and the period, containing transcripts of a number of Workington Hall documents.




Documents formerly the property of the Curwen or Christian families, but now in other collections.


a) D/Lons, records of the Earl of Lonsdale.


In 1725 the Curwen manors of Seaton and Stainburn were sold to Charles Pelham, and many of the records relating to these manors were transferred, together with some also relating to other Curwen manors, and some apparently having no connection with Seaton or Stainburn at all. The manors subsequently passed into Lonsdale hands.


Included are:


Over 100 deeds c.1386 - c.1725 relating to all the Curwen manors, especially Seaton and Stainburn, but including Workington, Winscales, Dearham, Camerton, Harrington, and others. Also concerning advowson, tithes, and a fishery in the River Derwent.


Book of the Courts Leet and Baron of the manors of Harrington, Workington, Seaton, and Stainburn 1702 - 1725 [continued for Seaton and Stainburn to 1740 during the period that Charles Pelham was Lord].


Receiver's account roll for Workington and Seaton, with rental of other manors, 1451-2.


Inquisitions post mortem of Gilbert de Culewenne 1329 [copy], Sir Thomas Curwen 1553, and Oswald Curwen of Camerton 1551.


Description of the bounds of Workington, c.1698.


Assessment of General Fine, Seaton, 1682.


Workington terrier, 1698.


Also in the Lonsdale archives is the Account Book 1625 - 1646 of Sir Patricius Curwen. This is a full and detailed volume, containing an almost complete account of receipts and disbursements for family and estate transactions. There is a modern introduction analysing the contents. Prominent items are estate and manorial rents, with accounts of farming, fishing, coal and iron mining, salt extraction, trading, and Workington port dues.


b) D/Ben, the Benson solicitor's collection at Cockermouth Castle.


Benson's were the Christian family's solicitors in the 18th. and 19th. centuries, and although their records are only in the very first stages of sorting, the following appear to be included:


Broughton and Unerigg Colliery Books [12] 1755 - 1778, containing accounts and transcripts of many colliery documents. They were apparently made for the marathon lawsuit involving also Humphrey Senhouse and Lord Egremont.


Other papers relating to the lawsuit Christian v. Senhouse, c.1750 - c.1790; they mostly concern Broughton Colliery.


Miscellaneous papers relating to the Christian family in the 19th. century, and particularly to their interest in Ewanrigg Colliery.


c) DX/318, Miscellaneous deposits.


A Curwen of Camerton deed dated 1608.


d) DX/128/1/11 (Temporary number)


Camerton Court Roll, Courts of Dimissions upon the deaths of Christopher Curwen 1713, and of Joseph Curwen, 1715.


Other records relating to the Curwens and Christians, although not of that provenance, will be found as follows:


Medieval deeds of the Lonsdale family [D/Lons]; Banklands Colliery accounts 1786 - 1796 [Anthony Bacon's papers in the Allison solicitor's collection, D/A]; papers relating to the disputes about rights in the Coupland Forest, late 17th. century, in the Lonsdale and Egremont papers [D/Lons, D/Lec]; 18th. and 19th. century general correspondence especially in the Senhouse collection [D/S].

Held by: Cumbria Archive and Local Studies Centre, Whitehaven, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Curwen family of Workington Hall

Physical description: 36 sub-fonds
Immediate source of acquisition:

Documents deposited with the Joint Archives Committee for the Counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and the City of Carlisle, at the Record Office, The Castle, Carlisle. These records were subsequently transferred to the Record Office, Scotch St, Whitehaven.


First deposit (mainly family records) made on behalf of Mrs I M Chance by W McKnight Bell, Esq., of Messrs Curwen, 7 Portland St., Workington, in December 1949.


Large deposit of estate records made by J N St G Curwen from the Estate Office, Workington, on 19th and 25th November 1963.


Much of the 18th and 19th Century correspondence was deposited on 20th February 1964 by J N St G Curwen, to whom it had been returned by Professor Edward Hughes of Durham who had used it in connection with his book in the series 'North Country Life in the 18th Century.' He obtained it originally from Mr J F Chance of York.


Various small deposits were made from 1963-1965 by C Roy Hudleston Esq. of Durham, of documents (mostly deeds) previously lent to him from the collection, These are marked [H] in the list.


Manorial documents marked [C] in the list were deposited by J N St G Curwen from Messrs Curwen, Solicitors of Workington, on 20th January 1966.

  • Workington, Cumbria
  • Coal industry
Administrative / biographical background:

The Curwens of Workington Hall represent one of the oldest families in England, the male line proper being generally accepted as a direct descent from Eldred, a pre-Norman Englishman, whose son Ketel held lands in the Barony of Kendal. Orm, Ketel's son, inherited the Cumbrian manor of Workington, which is the one Curwen possession to have remained with the family since the eleventh century - although it has to be remembered that the present members of the Workington Hall branch of the Curwen family are of Manx Christian stock in the male line, John Christian having taken the surname Curwen upon his marriage to Isabella Curwen in 1783. However, other branches of the Curwen family are of unbroken male descent, one of the best known being that of Messrs Curwen, the London music publishers whose founder John Curwen (1816-1880) originated the Tonic Sol-fa system of musical notation.


With rare exceptions the Curwens never attained national importance in politics or the church; nor did they accumulate massive estates as did some of their neighbours. They remained prominent local gentry controlling the area around Workington, and leading in mining, commerce, and agriculture. Workington harbour was important in the 18th century at a time when its near neighbour Whitehaven was the second or third biggest port in the country, and the records in this collection can be supplemented for the early 17th century by Sir Patricius Curwen's account book [D/Lons Lonsdale papers (Carlisle Record Office)]. Harrington harbour was founded in c.1750 by Henry Curwen, and the tonnage of shipping in the two ports increased greatly by the end of the 18th century. Mining similarly developed in intensity at this period, particularly with the introduction of pit engines such as those which Messrs Boulton and Watt supplied for the Workington collieries (see Index).


The greatest strides in Curwen initiative occurred during the lordship of John Christian Curwen, who controlled the estates during the period 1783-1828. Although a Curwen in fact only on his mother's side, he is nevertheless the man who stands out from these records and who must rank as one of the most interesting and progressive of Cumbrians of his day. He was Member of Parliament for Carlisle from 1796 to 1812 and from 1816 to 1820, following this with a period as member for Cumberland from 1820 to 1828. Unfortunately the records of his parliamentary career are sparse in this collection, but he made a national mark in his campaigns for reform of the Corn Laws and Agrarian Laws, and for Catholic emancipation. His influence was such that he was offered peerages by both Addington and Castlereagh. His practical interest in agricultural reform can be traced in the Proceedings of the Workington Agricultural Society, of which he was founder-president [see D Cu/5/18 - 21, and D/Sen [Senhouse family records (Carlisle Record Office)]. These volumes contain reports on Curwen's experimental farm at the Schoose, and on such other items as the estate he purchased between Windermere and Hawkshead, Lancashire, in order to encourage forestry. To modern eyes, however, one of the most interesting of his projects was his introduction of social insurance and mutual benefit schemes for his colliery workers, of which a little can be seen in the colliers' society records [D Cu/6/58 - 62 and D Cu/Workington Societies].


Note on Tenantright Customary Tenure


Tenantright was the Cumbrian version of the normal English Copyhold tenure, the difference being that in addition to the recording of title by an admittance entered on the Court Roll and issued in the form of a Copy, the 'tenantright' in the land was bought and sold in much the same way as was seisin in freehold land. A deed accompanied this transaction, similar in form to the freehold deed except that it specified 'with the licence of the Lord ...' and varied the wording of the 'tenendum' clause. Thus a land transfer involved two documents; the deed, and the copy of court roll.


For a discussion of the 16th. century history and development of local customary tenure, see 'The Lake Counties 1500 - 1830, A Social and Economic History,' by CML Bouch and GP Jones, pp. 63 - 78.

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