Historical Background to REAGILL, CUMBRIA.

Reagill is a planned mediaeval village.  It was established in the 12th century in a hitherto wild and densely forested area, its name meaning ‘ravine haunted by foxes’, as part of a royal policy to bring more people and new settlements to an area disputed between England and Scotland.  Clearing the land and establishing villages brought extra revenue for the King’s Exchequer and additional manpower for his army in times of need.

None of Reagill’s present buildings are 12th century but the plan of the village and its field system are clear evidence of a deliberately planned settlement of that date with an arranged pattern of individual farmsteads in the village itself, each with its own cultivation strip, and, outside the village, open fields which provided the communal grazing on which the economy of the village depended.  Later subdivision and enclosure, brought about by an Enclosure Act of the 19th century, replaced the open fields but the character of the land and the name ‘Reagill Common’ perpetuate the communal life which dominated the surroundings of the village for nearly 700 years and  give the village both a distinctive character and great historical and geographical interest.

Many of the present buildings in Reagill date from the 17th and 18th centuries and are typical of the limestone farmhouses of the area but three are of special importance.  Yew Tree Farmhouse was formerly the home of Thomas Bland, gentleman farmer, artist, and antiquary, who lived from 1799 to 1865 and whose drawings of the area are an invaluable record of the antiquities, landscapes, and buildings of north Westmorland of that time. He was also the creator of the Image Garden in the grounds of his house a unique assemblage of statuary, architectural inventions, and paintings, which is on English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of national importance.  The house is Listed Grade 2.  Also Grade 2 is the village hall once a school endowed in 1684, and, higher up the List (Grade 2*), is Reagill Grange, built in the 16th century by the Wharton family on land formerly owned and farmed by Shap Abbey.

A more recent feature of Reagill’s history is a line of grassed-over spoil heaps, very similar in appearance to prehistoric burial mounds, on a ridge above the village, which are the remains of a once flourishing industry which extracted coal from shallow pits from the late 17th to the early 19th century.  Its rise and decline are recorded in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society by Dr Blake Tyson.  It is altogether a particularly interesting village.

O.J.Weaver
9.05.11.

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