Caldbeck is an interesting old village about seven miles from the nearest railway, buried in the country. It has a fine church and rectory. At an early date after the founding of the Society of Friends (Quakers) George Fox visited Caldbeck in 1654, and stayed with Thomas Bewley at Woodhall. The writer is much indebted to Mr. Richard Greenup of Beckstones, Caldbeck, who has supplied him with many interesting particulars about the parish and neighbourhood. There were many adherents to the Society of Friends in this district, and much trouble ensued on the non-payment by them of the tithes for conscience sake, and many Friends suffered imprisonment in Carlisle jail. The Bewley family, one of importance in the district, the principal branch living at Haltcliffe Hall, were amongst the early sufferers, and in 1674 Thomas Bewley, aged nearly eighty, was carried off to prison. According to Bessie's sufferings others in this Parish who suffered imprisonment for the same cause were John Strickett of Branthwaite, Wm. Scott of Greenrigg, Isabell Peacocks of Whalpey, Alice Nicolson of Woodhouse, etc. A book, embodying a history of ' The Bewleys of Cumberland,' by Sir Edmund Thomas Bewley of Dublin, was published in 1902, and the author of it paid several visits to Caldbeck in order to examine the Registers, etc.
At Haltcliffe Hall – as stated above, once the residence of a, branch of Cumberland Bewleys – over the principal entrance appear the letters, surrounded by heraldic emblems, 'T.D.B. Built the Hall 1653. G.B.E.B. 1690.' Another carved stone appears above a three-light latticed window and shows ' G.B.E.B. 1687.' The premises are now let as a farm; for many years a branch of the 'Monkhouse family were its tenants.
At Tuns End resided Joseph Scott, a violin maker of considerable merit and a reputed inventor of a spinning jenny who lived here during the 18th and early part of the 19th century. Another name, now famous the world over, was John Peel, of hunting notoriety. Mr. Greenup says of him: ' The famous Cumberland hunter's birthplace has always been regarded as being Low Greenrigg in this parish, but the entry in the Caldbeck parish Register reads: "1777, Sept. 24. John Peel, son of William Peel and Lettice his wife of Parkend, was baptized." ' This points to the farm house close to Park End Bridge, known to have been the home of the Scott family, of which Peel's mother was a daughter. His parents were married at Caldbeck 1776.
In 1800 we find John Peel living at Park End, where his daughter Nancy was born, and then from 1803 onwards he lived on his own property in Upton. Here he lived, kept his hounds, and hunted. About 1822 Peel removed to Ruthwaite, Ireby, where he died 1854, and was buried at Caldbeck. He sold his Upton estate about 1843. The celebrated song, ' D'ye ken John Peel?' was composed by John Woodcock Graves whilst residing in Midtown, Caldbeck, previous to his departure in 1833 for foreign parts. The house stands on the right-hand side leading to the church from the west. The top stone of the front door is inscribed 'T.B.B. 1718.' The letters point to Thomas and Barbara Backhouse as owners, a family of some distinction here in earlier days. One of its members, Captain Backhouse, built the commodious Midtown House close by, which subsequently passed by purchase to the Jennings family on the departure of the Backhouse family for the Channel Islands about the forties or fifties of last century.
The writer, when in the neighbourhood, saw at Ireby, in the possession of the next-of-kin to the late John Peel, the hunting horn he carried, also his hunting crop and bridle. The hunting horn is not the shape of those in use now, but in circular form, like pictures one sees of French hunting horns, but somewhat smaller. It was by no means easy to blow. The Jennings family is one of considerable antiquity. Fellside Mansion was built during the early part of the last century by William Jennings, the present owner's grandfather, and with little intermission it has been tenanted by some branch of the family ever since. The mansion is of good workmanship within and without, and a glorious view is obtainable from the bedroom windows.
An interesting point to note is that in the Will of Joshua Smithson of Woodhall, Caldbeck, 1719 (see Appendix), two of the witnesses were Thomas Bewley and Joseph Jennings – the principal landowners in the neighbourhood.
The son of the above Joshua (and only child), John, the writer's great-great-grandfather, was very young at the time of his father's death, and was doubtless baptized in Caldbeck church, as Joshua Smithson was buried there September 8, 1720; but the Registers from 1711 to 1720 are missing and the transcripts at the Diocesan Registry, Carlisle, are nearly as faulty, but record Joshua Smithson's burial. The records of the Society of Friends, however, give very convincing proof of identity. This John Smithson appears to have joined the Society of Friends some time before 1747, but no note of his admission to the Society has been discovered. Previous to 1738 there was no recognised record of admission to membership kept by the Society.
The Smithson connection with Cumberland does not appear to have been much before 1530; two clergymen who held livings in the county, Rev. Anthony of Cliburn and the Rev. Robert Smithson, and John Smithson of Alenby (now Ellonby), yeoman, who migrated from Yorkshire, were our forebears. For the complete list of Smithson Cumberland Wills in the Probate Office, Carlisle, for the 16th century see Appendix.
To revert to Mr. Richard Greenup's account of some of the ancient landmarks in the district; he mentions the Vaux family of High Brownrigg as one of great antiquity. They died out about 1760. In the churchyard, in 1794, records were visible of a thirteenth or fourteenth Robert Vaux of Bromrigg, who claimed descent from the lordly De Vaux of Gilsland, one of whom, according to historians, founded Lanercost Priory about 1116. Some of their old armour was in Carlisle Museum. The family coat-of-arms cut in hewn stone and inscribed ' Robert Vaux ' 1722, is still to be seen over their old homestead. In the names of Street Head, High Street, and Street Brow we trace the path of the old Roman road through this parish.
The influence of George Fox was very great in this district, and three meeting houses of the Society of Friends were built, one at Whelpo, built 1698; Mosedale, 1702; and Howbeck, the largest, 1729. Burial grounds were also provided at the first two, but interments only take place at long intervals now.
The Whelpo Meeting House has been converted into a cottage with reserved right of meeting in one of the rooms if required.
The lands at Woodhall are now all thrown into one large farm. The estate is well wooded; it is owned by Mr. Edward Jennings of Caldbeck. Hesket Hall, the mansion house of the manor of Hesket, was the residence of the principal branch of the Bewleys of Caldbeck down to October, 1630. It is curiously built to form twelve angles, so contrived that the shadows show the hour of the day; it was built by a former Sir Wilfrid Lawson – the property being purchased in 1630 by William Lawson of Isell, who married Miss Judith Bewley.
After this date the Bewleys of Woodhall became the principal branch of this family in Cumberland.
Jeffry Wybergh was Rector of Caldbeck 1700 to 1727. He may be called the Building Rector, for he held office while the church tower, the adjoining church mill, or priests' mill, and the fine old doorway in the garden wall of the Rectory were being built. The coat of arms in the latter is still extant, but the inscription, which read ' Jeffrey Wybergh, Bachelor of Canon and Civil Law, A.D. 1718,' has decayed. The Record setting forth the date of the tower was in black letters painted on the wall of the western bay. It recorded: ' This steeple was builded in the year 1727. Jeff Wybergh Rector; Thomas Backhouse, sen., Richard Addinison, Richard Bewley, William Scott, churchwardens, 1727. During 1901 the old mill property, which had belonged to the Rectory from time immemorial, was sold, and passed into lay hands along with the glebe estate of Pasture House.
In the adjoining parish of Torpenhow there is an interesting old farmhouse called Harbibrow Castle, occupied by the Smithsons, one of whom, Richard Smithson, lived there in 1655. There is a photograph of the old keep shown at the end of the book. It is thought to have been built about 1350, and the keep was for protection against the Scottish raiders.