Brampton is a market town in northern Cumbria which can be found a little under nine miles north-east of Carlisle. There was a time when it stood at the focal point of five main roads: the A689 and A69 taking routes north and south of the River Irthing to Carlisle; the A689 heading east to the South Tyne Valley, then south to Alston; the A69 heading east to Newcastle; and the A6071 heading north-west to Longtown.
This all changed with the building of the Brampton bypass in the late 1980s. This passes in an arc to the south of the town, and takes away through traffic that previously used both the A69 and the A689. These days the only "A" road that actually arrives in the centre of Brampton itself is the A6071 from Longtown. You might think that the removal of all this traffic would make Brampton a quieter place. Quieter than it would otherwise be, perhaps, but by no means quiet. The centre remains a bustling and apparently thriving place, and a very attractive one.
The traffic following the pre-bypass main routes through Brampton passed along Carlisle Road, which stands just to the north of the heart of the town. This remains home to a number of attractive buildings, many made from the local red stone. These include Brampton's police station, which is almost opposite the Cumbrian Antiques Centre.
Next door to the latter is St Martin's Church, whose tower and narrow spire dominates the centre of the town. St Martin's was built in 1878 on the site of a former hospital chapel and the tower was added in 1906. The church was the only one to be designed by Pre-Raphaelite architect Philip Webb, and this has helped it become a Grade I listed building. The church is also notable for its stained glass, some of which was designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and made in the William Morris studio.
St Martin's overlooks the junction between Carlisle Road and Front Street, which forms Brampton's main shopping street and heads south-east to open out into the Market Place, which we will come to presently. The angle between the two roads is home to a large statue of the Emperor Hadrian, the man who commanded the building of the wall that bears his name, whose line passes within two miles of the town. Less obvious, on a wall behind Hadrian, is a plaque commemorating George John Johnson, a local politician who died in 1896.
Carrying on east along Carlisle Road takes you past the Bethesda Evangelical Church on your left, then past Brampton United Reformed Church and another now disused church that has become Brampton Playhouse. Carlisle Road becomes Moatside on the eastern side of the town. The reason for this can be seen on the north side of the road, where the ground rises to the summit of a motte known locally as The Mote, which stands 136ft above the surrounding area. This is now tree clad, but the summit can still offer great views over the town and for a long way beyond.
The Mote was home to a motte and bailey castle built in the 1100s on a platform cut from the highest part of a natural ridge. The platform measures some 38m by 18m, and there are traces of a deep ditch encircling the summit. All other evidence of the - presumably wooden - castle built here had apparently gone by the time The Mote was uses as the site for a beacon in the mid 1400s. In the 1800s a statue to the 7th Earl of Carlisle was erected on the highest point.
We've said that Front Street offers one way into the very centre of Brampton. Another is to head south along High Cross Street from its junction with Carlisle Road. This jinks around the side of the White Lion Hotel before emerging on the north side of the Market Place. In the centre of the Market Place is the Moot Hall, an octagonal two storey structure built here in 1817 to replace a town hall that had been built in the 1600s. Today the extended ground floor is home to the Tourist Information Centre, while the balcony above the entrance, accessible via steps on either side, is a great viewpoint over the Market Place.
One of the things that immediately strikes you about Brampton is its wealth of inns and pubs. Brampton began to take shape in its current form following the building of a road from Carlisle to Newcastle in 1758, and some of its inns date back to the years that followed. It is said that by the mid 1800s, the town was served by 45 pubs which in turn were served by two breweries. There may be plenty left, but it's worth remembering that they are all that remain of a once much greater number.
Sources differ about the origins of Brampton. One theory traces its origins back to the building of a much earlier road across what is now northern England, the Stanegate, built by the Romans in the years from AD80, some four decades before work began on Hadrian's Wall. This may have crossed the River Irthing at a point a mile west of modern Brampton, where traces of a Roman fort have been found. Forts usually generated settlements, and even though this fort was likely to have become disused 40 years later, when Hadrian's Wall was built along a line passing a short distance to the north-west, the settlement here may have survived.
It is usually suggested that Brampton was in existence by about 700, at a time when the area was under the control of Anglians. Some sources suggest that this first Brampton was located around the site of the old Roman fort, perhaps as a direct continuation of the civilian settlement that coalesced around the fort. That would explain why Brampton Old Church was built within what was the area of the Roman Fort. The Old Church standing today was built in the 1100s, but there is no reason why there couldn't have been earlier churches on the same site.
The information board on view at the foot of The Mote says that Brampton was moved the mile from its original site to its current site to make room for the local lord's deer park. It seems to us that a much more likely reason was the building of the motte and bailey castle on The Mote, probably not long after the current Old Church was built. There would have been considerable attraction in the idea of settling in the protective shelter of the castle, and the granting to the new Brampton of a charter to hold a market by King Henry III in 1252 would doubtless have been the final nail in the coffin of the old settlement, which would then have been unable to compete economically or for residents. The need to walk a mile each way to the Old Church each Sunday was presumably a small price to pay for living in a better protected and wealthier community.
In 1745 Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, arrived in Brampton at the head of a Jacobite army en route to capture Carlisle (and, he hoped, London). Carlisle fell but London did not, and the following year six of the defeated Jacobites were hanged at the "Capon Tree" in Brampton.