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WEDNESDAY 15th JANUARY Icehouses and the international trade in ice

Rob David gave a talk on “Icehouses and the international trade in ice” to the society on 15th January. Icehouses were probably first introduced in this country by Charles II who had encountered them during his exile in France. They all consisted of a long passageway with several doors ending in a pit covered by a dome.  In order to work there must be a drain at the bottom of the pit to remove any water formed by melting ice. All of them in Cumbria are underground. The other ways of preserving food such as air drying, smoking and salting all alter the taste of the food. Ice preserves the taste and can also be used for other purposes such as cooling drinks.

There are several ice houses in Cumbria at places such as Levens Hall, Holker Hall and Branthwaite although the latter was a failure due to the lack of a drain. They date from the late 18th to the 19th century. They are often situated some distance from the house and nearer the source of the ice such as a lake or canal. Use of the latter could cause health problems.  Ice was collected in winter and deposited in the icehouse.  When the ice was needed it was taken to the kitchen and stored in an ice box. This had a metal inner container with an outer container of wood or metal, the space between being filled with an insulator such as charcoal.  The ice was stored in the left-hand side of the inner container which had a tap at the bottom to run off water formed from the ice melting. The ice was separated by a metal gauze from the food on trays in the right-hand side of the container.  

In the 19thc the winters in the U.S.A. north of Boston were very cold and this resulted in pure ice forming to a large depth in the lakes.  The ice was collected and stored on an industrial scale at Wenham Lake. Using insulated wagons this was taken by rail to Boston and then by insulated ship to other countries.  Even allowing for loss due to melting it was a profitable trade. The ice exported to this country was landed at Liverpool and then distributed around the country.  Because of its quality it was preferred to locally sourced ice.  A rival source was started from Norway with one person even buying a lake there and naming it Welham Lake so that he could cash in on the reputation for quality. Apart from selling to private individuals much was sold to the fishing industry.  The trade declined dramatically from the 1890s, as ice was made artificially, and then collapsed due to WW1.

Rob’s interest in the subject started in 1979 when he began a school project whilst he was teaching in Kendal.  For the second stage of that project it was decided to fill the icehouse at Levens Hall with ice.  It had been built for £65 in 1827-1829 but by 1980 had been used as a rubbish tip. The rubbish was removed and the pit, originally constructed using limestone blocks, was lined with straw as an insulation.  The 15 foot deep pit was shaped like an ice cream cone and it was calculated that it would hold 15 tons of ice. This was delivered from Whitehaven and found to fill the pit exactly.  The ice had to be pounded as it was put into the pit to remove air. The ice lasted from January 1980 to February 1981.  Rob was thanked for his fascinating talk and reminded that he had given a talk about the school project to the society in January 1983.

Richard Cann


His sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!. The wide-ranging roles of women
Diane Elphick
:  An illustrated talk looking at the varied and changing roles of women.  The experiences of both men and women varied over time, place and according to class or income.  What evidence is there to illustrate how the experiences of women in the Dales were in line with the national context.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” produced in 1878 received international acclaim.  It satirised the problem of the number of middle class women dependent on their menfolk and the difficulties of marrying someone from a different class.   There were few career opportunities open to a woman at that time and the task of ruling the Empire had led to an exodus of men abroad.  By 1894 there were two million more women living in Britain than men and the reverse figure was true for British people living abroad. For women at that time marriage was the major available profession and those that could not find it at home were tempted to find it overseas.  There were organisations to help them such as the United British Women’s Emigration.  This emigration was not restricted to women but even included young girls from Dr Barnardo’s Homes.  The organisation found that those orphans under seven settled best overseas.

The turn of the nineteenth century saw the building of suburbs in the big cities and the resulting movement of the wealthier members of society away from the city centres.   Although this resulted in healthier living conditions it meant that married women were isolated during the day.  Women who had helped their husbands in their work or firm were no longer able to do so which did not suit everyone.  In Sedbergh there was a movement from living in the yards but the new houses were not distant from the town centre.  Houses such as Highfield Villas, Guldrey Terrace and those in Bainbridge Road were built catering for a range of incomes. The work women did in this district varied enormously.  Some were deeply involved in the family business be it running a shop or being a farmer’s wife.  However single women could struggle to survive by knitting and needlework.

Although property owning women featured in mediaeval documents such as the 1379 Poll Tax and wills the female peasants remained anonymous although they were occasionally depicted in sketches in books.   Apart from labouring in the fields they were even shown working as blacksmiths.  A few women were influential such as Lady Anne Clifford and Margaret Fell of the Quakers in the seventeenth century.  By the start of the nineteenth century a married woman’s property belonged to her husband but this gradually changed over the course of the century.  The elementary educational opportunities for women also increased from the 1820s and for secondary education with the Education Act of 1902. Fee paying schools also became available such as a School for Young Ladies in Ambleside in 1818, Kendal High School for Girls in 1890 and Baliol School in Sedbergh in 1901. Societies for women were formed such as the Snowdrop Band which had a branch in Sedbergh.  The aim of these was to produce clean living young women.

The jobs available to women also increased and the range of work they did in WW1 combined with the political agitation led to some women getting the vote after the war and eventually to all women receiving it.  Over the twentieth century the interest in ordinary women’s lives increased and this subject really got the attention of academic historians in the 1980s.  Diane was thanked for her talk and as usual had illustrated it with many examples from the Sedbergh area.

Richard Cann



The Must Farm Pile-Dwelling: Archaeological investigations of Bronze Age Fenland settlement
Iona Robinson Zeki

The late Bronze Age Fenland settlement at Must Farm near Peterborough has been justifiably called ‘Britain’s Pompeii’. The site, dating to circa 850BC, represents a snapshot in time when a catastrophic fire reduced a flourishing settlement of more than 5 round houses to a heap of charred remains preserved in the mud and silt of an ancient river channel in the Fens. The preservation of artefacts, due to the anaerobic nature of the mud, is quite remarkable giving insights into the everyday lives of the inhabitants nearly three thousand years ago.

Work at the site, a large quarry in the Fens, began more than ten years ago with a watching brief for the emergence of archaeological remains. Soon the paleochannel (the now silted up route a branch of the River Nene took to the sea from around 1600BC) became clear and what emerged was astounding. Nine logboats, carved from huge trees, were found in the channel at regular intervals. These boats appeared to date from the late Bronze Age into the Iron Age and were found alongside wattle fish traps that had been used to snare freshwater fish for food. Then, in 2006, the settlement site some 250m downstream was discovered. First to emerge were wooden piles (mainly ash with some oak) driven into the river bed to form a stockade or fence around the settlement, along with the remains of a wooden walkway that would have enabled easier passage over the marshy ground.

In 2015 it was recognised that the site was potentially highly significant and a full scale excavation began, with over 70 archaeologists and specialists involved. What emerged were the remains of several structures that had been constructed on stilts or piles over the river. Analysis of the wooden timbers showed a likely construction date around 850BC, and destruction by a catastrophic fire soon afterwards – probably within a year or two of the construction.  At the time of the fire the contents of the structures (interpreted as round houses used as dwellings and workshops) had fallen into the river channel and sunk into the mud and silt. Because the channel was shallow and the river very slow running at this time, the artefacts remained where they fell and have enabled a detailed picture to emerge of the layout and contents of the houses and the lives of the inhabitants.

Iona shared with us some of the finds from the excavation. In addition to helping our understanding of how the structures were constructed the finds help clarify the diet of the inhabitants. Remains of red deer and boar were found along with full skeletons of two sheep, that it is thought were tethered in one of the houses at the time of the fire (they were intact and had no signs of butchery on them). Fishing nets showed how fish were caught and parasites found in coprolite (excreta) demonstrate that raw fish was being eaten. The inhabitants were also eating cereals such as barley. Remains of a bowl were found with the residue of a nettle stew inside.

Particularly significant were the textile finds. Well preserved fibre bundles showed different grades of textile being used, and the presence of flax suggested linen was being spun. The inhabitants used spindle for their bobbins – a wood that does not splinter and snag the fibre. It had not been previously known that spindle was used in the Bronze Age. Also found were glass beads, made to a unique recipe which was perhaps suggestive of trade. Many bronze artefacts were found – eleven scythes or bill hooks, razors, rivets, gauges along with twenty socketed axes. The extent of metalwork discovered is not typical of settlement sites of the period and is prompting a re-think of how people lived.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular finds was a solid wooden wheel, made of three boards and riveted together with wooden dowels. There was some discussion as to why there should be a wheel in a settlement that was on a river channel where the main means of travel would have been by boat!

One significant difference between Pompeii and the Must Farm settlement is that the former was occupied over a long period of time so that the finds there represent many years of evolution of technologies and arts. At the latter we have a time capsule capturing what life was like for one year in the Fens. The extent of preservation of finds and layout is helping to rewrite our understanding of life in the late Bronze Age.

Iona, a project officer at Cambridge Archaeological Unit, has worked at the site as a supervisor for over ten years and is now writing up the excavation and the analysis of the finds. Her talk was both lively and informative and her enthusiasm for this remarkable site infectious. I can’t wait for the book that Iona is working on!

Graham Hooley


Charity, the Poor Law and Workhouse- when all else failed
Mike Winstanley
:  An illustrated talk exploring the ways in which people sought to “make ends meet” and get through hard times including the Poor Law and the increasingly dreaded workhouse.

The final talk of 2018 was given by Dr Mike Winstanley and attracted a large audience despite the wet weather.

Poverty is a relative concept difficult to define precisely but can be taken to be where a person’s resources are not sufficient to meet their needs.  The causes of it can be unemployment, underemployment, and personal problems.  The latter can be physical, such as disability, or moral failings.  A person can move in or out of poverty during their life cycle due to events such as having children and old age.  In the past there were ways of trying to prevent people getting into poverty and to support them in poverty.  The local community could give relief in money and kind, there were charities for the poor, Friendly Societies, Burial Societies, Savings Banks and Almshouses.  Sedbergh had an almshouse founded in 1848 and the Oddfellows Friendly Society had branches in Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent.  

The Poor Law of 1601 set up a system for poor relief which included workhouses although there were not many of the latter until the eighteenth century. Sedbergh got one in 1732 and Dent in 1733.  A pauper was a person receiving poor relief under the Poor Law.  The system was administered by the parish or township and recipients had to meet certain strict conditions before they were eligible.  A parish would often make an unqualified person move to another parish where they were qualified by birth.  The system relied on unpaid Overseers of the Poor who were elected annually by the Vestry which comprised the ratepayers of the parish.  Initially most of the payments were for outdoor relief but over the years the number of workhouses grew but these were mainly filled with old people.  During 18th and early 19th centuries the cost of poor relief escalated and steps were taken to try to reduce it.  In some places Select Vestries were introduced which gave more voting power to the people who paid higher rates.  The right of appeal to a J.P. was removed for those denied poor relief and there was a pressure to move people into a workhouse rather than give outdoor relief.

Children became an increasing problem for parishes due to illegitimate births, for example Dent in 1834 had 36 illegitimate children receiving poor relief.  If the father of an illegitimate child could be identified he was issued with a bastardy bond by the parish which committed him to paying towards the cost.  Parishes attempted to solve the problem of the children by putting them out as apprentices.  They would be fed and housed although rarely paid by their master but at the end of their training they would be qualified for a job.  Children in the workhouse would be taught elementary education which many whose parents were not on poor relief did not receive.

By 1832 the cost of the system had become so large that the government had a survey done nationally.  The solution adopted was to amalgamate small workhouses in different parishes into one large Union Workhouse and to cut back as far as possible on outdoor relief. There was opposition to this New Poor Law but it went ahead. After a long delay a Union Workhouse was built in 1854 to serve Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent and the existing ones were closed. Nationally the Guardians of these new workhouses took over the running of the system from the Overseers of the Poor.  In the 20th century poverty started to reduce due to measures such as the national pensions and these were extended to those on poor relief in 1911.  The cost of outdoor relief had dwindled although there was an increase for a few years after WW1.  The need for workhouses was also reduced and the system ended in 1930.

Dr Winstanley was thanked for his excellent talk in which he had used local examples as illustrations.  The society also produced the Sedbergh Overseers of the Poor’s accounts for 1731 and the list of entrants to the first workhouse at Settlebeck in 1732 for members to view.

Richard Cann



WEDNESDAY 7TH MARCH  2018        Discovering a landscape of industry

Andrew Lowe:  An illustrated talk looking at the wide range of crafts and industries that have made the Lake District a working landscape. The industrial heritage is a vital component of the attractive landscape we see today.

When Andy Lowe is the speaker we can be assured of a large audience. Over the years he has shared his extensive knowledge of the Lake District with us in a number of very interesting presentations. After obtaining a doctorate from Liverpool University and working as a planning officer with Cheshire County Council he was appointed as Building Conservation Officer for the Lake District National Park Authority, a post which he filled for nearly 32 years. During that time he has investigated a huge number of different buildings advising on their renovation and preservation.

On this occasion Andy’s focus was industrial archaeology, a subject which has fascinated him since childhood. He approached the topic from a historical standpoint with illustrations of typical Lakeland scenes featuring the elements of rocks, woodland and water. This sort of landscape, he said, has developed over the last five million years through geologic changes and human activity. Evidence of the first farmers dates from 5,500BC and axe factories from that period have been discovered.

Andy drew our attention to the rich and diverse rock deposits  rocks in the region. Evidently slate has been used since the first men appeared on the scene, first from outcrops on the surface of the ground, later from open quarries and eventually from underground mines. Although it has been in use over the centuries, it became especially important for roofing tiles when large numbers of terraced houses were built in the 19th Century.

Interestingly, in the 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth 1 was instrumental in arranging for   copper miners from Germany (where mining techniques were more advanced) to settle in the Coniston area. Andy’s slides included some fascinating German16th century woodcut illustrations by Georgius Agricola which showed extraction processes in mining. Copper mining developed on various Lakeland sites and many Cornish workers migrated to this region from Cornwall when deposits of Cornish copper dwindled there.

 The manufacture of iron and steel became a major industry in Cumbria but Andy pinpointed the numerous smaller sites where iron ore was smelted with charcoal as another factor in the development of the local landscape. There is early evidence of this activity and also of tree planting (in some cases involving abandoning arable land), to provide the necessary charcoal for the procedure. He also mentioned other uses of wood which depended on the cultivation of a variety of tree species including: peeling of bark, an ingredient in the tanning process; the crafts of brush and basket making and bobbin production.

After his whistle-stop tour of how industry has played a significant part in the evolution of the Lake District, Andy concluded his talk by showing us a slide of Coppermines Valley as an example of the important heritage that has been created in the process

This was yet another example of how Andy is able to communicate his passion for the Lakes and to enthuse his listeners in the process.

Julie Leigh


WEDNESDAY 4th OCTOBER 2017 The Shap Stones

Jean Scott-Smith

Despite the rain over forty members and visitors attended the first talk of the 2017/8 season.  The subject was “The Shap Stones” and the speaker was Jean Scott-Smith of the Shap History Society.

She said that the original name for Shap was Heppe which probably meant a heap of stones.  Shap was important because several tracks through the fells met there and also it was where two Ley Lines intersected. (Ley Lines originally were thought to be straight line tracks on which important prehistoric sites were situated but more recently some people think they are lines of energy that can be detected by dowsing.)  There are several prominent landmarks and stone circles around Shap. The Shap Thorn on Wicker Fell can be seen for miles around and seems to have been used in aligning monuments. There are important stone circles at Oddendale and Gunnerkeld, the latter alongside the South carriageway of the M6. In these ancient monuments use is made of Shap Granite rock, a pink granite due to the presence of Feldspar crystals.

 The presence of ceremonial stones at Shap was shown on early maps and described by travellers such as Camden in 1586.  The first representation of them was in a painting by Lady Lowther made in 1775 which shows two parallel rows of stones.  The start of the Shap Stone Avenue was a stone circle at Heppeshaw also known as Kemp Howe. When the main railway line was built in the 1840s the track was laid through it but some stones still survive.  They can be seen from the A6 in a field alongside the line near the limekilns. From the stone circle the avenue headed towards Shap for over a mile.  The route is crossed by four springs but few of the stones still survive and these are mainly incorporated into walls. At Brackenber Farm tradition says that there was another circle with a large stone in the centre which eventually was split to make seven gate posts. One large stone that does survive is the Goggleby or Goblin Stone.  This fell over in 1969 but was re-erected in 1975 and this gave archaeologists information on how it was originally erected.  The Asper Stone and another small one close by have cup marks on them.  The avenue seems to terminate at Skellaw Hill, a barrow which was found to contain cremated remains.  It is possible arrow of single stones continued beyond this.  The date of this whole complex is uncertain but probably lies in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

The speaker answered questions and then was thanked for a most interesting talk which will probably stimulate members to go and look for themselves.

Richard Cann  



“Taking the northern waters .... with Dr Garnett"

Professor Robert Fox

The last talk of the winter programme was given by the society’s president Professor Robert Fox. His topic was “Taking the northern waters with Dr Garnett”.  Thomas Garnett (1766-1802) was born in Barbon and as a child lived in Bank House.  He showed interest in science from an early age and in his teens went to be an apprentice of John Dawson (1734-1820) in Sedbergh.  Dawson was an apothecary and surgeon but also had taught himself mathematics.  His work in this subject was known nationally but it was as a tutor of the subject that he made his name with pupils from Cambridge University travelling to Sedbergh in their vacations to be taught by him.

Dawson saw that Garnett had ability and encouraged him to go to Edinburgh to study for a medical degree and after four years he obtained an MD in 1788. At that time there was a great demand for treatment to alleviate pain and fevers but the help available was poor.  There were about fifty physicians in the whole country and only the very rich could afford their fees the remainder having to rely on men such as Dawson.  Such was the demand for help that various sorts of people tried to fill the gap ranging from quacks to those whose treatment was bizarre but not always harmful.

Garnett was not capable of becoming a physician but saw the possibility of making money from working in a spa.  From at least medieval times some springs were thought to have healing properties, two in this area being at Humphrey Head and Witherslack, but a few became commercially developed such as at Bath.  Hotels and bath rooms were built and this attracted wealthy people for the social life as well as for any health giving benefits.  At Bath there was a master of ceremonies who dictated etiquette, the most famous of these being Beau Nash.

Harrogate was a spa but the surroundings were bleak and the available accommodation poor.  However, Garnett saw its possibilities because there were springs producing different types of water that could hence treat a variety of complaints.  Garnett formed an alliance with Alexander Wedderburn, Lord Chancellor 1793-1801, who provided the finance to erect the buildings to make Harrogate a successful spa.  In addition to making money from his medical work in the spa Garnett took in lodgers in his house to increase his income and it was in this way he met his wife.

The climate meant that there was little demand for the spa in winter and Garnett took to giving scientific lectures to supplement his income.  This proved a great success and he visited many towns in the north.  His reputation spread and when the Andersonian Institution in Glasgow was formed in 1796 he was appointed its first professor. He attracted large crowds to his lectures and as a result was head-hunted to become in 1800 the first professor appointed at the Royal Institution in London.  This was not a success for a combination of reasons.  His wife had died leaving him to bring up two daughters and he did not really fit in with Mayfair society.  He also probably suffered from depression.  In addition to lecturing he took up medicine again and as a result of doing this caught typhoid from which he died. Garnett had ability and exploited the opportunities available and his life showed that social mobility was possible in the eighteenth century.  Professor Fox answered questions and then was warmly thanked for his talk.

Richard Cann



The Evacuation of Civilians from Burma, 1942 (Part 2)

Mike Leigh:  Almost half a million civilians escaped from Burma in 1942 in the space of six months. This illustrated talk offers glimpses into episodes from the evacuation and is a continuation from his previous talk.

The first talk of 2017 was given by Dr Mike Leigh on “The evacuation of civilians from Burma in 1942”.  He had given a previous talk on the subject which dealt with the evacuation in the dry season but this talk concentrated on the wet season during the monsoon. 

Up to December 1941 Burma (now Myanmar) had not been involved in WW2 but then Japan started bombing Rangoon.  This prompted an exodus of British and Indians who headed for India.  However residents felt safe from invasion because of British command of the sea.  This feeling ended with the sinking of the Repulse and Prince of Wales.  In 1942 the Japanese army invaded from Siam through what had been considered impenetrable jungle.  People fled north towards India by various means.  The British army continually retreated never trying to make a defensive stand and by May there was one enclave left in northern Burma at Myichyina but from there it was well over 200 miles to Burma with no roads. The civilians arriving there by transport were often totally ill-equipped to face the prospect of walking the arduous tracks to India.  For example many young women would arrive in smart dresses carrying a small case.  As a result thousands of people died on their journey.

There were two ways of walking to India from Myichyina one was via the Hukawng valley and the other via the Chaukan pass.  Whichever way was chosen the problem was that there was a lack of food even though water was abundant due to the monsoon.  Although the air force tried to help by dropping food it was not nearly enough for the number of people involved. The Hukawng valley route was through thick jungle and over barren hills but there was one camp on the route.  In charge of this was 25 year old Cornelius North who in a space of five weeks had around 45000 people passing through and had to deal with an average of 50 deaths there a day.  Apart from his efforts the reason many refugees eventually reached India was due to the help of tea planters along the route.

The track via the Chaukan pass was through a quagmire with thick jungle and rapidly rising rivers and was considered impassable in the monsoon.  However it was the way chosen by Sir John Rowland and a group of about 60 others many of whom were elderly.  This group included many important people and their survival was due to the help received from Charles Mackrell.  He assembled a herd of 83 elephants which enabled the group to get across the swollen rivers.

Although Burma was eventually recaptured by the 14th Army the nature of its original catastrophic and humiliating loss led to independence in 1948.  Dr Leigh answered questions and explained that his mother came from Sedbergh and had gone to Burma as a missionary where she met and married his father.  They with their children had escaped by boat from Rangoon at the start of Japanese attacks when he was two.  He was warmly thanked for a most interesting talk.

Richard Cann



Making a grand entrance

Andrew Lowe:  An illustrated talk looking at the range of historic doorways in the Lake District, in order to help people understand the architectural detailing and dating of buildings over the last few hundred years.

Our speaker was making a welcome return reminding an appreciative audience that he enjoyed visiting Sedbergh so much that it is 25 years since he first spoke to the Society. He treated the audience to a mesmerising sequence of slides depicting different styles of dated doorways in Cumbria throughout the ages. That he was able to do this with such authority was as a result of his many years’ experience as a buildings conservation officer for the Lake District National Park. This enabled him to look at properties without having to actually knock at the door.

The doorway of a building is its focal point; simple or grand it makes a statement, reflects status and is out to impress.

Viewing the rapid succession of pictures was a passage through time from the defensive doorways of castles to those of grand country residences, fine Georgian mansions, typical rural farmhouses and the grandeur of those belonging to mill managers and Victorian industrialists.

Examples from different periods were taken to illustrate the different styles of build and dating. These included 14c Dacre Castle with a very ecclesiastical 16c door and Askham Pele Tower with its 1574 date stone doorway to a medieval courtyard which was chipped higher to allow access for horse drawn coaches. Yewthwaite Hall has a date stone of 1581 depicting a pair of shields, one upside down. Typical doorways of 1550s farmhouses were designed to keep the weather out. One such depicted an entry porch with a wall on one side to keep the wind and rain out but no wall on the other side in order to let the sun in. Early Georgian doors from 1780 had six panels and were of understated simplicity.

In the 1660s there was no tongue and groove joinery so the vertical joints were overlaid with strips of wood. Square pegs in round holes helped to seal the structure. In 17c the date symbols as seen in Caldbeck sometimes included concentric rings to keep out evil spirits.  Another was surmounted with a caption in medieval French which translated as ‘Do as you ought and never mind the consequences’ and another inscribed ‘ANO DOM -  God be with us, who can be against’. The archeological detail related to the local geology. Good sandstone and limestone could be dressed. Slate also featured in porches. Materials had to be transported by road or water. The coming of the railways revolutionised movement of goods as well as bringing money and influence. The arrival of the postal service in 1839 created its own problems for the owners of an ancient finely structured door, none of which had a letter box, of course.

The speaker was warmly thanked for such an excellent and authoritative presentation delivered with a sprinkling of humour. The audience left with a mind to be more observant of local doorways and to have a good look at their own!

Tony Hannam



The archaeology of the A66: Greta Bridge to Scotch Corner

John Zant:  An illustrated talk presenting the results of a series of archaeological investigations undertaken in 2006/7 by Oxford Archaeology North on the route of the A66.

The first talk in this winter’s programme was given by John Zant of Oxford Archaeology North.  His topic was the archaeology of the A66 from Greta Bridge to Scotch Corner.  In 2006/7 most of that section of the A66 was converted to dual carriageway.  Under existing law the contractors had to finance an archaeological survey of the proposed route to record any sites of interest.  John’s talk described what that work involved and what was discovered.

Firstly research was done to read all the documentary evidence available on sites along the route and also aerial photographs were studied.  This identified known sites to be investigated but left much to be discovered.  The distance involved meant that it would be impossible to dig the whole length and so trial slit trenches were employed. When a site was identified the top soil was stripped off exposing the boulder clay underneath.  Marks in this disclosed the outlines of enclosures, round houses and structures supported on four wooden posts.  The purpose of the latter could have been to store grain away from rats or to lie out the bodies of the dead to allow their flesh to be eaten by birds.  The soil removed was searched for pottery and associated seeds were later investigated to discover the environmental conditions existing at that time. Very little was found from the Bronze Age but there was an expansion of dwellings from c400 BC, the Middle Iron Age.

At one point the road was crossed by Scots Dyke an earthwork thought to stretch from the Swale at Richmond to the Tees although there is little evidence for it near the Tees. It was assumed to be a Dark Age boundary between two territories dating from the 6thand 7th century AD.  However, when a small section crossing the A66 was dug it was proved to date from 900 to 100BC in the Iron Age.  It probably was connected with Stanwick the site of the capital of the Brigantes tribe.  This was a large area surrounded by defensive ditches which had seen a big rise in population in the 1st century AD, the period of the Roman invasion of Britain.

A small trench was also dug at Carkin Moor Roman fort which provided some 2nd century AD pottery but no trace of the Roman road was found.  In the course of the whole A66 survey items that were discovered included Samian ware pottery, and from more recent times a silver spoon, some walls and boundaries, a culvert bridge and a water trough. The relative lack of finds probably reflected  the lack of habitation due to the poor quality of the land and the effects of ploughing where the soil was under two feet deep on top of the boulder clay.  The speaker answered several questions and was thanked for his talk which gave an insight into the rescue archaeology carried out on large engineering schemes.



History Society Visit To Salkeld Mill

On a pleasant June afternoon 17 members gathered at Salkeld Mill for a guided tour of this historic working flour mill.

It is likely that there has been a mill on the site since the 13th century, with the current mill having been built around 1750 during a period of peace, prosperity and population growth in the Eden Valley and prior to a run of poor harvests and the start of the Napoleonic Wars in 1793.

The original 18th century mill was much smaller than it is today, being one of several mills in the area each serving their immediate local community. However, this all changed in the 1870’s with the building of the Settle – Carlisle railway and the enterprising millers deciding to produce more flour and using the railway to send their goods to Leeds and Glasgow.

The current mill is operated by two waterwheels, and these were installed in 1915 and represented a significant financial investment (about £100,000 in todays money). They were cast in iron sections by B. Henry of Aberdeen and then brought down by rail and assembled on site. Both wheels are what as known as overshot wheels, with water flowing in at the top and then running into a tail race and back into the stream. The millrace takes the water from Sunnygill Beck at a weir situated half a mile from the mill itself.

The mill uses “French burr” millstones from Chalons in Northern France, composed of pieces of freshwater quartz. They are very hard wearing and resist cracking and breaking up. The millstones are of a ridge and furrow design and  generally only require re-dressing every 2 years.

These stones are enclosed in a hexagonal box, called a tun, above which is a hopper for the grain. The grain flows down from the bottom of this hopper into an angled wooden ‘shoe’ and the ‘millers damsel’ then agitates the shoe to ensure a steady and even feed into the eye of the runner stone. The grain is then forced outwards between the two stones and nothing is taken away – whole grain goes in and wholegrain flour comes out.

Today the mill produces a wide range of stoneground flours and, whereas modern milling utilises high speed rollers to separate the different parts of the wheat grain including the wheat germ, which is full of natural oils and vitamins, in stone grinding the wheat germ oils are mixed through all the flour giving it its nutty flavour and improved nutritional value.

The mill currently produces 1 – 2 tonnes of flour each week, that is eighty 25 kilo (56 lb.) sacks and it takes between 20 – 30 minutes to grind each sack of flour. Over half of the production is used within Cumbria, with customers including artisan bakeries, hotels, guest houses, restaurants, specialist shops and home bakers.

Having concluded the tour members then retired to the mill café where they enjoyed the organic vegetarian fare that was on offer with the opportunity to purchase a range of the stoneground flour produced by the mill.



Photos of Old Dent - Graham Dalton

The last talk of the season attracted a sizeable gathering to hear Dr Mike Winstanley give an illustrated talk on the Highland Clearances. However after having reported in sick earlier in the day, our versatile chairman Graham Dalton introduced himself instead and a very interesting evening was spent looking at some splendid old photos of Dent and its surroundings, many over 100 years old. These prompted many an exchange with those present along the lines of; ‘Does anyone know where this is, or can you recognise anyone?’

The first, taken in 1904 with brilliant clarity, was an outstanding one showing a group of youths looking over the valley. This a huge contrast to one showing the valley totally under water in 1928. Then a view looking over Dent to the old workhouse in Hallbank. This one, pre 1950, showed the demarcation of buildings between Dent, Dent Town and Flintergill before other developments encroached.

In studying the interior of St Andrew’s Church, with its box pews as it was before its restoration in 1890, Graham bemoaned the dismantling of the three-decker pulpit. He added that the Trinity College archive is full of correspondence for and against its removal.

Farming in the dale featured on a number of pictures; 1891 hay time using scythes with handles longer that the handler and 1896 hay time at Condor Hall.

On the cobbled street by the Sedgwick Fountain a group cleaning it before the dates were added in 1888, another of Eastertime young egg pacers and one of three cows drinking even before its installation. A Band of Hope parade taken in 1905 showed a huge crowd passing by. A very interesting photo of members of the Sedbergh History Society posing before the Society folded in 1930 only to be re-launched much later.

Further up the valley an early picture of Dent Head Wesleyan Chapel with an excellent show of Harvest Festival produce. Then a view of Stonehouse, Arten Gill and part of the old marble works  near Stonehouse bridge, the latter a listed building and remarkably still standing despite the efforts of errant drivers over the years to knock it down.

In Cowgill photos of the magnificent gardens at a house on Weavers Terrace and of the Mill on the Dee, was it for flax? The Sportsman’s Inn appeared with a pre-1908 car parked outside by the petrol pump, now no longer there. Up at Dent Station a cattle wagon was waiting for its load in the siding. And then there was a fully loaded Burrow’s bus and a picture of the last Ribble bus to leave the valley crossing Millthrop  bridge.

Further photos showed the Gate Manor Treat leaving Dent, volunteers on the way to Dent in 1895 and a huge over 60’s gathering in 1958.

Graham mentioned in passing that the population of Dent was once over 2,000, exceeding that of Sedbergh. So there has been a population clearance of sorts over the years but not on the Highlands scale!

Tony Hannam


The Men Who Built Carlisle Cathedral
Thirlie Grundy

Despite clashing with the final of “The Great British Bake Off” the first meeting of the winter programme attracted a large audience.  The talk was by Thirlie Grundy on “The Men Who Built Carlisle Cathedral”.  The talk was inspired by the many sculptured stone heads in the cathedral and she produced some most original ideas to explain who they were.   As written records do not exist there is no definitive answer and whether correct or not her talk certainly produced the desire to visit the cathedral to view the heads.

The Anglo Saxons had originally built wooden churches with high roofs but later turned to using stone and some of these contained a stone stating which mason had built the church and when.   The Normans did not do this and Thirlie thought the faces in Carlisle Cathedral depicted the masons and were their way of leaving a record of themselves.  Because they spoke French the masons and their families would have formed a tight social circle separate from the local people.  Building a cathedral was a decades long affair and so families of masons and their descendants would stay for a long time in Carlisle.  On reaching the age of 14 a boy would be apprenticed to his father until he was 21 when he would go off to another mason to develop his skills but return when he was 28 to build part of the cathedral.

Bachelors were restricted to decorating their work with zigzag patterns and plain pillars but married men could decorate their work with leaves and berries.  When they carved their faces a bachelor had to place his in the centre of the arch but a married man could put the image of himself and his wife at either end of the arch.  The married man‘s head had oak leaves sprouting from it with acorns, the number of which corresponded to the number of children the mason had.  If a child died then the acorn was removed.  Older masons depicted themselves with a protruding tongue to show that they were still alive and this may have been the origin of the Green Man so commonly found in churches and cathedrals.  If the mouth of the man or his wife was defaced then it was implied they had died.  Later in the cathedral’s life the Norman masons were replaced by Anglo Saxons and Italians who still carved their own faces but had a different symbolism.

The oldest part of the cathedral is now the Border Regiment Chapel and starting with the faces there and then moving to the east end Thirlie attempted to place the faces in chronological order showing the family tree of the masons.  She also thought that the carver of the wooden misericords was the descendant of a mason due to the similarity in some designs.  At the end of her talk she answered questions and was then thanked.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 4th March Westfield War Memorial Village
Peter Donnelly

The society met in Settlebeck on Wednesday 4th March to listen to a talk by Peter Donnelly the curator of the Kings Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster.  The subject of his talk was the War Memorial Village at Westfield.

By the start of WW1 Thomas Mawson had established an international reputation as a garden designer.  His family firm based in Windermere had been responsible for many important local gardens such as those at Braithwaite Hall and Holker Hall.  He was married with four sons and five daughters.  His third son, James Radcliffe Mawson, joined the 5th Battalion of the Kings Own Royal Regiment soon after the outbreak of war.  In March 1915 they were posted to the front line and sometime during 23/24 July 1915 he was fatally wounded. 

His death had a profound effect on his father who determined to do something to help disabled soldiers and their families when the war finally ended.  He had a vision of setting up villages for them where they could live and work in specially constructed workshops.  These villages would contain good quality housing with gardens at cheap rents, schools, hotels, shops, libraries, playing areas, churches and each would have its own power station as a national grid did not exist at that time.  In all 12 such villages of about 3000 inhabitants were planned to be spread throughout the country but at the end of the war the government did not financially support the scheme and there was some concern as to whether it was a good idea to effectively create ghettos of disabled soldiers.

However, in Lancaster a meeting was held in November 1918 and it was decided to collect subscriptions to found a village.  The two people who were the driving forces were Thomas Mawson and Herbert Storey, a local industrialist.  The site chosen was the Westfield estate to the west of the railway station.  This had belonged to Storey but he had moved out when Lancaster had started expanding near it.  Subscriptions were raised by a variety of methods including a lottery.  The latter was the subject of a court case which decided the principle that a lottery for a charity was legal.  Ambitious plans were designed for the village and building commenced although it never was fully completed as planned.  Also a factory was never built due to opposition from unions and firms.  The official opening ceremony took place in November 1924 when a key was handed to Earl Haigh.  The central feature of the village was a war memorial designed by Miss Delahunt.

After WW2 more houses were added but gradually things changed.  The children of the original soldiers had left and the inhabitants were mainly elderly.  With the end of the world wars there were also far fewer disabled soldiers.  The rents had not been raised and this eventually produced a financial crisis with not enough money for repairs or improvements.  The advent of the “Right to Buy” in the 1980s enabled the trustees to sell 22 properties to raise money.  In 1987 the remaining houses were handed over to a housing association to manage. Houses are no longer sold and in addition to the private properties there are 90 that are let plus a building used for administration.  Priority for renting is given to disabled ex-servicemen but others are eligible and the whole complex is run by a charity.

After his talk the speaker answered questions from his audience and was then thanked by the chairman.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 18th February The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Admiral Sir John Kerr

The meeting on Wednesday 18th February was held in the Peoples Hall due to Settlebeck School being closed for the half-term holiday.  The talk was given by Admiral Sir John Kerr on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Sir John had ended his career as Commander in Chief Naval Home Command and in retirement among many other posts had been Vice Chairman of the CWGC.

Initially in WW1 the Red Cross had tried to solve the problem of burying the dead but it but in 1917 the Commission was formed largely due to the efforts of Sir Fabian Ware.  After the war in 1920 the principles for commemorating the dead were decided after some debate.  It was decided that each of the dead should be commemorated by name on a grave or by an inscription on a memorial.  There was to be no distinction by military or civil rank, race or creed.

Originally wooden crosses were used but these were unsuitable for some religions and they also rotted.  As a result the standard stone slab was introduced which showed for identified bodies the badge of the unit, service particulars and if wanted by the next of kin a religious symbol and a personal inscription.  The Commission is responsible for 1.1 million headstones worldwide and has to replace about 22000 of these annually which are made at Arras.  Altogether the Commission is responsible for about 23000 locations in 154 countries.  The largest being Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium and the smallest being one in North Carolina in the USA.

People such as Sir Edward Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll were involved in the design of the cemeteries and memorials, like the Menin Gate, to those whose bodies were never found.  The latter number about 600,000.  However, each year bodies are discovered and they are buried and given a headstone and if they can be identified their names are removed from the memorials.

The people whose names are included in the cemeteries and memorials are those that died 1914-1921 for WW1 and 1939-1947 for WW2. They therefore include those that died from wounds after the wars and also those in service who died in the flu epidemic of 1919.  The names also include those who were “shot at dawn”.

When the Commission was first formed it was called the Imperial War Graves Commission but the name was changed in1960.  The cost of the CWGC is £60 million pounds annually and this is met by the governments of the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India with most of the cost contributed by the UK.  About 1200 are employed with the majority being either masons or gardeners.  The headquarters of the organisation is in Maidenhead but there are bases in various countries.  The commissioners are appointed by the countries and are high ranking individuals from that country usually the ambassador or high-commissioner.  The chairman is the Secretary of State for Defence in the UK.

After his talk Sir John answered questions and was thanked by the chairman.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 21st January
Crime and Punishment in 19th century
Westmorland and Cumberland

Dr Julie Leigh, a member of Sedbergh and District History Society, attained her PhD for her research into early policing in Westmorland and Cumberland. Her recent talk to the Society was based on information about crime and punishment in this area collected in the process of that research.

To place the subject matter in context, she first remarked on the fact that in the later nineteenth century Westmorland and Cumberland had fewer crimes than the industrial counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire where the populations of about 1½ million were much larger than those of the two north western counties with their total population of 265,000 Crime rates tended to be higher in heavily industrial areas, and Westmorland and Cumberland were mainly rural with the exception of the iron and steel areas of the west coast of Cumberland and woolens in Kendal. The improvement of transport, through canals and railways, brought change but slowly.

During the century, manorial & parish control reduced. Not all crimes were recorded as small crimes were dealt with summarily but it is clear that there were not enough police and that policing lagged behind the rise in crime. The first county police forces came into being in 1839 but they were not made compulsory until 1856 and only in that year did Cumberland & Westmorland form a police force. Before that, there were some police appointed privately by groups of local men of property, for example at Burneside. Dr Leigh had found an undated document signed by local worthies of the Sedbergh area calling for the prosecution of perpetrators of a list of specified crimes, of housekeepers who lodged criminals or strolling vagrants, of disorderly people and of negligent constables. This probably dates from the 1830s. In 1850, there was a request for a policeman and lock-up for Sedbergh.

There were not many murders in the region. While most murders were family affairs, the most notorious was that following the Netherby jewelry theft. Three men climbed into Netherby Hall, near Carlisle, while the family were dining, and stole jewelry worth £400. After the theft was discovered the police traced the thieves and one policeman attempted to accost them alone. He was shot dead and all three (Anthony B. Rudge, James Martin and John White) were hanged for murder. At the beginning of the century, even children as young as seven could be executed but as the century progressed the death penalty was used less. Murderers were often reprieved and transported to Australia.

There were many more cases of infanticide (the killing of a child by its own mother within  a year of the birth) than of other murders. 53 cases were recorded in the region in the 1850s but there were probably many more concealed cases. In 1863 a Doctor examining Margaret Allonby of Kirkby Stephen found she had given birth to a child and subsequently found the corpse wrapped in a petticoat and hidden in a mattress. In the case of a servant named Mary Johnston, the child’s corpse was found buried in her master’s garden. Some mothers were charged only with concealing a birth. Although infanticide was technically murder in the C19th century, the courts showed increasing awareness of the special circumstances and treated offenders more leniently.

Other crimes can be related to cultural events and circumstances, e.g. Irish navvies fighting English navvies, violence at protestant marches on the west coast, and fighting after drinking on Guy Fawkes night, and at Brough Hill Fair. A report in 1845 on Milnthorpe, where there was no resident policeman, recorded the prevalence of drinking during divine service when the pubs were supposed to be closed and of disturbances on Sunday afternoons.

Cumberland & Westmorland wrestling and prize-fighting both attracted gambling. The former was more regulated and organized. The police eventually cracked down on prize-fighting and on-street gambling. As attitudes to animals changed (the RSPCA was founded in the mid C19th) police came down hard on bull-baiting and cock-fighting. People would take their neighbours to court over incidents of malicious damage to a cow or horse but were initially suspicious of strangers from the RSPCA. The Burneside Association for the Prosecution of Felons provided half an advertised reward of £5 offered for information about the person who killed a sheepdog, the other half being given by the owner of the dog.

Vagrancy was a major problem throughout the century. There were regular trails used by vagrants passing through Kirkby Stephen and Ravenstonedale. The authorities transported people across the county to avoid trouble but some knew the byways into the county and had regular calling places where they could beg food. Many were caught begging in Ravenstonedale and taken to court in Kirkby Stephen. Kirkby Stephen had 17 pubs and a Temperance Hotel - it had a strong temperance movement  as well as problems of drunkenness. The penalty for vagrancy was one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. Often the offence was combined with begging and drunkenness. In the 1860s and ‘70s vagrants were also charged with other crimes, such as theft, arson, operating as a pedlar without a certificate, using threatening language, sleeping out-doors, and, in one case, murder.

The extant Kirkby Stephen Occurrence Books, in which the sergeant wrote long narratives of police actions are a fascinating source of social history. Policemen recorded instances of men playing dominoes in a pub kitchen and of landlords refusing to obey a policeman’s instructions to stop disorderly behaviour and protesting that they were obliged to sell drink even to a person already drunk. The police would follow people they thought about to commit crimes, watch them do so and then arrest them.

Small crimes were dealt with summarily before one local JP at Petty Sessions. Other cases were heard by two or more JPs, plus jury, in Quarter Sessions. These had been established in C14th but their former local government functions (such as responsibility for road and bridges) were taken over by County Councils from 1889. The most serious cases were sent to the annual assizes.

The main prisons were at Carlisle and Appleby, where archeologists have uncovered the remains of a treadmill. Other forms of prison labour were oakum picking and stone-breaking, which were also used as occupations for inmates of workhouses. A frequent criminal charge relating to workhouses, was of tearing up one’s clothes, done in order to avoid being turned out after one night. The records of a riot at Appleby Gaol, in which three prisoners escaped, show that the Governor called police to help but prisoners called on the Governor to help them against the police and blood was spilt on both sides. Evidence to the committee deciding on the need for a police force in every county included the statistic that, in 1852, 45,000 meals were served in Carlisle Goal and Workhouse.

Police in Westmorland and Cumberland were not needed in huge numbers: In 1856 there were 25 policemen in Westmorland and 32 in Cumberland. By 1893, this had risen to 33 in Westmorland and 186 in Cumberland. The type of policing, as well as the numbers of police changed over the century, with the introduction of preventative measures and appointment of detectives. The police took on extra responsibilities e.g. for truants, people in distress, and weights and measures. When the Metropolitan Police Force was established in 1829, people were very suspicious but, by the end of the century, police were accepted by community. Some people believed that there was a criminal class pre-ordained to get into trouble but research published in the 1990s showed that most offenders were not full time criminals but ordinary people of the working class struggling to survive in difficult circumstances.


Wednesday 19th November Sizergh and Recent Excavations
Jamie Quartermaine

Jamie Quartermaine was the Senior Manager of this project directing members of the Levens Local history Group and the National Trust along with a professional team from Oxford Archaeology North based at Lancaster University.  In a wide ranging illustrated talk he unlocked the mysteries surrounding a prehistoric burnt mound, an earthwork suspected of being medieval and the Great Barn all found in the grounds of Sizergh Castle. This proved to be a very intense, high profile excavation over 13 days covering 8 square kilometres and involving lots of volunteers, including children from local schools. He explained the techniques used to find the best sites to focus on.

He described the kidney shaped burnt mound, located in a bog, as a phenomenal find. Excavating down through peat to a shale bed two levels of stone deposits were found. The local limestone would not have been fit for purpose, heat and water would have converted it to quicklime, so the sandstone discovered must have been transported at least a mile. Lower down still a trough, 1 -1.5 metre square, boarded with prehistoric timber was located, well preserved by the bog. The wood was dated and could have been from as early as 2500BC -  making the mound very early bronze age, almost Neolithic. Pollen examined from the bog was probably from post glacial vegetation dated at 1200BC. Subsequently alongside the mound a kettle hole was found caused by ice blocks from the Ice Age sinking into the waterlogged ground.

So who needed a burnt mound? Did Bronze Age man put water which had seeped into the kettle hole from the surrounding bog into the wooden trough, heat up the stones and throw them into the trough so getting hot water before discarding them to form the mound; the opposite of a sauna when water is splashed onto hot stones?

This very significant discovery helps to unravel the mystery surrounding burnt mounds.

The double banked ditch in the deer park was located by using images from a drone. This coupled with 3D imaging showed up a very obvious feature probably going all round the castle, dating from 1724 – 1787; pre-dating early mapping. Excavations showed that the bank resulted from spoil from the ditch and formed a very good barrier to keep animals at bay.

A very detailed survey was made of the Great Barn. The Strickland family had believed this to date from the 16c making it the earliest stone barn in the north. However this investigation suggested otherwise.

The earliest barn was a 16c wooden cruck bank barn with a manmade wooden ramp forming the bank. Huge tapered timbers, the crucks, supported the roof. These timbers were accurately dated to 1550 by counting the rings on a cross section. The later stone barn was observed to have these crucks incorporated into the walls of the structure and was thus built at a later date on the footprint of the earlier structure, possibly late 17c and not, as previously thought 16c.

The dig was filmed for a BBC programme with Michael Buerk.

The speaker was thanked by Tony Hannam for this hugely impressive illustrated detective story of our local pre-history.

Tony Hannam


Wednesday 1st October
Isobel Stirk  The Bronte Family

The first talk of the season was at Settlebeck School and was given by Isobel Stirk on the topic of the Bronte family.  Patrick Prunty was born in Ireland in 1777and being an intelligent person was able to enter St John’s College, Cambridge in 1802 from where he graduated with a first class degree.  At some stage there he changed his surname to Bronte.  After university he became a curate of various parishes and married Maria Branwell from Cornwall.  They had six children, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne.  In 1820 Patrick became the Perpetual Curate of Haworth but in 1821 his wife died and her sister Elizabeth moved from Cornwall to look after the children helped by a maid Tabitha Aykroyd.  Elizabeth devoted her life to the family and she also provided financial support.                                                                                                                                                                     Patrick taught the children to read and write and speak French.  He also taught Branwell some Latin and Greek.  To further their education the four eldest girls were sent to a school for the children of poor clergy at Cowan Bridge.  However their delicate health combined with poor conditions at the school proved too much for Maria and Elizabeth who contracted tuberculosis and had to return home dying soon afterwards.  The remaining two sisters were removed from the school.  Whilst at home the children began writing stories which were written in tiny booklets.  In 1831Charlotte went to a school in Roe Head run by a Miss Wooler where she made some lifelong friends.  After leaving as a pupil she returned as an assistant teacher and Emily became a pupil there but did not stay long.  When she left Anne took her place.                                                                                                                            During their adult life the girls worked as teachers or governesses but Emily never settled at anything and after a short time away always wanted to return to Haworth and its moors.  Charlotte was more successful but seemed to get on better with the man in the family than the wife, a possibly not unconnected phenomenon.  She certainly seems to have had an affair with Monsieur Heger.  She and Emily had gone as pupils to a school in Brussels run by him and his wife and they had returned there as teachers although Emily did not stay long.  After some posts Anne eventually had a happy stay as governess to the Robinson family in Scarborough.  Branwell had a talent as a painter and went to study at the Royal Academy in London and also tried to set up as a portrait painter in Bradford.  However in these and some other jobs he tried he always failed through an addiction to alcohol and drugs.  He became a tutor to the Robinson’s children in Scarborough but this time his failure was due to having an affair with Mrs Robinson.  His dismissal meant that Anne also had to leave her post.                                                                                                                                                                   In 1847 the three sisters had their novels published.  Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre”, Emily’s “Wuthering Heights” and Anne’s “Agnes Grey”.   Anne’s “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” was published the next year.  However, in the space of seven months during 1848 and 1849 three of the Brontes died.  Branwell died of tuberculosis weakened by his dissolute life style.  Emily died two months later from consumption.  In the spring of 1849 Anne became ill and wanted to see Scarborough again but died there and was the only one of the family not buried at Haworth.  After their deaths Charlotte eventually married her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholl, in 1854 but she became ill and died soon afterwards in 1855 when pregnant.  Her husband stayed at Haworth and looked after Patrick Bronte who died in 1861 having outlived his children.  Their novels and early tragic deaths had aroused a public interest and even before Patrick’s death people were visiting Haworth to see the where the Bronte sisters had lived.                                                                                                                                      

The chairman thanked the speaker for her most informative talk and several people took the opportunity to question her during refreshments.

Wednesday 19th February 
Anthea Boulton  ‘Treasure Trove of Memories’

A large audience gathered in the Dent Memorial Hall on the 19th February to hear a talk given by Anthea Boulton entitled “Treasure Trove of Memories”. She was assisted by Veronica Whymant and Dilys Evans with technical assistance provided by Neville Allen. The Dent Oral History Project had been started by Anthea in 1994 but had since been expanded to cover Sedbergh and other neighbouring areas.

The theme of Anthea’s talk was the work ethic in the area particularly before the advent of machinery and mainly covered the period either side of World War II. Extracts from conversations with past and present local residents were listened to in which they remembered their childhood days and life as young adults.

In those days many articles were handmade rather than bought and trade was often carried out by bartering rather than cash purchase. Events such as hay making and pig killing were important in the year and entailed much hard work. There were also hiring fairs twice a year in which the farm labourers were picked by the farmers. The ability to milk cows well and to be good with a scythe were the main attributes needed to be selected for work.

Most farms had a dairy herd and the regular payment from the Milk Marketing Board provided a life line as incomes were low. The advent of tractors and later electricity made things easier in the decades after the war. The present day farmers work hard but do not have the unrelenting grind endured by previous generations although that did not prevent them from enjoying themselves with communal entertainments.

The chairman thanked Anthea and her assistants for a most enjoyable evening which had been much appreciated by the audience.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 5th February 2014

Andrew Lowe  ‘Lakeland Architecture through the Centuries’

Andrew Lowe did not disappoint on another popular repeat visit as he whisked a large gathering through 500 years of Lakeland architecture in an hour. As a former Senior Planning Officer in the Lake District National Park with over 30 years experience his knowledge on this subject is encyclopaedic, even of ‘Wainwright’ proportions. His premise is that architecture should be pleasing to look at, fit for purpose and built to last… and should reflect the needs of the time.

His talk was illustrated with a succession of well chosen slides to illustrate design features. Dacre Castle (circa 1340) was designed to keep the marauding Scots at bay. Kentmere Hall dating from 1380 had a fireproof tower with vaulted ceilings to deflect fire brands. Steep pitched roofs of formerly bracken thatch were fire risks. Muncaster Castle (1258) had a medieval tower. The cylindrical outer chimneys such as on Coniston hall (1560) signalled the importance of the owner. Taking us inside Calgarth Hall, an early 16c manor house, he pointed out the finest over mantle; the fireplace tended to be the focus of life and hints of the importance of the family.

Buildings of the period circa 1620 – 1700 such as typical Lakeland buildings with home-grown rugged architecture were termed vernacular meaning ‘of the locality’, like a local accent, buildings which according to Wordsworth ‘grow out of the rocks of the landscape’. Designed with a porous rough stone finish the familiar lime wash rendered them weatherproof. Most of the windows faced the morning sun for solar gain, even if the best view was from the rear. Doors were kept away from the damp south west prevailing wind. One surviving 300 year old door illustrated was made of three oak planks using square pegs in round holes (for better grip). The master and mistress slept in the warmth of downstairs. There was a rudimentary staircase on the cool side. A fire window allowed light into the fire and cooking area. A lockable salt cupboard guarded the valuable salt. A clap bread air tight oak cupboard, situated against an interior wall, was the most elaborately carved piece of furniture in the house. This had to be rat proof as it stored the food which had to last through the winter months.

By the late 17c, on entering the Georgian period, more formality and symmetry appeared. Buildings were highly proportioned by professional designers as illustrated by Dalemain House with its beautiful Georgian façade dating from 1744. These designs filtered down to lesser buildings, the town houses, within the radius of the growing townships. By 1740 elegantly proportioned sash windows appeared on three storey houses with the smallest on the upper floor. The wonderful cottages built in Lowther for estate workers in 1760, designed by Robert Adams, were way ahead of their time.

In the late 18c, as the grand tour of the Lake District was becoming fashionable, partly due to Napoleon’s blockade, people were choosing to come and live here. Many fine prestigious homes began to appear along the shores of Windermere. The architecture became more flexible in what came to be known as the Regency Period and bowed windows appeared. Storrs Hall, built on the profits of the slave trade, is a good example. The Belsfield had the finest view on the lake with grounds running down to the shore. The buildings in Ambleside and Keswick symbolise the Victorian Age, post-railway architecture. The railways brought wealthy industrialists needing grandiose houses and also tourists. So wealth, social change and transport influenced architectural development.

And what about modern building design? Mr Lowe highlighted two of architectural merit; Ambleside Parish Hall and Lakeland limited.

Well, Andy Lowe certainly lived up to his billing and after this excellent talk the appreciative members and friends were left with a lot more to look out for as they travel around the district.

Tony Hannam


Wednesday 15th January 2014
Jeff Cowton 'Wordsworth in Cumbria'

The chairman welcomed members to the first meeting of 2014 on 15th January at Settlebeck School. He informed them of the success of the website, run by Neville Allen, which in the last three months had received 9412 hits. He then introduced the speaker who was giving the evening’s talk.

Jeff Cowton, the Curator of the Wordsworth Trust, spoke on the subject of “Wordsworth in Cumbria”. William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, lived 67 years in the Lake District. His early years were spent in Cockermouth from where he went away to school at Hawkshead Grammar School, lodging with Ann Tyson. He attended Cambridge University and then spent time in London and abroad. On his return to the Lake District he lived in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, and finally in Rydal Mount. On his death his grave in Grasmere became a place of pilgrimage for literary enthusiasts.

The majority of Jeff’s talk was spent considering original documents of his work. His sister, Dorothy, was a constant companion and helped him with his work. For instance the first account of daffodils by Ullswater appeared in her journal. It was two years later before he wrote his poem on the subject. He constantly amended his work and that was shown by this poem. When first written it had only three verses but this was later extended to four. The notes he made during his life which formed the basis of his autobiographical poem “Prelude” again show considerable alterations. Jeff also distributed examples of letters written to Coleridge to give the audience an understanding of the method of communication two hundred years ago.

After the talk Jeff answered questions and said that letters found recently showed that he had a loving relationship with his wife, Mary. The chairman thanked Jeff for his most interesting talk and said Wordsworth had connections with Sedbergh including sending two sons to Sedbergh School.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 6th November
Dr Raynor Shaw  ‘The Angkor Temple Complex’

On 6th November the Society was entertained to a talk by Dr Raynor Shaw as a result of his visit to Angkor about four years ago. Ever since he was quite a small boy and had first heard of Angkor Wat ,he had dreamt of going there, and so, when as a geologist he was asked to go and help assess one of the temples in the Angkor complex, which the French had said was likely to slip downhill, he had jumped at the chance.

He described the layout of the surrounding area, with it very flat plain, flooding in the wet season, and stretching to the hills some 40 miles away. Angkor means Great, and Thom means city, and the main complex is a walled city some two by three kilometres in extent and surrounded by a wide moat. In the centre of the city is a large pyramidical stone temple known as the Bayon (representing the Hindu sacred mountain, Mount Meru) which was the focus of the city. This temple and the walls are all that remains of the city as all other buildings, even the royal ones, were constructed of wood and have long disappeared. At its height the city may have contained as many as a million people, at a time (12th century) when London probably only had about 17,000 people.

Outside the city there were many stone temples, from small to huge, and numbering about 170. The famous one, of course, being Angkor Wat (“Great Temple”). This building is truly huge, being about 190 metres by 200 metres. It is surprisingly plain in construction apart from a sort of inside out cloister facing outwards round the building and containing a frieze approximately four feet high which runs right around the temple, mostly showing the good soldiers (facing right) fighting the demons facing left.. The temple rises in three huge terraces to the top and is crowned with five towers, only three of which can be seen from afar at any one time. It again is surrounded by a wall which is between about 200 and 500 metres from the temple, and outwith that an enormous moat almost 200 yards wide. The famous views one sees on postcards (and in Raiders of the Lost Ark) of tree roots growing over and through the stones are in yet another temple, Ta Prohm, some considerable distance away, which has been deliberately left in the state in which it was found, and are not at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was never completely deserted and so did not get overtaken by the jungle. Like the other temples, Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple but later the population converted to Buddhism in the 13th cenntury. The amazingly sharp carvings (after 9 centuries) of the basse reliefs reflect this change

Dr Shaw pointed out that a large city such as this needed supplies, and in particular water. Cambodia has only two seasons, the wet and the dry. Angkor is beside the largest lake in south east Asia. In the dry season this lake is comparatively very small (2.700 sq km) and only about a metre deep and drains via the Tonle Sap river to join the Mekong at Phnom Phen about 100 kilometres south.. In the wet season the melting snows in the Himalayas and the monsoon cause the Mekong to force the Tonle Sap river to flow backwards into the Tonle Sap lake, and it expands enormously and can be 9 metres deep and 16,000 sq km. It contains over 2000 varieties of fish, many of which take advantage of the backwards flowing river to spawn in the lake. The Khmer built numerous canals, and in particular a canal to bring the huge building blocks of sandstone from the hills 40 miles away. They also constructed four enormous reservoirs or barays which were raised above the ground by huge embankments.. Built by slave labour from the Khmers’ successful wars, one of them is eight kilometres long.

The Khmer civilisation was at its height between the 9th and 15th centuries. It was at its height in the 12th century when a strong king, Suryavarman, built Angkor Wat. A series of weak kings, possibly climate change with prolonged droughts, and war, culminated in the city being sacked by the Siamese in 1431. The next year when the Siamese came again the city was deserted, the population having moved south to the Mekong Delta, and ultimately to Phnom Phen. The jungle gradually took over, and the complex disappeared from history. It was not until the 19th century that it was really re-discovered, though intrepid explorers had reported huge temples in the jungle – and been disbelieved.

[Foot note: The Khmer are the Cambodian people. In the 1960s and early 1970s there were three political parties, known simply as the Blue, White and Red Khmer. The latter was the Communist party, and was the one that ran out of control as the infamous Khmer Rouge (Cambodia having been part of French IndoChina].


Wednesday 16th October
Raymond Whittaker 
‘Sarah Losh and Wreay Church’

In the second talk of the 2013-2014 winter programme Raymond Whittaker introduced members to the architecture of Sara Losh, a notable nineteenth-century lady who was responsible for 18 building projects in the village of Wreay which is about five miles south of Carlisle. In particular, she is remembered for the design and construction of St Mary’s Church in the early 1840s. Sara was one of four children born to John and Isabella Losh. They lived in Woodside, a large dwelling in Wreay and their wealth was derived from an alkali factory and mining interests in north east England. They were a cultured family and associated with influential and intellectual figures like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. Sara and her sister Katharine were joint heirs to the estate when in turn their father, mother and brother died. Sara and Katharine were very close and after Katharine died at the age of 47 Sara began to design and build the church partly as a memorial to her.

Raymond said that the only person in the nineteenth century to give any substantial information about Sara’s life was Dr Henry Lonsdale in his book, The Worthies of Cumberland where he portrayed Sara as a woman of many talents. Educated in Wreay and later in Bath and London, she spoke several languages, developed an understanding of art and architectural techniques on her travels in Europe and was a skilled craftswoman. However, as Jenny Uglow has pointed out in her more recent book about Sara and her achievements, it has been impossible to discover much about Sara’s personality and beliefs, since her personal papers and diaries have not survived. Jenny described the search for the ‘real’ Sara as ‘chasing after ghosts’ and maintained that she can best be understood through her architectural legacy and in particular through the design of St Mary’s Church and the artistic expertise that is revealed in its decoration.

In a series of beautiful slides Raymond illustrated many aspects of the church, most of which was built and decorated by local artisans. The church was constructed in the style of a rectangular Italian basilica with a semicircular apse at one end. He compared its design to that of a Roman law court and the prominent position of the altar as similar to that of the table in a basilica where animal entrails would have been consulted when important decisions had to be taken in Classical times. Raymond’s slides illustrated the importance of symbolism in the decoration. For example, death which is represented by two large poisoned arrows carved on the door of the church is superseded by many symbols of regeneration in the interior of the building. Although there are no human forms or religious iconography in the decoration, the depiction of animals, birds, vegetation and fossils interspersed with many carvings of Sara’s signature pine cone provide a feast for the eye.

After Raymond’s presentation, it was easy to understand why people come from all over the world to see such a beautiful and thought provoking building and why, in the opinion of experts like Nicolaus Pevsner and Simon Jenkins, it is one of the most important churches in the country.


Saturday 5th October 2013
Day Course

The day course on “Cumbria in the Dark Ages” held on the 5th October attracted a large number of members. Thirty four, including one of our members from France, came to listen to the talks given by Sheena Gemmell. This number exceeded our expectations and as a result the event had to be moved to a larger venue and we are grateful to the URC for allowing us to use their rooms at short notice.

Sheena’s talks covered the period from the departure of the Romans to the arrival of the Normans, a period known as the Dark Ages because of the scarcity of written material covering much of that time. However using the surviving historical documents and archaeological evidence Sheena gave her audience an insight into the life and events of the period. We learnt of the Kingdom of Rheged, the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Northumbria, the introduction of Christianity, the settlement by Danes and Vikings and the invasion in 1092 by King William 11 (Rufus) that pushed the boundary of England up to Carlisle. In addition to these broad themes Sheena gave us details of the lives of individuals living in the area that is now Cumbria.

At the end of the day the audience departed having enjoyed the course and knowing much more about the Dark Ages in Cumbria. We are grateful to Sheena for presenting such interesting talks.

Richard Cann

Wednesday 12th June 2013
Visit Hoghton Tower
The Society visited
Hoghton Tower near Preston on Wednesday 12th June 2013.    Hoghton Tower is perhaps best known as the place where James VI & 1 knighted a side of beef ( “Arise Sir Loin”) on his way south from a visit to Scotland in 1617.   A picture hangs in the Great Hall showing what appears to be an extremely drunken Court disporting itself in the Great Hall and commemorating this event.

The House was built in 1565 high on a hill dominating the surrounding landscape probably because there had been a peel tower there previously.   In the Civil War the house was occupied unopposed by the Parliamentarians and the peel tower itself was used to store ammunition.   Someone carelessly used a naked flame and the peel tower was demolished (together presumably with the parliamentarians inside).   The approach to the house is up a long straight drive, and the house looks larger than it actually is as you drive up.   It is an early Elizabethan house, built perhaps before the fashion developed for E shaped houses, and is cast iron gate and a flight of steps.   Three sides of the court are formed by the two storey house, and the fourth by a wall and an impressive gatehouse facing down the drive.   As well as the large gatehouse tower at each end of the wall there are small towers, one of which can be hired as a holiday cottage.   Although there are three towers, the House has always been known as Hoghton Tower, not Towers, perhaps going back to the original peel tower.

The family of de Hoghton have lived continuously there since the Conquest, and through the female line are descended from Lady Godiva.   Around about the time when the present house was build the “de” was dropped, but was later reinstated.   The present family live in London, and use the house more as a holiday home.   It has been open to the public since about 1988, after 10 years of restoration as it had fallen into a bad state of repair.   Among its distinguished guests (quieter and more dignified perhaps than James) were William II, George V and Queen Mary, and the present Duke of Edinburgh.   Other distinguished persons include Edmund Campion (the Catholic martyr), Charles Dickens,  William Shakespeare (believed to have been a tutor in the house aged about 15) and JMW Turner.

Many of the rooms are panelled, and there are magnificent fireplaces.   Many of the doors have interesting fittings, and two large doors connected to the Great Hall have smaller doors set into them for use in the winter.  There are two magnificent four poster beds, in one of which the Duke of Edinburgh recently slept.  There are many family portraits, both modern and going back to Tudor times.    One recent one of the previous Lady de Hoghton, unfortunately away damaged by a water leak, normally hangs in the house with the dress she wears in the portrait beside it.    The family has always been Catholic, and there are two priestholes in the house.    There are ancient oak tables and many other interesting items of furniture.    A room full of doll’s houses is of particular interest.   Under the house long corridors run  with vaulted cellars which include “dungeons”, one complete with skeleton.

Karen Bruce Lockhart


Wednesday 20th March 2013
Dr Tony Stephens    The Cattledroving Birtwhistles of Craven and Galloway
Drovers, industrialists, vicars, a spy and a poet – all were included in a wide-ranging talk at the History Society in March by Dr Tony Stephens of Long Preston. The talk centred on the family of John Birtwhistle (1715-1785), a major drover of Scottish cattle to markets in England during the C18th. John came from relatively humble origins, his father being described variously as a yeoman and a ‘badger’ (travelling salesman) from Skipton. Travelling clearly suited John who, by 1741, was established as a drover of cattle from the Hebrides to the Great Close at Malham where he established major cattle fairs in the middle of that century. The cattle were driven down from Harris in the Outer Hebrides because they were particularly hardy and well suited to the uplands of Craven. At its height 5,000 cattle changed hands at the fair on the Great Close, and up to 20,000 were traded over the course of a summer. This amounted to around 20% of all the cattle coming into England from Scotland at the time. He went on to drive cattle to markets in Suffolk and may also have driven as far as London.

Droving made John a wealthy man and by the 1760s he was no longer described as a ‘yeoman’, rather as a ‘gentleman’. He used his wealth to purchase extensive estates in Lincolnshire, Galloway (a 600 acre estate at Dundeuch) and Long Preston (872 acres) and expanded beyond droving at the time the Industrial Revolution took off. In 1785 he built a cotton mill at Gatehouse of Fleet, Galloway, in partnership with James Murray. He also invested in canals being the largest subscriber in 1774 to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Skipton. His extensive estates also suggest that he moved into the business of fattening up the cattle rather than simply droving and selling them at market, making them far more profitable.

John Birtwhistle had eight children, three of whom (William, Alexander and Robert) took over the various businesses prior to and on his death. His eldest son, Thomas, became rector of Skirbeck and his only daughter, Agnes, married John Vardill, rector of Fishtoft. Birtwhistle died in 1787 and stipulated in his will that the droving business was to pay substantial bequests to the family members not involved in the business. It therefore looks a little suspicious that four of his sons, the main beneficiaries, died shortly after him - Thomas in 1789, Richard and Charles in 1791 and John in 1792! They were all in their 30s or 40s and died without legal heirs.

The three remaining sons rationalised the family businesses, William and Robert managing the cattle business, while Alexander ran the Gatehouse textile business. At this time William and Robert began importing cattle from Ireland via Port Patrick and extended the family estates through purchase of Balmae near Kircudbright and sheep farms north of Loch Maree in Ross and Cromarty. While it is not known exactly which drove routes they used to bring their cattle to the growing urban centres fuelled by the Industrial Revolution, it is probable they were driven through Carlisle, down the Eden Valley through Mallerstang to Dent and beyond. It is also possible that they followed the Galwaithegate from Carlisle through Tebay, Low Borrowbridge, Lambrigg Park, Three Mile House, Old Town and Kirby Lonsdale. This ancient droving route is mentioned as early as a charter of 1186-1201 and can still be followed under the name Scotch Road or Old Scotch Road passing close to junction 37 just on the Sedbergh side of the M6.

Agnes had married John Vardill, rector of Fishtoft in Lincolnshire. Vardill was an American professor at King’s College New York by the age of 23. When he came to London in 1774 to make a case for King’s College becoming a university, his allegiance to the Crown led to him being recruited into the British Secret Service. George III rewarded him with an appointment as Regius Professor of Divinity at Kings College (now Columbia University) though because of the American War of Independence he has unable to take up the post. He was also a leading spy for the English at the time of the war, and is even depicted in an early engraving of the Boston Tea Party in 1773. During 1776 he moved into an office at 17 Downing Street, to allow him to advise British minsters directly on affairs in the colony. Later he moved to the family estates at Gatehouse in Galloway where he continued his espionage work against the Irish and French.

William, Alexander and Robert had at least 10 children between them but only Alexander married the mother of his children, and then not until after their birth. This led to legal challenges over inheritance with Agnes claiming to be the only legitimate heir on Alexander’s death. This was contested by Alexander’s son, John, who eventually won the case in the House of Lords where Scottish law of succession was upheld as that was where John had been born, not in England. The judgment has since been written into the constitution of a number of countries including the United States. An inscription in Skipton Parish Church, in memory of John’s grandfather, celebrates the victory by listing all the offspring of the patriarch with the notable exception of Agnes!

Anna Vardill, the daughter of Agnes and John Vardill, was a prolific author and poet.  In 1809 she published “Poems and translations from minor Greek poets and others” under the pseudonym of ‘A Lady’. The work is dedicated to the Princess of Wales and indicates a letter from the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, saying how much he had enjoyed reading it. This is perhaps indicative of continuing links between the family and the royal household. In 1812 she published “The Pleasures of Human Life: a poem” and became a member of the influential artistic circle in London known as the Attic Chest. Over the next ten years she contributed around 200 pieces of poetry and prose to the European Magazine.

The talk ranged across the world, from the Hebrides to Malham and Suffolk, from the United States to Ireland, and spanned three generations of this fascinating family once described as “the greatest graziers and dealers in the Kingdom”. Tony Stephens did a wonderful job bringing their lives back to life again, and in particular painting a vivid picture of cattle droving in the C18th.

Graham Hooley


Wednesday 6th March 2013
Jennifer Holt      The Diary of Thomas Fenwick Esq

The Society met at Settlebeck High School on Wednesday 6 March to hear a talk by Jennifer Holt on the recently discovered diary of Thomas Fenwick (c1729-1794) of Burrow Hall, near Kirkby Lonsdale and Nunriding in Northumberland. As a landowner and for several years M.P. for Westmorland, Fenwick travelled extensively. The parts of the diary that have survived cover the last twenty years of his life. They show Fenwick to have been an astute observer, with a curiosity displayed in his many comments on agriculture, wildlife, and natural phenomena, including the direction of the wind, the daily variations of which seem to have particularly fascinated him. Fenwick’s systematic recording of what he ate, how he slept, and the people he dealt with convey vividly the rhythms of the day-to-day existence of a man constantly on the move. As part of her broader interest in the history of the links between north-west England and the rest of the world, Jennifer Holt has undertaken the formidable task of editing the one million words of the diary. The first two volumes appeared recently (very handsomely, as publications of the List and Index Society), and the remaining two are due out in the coming year. The published volumes, which were on display at the meeting, and Jennifer Holt’s illuminating talk showed how valuable the diary will be at many levels. These include work on Fenwick’s own biography and his family history, in which the litigation that set him and his Catholic sister-in-law Ann Fenwick (née Benison) of Hornby Hall at odds, is one of several intriguing episodes. As Jennifer Holt’s talk showed, the history of the Fenwicks is confusing, complicated by the frequency with which members of the family adopted the name Fenwick in adult life: Thomas Fenwick himself was born Thomas Wilson. But the diary’s reach extends far beyond Thomas and his family. On a broader canvas it will stand as a major new resource for the history of our area and northern history more generally. All who are interested in these subjects will long be indebted to Fenwick’s careful recording of his experiences and to Jennifer Holt for her skilful editing of such a voluminous work.   

Robert Fox 


Wednesday 20th February, 2013
Maureen Lamb     Killington through the Ages

A large audience including several non-members gathered to listen to a talk by Maureen Lamb on “Killington through the ages”.  Maureen dedicated her talk to the memory of Alwyne Amsden who had died tragically two years ago.  Alwyne had spent much of her time researching the history of Killlington and had also traced the ancestry of the local families.

Killington is a village of about 160 people and the parish occupies an area about 5km wide and 6km long.  It is bounded by the A684, the M6, the Lune and the parish of Mansergh.  Geologically it lies on a bed of Silurian rock but a fault line runs through the parish which can be seen in various places.  The last Ice Age left drumlins on the valley floor and the Lune had to carve its way through these.  One spectacular example is on the site of the old Killington Bridge the remains of which are upstream from the present bridge.  References exist for this old bridge being repaired in 1702 and even earlier in the 14th century.

The name Killington is of Celtic origin and is thought to mean the place of Cylla’s people.  The coming of the Romans and their nearby major road would have provided an economic stimulus to the area. The departure of the Romans would have caused a return to subsistence farming.  The Anglo-Saxon conquest left few traces but the coming of Scandinavian invaders had a lasting impact.  They preferred scattered farmsteads rather than nucleated settlements and many of today’s farmhouses are still on the sites of their farmsteads.  Also many names such as thwaite and rigg are Scandinavian in origin.

The first written records came after the Norman conquest and the first named person was William de Killington who had a house probably on the site of Killington Hall.  In the last quarter of the 12th century he was up in court several times for debt and was also a witness to a document concerning land at Middleton Hall.  In the middle of the 13th century the Killington property passed to the de Brus family and then to the Pickerings who held it for the next three hundred years.  Sir William Pickering who obtained the land built a house with a drawbridge over the stream which acted as a moat.  About 100 years later Sir James Pickering built a new mansion and the present day ruined tower is all that remains of it.  He would have spent little time there as he took troops to Ireland, was Sheriff of Westmorland and York, was elected as an MP to Westminster and acted as Speaker   during the reigns of Kings Edward III and Richard II.  He was made the executor of a friend’s estate but two years later the man’s widow was abducted and taken to one of Pickering’s houses in Selby.  One of his servant’s was blamed but he was probably responsible.  He made enemies and one of these, Sir James Roos of Kendal Castle, ambushed him with 300 men but he managed to escape although two of his party were killed.  Eventually there was no male Pickering heir and the inheritance passed to Anne Pickering who married three times.  Her son, Francis Vaughan, by her third husband came from York and was not interested in Killington and so the estate was sold but only after the tenant farmers were allowed to buy their land.  Among those taking advantage of this was Edmunde Mealbank who bought Broad Raine in 1585.

It seems likely that Sir James Pickering built a chapel at the same time as he built his house.  This chapel was not sold with the estate and the inhabitants petitioned the bishop to allow it to be used for services and burials.  This would save them having to go to Kirkby Lonsdale some 10 miles away.  Their request was granted on the condition that they were able to support a minister financially.  One such minister was Richard Leake who in 1698 and 1699 preached sermons which he then had published in London.  He blamed a current plague outbreak as being due to Popery and drunkenness.  Whether this conclusion was the result of his experiences at Killington is not clear but strangely the plague had not affected the parish.  However, the Pickerings and the Kitsons who succeeded them were both Catholic families and the Red Lion tavern was within 50 yards of the chapel.

Legends exist about Killington including the existence of witches.  Indeed an actual example existed in which a lady from Killington Hall was accused of witchcraft as recently as 1843 but was acquitted.  Another legend was that a treasure chest was buried near Lilymere Tarn during the retreat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army in 1745. Despite attempts to discover it no one has yet succeeded. 

Quakers were prominent during the late 17th century and about a third of the burials at Brigflatts during that period were of people from Killington.  Interesting diaries were written by William Pooley Blacow and Agnes Ann Kendal which gave an insight into the area in the 19th century.  During the 20th century two famous visitors to Killington were Bobby and Teddy Kennedy who stayed there and carved their initials on a barn door.  Over a third of the houses in the parish were built before the 19th century and, ignoring outbuilding conversions, only six houses have been built there since 1900. In fact if the Vikings returned they might still recognize the area.  After her talk Maureen showed slides of the houses in Killington taken about 30 years ago and answered questions.  She was then thanked for her most interesting talk by the chairman.


Wednesday 5th December
Katy Iliffe     The History of your House

The last speaker before the break for the festive season was Katy Iliffe the Sedbergh School Archivist.  The topic of her talk was “The History of your House”.  

She said a good source was to talk to neighbours and previous inhabitants of the house.  Also local estate agents who have sold the house in the past could know things about its history and may even still have its deeds in their possession.  The history of the town may also reveal information about the house and the area around it. If it is a listed building then the details of the listing can be obtained from the internet or from the National Park.  The latter may have extra details not shown on the listing.  There may be information in the house itself, such as dates shown on particular items, but these can be misleading.  For instance a date on a fireplace probably refers to when it was installed rather than the date the house was built.  Documents may also be found in the house where they have been stored by previous occupants.  An actual example of an unusual place being under insulation in the attic.

Places where information can be obtained include the local library, the local history society, the local record office and the National Archive.  The internet can also prove useful but care must be taken when using it, the information on it is only as reliable as the person who posted it.

There is a range of documents that can provide useful details.  The best are deeds, if they exist,   although their availability is diminishing with the growth of the Land Registry founded in 1862. Maps and surveys may show the house on its site.  If they are of a large enough scale they can show its shape and hence the change of shape over time.  Information on farms can be obtained from the 1940 Agricultural Survey.  If the house is part of an estate then its records may include details.  If the house was involved in a boundary dispute that went to court the record will be in the National Archive.  Other records held there include details of death duty paid since 1796. Wills can also prove invaluable but their location is varied depending on their date. 

Nationwide records give details about the house, its occupants and its owners.  Governments have always tried to extract money from house ownership.  In 1662 a Hearth Tax was introduced which depended on the number of fireplaces in the house.  Assessors had the power to demand access into the house to check the number.  This was considered too draconian and in 1696 it was replaced by a Window Tax which could be checked externally.  This resulted in many windows being bricked up as owners tried to save paying as much tax.  Records of these two taxes, if they exist, will be in the local record office.  The best known national records are the censuses taken every ten years since 1841. These can show whether the house existed at a particular date and who its occupants were.  Censuses can be found in local libraries, local record offices and on the internet.

A lively discussion followed in which attention was drawn to the use locally of Tithe Maps, Land Taxes and a survey of some houses made in 1913. Finally the speaker was thanked by the chairman for her interesting and useful talk.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 7th November 
Janet Niepokozycka     Packhorse Ways & Days

A large audience of sixty people met in Dent Memorial Hall to listen to a talk by Janet Niepokozycha on Packhorse Days and Ways.  As part of her research into packhorses Janet, in the past, had done trips of hundreds of miles with a packhorse to gain first -hand experience.

The earliest record of one that she had found was on a carving from Iran dating from 640BC. In the Middle Ages they were depicted in paintings from all over Europe including one from England in 1480 which showed a donkey being used as a pack animal.  In more recent times they were shown on prints from the North of England carrying a variety of goods.  From further afield an early nineteenth century one from Japan showed a horse carrying a load. The type of goods carried varied considerably and the animals were illustrated carrying things such as water, wine and vinegar containers.  Bales of cloth, wool, lead ore and fish were other examples of loads carried.

 The scale and extent of the operations varied enormously.  The Batemans of Blease Hall near Kendal were large scale operators around the year fifteen hundred and carried wool as far as Southampton through all seasons.  On their return journey they brought back items such as dried fruit, spices and alum. It is not clear whether the same ponies did the whole trip or whether there were relays of ponies involved.   When speed was essential a pony express system of relays was operated that could provide 24 hour a day transport.  An example of this was recorded by Daniel Defoe in the first quarter of the eighteenth century.  He stated that fresh salmon from the Lake District was sold in Billingsgate with the journey taking under three days.  At the other end of the scale there was the man, or even woman, operating with one pony.  These people would visit houses trying to sell things to the occupants and were known as badgers in England and cadgers in Scotland. Their activities gave rise to the two words having negative meanings in the English language and laws were brought in to regulate their behaviour.

The equipment used by pack horses was fairly standard and bells were associated with them all over the world.  These were to give warning notice of their arrival and possibly to ward off evil spirits. The saddles used were arched and had side panels to spread the load.  None survive from this country but some do from other countries and are even still in use in remote areas.  Whether the horses were shod or not depended on the nature of the terrain and the length of the journey.  Getting horses shod on a journey was not a problem as all villages had a blacksmith.  The animals used included mules, donkeys, ponies and horses.  In this area the Dales and Fell ponies were ideal for use.  Working animals need concentrated feed such as oats and this led to a system of inns being set up with stalls for the animals and beds for the drivers.

The nature and state of the tracks used varied widely and some had markers on them to help with navigation.  In the hills the tracks were usually stony and weathered quite well.  In the valley bottoms the tracks became very bad in wet weather and over the years got hollowed out.  As a result several parallel tracks often existed close to each other.  In some areas steps were taken to avoid this by laying stone slabs and sections of these tracks still exist.  Bridges over streams were originally wooden but were later rebuilt in stone.  These arched bridges were characterised by their low side walls to allow the animals to get over when carrying their loads.

The coming of canals and toll roads signalled the decline of the pack horse.  Toll roads allowed carts and carriages to make journeys which had been impossible on the previous tracks.  The final nail in the coffin was provided by the advent of railways.  A photo exists of Mary Alice Hartley from Whitworth possibly the last of the pack horse traders but she has no marked grave in the local churchyard.   The speaker was thanked by Graham Dalton for her most interesting talk.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 17th October     
Sheena Gemmel     Kingdom of Northumbria

     On 17th October members of the History Society were treated to a most informative and interesting illustrated talk by Sheena Gemmel entitled “The Kingdom of Northumbria: its Rise and its Golden Age.” Ms Gemmel, a Doctor of Literature who had studied Early Medieval History at St Andrew’s University and been a lecturer at Lancaster University, is a national authority in this field and during the talk she imparted a wealth of information about the formation, extent, evolution and influence (particularly its art, religion, literature and architecture) of the Kingdom of Northumbria, largely in the late 7th to mid 8th centuries – its ‘golden age’.

     Northumbria (literally ‘the land to the north of the River Humber’) initially evolved from a fusion of two kingdoms: Bernicia (founded in 567 A.D.) to the north,inhabited by Angles and centred around Bamburgh; and Deira to the south, a Saxon area centred around York. Aethelfrith, described by Bede as ‘powerful’, ‘ambitious’ and ‘cruel’, was the king of Bernicia who, through his expansionist warlike methods unified the entire neck of land comprising central Britain between the Irish and North seas to the north of the Humber and to the south of the old Roman Antonine Wall between the Clyde and Forth rivers. This included Rheged (present-day Cumbria) as well as Gododin and Strathclyde, and indeed probably also had influence as far west as Ireland.

     Once established, and with Christianity becoming more widespread, there followed a period of peace and prosperity under the rule of Edwin (of Deira), 617 A.D. to 633 A.D. He developed links with the kingdom of Kent and, through this alliance, beyond into Europe from where cultural influences flooded northwards: education, reading and writing became more commonplace.

     Edwin was succeeded by Oswald, a son of Aethelfrith, and later and for a long period (642 to 670 A.D.) by Oswiu. During the former’s reign, when dominion over the Scots was cemented, St Aidan came from Iona to establish his monastery on Lindisfarne. It was during Oswiu’s reign, however, that the kingdom really flourished: through his 3 marriages links with Rheged and Ireland were strengthened, drawing in diverse Christian influences yet in an atmosphere of peace and cultural co-operation; the highly influential Synod of Whitby (664 A.D.) decided in favour of continental practices; there was a flowering of learning and the arts; and several important institutions were founded, including Ripon Cathedral (671 A.D.), Hexham Abbey (673), Monkwearmouth Monastery (674), York Minster (682) and Jarrow (685). Many key figures in this golden age were of continental origin, including Theodore, Benedict Biscop and Hadrian, whilst a local nobleman, Wilfred, was instrumental in the great building revolution, organising stonemasons brought in from Gaul.

The talk ranged much wider than this core history, with beautiful illustrations of, for example, Acca’s Cross at Hexham; a simple memorial stone at Hartlepool comprising the Greek letters alpha and omega; Bewcastle Cross in Cumbria; and the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire depicting Christ’s mastery over the beasts, and the Tree of Life – in Ms Gemmel’s words, “the monument of the period par excellence.”

     The appetite of our audience for delving even further into this remarkable period was well and truly whetted. 

 Michael Beecroft.


Wednesday 3rd October 
Dr Sam Riches     St. George & that dragon

The opening talk in this winter’s programme was given by Dr Sam Riches.   She is the co-ordinator of the Centre for North West Regional Studies which is based at Lancaster University.  The topic of her talk was “St. George and that dragon”.  She has featured on a TV programme about him and Saints Andrew, David and Patrick.

Whereas many saints can be identified historically George’s life is not known although some contradictory stories exist placing him in the fourth century.   Rather than attempt to give an historical account Dr Riches illustrated the myths surrounding his cult.  He is a popular saint in many countries and is the patron saint of several including England.  Also similar figures can be identified in other religions.  In this country he is, these days, viewed as a warrior on a horse slaying a dragon to save the life of a princess.  However, that is an image that appears to have arisen in the thirteenth century.   Much earlier representations show him on horseback slaying a man, allegedly a heathen emperor.  In the fifteenth century the dragon was illustrated as snake like with wings, shown as female and with the lance depicted as killing it in the mouth or throat.  George became the Patron Saint of England largely due to his popularity with medieval royalty beginning with Edward III.

In other countries and at different times he was associated with martyrdom.  Whereas a saint was usually connected with a particular type of death,  e.g.  Catherine and a wheel, George was shown being killed in a variety of ways.  He was also claimed to have been resurrected, often due to the influence of the Virgin Mary.  Indeed in one story he was tortured for seven years and resurrected three times before his final death.  In addition to a connection with martyrdom he was often linked with water and particularly new wells.  Also he was strongly associated with healing and skin disease.

The talk was an unusual one for the society but was most interesting and the speaker was excellent.  The chairman thanked Dr Riches for her talk.  She said that anyone interested in learning more about St George should go to the web-site

Richard Cann



Wednesday 21st March 2012
Joyce Scobie - Brewing and the Inns in Sedbergh.

When the original speaker had to cancel her talk due to family reasons the society was fortunate that Joyce Scobie agreed to give a talk on brewing and the inns in Sedbergh.


Wednesday 5th October 2011
Anthony Fitzherbert O.B.E 
-  Afghanistan  

The first meeting of the winter programme held on Wednesday 5th October attracted a large audience of members and visitors despite the bad weather.   The speaker was Anthony Fitzherbert O.B.E. and his subject was Afghanistan.  He first travelled there in the early 1970s but had worked there from the late 1980s. His work was involved with issues related to rural development, agriculture and land management, in particular transforming emergency relief into sustainable agriculture production.  Over the years he has worked independently for various agencies and organisations including the U.N.

The first part of his talk dealt with the complicated history of Afghanistan.  The country is on the route from Central Asia and the Middle East to the Indian sub-continent and therefore had seen many invaders and had also acted as a buffer state between great powers.  He described the influence of various dynasties such as the Mughal’s and the Dourani’s and then the contacts with the British Empire which resulted in three wars. The present frontier between Afghanistan and modern Pakistan was drawn in 1893 and included the Wakban corridor to provide a buffer between Russia and the British Empire.  His talk also covered the period from when the British left in 1947 up to the present time.

The second part of his talk dealt with the agricultural production and geography of the country and gave a glimpse of Afghanistan not seen in the TV coverage of the present conflict.  However, some disturbing statistics were that opium sales made up 32% of the G.D.P. of the country and 80% of the world’s production of heroin came from there yet this was grown on only 3% of the cultivated land.  After his talk he answered various questions and was then thanked by the chairman.

Mr Fitzherbert also gave details of funds to help street children in Kabul and to set up schools in parts of Afghanistan. There was a retiring collection for those in the audience who wished to help.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 16th March 2011
Dr Trevor Piearce Victorian Naturalists and the heyday of
natural history

The Sedbergh and District History Society invited the local support group of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust to join them for a talk by Dr Trevor Piearce on “the heyday of natural history”. Dr Piearce is Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology at Lancaster University.

Apparently natural history became a national obsession in Victorian times. Many popular books were published containing sketches from zoos and hand coloured illustrations of various plant and animal species. These were often sold as individual prints later. These books, for example a five volume work on shells, were very popular and encouraged their readers to go out collecting to the detriment of the many species they extolled. SeObjects” series.

veral modern authors have written about this period: Lynn Barber, David Elliston Allen and R B Freeman amongst others.

Several clergymen wrote popular natural history books at the time. The Rev.John George Wood produced 46 titles in the “Common

This popular hobby provided an escape to the country from the grime of the cities and the growth of the rail network gave easy access. It was healthy exercise and a cure for boredom. In the era of cheap and abundant domestic help, ladies had time on their hands to assemble collections of seaweeds, shells and all sorts of wildlife. Much of this was displayed under glass domes or decoratively arranged in collages or even (as illustrated by Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey”), worn on elaborate hats. They even made a modest contribution to literature on the subject. Margaret Gatty, daughter of Nelson’s chaplain, produced a book on British Seaweeds in 1863. Pamphlets were issued on what to wear on expeditions. The protection of attendant gentlemen was essential. These fair creatures ravaged the shorelines using crowbars and other rock moving implements to collect their specimens.

The abolition of a tax on paper encouraged an even greater flow of mass produced books for example “A Year at the Shore” by P H Gosse which enticed even more eager collectors to the seaside. The collages and private exhibitions grew of pinned insects, birds eggs and many species now under protection by law.

A Victorian “David Bellamy” character was Frank Buckland, son of a clergyman. He had moved careers from surgeon to zoologist and was an unofficial publicity officer for London Zoo. He embarked on some interesting projects. He exported salmon eggs (from the Lune) to Australia, trout to New Zealand and cultivated oysters. He kept pet alliagtors, fed on puppies and mice and experimented with exotic additions to the British diet, for example, elephant trunk.

Clubs and societies of naturalists proliferated, usually meeting in pubs. The “Naturalist” public house in Prestwich for instance and the Black Cow Botanical Society. These meetings and various naturalist magazines provided an exchange of information on a wide range of subjects. These societies were cheap to join and inclusive. Mention is made of “the pleasure of women on summer field excursions” (in the nicest possible way one hopes). The Liverpool Naturalists Field Club had 700 members in 1867.  Competitions were held for the greatest number of species collected on expeditions. There was frequently a ladies prize for the best wildflower bouquet!

Improvements in photography and microscopy followed. Wildlife was studied at home and in hides in the field. More books were produced on how to do it all.

There were hazards for participants. Skua attack and crinoline entanglement were examples. William Williams, a famous botanical guide, met his end falling over a cliff. Advertisements for collecting equipment appeared in various publications. Climbing irons for egg collectors, blowpipes for shooting small birds, pin sticking gear for insect collectors young and old, books on taxidermy all encouraged collectors to deplete our wildlife reserves. Canon Tristram of Durham Cathedral, “The Great Gun of Durham” eventually amassed 20,000 specimens of birds. He later became a Vice President of the RSPB. The Great Auk became extinct in 1840 but the lesson was not learnt.

Charles Waterton 1782-1865 was a noted taxidermist and eccentric. He survived plague, earthquake and shipwreck and is known for wrestling a South American alligator. He experimented with nature’s poisons notably on a donkey which had to be revived by tracheotomy and bellows.

Nature was preserved for sentimental reasons but it was many years before the Fur and Feather Club became the RSPB.

Ladies were beginning to become better known as naturalist writers. Beatrix Potter, Theresa Llewellyn and Arabella Buckley all produced books.

With the era of Darwin came changing perceptions. Recognition of order and sequence influenced studies. Kew Gardens and London Zoo held many species. Could they all have fitted into the Ark? The study of fossils introduced evolutionary ideas.

Many naturalists produced works on what is now Cumbria. Mosses and ferns were popular topics. Collectors were paid to strip the countryside of ferns which then appeared in the ubiquitous collages, as pottery and glass decoration and even as miniature replicas of the Crystal Palace. The Rev Hilderic Friend, a former missionary in China, ironically, died from prussic acid poisoning when attempting to make metal plates from ferns.

Later photographs of society excursions show fewer beards and more ladies. The conservation movement was beginning to grow. Meanwhile there had been an enormous loss of species in a period of about 150 years. However we have a valuable legacy in the many museums and collections, records and books of the time still available for study today.

Dr Piearce was thanked most warmly for a very informative and entertaining talk.



Wednesday 2nd March  2011
Peter Higginbotham
  Three Centuries of the Workhouse

Peter Higginbotham started his recent talk posing the question ‘Did any of your ancestors end up in the Workhouse?  Who knows?

The Workhouse boom started with the Workhouse Act of 1723 which provided a legal framework for parishes.

By 1770 there were 2000 workhouses averaging 1 per every 7 parishes and by 1776 there were 99 in Yorkshire’s West Riding alone.

Sedbergh’s dated from 1732, first in 1,2,3 Settlebeck Cottages, later moving to the east end of Main St. and then to Loftus Hill, now Loftus Manor; Dent’s from 1733 at Hallbank.

The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act created a Union of Parishes. In January 1840 the Sedbergh Union consisted of Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent serving a population of about 4,000, and continuing with the old workhouses. Sedbergh’s, with 55 in-mates, was described by the inspectors as ‘not fit for purpose’. Eventually in 1854 a new one was built on Loftus Hill.

Going to the workhouse was a voluntary process, one ‘fell back on it’, but it was a last resort and carried a stigma. The complete family would go and would make its own way there. There was a long entry administrative procedure including a medical. It was not a prison and in-mates could leave at any time via an official discharge. Stealing the uniform resulted in a prison sentence.

The routines made it sound like a religious community. For 6 days each week up at 6am; breakfast and prayers, followed by 5 hours work; then dinner and another 5 hours work until supper and more prayers; bed at 8pm. The sexes were segregated. The women did domestic work; the men stone-breaking for road-making or bone pounding and crushing for fertiliser. The elderly and infirm had a day room and exercise yard.

In the ‘No. 3 Diet for Able Bodied Paupers’ the menu and quantities were stipulated. Cooked meat on only 1 day per week; on other days it was bread and cheese or gruel and cheese. Alcohol and tobacco were forbidden. Gruel, a sort of watered down porridge, consisted of 2oz oatmeal and half an ounce of treacle per pint of water.

In the 1881 Census the Sedbergh Workhouse had 2 resident staff, 46 inmates; 8 aged 70+ (all men), 5 with handicap, 3 imbeciles and 2 idiots.

The 1930 plan of the workhouse showed a T structure. Men were in the left wing and women the right with dormitories upstairs. The kitchen occupied the other wing, the master living above.

A separate building by the entrance was designated for vagrants. Vagrants were an important part of the system. Individuals could only stay for 1 or 2 nights, not returning within a month. On arrival they had an obligatory bath and clothes were fumigated. They were up at 6am and sent on their way with a loaf of bread following a circuit, each workhouse being a day’s walk away.

So this highly structured system put the care of the poorest of the poor firmly into the hands of each local community.

The system was phased out in the 1930’s. The Sedbergh Workhouse was sold in 1952 to the W.R.C.C. for £1.

Tony Hannam thanked My Higginbotham for a most interesting and informative talk.

Tony Hannam


Wednesday 2nd  February  2011
Ian Tyler
  Gunpowder Mills of Cumbria

Mr Ian Tyler gave a fascinating, lively and entertaining illustrated talk on the gunpowder mills of South Lakeland - a surprisingly extensive industry, yet now almost forgotten.

Mr Tyler, who is the founder and curator of the Keswick Mining Museum and has written a dozen books on the subject of mining in Cumbria, began by explaining the nature and origin of gunpowder. Invented by Roger Bacon in 1247, its formula consists of 70% saltpetre, 15% sulphur and 15% charcoal. In its milling, which involves crushing, mixing and refining through a series of drying processes but in a necessarily damp atmosphere to reduce the risk of explosions, it was finally packed in the form of pellets, into calico bags, or into barrels lined with linen bags ready for transportation by wagon, barge and ship. Amazingly, there were no fewer than 60 different types of gunpowder! This depended on whether its use was for various types and sizes of firearms or in mining, quarrying or other industrial processes.

South Lakeland was particularly suitable for its manufacture. A remote, sparsely populated area, it had plenty of water, rivers, the availability of charcoal, and several shallow-water ports ideal for trans-shipment in small sailing vessels: Lancaseter (Glasson Dock), Arnside, Grange, Greenodd and Milnthorpe among others.

The first gunpowder mill was established at Old Sedgwick in 1764. Others quickly followed, including Low Wood, Elterwater, New Sedgwick, Black Beck and Gatebeck. Clearly a dangerous trade to be involved in, yet commanding good wages for the time ( £1 + bonuses per week in the 1820s and 1830s ), several hundred workers were employed across the region, both men ( mainly in building, processing and transportation ) and women ( mainly in packing ). This lucrative industry needed considerable initial investment, and the bulk of this ( from 1799 ) came from Mr Wakefield of Sedgwick Hall, the local entrepreneur who also had business interests in banking and brewing. As the industry expanded so the Huddleston family of the Elterwater works and the Wilsons of Rigmaden became involved.

Initially the barrels of gunpowder were transported by horse-drawn wagons, later attached to rails, and by barge along the length of Windermere or via the Kendal-Lancaster canal which was constructed partly for this trade, being routed alongside the Sedgwick works and through the 150-yard Hincaster tunnel, a significant feat of engineering. From the local ports it was shipped to Liverpool and thence into larger vessels overseas, including West Africa where it became a key component in the triangular trade involving slaves to the Americas.

Mr Tyler illustrated his talk with a series of impressive archive transparencies, mainly in sepia or black-and-white. They depicted members of the workforce variously operating pressing machines ( to squeeze moisture from the gunpowder ), posing with their instruments in the works' brass band, loading barrels ( dozens each day ) onto the wagons, packing the powder-filled pellets on dust-filmed tables, etc. Above all, the slides reinforced the ever-present dangers: testing mortars with 80lb cannonballs; having to use copper nails and banding on the barrels to avoid sparks( many highly-skilled coopers were employed ) as well as copper horseshoes and copper-coated rails; being issued with leather aprons as their only protection against explosions and burns; and a 'before and after' pair of photographs showing a powder mill house with its mill-wheel by a river becoming totally destroyed after an explosion... apart from the mill-wheel itself! In fact, 102 were killed during the period of the industry ( perhaps a surprisingly small number ) though countless others must have been injured by various degrees of burns.

The local gunpowder industry came to an abrupt halt in 1937 when I.C.I. bought up the mills and shifted the entire production to Ayrshire in Scotland, out of range of the looming threat of enemy bombers. So ended a remarkable and little-known chapter in the industrial heritage of our beautiful South Lakes - one very well documented by Ian Tyler in this talk, at his museum and in his books.

Michael Beecroft. 


Wednesday 19th January 2011
Trevor Avery
  From Auschwitz to Ambleside

The first meeting of the new year was well attended by members who had come to hear a talk by Trevor Avery who lives in Sedbergh.  He had acted as an adviser to the BBC for their programme “The orphans who survived the concentration camps” and his talk was about these orphans and was entitled “From Auschwitz to Ambleside”.

The talk attempted to answer three questions about the orphans; who were they, how did they come to be here and where did they stay?  The answer to the first question was that they were Jewish and there were three hundred of them aged between 5 and 18, the vast majority of whom were boys.  Most had originally lived in close knit communities in rural south-west Poland.  In addition to the children there were a few adults to support them but several of these absconded when they reached Windermere.

The experiences of one boy, Mayer born in 1926, were used to illustrate how and why they had come to Windermere.  He had been forcibly separated from his parents and along with other boys had been put into a slave labour gang laying railway lines to concentration camps that were being constructed.  In all he was in nine such camps during the war.  He arrived in Auschwitz Birkenau in June 1943 and managed to survive there by working as a tailor, a trade to which he had been apprenticed.  His job was altering the uniform of the German soldiers.  His job meant that he avoided the gas chambers but experienced hunger and starvation.  In November 1944 along with the other inmates he was moved because the Russians were advancing towards the camp.  They were subjected to forced marches without food and water and anyone who fell out was shot.  Then they had a three week journey in open railway carriages during which many died.  They eventually reached Theresienstadt.  This had originally been set up as a camp for privileged Jews but had become a ghetto for Jews displaced from concentration camps.  Mayer survived there until it was liberated by the Russians in May 1945 and then hospitals and food were provided.

After the war various individuals and organisations asked the British Government if it would allow some Jewish children survivors into the country to recuperate.  About 300 orphaned children, including Mayer, were picked and moved to Prague from where the RAF flew them in Stirling bombers to near Carlisle in August 1945.  They were then transported to the Calgarth Estate near Windermere.  This had been constructed in 1941 to house workers building Sunderland flying boats and the children were accommodated in huts that had been used by single unmarried workers.  These huts were situated in what are now the grounds of the Lakes School.  Each child had its own cubicle with a cupboard and a bed with clean linen, unimaginable luxuries after a concentration camp.  Initially there were problems with them adjusting to the availability of food and realizing they did not have to hoard it to avoid starvation.  Also, understandably, many had behavioural problems after their experiences.  There were the inevitable problems with local boys due to the influx of foreign teenage boys but the conflicts tended to be over local girls rather than racially motivated.  However, despite problems the children were given a friendly greeting and welcomed by the locals. For the children themselves Windermere was paradise after what they had been through during the war.  After a few months they left Windermere and many stayed in Britain making successful lives for themselves. 

After his talk Trevor answered questions and then was thanked for his moving talk by the chairman.


Wednesday 17th November 2010
Richard Cann
 Slides of Old Sedbergh and area

At a recent meeting at Settlebeck School, Richard Cann, Chairman of Sedbergh and District History Society, showed a selection of slides from the Society’s large collection, which numbers over 2000 pictures, collected over the last 30 years. He began with photographs of farming practices in Howgill in the mid-twentieth century, and then showed photographs illustrating the histories of Akay House and Ingmire Hall. Finally, he had selected some old photographs of Sedbergh town, (including many not featured in the book recently published by the Society). He had also brought some prints of Settlebeck House and other documents of interest for people to see after the slide show. The meeting attracted a large and interested audience.

Judith Robinson

Wednesday 3rd  November 2010
Sydney Richardson
Conscription in the First World War

The social and economic impact of World War I conscription (1916-1918) with
This most interesting talk was given to a well attended meeting on 3rd November. Mr Richardson, a native of Kirkby Stephen, an Oxford graduate and former headmaster, had previously addressed the Society on the topic of the Napoleonic Wars. This time the subject was brought forward 100 years with many examples drawn from Westmorland families from the Kirkby Stephen, Ravenstonedale, Tebay and Appleby areas. Many of the surnames, e.g. Capstick, Cleasby. Cropper and Mason, were familiar with several members of the audience.

Mr Richardson explained that conscription had been introduced by an Act of Parliament in January 1916 only after other avenues of recruitment employed since the outbreak of war in 1914 had failed to meet the rapidly increasing demand for men to serve in the armed forces. Initially regular soldiers and reservists were called into battle, then the Territorials, e.g. the Cumberland and Westmorland, and, following the famous Lord Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster campaign, volunteers. But, with force numbers depleted, the Conscription Act made it compulsory for all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 41 to join the forces, with single men being called on first. Exemptions had to be made depending on the following: the person’s state of health and fitness,  their financial clout within their family, trade or business as to whether they were indispensable or not, those with a key profession or role in the community such as teaching,  shepherding or thatching and whether they were genuine conscientious objectors.

In the rural communities of East Westmorland this latter category caused a great deal of consternation. The country desperately needed home-grown sustainability to bolster the war effort and was forcing farmers to attempt to grow more crops on ever higher and poorer ground. But many large farming families with several sons could be decimated by the new conscription laws.

Inevitably local tribunals had to be quickly convened to assess and pass judgement on individual cases and the first local one took place in Kirkby Stephen in February 1916, as recorded in the ‘Cumberland and Westmorland Herald’. A Mr R. B. Thompson presided with there being 8 other local members of the panel including some RDC members, though apparently no proper working class representation, along with the recruiting officers. Some were granted exemptions such as a Stennersheugh’s farmer’s son needed to help with the farm’s large acreage and one Charles Brockhill, a grocer’s assistant, ‘necessary for the business’. Some were not so lucky such as R. W. Robinson, a butcher from Crosby Garrett. In all 24 cases were heard that day. 11 were allowed exemptions. These could be absolute, conditional or temporary e.g. if needed to help with the imminent harvest. 12 were refused and one case was adjourned.

One can imagine the pressures this must have caused within the community! Not only would there have been rifts between affected families and those local dignitaries sitting in judgement, but also within the family unit, with many mothers desperate to keep their sons working at home rather than face death on the battlefield . Mr Richardson related one story which had been handed down to him of a Ravenstonedale farming family of parents with 4 sons and 2 daughter. The wife sent her husband to seek out a remote farm (located in Borrowdale west of Tebay) to which the 2 younger sons and 2 daughters drove their stock in order to work there for the duration of the war and beyond. With the eldest son exempt and working for his father and the second son sent off to work with his uncle none of the sons were ever called up. Indeed the Borrowdale farm prospered and they only moved back to Ravenstonedale in 1928.

If an exemption was not received from the local tribunal a County Appeals Tribunal could offer a second chance. One such was held on April 1st1916. However, with increasing pressure to recruit, few were successful as the likes of R. W. Robinson (again!), Nelson Wharton (a shepherd) and G. W. Bailey (a postmaster at Brough) found to their cost. Among these was one 20 yr old George Alderson, and uncle from Mr Richardson’s earlier generations, who was killed in action in 1917.

Further tales of farmers organising themselves to demand fair treatment, of a voucher system being introduced, of conscientious objectors, of the Voluntary Training Corps being joined in return for exemption and of a Robert Braithwaite being granted a conditional exemption for his vital work as a rabbit killer (!)…. All embellished what proved to be a fascinating and informative talk.

Mike Beecroft


Wednesday 6th October 2010
Professor Mike Huggins
   Sedbergh: Sport and Local Identity c1870 - 2000.

The first talk of the winter programme was given by Professor Mike Huggins on sport in Sedbergh and its identity in a regional context.

Our attitude to sport is governed by factors such as gender, class and ethnicity but also by the area in which we live and its traditions.  Until 1974 Sedbergh was in the West Riding of Yorkshire and the ideal sportsman of the urban part of the county was working class, professional, dour and with a will to win rather than play for enjoyment.  The latter attitude was associated with southern amateurs but also with sportsmen in the more rural parts of Yorkshire.  Sedbergh town came into this category yet Sedbergh School despite its amateur ethos was more like the urban part of the county in its emphasis on playing to win.

Sporting identity is shaped by competition against teams and individuals and where one lives.  Originally sport took place on a county basis.  Events such as horse racing took place at county court sessions.  However, the team sports that developed in the nineteenth century depended upon having opposition to play against.  Because of its geographical position Sedbergh had to look to Westmorland for games rather than the West Riding.  Even when the railways came it still took considerable time and expense to travel for matches in addition to the problem of possibly having to lose pay on a Saturday morning.  As a result the school rather than the town played matches more regularly.  Also with the ability to train more the standard of sport was higher in the school than in the town.  For information about games one is reliant upon reports in three local papers, the Westmorland Gazette, the Craven Pioneer and the Yorkshire Dalesman.  Usually only the scores were given but when comments occurred they could be biased as they often came from the club secretary.

In terms of social class the sports could be divided into three categories, the traditional country sports of the generally better-off residents, the sports of the townspeople and the sports of the relatively wealthy pupils and staff of the various independent schools in Sedbergh.  Grouse shooting took place on the fells and fishing in the local rivers.  Hunting was done by visiting packs but by the beginning of the twentieth century Sedbergh had its own pack.  This died out after the First World War but in 1936 the Lunesdale Pack was formed which was based in Sedbergh.

 The school’s sporting prowess was developed by its headmaster, Henry George Hart.  He brought with him the values of athleticism which thrived in public schools in the 1870s.  He started rugby at the school and soon it was playing adult sides in addition to other school sides.  In 1895 a split occurred in rugby over the issue of payment to players to compensate them for pay lost as a result of playing matches.  Many clubs in the north formed the Rugby League and this left the school without as many adult sides to play and so it concentrated more on inter school matches.  Its importance was shown by the fact that in 1904 it was given a seat on the executive committee of the Yorkshire Rugby Union.  The standard of cricket also improved and the school started to employ a professional coach.  Baliol girls’ school also played cricket and in 1902 played a match against a Sedbergh ladies team.  It was most unusual to find a ladies team at this date and rare in that several were married women.

Sport in the town started to thrive in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  The cricket team was strong in the 1870s and played against places like Shap and Kendal.  Over the years friendly matches were played against other towns but when leagues were formed in the 1890s Sedbergh could not join them because of the problems of travel and cost.  They did join the league at a later date.  The 1880s and 1890s saw the founding of rugby, soccer, tennis, golf and cycling clubs.  The soccer team joined the Kirkby Stephen league and won the cup in 1906. After the Great War the various sports suffered different fortunes with tennis thriving but soccer having to withdraw from the league.  However, women became more involved  and the hockey team was successful in the 1930s. After the Second World War the fortunes of the various sports varied with the soccer team joining the Westmorland league but the cricket team not playing for a long time.  After his talk Professor Huggins answered a variety of questions from his audience and was then thanked by the Chairman.

Wednesday 3rd February 2010

The talk on Wednesday 3rd February was held in the Queens Hall, Sedbergh School, because Settlebeck High School was unable to provide the internet connection required.  Despite a fall of snow about three hours before the meeting both speakers and audience braved the weather.  The talk was given by three staff from Lancaster University, Professor Findlay, Professor Emeritus Twycross and Doctor Hinds.  Their subject was the web site that they had created dealing with George Fox’s journeys in this area in 1652 and 1653.

There are three primary sources that describe Fox’s travels, the Short Journal, the Long Journal and the 1694 Edition.  The originals of all three are displayed on the site alongside transcripts with comments.  The versions are not always consistent and the speakers illustrated this by considering the extracts dealing with Fox’s vision on Pendle Hill.  The site also contains many photographs of places connected with Fox and these can be accessed from their reference in the text of the three sources.  Other links available include maps of the route Fox took and definitions of terms used in the sources.  Finally there are some videos on the site although the speakers were not sure they added much to the still photographs also available.  The site can be found at and is well worth browsing through by local historians or those interested in early Quaker history.

After their talk the audience was able, with the aid of computers, to investigate the web site themselves under the guidance of the three speakers.  A vote of thanks was given by John Mounsey one of whose Quaker ancestors died in Lancaster prison as a result of his beliefs.


Wednesday 20th January 2010

The first meeting of the society after the Christmas break took place on 20th January at Settlebeck High School and attracted a large audience of members and visitors.  The talk was on the history of Methodism in the area and was given by Rev Tim Widdess, George Handley and David Bracken.

Rev Tim Widdess described the origins of Methodism and its early history.   In the late 1820s a small group at Christ Church, Oxford, had met together to study the Bible.  The group had been founded by Charles Wesley and was later joined by his brother John.  Originally they were known by their contemporaries as the Holy Club but this was later changed to Methodists because of the methodical way in which they organised their study and lifestyle.  At this stage the group were devout members of the Church of England and John was an ordained priest.

In 1735 John Wesley and others set off for America on a mission to convert the native inhabitants.  During the voyage there was a severe storm and John was very impressed by the behaviour of a group of Moravians.  As a result the Moravian church had a strong influence on him afterwards.  The mission was not a success religiously or personally and John quickly returned to England.

In 1738 after attending a church service John had a religious experience in which he felt his heart strangely warmed and was given the assurance that Christ had taken away his sins.  His brother Charles had undergone a similar experience three days earlier.  John Wesley devoted his life to preaching the faith originally in churches, but later in the open air at the instigation of a friend, George Whitfield.  This led to him preaching to large numbers and to people who did not normally go to church.  It was also controversial and led to a misunderstanding of his purposes and as a result he was sometimes physically attacked.  However, at times he was able to convert even his attackers. Over the years he travelled more than two hundred thousand miles on horseback but never visited Sedbergh although he preached in Kendal more than once.   He died still a member of the Church of England but the differences that had been growing meant that his movement split from the church a few years after his death.

George Handley described how Methodism was brought to Sedbergh from Kendal by Jonathan Kershaw.   In 1805 the membership was large enough to build a chapel at the corner of New Street on the site of the current Community charity shop.  However, this building was badly damaged by a storm in the early 1860s and was later pulled down.  This led to the building of a new chapel, in a different part of New Street, which was octagonal in shape and was opened in 1865.  The Sedbergh chapel had originally been part of the Kendal Circuit but the members became dissatisfied with the lack of attention they received.  This led to them joining the Hawes Circuit and then in 1871, when numbers had increased, they formed the Sedbergh Circuit. 

Lack of finance was a problem but in this respect they were helped out by William Moister.  Born in Sedbergh he became a missionary overseas but later returned to Sedbergh and became the first Superintendent Minister of the independent Sedbergh Circuit.  He built a residence for the minister at his own expense and performed some functions without pay.  After his death numbers fell and Sedbergh became part of the Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Sedbergh Circuit in 1900.

However, numbers increased again and the octagonal shape of the chapel became a problem as it could not be enlarged.   A new chapel, the present one, was therefore built on the same site in 1914 and in 1919 Sedbergh again became the head of a separate circuit.  In the mid 1920s a new organ was bought for the chapel as a result of a bequest.  Although numbers had fluctuated over the years the members had exerted an influence in various ways including many of the women marrying ministers some of whom were also missionaries.

David Bracken described the foundation, and in many cases the demise, of the various chapels situated in Dentdale, Cautley, Garsdale and Grisedale.   The situation was complicated by a split in Methodism caused by the creation of the Primitive Methodists.  One of the founders of this was William Clowes and the movement split with the Wesleyans largely due to its feature of holding open-air camps.  This practice had originated in America.  Primitive Methodism was introduced to the Sedbergh area in 1822 by Francis Jersey and although it did not survive in Sedbergh a chapel was later formed in Dent.  Wesleyans and Primitive Methodists were reunited in 1932.

The chairman thanked the three speakers for an interesting and informative evening.


Wednesday 4th November 2009

Henry Wilson, who runs the specialist Main Street bookshop on railways and other forms of transport, delivered an authoritative and informative talk on the North-Eastern Railway from its conception in the mid-nineteenth century during the great railway building age to its final demise in 1923 when it amalgamated with other smaller companies to form the LNER ( London and Northeastern Railway). During those seven decades it grew from operating 700 miles of track to over 1700 route miles, encompassing an area from the Humber in the south to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border in the north, and from the east coast westwards to Carlisle, Kirkby Stephen and Tebay (this section of goods line being the closest the NER came to Sedbergh ); and it also owned and ran 40 docks, numerous stations, locomotives, carriages (the passenger vehicles all carrying the NER's distinctive pale green livery) and wagons which, in the earlier days, had been the property of individual mines, quarries, steelworks etc.

In fact, from the time of the world-famous first railway line between Stockton and Darlington, built in 1825, throughout the remainder of the 19th century it was goods rather than passengers that the multitude of early railway companies benefited from: iron ore, coke, coal, limestone and steel, for example, were key commodities in the north-east. By the end of the massive expansion of railways in the 1840s London was now connected to Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, York, Newcastle and Berwick and in 1854 three of the larger northern companies, (1) the York, Newcastle and Berwick, (2) the Leeds Northern, and (3) the York and North Midland Railway joined forces to form the NER.
Under the initial stewardship of manager Captain O'Brien the NER grew steadily, absorbing the Stockton and Darlington railway, for example, in 1865. Yet those early days were not without their problems: costs were rising, there was little departmental co-ordination, and there were disputes with Hull docks where the merchants felt that their rightful trade was being diverted away to the Tyne, Wear and Tees ports. It was only under Henry Tennant, manager from 1871 to 1891, and more especially Sir George Gibb (1891-1906), that the company made pioneering strides with its enlightened and innovative policies: graduates were recruited into its management structure which now had clearly defined responsibilities! the Traffic Department, for example, being divided into Operating and Commercial sections, with the latter sub-divided into passengers and goods). Under Gibb in particular American marketing systems were introduced with detailed research and studies being carried out into population statistics, catchment areas and passenger traffic, even to the point of making special bargain offers to passengers for selected trips. In addition, the NER was the first company to officially recognise Trades Unions, much effort was expended on recruitment and training, and bonuses were paid to staff: indeed, throughout its existence the NER never failed to pay an annual dividend to its shareholders.

During these times of prosperity the company developed a distinctive corporate identity, its green liveried locomotives such as the 2-4-0 'racehorse', the 1886 Class E, the 1901 Class T and the 1906
Smith compound all withstanding the test of time; its grand architectural station designs such as Newcastle Central and Darlington Bank Top; its pioneering coaches, such as the 1904 'Open Lavatory Composite' which had end vestibules and gas lighting; the 1908 Dining Car; its own 20-ton hopper style wagons; and, in 1904, the development of electric trains (though these were not brought into full service until much later in the century}. Meanwhile the company increased the size of wagons, introduced snow-ploughs, developed more efficient trans-shipment of goods, and encouraged larger loads through competitive pricing. All this was made possible not only through creative management but also as a result of a succession of long-standing chief engineers such as Fletcher (1854-83) and T.W.Worsall. By the time that A.K.Butterworth became manager in 1906, introducing as he did a more popular man-management style, the NER was firmly established as one of the foremost railway companies in the country/, but within 3 few years, from 1913, it underwent a period of Turmoil and Transition', as described by Henry Wilson. The onset of World War I on the one hand created great pressure on all railways for the movement of people and goods, yet on the other many lines, stations, and above all ports in the north-east suffered from intense bombing; skilled manpower was depleted through recruitment into the forces (though 'womenpower7 largely took over); and there was a lack of rolling stock. Then in the twenties, there were further problems with the coal strikes. By 1923, under the re-organisation of the country's railways into larger regional units, it became part of the new LNER - but certainly its largest and strongest constituent part.

Henry Wilson's thorough and fascinating illustrated talk revealed not only how influential and important the NER had been as a pioneering railway company, but also how it had evolved into a benevolent monopoly for its employees, shareholders, and the citizens of the north-east in general.

Michael Beecroft.


Wednesday 7th October 2009
The society met on the 7th October for its first meeting of the new season.  The talk was given by Katy Illife, the Archivist of Sedbergh School, on “Researching Family History”.  She said that there are three main places where information can be accessed by individuals.  These are at record offices, local history societies and on-line.

There are also three main sources of information which are certificates, censuses and parish registers.  Birth, marriage and death certificates were first issued in 1837 and give many details apart from the date of the event.  However, they may not exist for certain events in their early years.  This was because of an initial opposition to what was seen as government intrusion in personal affairs, rather like the current opposition to ID cards. Censuses giving personal information date from 1841 and again give much useful information such as occupation, age, place of birth, other members of the family and anyone else living at the same address.  Parish registers started in the mid sixteenth century but few still exist from that time.  They record the dates of events the church was interested in which were baptism, burial and marriage.  Certificates, censuses and registers were compiled by someone who wrote down what they thought your ancestor had told them and if the latter were illiterate they had no way of checking that the entry was correct.  Other useful sources of information are Post Office directories, business records, wills, gravestones and newspapers although reading through the latter is a very time consuming method.

Those that are able to research on-line have many web-sites available.  It is best to start with official sites which give details of where information can be found and then go on to other sites some of which are free and others which require payment.  Ordering copies of certificates through the pay sites is an expensive way of obtaining them as they can be bought much cheaper elsewhere.  Because of their religious beliefs the Mormons research their ancestors and have published their findings on a web-site.  These family trees and others produced by individuals can give much useful information but cannot be relied on to be correct.  They must be checked out with the information you are able to obtain. 

The chairman thanked the speaker for a most interesting and informative talk.


Wednesday 4th March 2009

Motifs, Monuments and Mountains. Prehistoric rock art in Cumbria. Dr. Kate Sharpe.


Dr Sharpe who made a study of rock art in Cumbria for her PhD has since been working on the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Pilot Project. In her talk, she spoke first about rock art in general and then concentrated on recent finds in Cumbria and some theories about them .


Rock Art is any mark or pattern carved, or painted on the surface of rock, whether representational or abstract. Most British rock art is abstract.- patterns of rings, spirals etc., carved on outcrops, boulders, and cliffs, or on standing stones and chambered tombs. It is difficult to date but most is thought to be Neolithic or bronze age. 


There are two styles of abstract rock art: ‘Cup and Ring or Atlantic Style’, comprises circular motifs and fluid designs of cups, rings, or spirals, found mainly from Derbyshire northwards and in Ireland & Scotland. ‘Passage Grave Style’ is more angular, often comprising chevrons and patterns like those on prehistoric pottery. This style is prevalent in Wales, Orkney, & Ireland. the two styles are generally found separately, but a a recent find on Fylingdales Moor included adjacent standing stone panels carved with contrasting styles. It is thought that these probably originated in different times and places.


In Northumberland and Durham and the east of Cumbria, rock art is usually found on glacially smoothed outcrops of sandstone on elevated moors, below the summit. But in the rest of Cumbria it is never found  up on the hills, but on boulders or outcrops in the valleys, especially on the shore of lakes.


In the Eden valley, there are carved monuments, megalithic and burial, on such sites as river terraces, pasture and arable land, mostly carved on sandstone but on one case volcanic (gabro) - the Eden Hall rock found in 1909, which has complex motifs, multiple concentric rings without cups together with chevrons . Long Meg bears rock art - it is not known whether it was carved before or after the stone was erected - it could have come from the Eden river cliffs, perhaps already carved.


In the central lakes, the rock art tends to be on outcrops or large boulders of volcanic rocks & skiddaw slates, near water, especially lake shores. There are sites at Buttermere, Dungeon Ghyll, Grasmere and Broadgate Park, some in gardens or near car-parks or campsites. The sites can be plotted to suggest a connection with nodal points on natural and ancient routeways, possibly the routes to the Langdale Axe factories. The patterns are mostly very simple cups with the exception of the boulders at Copt Howe which have rings with no cups.


Dr Sharpe considered whether particular rocks were chosen for their shape or surface features or for their location in the landscape? Could the strata and weathering on the surface have been seen to represent a landscape, perhaps visible from the boulder?  Sometimes natural fissures seem to be incorporated into the design, with cup marks round them. Did the natural features inspire the design? Or did the patterns represent mountain shapes? 


She also considered the choice of location. As all Cumbrian sites are low lying, they do not command extensive views, and it is difficult to relate them to mountains as there are mountains in every direction. But the site at Copt Howe is different - it is higher, with carvings on vertical panels of two natural boulders forming an entrance, pointing towards the Langdale Pikes. Mountains were sacred in early cultures, a place apart from everyday life,where the gods lived. The axe-makers did not use the most accessible stone but deliberately took it from difficult and dangerous parts of the Pikes. This Compares with contemporary axe-making in Papua New Guinea where ritual purification is practised before axes are made, to appease the gods of the mountains. At Copt Howe, the boulders’ astronomical alignment is such that, at the midsummer solstice, the sun sets behind the Pikes and appears, from this point only, to roll down the mountain. A similar phenomenon is seen at a rock art site in County Mayo. 


Dr Sharpe described the work of the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Pilot Project and the use of photometry for recording. Project volunteers have found many new examples of rock art recently. About 2500 panels have now been recorded in England.


Wednesday 3rd December

A score of hardy historians braved the weather on Wednesday, 3rd December, to hear a talk on Gervaise Benson given by David Boulton.

Benson was probably the son of a prominent Kendal family and was born in the first decade of the seventeenth century.  He obtained some legal training and became Commissary for the Archdeaconry of Richmond until 1640 when the post was abolished by Parliament.  He was elected an alderman of Kendal in 1641 and in 1644 was elected as Mayor of Kendal.  This meant that he was in important positions during the Civil War.  Luckily details of what happened during that period have survived in a series of letters from the Minister of Kendal Church, Henry Masey, to Lord Wharton.  Under the former the Presbyterian system of church government was implemented in Kendal, a move which had Benson’s support.

In 1644 Kendal was raided by Royalists and they captured Benson who was taken to Skipton Castle but later released.  Benson spent his own money on the defence of Kendal and Masey wrote to Lord Wharton asking if Benson, whom he called Colonel, could be compensated by being made responsible for probate and wills in the region.  The presence of Scots, the allies of Parliament, around Kendal caused annoyance to the locals and Benson was worried that the people would turn against Parliament as a consequence.  In 1646 he was appointed a J.P. for Kendal even though he owned no property there.  In fact Borrett Farm in Sedbergh was all he owned at that time.  In 1650 he was ejected as an alderman along with several others in what appears to have been an organised coup.

Nationally under Cromwell the Independents had prospered at the expense of the Presbyterians and Benson was initially in favour of this but eventually he grew disillusioned even with the Independents and became a Seeker.  As a result when Fox came to Sedbergh in 1652 he attended a Seeker meeting at Borrett to try to convince them he could supply what they were seeking spiritually.  Benson was not initially convinced but later that year joined the Quaker movement and became its unpaid legal adviser. 

In 1652 Benson was put in charge of Sedbergh and Dent by the Cromwellian government.  He did not approve of the conduct of the Minister of Sedbergh whom he, rightly or wrongly, accused of frequenting all fourteen of the pubs there.  The area was conservative in its views and as a result Benson’s support of Quakerism made him unpopular.  His wife, Dorothy, was also a convinced Quaker and walked to Carlisle to visit Fox when he was in prison there in 1653.  In the same year she was imprisoned for interrupting a sermon in church, a favourite Quaker practice.  Whilst in prison in York she gave birth to a son, Emanuell.  In 1655 she died and was buried in the garden of High Haygarth, a house Benson had acquired in 1652.  It is now the Cross Keys Inn and she probably lies somewhere under the present dining room. 

Benson’s radical views got him into trouble with the government and he was stripped of all his powers except for being a J.P.  He produced pamphlets in favour of Quaker principles such as not paying tithes and not taking oaths and was active in raising money to fund the movement.  He married Mabel Camm just before the restoration of Charles II as king.  During the 1660s he produced another pamphlet and in 1675 he joined a sect of Quakers against Fox.  A meeting was held at Draw Well near Sedbergh to try to heal the rift between the sects and reconciliation gradually happened.  In 1679 he died after an eventful life in which his religious views had changed several times but he proved an important figure in the rise of Quakerism.

His son, Emanuell, survived, despite his mother’s early death, and moved to Dent where he married and had two children baptised into the Church of England whom he called Gervaise and Dorothy after his parents. 

The chairman thanked David Boulton for a most interesting and informative lecture.


Wednesday 19 November 2008

Kendal Carriers

It has been a long time since Dr Andrew White, late of the Lancashire Museums Service, came to speak to the History Society.  His subject was ‘The Kendal Carriers’.

Anybody who could acquire a horse could set up as a carrier. It was the only way of transporting large amounts of goods :- manufactured goods, raw materials and food, around the country.  Before the advent of canals and railways the Industrial Revolution was dependent on the carrier trade.

For hundreds of years the carriers used trains of pack-horses to move goods from one place to another and these were essential where, due to the state of the roads, wheeled traffic was impossible. Small but sturdy horses called galloways carried large loads of wool, cloth, grain, sand etc and were led from the front by a well-trained horse who knew the route followed by other laden horses. In the rear was the carrier himself with his dog.  The roads were mostly uncared for and could be almost impassable in bad weather but the pack-horses struggled through snow, ice, floods, mud and dust. It was a very reliable form of transport.

Wicker baskets filled with materials, bales of cloth formed into a sausage covered for bad weather, and various articles were attached to the wooden saddle which was fastened on to the backs of the horses. The collar had bells fastened on either side – two rumblers and one conventional .

Kendal being so far north was nearly at the end of the line as far as the distribution of goods was concerned as there was little trade over the border into Scotland before 1745. Most of the trade was southwards carrying dyestuffs, cloth, alum, stockings, gloves, hats and hand-knitted garments etc. On return, luxury goods including figs and raisins were brought north which helped to pay the carriage costs.

 There were many carriers operating through Kendal as the large number of inns along Highgate and Stricklandgate testify.  Regular services to London followed one of two routes – one almost due south and the other south-east through the towns of the West Riding and other large towns en route. As the colonies were opened up there was an increased demand for woollen caps for slaves, and also for knitted goods for the army and navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

Some larger concerns of carriers operated a service whereby they had four teams :- one being loaded, a second en route for London, the third being unloaded at the destination and reloaded with more luxury goods and the fourth team en route to Kendal etc. Each horse could carry up to 200 cwt so a team of 10 horses could carry approx. one ton.  Generally speaking, their time keeping was very reliable as was their ability to keep going in all weathers and on all road surfaces. They kept up an average of 25 miles per day and stopped overnight at the various inns en route to stable their horses. Two hundred and fifty horses carried goods from Kendal every week! However, the use of packhorse teams from Kendal came to an end around 1750.

With the coming of the turnpike roads in the mid 18th c. covered wagons were being used to carry goods around.  They had the advantage of being able to carry much larger loads (tons rather than hundredweights) and often carried people who could not afford to travel by carriage. They were pulled by a team of two, four or six horses depending on size and weight of the load and could travel much faster. Goods could be transhipped at various stages if necessary.  Spring carts were used for smaller loads and shorter distances. The carrier was usually dressed in a smock frock and top hat.

This method of transport lasted well into the 20th c. – much of the impetus came from the townships and villages who were dependent upon the many small local carriers who operated between the surrounding districts.  One of the last carriers was David Burrow from Sedbergh who travelled to and fro from Sedbergh to Kendal with his horse Spider calling at various hamlets with individual commissions. Between 1910 and 1940 he made three journeys a week to Kendal over Kendal Fell taking 4 hours there and 4 hours back.

Dr White answered the many questions in full which showed the interest of the large audience.   It is to be hoped that it is not another ten years before he visits us again!


Wednesday 1st October 2008

The first talk in the 2008/9 winter programme was given by Dr Eleanor Straughton on 1st October at Settlebeck High School.  Dr Straughton is a member of Lancaster University History Department.  After her research into common land for her doctoral thesis she combined with Dr Winchester on the Cumbrian Manorial Records Project.  She is currently working on the Contested Common Land Project which is a joint venture with Newcastle Institute for Informatics, Lancaster providing the historians and Newcastle the legal expertise.

Although called common land it was in fact privately owned land on which another person had the right to take or use some portion of that which another man’s soil naturally produced.  This might include, among other things, the right to pasture and the right to collect peat and turves, known as turbary.  These commoners were determined by residency or by owning certain properties. The landowner, usually the lord of the manor, had the right to various things such as minerals and timber.  Today the details of ownership and rights are those shown on the Common Land Register.

Common land is nowadays largely restricted to higher land and is important for grazing as well as rambling and nature conservation. It comprises about 4% of England’s land mass with Cumbria containing almost a third and Cumbria and North Yorkshire combined comprising over half of the total.

In the past the manor court controlled the land with the heyday of the system being from the middle ages to c1720.  The lord’s representative was the steward and the jury consisted of the customary tenants. The court’s purpose was to uphold the customary laws and to maintain good neighbourhood.  This included, for example, setting the starting and ending dates for grazing, fixing flock numbers and having the ability to fine offenders. The number of animals allowed to graze the common could be determined by the number that could be kept through winter in bye-land, a method known as levancy and couchancy.  Another method was stinting in which a limited number of stints or gaits was allocated to the common.  The number of animals in a stint varied with the type of animal, e.g. 1 cattle = 4 sheep.  If a commoner was too poor to make use of his stints he could sell or let them to another person thus producing a useful income.

For various social and economic reasons the manor courts declined in importance but some survived into the twentieth century, the one in Sedbergh closed in the 1930s.  They have been replaced in a variety of ways including the formation of commons associations. Historically the most important cause of the loss of common land was the enclosure acts which reached a peak in the years 1760-1860. Enclosure was driven largely by food crises and scientific improvements in the methods of farming needed to raise food production. However, in the second half of the nineteenth century the tide turned and tourism and the desire to preserve open spaces for recreation became important causing the demise of enclosure.

In the second half of the twentieth century a Royal Commission on Common Land investigated the problems and made recommendations.  This eventually led to the Commons Registration Act of 1965 which has generally been recognised as a bad bit of legislation.  The Commons Act of 2006 attempted to rectify the problems caused by this previous act and the survey on which Dr Straughton is working is an investigation into the effects of the 2006 act.

Dr Straughton’s talk was a tour de force by an extremely able young academic and the audience warmly endorsed the chairman’s vote of thanks.

Richard Cann    


Wednesday 28th May 2008
Visit to Whitehaven

Eleven members of the Society made the long trek to Whitehaven and were rewarded by fascinating glimpses into the history of this town which was once among the leading ports in the country. Mr Ralph Lewthwaite, who was born in Whitehaven, was a very knowledgeable and amusing guide. The Society is most grateful to him. The starting point of the guided walk was where Captain John Paul Jones, who had grown up in Whitehaven,  made landing during his raid on Whitehaven in 1778, a raid which caused consternation in the country.  We were told about the forts and many cannon which guarded the town and saw the earliest pier, dating from 1634. Also, we learned about the coal mines, particularly Wellington Pit, which ran out under the sea for five miles. The last to close was the Haig Pit in the late 1980s.

Among the industries which Whitehaven boasted were: salt (salt from the Whitehaven saltpans was exported as far as Chester by the monks of St Bees), rope making, a foundry, mineral extraction and  linen making  - the latter spawning an estate of over 100 houses with its own school and church in  the  mid 18th century.

Sugar, rum and tobacco were imported and, until 1926, a mineral railway ran through the centre of the town to the quay. There are some fine buildings and the town was laid out according to the plan of Sir John Lowther who was able to look, from his ‘castle’, all the way down Lowther Street to the quay. His castle was Whitehaven Hospital from 1921 to the 1980s. The town has boasted a bath house (built 1813), a customs house, several fine churches, a refuge school, a water treatment works, assembly rooms (1736), market halls, and theatres, the last of which lasted from 1736-1930. Also, there were many fine mansions and a beautiful square, named Washington Square, after its connections with George Washington. 

Several famous people were connected with Whitehaven including Mathias Read, the father of Cumberland painting and William Brownrigg, a physician whose work to make pits safer saved many lives.

The local heritage and civic societies have done much good work on putting up informative plaques and in trying to preserve and renovate the fine old buildings. A big redevelopment scheme is underway at the old Wellington Pit.

Where SDHS goes her Majesty follows as she is visiting Whitehaven in early June.

Elspeth Griffiths


Wednesday 5th March 2008
Professor David Shotter
    Rome's Northern Frontier in Britain

Professor David Shotter attracted an audience of over fifty people to hear his talk on Rome’s Northern Frontier in Britain.  He stated that by 69 AD the border of the land in Britain ruled by the Romans corresponded to the present route of the A5.  To the north of that the land was ruled by the Brigantes under their Queen Cartimandua and her husband Venutius.  She was friendly to the Romans but he was opposed to them.  In 69AD their marriage broke down and a civil war ensued.  His forces overcame hers and the Romans had to rescue her with the result that they were left with hostile territory to their north.

Vespasian became Roman Emperor in 69AD and decided on a policy of conquering the remainder of Britain in the hope that a military success would gain him popularity.

He appears to have considered setting up two provinces, one being the land to the south of the A5 and the other being the land to the north including present day Scotland and even Ireland.  Chester was to be the capital of this latter province but in the event this did not come to fruition.  By the mid 80s AD they had advanced as far north as Inverness but then trouble broke out in another part of the Roman Empire and troops had to be taken from Britain to deal with this. As a result they could no longer hold on to so much territory and they withdrew south to a line between South Shields and Kirkbride.  This frontier was marked by a road called the Stanegate along which were sited forts such as those at Carlisle, Vindolanda and Corbridge.  South of this they consolidated their hold by building forts such as those at Hardknott, Ambleside and Watercrook near Kendal.  Industrial sites such as Wilderspool near Warrington were also established.

In 118AD there was a war involving tribes from what is now Scotland but by 119AD they seem to have overcome the problem. As a first reaction to the troubles they built a turf wall from the River Irthing to the Solway. In 122 AD the Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and decided to build a stone wall from the Irthing to Wallsend.  There were to be milecastles along the wall with two turrets between each. Even the turf wall to the west of the Irving had stone turrets probably to act as signal turrets to communicate to the south. Every milecastle had a north and south gate so people could pass through the wall under supervision.  This had two purposes, one to keep undesirables out and the other as a means of taxing goods in transit. Although slaves may have been used to quarry and transport the stone the legions built the wall itself.  Each century of a legion was allocated a section of the wall to build and the stones to commemorate their achievement can still be found today.  Soon after the wall was begun a decision was taken to narrow its width and also to build forts on the wall rather than have them some distance to the south.  An example being the fort at Housesteads.

Wherever the terrain allowed a V shaped ditch was dug to the north of the wall.  To the south of the wall the vallum was constructed.  This consisted of a flat bottomed ditch situated between two mounds. Its purpose is not known although it may have been to allow the concealed movement of troops along the wall.  About 140AD the wall was abandoned as the troops moved north and built the Antonine Wall between the Forth and the Clyde. However around 160AD the troops abandoned that and returned to Hadrian’s Wall. The turf section was rebuilt in stone and the defensive system extending down the coast from Bowness on Solway to near the fort at Maryport was strengthened. This section did not have a wall but had milecastles and fortlets on it supported by palisades and ditches. This coastal section was probably to deter raiding for loot and also to enable legitimate trade to be taxed.  Finally to the north of Hadrian’s Wall there were some forts such as the one at Bewcastle.  The purpose of these is not clear but may have been to give advance warning of invasions or else they may have been to give protection to the area of the Brigantes tribe cut off from the rest of its territory by the wall.        

After a lively question session the chairman thanked Professor Shotter for his lecture which had been greatly appreciated by his large audience.


Wednersday 30th January 2008
Sedberghians inTibet, 1904 – 2004.

On the evening of Jan. 30th 2008 members of the Local History Society and the local support group of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust gathered in Sedbergh School’s Heritage Centre and the room was packed to capacity for a two part presentation.

Before giving us an historical account of connections between Sedbergh and Tibet, Steve Smith described what life is like now in Lhasa, illustrated by his own photos taken on a visit in 2004.  Parts of the city look superficially much as they have for centuries, where it has pleased the occupying Chinese to allow it.  The Potala Palace is still the magnificent building which the first western visitors would have seen and there are still monks in traditional dress, but much of the indigenous quarter nearby is squalid and dilapidated. It is disorientating to find this cheek by jowl with modern Chinese shopping malls filled with 21st century goods in a large modern city.  Here and there are signs of the old Buddhist faith persisting, and Steve showed us photos of religious paintings in vivid colours on large rounded rocks near the Jokhang Temple.

At the beginning of the 20th century there was rivalry between Britain and Russia for influence in central Asia, and as part of this Francis Younghusband led an armed party into Tibet from Sikkim in 1903, reaching Lhasa in August 1904 after numerous battles and having crossed several high passes in winter; a great story in itself.  Lt. William Bruce Dunlop, an Old Sedberghian, was one of the officers in charge of the supply lines employing 3000 ponies, 5000 yaks, 3000 bullocks and 7000 mules, which shows the scale of the operation.  The next connection was in 1922 when Arthur W. Wakefield, Old Sedberghian, was doctor to the Everest expedition which went in from the north, Tibetan, side.  He himself reached camp 3 at 21,000 ft, but didn’t acclimatise well to the altitude and was unable to go further.  We were shown a photograph of him, and Mallory “with his kit off” for crossing a river, which had been hidden from public view until recently, when perhaps people have become less sensitive! 

“Freddy” Spencer Chapman was in Lupton House at Sedbergh School before going on to St John’s College, Cambridge. While on a Himalayan climbing expedition in Sikkim in 1936 he met Basil Gould, who offered him a post as his private secretary on a trip to Lhasa.  On this trip Chapman took about 2,500 still photos, some in remarkably good colour for the time, and also cine film. He had become an excellent photographer and recorded all aspects of life in Tibet, and his photographs, now in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, form a wonderful record of a vanished society. In his spare time he collected plants which he sent back to Kew, and these included four previously unknown species.  On his way back in 1937 he almost casually climbed Chumolari, 24,000 ft; alpine style, a first ascent.

George Sherriff was in Evans House at Sedbergh School from 1912-16.  He was posted to the NW Frontier in 1919.  Then in 1929 while vice-consul in Kashgar he met Frank Ludlow, with whom he later explored for twenty years, visiting Tibet between 1933 and 1938.  In 1943 he became British Resident in Lhasa and was there for two years, and he was back again in 1946 with Frank Ludlow.

In 1950 40,000 Chinese troops “liberated” Tibet. Bringing us up to date, in 2003 Jim Fisher led a Sedbergh School party to Camp 2 on Everest from the Tibetan side, the highest ever reached by a school party.

Vicky Aspin has been a volunteer worker at the Holehird gardens, headquarters of the Lakeland Horticultural Society where there are plants from all over the world, for a number of years, and during the second half of the evening she told us about George Sherriff, Reginald Farrer and William Purdom.  They collected plants from Tibet and its borders during the first half of the 20th century and have connections with this area.

George Sherriff sent back over 21,000 specimens, mainly to Kew, the Natural History Museum and Edinburgh Botanical Gardens.  He was a meticulous man, recording not only details of plants, but also medical equipment and treatments (30 grains of quinine plus whisky as a cure for malaria), food and weather.  He mapped and photographed an area of Himalayas along the northern border of Bhutan and the Tsangpo, a region of steep sided valleys which has given rise to a large number of endemic species since there was little opportunity for interbreeding across the ranges.  In an unlabelled photograph it was possible to identify George Sherriff as the man in the shorts (Sedbergh training!) while his companion Ludlow wore breeches. Vicky showed us how the herbarium specimens were mounted and carefully labelled, even to the extent of  having colour panels to show what the flowers were like before they faded.  It was amazing to learn that even in those days his plants and seeds were air freighted back to Croydon.

Vicky then showed us wonderful photos of many of the plant species collected by George Sherriff and now growing here.  He was particularly instrumental in discovering Primulas, Meconopsis and Saxifrages.  Among those well known in gardens today were Primula florindae, Meconopsis betonicifolia, Clematis orientalis, Euphorbia griffithii (“grow it in a dustbin so it can’t escape!”) and Gentiana sino-ornata

 George Sherriff and his wife Betty spent their later years in Kirriemuir, Angus, where they developed stunning Himalayan gardens containing many of the species which he had himself discovered.  Alas, these gardens have fallen into decline since they died.



Meconopsis betonicifolia






Between them our two speakers had spent many months researching their talks, and it showed.  We are very grateful to them, and to Elspeth Griffiths for all her work behind the scenes, including accompanying Vicky to the archives at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.  Those who were unable to be present missed a treat. 

                                                                                      John Mounsey.


Wednesday 16th January 2008

At the first meeting of 2008, Martha Bates spoke about a very influential nineteenth-century lady called Harriet Martineau. Harriet who was born in 1802 was a writer and philosopher, and became renowned as a political economist, journalist, feminist and abolitionist.  Martha began by telling us about her early life, which was spent in Norwich as the sixth of eight children in a family of Huguenot extraction and Unitarian views.  Evidently Harriet suffered from a weak constitution for most of her life.  Furthermore, she had no sense of taste and smell and began to lose her hearing from an early age, eventually having to use an ear trumpet. The austere atmosphere of her home with its emphasis on hard work coupled with a lack of warmth shown by her mother combined to make her childhood quite unhappy.  Nevertheless, she was interested in learning, read widely and developed a strong sense of justice.

Martha described how Harriet’s life became more fulfilled when she began to spend more time away from home.  When she was sixteen she passed some months with an aunt and uncle in Bristol, enjoying the company of intellectual and congenial people. In her early twenties, she began to write anonymously for a Unitarian periodical. However, life became difficult for her when her father died leaving very little money to support his wife and daughters. When the bank in which their money was invested failed, and the man to whom she was engaged died, Harriet had to look for ways to earn her living.  Martha gave an account of how she gradually managed to do this by writing reviews and stories and eking out her income by needlework. Eventually, a breakthrough came with her publication Illustrations of Political Economy which was very popular and successful.

When Harriet moved to London in 1832 she became acquainted with the leading writers and thinkers of the time, including George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Darwin. She went on a prolonged visit to the United States and made herself unpopular with her outspoken support of the Abolitionist party.  She also had strong views on a range of current affairs like Catholic Emancipation, Chartism, women’s rights and educational methods, and her books and articles continued to be well received.

Periodically Harriet suffered from ill health, and in 1839, fearing she had a tumour she left London and spent a few years with her sister and brother-in-law in Tyneside. After a course of mesmerism, an alternative health treatment, and with her health much improved, she moved to Ambleside where she spent most of the rest of her life until she died in June 1876.  Although she continued her writing, her reforming zeal was also put to good use in local projects, such as the improvement of housing for working class people.

The Society were grateful for Martha Bates’ introduction to this inspirational Victorian lady, who was so ahead of her time.  

Julie Leigh

Members’ Evening -December 2007

The annual Members’ Evening is always an eagerly anticipated occasion and as usual we weren’t disappointed. Judith Robinson began the proceedings with her fascinating talk entitled ‘Researching John Atkinson’s Copy Book’.  She showed slides of the beautifully handwritten pages of John Atkinson’s arithmetic book. He was thirteen and a half in 1863 when he tackled a variety of problems, many of which would have been quite beyond some of the audience! The actual content of the problems gave an interesting insight into nineteenth-century life. For example, one question concerned the calculation of a servant’s wages, and another showed that the rate of death duties depended on the relationship between the deceased and the beneficiaries of his will. Judith suggested that references to places like Middlesex and Sydenham indicated that the author of the textbook from which the questions had been copied probably lived in the south of the country.

Using censuses and parish registers, Judith had spent some time researching John Atkinson’s family, and she discovered that he had spent most of his short life at Cragg Stones in Cautley, where his father was a farmer and butter dealer. Although the book was unmarked and there was nothing to show whether John Atkinson had worked on the problems at home or at school, Judith was curious to find out about his education. In this investigation she was helped by Diane Elphick, who has researched local education in the nineteenth century. Judith could find no record of him on a school roll, but she concluded that since his family were nonconformists he was most probably a pupil at the Sedbergh British School. Furthermore as an 1868 newspaper mentioned his two younger brothers, James and William as prize winners at the Sedbergh British School, it seemed likely that James had also attended there.

Joyce Scobie’s presentation about Liverpool cow keepers was equally enthralling. Until Joyce became engrossed in this study she had had no idea that such a large number of local families had started dairies in the city. An economic depression was responsible for this migration, which began in 1818. Joyce described how hard life was for the dairymen. Milking started at 5am and was followed by the first round of the day. This procedure was repeated in the afternoon and sometimes there were even three milk rounds. The women of the family made butter which was sold in the shop with milk, eggs and preserves. Care of the animals and cleanliness were priorities, and some fine specimens won prizes at local shows.

Communication with home was kept alive in a number of ways. Some women came back to have their babies, and children often returned for a spell of fresh air. Many people came home to retire, but Joyce said that dairying was such hard work that some men did not reach retirement age. Although stricter rules and regulations made life more difficult for the cow keepers, they numbered 900 by the turn of the century. However, during and after the First World War they began to dwindle, until in the 1970s there were only 4 left.

Interestingly, the Wilson family provided a link between these two excellent talks. Peter Wilson, who had inherited John Atkinson’s diary, is a descendant of Robert Wilson who had written a diary about his time in Liverpool as a cow keeper.

Julie Leigh


Wednesday 3rd October 2007
The Life and Work of Thomas Hayton Mawson

The first lecture of the 2007/8 season was held at Settlebeck School on Wednesday 3rd October.  Over forty members of the society met to hear a talk by Elizabeth (Bette) Kissack on the life and work of Thomas Hayton Mawson, the landscape architect with particular reference to his connections with the Lake District.

Thomas was born at Scorton, near Lancaster, in 1861.  When he was six the family moved to Lancaster and his father bought a plot of land on which he built a pair of semi-detached houses, in one of which the family lived. It was there that Thomas first started gardening.  The family soon moved to Ingleton but when he was twelve he went to live and work in Lancaster for an uncle who was a builder and a keen horticulturist.  When he was fourteen his father bought a property at Langber End to set up a nursery and fruit farm and Thomas was needed to help.  Sadly his father died after two years and a little later Thomas went to London to find work.  He was soon able to send for his two brothers Robert and Isaac, his sister, Sarah, and his mother to join him.  In London he met Anna Prentice whom he married in 1884.

Whilst on honeymoon in the Lake District Thomas received a letter telling him that a proposed business partnership had fallen through.  As a result he and Anna decided that there was the potential in the Lake District to start a family business there.  The whole Mawson family moved to Windermere with Thomas running a landscape gardening practice with Robert and Isaac running, in conjunction, a nursery and contracting business.  Their first commission was to landscape a garden at Bryerswood in Far Sawrey. This was followed by work at Graythwaite Hall which gave Thomas the opportunity to display his passion for terraces and balustrades complemented by ball-finials. Other characteristics of his work were large lawns for playing games and yew hedges. Whilst working there he met the architect Dan Gibson and the two subsequently worked together at Brockhole.  Mr Gaddum, the owner, was a keen photographer and made a record of the building of the house and the landscaping of the garden.  As a result of this Thomas obtained other commissions at Holehird, Cringlemire, Langdale Chase and Moor Crag.

In 1900 Thomas designed and built for himself The Corbels in Windermere.  On the opposite side of the road his brother, Robert, and family lived in one half of a semi-detached house whilst his sister Sarah, and family, lived in the other half.  Isaac and his wife Rosa lived in Oak Street and Heathwaite was built for other members of the Mawson family. The first edition of Thomas’ book “The Art and Craft of Garden-Making” was published in1900. He opened a London office in 1901 but the same year saw the death of his brother Isaac.

Thomas and Anna’s family, which included eight children, had a holiday home built on the shoreline at Hest Bank and the nearby railway station enabled Thomas to reach London much quicker than from Windermere. Thomas, in conjunction with Dan Gibson, was responsible for building a Congregational Chapel at Hest Bank where he worshipped.  Thomas also wanted to create a model village there and designed several houses including The Pillars.  As an architect Thomas’ designs were characterised by protruding slated gables and windows with a central pillar.  His reputation grew and he obtained a commission from Lord Leverhulme to landscape fifty acres of ground around his house, Royston Cottage, on Rivington Pike.  This included the design for a Japanese garden which was fashionable at that time.

Returning to the Lake District he obtained more commissions including landscaping gardens for Rydal Hall, Briery Close, Wood Hall and Above Beck.  His work on the latter in Grasmere included a Japanese style garden.  Before the outbreak of the First World War he returned home from Greece where he had been working.  All the unmarried men in his Lancaster office enlisted and sadly one of his sons killed in the war.  After the war Thomas was responsible for the building of the Westfield Military Village in Lancaster on land given by Mr Herbert Lushington Storey.  Thomas had previously landscaped the gardens of Mr Storey’s house Bailrigg which now forms part of Lancaster University.  In his last years he and his wife moved from Hest Bank to Caton Hall before returning to Hest Bank where he died in 1933.  He was a man of international status having worked for Kings as well as Dukes, Lords and Viscounts.

The Chairman thanked Bette for her most interesting lecture the highlight of which had been her wonderful collection of slides showing Mawson’s work. 

July 2007
Visit to Briggflats

On a lovely July evening Briggflats Meeting  House was the venue for the final summer meeting.. It was particularly appropriate to sit in a place so steeped in  Quaker history to hear about the local origins of the movement. Tess Satchell welcomed us to Briggflats and showed us some of the archives which are still held there. These included a Book of Sufferings which recorded the persecution that was experienced by early Westmorland Quakers.

The main part of the evening was devoted to what David Boulton called his ‘unstructured romp’ through approximately fifty years of Quaker history in the Sedbergh and Dent district. He based his survey on his book, Early Friends in Dent, and it was anything but ‘unstructured’! He began by making the point that movements arise out of the conditions of their time, and that in the case of Quakerism the catalysts were the Civil War and arguments about secular and religious authority.

David narrated how in 1652 George Fox felt compelled to travel to Westmorland to seek out groups of ‘seekers’ who were rebelling against Calvinist theology, and looking for new ways of being Christian. Many had been officers in Cromwell’s New Modern Army. This area, with its large parishes and lack of strong control was ripe for the rise of a radical movement, demonstrated in1862 by a strike in Dentdale against the payment of tithes. Therefore George Fox’s opposition to the clergy and religious hierarchies provided an attractive option. Beginning at the top end of Dentdale, and initially passed on from group to group, Fox made his way around the area. Gradually he persuaded people by his arguments, and by 1664 missionaries were being sent out to take the message to other regions.

In his description of how Quakers suffered for their religious beliefs, David gave examples of their resilience in the face of prolonged persecution. He recounted how, refusing to attend church, to swear oaths, and to pay tithes, or ‘steeple-house rates’, as they called them, they repeatedly had their goods and chattels seized. Furthermore, some were in and out of gaol many times. Following the Conventicle Acts, their meetings were broken up, sometimes violently. However, there is evidence that local people began to take pity on them, to the extent of sometimes paying their fines and tithes. It wasn’t until 1689 when the Toleration Acts legalised Quaker meetings and meeting houses that they were left alone to practise their religion without interference.

Thanks are due to David for a very informative and interesting talk, and to Tess for her hospitality.

Wednesday 6th June
The Webster buildings of Kendal

On Wednesday 6th June eleven members of the society assembled at Kendal Museum in beautiful weather to be met by Mrs Patricia Hovey and Mr Trevor Hughes who took us on a tour of the Webster buildings of Kendal, starting with Beezon Lodge and finishing at the Town Hall, in the building of the earliest parts of which Webster father and son both played a part

Mrs Hovey told us a bit of the background of the family before we set out. Francis Webster, came to Kendal in 1787 at the age of 20. He was principally a builder but did design buildings also. He became an alderman and then Mayor of Kendal in 1823. When he died in 1827 he had completed many substantial buildings in the town and the surrounding area. His elder son, George, trained as an architect and his younger son, Francis, ran his father’s marble showrooms at Aynam, now the Bridge Restaurant, and he lived next door in another Webster hosue.

Francis the elder was man of entrepreneurial vision, buying up all the land on which the canal, with its attendant buildings, was to be constructed, at the cost of three shillings a yard. He then carried out the building work associated with the canal, including the canal superintendent’s house. He also sold off plots of land on Thorny Hills, proceeding to build houses for the purchasers. There are certain features which mark a Francis Webster building although his architect son could build to any style required.  For example, the former used dressed stone, the cutting and dressing being done at his own water mill at Helsington, where, also, stone from Garsdale and Hutton Roof was polished into what was called ‘Kendal marble’ and used for fireplaces etc. The Websters also had their own quarry and seven lime kilns, making a tramline to carry all the material into Kendal. Both built ‘houses for gentlemen’ and these were much in demand and not only in Kendal. Ingmire Hall and Rigmaden are but two examples of Webster houses elsewhere.

Private housing was but a small part of their building enterprise. Public buildings from churches, schools and assembly rooms to bridges, gaols and a bank were all in their repertoire.

To list them all would be tedious but a few examples follow,  Miller Bridge, built in 1818, took traffic across the river to Aynam and that side of Kendal for the first time, and what is now the HSBC bank, which is now the oldest building still operating as such. The Quaker Meeting House, St Thomas’s Church and the Catholic Church are all Webster buildings as were the Ladies’ College and Stramongate School, now used for other purposes. The Shambles and the Farrers’ building were restored by them and the workhouse built. Francis is responsible for the first pavement in Kendal and for helping construct Appleby Gaol. George built churches in several villages, including Natland and Whittington.  There seemed no end to their enterprise and energy and Kendal is justly proud of their achievements.

One of our members, Judith Robinson, was able to add information and anecdotes from her own youthful days in Kendal, enthusiastically identifying a door in a passage as ‘my great grandmother’s front door’. In times past when streets were muddy and dirty front doors were put on the side of a building. Also the front door often served as the entrance to the business as well, the home being above the shop.

The party was very grateful to our two guides who were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic and from whom we learned many other interesting things on the walk.

A Walk Around Appleby

The first summer visit of 2007 was to Appleby. Members were taken on a conducted tour of the attractive town by Vivienne Gate and other representatives of the Appleby Society. Our tour began at the ancient Moot Hall where the business of the town council is conducted. The present mayor gave us a short talk about the town’s history and traditions. Appleby, which was originally the county town of Westmorland, gained its charter in the twelfth century, and the Moot Hall was built in Tudor times. On a plaque over the door, the date 1596 is recorded. Appleby was ravaged by the Scots on several occasions, and some of its original streets have not survived. However on Boroughgate, its wide main thoroughfare, there are some lovely old houses.

The mayor, indicating some of the many pictures of former mayors and inhabitants of the town on the walls of the chamber, told us about a few of the town’s notable inhabitants. One of these was Jack Robinson, who gave his name to the saying, ‘as quick as you can say Jack Robinson’. He also showed us some of the impressive robes and regalia which are used on ceremonial occasions. Interestingly, two halberds belonging to the town always stand outside the house of the incumbent mayor during his time in office. We were reminded of the annual Horse Fair for which Appleby is widely renowned. Evidently, so many visitors descend on the town for the event that many citizens tend to batten down the hatches during the fair.

Armed with our newly acquired local knowledge we were led up Boroughgate to St Anne’s Hospital, a group of small almshouses clustered around a small courtyard with a fountain. They were founded by Lady Anne Clifford, a local sixteenth-century landowner, for destitute widows. We were allowed into the tiny chapel, where much of the woodwork dates from the seventeenth century, and the striking eighteenth-century texts around the walls replaced older originals. At the back of the almshouses is a peaceful grassy area where the residents once had small gardens. Next we walked to the top of the hill and looked through large gates at Appleby Castle. Sadly, it has been closed to the public for several years since English Heritage refused to accept the plans of the owner of the castle to develop the site.

Then we were given an unexpected treat. John and Jill Hodge who live in a lovely Georgian fronted house halfway down Boroughgate invited us in to see the building and the garden. Attractive period features have survived in the house and these are complemented by beautiful furniture and decoration. For the gardeners amongst us,  their collection of interesting plants was of special interest. 

Our tour ended with a visit to the parish church of St Lawrence at the bottom of the town. Like so many churches, it has been added to over the centuries, from the oldest twelfth-century building in the tower, the fourteenth-century porch and pillars in the nave, to the restoration of more recent times. Perhaps the most memorable items in the church are three memorials at the far end of the church. One is a small, unadorned effigy of an unnamed lady, which contrasts with a beautiful alabaster figure representing Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, mother of Lady Anne Clifford. She herself is commemorated on a large black marble monument.

Appleby is a most interesting ancient town, and we were really grateful to our knowledgeable guides, who gave up their time to show us some of its finer points. 

Wednesday, 21st March
Ken Clarke on “Victorian Photography and the Brunskills of Sedbergh and Bowness”.

The true inventor of photography was a Frenchman, Joseph Niepce whose first successful image was of a view from his window in about 1826.  Then in 1839 two people published papers on different methods of obtaining a permanent image.  Daguerre in France had built on Niepce’s work to produce daguerrotypes.  These were high quality images but they produced a mirror image and could not be reproduced.  Fox Talbot in England introduced the modern system of negative and positive image production which enabled copies to be easily made.  His first photo was of a window at his house, Laycock Abbey, taken in 1835.  Initially because of cheaper cost and superior quality the method of Deguerre was the more popular but eventually after a modification the Fox Talbot process became supreme.

Photographic studios were open in London by 1840 and by about 1850 they had reached the Lake District.  The technology improved with time but it still required the sitter for a portrait staying still for a considerable time.  Various props were available to hold the head still which looked more like torture implements than aids to photography.  

William Brunskill was born in Ingleton in 1797 but later moved to Sedbergh and in 1818 married Hannah Wright.  Later that year Hannah died in childbirth.  In 1821 William married Elizabeth Blenkarn and in 1824 their son, Richard, was born.  Their second son, John William, was born in 1825.  William was a painter, plumber and glazier and his two sons joined him in the family firm.  The family lived in various premises in Sedbergh probably starting in Settlebeck cottages. From there they moved to a house in Main Street in the area of what is now the Nat West bank.  From there they had moved to what is now 7 Main Street by 1847.  In 1850 Richard married Isabella Ellis.

By 1858 the two brothers had started taking photographs as several street scenes of Sedbergh exist showing a house with a gallery on the site of what is now the library.

However, this must have been a minor occupation because the 1861 census lists them as being painters, plumbers and glaziers like their father.  They soon started to buy property, in Kendal and by 1865 in Back Lane on the site of the present numbers 21/22.  It was there that they probably had their Sedbergh studio.  For health reasons and also because of the greater number of tourists they decided to open a studio in Bowness although for some time they seemed to spend the winter in Sedbergh and the summer in Bowness.  Pictures of their original studio in Bowness still exist.  They eventually decided to move permanently to Bowness and sold their Kendal and Sedbergh properties.  They built themselves a purpose built house with a large glass window to provide the light needed for photography.  The house still exists.

 Their business flourished and even when Richard died a man was employed to take his place.  When John William died his wife carried on the firm until it finally closed.  Luckily about 17500 of their images survived and have been bought by the Armitt Museum in Ambleside.   

 The chairman thanked Ken Clarke for a most interesting talk that had provided a fitting end to the winter programme.  Thanks to a generous donation the society has been able to buy from the Armitt Museum copies of the 300 photos connected with Sedbergh.

Richard Cann

Wednesday 21st February

Members' Evening
 A large audience assembled in Dent Memorial Hall on Wednesday 21st February to hear Denis Sanderson start off by talking on 'The Geological History of Dentdale and Area'.
Standing in the very schoolroom where he had sat at lessons as a child, in a region famed for its geological  associations, he was able to put his local knowledge to good use. In an informative and lively presentation he explained where various features of interest could be seen in the locality. He started by walking us up Barbondale where the beck follows the line of the Dent Fault with Silurian age rock to the left and limestone to the right. The Dent Fault is not quite dead and he reminded us of the earthquake of 9/8/1970, the biggest recorded in England, measuring 4.9 on the Richter Scale, Haycock Ghyll is another good vantage point and at Gawthrop the older Ordovician rock shows through. Flinters Ghyll is a good place to observe the flat like paving called Hawes Limestone and Binks Quarry up Deepdale is a good spot to see fossils . He likened Rise Hill to a giant layer cake with 11 or 12 different aged limestones sandwiched between sandstone and shale.
  This was a really good laypersons guide to local geology and will have no doubt encouraged members to take a fresh look at our local rock formations.

The second talk by Julie Leigh entitled 'The Policing of 19c Cumberland and Westmorland' was based on her research into local policing, particularly relating to the Kirkby Stephen area.
An amusing role play exercise illustrated the difficulties encountered by the then elected village constable with conflicting evidence, unreliable witnesses and local petitioning. The local lock-ups were very basic, very confined and offered no privacy.
As the population grew so did the crime.


Wednesday 7th February
John Claister on The History of Cricket in Sedbergh

On a cold February night, in weather not at all suited to the topic of the talk, members and visitors met to hear John Glaister tell us about the history of cricket in the town.

Cricket had started at the school and in 1841 the first match was played against a team from Kirkby Lonsdale. Presumably because of transport difficulties it was played in a field opposite the Swan Inn at Middleton. In the early years the team seemed to consist of schoolboys plus a few men from the town. One of these, Mr Smith a solicitor, caused an incident in 1846 when he ran out the star of the Kirkby Lonsdale team. He ran him out whilst he was backing up at the bowler’s end which was considered unsporting. The players adjourned to the Bull afterwards and the drink did nothing to improve relations. Eventually the visitors coach left to a mixture of abuse and missiles with Mr Smith trying to restrain the boys. In those days cricket in this country was sometimes played in the autumn which would be considered unseasonable now. Bowling was underarm and not overarm as now. Wickets and pitches were very bad and as a result matches did not last long even if they were two innings games. Indeed the drinking afterwards seemed the major event and could go on until the small hours of the next morning!

Cricket at the school had thrived sufficiently for the first past versus present match to be played in 1850 which the present won convincingly. Over the years the school produced several good cricketers but only one test match player, Mitchell-Innes, who has died recently. However, Mr Glaister thought that J.A.Burrow from the nineteenth century was the best. He was a local boy and had played for many local clubs and ones in central Yorkshire with great success.

Sedbergh town club played its first game in1863 and its formation may have been connected with the decline of the school under Dr Day as headmaster. Its zenith was reached when cricket leagues were reformed some years after WW1. The town team was the best in the Westmorland league during the 1920s when it was composed of a mixture of school staff and local men. However, it had ceased to exist by the mid thirties and was not reformed for another forty years.

The chairman thanked the speaker for his talk and during coffee and biscuits afterwards members were able to look at a display of photographs from the archives of Sedbergh School and the History Society.

Richard Cann

Wednesday 17th January 2007

Andrew Lowe on "Bank Barns, Boskins and Bee-Boles"
Over fifty members and visitors attended the opening talk after the festive break. It was given by Andrew Lowe on the subject of “Bank Barns, Boskins and Bee-Boles”.
Andrew had a career in planning, being Senior Planner with the Lake District NPA and then its Building Conservation Officer. In addition he has lectured for various universities on the industrial archaeology of the Lake District and also on its traditional buildings.

His talk to the society dealt with the various farm buildings that could be found within the Lake District National Park. Farm buildings are the best vernacular buildings for the absence of change whereas domestic buildings are continually altered due to the fashion of the time. Barns by definition are a building where corn can be threshed and stored and they usually have a section for cattle. They need to be watertight yet ventilated. Most of the barns in the Lake District have been built of stone obtained within a radius of 200 yards of the building. Originally they had steep roofs when thatched but less steep roofs were needed when slates were used.

Bank Barns were built on slopes with the main door, which was situated on the slope, not in the middle of the barn. The larger area was used for storing the corn before threshing and the smaller area for storing it after it had been threshed. Opposite the door was the winnowing window which helped cause a draught to blow away the chaff which was formed during the threshing. The bottom floor of the barn was used for cattle or storage of carts, etc. The threshing could be done by hand but there were examples where water or horse power had been used. The earliest barn dated from 1659 but even this had been built using some foundations from an earlier barn. The status of a farmer was shown by the quality of the workmanship on the barn and by decorative features such as finials on the gable end of the roof.

Inside the barns the partitions were known as boskins and these could be made of wood or stone. They were usually lime-washed to act as an antiseptic. Many of these have now been removed to give larger open spaces within barns.

Other types of farm building still exist such as hennery-piggeries. In these the hens were housed on the upper floor and pigs on the ground floor. Only the top levels of society could afford coach houses and dovecotes. Finally before the advent of sugar from the Americas every farm house would have had its bee-boles. These were recesses where bee hives could be sited to protect them from the rain. They were usually facing south-east so that the bees got the maximum hours of light.

Andrew dealt with a variety of questions and gave his opinion on the uses to which the surviving barns should be put. To date a considerable sum of money has been given as grants to ensure their preservation. He was thanked by the chairman for a most interesting an entertaining talk.

Richard Cann

Wednesday 1st November 2006

Report by Tony Hannam
on Professor Roger Fawthrop’s lecture

Professor Fawthrop has featured on our programme before and there was a large audience in anticipation of another fascinating talk about the Furness & Yorkshire Union Railway Project of 1865. He began by giving some background to the politics behind railway development in the Victorian age.

There were two major periods of planning and construction.
1. 1843 – 1855 The principle trunk routes and 2nd tier routes, the core of which still exist today; e.g. the east and west coast main lines.
2. 1865 – 1880 The major cross country routes such as the Settle – Carlisle, the branch lines and metropolitan commuter lines.

Railway mania was at its height with 268 Railway Boards in existence in York County alone in 1847. The mentality of the time seemed to be to fill in the open spaces on the map; no National Parks to contend with in those days. That only a handful came about was because of the necessity for an Act of Parliament for each project and stringent compliance with the tiniest detail. The Boards had to have the power to construct, finance and operate the line. Also agreement had to be reached to hook up with other existing lines. The vested interests of the powerful LNWR and NER made life difficult.

The East & West Yorkshire Union railway (EWYUR) had plans to run a line up Wensleydale from the NER line at Melmerby (nr Ripon) to Leyburn, Hawes, Mallerstang, Sedbergh (via Garsdale) and Barbon to link up with existing lines at Kirkby Stephen, Ingleton or Milnthorpe. This was opposed by the big two and eventually only the Leyburn – Hawes section was built by NER. The demise of EWYUR followed but ‘the baby got a new suite of clothes’ and the Furness & Yorkshire Union Railway (FYUR) came into being.

What was at stake was the transport of high quality coke from Durham to Barrow in Furness so that it could be shipped to the South Wales blast furnaces. At the time this was traveling on the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway (SD&LUR) via Barnard Castle and Kirkby Stephen to Tebay. 68 million tons were moved during WW1.

James Ramsden at the Barrow end of FYUR had an eye on this lucrative traffic as he was a major shareholder in both companies. He was also interested in moving 200,000 tonnes of Haematite per year from Barrow to the South Staffs. steel works. Neither company could avoid paying LNWR for using the Tebay to Carnforth section or indeed from Carnforth to Derby.

This is where a Furness line link from Arnside to Barbon via Milnthorpe could have hooked up with the proposed Hawes-Sedbergh line, and the Ingleton-Leeds line, cutting out LNWR. Only the Milnthorpe-Arnside section was eventually completed. This enabled the gentry of Kendal to go to Grange but ‘only crows’ to Sedbergh.

Wednesday 4th October 2006

The first lecture of the 2006/2007 series drew an audience of forty people to hear Yvonne Luke's talk on  "Rethinking Ingleborough".
 From Victorian times up to the Royal Commission of Monuments survey in 1988 it was considered that the summit of Ingleborough contained an iron age fort surrounded by a rampart.  It was thought that there were twenty hut circles within the rampart.  These were clustered in the central area of the summit with the north-western and north-eastern areas apparently empty.
 Yvonne had studied aerial photographs and detected a faint circle in the north-western corner and later investigation on the ground had suggested that this was a ring cairn pre-dating the iron age by about a thousand years.  A path appeared to lead from it to a break in the south-western part of the rampart.      From there a pathway occurred in the scree below leading to a grassy area.  Ring cairns are well known in the Peak District and are thought to be ritual structures dating to the second millennium BC.  They are also found in the Dales were they are 10-12 metres in diameter. Yvonne wondered if what had been thought to be iron age hut circles on Ingleborough were really bronze age ring cairns.  She also thought she had detected a few half ring structures there.
 She had investigated the rampart and decided it could not be a defensive feature of a fort for various reasons.  Firstly in places there was what appeared to be a ditch, or a quarry site for the stones of the rampart, on the inside the rampart.  This would have been a nonsense defensively.  Secondly there were several breaks in the rampart and many of these appeared to be part of the original design and marked by orthostats (standing stones).  They did not have a ditch or quarry scoop behind them.  Finally the most imposing part of the rampart occurred where it was least needed defensively as there were sheer drops below it.  She thought Ingleborough had been a sanctuary in that it was used for ritualistic purposes and also provide a shelter for cattle and people when danger threatened their pastures below but had not been a fort.
 The surface of the summit was getting badly eroded by the large number of walkers there and already some archaeological sites had been lost.  She hoped that money would be found for a dig to occur to answer questions before the evidence had been destroyed.  After her talk she answered several questions before being thanked by the chairman who wished her success when she submitted her thesis for a Ph.D.   
Richard Cann

AGM Saturday 25th March 2006

The Annual General Meeting of the society was held in Settlebeck School on Saturday 25th March.  After the minutes of last year's AGM had  been approved the officers of the society presented their annual reports.  Apart from the usual lectures and visits the year had been dominated by 25th Anniversary celebrations.  Two successful exhibitions were held in Sedbergh and Dent and there had been an enjoyable dinner at which the guest speaker was Sir Christopher Booth.  The society had also launched a web-site,, and had gained some new members as a result. The finances of the society were sound and there were 279 subscriptions to the society meaning it had about 350 actual members spread throughout the world.

The Very Reverend Ingram Cleasby was re-elected as President and the existing officers and committee members were re-elected en-bloc with the addition of Mrs Josie Templeman.  After the formal part of the meeting the large number of members present took part in a short quiz and then enjoyed splendid refreshments provided by the members themselves


Wednesday 15th March 2006

The last in this season's lectures took place on Wednesday 15th March when a large audience came to hear one of the society's most distinguished members.  Professor Robert Fox is the Professor of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and his talk was on "The Scientists and Schools of Sedgwick's North Country".

Grammar schools were schools that had been endowed for the free teaching of the grammar of the classical languages, Latin, Greek and sometimes Hebrew.  They often taught other subjects but the pupils would pay for this tuition.  A survey done in 1818 showed a wide range in the number of pupils and the salary paid to staff.  The Master at Leeds received £500 per annum whilst many in small schools only got about £50.  In addition to the Master some schools had an Usher who helped him and some had a person who taught the three Rs.  The buildings were similar in that all the pupils were in one large room.  The Master sat at one end on a raised dais and the pupils sat on forms.  These were grouped together so that pupils sat with others who had reached the same standard.  The pupils learnt the grammar by rote. During the nineteenth century these schools declined except for those in big towns or a few such as Eton that attracted wealthy people. There were several reasons for this. The importance of the classical languages for getting a career had declined although they were needed to get into Oxford and Cambridge Universities. National, British and Dames' Schools provided a cheaper way of being taught the three Rs.  Also those schools endowed on a fixed income found that to be increasingly insufficient.  By the end of the century the Grammar Schools had either closed or had been converted into elementary schools or in some cases survived by become fee paying schools teaching grammar as well as other subjects.  Dent came into the first category and Sedbergh into the last.

In the seventeenth century the Grammar Schools in the North West had produced many pupils who had gone on to Cambridge where they had made successful careers mainly in Science and Mathematics. A contemporary had called them the "hard progeny of the North".  Examples were Sedgwick and Watson. The former had been appointed Professor of Geology, without any knowledge of the subject, but had gone on to a very distinguished career. Watson had been appointed Professor of Chemistry, again without any knowledge of the subject.  He had gone on to be Professor of Divinity and finally Bishop of Llandaff, a
place he hardly ever visited in over twenty years.

Other people came up through different routes. John Dawson, from Garsdale, was largely self-taught initially but became an apothecary in Sedbergh after studying in Lancaster, Edinburgh and London. He also coached Mathematics to some of those reading it at Cambridge. They stayed with him in their vacations and he was so successful that he gained a national reputation and eventually earned his living from it.  John Dalton from near Cockermouth went to Kendal and then to Manchester teaching and lecturing.  He produced an Atomic Theory of immense importance in Chemistry.  Finally there was Thomas Garnett from Barbon who had become an apprentice of Dawson. He had gone to Edinburgh and then set up as a doctor in the spa town of Harrogate.  He next moved to London where a glittering career as a lecturer beckoned. However, his wife died, he became depressed and soon died of typhoid.

The chairman thanked Professor Fox for a most interesting lecture which the audience had enjoyed and it had provided a fitting end to the season.


Wednesday 1st March 2006

A meeting of the society was held in Dent Memorial Hall on Wednesday 1st March and it attracted a large audience. The first item of the evening was a showing of a film made in 1985 called “Adam in Paradise”. David Boulton at that time was running Granada Television’s current affairs and regional programmes and he commissioned the film and was the presenter on it. The Adam referred to was Adam Sedgwick and the Paradise was Dentdale. In the film David outlined the history of the dale, in particular its opposition to tithes over the centuries. He then went on to meet some of the characters in the dale in 1985. Some of the views on the history would need to be revised in the light of recent research but the film provided an interesting record of the dale and its inhabitants two decades ago. Unfortunately David was unable to be present but sent a letter giving details about the film and we are very grateful to him for lending the copy to the society for the meeting.

The film’s mention of the importance of knitting to the history of Dent provided an excellent introduction to a showing of “The Terrible Knitters of Dent” starring Betty Hartley, Elizabeth Middleton and pupils from Dent School. This delightful film explained how the knitting was done and the clothes and equipment used by the knitters. The trade was an economic necessity for survival due to the decline of farming in the dale. Copies of the video are available in various places in Dent and it is well worth buying as it provides an excellent record of a past way of life.

Richard Cann


Wednesday 15th February 2006

'A Year at Killington Hall' with Mrs Judith Robinson
 Judith is a member of the Society and a large audience turned out for her presentation of 'The 1876 Diary of Agnes Ann Kendal' which is the title of a book she has recently published.
 Agnes Ann was the 8th and youngest child of Robert and Elizabeth Kendal (nee Fawcett).
 Robert was a tenant farmer at Killington Hall which is where Ann lived along with her unmarried older sister Sarah and brother John.
The diary gives a quite fascinating insight into life in Victorian England through the eyes of a 19 year old farmers daughter.
Judith was congratulated for bringing the diary to life in such a compelling way with old and new photographs interspersed with voice-overs reading extracts from the diary. What would Agnes have thought if she had known her most private diary had been made so public 130 years later?
Today we regard Killington Hall as somewhat isolated. In 1876 we hear of a constant stream of social visitors and frequent outings to Kendal, Orton, Sedbergh and occasionally to Cautley. The 'Red Lion Inn' was only across the yard but the family were tee-total.
 The diary reveals Agnes to be a committed Christian and although the Anglican Church was only yards away it was to the Vale of Lune Chapel, then non-conformist and now known as St Gregory's, that Agnes went to worship and teach at Sunday School. Making 2 trips on Sunday would have meant walking about 16 miles.
She rather surprisingly made no reference to shopping of having any money other than pocket money.
She enjoyed baking and there are references to sewing, dress-making, mangling, cleaning and churning butter.  She only seemed to help on the farm with milking cows and bringing in the hay; 116 carts and 47 sleds in 1876.
 The highlight of the year was the visit to Orton Pot Fair in June where the previous year she had met her future husband Jim Wharton and to whom she was secretly betrothed.
 Her courtship and Jim's visits delightfully enlighten her days. Jim would often catch the train to Tebay from Sedbergh, even hitch a lift on a goods train and frequently walk the 13 miles back home.
It was 5 years later on February 9th. the day before her 25th birthday, that they were married. Sadly they did not live happily ever after. On Dec. 5th she gave birth to a son but 3 days later she was dead as was her son 10 days later.
 Jim remarried, moved to Kendal and had 9 children. No photos were kept of Agnes and there is no gravestone for her and her son in Orton Churchyard.
Happily the diary survives and having been handed down through Jim's family to Judith's aunt and now the book is a fitting memorial.
 Judith was warmly thanked for sharing this in such a delightful way. 


Wednesday 1st February 2006

 Members' talks:This year the members giving the talks were Kevin Lancaster and Roger Underwood.
Kevin's subject was "Inventories and Bonds". Soon after a person died an inventory was taken, of the possessions and debts that they had, to be used in conjunction with their will. This task was normally undertaken by four neighbours.  For this area the earliest surviving record was from the first half of the sixteenth century. From then the number increased until the Commonwealth during which there was a steep decline. After that the number sharply rose and peaked around 1700. During the eighteenth century the practice declined and finally ended in the nineteenth century. Most of the inventories for this area are to be found in Preston and we are lucky that the society has transcripts of so many, the latter fact largely due to Kevin's efforts. In his lecture he compared some from a period in the seventeenth century with another sample taken a hundred years later. The comparison showed the effects of inflation and increasing wealth in the area. Particularly interesting was the much wider range of furniture in the houses. Also the terms used to describe some of the farm animals had changed with the later ones being the same as our contemporary ones. Finally Kevin stressed the importance of the information provided by bonds, sureties required when loans were involved.
Roger Underwood's subject was "From Bristol to Sedbergh and back again, a journey of fifty years." This talk linked the fortunes of the Uptons of Ingmire Hall with the Smyth's of Ashton Court near Bristol. The latter were a much more important and wealthier family with the head being a baronet and Ashton Court being the centre of a very large estate. The family were leading figures in Bristol society. Florence, the sister of the baronet, became the second wife of John Upton of Ingmire Hall. His first wife had been the daughter of the Bishop of Bristol. Their son Thomas died in 1843 of pneumonia, caught from exposure on Kendal Fell, but not before he had produced two sons, Thomas and Greville. Back in Bristol Florence's brother Hugh had died and been succeeded as baronet by another brother, John. The latter was a confirmed bachelor and this meant the title would pass to Thomas. However, he was indulged by his grandmother and he died in Bristol due to his excesses, leaving Greville as the heir.
  At this stage a man suddenly appeared on the scene claiming to be the son of Hugh from a marriage contracted in Ireland. John accepted his claim to be the heir to the baronetcy and then conveniently died the next day. Naturally a court case, which was the talk of Bristol, was held to decide who had the right to succeed as baronet. The claimant was found to be an impostor and Greville became the baronet.  Florence eventually died in 1852 having seen her grandson inherit the title. Another Florence, the daughter of Thomas born in 1837, later acquired Ingmire Hall as Mrs Upton-Cottrell-Dormer.  Ashton Hall was eventually overwhelmed by death duties in the early nineteenth century and was bought by Bristol City Council.
  The speakers were thanked by the chairman who remarked that the evenings such as this showed how lucky the society was in being able to draw on the skills of so many talented members.

Wednesday 18th January 2006

Dr Simon Smith of York University addressed the society on the topic 'Robert Lowther, Governor of Barbados 1711-20: saint or Sinner?' In an interesting account of Lowther's time in the West Indies, Dr Smith explored some of the controversy surrounding this enigmatic character.
  As a plantation owner, married to the Barbadian heiress, Joan Carleton, Lowther was already well acquainted with the Caribbean island. Dr Smith suggested that Lowther's appointment as Governor was probably connected with his family's support for the Stuart regime. Lowther cannot be condemned for his involvement in slavery , since the practice was generally considered to be acceptable during this period, and many other members of the gentry were engaged in it. However, he was heavily criticised for various aspects of his governorship.
  Some of the charges against him were outlined by the speaker. He was accused of extortion and corruption, and manipulating the law for his own ends. He was recalled in 1714 to answer the charges, but after the death of Queen Anne, he was allowed to return. According to his critics, things continued much as before. A law was passed which made trading with other islands illegal without the purchase of expensive licences, but apparently he himself engaged in illicit trade or turned a blind eye to it. Furthermore, he raised a tax to fortify the island, but it was reported that much of the money was diverted elsewhere.
  Dr Smith then considered how far the criticisms against him were justified. He maintained that leading contemporary opponents of Lowther, like Rev William Gordon and Samuel Cox had personal reasons for their condemnation, and that later critical histories reproduced some of the earlier accounts. Seemingly, other writers had their own reasons for castigating him. Although there seems to very little evidence to suggest that there were many positive outcomes of Lowther's governorship, Dr Smith reminded his audience that in judging him it has to be remembered that standards in eighteenth-century public life were very different from today.


Wednesday 4th January 2006

'Andrew de Harcia and the Scottish Wars of Independence' by Adrian Rogan
The story of his amazing career: border warfare in the early fourteenth century

Andrew de Harcla was one of the outstanding northern knights involved in the Scottish Wars of Independence. He was the subject of Adrian Rogan’s interesting talk to the History Society in January. Unfortunately, there were computer problems so that we were unable to see his collection of photographs very well.
The de Harcla family had connections with Hartley Castle near Kirkby Stephen and several photographs showed how well it had been positioned. Sir Andrew also owned land in Sedbergh and district and had the advowson of the church in which he placed his brother James!
De Harcla served under both Edward I and Edward II and for his services he was created Keeper of Carlisle and later Keeper of Carlisle Castle. He amassed a large body of soldiers; men at arms, esquires, hobelars ( mounted soldiers who could also fight on foot) and archers. He was defending Carlisle Castle at the time of Bannockburn in 1314. A year later the Scots attacked Carlisle, capturing it but de Harcla defended the Castle so well that the Scots retired.
He was involved in several other skirmishes eg. at Boroughbridge where he defeated the Lancastrian rebels and was rewarded by being created Earl of Carlisle. At this time he could do no wrong!
Mr Rogan believed that de Harcla and Robert Bruce had met several times. A self confessed romantic he mentioned the rumour that de Harcla was in love with Bruce’s sister Constancia. De Harcla thought that it was time for a permanent truce between England and Scotland so having no faith in Edward he went secretly to Loch Maben to meet Robert Bruce to conclude a peace treaty. The townspeople of Carlisle were delighted as it would mean peace but the king was furious and ordered the capture and execution of de Harcla. Without a proper trial he was tied to a hurdle and dragged through the streets of Carlisle before being hung, drawn and quartered and then beheaded.

Adrian Rogan is writing three docu-novels on the life of Andrew de Harcla. The first entitled Northern Warrior is already in print’


Wednesday 7th December 2005

Slate Quarries and Quarrymen in the South Eastern Lake District: Dr Rob David

At their last autumn meeting for 2005 members spent a most interesting evening learning about quarrying activity in the Lake District. Dr David focussed on our nearest quarries in Troutbeck, Kentmere and Long Sleddale which produced either the better quality green slate from Borrowdale volcanic rocks or inferior bluish slate of Silurian origin.
In the late 1850’s 120-150 workers were employed in Westmorland producing about 2000 tons per annum at a rate of 19 tons per worker.
By 1896 Welsh quarries dominated the industry, attracting more capital investment and producing 80% of the total output compared with the Lake District’s 4.4%, putting it 4th in rank behind Wales, Scotland and Cornwall.
Slate competed with tiles and thatch as a roofing material and was also used for building construction, walling and paving.
Most quarries in our region were relatively small and usually fell in and out of use. Dr David explained how census data on quarrymen was hard to come by as many of them had other seasonal occupations such as in farming or transferring the slate on carts to the transport networks. Locally extracted slate was usually used within about 15 miles.
There were 3 main categories of worker: rock hands who drilled and extracted the slate; rievers, who split it into thin sheets, or dressers. The latter were itinerant workers and were important to the success of the company in producing the finished article.
Until the coming of the railways most slate was moved by local shipping from small ports or on the canals. Slate barges even travelled up and down Coniston Water and Windermere.
Dr David illustrated several quarries with excellent slides.
Quarries still form an important part of our former industrial landscape and after this lecture our members will be enthused to resume their survey of local quarries in Sedbergh and district in 2006.

Tony Hannam


Wednesday 19th October 2005

The Memorialisation of The Great War 1914-1925 by Ian Lewis.

Every village, town and city has its own memorial commemorating those who lost their lives in the two world wars.

Ian Lewis has been researching World War One memorials and in his fascinating lecture and overhead slide show brought our attention to the great diversity of memorials in South Cumbria. These ranged from seats dedicated to specific people, trees planted in memory of local soldiers and decorated mugs to the more conventional war memorials found in local graveyards, which list those who fell ‘for King and Country’.

There was a feeling in 1914 that British ‘values’ were being eroded; the war that broke out was thought of as a means of purifying and cleansing the nation. Pressures for young men to join up were considerable and initially most left their homes in euphoric mood little dreaming of the horror and destruction that was to ensue.

Once the war ended, local people felt that a tangible form of remembrance of their dead was the least they could do. Parish Councils met to discuss how to raise the necessary money; this was not always easy as unemployment was growing.

Amongst the different memorials were street shrines dedicated to those who had lived in the neighbourhood, wooden crosses at road junctions, lych and cemetery gates. Some buildings displayed Rolls of Honour, many being beautifully decorated. Stained glass windows in churches remembered officers and men from well-to-do families.

Members were able to supplement Mr Lewis’s list by suggesting Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent memorials with which he was not familiar.


Wednesday 5th October 2005

 The Sedbergh and District History Society opened its 2005/6 season with a lecture by Dr Peter McCue on “Ghostly Armies: an Examination of some British Cases”.

Over the centuries there have been numerous reports of people seeing apparitional warriors, soldiers or armies. Dr McCue dealt with three such cases the first happening at Edgehill, the site of the first battle in the English Civil War, which was fought on 23rd October 1642. About two months later according to two tracts ‘A Great Wonder in Heaven’ and ‘The New Years Wonder’, ghostly sounds and sights related to the battle were experienced in the area on a number of occasions. It was claimed that King Charles I sent people to investigate the phenomena and they themselves saw the apparitions. However, no documentary evidence supporting this has been found in the royal correspondence.

The second case of a ghostly army was reported from Souter Fell near Keswick. The army was allegedly seen on the eastern side of Souter Fell on several occasions in the Eighteenth Century. They were reported in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ in 1747 and in a book by Clarke in 1787. William Lancaster of Blake Hills and his household observed the phenomena and he, at least, did exist dying in 1788 aged about 78.

The third case involved a phantom battle near Loch Ashie to the east of Loch Ness. Sightings have been reported over the centuries including some from the second half of the Twentieth Century. One account reported the men as being dressed in ragged clothes with bare feet and bare legs. They carried either short swords or sticks. Short swords were used by the Picts and they may have been the warriors in the sighting.

Finally Dr McCue mentioned an alleged sighting of a Danish or Viking army in Dent. There was a reference to this in a book in the 1950’s. It was reported as having been seen by the Middleton family but he had not been able to confirm that. His lecture stimulated his audience to ask him many questions and they provided him with information about sightings in Dent and Souter Fell.

Dr McCue had given the society an excellent lecture on an unusual topic.

Richard Cann


25th Anniversary Exhibition 2005

History Matters

The exhibition celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Sedbergh & District History Society.

Displays, based on members’ research, highlighted particular people and activities, but they also paid tribute to the people who stayed in the dales and those who moved on to wider horizons. The exhibition recognised the role that the lives and activities of local people played in the evolution of our landscape and that the clocks did not stop with the Industrial Revolution. The clocks tick here just as in other cities and towns around the world.

The exhibition offered a small glimpse of past worlds. It did not tell the whole story, or offer a chronological history lesson. It provided snapshots to remind us that time does not stand still. Traces of the earliest settlers, the Celtic tribes who named Dent and some of our hills and rivers, and the Norse language, survive in many farm names. Mills, quarries and other remains reveal our industrial heritage, and together with roads and tracks, show the ebb and flow of economic life. Documents, and photographs, illustrate the lives of the people.

It was pleasing that so many people found something of interest in the exhibition. The archive was available to look through or for personal research. The exhibition was adapted for each venue; for example in Dent, the Parish Council kindly agreed that the Enclosure Award map was available for display.

Thank you to all the people, too numerous to mention individually, who helped to make the exhibition possible.