History of Ambleside
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images of the Lake District are available at www.cumbrialakes.org
- "This is a straggling little market town, made up of
rough-cast white houses, but charmingly situated in the center of three
A Tour from London to the Lakes Aug 18, 1791
history is punctuated by the arrival of a series of people who brought new
ideas and wealth
to the area. Vikings, Romans, Medieval wool traders, eighteenth
century artists, Victorian thinkers and the modern tourist have all
had an impact on the town.
years ago, Roman soldiers sailed up Windermere; they came to protect the
Empire's northern border and built a fort close to Waterhead on a site now
known as Borran's Field. The Romans left towards the end of the
Fourth Century and Waterhead became deserted.
"Waterhead is a sort
of 'Clapham Junction' of Lakeland..." M.J.Baddeley - The
English Lake District, 1891
remained a quiet hamlet until the middle of the nineteenth century, when,
in 1845, steamboats began to travel up and down the lake. They were too
large to use
the landing at the mouth of
the lake, and a new pier had to be built at Waterhead.
The steamers carried large numbers of tourists and Waterhead itself
rapidly became a tourist centre with new
hotels and shops. During
the 1920s and 1930s the pier was
lit with fairy lights in
the summer months, and in winter there was
skating on the lake.
Physically, Waterhead has
changed very little since
the 1850s, but it
no longer a childhood playground. Our concerns about safety, and an
increasingly warmer climate, mean that we will probably never hear the
sound of skates rushing across ice on still winter mornings.
|ABOVE STOCK "...at
length, the pretty little town of Ambleside appears, nestling at the foot
of Wansfell, and the valley of the Rotha opens at the gazer's feet."
Harriet Martineau - Guide to Windermere, 1854
Roman times many local people lived next to the fort at Waterhead,
supplying it with food and
labour. The bottom of the valley was wet and muddy and after the Romans
left a decision must have been made to move to higher ground.
The area known as ‘Above Stock’ in Ambleside is the most likely site
for the post-Roman settlement. Here, north of the River Stock, would have
been dry and offered some protection from the harsh winter weather.
Among the people who used this site were the Scandinavians who arrived in
Cumbria around the second half of the eighth century. They called the site
‘Ambleside’, a sheiling (summer pasture) by a riverbank.
Stock grew and developed until the middle of the sixth century when a
market opened in an area below the river. New buildings were built around
the market, and gradually ‘Below Stock’ replaced ‘Above Stock’ as
the centre of the town. The tradition of
was granted a charter in
1650 which allowed for a weekly Wednesday market. The market, held near
where the Post Office is today, was
established to allow wool
and cloth to be sold. It brought great prosperity to the town which
rapidly grew in size. Perhaps to celebrate Ambleside’s new status,
cross was erected in
1651. This was soon followed by a market house, a stone building with a
wooden veranda that stood on pillars. The Ambleside people were optimistic
about the future; about 1796 they decided to build a new,
larger market house, but
soon there was to be no need for such a building. A rapid decline in the
wool trade led to the closure of the wool market in 1825. This could
have been the end of Ambleside, but fortunately the tourist trade was
just beginning. By 1850, Market Place was bustling with coaches
travelling through the Lakes.
a market is still held each Wednesday, and although this is now sited
Library, Market Place continues to be the centre of the town.
TOWN "Ambleside is a paltry little market town, with
little trade, but pleasantly situated..." Thomas
Sanderson - Companion to the Lakes, 1807
"The badness of the roads (which was perhaps the worst hard road
in England) contributed to make all the rest more dismal..."
Nicolson and Burn - The History and Antiquities of the Counties of
Westmorland & Cumberland, 1777
situated at the centre of the Lake
District, relies for its
transport links upon 'Lake'
the roads that lead to it.
The Romans were the first to build major roads in the town, which ran from
the fort at Waterhead over the Kirkstone and Hardknott mountain passes. As
Ambleside became a market town, its
were expanded and improved, allowing
wool and other
materials to be transported quickly to Kendal, Penrith and Carlisle.
Plans for a railway line from Windermere to Ambleside were developed but
the building costs were so great that the idea was
abandoned. With no
railway, the large numbers of tourists now arriving in the Lakes found
other ways to reach Ambleside. In 1845 steamboats began to be used on
Windermere, which for several thousand years had been a vital route for
carrying people and goods.
In the last century most
people arrived in Ambleside by boat. Nowadays, most people travel to
Ambleside by car, but the town finds
it difficult to cope with the 22,000 vehicles that arrive each year.
and the Lakes in general, have not always been such a popular tourist
destination. In the early 18th century the Lakes were thought to be wild
and frightening. Two things helped to change this view: improvements in
the road transport, and war, which made it impossible for rich Englishmen
to travel through Europe on the Grand Tour. For these rich gentlemen,
going to the Lakes in the 1780s was an adventure. There were few maps, and
only local people knew the names of the hills and the way through the
mountain passes. Ambleside became an important point on the tourist route.
People visited the waterfalls and stayed at the inns before travelling on
to Grasmere and Windermere. Guidebooks were published which
described routes, amazing views, high mountains and thundering waterfalls.
They were read by the newly rich factory and mill owners, many of whom
came and stayed in Ambleside’s best hotels and built holiday homes near
the town. Until
the opening of the railways in the 1840s, working people had neither the
time nor the money to visit the Lakes. But increasingly they could travel
cheaply and quickly for day trips and longer holidays. In 1999 some 14.8
million people visited the region for the day, and there were 11.5 million
overnight guests. A large proportion of these visited or stayed in
"The influx of visitors during the last ten days has been so numerous
as to occasion almost a dearth in the necessities of life..."
The Westmorland Gazette July 29th, 1854
ACTIVITIES "The author dares not venture to advise lady
pedestrians as to the costume..." J.L. Moore Practical Guide to
the English Lake District for Pedestrians, 1886
you have ever struggled up a hill and asked yourself "Why?" -
the people you need to blame are the early tourists.
Captain James Budworth was
one of the
first tourists to leave the roads and head
off into the hills. In 1792 he took to the fells with
great enthusiasm, walking
240 miles in two weeks.
What local people thought of these early fell walkers is not recorded. It
must have seemed strange to them that people would willingly exhaust
themselves walking in areas where only shepherds ventured to rescue their
sheep. At this time Ambleside people had little time for
recreation. Dancing and sports could only be enjoyed when there were
quiet periods in the farming year. In July people gathered to watch the
wrestling at the Ambleside sports and in September
music drifted across the valleys as people danced to celebrate the end of
the harvest. These were exciting events, but at the end of the day it
was back to work. Probably not
until the 1950s could local people have the type of holiday that the 18th
century tourist had enjoyed.
1800 most children were treated as small adults. Children from
poorer families were expected to work. In Ambleside boys worked as
farm labourers and girls as servants in the big houses. Many
children were living in dirty, slum housing. In these conditions
children quickly became ill and died. Almost every child in
Ambleside would have experienced the death of a brother or sister.
In the first six months of 1835 four babies, a seven year old, a six year
old and a fifteen year old, Agnes Preston, died. During the reign of
Queen Victoria children began to enjoy better lives. Laws were
passed which stopped young children working and encouraged their parents
to send them to school. By the 1930s children were able to enjoy
their childhood. They had time to play and could meet in the
recreation field at White Platts, go on bike rides into the Langdales and
swim in the lakes and tarns. In the year 2000 children might not be
allowed to go swimming in the lakes or for lone bike rides but they do
have access to free education, health care and a huge range of clubs and
IN AMBLESIDE "School holiday, oh boy! All go.
Haymaking for Mr Faulkner. Rides on the hay carts and
horses..." Alan Capstick - My Youth and Years After, 1991
YEARS "The custom of the school is to set apart Thursday
for writing and accounts. Children are not admitted until they can
read words of two syllables..." Charity Commission Report, 1815
1723 John Kelsick, a local grocer, left money in his will for a school for
boys. They were taught reading, writing, accounts, Latin and Greek. It was
a good school and some boys went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge.
same opportunities were not available for girls. Two schools opened in
1807 and 1852 but the girls were taught how to do housework rather than
academic subjects like their brothers at the Kelsick school. Parents also
had to pay for their girls to attend these schools and only the rich could
afford the fees. Before
1870, many children did not go to school at all. This was because they
needed to work to help support their families. In 1891 the law was changed
so that all children had to go to school. A
Victorian schoolchild in Ambleside would have attended the Church school
until the age of twelve. Teaching was basic, classes large and discipline
strict. Very few children had access to secondary education. From 1908 the
most gifted children could compete for a free place at the Kelsick Grammar
School but not until 1965 could all Ambleside children attend a local
the Lake District it was quickly
discovered that only sheep
could survive on the fells. In
medieval times most people wore woollen clothing and
consequently there was
a great demand for wool.
Around Ambleside the fells were cleared of trees to make
more land available for sheep. This land was
divided between rich
landowners and monasteries who kept vast flocks of sheep and made huge
amounts of money from selling wool.
Henry VIII’s decision to dissolve the monasteries changed the landscape.
By the 1550s most of their land had been divided into small farms, owned
or rented by local people. In
the eighteenth century farming experienced a boom time with many farmers
increasing their wealth by 70%. However, the prosperity of these
farmers was not to last, soon the
price of wool fell and the
number of farms reduced as land was sold for building.
sheep farming has been in decline. The price of wool has always
fluctuated but today farmers are facing severe financial difficulties,
even before the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic. In 1999 a local farmer
could expect to receive about 10p per fleece. It is difficult to say
if there will be any sheep left on the
at the end of the 21st century.
the head of these dales was found a perfect republic for
shepherds..." William Wordsworth - Guide to the Lakes, 1835
never got a nice padded seat in a bobbin mill, just an up-turned hard log
and a few sacks for cushions." Jim Dixon "Our
Cumbria", recorded by Jack Gillespie, 1989
hundred and fifty years
ago the area around the
river Stock shook with the sound of watermills. The street next to the
river was so
noisy it was known
as Rattle Ghyll. In
the 14th century the mills were used to grind corn but when this became
unprofitable, they were converted into fulling mills. These mills
scoured, cleaned and
thickened woollen cloth to make it
hard wearing. When the wool
trade collapsed in the 1840s, the mills were put to other uses.
up the river, near Stock Ghyll waterfall, a bobbin mill was opened.
Here wooden bobbins were made in a variety of shapes and sizes to hold
cotton and silk thread. the bobbin mill ran successfully until after World
War II when plastic products replaced wooden bobbins.
closing of the bobbin mill did not mean the end of industry in
Ambleside. Companies continued to set up businesses on the outskirts
of the town. In the 1970s Marathon Knitwear
the toy company Fisher Price opened factories at Fisherbeck. These
companies have now gone but small cottage industries, Hayes nursery and
the Kirkstone quarry
to employ many local people.
1781 Ambleside was a small town. There were a few shops but the goods they
sold were practical rather than exciting. This all changed with the
arrival of tourists who wanted to buy the same goods that they bought in
their own towns and cities. To
meet tourists’ demands Ambleside became a building site for much of the
Victorian period. A row of shops known as ‘Central Buildings’ was
built near the Salutation Hotel and shops and lodging houses (B&Bs)
were built along Compston and Lake Roads. Tourism
may have led to this building boom, but the new shops were also useful to
local people as well as to tourists. There were fishmongers, toy shops,
florists, ladies’ and men’s outfitters, bakers and chemists.
Ambleside does not have such a wide range of shops. Supermarket shopping
and the development of shops specifically for tourists have changed
Ambleside. In a town where 24% of households do not own a car, it is not
surprising that some Ambleside residents are nostalgic for the past.
|GROWTH OF AMBLESIDE "The
tide of prosperity has set again into Ambleside, and its builders are
busy..." Mary Louisa Armitt - Ambleside Town and Chapel, 1906
|| By the late 18th century the landscape of the Lake
District had assumed an almost mythic quality as a place of solitude, peace and
fabled beauty. Writers, artists, scholars, naturalists and sportsmen were
drawn to the area to live and work, then, following fashion, the tourists
arrived. The Lake District attracted and held some remarkable
talents: William Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey, Robert Southey, John Ruskin,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Beatrix Potter,
all of whom are now household names. But there were others, less
well-known now, but who made a profound impact in their day: the economist Harriet
Martineau, the leading pioneer of education Charlotte Mason, the gifted Arnolds,
the historian G.M. Trevelyan, the politician
W.E. Forster, Canon
Rawnsley (co-founder of the National Trust) and the learned Armitt
sisters after one of whom, Mary Louisa Armitt, Ambleside's Museum and
Armitt Library is named.
An astounding array of artists has produced work
inspired by the natural landscape and people of the Lake District, notably: T L Aspland, Ophelia Bell, the Collingwood
family, Alfred Heaton Cooper, Julian
Heaton Cooper, William Heaton Cooper, William
Green, Beatrix Potter, William Payne, JB Pyne, Kurt
Schwitters, J W M Turner, Josefina de Vasconcellos,
James Walton and Fred Yates. This community of letters also drew some distinguished
visitors to the Lakes, amongst them John Bright, Charlotte Brontё, Thomas Carlyle,
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Gaskell, and the American President Woodrow Wilson.
"From Wansfell you look down upon the richly watered
garden of the land ... a glorious region of which I have only seen the
similitude in dreams, waking or sleeping." - Charlotte
Ambleside Market Cross ] [
Development of Roads
] [ Rushbearing ]