Our home, Damson Cottage, is situated on the elevated height above Crosthwaite Green at the Starnthwaite/Crook junction. We get a great view of the comings and goings in the centre of our village and in the first week of virus lockdown notable changes happened. We are used to cars, farm vehicles and delivery vans driving past, quite speedily and sometimes, if we are out and about in the garden, walkers and cyclists shout hello as they swiftly pass through.
In mid March the weather changed. After what had seemed like months of daily heavy rain and cold weather, Spring started… just as we realised we needed to stay close to home. People kept a good broom distance apart (much more actually), but neighbours came out into the sunshine, dog walkers dawdled and said hello and the foot traffic increased as the vehicle traffic declined. It struck me that in some ways this must have been how our village might have been in the first part of the last century.
In those days there would have been occasional motor vehicles, the milk collection and animal feed lorries as well as carters out of Kendal that passed, but mostly it would be local farmers, horses and people using Crosthwaite Green.
We have a picture from around a hundred years ago of what looks like a meeting of trail hounds with carts and trade implements parked untidily around the green. It was very much a working and social environment in those days and had been for centuries before this. There are records of the road from Kendal to Ulverston through Crosthwaite from Roman times. Roman roads are often described as straight. This was largely true but ‘direct’ is a better adjective. This explains why a road exists that is more or less as the crow flies from Kendal to Ulverston via Newby Bridge.
In the 17th and early 18th century Kendal had become the local marketing centre for the woollen trade and was served by numerous packhorse routes. The route to Ulverston followed the old Roman way through Underbarrow, Crosthwaite and up Strawberry Bank to Gummers How and then Newby Bridge. The bottom of the Lyth and Winster valleys towards the bay were as yet undrained and ‘foul swamps’ made this land virtually impassable so a route to Furness through Crosthwaite was important for trade.
Packhorses were a flexible and reliable form of transport, but very slow. The ponies were bred for purpose and often came from Galloway in Scotland. The county gave the breed its name. At its height, around 1700, there were more than 20 regular trains of packhorses moving trade in all directions out of Kendal. They would gather in yards of the old inns on Highgate very early in the morning. Ye Olde Fleece is one that still exists in town today.
Each train of horses could comprise up to 30 animals and they were capable of carrying loads up to 1cwt (100kg) each. The train would leave Kendal and stop for refreshments in villages along the route. I would speculate that The Punchbowl Inn and The Masons Arms would have been late morning stops for dinner. Travel was slow along the maintained road, which would rarely have been more than 4 feet wide. This was just wide enough for the panniers each horse carried. It must have been very hard work for even these sturdy and strong animals. The modern tourist map shows sixteen steep inclines between Kendal and Newby Bridge, though at least the steepest hill has a pub halfway up it!
The village of Crosthwaite would then just have been a linear cluster of farm houses and barns with a few family homes with trades that supported farming in the valleys. The packhorses coming through around lunchtime must have been an exciting sight for children and villagers and doubtless news would have have been exchanged and small packages traded on the route back into Kendal.
I’m guessing that Kendal’s famous woven cloth and partly or wholly finished leather goods would have been carried out of Kendal to the valleys and on to Ulverston. Probably documents and letters too as well as other household goods. Coming back into Kendal would be wool fleeces from farms in the area. It would seem likely that from side valleys like the Gilpin, farmers and their wives would meet the packhorses in areas like Crosthwaite Green. Maybe butter, cheese and eggs would be carried back into town as well as fleeces. There must have been some seasonality to this and I doubt that in the short winter days the train would have made it from Kendal to Ulverston in one go, though they were capable of 20 miles or so in a day. The Masons Arms at Strawberry Bank is the obvious half way house.
From a commercial perspective these times were probably the most important for our road through Underbarrow, Crosthwaite and Bowland Bridge. The age after packhorses was the age of the wheel and with its mountains and undulations, our road was much less suitable for wheels than animal’s hooves. The period of turnpike mania started in the mid 18th century and early attempts to follow the pack horse zig zags around Underbarrow and up Strawberry Bank proved dangerous indeed.
That might be a story for another day. In the meantime I have enjoyed reflecting on a slower pace of life and the comings and goings on Crosthwaite Green over the centuries. In so many ways our forebears were not so different to us. If we put aside cell phones and iPads we still enjoy a hello, a chat and a gossip with our neighbours and fellow travellers – at brush length of course.
In the second month of lockdown at our cottage on Crosthwaite Green we seem to spend quite a lot of time directing delivery vehicles to homes around the village and farms beyond. We don’t mind a jot and this has reminded me of former times when our road was so important in connecting people around and beyond our lovely valleys.
Until the 1730’s the foot and hoof was the only way both goods and people moved through England. Other than roads close to London, the tracks were not good enough for wheeled vehicles to be used over longer distances and it took the coming of industry to change this. The age of the Turnpike was the next 100 years, when along with canal building, road improvement was king and Turnpike Mania was rampant throughout the land. The age of rail ended this -but that wasn’t to be for another hundred years, in the 1830s.
Our communities had previously been linked by the pack horse routes, and I wrote last month of the very significant one passing through Crosthwaite, over Gummers How and on to Ulverston.
The pack horse routes were designed for carrying mainly agricultural goods and food, but with the advent of new technologies and the discovery of rich mineral seams in the area, the great inventors and innovators of the era had an incentive to think of better and more efficient means of communication and transport, as the old routes became inadequate. The ports of Whitehaven and Lancaster were at that time amongst the biggest in the land, and the increasing flow of exotic goods in and out of them needed a better transport infrastructure to distribute goods to and from them.Whilst there was a need for development of better roads, the mosses of the Lyth valley were still undrained and this made tracks down the south of the valleys virtually impassable for most of the year. From the south traffic into Furness and West Cumberland was ‘over the sands’ with the delays and dangers of tide and weather always present.
Inevitably the drive for a new turnpike linking ‘Lancashire over the sands’ with the rest of England was commercially driven. The aristocratic families who owned the land sensed they could make return on their capital and their surveyors sniffed out valuable minerals.
Rich seams of iron ore had been discovered in Low Furness and further north, the west Cumberland Georgian towns of Whitehaven and Workington were growing as ports and industrial centres. The original pack horse routes linked market towns, but the growth of new industries explains why the 1763 turnpike act which improved the road through our valleys extended beyond Ulverston to Kirkby Ireleth on the Duddon estuary, but misses out the market town of Dalton, then the most significant in Furness.
Sir James Lowther and Lord Cavendish were amongst the leading trustees and each had strong commercial interests in it’s success. Each must have had a really good nose for sniffing out new trade routes and the affluence of both families was significantly extended by using this talent in entrepreneurship.
There were three acts of parliament that relate to the road and the need for these can be partly explained by the terrain through which our road passes. Initially no attempt was made to re route the existing pack horse route. This meant the same zigzags that were useful for ponies carrying loads up hill were maintained and the direct route over fells and through valleys was unchanged.
The ways that Toll Roads worked is that capital was provided by the trustees to widen and improve the road, build bridges and improve the surface (techniques of road building were still at this stage unchanged for centuries). Toll cottages were built to collect traffic fees and the income provided used to maintain the roads and pay dividends to the trustees.
Our road had four toll houses. The toll house at Underbarrow Scar is still very prominent and the 1763 date evident above its door. Elsewhere tolls were collected at Penny Bridge and further west at Lindal and Tytup. Records show the Underbarrow income around a steady £80 per year but the western tolls were substantially larger as traffic increased and routes improved. It is difficult to convert income from this period into current day value but £80 would today be a minimum £150,000 and possibly have a current buying power of around £1,000,000.
Despite this, our road through the two valleys was not so successful. The route up Strawberry bank and down to Newby Bridge was very dangerous and wagons regularly overturned, horses bolted and people were injured. Heavy goods could not be transported over this terrain and our 1763 turnpike had little impact on traffic across the sands.
An intermediate solution was to re route from Bowland Bridge through Witherslack but It was still a really hard pull up the hill out of Witherslack. The route went past St Paul’s in Witherslack and the vicar of the time, Rev FRC Hutton reports, “ the mail coach came after the packhorses and the farmer at Kay Moss made a good living by keeping a team of horses to drag them up the hill’. Nearby Spa house was then an inn that provided sustenance and accommodation for travellers.
Undoubtedly this improved the safety of the road, but it was a circuitous way round and did not make a material difference to its prosperity. Sections were still described as ‘mountainous track which beggar description’.
The third act of parliament which impacted and finally made ‘our road’ redundant as a mainstream route came in 1818. Following the Heversham Award in 1815 the new owners of enclosed land had the incentive to improve agricultural productivity by draining the mosses. This act allowed significant re routing, bridging and drainage of the Levens Bridge to Pool Bridge area. Worked commenced rapidly on a new turnpike. This road was laid over a bed of juniper twigs sourced from Whitbarrow. It was opened in 1820 and was an immediate success. Tolls taken at the western toll booths immediately trebled.
It was soon reported that the old turnpike road through Crosthwaite and Bowland Bridge was now deserted and had grass growing in the middle of it. Although ‘our road’ continued to serve the local parishes well for the next two hundred years it has possibly taken an epidemic that has kept us at home and delivery by those vans from Amazon, Asda and others to make it a proper commercial thoroughfare again.
Various Internet articles
Roads and Tracks of the Lake District, Paul Hindle, Cicerone.
We will no doubt remember the glorious Spring of 2020 for many things, but it was the Spring we all stayed at home in our own parishes. Few of us ventured into town, and only then when it was essential. In our village, Crosthwaite, people walked alone and in small family groups close to home. But we also revisited the public footpaths and tracks around our area. I did the same, and then when we started getting home deliveries and a pop up shop appeared for food, it struck me how our way of life was reverting to how it might have been before the extensive use of motor transport began in the middle of the last century. This prompted me to explore the paths and cart tracks of our parish much more closely and to ponder how they would have been used pre- motorisation. One of the joys has been sharing stories with the people you come across on these travels and it has been a delight for me to hear the recollections of some older folk.
If you look at maps of our area from around one hundred years ago many of the tracks that are currently marked as footpaths or bridleways were busy and essential roads at that time. They would mostly have been used by carts drawn by horses. Wagons with two axles might have travelled on the main roads from Kendal or Ulverston but almost all other traffic would have been horse and cart.
These are predominantly agricultural valleys, and since the mosses were drained and thus became productive agricultural land in the 1820’s, transport routes were about connecting fields and farms to facilitate the commercial life of the time. Arable cropping of oats and root crops on the lowlands was complimented by mixed livestock farming on pastures closer to the farmsteads.In Crosthwaite, a routine circular route was the ‘muck carting’ route down to the arable fields and return journey, this time stacked with dried peat. You can trace this busy route down what was known as Holmes Lane through Moss Side Farm to Cock Moss. If you do this you will note that what is today a delightful but overgrown footpath was clearly, not so long ago, an important road. So important, in fact, that just north of Cock Moss the old road is clear as it rises to allow room for an elaborate creep gate allowing free travel of livestock between fields. Whilst sheep creeps are fairly commonplace this bigger type is normally only seen on country estates.
Cock Moss itself is a fascinating traffic hub. It is a four way island with two once important named roads, Holmes Road and Savin Hill Rd connecting the Cock Moss fields with the once important toll road across the Lyth Valley as well as a drovers path across to what is now the Lyth Valley Hotel.
The predecessor of the Lyth Valley hotel was a hostelry directly across the road called the Plough Inn. At that time, inns were often sited at key points on regular routes, and it is thought that in this case sheep and cattle reared in the Lake District were driven across the mosses at this point, as it was the first dry and safe passing place going eastwards. Drovers would eat, drink and sleep at the inn before moving on.
Of course these tracks were used for purposes other than agricultural ones. Although the valleys were fairly self contained having their own grain and fulling mills, as well as blacksmiths, tailors, glaziers, woodcutters and carpenters, the local population was not entirely self sufficient. Carters would travel out of Kendal bringing goods that previously a travelling salesmen might have charmed a farmer’s wife into buying. They would take back into Kendal the partly finished leather and cloth goods that out workers in the villages were contracted to make. I was told in my travels recently by an older farmer that the reason why K shoes soles had a K marking on the leather was not just branding. The K was applied before the high quality leather was sent to the outworker and it prevented him from substituting it for inferior quality material. The last of the Kendal carters was replaced by motorised transport just before WW2.
Amongst my ‘lockdown’ wandering I have many times walked up to to Hubbersty Head along Head Lane which is now nothing more than a delightful, albeit rocky path. I’ve also pushed back the vegetation to walk up Church Lane from Crosthwaite Mill. The romantic in me has visualised these paths in a ‘Lark Rise to Candleford‘ sort of way, a bucolic picture of young maids in summer frocks and farm boys wearing their Sunday clothes and clutching prayer books, skipping along the path to church. Doubtless Jane Austen would have the young ladies making eyes at the handsome new curate as he delivered his sermon! Whilst these tracks were undoubtedly used as footpaths, it has become clear to me that there main purpose was as trades and transport route.
The new carters of Kendal are unquestionably the delivery vans bearing the livery of Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s or Asda. For many of us they have provided an invaluable service this fine Spring. I wonder in one hundred years whether they will be as fondly remembered for using our highways and byways as their predecessors.
During our Springtime lock down I occasionally exercised by cycling down the Lyth Valley road to Sampool Bridge and back up to Crosthwaite. For three months I rarely saw a car. This is normally a busy tourist road and is the most significant road in our parish linking, as it does, the A590 with Bowness.
The map to the right is dated around 1890 and clearly demonstrates that Lyth Lane, as it was known, was clearly not so dominant in those pre motoring times. Indeed it probably wasn’t even the most significant highway in Crosthwaite parish. Running parallel to Lyth Lane were two roads, Holme Road and Savin Hill Road equally prominent and important as they accessed the fertile plain and moss grounds of the valley.
Dozens of new roads were created in the early years of the 19th century when areas of Westmorland were enclosed. This was true in our parish where enclosures in 1805 and 1820 materially changed the farming nature of the valley for the first time since the Middle Ages.
Professional surveyors were employed to divide up the land amongst the various landowners and in the process they often redrew the landscape including the roads.
A feature of enclosure landscapes is the constant width of the roads- they were often laid out at a width of 40 or 50 feet. This was much wider than the current strip of tarmac running down the centre or the cart track that might predate them. On Lyth Lane from Hyning Brow right through the valley you can see dry stone walls either side of the current roadway. The width was to allow travellers to divert around obstructions on pre tar-macadam days without damaging crops beyond the wall.
Prior to enclosing the Lyth Road the track that predated it would meander to connect the farmsteads nestling into the side of the valley and the hamlets of Row and The Howe. It is quite likely that in early Victorian times the valley was at least as populated then as it is today, but traffic on these lanes would have been local and mostly on foot, horseback or pony and cart. Very few people from outside would have thought of venturing into our valleys other than itinerant craftsmen and commercial travellers. Certainly until the advent of railway few people from outside would view the Lake District as a place to tour.
William Pearson, the 19th century naturalist, and Crosthwaite parishioner from Borderside, left an excellent chronicle of the growing importance of Lyth Lane in his journals and I have drawn on these for this account.
Pearson reports that early in the century the Lane was only used by farmers in their ‘vulgar occupations ‘ of carting home hay, corn, peat and lime. It was a backwater road of little significance.
Writing in 1844 Pearson writes of the growth of Bowness as a tourist destination.
‘..it has swelled from a very small village into a town to be visited by milk carts morning and evening, and it has shops….and five or six taverns, two of them dignified by the name of Hotels’.
By 1837 it was possible to travel by train from London to Manchester and Liverpool. Shorter sections of railway were built north of these, but these did not join up to form a direct train line to Windermere until a decade later. In this era it was common for richer folk, enthused by the romance of the lakeland poets, to make excursions. These might be initially by train, but the journey to the lakes was completed by other means. Some might use the steam packet on the Preston to Kendal canal and others would hire a horse drawn carriage and use the best road route they could.
Pearson takes a rather proprietorial and haughty tone when he blames the change of character in Lyth Lane on the new fashion of richer folk travelling to take in the scenery of the lakes from Bowness.
‘The whole length of the road from the Bridge Inn to Bowness has been widened and improved to allow an easier and shorter transit to tourists- those birds of passage that visit our lakes and mountains’.
In truth, local people had things to both complain about and marvel at as the impact of the industrial revolution changed our valleys. Pearson wrote to the editor of the Westmorland Gazette about these. He was rather sneering in reporting the changed nature of Lyth Lane.
‘…at all hours of the day, the chaise, the gig, the barouche, and every fashionable vehicle might be seen passing along’.
This new traffic was clearly fascinating for the younger natives of the parish who delighted in the spectacle.
’What a pleasure to the postillion, in his smart cap and yellow jacket, and to the rustic maiden to see and be seen’..
The novelty soon wore off for locals however and most of Pearson’s letter to the Kendal newspaper was to complain on behalf of local landowners and tenants that it was they who had to bear the cost of widening, walling and maintaining the new road. The new gentry who used it paid ‘ not a farthing’ for the benefit. He concludes his letter rather sarcastically..
‘why grudge the expense of making good roads for the gentlemen? Though you have not an inn where they can stop and spend their money ; are you not paid well enough in the honour of their passing through your beggarly township?’
He goes on to lament the changes since his school days when he would loiter in the shade provided by the trees on the Lane, and steal eggs from the linnet and sparrow’s nests in the luxuriant thorn hedges.Pearson concludes…
‘Lyth Lane! Though art changed – metamorphosed’.
Quite what Pearson would have thought about subsequent changes that turned his Lyth Lane into a part of the Automobile Association’s Route 769 can only be guessed at.
In the age of the motor car and the charabanc the Lyth Valley became part of a touring route. The AA Road book advised a route which travels from Preston to Ambleside. Lyth Lane now becomes part of the A5074 a 15 mile stretch of a 96 mile route that enters the lakes ‘with some good views of Lake Windermere and surrounding mountains’.
The changes in the first half of the 20th century brought some opportunities for our parish. At the south of the valley the Gilpin inn became a popular spot for coach tour breaks and the garage at Sampool serviced the needs of the motorist. The Lyth Valley Hotel replaced the more traditional Plough Inn in the 1930’s and was typical of a new style of large public house built mostly for motorists.
In recent years produce has been sold from our valleys to passing motorists on Lyth Lane. Daffodils by the bunch, damsons and apples by the pound and at Dawson Fold one of Westmorland’s earliest farm shops.
Perhaps sadly Lyth Lane as a name, like so many other names of older roads in our area, seem to have fallen out of favour. My late neighbour, John Hallas, talked to me of Hyning Brow as part of the A5074 but few others seem to use the old names.
Maybe those of us who are relative newcomers to Crosthwaite should reflect on this and start to learn and use them… and perhaps learn some field names too ! Aargh that’s another thought and perhaps an idea for another day.
The traffic is slowly coming back to the A5074. It has been a timely pause to reflect on its history and why it is there at all.
Letters, Papers and Journals of William Pearson, Hayloft Press.
Roads and Tracks of the Lake District, Paul Hindle, cicerone.
AA Road Book of England and Wales 1950.
Various Internet articles.
Martin Douglas June 2020.