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.
They hang the man and flog the woman
Who steals the geese from off the common
Yet let the greater villains loose
That steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.
English Nursery Rhyme c.1820
According to our local chronicler William Pearson, there was a resident of Crosthwaite he named as ‘Richard’. Richard might have sung this rhyme as he went about his business in the parish. According to Pearson, who knew Richard as an old man, he carried the injustice of the enclosure of the common land in our parish with him to every village meeting of the time. Richard became such a persistent complainer that ‘the room became too hot for him, and he retired with his pot of ale into a side parlour, to brood over the absurdity of mankind’. Richard roared his objections to the removal of his birthright and he was known by the nickname ‘Richard the Lion heart ‘.
What Richard objected to was the removal of his common right to cut and dry peat from the mosses of the Lyth Valley and to utilise that peat to warm his house during the cold winter months.
The Lancaster Canal was opened in the 1830s. It was known as 'the black and white canal' because it connected the coalfields of Lancashire with South Lakeland. From Kendal it carried quarried limestone south and returned with coal. Before this there would rarely be coal in the Lyth Valley. However peat was deep and plentiful in the common land below Crosthwaite. This land was flooded all winter but come Spring was a hive of activity as villagers including Richard, cut the fuel to dry.
An older resident of our parish told me recently of the muck and peat tracks, traces of which can still be seen in the valley. Prior to the Act of Parliament that became the Heversham Award in 1815, it was common practice to graze cattle, geese and sheep on land at the sides and the head of the valley. The manure that collected would be transported to the mosses to fertilise the soils there for a short grazing season. One such clockwise route was down Head Lane from Hubbersty Head, then down towards St Mary’s Church and Holme Lane to the cross roads at Cock Moss. Close to here the manure would be deposited and exchanged for partially dried cut peat. The peat would then be carted in a one way system up the drovers road to where the Plough Inn was on Lyth Lane and back up to Hubbersty Head. Doubtless there were some days when the Plough Inn provided liquid refreshment. It was thirsty work leading peat and muck.
These habits all changed when the mosses were drained and land was reallocated following the Enclosure Acts of the early 19th century.
What ‘enclosure’ did was to divide land that commoners previously had the right to use into plots of varying sizes. These plots were then available to fence off, or more usually in these parts divide by dry stone walls. Individuals could then buy the land by application to a committee of commissioners whose role it was to allocate as they saw fit. The successful applicant normally then had to find the means to enclose his allotment and often to improve it by draining and liming. All of this required capital that the ordinary commoner didn’t have. Much of the available land was taken by existing land owners (often the big estates of the landed gentry), or was very quickly sold off to them after allocation when the new owner realised he didn’t have the means to develop his allotment. These were often sold off cheaply as the buyers were few and the sellers many. The commissioners who oversaw the process were sometimes either already in the employment of the gentry or indebted to them, so the process was often unfair to the common man.
There had been small scale enclosures of land during the 18th century but a very significant national general Enclosure Act was passed in Parliament in 1801 that then opened the way for local people to apply to parliament for enclosures in their own areas. The general Act was therefore an enabler that opened the opportunity for many hundreds of other Acts of Parliament that changed land ownership and farm structure in the most fundamental way since man ceased being a hunter gatherer.
An act was passed in 1805 that enclosed some parcels of land around the village of Crosthwaite and up the Gilpin valley north. A much more significant Act of Parliament was one that resulted in the Heversham Award. This was passed by Parliament in 1815. At that time Crosthwaite and Lyth were divisions of the ecclesiastical parish of Heversham and the awards of land were made under the parish name.
This made a profound difference to the area and by 1821 the shape of farming and land ownership in this valley was set for the next hundred years. It was probably the most impactful activity on the environment in these parts since the end of the ice age.
There are at least two, and mostly opposing, views about the parliamentary Acts of Enclosure.
It has become common for the left leaning to simply describe these as a land grab by the rich who, using their influence and powers, stole away the land rights of the common man and, in doing so, perpetrated an act of social engineering so profound that it forced the working man into a position of permanent subservience.
The opposite view is that food production was so inefficient and opportunities for improvement essential to feed a rapidly growing population. Land reforms were essential to utilise the technology and knowledge that was available. The ensuing agricultural revolution fed the population during the industrial revolution, and was one reason that Britain became a leading world power.
This article is to examine which of these perspectives is the more credible, in particular in relation to our local parish of Crosthwaite and Lyth. I wondered whether there was truth in both perspectives. I will explain how the impact of enclosure varied between upland counties like Westmorland and the larger tracts of arable land in the lowlands of the east, south and midlands. The research I have made for this article changed some of my opinions and, I acknowledge that as an agriculturalist my conclusions may be influenced by this discipline.
Since the Middle Ages land in England was almost exclusively owned by the church or the aristocracy. Although the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII reduced the holdings of the church in favour of the aristocrats, the church, barons and lords of the manor were still the enablers through which allocations of land were made to commoners. They also were the vehicle through which disputes were resolved and in return tithes were extracted. Almost all rural dwellers would work some land under the ridge and furrow open field system and pay a tithe to the church or manorial Lord for the privilege.
In either addition or substitute, large tracts of land were held ‘in common’ and were the places where families would graze sheep, cattle and geese and horses. Often pigs and hens would be kept close to the home and these would be fed on food waste and a little corn. These very mixed, but very primitive farmers would seek to grow enough food for their family needs. If there was surplus meat, eggs or milk this could be traded for basic household goods.
Nearly everyone lived in the countryside and parish settlements would often be much more dispersed than they are today. The population of our valleys would be little changed today from around 300 years ago. Market towns, like Kendal, with a few thousand inhabitants would draw on the local area for food and maybe land from a radius of 10 miles around them would have to feed this small urban town.
The first turnpike roads in Westmorland were not built until around 1760 and prior to that the valleys were connected by bridle paths and all goods would have to be carried on the back of pack horses. (See here for more information on the old pack horse route). The orchards and commons of Lyth were the market garden of Westmorland and weekly trips to trade in the market in Kendal, across the mosses and up the road from Brigsteer would have been routine for many folk in Crosthwaite and Lyth.
This system worked, to a degree, but was very open to the vagaries of the weather or disease. A poor harvest or lame cow would spell real distress for families that could not be rectified in the short term. It was also very inefficient way to grow food. In upland areas like Westmorland there was much more common land, than ridge and furrow open field cultivation. There was no control over grazing rights and in a competitive situation an individual would overgraze the land and leave it infertile. This meant that stock grew more slowly and less efficiently and their numbers would decline.
In the majority of our parish much of the land was unproductive anyway.
Whitbarrow covered a significant area and although its eastern slopes were fertile and had good grazing, most of the rest was very thin soil over the limestone on open fell. The valley bottom between Lyth and Brigsteer down to what is now Levens and Foulshaw was common land but undrained and infertile because it was covered in peat and moss. When it drained in the summer months parishioners would graze geese, sheep, horses and cattle here, but the season was short and left the land eroded and depleted.
In Spring, as soon as the weather dried, the commoners in the parish headed for what they called the Whamp’s Nest (Wasp’s Nest), a part of the moss where the peat was deepest and of best quality. Cutting the peat was a frantic and competitive activity and it was a case of first come best served. Numerous quarrels ensued but the right of parishioners to take and dry their winter fuel was not disputed.
It was also reported that, in areas like Crosthwaite, where common land was grazed, there would often be bullying with strong people bullying weaker ones for the best grazing. So, although this system was one where the labourer had rights to land, it was one which was neither fair nor productive.
In Westmorland some small scale evolution of land rights had evolved during the 16th and 17th century. Small holdings had been granted to individuals through either patronage or because they had rendered a service and could afford small rents. A new class of individual, above the common labourer but well below the gentry, appeared.
Occasionally he would require sufficient means to purchase a small holding. This was the Yeoman farmer or as he was called in these parts the ‘Statesman‘. William Pearson was probably exceptional, but nonetheless an example of this. In the early 19th century, as a bright but younger son of a small valley farmer, he left home in the Lyth Valley to work in banking in Manchester. Over 20 years he saved and lived frugally whilst slowly acquiring the means to buy a small farm back in his home parish. This is how the Pearson family originally acquired Borderside in the parish.
The small holdings, rented or owned, nestled into the valley sides and would begin the farming style that we can still recognise in the valley today. This pattern of farming that was therefore beginning to emerge prior to the large scale enclosure Acts of the early 19th century.
Further north in the county and, importantly, prior to the large enclosure acts, the landed gentry were very aware of the opportunities opening up as land management was changing.
The Industrial revolution in our country is roughly concurrent with the agricultural revolution of which the Enclosures Acts were a significant enabler. Around 1775 Britain’s first factories were established and a combination of factors led to a rapid expansion of intensive industry. An impact of this was the growth of urban areas, new towns and cities and a movement of labour from the countryside to the towns.
Several factors contributed to make this happen, some pushing labour out of the countryside and others pulling it to work in town, this is not the place to explore this in detail, but it was a trend clearly identified by two of Westmorland’s great aristocratic families. The Earls of Lonsdale of Lowther were already busy, building the port and town of Whitehaven, progressing their mining interests, and building their great house. The other aristocratic family actually resided in Kent and were absentee land owners in Westmorland. The influence of the Earls of Thanet in Westmorland was purely down to inherited wealth. They had inherited the Clifford properties that had their base at Appleby Castle.
Both of these families recognised that the demand for food in towns would soon outstrip supply, prices would rise and that, with enclosure in prospect, land values and agricultural output would increase. Their visions and entrepreneurship were, in their time, no different from how the great global corporations operate today. They saw opportunity and began to buy land in order to grow their estates. In our upland area this again gave some chance for some people to farm in their own right, although, of course, as output from these rented farms increased so did the rents payable to the aristocrats.
If we look at a snapshot of land ownership and farming in Westmorland in the late 18th century we can see that already it looks very different from the lowland counties in the midlands, south and eastern England.
In northern upland counties there were huge tracts of unimproved land that either flooded and was waterlogged for much of the year, or in upland areas was inaccessible. Growing seasons were so short that moving stock onto the fells was a limited practice. Farming was then either carried out as it had been since feudal times on the parish commons or increasingly on the sides of valleys. There was not yet a great clamour for enclosure as there had been ‘down south’.
I will digress a little to explain how distinct Westmorland and a few other northern counties were in this respect from the much larger land masses of the lowlands further east and south.
Elsewhere it was clear that the prevailing ridge and furrow open field system, that would just about feed small communities from common land would never be able to feed a rapidly growing urban population. The land was becoming exhausted with over stocking and there were no controls and little agricultural advance that addressed this. Some field systems were established that left land fallow for a period to recover, but this clearly took land out of production so was not widely practised. In any case strip sizes were too small for rotation.
Other European countries had similar problems and particularly in Holland and Belgium some science was being applied. In Holland they discovered that by growing turnips and planting clover then a rotation of crops could be established that would both introduce a new nutritious feed for livestock and also return nitrogen to the soil as the clover had ‘miraculous’ nodules that were able to ‘fix’ nitrogen as it was growing.
The problem in adapting these practices in England was that for the most part we were still feudal. The common field system did not permit the planting of turnips as they interrupted access to the land, and in any case, they could be grazed by other people’s stock.
Several aristocratic landowners began talking together and agreed the advantages of ‘enclosing’ land. They began the not too difficult task of persuading their MPs. They were often parliamentarians themselves or very close to those who were. They were supported by the King. King George III was not known as Farmer George for nothing. Of course, the Tory politicians needed little persuading as they were nearly all aristocrats themselves and a number of Acts of Parliament were passed that enclosed large tracts of land in the south of England and midlands in the late 18th century.
This allowed the forward thinking and technologically advanced landowners to increase crop yields and livestock growth. Viscount Charles Townsend invented the ‘Norfolk four course‘ system of rotation, Robert Bakewell transformed the breeding of cattle and sheep by selecting traits that were desirable for meat breeds. Other aristocratic families with a keen interest in the science of Agriculture, the Earls of Leicester and Duke of Bedford, led this revolution. This was the Age of Enlightenment. Knowledge and science were beginning to supersede tradition and superstition.
The way enclosure worked in practice was that once an Act of Parliament was passed to enclose land, the commoner who had entitlement to strips of land under the common field system was allowed to purchase an equivalent parcel of land that then had to be enclosed, drained, fertilised and worked. The cost of enclosing the land, draining and liming it and then working it proved far too burdensome for many and the local aristocrat would then bid a small amount to purchase the allotment. It was the job of commissioners to set a fair price and arbitrate any disputes and they, of course, were appointed by the aristocrats. The commoner who had to sell his parcel of land cheaply would soon be unable to sustain a living as a labourer without the benefits he had previously enjoyed and would be forced to move his family into factory work in the city. The landowning aristocrats built up their estates further and in most cases were simply landlords of the land they bought.
Unquestionably acts of abuse were commonplace. There were both good and bad landlords. The land clearances on Scottish and Irish and some north of England estates, where families were ejected from their land and replaced by more profitable sheep or grouse moors, are clearly inhumane and indefensible. Much of this was perpetrated by absent English estate owners.
In other cases, in parts of lowland England, landowners set out to be benevolent and decent. Communities were established and benefited good quality buildings both individual and civic. Village halls and new churches were built and although this created a class of indentured people it is worth stating that in general the rural landowners compared favourably with factory owners or mine owners in this new capitalist world.
Irrespective of the way it was done and the impact this had on individuals what cannot be denied is that agricultural output of cereals, livestock products and fruit and vegetables improved rapidly. Food was more available and cheaper than it could otherwise have been and it allowed the rapid industrialisation of British cities and the expansion of empire.
This was done at the expense of the forcible removal of land rights from the common man and moved common assets away from people into the hands of capital.
In Westmorland things were slower moving and different. I have explained how the structure of rural society in Westmorland was markedly different from lowland England, particularly in the prevalence of customary tenures with rights effectively equal to freehold. It would not appear that parliamentary enclosure in Westmorland caused the large scale disappearance of small farms or that the workers became indentured labourers. Small owner occupied farms remained a characteristic feature of this area right through the nineteenth century. Although the starting point has been shown to be different here, I need to consider why resistance to what happened elsewhere was more successful here.
Between the 1760s and 1890s over 101,000 acres of Westmorland were enclosed under parliamentary act by 97 awards. Open field arable accounted for less than one percent of this and the remainder was common pasture. In the lowlands I have explained that this was the opposite. This is an important distinction.
In the late 18th century Cumbria preserved a distinctive rural social structure. Customary tenures of small farms were common and there was widespread access to land. Family labour was prevalent and diversification was possible into quarrying, woodland and droving. Between the mid seventeenth and mid eighteenth centuries yeomen in the county enjoyed modest prosperity to the point where, according to William Pearson, a clergyman at the time reported ‘The poor people in these parts are all gentry’.
Despite the expansion of the estates of Lonsdale and Thanet this meant that in Westmorland the customary tenants had considerable influence in initiating and sometimes preventing parliamentary enclosure.
The pressure on the common land caused by the advance of the droving trade disadvantaged everyone who used them but the small customary tenants probably suffered most. They therefore had ‘skin in the game‘.
When land was enclosed in the arable areas of England it was normal for allotments to be smaller than the acreages originally held in the opened fields. This was because of the need to deduct shares for the Lord of the manor and tithe owners (often the church). The reduction would at least partly be offset by the improved productivity. However in Westmorland the acts of enclosure often enabled additional land to be brought into production it was possible to increase the size of an individual’s land rights despite allocation of a proportion to institutions like the church or manorial lords.
In Crosthwaite and Lyth the Heversham Award offered the opportunity for the small farmer or commoner to add significantly to the acreage he already held as either common or customary tenure. Where the common land was unimproved open pasture, landowners would receive an allotment in addition to the land they already farmed and this could substantially increase the size of their property. It also allowed new entrants into farming.
The land in the Lyth Valley may not be unique, but it did offer an exceptional opportunity for improving the economic viability of farming in these parts. Until the sixteenth century the valley was an extension of Morecambe Bay with the sea tides taking sailing ships at least as far up the valley as Brigsteer. As the seas receded this left swampy, boggy ground through which for most of the year it was impossible to travel.
A sophisticated and extensive range of drainage channels, dykes, levees and pumping stations were needed to drain the land. New road building around Gilpin bridge would establish a long needed trunk road at the bottom of the valley and allowed both access to and from the valley.
The deep peat moss in the valley covered a marl layer. Marl is a rich layer of calcium carbonate, the remains of sea creatures left before the peat formed. When mixed with the fibrous peat and lime from the limekilns of Whitbarrow this produced a rich, fertile top soil. This was a marvellous addition to the productivity of Lyth. In the early days of enclosure, the land mostly grew cereals, mostly oats, which would then be fed to livestock. The land was kept healthy by rotating with turnip, mangold, grass pastures or potatoes. It made for big yields and good quality farming.
As already stated, the land commissioners were obliged when bringing new land into production to make awards to the traditional manorial lords. In Westmorland it was common for 1/16 of the land area to be given over in this way. Here Manorial allotments were often laid out on relatively high remote ground on the margins of townships to make it easier for the allotments of smaller landowners to be contiguous with or at least close to their existing lands. This seems an unusually reasonable practice. (I wonder if this is how Lord’s Lot got its name).
Deductions would also come from land awarded by the commissioners to churches, chapels, schools and private charities. You can see the evidence of this looking at the Heversham Awards where several of these institutions benefited from an allotment.
In addition to these deductions the enclosure commissioners sometimes sold parts of the commons to cover the public costs of enclosure, legal expenses, land surveying costs and the costs of the commissioners themselves. The Heversham Award had very high expenses associated with it and almost a third of the enclosed area was sold off in order to cover the expenses of draining and reclaiming the peat Moss. To their great advantage it was therefore not left to individual allotment owners to undertake this expensive and skilled work.
From today’s perspective this seems very far sighted and cheap. In a large tract of land like the 20,000 plus acres that were awarded here it is clearly far more efficient to engineer the reclaiming of this land as one unit rather than piecemeal.
The Heversham Award itself appears exceptional in nearly every sense. Throughout the period of enclosure acts in Westmorland the number of allocations made in each of the other individual acts by the commissioners in each case varies from 7 to 73.
The Heversham Award made 263 allocations averaging around 10 acres of over 800 allotments. It was a very big award indeed and also apparently a fairly democratic one benefiting the parishioners overall. Less than 10 percent of the parcels awarded were made to individuals who either sold out quickly because they had to, or sold out partially to use their capital to cover costs. So it would appear that few if any of the recipients of allotments were disadvantaged as a consequence of enclosure and there is no evidence of predatory behaviour by potential purchasers.
Elsewhere awards were made in Underbarrow in 1828, where 56 allocations were made of an average of 28 acres, and in Witherslack in 1829, where.23 allocations were made of an average of 27 acres. This would tend to support the evidence that the Heversham Award was exceptional in both overall size and fairness of allocation.
The evidence would appear to be that the draining and reclaiming and enclosing of the Lyth Valley mosses was a great benefit to the parish overall. It was done in a way where the many farming statesmen in the parish improved their holdings. New opportunities to farm were created for common labourers and families were able to move from a subsistence living to modest prosperity.
Alongside a productive farming community there were, of course, many opportunities for the non farming members of the community. Activities supporting this improved community opened as blacksmiths, coopers, agricultural engineers, proven dealers, carpenters, carters, lime workers, innkeepers and shopkeepers were all needed to keep farming going. As well as farmers moving goods small scale to Kendal markets the valleys would receive hawkers and tradespeople selling goods to the newly enriched communities. A new toll road was built through the middle of the valley that made transportation by large carts so much easier (see here for an article covering the Toll Roads of the Two Valleys) and soon trains from Kendal would carry farm produce to food factories and markets in the newly industrialised towns.
The period from 1820 through to 1880 was almost certainly a very decent time to live and farm in Crosthwaite and Lyth. This was largely, down to the Act of Parliament known as the Heversham Award. The people who applied for this award were farsighted. They would appear to have been fair and community minded.
Three tracts of land on Whitbarrow Scar were given to the general ownership of the landowners of the parish to utilise as they saw fit. These totalled almost 600 acres and a committee was formed to set up and look after this land. In the beginning the land value might have appeared small as it is mostly upland scrub. However, after opportunistic quarrying revenues had been taken and as recreational habits have changed this beautiful area is now a glorious asset to the Landowners of Crosthwaite and Lyth and the inhabitants of the parish overall.
There is no evidence here of greed or opportunism. There is plenty of evidence that good livings could be made in the valley that would offset the small disadvantage of not being able to cut your own peat.
Readers may recall ‘Richard’ from the beginning of this article who railed about the injustice of this. I was inclined to be sympathetic to him before researching this article. Now, I suspect he was one of the rare unlucky ones, or maybe he just needed prompting and looking after a little bit. Judging by the warmth with which William Pearson describes him I suspect he was looked after.
The relatively calm and prosperous age I have described as a consequence of The Heversham Award didn’t last. There was a sustained period for most of the 19th century where farming here must have been rewarding and enjoyable. In just the same way as elsewhere Lyth Valley farmers will have experienced a severe downturn from 1880 onwards and through to the outbreak of WW1.
New technology and infrastructure, along with free trade agreements and empire brought global markets. Steam ships were to bring dried cereals from the Americas, corned beef from Argentina and wool from Australia. With the advent of refrigeration lamb came from New Zealand and beef from South America. Markets became increasingly open and farming became competitive rather than cooperative. This, of course, changed the demography of farming in the valley very significantly, consolidated ownership into fewer hands and arguably reduced the productivity of the land here. But that is another story.