We had a fascinating and light-hearted talk on what appears to be a rich regional heritage. Cumbria has many words such as bier roads, lyke roads, coffin lines, lych ways and corpse roads which have been used to describe more than 25 paths in Cumbria which were used in medieval times to transport the dead either in coffins or shrouds from their remote rural homes and parishes to the mother church of the parish. It was the mother church of the parish which had the right to bury the dead in consecrated land and they fought hard to keep this financial advantage but by the late sixteenth century parishes won the right to bury their dead themselves claiming the journey and the often harsh weather made transportation very difficult. The paths sometimes covering a distance of 20 miles had features along the way such as coffin rests and coffin crosses where the cortège would stop to read a prayer. The Victorian fascination of the supernatural popularised the many ghosts stories of the corpse roads that abounded at that time. Today they are quiet byways.
Dan Elsworth of Greenlane Archaeology gave a very interesting talk on his involvement with two archaeological excavations which took place in Allithwaite in 2001 and in 2015. He began bydrawing our attention to previous references and finds mentioned in Stockdale’s Annals of Cartmel. This find was at the time thought to be Roman and was described as having zig zag patterning and was attributed to a location on Aysome road, Cartmel near a Yew Tree. However, later writings by Watkins may have led to a certain amount of confusion to the precise location of the earlier discoveries and as a result the Parish of Allithwaite became Allithwaite village. In this way Allithwaite village became a site of archaeological significance.
Dan explained that the standard practice when a planning application has been submitted in an area known to have a history of archaeological artefacts, is to carry out archaeological excavations before building work takes place. Thus two sites : one in Church Road (2001) and the other in Jack Hill (2015) have been successfully excavated but several Bronze Age and not Roman urns ( also with zig zag patterning resembling the description by Stockdale of the earlier find) of differing sizes and conditions along with some flints were excavated and are presently with Kendal Museum awaiting display.
Dan explained how a number of random trenches are dug in order to sample a site and in both the Allithwaite diggings the first trench dug successfully revealed urn cremations which had in some cases used the natural hollows in the limestone. The bones found were able to indicate gender, age and bone diseases such as osteoporosis. With the aid of cling film and plaster of Paris bandages, the urns were removed from the ground and ready for further specialised investigation. The two sites resulted in artefacts from as early as 2020 BC in the Church road site and 1800 BC in the Jack Hill site and Allithwaite is the only place to have two sites of Bronze Age artefacts in Cumbria.
Mary Hamilton (Arnside Archive) and Alistair Simpson (Arnside Sailing Club) shared the story of over 150 years of boat building by the Crossfield family and their successors in Arnside with Society members and visitors. The Archive and the Sailing Club worked together on research and a joint exhibition in July 2018 celebrating Arnside’s maritime heritage.
When carpenter John Crossfield moved to Arnside in the 1810s it was a small village and by 1841 there were still only 20 dwellings. John and his sons established a boat yard and over the years they and their descendants designed & built a range of boats including Nobbies (Morecambe Bay Prawners), Bay boats (for boat trips), a pleasure steamer for Lake Windermere, yachts, dinghies, rowing boats and Arthur Ransome’s Swallow. Some of their boats have been restored and still sail including Bonita (built in 1888 and sailed round Britain in 2013), Ziska (built in 1903, now in America) and Moya (built in 1910 and now in Greece). The Arnside Sailing Club, with the assistance of lottery funding, bought and restored the Severn (originally built by Crossfields in 1912) and returned it to Arnside.
Many members and a few visitors came to the March meeting to hear about Catching Tales, Fishing Stories from Morecambe Bay presented by Michelle Cooper of Morecambe Bay Partnership. She played extracts of sound recordings that have been gathered over the past 4 years. On the day of the talk she had delivered the master discs containing the memories of about 60 people who have contributed about 150 to 200 hours of conversation to Lancashire Archives, Preston and another set will be deposited with Cumbria Archives, Barrow for long term preservation. Interviews have been conducted with fishing families around the Bay and in particular from Flookburgh, Morecambe and Sunderland Point. Under the headings of Across the Generations, Fishing Methods, Rivalry, Dangers, Wildlife and Nicknames we heard how skills were passed from generation to generation; using horses and how their replacement by tractors changed fishing; how to catch and sort shrimps; making nets; competitiveness and friendship between the fishermen; elephants bathing off Blackpool; and a record of some of the nicknames given to the fishermen. One lady also recounted her experiences of fishing. We were given an insight into a magical world.
Richard Sanderson gave a talk to a packed Cartmel village hall on the history and future of Backbarrow Ironworks. Richard talked about the long history of iron production in the area, using bloomeries. He then explained the important history of Backbarrow ironworks, described by Historic England as “…the best illustration nationally of iron-smelting technology development from the early 18thto the 20thcentury.” John Wilkinson’s father, Isaac, moved to Backbarrow in the 1720s and pioneered new metallurgical processes and John will have learned from him.
At most, 18 people worked there and the last blast was in 1964. The metal was taken away for scrap and the trustees are now attempting to preserve and conserve the site for the future. Richard illustrated his talk with photographs of the site when it was in use and the remnants that are spread around the site.
The trustees are working with many bodies, including Historic England, and would like further support from industries and local history societies. They would like to hear from anyone who has memories of the ironworks and hope to provide conducted tours of the site in the near future.
Louise Martin, the Cultural Heritage Officer for the Headlands to Headspace initiative within the Morecambe Bay Partnership, was our September speaker. Louise presented examples of the recent archeological work; Barrow’s Military History on Walney Island, Gleaston Castle, three sites on Birkrigg Common, Hampsfell Hospice and Kirkland Tower, two sites at Jenny Barrows Point, and Warton Craggs on the south shore of the Bay. For each site available documentary evidence had been brought together and detailed recording carried out using ground survey, aerial photography using drones and geophysical surveys. One use of the data was to create dramatic 3D images. An archeological dig had been carried out at Jenny Brown’’s point. Conservation assessments were carried out and necessary restoration work identified. The projects were often carried out in partnership with Universities and all involved volunteers. Training was a key element in all the projects. The report for all the projects would be available on line.
The Walney sites included pillboxes, searchlight emplacements and gun battery foundations. At Gleaston Castle the surveys had shown an earlier tower near the thirteenth century manorial buildings, and the location of enclosing walls. The Birkrigg work had involved three sites on the Common. A major task had involved bracken removal both to reveal and protect the stone circles protect: 40 ton bags of bracken were removed in 2015. At Appleby Slack a small living enclosure and a larger stock enclosure had been identified. Documentary evidence and old photographs had been brought together for Hampsfell Hospice and Kirkhead Tower and condition assessments carried out. The chimney at Jenny Brown’s Point was shown to be associated with a calcining furnace linked to possible copper mining. A large embankment running 2km into the Bay was the remnants of a failed land restoration scheme. LIDAR had been used at Warton Craggs to clearly show the three series of remparts whish are masked by trees. They are probably hill top enclosures rather than a hill fort.
Kevin Grice gave an entertaining and informative talk on a relatively hidden aspect of our local history. It seems that the Dad’s army of WW2 was not the first time that Volunteer Forces had been used in military history.
A number of events in the mid nineteenth century including the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the limited effectiveness of the Crimean War, and an assassination attempt on the life of Napoleon the Third in 1858 which involved a grenade made in Birmingham all raised fears of a possible French invasion in 1859. Thus RVC’s ( Rifle Volunteer Corps) were formed all over the country with Lancashire over the Sands and Kendal being no exceptions.
He talked principally about the rifle ranges which were created to fulfil the 24 days a year target practice the RVC’s enlisters were required to carry out. Needless to say these sites were of necessity in relatively isolated areas and amongst those he discussed in detail was the site at Silver How, above Grasmere. Others noted were on Torver Common another at Helsfell, Kendal and one even in Cartmel at Holker Bank in what is today part of the Cistercian Way.