A Walk from High Newton to look for evidence of the Flax Industry

In July Pat Rowland and David Shore took 2 groups of members around the village and surrounding countryside to look for evidence of the Flax Industry that disappeared at the beginning of the 19thcentury.

The walk took them from High Newton, where the weaving sheds were located on the edge of the village, towards Barber Green. En-route, there were the retting ponds, one of which is used today to collect run off rainwater from the A590. Retting is the process where the harvested flax was immersed for 10-14 days.  In Barber Green we visited the engineered water-course that provided the power to the fulling mill, a place where the bleached cloth was beaten to flatten the fibres.  Then, just outside Barber Green, we looked at the fields where the flax was grown, and the amazing “consumption wall”, created from the process of clearing the fields. Afterwards we walked to Low Newton, viewing more retting ponds and engineered water course and to enjoy some afternoon refreshment.


May 2017 lecture by Kelly Spronston- Heath (National Trust)


Kelly Spronston-Heath spoke about the history of Fell Foot and the National Trust’s future plans for the estate. Kelly described the history through the various families that owned or rented the estate.

In the 15th century the land was owned by the Canons of Cartmel Priory. Following the reformation the land passed to the Duchy of Lancaster in 1567. By the seventeenth century Fell Foot was a productive and prosperous farm; in 1713 the land was valued at £615. In 1784 the Robinson family, yeoman farmers, sold the land and house to Jeremiah Dixon, a merchant from Leeds, as his family’s second home. At the time there was probably a modest farmhouse on the site. With his wife, Mary, Jeremiah expanded the house that was then described as a substantial villa with pleasure ground and lawns sweeping down to the lake. Mary contributed to the local community, establishing a Sunday School for 12 local children and a number of heath related schemes. The next owner was Francis Duckinfield Astley a businessman from Manchester who purchased the estate in 1813. Up until this time the road to Ulverston passed through the estate, crossing two fords but in 1813 it was moved to the current line when a bridge was built. On Mr Duckinfield Astley’ death the land, house and contents were put up for sale and many of the contents ended up in houses around Windermere. The estate didn’t sell and was eventually rented out but in 1851 Francis Duckinfield-Astley Jr moved back with his family


The next owner, Col John George Palmer Ridehalgh bought the estate in 1859. He and his wife extended the house further and added a gas house with gas lighting throughout the house, an entertaining area and additional boathouses. Col Ridehalgh had two steam yachts, the largest 60’ long could carry 122 passengers, and various yachts and rowing boats. The grounds were landscaped and an arboretum created. The family was immersed in the local community. He was a JP, a founder member of the Windermere Yacht Club and a Col in the Border Regiment. He also maintained a large pack of hounds that he transported to sites around the lake in one of his steam yachts. (Ms Spronston-Heath circulated some fascinating photographs of the interior of the house and the steam yachts from this period). The trust has some artifacts from the Ridehalgh period of occupancy and a quilt which was made for Mrs Ridhalgh is in the Textile and Quilt museum in York and has been taken on a world exhibition tour.

In 1907 Oswald Hedley purchased the house and estate. Mrs Hedley didn’t like the house and so Oswald demolished it planning to replace it with a Jacobean style building. The foundations for the new house were dug but Mrs Headley died suddenly and Oswald abandoned the project and the estate and moved to the north of Windermere. In 1948 Oswald’s third wife, who survived him, gave the land to the National Trust. The Trust leased it, for 21 years, to a Mr Rhodes as a camping and caravanning ground. In 1969 the Trust took the estate back under it’s management as what might be best called a country park; there were also a number of chalets which could be rented.

The National Trust is now planning a major restoration and development of the estate. The gas house and boathouses, which are of architectural interest, are to be restored. A watersports centre will be developed around the boathouses. The arboretum will be restored with further planting, new gardens and footpaths added. Catering facilities will be developed on higher ground to avoid the risk of flooding, Overall access will be improved and better links to public transport developed. Interpretational material will allow visitors to engage with the history of the estate. Ms Spronston-Heath finished by encouraging people to become volunteers at the site, particularly in bringing together stories about the history of the estate.

Mike Hornung


Cumbria Vernacular Buildings Group

At the March meeting of Cartmel Peninsula Local History Society, June Hall talked about Cumbrian vernacular buildings and the Cumbria Vernacular Buildings Group that was set up in 2013. We heard how, in the 1950s, Dr Brunskill developed a system for recording traditional historic buildings that were not designed by architects. Subsequently a national group and affiliated local societies were established to record local buildings. The history of the development of Cumbrian buildings was covered and where the building materials came from. The key features such as window and door styles, wall thickness and layout helped to date a building. Documents can give clues to the age of the building and can help to understand how the building was used. The talk ended with a review of the wide ranging activities of the Cumbrian Group during 2016. This illustrated how the Group covers the whole county and how diverse are the styles of buildings. In the summer June will lead a walk around High Newton looking at the features of vernacular buildings in the village.


An Amateur Archaeologist in Lindale

For our first lecture of 2017 the hall was packed to hear Claire Asplin talk about her explorations of Lindale Low Cave. In a light hearted but very informative talk Claire described how as a child she played in the 3 caves that were situated on her family’s land, making her own cave painting which baffled the archaeologists at a later date. Claire eventually worked with the archaeologists in the caves.

Claire explained how Lindale Low cave proved to be very important in showing that people were living in the north at the last ice age which went against the academic argument of the time.   Although other caves, including Kirkhead cave, had artifacts dating back to the ice age, the flints found below the stalagmite floor laid down 9000 years before present in Lindale Low proved the late Chris Salisbury and his colleagues were correct in their belief that people were here.

Claire illustrated her talk with photographs and diagrams of the caves and photographs and drawings of the artefacts found and answered many audience questions.

Discovering a Landscape of Industry : Old crafts and industries of Lakeland

The October 2016 lecture was given by Andy Lowe, a very popular speaker and the hall was full. Rocks, woodland and water provided the power and resources which came together at times of economic demand to produce a variety of local industries and crafts.The rocks produced minerals such as copper, pyrites, quartz. Lime was used for agriculture and house building. Slate was in demand and the railways provided the necessary transport. The lakes provided access and Greenodd was an important port.  The many becks provided water power for the mills.

The coppiced woodlands provided charcoal, the hazel for swill or cockle baskets, the birch for besom brushes. Pegs and bobbins were made too. The oak bark gave the tannin for cow hides to be cured at tanneries such as Rusland. Andy compared this industrial landscape with the industrial city landscape painted by Lowry. The Lakeland industrial activity was scattered over a large area as opposed to the more familiar highly concentrated Lowry setting.

Wine and nibbles were served after the lecture to celebrate 20 years of Cartmel Peninsula Local History Society.

Summer Outing to Morecambe June 2016

The first of the summer visits was to Morecambe to explore two buildings which have played a significant part in its leisure industry: one going back to the late Victorian era and the other an icon of the Thirties. Our first stop was to the Morecambe Winter Gardens which is a Grade 2 listed building and was built in 1897 by Magnall and Littlewood. The architectural design followed closely many large railway stations being built at the same time and this was apparent from the domed internal ceiling space. The beautiful sandstone facade is still in good condition but its dominant place on the seafront is overshadowed by more recent commercial development. The foyer, staircases, ceilings, mouldings and chandeliers still give a feel of its former splendour but much of the circle and balconies have sadly been reduced to their bare fabric.  Our guide from the Friends of the Winter Gardens, Peter Wade, gave us a detailed and engaging walk and talk about many aspects of the building moving from the stalls, into the gods through dressing rooms to backstage and finishing on the stage itself. Peter skilfully managed to recreate the part MWG had played to generations of locals and holidaymakers while explaining their hopes for its regeneration. After much climbing of stairs, the Friends of MWG welcomed us to afternoon tea and we were able to admire their collection of adverts and photos of performers and related memorabilia. It was a chance to take a stroll down a 50’s and 60’s memory lane for those who had visited MWG in its 20th century heyday.

We moved across the Prom to the recently renovated art deco Midland Hotel where we were given a tour of the hotel by a Lancastrian from Liverpool who gave us an engaging talk embellished with his Scouse humour.  Built in 1933 for the London Midland and Scottish (LMS ) railway, by Oliver Hill, it contains nautically themed works of art by Eric Gill and photos of the murals by the Sussex born artist Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah Garwood and replicas of textiles designed by Marion Dorn. In her autobiography, Tirzah wrote how the hotel resembled a big white concrete ship facing out across the shining sands, mudflats and treacherous waters of Morecambe bay.

The Eric Gill bas relief which is entitled “Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicca” was carved into 6000 tonnes of Portland stone and is behind the reception desk. On the wall in the South Room (now the Eric Gill suite), is a relief map of the Lancashire coast and the Lake District beyond. Other nautical themes were continued with sea horses on the outside of the building and (now the hotel’s merchandising logo) and on the ceiling above the iconic spiral staircase, a circular medallion depicting sea gods and mermaids. The Midland hotel was a luxury hotel and it is not difficult to imagine the likes of Sir Laurence Oliver and many ‘ bright young things’ of the time visiting it in the thirties. It is also not that difficult to see how it was used as a filming location for the thirties themed TV series: Poirot.

A rewarding afternoon exploring two very different buildings and with the help of our guides we left Morecambe with a better feel for how they had played their part in the life of Morecambe as a tourist destination.

Rose Clark

Visit to Townend: 18th August, 2016

Fifteen members of the Society met at Townend, Troutbeck and were given a short but most interesting talk by Danielle Soper, the House Steward, before being free to view the house room by room.

Danielle explained that the earliest part of the house dates from the seventeenth century and she gave a brief glimpse into the 400 year ownership of the property by the Browne family who were yeomen farmers and eventually farmed just over 800 acres locally.

The house passed into the ownership of The National Trust in 1948 and at the time of our visit essential repairs were nearing completion, during which timbers affected by wet rot had been replaced. The property is very much smaller than most owned by The National Trust but its vernacular features and its furnishings provide an excellent example of a house owned by a relatively wealthy farming family.

The visit preceded the talk to be given to the Society by Emma Wright, the House Manager, on the Browne family and the recipes recorded by Elizabeth Birkett from 1699. She married Ben Browne in 1702 when she came to live at Townend.

Stuart Harling