Dr Colin Penny, the museum manager of Lancaster Castle, gave a fascinating talk on the history of the castle. The talk included the history of the buildings and the medieval kings, the small part it played in civil wars and the prominence of the castle in law and order through the centuries. In addition Dr Penny talked about the people associated with the castle and provided many anecdotes relating to the castle.
Due to the strategic point of castle hill, the Romans had a fort there in AD74 and the Normans built the first castle in 1093. The Duchy of Lancaster, including Lancaster Castle continues to belong to the reigning monarch.
In 1166, under Henry 11 the castle became the centre of an area from Liverpool to Furness where judges took trials every March and August. The castle thus became a prison where people were held until trial. Dr Penny described how the prison system changed over time and the prison closed in 2011, the oldest continually used prison in Europe.
Dr Penny also touched on the Pendle witches and the Peterloo organiser Henry Hunt who were all tried at Lancaster Castle.
Peter Roebuck gave a superb talk on “Cattle Droving through Cumbria 1600-1900”. He explained why they were driven (because they were too big to be carried), and their value. Cattle provided materials for making leather, glue and tallow, as well as meat and dairy products. Organised droving could only begin once reiving had been almost eliminated in the early 1600s.
Most cattle came from Galloway and were driven about 60-100 miles then sold on as most drovers only knew the routes, inns etc in their local area. Strenuous days were followed by easy days to allow cattle to recover, and the outer parts of their hooves were shod.
During the C17 the trade was bolstered by supplying the armed forces who required beef rations for the men as well as huge quantities of shoe leather. The Navy carried live cattle. This booming trade helped businesses such as banks to be set up. When an outbreak of Rinderpest broke out in 1745 it did not reach Cumberland so that even more cattle were sold from this area.
Cattle droving declined with the growth of canals and railways from 1850s onwards.
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.