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

A taste of Townend: Recreating recipes from 1699. Emma Wright

Emma began the September 2016 talk by introducing the Brown and Birkett families and Townend itself. Elizabeth Birkett, who assembled the recipe book came to live at Townend when she married Ben Brown in 1703. The Brown family lived and farmed at Townend from the 1600s to 1940. By 1700 they were well established and styled themselves as gentlemen farmers. The Birketts, who were near neighbours, were also successful.

Townend as seen today has been enlarged since the seventeenth century, mainly by extension at the rear. Elizabeth would have cooked mainly on open fires, spits and cob irons. She did have an oven which was eighteen inches wide and very deep. The oven would only be fired up about once per fortnight. Once it was hot, the first things cooked would be those requiring the highest temperatures, these would be followed by a series of other dishes that required lower temperatures. Cakes, which could be as wide as the oven door, were placed in wooden frames to retain the shape and baked for up to seven hours. Meat, mainly lamb would have been smoked in the meat loft above the fire.

The recipe book, handwritten by Elizabeth, is the size of an exercise book and comprises 52 pages plus index and references. It contains culinary recipes but also instructions for household tasks such as dying, removing stains, how to ‘Japan’ objects and how to produce gold and silver effects. There are also cures for various ailments, such as nose bleeds, epilepsy, toothache, rickets; some of the cures are potions but others verge on sorcery.

The culinary recipes were mainly dishes for entertaining. Ordinary fare was dominated by clapbread, made from oats. Breakfast would be porridge and clapbread, the main meal a broth of meat and vegetables with clapbread, the evening meal cheese and clapbread. The clapbread was made in large quantities by itinerant women who came to the house. The final section of Emma’s talk considered a number of the culinary recipes in detail; she and her colleagues had recreated and sampled several of them. These included stuffed pike, roast mutton, shred pie (veal or beef with suet, currents and sugar), venison pastie (this had a hard rye paste crust – not to eat but to help preserve the contents), spinach tart, and capon pie. Deserts included green pudding (made with bistorte), little cakes (a bready bun with seeds), beancakes (sugar and almonds), apricot paste (apricot and sugar boiled down to create jelly like sweets), ‘Mrs West’s cake(egg white, yeast with seed and dried fruit). A surprising range of things for the recipes could be obtained from the village shop in the early 1700s.

The evening was rounded off with tasting of sweets made from one of Elizabeth’s recipes while Emma described the period costume she was wearing.

Mike Hornung



Roughs and Respectables: the pleasures and problems of leisure

The talk by Dr. Mike Winstanley began by examining the meaning of ‘leisure’ to reveal a highly complex and dynamic concept which was and is influenced by many factors such as age, social background, regional differences and gender. Old newspaper sources were used to illustrate the talk with many references to events in what is known as South Lakeland today. The two variables examined throughout the talk were how the ‘roughs’ or lower classes entertained themselves and how the elite or respectables either entertained themselves or were entertained. Leisure for the ‘roughs’ in particular seemed to attract the need to be codified, and regulated as it was deemed to be problematic. This was clearly shown with reference to the part animals and birds played in Victorian leisure. The creation of the NSPCA in 1824 and the Cruelty to Animals Acts of 1835 and 1849 soon meant cock fighting and the gambling that was associated with it became a source of concern for the authorities and it had to be carried on clandestinely. However the hunting of game and the shooting party became a major social event for the ‘respectables’ and much of the landscape in Scotland was changed as a consequence.

The Development of the Ulverstone and Furness Railway by Les Gilpin

A large audience welcomed Les Gilpin, chairman of Cumbria Railways Association, who gave an interesting and fact filled talk on the Development of the Ulverstone & Furness Railway.

Les described how the impetus to railway building was the industry in the area of Furness. The first line, opened in 1846, ran from Dalton to Kirkby and Piel Pier to take the Kirkby slates to the coast for export.   The rich minerals of the area, especially the iron ore, led to further expansion of the railway.  Initially the only passenger connection between the Furness railway system and the rest of the country was via steamers running between Barrow and Fleetwood.  The demands of passenger and tourist traffic encouraged the growth of the lines that follow the coast to this day.

Les explained step by step the development of the railway and the main people involved in this growth. He illustrated his talk with slides of old steam engines, old photographs of the Furness area and the important men behind the Furness Railway.

Barbara Copeland

Reservoirs to Ring Cairns: Archaeology in the Duddon Valley

At our March meeting Ian Boyle told us about his involvement with the R2R project recording the archaeology of the Duddon Valley. The Duddon Valley Local History Group and the Lake District National Park Authority Archaeology Unit worked together on the Reservoirs to Ring Cairns (R2R) Project, a four year project recording human impact on the landscape. An area of 75 square kilometres was surveyed by 4 teams, each comprising 6 to 8 people, who went out 50 weeks each year for 4 years. They recorded many previously unrecorded, interesting features relating to agriculture, industry and human habitation. They identified several longhouse sites probably dating to the Viking era. Excavation of a ring cairn produced evidence showing humans have occupied the valley since about 2500BC. They added 1679 sites to the valley’s previously known 343 sites recorded on Cumbria’s Historic Environment Record. The lecture was enhanced by stunning pictures of the valley and the features.

Rocks, Lake and Early History (of Cartmel)

Ken Howarth gave a very informative talk to a full room of people on the very early history of Cartmel.  He linked the geology of the area to the local history.  He referred to two booklets on the subject written by Murray Mitchell.

An explanation of the geology of the area included a description of the hard Bannisdale rock, the carboniferous limestone which surrounds the area and the glacial period which has left the area with numerous drumlins and pools.  The stone in the drumlins had been used to build local stone walls and the Priory was built on an outcrop of Bannisdale rock surrounded by the lakes left by the glacier.  Through his slides Ken pointed out the edges of the lakes in Cartmel which can still be seen today.

Ken then showed how fossils found in the sandstone used to build the Priory proved that the stone came from a quarry near Holker and Cark, called Quarry Flat.   Ken thinks that the quarry was much bigger than it is today as the stone probably extended beyond the railway.   Ken illustrated his talk with excellent slides.