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The Historic Lake District

Region separate, sacred, of mere and of dale and of mountain, Garrulous, petulant beck; sinister, laughterless tarn.
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These lines of William Watson's are as accurate as they are beautiful. The Lake District is a region separate, distinct in its natural features, distinct in the origin and breed of its inhabitants. So distinct and distinctive, indeed, is the scenery, that the untrained eye not only can detect the intrusions of the adjacent countryside, but resents them, as, for example, in the case of the wastes around Matterdale, which uglify the eastern slopes of the northern Helvellyn range even to the summit. It is remarkable, though quite in consonance with the character of the district, that its history should be taken up largely with the story of a succession of like unwelcome invasions.

It is not easy to decide which is the best tourist approach to the district. For the explorer of its history there is only one, Ullswater, and so by the Kirkstone Pass to Ambleside. There is the lake, Ulls or Ulf's Water, Norse; on the right Dunmallet, with its British (post-Roman) hill-fort; on the left Moor Divock, with its scattered relics of Druidical worship; at the head of the lake St. Patrick's Well and Dale, Patterdale; then past Brothers' Water; at its head, Hartsop Hall, a relic of the Manor of Hertshope, erstwhile the property of Sir John Lowther, first Viscount Lonsdale; next over the Kirkstone Pass, so named, it is told, from the gathering of Conventicles of fugitive Covenanters round the stone that "gives the savage pass its name," and so down to Ambleside and the Roman Camp at Galava at the head of Windermere, connecting with the Roman road from Kendal to Ravenglass, by way of Ambleside, Fell Foot, Wrynose (Wreinshals, Anglo-Saxon "Pass of the Stallion") and Hardknott (formerly Wainscarth - Wagon Road) to the sea at Ravenglass.

Briton, Roman, Saxon have been and are not. The Norse element remains, constant and enduring. Fell, dale, and stream speak to us in its tongue. Thus Rosthwaite is Hrosthwaite, the horse-clearing; Hawkshead most probably Hakon's Saeter.

The earlier history of the district is pure conjecture. It was a savage land of savage men and savage beasts, bear, wolf and boar - these last, to judge from place-names, very plentiful - and savage worship going back untold years. The well-known Druid Circle near Keswick probably dates from the Stone Age, and relics, presumably of Neolithic times, have been found near Portinscale. There are many smaller circles, some surrounded by graves of the Bronze Age. The best-known of these are on Moor Divock, already mentioned, and on Burnmoor, between Eskdale and Wasdale, and there is a very beautiful circle not far from Broughton in Furness, at the foot of Swinside, a spur of the Black Combe Range.

The Romans paid their first visit to the district about a.d. 79, by way of the Roman Road. It must be definitely understood that there is and was only one Roman Road. The others are the outcome of the conclusions of enterprising discoverers, unhappily unable to distinguish between construction and repair. A notable example is the so-called Roman Road over the High Street Range. It is significant that in the Middle Ages it was known as Brette Street - the Britons' Road. On the true Roman Road the forts in touch with the district were Alone at Watercrook to the east and Clanoventa at Ravenglass on the coast. Within the district proper that at Ambleside was Galava; the Roman name of the Hardknott Fort has not yet been ascertained. This last is of later date than the others and was almost certainly built by Hadrian. It seems to have been a combination of depot fort and convenient house of call. The history of Galava is far more exciting. Originally one of the temporary earthwork fortresses, it was rebuilt in stone, about a.d. 120, to be twice carried and destroyed, once probably in the rising of 181, and again close on a hundred years later. It was again rebuilt and held till late in the fourth century.

Round and about these times are the other "Roman forts," which are not Roman at all. The most conspicuous of these occupies the summit of Castle Crag (the Tooth of Borrowdale). There are others near Lodore, at the foot of Bassenthwaite, at Shoulthwaite, Mardale, Carrock Fell and Dunmallet. They are not, despite their non-Roman origin, unworthy of commendation, as it is tolerably certain that they were still serviceable till at least close oh the time of the coming of the Vikings.

St. Patrick's Well, Patterdale, may be accepted as a sign of the introduction of Christianity into the district. The head of Ullswater is, in fact, hedged in with a trio of saints, St. Patrick, St. Blaise (Place Fell) and St. Dominic (St. Sunday Crag), debatable ground over which disputants may wander - with much enjoyment of the scenery.

With the coming of the Vikings the story of the district passes from conjecture into the region of reasonable record. The Norse rovers had for some years established settlements on the east coast of Ireland, with Dublin as a capital, and in course of time they decided to pay a visit to "the adjacent kingdom of England." They landed in Morecambe Bay, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Arnside, probably, and, working inland, they came to a region of heart's desire, a country like their own, of lofty fells, stark crags and scars, and swift torrents. The early raids were tentative, to be succeeded by a determined invasion, and, after some fierce fighting, the Vikings settled down to peace and rest.

Now the Viking idea of peace and rest differed materially from that of modern civilization, as far indeed as their Valhalla did from the Christian heaven. After a few snatches of internecine repose they linked themselves for a real, good, recuperative rest-cure with the Cumbrians, who were at that time assuming the suzerainty of Strathclyde and as much adjacent country as they could collect. This ambition met with a gentle and joyous response from the Southern kings. In fact the Norse settlement had become a real menace.

Followed the utter defeat of the combined forces of the Scots, Norse and Cumbri by ^Ethelstan, 926, and the overthrow of Dunevald, the Dunmail of Dunmail Raise, King of Cumbria, 945. Again, scarce more than half a century before the Conquest, yEthelred carried fire and sword through the wide straths and narrow dales with intent to exterminate these pestilent neighbours; but so enduring was the stamp the Vikings set on the district that Norse it remains to this day. Norse, indeed, the language remained till the middle of the twelfth century, and Norse probably continued to be spoken for many years later. But the records are scanty, and the Domesday Book and its survey stops short at the fringe of the Lake District.

In the eleventh century the district was nominally under the earls of the North, partly English, partly Scottish. Christianity contrived to find a somewhat precarious foothold, as witnessed by the "hogbacks" at Lowther, and notably by the Cross at Gosforth, representing the Crucifixion on one side and Thor's Hammer, etc., on the other.

The Domesday Book stops on the edge of the district for the good and sufficient reason that it could not advance any farther. The Normans' principle of subjugation was an adaptation of the motte and fosse castle. They would hit on a convenient mound, run up a blockhouse on its top, dig a moat round its foot, add a palisade, and there was an impregnable defence from which horsemen could sally out and ravage the country round, to retreat thither when the odds became too heavy. By the ordered extension of these methods districts were gradually or rapidly subdued. In Lakeland, however, where the soil is for the most part rock, the difficulty of erecting motte and fosse blockhouses and, as a consequence, of subduing the inhabitants becomes apparent.

There was more active opposition by the warrior descendants of the Vikings. The assault on Butter-mere, the demesne of Earl Boethar (Buthar the "Leper" - "Active"), is no less creditable from a military viewpoint than its defence. The Conqueror left the enterprise to his Lieutenant, Renulf de Meslin. Those who have made the Honister Round from Keswick can construct for themselves the exact chances of the invaders against a garrison of Norse mountaineers. The dale is even to-day only accessible to reasonable vehicular traffic by the Cockermouth road and the skilfully-engineered descent of Butter-mere Hause. There were no motor roads in those days; the rough descent of Honister Pass would have been luxurious going. In their stead, along the shores of the lakes, then probably joined in one, were acres of morasses, difficult ground even for unmolested troops.

The foot, the western end of Crummock Water, was then, not as now, strongly defended by Norse earthworks. The containing mountain slopes were then, as now, exceeding steep and liberally bescattered with boulders, sometimes so lightly balanced that

... an infant's touch could urge
Their headlong passage down the verge.

The struggle lasted close on half a century, and one does not know which to admire most, the skill and resolution of the defence or the obstinacy and -vigour of the attack.

Earl Boethar is said to have been buried close to the top of Buttermere Hause, and certainly -there are traces of graves there. His son, Earl Gille, established himself so firmly that he set the name Gillesland far over the countryside. Eventually he was basely murdered at an arbitration meeting. Lanercost Priory is said to have been built in expiation of this crime. So outraged, indeed, was the (Church that at its instance the king, in 1114, made a grant of lake land to the family of Gille, the son of Boet, for ever. Unhappily, this grant was annulled in 1158 by Henry II, and the land awarded to Robert de Villibus, the assassin of the gallant Viking.

Nevertheless, before another century was completed the dales had passed under the feudal system, with baron or abbot as overlord. It is interesting to note that the family of "de Derwentwater" begins its history at this period, a history to close on the scaffold after the 15 with the last executions on Tower Hill. The district had been thoroughly surveyed, and one can still see above Throstlegarth, in upper Eskdale, the remains of enclosures made by monks of this period. Amongst the tenants the land was divided up into allotments, or rather dealt out in sections, known as deals or daels. The men who held these were the Daelmen (Norman-French, Deylermen), and so Dalesmen. Churches followed, or accompanied, from the middle of the twelfth century, and there seems to have been a House of Hospitallers at St. John's in the Vale, in Buresdale, which has thus been re-christened the Vale of St. John.

This transition into the feudal system was contemporaneous with a change of suzerainty. During the earlier part of the twelfth century -the district was under the King of Scotland. Thereafter it became part of the Border. Nothing definite is known of the life there for three centuries or more. Still, it is admissible to argue that defensible buildings were not constructed without cause. Most of these date from the latter part of the fifteenth century, so that it may be assumed that the season of rapine and retaliatory unrest which followed the Wars of the Roses reached even to this remote angle of England. Besides such semi-fortified houses as Kentmere Hall, the birthplace of Bernard Gilpin, sundry peel towers can be traced.

The recognized military obligation of the dalesmen was service against the Scots. On this account they received from Government exceptionally favourable terms. Rents and other payments were fixed, not arbitrary. By their customary tenure a holding descended from a yeoman to his widow, and then to the eldest son or daughter. James VI of Scotland and I of England argued, not without reason, that as the kingdoms were now one, Border services had ceased to exist, and that therefore the privileges thereto attaching were obsolete. The yeomen thought otherwise. The story of their producing their swords, after the manner of Earl Warrenne of Plantagenet days, as their title deeds by which they had won and would hold their lands is probably fictional, but it is quite certain that they did eventually retain their ancient rights, and that the struggle was long and bitter.

When Henry VIII suppressed the Pilgrimage of Grace, the storm of retribution fell heavily on sundry of the great Lakeland Church-landlords, and the tenants suffered disproportionately till news of their case came to the ears of Queen Elizabeth. She decided that no section of her loyal subjects should suffer unjustly, and forthwith means had to be devised for righting the wrong. These means materialised in the form of the Company of the Mines Royal under one Daniel Hochstetter, financed chiefly by an Augsburg firm of merchants. Nevertheless, English labour was for the most part employed and well paid. The German account-books show names ranging from Caldbeck, north of Skiddaw, to Coniston in the remote south-west. It is interesting to note that Hochstetter's name appears as a signatory to the Great Deed of Borrowdale as "Daniel Hechstetter of Rosthwaite, gent."

The company's work can still be traced at Keswick, Newlands, and away at Coniston. Thus prosperity returned to the Lake District.

These mining activities were suspended by the Civil War, which hit the district very hard, more especially as almost all the great landowners were Royalist and were crippled by the heavy compositions exacted by Parliament. There was a good deal of vigorous, hard hitting, too, of which the following is an historic example.

One Colonel Briggs, a Puritan, arrested a Royalist major, known as Robin the Devil, on Belle Isle, near Bowness-on-Windermere. The major objected so vigorously that he withstood a siege of eight months till relieved by his brother, Colonel Philipson. Whereupon Colonel Briggs departed for Kendal, to be followed hot-foot by Robin the Devil. Hearing that Colonel Briggs was at prayers in the church, Robin forced his way in. Fortunately,.Colonel Briggs was not there, and it was only with difficulty that Robin fought his way out. His sword and helmet, lost in the struggle, hang in Kendal church to this day.

The curtain falls in gloom and tears - the tears of Lady Derwentwater, who, evading her guards on Lord's Island, forced her way up the great fissure in Walla Crag, the Lady's Rake, on her journey to London in the pathetic hope of redeeming with her jewels a life forfeited for high treason, the life of her rebel, Jacobite husband, the last of the Radcliffes of Derwentwater.

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Pictures for The Historic Lake District

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