Keswick

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Keswick

Home Of The Cheese-maker

Keswick is an English market town and civil parish, historically in Cumberland, and since 1974 in the Borough of Allerdale in Cumbria. The town, in the Lake District National Park, just north of Derwentwater, and 4 miles (6.4 km) from Bassenthwaite.

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There is considerable evidence of prehistoric occupation of the Keswick area, but the first recorded mention of the town dates from the 13th century, when Edward I of England granted a charter for Keswick’s market, which has maintained a continuous 700-year existence. In Tudor times the town was an important mining area, and from the 18th century onwards it has increasingly been known as a holiday centre; tourism has been its principal industry for more than 150 years. Its features include the Moot Hall; a modern theatre, the Theatre by the Lake; one of Britain’s oldest surviving cinemas, the Alhambra; and the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in the town’s largest open space, Fitz Park. Among the town’s annual events is the Keswick Convention, an Evangelical gathering attracting visitors from many countries.

Keswick became widely known for its association with the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Together with their fellow Lake Poet William Wordsworth, based at Grasmere, 12 miles (19 km) away, they made the scenic beauty of the area widely known to readers in Britain and beyond. In the late 19th century and into the 20th, Keswick was the focus of several important initiatives by the growing conservation movement, often led by Hardwicke Rawnsley, vicar of the nearby Crosthwaite parish and co-founder of the National Trust, which has built up extensive holdings in the area.

The town is first recorded in Edward I’s charter of the 13th century, as “Kesewik”. Scholars have generally considered the name to be from the Old English, meaning “farm where cheese is made”, the word deriving from “cēse” (cheese) with a Scandinavian initial “k” and “wīc” (special place or dwelling), although not all academics agree. George Flom of the University of Illinois (1919) rejected that derivation on the grounds that a town in the heart of Viking-settled areas, as Keswick was, would not have been given a Saxon name; he proposed instead that the word is of Danish or Norse origin, and means “Kell’s place at the bend of the river”.

Keswick’s recorded history starts in the Middle Ages. The area was conquered by the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria in the seventh century, but Northumbria was destroyed by the Vikings in the late ninth. In the early tenth century the British Kingdom of Strathclyde seized the area, and it remained part of Strathclyde until about 1050, when Siward, Earl of Northumbria, conquered Cumbria. In 1092 William II of England, son of William the Conqueror, marched north and established the great baronies of Allerdale-below-Derwent, Allerdale-above-Derwent, and Greystoke, the borders of which met at Keswick. In 1181 Jocelyn of Furness wrote of a new church at Crosthwaite, Keswick, founded by Alice de Romilly, the Lady of Allerdale, a direct descendant of William II’s original barons. In 1189, Richard I granted the rectory of Crosthwaite to the Cistercian order of Fountains Abbey.

During the 13th century, agricultural land around the town was acquired by Fountains and Furness Abbeys. The latter, already prosperous from the wool trade, wished to expand its sheep farming, and in 1208 bought large tracts of land from Alice de Romilly. She also negotiated with Fountains Abbey, to which she sold Derwent Island in Derwentwater, land at Watendlath, the mill at Crosthwaite and other land in Borrowdale. Keswick was at the hub of the monastic farms in the area, and Fountains based a steward in the town, where tenants paid their rents. Furness also enjoyed profitable rights to the extraction of iron ore.

Keswick was granted a charter for a market in 1276 by Edward I. This market has an uninterrupted history lasting for more than 700 years. The pattern of buildings around the market square remained broadly the same from this period until at least the late 18th century, with houses – originally timber-framed – fronting the square, and sturdily enclosed gardens or yards at the back. According to local tradition these stout walls and the narrow entrances to the yards were for defence against marauding Scots. In the event it appears that the town escaped such attacks, Scottish raiders finding richer and more accessible targets at Carlisle and the fertile Eden Valley, well to the north of Keswick.

Grant by Edward I, 18 July 1276: Grant to Thomas de Derwentewatere, and his heirs, of a weekly market on Saturday at Kesewik in Derewentfelles, co. Cumberland, and of a yearly fair there on the vigil, the feast and the morrow of St. Mary Magdalene, and the two days following.