Kendal and the Lakes: Pt 6 – Kendal, Cumbria

Our main destination of the day was the town of Kendal, at the foot of the Lake District, and a place we have been through on the train at least a few hundred times between Preston and Carlisle and not had chance to stop yet, so it was about time we did…

Kendal:

Status: South Lakeland District, Cumbria (Historically Westmorland), Town, England

Date: 05/06/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Kendal Town Hall, Post Office Building, Carnegie Library, War Memorial, Kendal Bank, Kendal Castle, Meeting House Exhibition Centre, Quaker Tapestry, St George’s Church, County Hall, Parish Church, Museum of Lakeland Life, Kendal Mint Cake, Stricklandgate House, Kendal Bank, River Kent, Shearman House, Sandes Hospital, St Georges Holy Trinity Church etc

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We pulled up on the high street, having no idea what a treat we were in for just on this one road. Directly opposite us is the Post Office Building, with a beautiful smooth stone front, and Post Office engraved above the doorway. It’s a great place to start, and whilst I think it is quite modern as it doesn’t appear on the Listed Buildings register, it is a good sign for older buildings to come.

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Only a few buildings down the road from the Post Office is the one shown above, called “Black Hall”. A green plaque on the side of it identifies it as:

“Kendal’s first Alderman lived here in 1575. the house was modernised in 1810 and in 1869 became a brush factory with the sign of a bristly hog.”

The hog can be seen above the main entrance to the shop, and it is indeed bristly. An Alderman is a high ranking member of a council in English Law, who is elected by other councillors as opposed to the local population. Looking up Alderman in reference to Kendal the names of former Mayors come up, so it was the Mayor equivalent of the day. Aldermen were abolished in 1974 when Local Government reforms were brought in.

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Looking back across the road, we were parked outside the large Cream/Yellow building. All over Kendal a series of very helpful plaques give a short history of the more interesting buildings, and again there was a plaque on this one as well. Looking at it first off it looks more like a stately home than anything else:

” Stricklandgate House. This house was built about 1776 by Joseph Maude, a Kendal banker and for many years housed the Kendal Savings Bank. In 1854 it was leased to the Kendal Literary and Scientific Society of which Wordsworth and Southey were Founder members and became the town’s museum and library”.

The fact that it was built for a Banker makes sense looking at the grandeur of the building, and I envy Joseph for having such a beautiful house. Stricklandgate is the name of this street, and Wordsworth is in reference to William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850, famous English Poet) who we had encountered twice already during the day, at his house in Grasmere and his office in Ambleside. Southey is also a reference, to Robert Southey (1774 – 1843, Lake Poet, and Friend of Wordsworth).

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What we had seen so far was only a taste of the fantastic architecture in Kendal, and as we kept moving we arrived at the Carnegie Library.

I have talked a lot over different posts about the man who funded this building, called Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919). This famous Scottish/American businessman helped fund various libraries across the country, and we have seen other Carnegie libraries including in Skipton (Yorkshire) and Ellesmere Port (Cheshire). His home town was Dunfermline in Fife, Scotland, where a statue of him stands proudly in Pittencrieff Park. Kendal’s Library opened in 1909, and was designed by a local architect called T. F. Pennington.

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Continuing up the street, we came across the towns War Memorial, unveiled in 1921 by Colonel J W Weston, to commemorate the soldiers who died in World War I (316 names), and later World War II (168 names). A large statue of a soldier by C W Coombes stands atop the plinth.

Just off to the right of the Memorial, out of shot is the Old Moot Hall building, now occupied by Thorntons. Sadly it isn’t the original building, as a fire in 1969 destroyed it, although the new building was built to look the same as the previous one. Its function from its construction in 1591 was as the Town Hall, Court House and Gathering Place. In 1729 the building was given a rebuilt, with a Clock and Cupola added to the top. In 1859 the Government offices moved out to Lowther Street, and the bottom floor became Shops, with a Police Station, whilst a Council Chamber was located on the top floor, and in 1861 the Clock was transferred to the Church of St Thomas. Thankfully some of the features from the 1729 revamp survived the fire, including the Venetian Windows.

There is so much history in this small section of the town, and Kendals original Market Hall once stood on the location of the Memorial. This was later knocked down in 1754, with a covered Market being installed (along with a Chapel and a Dungeon). By 1887 a new Market Hall was built just off the square, and it was later incorporated into the Westmorland Shopping Centre which is also located on this street. The Market Charter for Kendal was granted in 1189 by King Richard I (1157 – 1199) and it soon grew in importance.

Incidentally the centre of town was designed with the central high street, and a network of fortified alleyways radiating out from it in case of attack by the Border Reivers, the raiders who from the 13th – 17th centuries carried out numerous raids across the border between England and Scotland. This afforded the Market the perfect protection. Kendal also had major industries in Woollen Goods, and a colour called Kendal Green was worn by Foresters, a good example being the clothing Robin Hood is depicted in.

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A lot of towns we have visited have large, beautifully sculpted buildings for the old Banks, with one of my favourite being in St Helens. Kendal Bank was formed from two other banks which both opened in Kendal in 1788:

1) Maude, Wilson & Crewdsons Bank established by Joseph Maude, Christopher Wilson and Thomas Crewdson.

2) Wakefield’s Bank, founded by John Wakefield in a building next to Stricklandgate House.

In 1840 the two Banks merged, and moved into this custom built building in 1873. In 1928 Kendal Bank merged with the Bank of Liverpool, which after a few name changes would eventually become Barclays Bank in 1969.

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Between where we had parked and the current Town Hall is a small pedestrianised section, where the War Memorial is located. Past that you re-enter the road sections, onto the A6, which runs all the way from Luton in the county of Bedfordshire just North of London up through Kendal and on to Carlisle.

Kendal Town Hall is magnificent, and I am a big fan of Town and City Hall buildings across the UK. The Town Hall is the location of the Government Office that vacated the Moot Hall, and moved here in 1859.

A plaque on the side of the building tells the story of the building:

“Kendal Town Hall. On this site once stood White Hall, believed to have been an exchange hall for Kendal’s cloth trade with Virginia. It was replaced in 1825 by a new White Hall designed by Kendal architect Francis Webster and incorporating a billiards room, newsroom, lecture hall and ballroom. Converted to the Town Hall in 1859 this forms the southern part of the present building. Extensions were commenced in 1893 when Alderman William Bindloss and Mrs Bindloss made a very generous contribution towards the cost of the alterations and improvements. A new tower was added for the clock and eleven bells which were rung for the first time on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897”.

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Looking up Allhallows Lane, the road that comes off directly in front of the Town Hall, the Chimney of Shearman House rises up above the local houses. It was opened in 1864 as a public wash-house and baths, and allowed up to 22 washerwoman at a time to do their laundry. It was built as it was very uncomfortable in cottages of the time, and the damp conditions didn’t lend themselves well to washing and drying clothes. Facilities included clothes-horses and spin-dryers.

Eight baths made out of porcelain were also included in the building, and the plaque outside says that “the lowest charge for a warm bath being for two young women together at threepence each.” Again the conditions in local cottages and houses were often cramped and dirty, so being able to come down to the local Wash House was a great local amenity. The plaque also confirms the height of the Chimney, at 70 feet, or 21.3 metres tall.

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We kept moving down this section of the A6, and came across two more historic buildings, shown above. The first, on the left, is the Shakespeare Theatre, identified by a plaque on the side:

“The Shakespeare Theatre. Kendal’s first purpose-built theatre, designed by local architect John Richardson, was opened at the top of this yard in 1829. The nationally famous actor Edmund Kean played here in 1832 but general poverty in the town and opposition from Quakers, Presbyterians and Temperance groups forced its closure after five years. It continued in use as a ballroom for many years and was converted into a church in 1994.”

Today it is the Shakespeare Inn, a local pub, although the historic nature of the overall building has been beautifully well kept.

Next to the Shakespeare is the Gatehouse to Sandes Hospital, where Thomas Sande (1606 – 1681, former Mayor and Cloth Merchant) created a school along with eight small Almshouses for poor widows who had lost their husbands. The Gatehouse was where the Master lived, and included the School and a Library above the main entrance.

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Moving through the entrance into the courtyard, rows of neat little Almshouses are visible on both sides. These aren’t the original houses however as they were rebuilt in 1852 by Miles Thompson, another local architect. What I really like about Kendal is that a lot of the impressive buildings were done by local architects as opposed to highly paid ones from elsewhere like London, so it’s nice to see the amount of local work done in the town.

The School was still operating by 1886, as it was merged with the Kendal Grammar School, which would eventually become the Kirkbie Kendal School in 1980, and they still own the Gatehouse.

We have actually seen something very similar to this, with the same idea but slightly different building work. In Appleby, we stumbled upon St Anne’s Hospital, built in 1651 by Lady Anne Clifford, with 13 Almshouses for local widows. These were arranged around a beautiful courtyard with a fountain in the centre.

We kept moving, and turn off towards the River, a few streets behind the Town Hall. The River is called the Kent, and it’s journey begins high up in the hills in the Lake District, just out from Kendal. After flowing through the town, it runs over 10 miles South into Morecambe Bay in Lancashire.

There is a pedestrian footpath next to the River and it’s a pleasant area to wander up and down. In the distance is the stone figure of Miller Bridge from 1819. It stands in place of an earlier wooden bridge which lead from the town centre up to the Castle Corn Mill, but it was washed away by floods numerous times before finally being replaced in 1743 with an earlier stone version.

This new bridge was designed by Francis Webster for the Lancaster to Kendal Canal, which arrived in the town in the same year and had a large basin in Kendal. It operated until 1944 when the last coal barge arrived, and by the 1960’s it had been filled in and cut off from the rest of the network when the M6 was constructed. If you follow this link, you will get a great B&W photograph of the Canal Basin in relation to the river and the stone bridge.

In the distance we could see the stone ruins of Kendal Castle, sat on a large hill/mound. Built in the early 1200’s, it initially served as the home of the Barons of Kendal. The Barons were spread across different families, including the Parr Family, and the most notable family member has to be Catherine Parr (1512 – 1548, Queen of England from 1543-1547 and Henry VIII’s 6th Wife). She was the oldest surviving child of Sir Thomas Parr (1483 – 1517) and also a descendant of King Edward III (1312 – 1377).

The Castle was a ruin by 1512, and has stayed in the same condition to this day. The Castle site is actually quite large, with aerial photographs showing an outer wall in a ring shape around the top of the mound, with a Manor Hall at one end, with vaults beneath it. In 1897 the Kendal Corporation bought the Castle to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) and more recently the ruins have been stabilised and repaired.

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Circling back around through the edge of the town centre, we passed some old streets with yet more fascinating buildings. These streets lead back around to the High Street, although we would be heading in the other direction next.

The first of these was the famous 1657 Chocolate Shop, a historic building that in 2007 celebrated its 350th anniversary. The very first Chocolate Shop in Britain opened in London also in 1657, and soon became a popular industry. Today the Kendal Store is a Cafe, and its famous for having at least 18 varieties of Hot Chocolate! Inside there are many old features such as the wooden support beams, and you get a lovely historic feel as you enter.

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Next was  number 7 Stramongate (this road) which consists of a superb 16th century house, and thought to be the oldest building used as a shop in the whole town. Its first owners were the Bellinghams, who owned a lot of land throughout Westmorland. Some time in the following years it was occupied by the sister of the noted explorer Captain Cook, Agnes Harker. Since then the building has been kept in good condition, and underwent a restoration in 1985.

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We kept moving, down towards the Meeting House Exhibition Centre, from where we would circle back around to Stricklandgate, following the course of the river. A plaque on the gate post explained the origins of the centre:

“Friends Meeting House. George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers), visited Kendal in 1652 and by his powerful preaching won many followers. They opened their first meeting on this site in 1688 and a Quaker school in 1698. The present building, designed by the Kendal architect Francis Webster, was erected in 1816 to accommodate 850 people. Kendal Quakers were prominent in business, education and welfare in the town from the 18th century.”

Inside there is quite a lot to see, with the Quaker Tapestry being the star attraction. This fantastic work of art has 77 panels, narrating the history of the Quakers, and it all started in 1981 when a small boy made a remark at a Quaker Meeting in the South of England. His teacher, Anne Wynn-Wilson was an embroiderer and started the project. It was finished in 1996, after the contributions of 4000 people from 15 countries. You can visit the official site here.

Elsewhere in the Centre is a Cafe, a Giftshop, Workshops and various Exhibitions. Its worth a look inside, and the building itself is very well preserved and there is even a model railway.

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Our last stop was down by the River as we started to move back around through the town to the centre and the car. On the far bank we saw the Parish Church of St George, founded in 1754. Like most Churches it began as a Chapel of Ease, from the congregations formation in 1754. Consisting of two floors, the Chapel used the top, whilst a market had the ground floor, and the basement was the gaol (jail). The present Church replaced it in 1841 when it was completed, with later additions such as the Chancel occurring in the 1910’s. The two towers at the front appear to have been shortened, and some research soon confirmed this, as they originally stood at 100 feet tall. Due to problems with the foundations and a bit of subsidence they had to be cut down a bit in 1927, and once more in 1978, putting them at their present height. I can imagine how grand the Church must have looked with them at their full height, and it’s a shame they had to be shortened.

Not far from here is the local train station, with trains running Northwards from Kendal to Windermere, and Southwards to Manchester Airport, Manchester, Preston, Lancaster and Oxenholme Lake District, where there is a connection with the West Coast Main Line if you want to head North towards Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Station originally had two lines, but one was removed in 1973 making it a single platform station, so trains only run hourly.

Arguably Kendal’s most famous creation is Kendal Mint Cake, a peppermint cake created by Joseph Wiper, supposedly after an attempt to make a batch of Peppermint creams went wrong and resulted in the Mint Cake. It is widely available all over the area, not just in Kendal, but we picked up a nice big bar of it here anyway for the journey home. My favourite fact about Kendal Mint Cake is that when Sir Edmund Hillary (1919 – 2008) became the first person to ascend Mount Everest in 1953, he actually took some up with him, as it was a good source of energy, and it was very popular amongst the group.

Elsewhere in Kendal you could visit the Museum of Lakeland Life, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, and the other churches in the town including Kendal Parish Church, and St Georges Holy Trinity Church. On the way out we passed by Kendal County Hall, a large office building topped by a small Clock Tower in the centre. The County Offices are located here in Kendal, although Carlisle is the Administrative Centre of Cumbria. Other Local Government functions are spread throughout the county, from Wigton to Barrow-in-Furness.

Kendal is a stunning town, with some of the finest architecture we have seen, and history seeping out of every street. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, although it was time to move on to our last stop of the day, the famous Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire, and if you’ll excuse me, I have a big piece of Kendal Mint Cake to nibble on!

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