Grasmere Parish

  > Comprises one of the most picturesque and beautiful districts in the region of the lakes, in which it holds a central situation. It is bounded on the north and west by Cumberland, on the south by Lancashire, and on the east by the parish of Windermere and the chapelry of Patterdale. The lakes of Grasmere and Rydal, the tarns of Elterwater, Easdale, Coldale,1 Blea, and Stickle, the rivers Brathay and Rothay, the waterfalls of Stock-gill, Dungeon-gill, Rydal, and the Forces, the mountains of Fairfield, and Langdale Pikes, with many other lofty eminences, are all within its limits; and on the southwest comer is Wrynose mountain, upon the summit of which the counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, and Lancashire form a junction,2 which is marked by three shire stones. It was anciently written Gresmere, sometimes Grismere, from which Dr. Burn conjectures that it took its name "from the grise, or wild swine with which this country formerly abounded." The parish, which abounds with blue slate, has three chapels of ease, and is divided into the four townships of Ambleside, (chapelry,) Grasmere, Langdale, Great and Little, and Rydal and Loughrigg. Its population in 1841, amounted to 1684 souls, and the annual value of the lands and buildings within its boundaries is about 8000.

GRASMERE is a pleasant village, delightfully situated in a fertile and highly cultivated vale, on the north side of the lake, from which it has its name, nearly four miles N.W. by W. of Ambleside.

A sheep fair is held here on the first Tuesday in September. In the township are some gentlemen's seats, richly ornamented with thriving plantations, and commanding splendid panoramic views of the grand amphitheatre of mountains which surround the lake. To the rear of the village is Helm Cragg, a lofty pyramidical eminence, the summit of which is composed of vast rocks, in whose form fancy has discovered "a resemblance to a lion and lamb, and to an old woman cowering;" the stones, appearing as if they had fallen perpendicularly, form deep and frightful chasms.

The church, dedicated to St. Oswald, is a modest building, covered with blue state. It is described by Burn as "a pretty large edifice, with a strong tower and three bells." Its walls are hung round with frames, containing scripture pieces, and its floor is annually covered with rushes on that day of rejoicing, ceremony, and festivity, called the rush bearing, a very ancient custom, which still continues in several parishes in this county. The church yard is shaded by aged pines and sycamores, "to which some pathetic stranger has added a few mournful yews." The church, though small, is sufficiently spacious for its congregation, as there are now three other episcopal places of worship in the parish, which, as well as that of Windermere, anciently formed part of the still extensive parish of Kendal. When Ivo de Talebois gave the church of Kendal, to St. Mary's abbey, York, Grasmere paid to the said abbey a pension of 1 13s. 4d. In 1376, the living was valued at 10, and was in the patronage of John de Coupland. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the patronage of the rectory, which is valued in the king's books at 28 11s. 5d., was granted to the Bellinghams, and in 1574, purchased by William le Fleming, of Rydal, who, together with several of his family, is buried in the church, beneath a beautiful marble monument. Lady le Fleming, of Rydal hall, is the patroness, and the Rev. Sir Richard le Fleming, A.M., is the incumbent. The living is now worth about 160 per annum.

The school, which was built by subscription, in 1685, has been endowed with several bequests, producing about 11 a year. James Parker is the present master.

The manor of Grasmere, which is of the Richmond and Marquis fees of Kendal barony, was anciently included in that of Windermere. It is held under the Earl of Lonsdale by customary tenants, who pay three pence fine on the change of lord or tenant, and heriots when widows come into possession.

AMBLESIDE is a small ancient market town, one mile N. of the head of Windermere, two miles S.S.E. of Rydal, and three miles of Grasmere, lakes, thirteen miles and a half N.W. of Kendal and about 276 miles N.W. by N. of London. It occupies a romantic situation, amidst lofty mountains, on the declivity of a hill, commanding pleasing views of the beautiful vale of Rothay, in which it stands, the parks of Rydal and Brathay, the extensive lake of Windermere, and the varied scenery at the foot of Wansfell Pike, and Loughrigg Fall. The town, which stands in the parishes of Grasmere and Windermere,* is built in pleasing irregularity, each particular house being, as Mr. Green says, "situated upon a particular Knoll." From the central situation which it holds in the region of the lakes, and the variety and beauty of the scenery by which it is surrounded, this town is generally for a considerable time made the head quarters of tourists, for whom there are excellent accommodations at the hotels, inns, and lodging-houses. Many of the latter have been erected within the last few years, and the new road, which was made about sixteen years ago, from the market place to the north end of the town, is a great improvement. In the immediate vicinity of the town are several handsome mansions, occupied by gentry, but the only magistrate in this township is Benson Harrison, Esq., of Green Bank, a beautiful mansion, on the side of a gentle acclivity, at the northern extremity of the town, commanding delightful views.

Ambleside was formerly a Roman station, and its name is said to be a corruption of the two Latin words, Amabilis Situs. This station, which is supposed to be the Dictis of the Notitia, was garrisoned by a cohort of Nerian soldiers, and had two military ways, one proceeding from it by Ulswater, and through Greystoke park, to Papcastle,3 and the other, now called the Cassa, connecting it with Concangium, or Water Crook, near Kendal. It has been fortified by a ditch and rampire, and traces of its walls and outbuildings may still be seen at the head of Windermere. The fortress appears to have been 165 yards long, and 100 yards broad. Many Roman coins, urns, glass vials, millstones, bricks, tesselated pavements, and other relics of antiquity have been found here at different periods; several of which were given by Thomas Braithwaite to the university of Oxford, in 1674. From a similitude of the name, Camden has erroneously placed the Amboglana of the itinerary, at Ambleside, but Horsley has since proved that Burdoswald,4 in Cumberland, is the site of that station.

The market house was erected in 1796, on the site of the old one, which rested on pillars and was galleried round. Mr. Green says, it was a most curious and picturesque building. "In 1650, the keeper of the liberty of England, by authority of Parliament, granted to the Countess of Pembroke, that within the village of Ambleside there shall be a market weekly, on Wednesday, and two fairs yearly (now held on the Wednesday in Whitsun week, and on the 29th of October), with a court of pie-powder,5 and other incidents thereunto." In 1698, James II granted a similar charter, in which nine trustees are incorporated with power to "take reasonable toll, tollage, piccage, fines, amercements, and other profits, for the benefit of the poor of Ambleside." Another fair for sheep is now held on the 13th of October, but the market has long been in a declining state. When, however, sheeps' wool was prepared for the loom by hand labour, the town was crowded with buyers and sellers, who were called together and dispersed by the tinkling of a bell. "Then all was bustle and animation; joy beamed in every countenance, for all the traffic was for ready money, and every individual lived upon the produce of his labour." But the subsequent general introduction of machinery, together with a system which has obtained here of hawking provisions and goods from door to door, have completely ruined, and almost annihilated, the market of Ambleside. A large woollen mill was established here about the year 1797, and near to it was a tannery, but both have been for some years discontinued. There is still, however, a bobbin mill and a corn mill here, and the joiners and stone masons of the town give employment to several hands. A society, called the "Windermere Benefit Building Society," has been recently established here.

The chapel, which stands at the north end of the town, is a handsome Gothic edifice, rebuilt in 1812, by a "rate levied on the landowners of the chapelry and township." It was made parochial by the Bishop of Chester, in 1675, and endowed by the principal inhabitants with a yearly salary of 14, (afterwards reduced to 12 4s. 11d.,) which they voluntarily charged upon their estates. But the curacy has been augmented with an estate purchased in 1758, at Grayrigg, with 600, of which 400 was given by the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty in 1726 and 1746; 100 by the executors of Dr. Stratford; 30 by Sir William le Fleming, and 30 by the Rev. Isaac Knife, the remaining 40 being chapel stock. It has since received a parliamentary grant of 400, and 200 from Queen Anne's Bounty, and another grant of 678 18s. 6d., in 1846, so that the living is now worth 80 per annum. Lady le Fleming is the patroness, and the Rev. Samuel Irton Fell is the incumbent, and resides in a neat dwelling near the town, recently erected.

At the high end of the town is a dissenting chapel, erected a few years ago, by Mr. Combe, an Independent minister. It is now used by the Wesleyans.

The Free Grammar School was founded in 1721, by John Kelsick, who, in that year, bequeathed to three trustees nearly all his lands, at Ambleside, for the erection of the school and support of the master. The property is now worth 150 a year, and the school, which is free to all the boys of the township, is taught by Mr. Wm. Barton. Here are also a national and an infant school.

A branch of the Ulverstone Savings' Bank is kept at the national school; it was established about twelve months since, and is open every alternate Wednesday. Mr. Thos. Troughton is the actuary.

Petty sessions are held every Wednesday at Ambleside, which is a polling station for the county representatives, and is included in the third circuit of county court towns, under the new act for the recovery of debts under 20. This court is held every fourth Monday. The ceremony of rush bearing is still kept up here, and on July 27th, 1840, it was celebrated with unusual hilarity; Adelaide, the Queen Dowager, having on that day passed through this town, where she was received with every demonstration of respect.

The township of Ambleside is included in the Earl of Lonsdale's manor of Windermere, and is in the Richmond fee.

Ambleside hall, long the seat of the ancient family of Braithwaite, the progenitors of the Braithwaites of Warcop and Burneside, stood near the junction of the Keswick and Penrith roads.

Low Wood inn, one mile and a half south of Ambleside, is pleasantly seated on a small bay of Windermere, and is much frequented by tourists. The views obtained from this neighbourhood, of Windermere lake, the Langdale mountains, &c , are exceedingly beautiful. Two small cannons are kept at the inn to gratify the curious, and the remarkable reverberations of sound, which follow the report of a gun in these singular vales, is vividly described in the following lines :-

"The cannon's roar
Bursts from the bosom of the hollow shore;
The dire explosion the whole concave fills,
And shakes the firm foundation of the hills.
Now pausing deep, now bellowing from afar,
Now rages near the element of war;
Affrighted echo opens all her cells,
With gather'd strength, the posting clamour swells,
Check'd or impell'd, and varying in its course,
It slumbers, now awakes with double force,
Searching the straits, and crooked hill and dale,
Sinks in the breeze, or rises in the gale;
Chorus of earth and sky ! the mountains sing,
And heaven's own thunder thro' the valley ring."

Adelaide, the Queen Dowager, dined at the Low Wood inn on the 25th of July, 1840.

Waterhead is a pleasant hamlet, at the head of Windermere lake, and in Windermere parish, but in the township of Ambleside, from which it is distant three quarters of a mile E. by S. Mr. Thomas Jackson, land agent to Lady le Fleming, the Rev. J. J. Hornby, Mrs. Brenchly, Mrs. Newton, and some others, have neat and pleasant dwellings here. Dove Nest, the seat and property of Thos. Benson, Esq., is a neat villa, occupying a delightful situation, about one mile south of Ambleside, and commanding a fine view of Windermere lake, &c.

Charities. - In 1653, James Braithwaite, Esq., left the interest of 5 for opening and cleansing the watercourses, especially in Ambleside town street, and he also gave orders that the bridge, which he had built at the Pull, should be repaired for ever by the owners of his tenements at Pulbeck and Brathay. In 1658, Mr. Robert Jackson, of Kendal, bequeathed 3 a year to the poor of Ambleside, to be distributed every Sunday in bread, by the churchwardens and overseers, who were to have 8s. for their trouble. In 1670, Thos. Braithwaite, Esq., left the interest of 50 yearly to eight or ten poor householders in Ambleside, to be distributed to them on the 24th of December; George Mackereth, who was living in 1688, left the interest of 100, to be expended annually on the feast of St. Martin, in the purchase of clothing for the poor inhabitants of Ambleside.

Two beautiful steam yachts ply daily during "the season," between Ambleside and Newby-bridge, calling off Bowness.

Biography. - Mr. William Green, who, in 1819, published a Guide to the Lakes, in two octavo volumes, settled here in the year 1800, where he died in 1823, aged sixty-two years. As has been truly said, his guide "will long remain a monument of the assiduity with which he pryed into the arcana of the majestic mountains of the lake district." He also depicted the varied scenery of this interesting region, with an ability and industry seldom united in one person. He was a native of Manchester, and previous to his removal to Ambleside had resided for some years at Keswick.

Miss Harriet Martineau, one of the most popular writers of the present day, is now resident at Ambleside. She was born at Norwich, June, 1802, and lived in London from 1832 till 1835, when she settled here, and built the dwelling denominated "The Knoll." Her principal works are "Illustrations of Political Economy," "Society in America," "Retrospect of Western Travel," "Deerbrook," "The Hour and the Man," "Forest and Game Law Tales," "The Playfellow," "Household Education," "Eastern Life, Present and Past," "History of the Thirty Years' Peace," all of which are in great estimation. She is also authoress of several other highly instructive and interesting productions, and doubtless many more may still be expected from her brilliant and prolific genius.

LANGDALE (GREAT AND LITTLE) are two hamlets and districts forming a joint township, which extends from two to eight miles W. of Ambleside. It contains the village of Elterwater, three miles and a quarter W. of Ambleside, and the lake of that name, with several other tarns, near to which are the beautiful cascades of Skelwith Force and Colwith Force, and a grand assemblage of mountains on each side of the Brathay, some of which yield an abundance of fine blue slate. At Elterwater is a gunpowder mill,   belonging to the Elterwater Gunpowder Company, of which Mr. John Robinson is the managing partner. The works were commenced in 1824, since which time from 4000 to 6000 pounds of "fatal powder" have been made here weekly. Here is also a blue slate quarry, wrought by Isaac Bird. Great Langdale manor was formerly held by John de Coupland, and the family of Parr, and when Queen Catherine's survey was made in 1677, the amount of the customary rents arising from her lands here, was 5 4s. 11d.
It is now held of the crown by the Earl of Lonsdale, as part of the manor of Windermere. Little Langdale was long held by the Penningtons of Muncaster, "who sold most of the tenants to freehold about the year 1692, and the rest of the seniority was afterwards purchased by the Phillipsons, of Calgarth." The extensive manor and demesne of Bays Browne, or Baisbrow, which contains Lingmoor Fell and two blue slate quarries, are within the township and chapelry of Langdale. It was given by the second Wm. de Lancastre, to Coningshead priory, in Lancashire, but after the dissolution the chief part of the tenements were purchased by Gaven Braithwaite, and the demesne subsequently became the property of John Atkinson, Esq., of Cockermouth. It now belongs to Benson Harrison, Esq., of Ambleside.

The chapel, which stands at the foot of Silverhow, in Great Langdale, five miles W. of Ambleside, is a building of considerable antiquity, but it is supposed that the original chapel was at a place called chapel mire, in Little Langdale, the present edifice is supposed to have been erected about the year 1750. "The curate's ancient salary is 6 4s. 3d. per annum, but since 1743 the living has been augmented with 800 of Queen Anne's Bounty, with which four small estates have been purchased, out of one of which near Ulverstone, the poor receive one fourth of the rent, in consideration of 51 4s. poor stock being included in its purchase money." In 1843 it received a further augmentation of 28 yearly, so that the living is now worth 100 per annum. The rector of Grasmere is patron and the Rev. Stephen Birkett is the incumbent, and has a commodious dwelling near the chapel, erected in 1845, at the cost of 400, of which 200 was obtained from Queen Anne's Bounty, the rest being raised by local subscription.

The school was erected in 1824, by the Elterwater Gunpowder Company, in consideration of a piece of land which was given to them for the use of their mill.

RYDAL AND LOUGHRIGG, the former situated on the north side of the beautiful lake of its name, one mile and a quarter N.W. of Ambleside, and the latter lying between the rivers Brathay and Rothay, from which it rises boldly into a lofty and romantic fell, and extending from half a mile to two miles W. of the same town, form a township which, as Mr. Green says, seems to have been designed by nature for producing extraordinary assemblages of beauty - where "water, wood, rock, and mountain, are rarely seen in greater diversity." Loughrigg contains a tarn of twelve acres, and commands fine views of Windermere, Grasmere, Rydal, and Elterwater lakes. The hamlet of Skelwith Bridge, on the river Brathay, near a waterfall, is in this district, two miles and a half W.S.W. of Ambleside.

Rydal is supposed by Sir Daniel Fleming, to be a contraction of Rothay-dale, from the river which flows from Langdale Pikes through the lakes of Grasmere and Rydal, to that of Windermere, along a picturesque vale, richly clothed with wood. The manor of Rydal and Loughrigg was granted about the year 1280, by Margaret de Brus, to Roger de Lancastre, who held Rydal, with part of Loughrigg and Ambleside, of the king in capite, by the service of the fourth part of a knight's fee. In the reign of Henry VI, Sir Thomas le Fleming, of Coniston, married one of his descendants, by whom he obtained this manor, which has since remained in his family, and is now held by Lady le Fleming. The ancestor of this illustrious family was Michael le Fleming, one of the adventurers who came to England with William the Conqueror. He received a grant of Arlecdon, Beckermet, and several other manors in Cumberland, in Furness, and in Lancashire. He died soon after the year 1154,6 and was buried in Furness abbey, to which he had been a liberal benefactor. From Richard le Fleming, his second son, who lived at Caernarvon castle, near Beckermet, are descended the Flemings of Rydal. He died in the reign of King John, and was interred beside his father, in the Abbey of Furness. His only son, Sir John le Fleming, died in the reign of Henry III, and was buried in Calder abbey, to which institution he was a great benefactor. He was succeeded by his son Sir Richard le Fleming, who, by his marriage, became possessed of Coniston hall, in Lancashire, where he afterwards resided. He died in the reign of Edward I, and was succeeded by his son John le Fleming, of Coniston, whose son, Rainerus, was a great benefactor to St. Mary's abbey, York. John Fleming, Esq. was justice of the peace for Cumberland, from 1610 to 1622, about which time he became a Catholic. "In 1628, he procured a supersedeas for his recusancy, and an acquittance for his knighthood money," and "in 1630 he obtained a license to travel above five miles from Rydal." In the same year he paid to the king for his recusancy 30, and afterwards 50 per annum. He died in 1641, and was interred in Grasmere church. His son William was a zealous supporter of the royal cause, and appeared in arms against Cromwell, but he unfortunately died before he attained his majority. Sir Daniel le Fleming was created a baronet in the 4th of Queen Anne, having been previously knighted in 1681 by Charles II. Sir William represented Westmorland in parliament, in 1698, 1702, 1705, and 1707. The Rev. Sir George le Fleming was Bishop of Carlisle, from 1734 to 1747. Sir Michael le Fleming, the late baronet, was also elected knight of the shire for Westmorland, in 1774. The present baronet, the Rev. Sir Richard le Fleming, is cousin to the lady of the manor. The tenants are "mostly customary and heriotable, and pay 20d. fines and render boon service."

The chapel dedicated to St. Mary, is a handsome Gothic building, with a tower and one bell. It stands in the village, and was erected by Lady le Fleming, at the cost of 1500, and opened for divine service in 1824. The same benevolent lady also endowed it with land worth 10 a year, and with money, which, added to an allotment of Queen Anne's Bounty, produces about 100 per annum. The chapel has been conveyed to trustees, and the Rev. Fletcher Fleming is the present incumbent. She also established a school here, and pays for the education of all the poor children in the neighbourbood.

Rydal hall, the beautiful seat of Lady Ann Fredicia Elizabeth le Fleming, is a fine old mansion, on a gently rising eminence, embosomed in a sylvan park, at the junction of two vales, near the foot of the lake. It is sheltered by large oak, ash, sycamore, and other trees, and behind it rise the steep and lofty Fairfield, and the ravine called Rydal head. "The hall was greatly improved by the late Sir Michael le Fleming, whose taste and liberal spirit contributed much towards the perfection of those beauties which nature has so lavishly scattered round this sequestered vale, in which the magnificent cascades, called, Rydal Waterfalls, are conspicuous objects." A short distance above the hall is Rydal Mount, the seat of William Wordsworth, Esq., poet laureate, and "the father of the lake school of poetry." He was born at Cockermouth, in 1770, but has spent the greater part of his life here, amidst scenery, which in grandeur and beauty, is scarcely equalled in England, and which doubtless has "contributed to enrich his imagination, to refine the natural purity of his feelings, and to produce many of the noble and exquisite descriptions of nature which adorn his poems." This charming villa looks down upon the vale of Ambleside and the lake of Windermere on the one side, and the lake of Rydal on the other; "the house and gardens are in the best taste, the latter having assumed their present form under the poet's own hand. " He is author of the "Description of the scenery of the lakes in the north of England," "White Doe of Rilston," "Excursion," two vols. of poems, and one of miscellaneous poems, "River Duddon," "Lyrical Ballads," "Yarrow Revisited," and a variety of other pieces. From the following expostulary sonnet of the venerable bard, on the projection of the Kendal and Windermere railway, which was opened in 1847, it would appear that he is no friend to such innovations.

"Is there no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown
In youth, and 'mid the busy world kept pure
As when their earliest flowers of hope were flown,
Must perish, How can this blight endure?
And must he, too, his old delights disown,
Who scorns a false utilitarian lure,
'Mid his paternal fields at random thrown?
Baffle the threat, bright scene, from Orrest head,
Given to the pausing traveller's rapturous glance
Of nature ! And if human hearts be dead,
Speak, ye passing winds :- ye torrents with pure, strong,
And constant voice, protest against the wrong."

Near to Rydal Mount is Glen Rothay, the seat and property of William Ball, Esq.

LOUGHRIGG district, which forms a township and manor with Rydal, lies between the rivers Brathay and Rothay, from which it rises boldly into a lofty and romantic fell, extending from half a mile to two miles W. of Ambleside. It contains a tarn or lough, of twelve acres, and commands fine views of Windermere, Grasmere, Rydal, and Elterwater lakes. Fox Ghyll, the handsome seat of Hornby Roughsedge, Esq., stands here in a romantic situation at the foot of Loughrigg Fell, about half a mile from Ambleside.


* The rivulet called Stock Gill, which runs through the town, separates the two parishes. That part of Ambleside in this parish is called above Stock, and the other below Stock.

A general tax.

Money paid for breaking up ground for a stake in a market or fair.


Mannix & Co., History, Topography and Directory of Westmorland, 1851




1. Now Codale Tarn.
2. No longer the case, of course, since the county of Cumbria was created.
3. Near Cockermouth.
4. Now Birdoswald.
5. A temporary court to administer justice during the fairs.
6. If Michael came over with William (in 1066), then he must have been well over 100 years of age when he died !

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman