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The importance of Ullswater heritage

When my wife Anne was a Girl Guide many years ago, one of the badges she earned required her to discover on foot, within a radius of one mile from her house, all the street names, footpaths, shops, post boxes, telephone booths, bus stops and other important features of the area. London’s Taxi drivers take it to an epic scale when they do ‘The Knowledge’, a test introduced in 1865, that London Cabbies have to pass in order to qualify.


I’ve always thought that this was a fabulous way of understanding the local community - we’ve done such a local ‘voyage of discovery’ on foot wherever we’ve lived.


In my talk to the Ullswater Breakfast group on 6th July I decided to do something similar from my house in Grisedale Valley. The idea was to show people the fantastic treasure trove of natural heritage and cultural artefacts that cover the area, but which sadly are so often unnoticed and unappreciated.


Even two weeks ago we discovered from an 1863 Ordnance Survey map the existence of an “old castle” within a few hundred metres of our house, which is not shown on current Ordnance survey maps, of which there is no trace today, and of which we were completely unaware. Who owned the castle? Why has it been lost in the mists of time?


Heritage is defined as: ‘Features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages or buildings that were created in the past and still have historical value’. 


What should we keep and conserve for future generations to appreciate?


What should we be prepared to destroy for ‘development’? 


At the world level, there are now learned committees that pronounce on what should/should not be classified as a World Heritage Site (WHS). At the latest count there are 1,121 WHSs in 167 countries, with the Lake District National Park’s WHS designation in July 2017 bringing the UK tally to 31. Italy, with 48, has the most of any country.


I shared in my talk that we have in the Ullswater Valley an extraordinarily rich tapestry of local heritage which should be conserved, explained to both locals and visitors alike and celebrated. Perhaps we should create a Heritage Centre in Glenridding, run by the Community, for the Community, showing off all these treasures? Perhaps we should set up a number of innovative interpretation panels sensitively located near local heritage sites throughout the Valley? The scale of sites varies enormously – from the massive Greenside Lead mine that closed in 1962, and which was one of the biggest producers of lead in the UK, to the tiny, well-hidden Ice House next to Lantys tarn, used to keep the Marshall family’s food supply at Patterdale Hall fresh the whole year long.  One could argue that the very existence of Glenridding depended on the Greenside mine, where up to 200 families worked on extracting lead and silver over a 300 year period. Today, less than a handful of people are still alive who have direct experience of working in the mine. Astonishingly, according to research done last year by postgraduate students from the Lancaster University Connected Communities Lab, over 70 % of Glenridding’s 400,000 annual visitors do not even know that the mine exists!


I showed slides of the iconic Ullswater Foxhounds’ Huntsmen Joe Bowman, who held the post for 41 years, whose hounds were descendants of John Peel’s own pack: Peel was a statesman and hunter (1776-1854), considered one of the most famous of all Cumbrians; I showed a photo of the incredible drystone wall in Grisedale that is over 4 metres high, 50 stones somehow balanced on top of each other, with no mortar to bond them together – some boundaries in the area go back to Norman times (1100 A.D); if you go to Glenridding House Hotel you can see where Darwin spent a 6 week holiday with his family in 1881, his last holiday before his death; opposite Glencoyne Farm you can see the site where Donald Campbell broke the world water speed record in Bluebird on Ullswater in July 1955 – before going on to break it a further 6 times; in the centre of Glenridding you’ll see the Inn on the Lake, requisitioned in WW1 to teach soldiers how to deal with gas in the trenches; further on, down a track to the lakeside there’s the Ullswater Steamers’ pier where the iconic Ullswater steamers, notably ‘Lady of the Lake’ and ‘Raven’ were launched respectively in 1877 and 1889; further on down the main road you come across Patterdale Hall, purchased by John Mounsey, the ‘King of Patterdale’ in 1624, rebuilt in 1667, then purchased in 1821 by the wealthy linen magnate John Marshall, whose wife went to school with Dorothy Wordsworth – a regular visitor with William to the Hall; it’s now owned by Bolton school together with 80 acres of Estate land.


As you continue on past the Hall you’ll see the world’s first hydro-powered sawmill on the Estate property. If you turn right up Grisedale you pass a sign to Helvellyn, Britain’s most popular walk, or instead carry on to Patterdale Village past St Patrick’s Church which was built with public funds in 1852 on the site of a Chapel of Ease that was there in 1348.  The famous 100-year-old Patterdale Post Office has a special connection with Alfred Wainwright who wrote:


“I have a soft spot for the Post office, being the first shop to sell copies of my first guidebook for the fells (The Eastern Fells). An order for 6 was repeated within a week, a cause of much inward rejoicing and relief since I had incurred a debt of £900 with the local printer”. The Post Office is at a unique cross roads between the Ullswater Way and the Coast-to-Coast path (Wainwright was one of the inspirations behind its creation). 


If you look out from the Post Office across towards Place Fell and Boredale Hause you’ll see Wordsworth’s Cottage, purchased by him in 1805. It dates back to 1670 and was lived in by Ann Macbeth from 1921-48  - two of her wonderful embroideries hang in St Patrick’s church. There are rock outcrops in Rooking that show traces of prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ markings that date back over 4,000 years.


There can be few places in the world, let alone the UK, with such an incredibly diverse culture and heritage. Yet, there is nothing in Glenridding – nor indeed in other parts of the Ullswater Valley - to explain the history and culture of the practices which molded our communities, nor which celebrate current farming and other activities.  Through the activities of the Friends of the Ullswater Way (, and notably the FOUW’s Heritage trail, we are trying to bring the art and culture of our area alive.  But there are so many other stories that could be told.


In a way, the story of the ‘disappearance’ of the Castle behind my house should be a wake-up call for all of us who believe passionately in the need to respect and keep alive our heritage.  All of us should have our say.


In my concluding slides, I made a plea for our communities in the Ullswater valley to become engaged in cultural and heritage issues, that can enrich our lives and ensure future generations can have the same sense of pride that we have today in the work done by our forebears and the wonders of our natural environment.


As a result of the lively discussion following the talk, I hope we can create a small group in the Valley who will brainstorm the most effective way of making this vision come true.   Anyone who is interested, please let me know. (


Tim Clarke

19th July 2019

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