Tuesday, 24 May 2016

10 Fascinating Facts about Cumbria

Writing a book with the word "History" in the title is bound to put some people off.  We don't all love history.  Hell, *I* didn't even love history when I was at school - I'd be nodding off before you could say 1066.  Our mission is to unearth facts that have the "oooohh" factor - as in "oooohh, I never knew that" - so here are 10 of my favourite fab facts about Cumbria; some are in the book and some aren't, but I guarantee all of them are more fun than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

1.  There used to be a bridge from Bowness-on-Solway to Scotland, but it was demolished due to drunken Scots.

The bridge was over 1 mile long and was used by iron ore carrying trains to avoid the busy junction at Carlisle.  It was badly damaged by icebergs in 1881 after the rivers Esk & Eden froze - as they thawed ice broke off and demolished a third of the bridge.  It was rebuilt but eventually closed in 1921.  At that time you couldn't buy alcohol in Scotland on a Sunday so, each Sunday a number of our Scottish friends crossed the bridge to enjoy a "relaxing sweet sherry" after dinner.  Unfortunately they were prone to having one too many and, after a few folks sadly fell from the bridge and drown as they staggered home, the bridge was demolished in 1933.

2.  George Washington's Granny is buried in Whitehaven


Honestly, there are SO many fascinating things to say about Whitehaven that it's hard to pick just one - but this was the one that surprised me the most.  Mildred Gale - George Washington's paternal grandmother is buried there.  She was born in Virginia but married a shipping merchant who traded on ships between Virginia and Whitehaven (which was a very busy and important port at that time).  She's buried in St Nicholas' churchyard, though the exact location of the grave isn't known.

3.  There's a road which runs parallel to the A6 between Kendal and Shap which used to be one of the most important roads in the country.


OK, it doesn't parallel the whole way - it does criss cross a few times, but the Old North Road is still there and very easy to spot.  Most of it remains accessible and it makes for a lovely walk well away from the crowds.  There's a fabulous road map from 1675 which records all of the main coach roads in Britain - there were only 4 roads noted in the whole of Cumbria and this is one of them. And if a dusty old book from the seventeenth century doesn't impress you then maybe the fact that AW himself loved the old road and was fascinated by its history might persuade you to take a second look.

4.  Grange-over-Sands got its name from an annoyed vicar


You may have noticed that there are two Granges in Cumbria - the one up near Keswick and Grange-over-Sands in the south - but until 1858 they were both just called Grange (a name usually indicating a nearby granary).  When the Reverend Wilson Rigg arrived in the southern Grange, after an eventful coach journey across Morecambe Bay sands, he quickly got fed up of his mail getting misdirected to Keswick Grange, so he changed the name of the town to Grange-over-Sands to distinguish between the two.

5.  There's a rock up above Launchy Gills that was the site of illegal trading


Anyone who's ever trekked from Ullscarf to High Tove will tell you what a bogfest it is - unless they did it when it was all frozen solid (a top tip for those attempting all the Wainwrights).  There are only a few rocks up there and one of them has an interesting history. When the plague hit in 1665 public markets were stopped to try and prevent the spread of the disease, but people still needed money, so the folks of Thirlmere Valley had a plan...  Far away from the eyes of the law they snuck up onto the top of the fell to a place called Web Rock to trade their "web" (woven fabric) and earn money to buy food.  No-one has quite pinpointed exactly which rock it is but there are a few likely contenders.

6.  Kentmere had such rowdy drunks they changed the law of the land


Back in the nineteenth century there were plenty of mines, quarries and mills along the Kentmere valley and, on payday, things could get a bit rowdy.  In 1887 the pub in the village had its licence revoked thanks to the lively goings on.  The owners pursued the decision all the way to the House of Lords and ultimately lost but their case Sharp -v- Wakefield set a precedent still cited today.

7.  The Cumbrian Dialect is a foreign language



Many folks are familiar with the "Yan, tan, tethera" sheep counting language used in Cumbria, but the Cumbrian dialect (now sadly in decline) is pretty much a language in its own right.  During World War Two a local gent who joined the Royal Navy was stationed in Iceland - he spoke with a strong Cumbrian dialect and apparently had little trouble conversing with the locals.

8.  The monks of Furness Abbey engaged in both smuggling and bribery


Furness Abbey is a beautiful place to visit, sadly now a ruin but back in the day it was one of the most powerful Abbies in the country.  The monks built the castle on Piel Island to support their import and export trade which, as they didn't pay any taxes on it, was basically a smuggling operation.  The Abbot is also said to have paid a "ransom" to Robert the Bruce to protect the Abbey.  Some call it a "ransom" others may call it a "bribe".  I bet their confessions were interesting...

9.  George Stevenson planned an enormous bridge from Morecambe to Ulverston


When they were originally planning the expansion of the railways in the region, George Stevenson proposed the idea of running a railway line directly out across Morecambe Bay.  The enormous structure would have connected Morecambe to Ulverston, but the backers of the time understandably got the jitters and backed out of the idea, leading to the current railway and viaduct we see today.

10.  There was once a plan to heat Cumbria using geothermal energy


Shap Granite with its big pink crystals is easily recognisable and was much used in architecture across the country (including the bollards around St Paul's Cathedral in London).  As recently as the 1980s the British Geological Survey carried out test drilling to see if there was enough residual heat deep down in the rocks to provide heat to the county - sadly there wasn't, but then the rock is over 400 million years old.


Our book is PACKED with hundreds of fascinating nuggets just like these so please don't think it's just another boring old history book.  Click here to find out more and buy your copy.