History of Hawkshead

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Want to learn more about the village of Hawkshead? Read on for a brief history of our Lake District village.

The history of Hawkshead stretches back centuries. Its name is derived from the Old Norse Haukr’s saetr, and it may once have been a Viking settlement centred around a timber structure where the village Church now stands.
The township of Hawkshead was once owned by the monks of Furness Abbey, with William the Conqueror’s grandson including Hawkshead and its surroundings in his 1137 endowment of Furness Abbey. The Cistercian monks built one of their ‘granges’ just north of the village; today, part of its hall, courthouse and mill pond can still be seen.

As great entrepreneurs, the monks developed and ran Hawkshead as a prosperous market centre for materials including raw wool, yarn, and a coarse homespun undyed cloth known as ‘hodden grey’, which was worn by the labouring poor throughout much of northern Europe.

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the late 1530s, Furness Abbey was surrendered to the Crown and local merchants took over Hawkshead’s wool trade. The village gained its Market Charter in 1608. Flax and hemp were cultivated by the monks, and later by landowners, with these raw materials being necessary for items like sails, clothing, ropes, cords, and halters. Raw flax and linen yarn were supplied to nearby Kendal for its linsey-woollen trade.

In 1585, Edwin Sandys of Graythwaite, who had risen to Archbishop of York under Elizabeth I, founded Hawkshead Grammar School and endowed it with enough land and property for the education to be free. Included in the endowment was the plot of land next to the church where the school now stands, as it was common for early schools to be held in church and for ministers to be schoolmasters. The current building was erected in 1675 by Daniel Rawlinson, of Grizedale and London. It remained a school until 1909 and is now a museum.

Hawkshead has several literary connections, one being William Wordsworth himself – who was educated at the Hawkshead Grammar School. The other is Beatrix Potter, who lived nearby in Near Sawrey; her husband William Heelis had offices in the village.

The village became increasingly popular with visitors, particularly following the 1951 formation of the Lake District National Park. Today, it remains a bustling tourist destination as well as a strong local community, surrounded by traditional farms, fantastic attractions, and beautiful landscapes.

Notable Streets and Buildings

Hawkshead’s Parish church, St Michael’s & All Angels, dates mainly from the 15th Century; it replaced an early 12th Century chapel. Dominating the village, it was lime washed until 1875. The flagged floor was completed in the late 18th Century when ‘intramural burials’ ceased; prior to that, the earthen floor was strewn with rushes. The flamboyant biblical texts painted on the walls (1680 & 1711), and the external slate bench known as ‘Church End’, are particularly noteworthy.

Hawkshead has a Methodist Chapel (converted from a private house), opened on 20th November 1862.

Across the valley, the Friends (or ‘Quakers’) established a burial ground at Colthouse in 1658 – known today as a ‘Sepulchre Corner’. The remains of slate benches built into the walls show where meetings were held here in the years before the austere Friends Meeting House nearby was built in in 1688. Many of the properties in Colthouse belonged to Quaker families.

Both the parish church and Sepulchre Corner overlook the field still known as Gibbet Moss, where the corpses of malefactors were hung as an example. Hawkshead also had a gallows, erected on the drumlin still known as Gallowbarrow.

Hawkshead’s Market House was built about 1650. It consisted of an upper storey with an open-arched ‘shambles’ beneath, in which five butchers carried out their trade. It was given a more ‘polite’ facade in around 1800 and extended at either end to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

Throughout Hawkshead, note the cutaway rounded corners of some streets and buildings. These were built in this way to allow passage for laden pack-ponies or wagons.

Flag Street gets its name from the Brathay flagstones which span the beck, where fleeces, yarn and cloth were washed.

The Spout House on Fountain Street provided pure water for brewing and domestic use.

The cobbled ‘Leather, Rag and Putty Street’ was once busy with cobblers, cloggers, saddlers, harness makers and clockmakers.

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