The Market Town of Kendal

Time and again, we come across references to market towns.  People, guidebooks, tv shows, pamphlets… they all refer to them.  Finally, I had to ask, “What is a market town?”  The big explanation was, “There’s a market there, isn’t there?”  Hmmm  Really?  I hadn’t heard of London as being a market town.  There are more markets in London than we could possibly get to in our 3 weeks there.  We gave it a good try, believe me.

So, really, what is this business about a market town?  It wasn’t until preparing for our trip to Kendal, in the county of Cumbria, that I finally felt the need to investigate a bit.  Twice each week, there are people hawking their products (fish, produce, baked goods, clothing, kitchen gadgets, and anything else you can imagine) from indoor and outdoor stalls, but there’s more to it.  The town’s beginnings are very much tied to the markets and, trade in general.


Extensive research (thank you, Professor Google), allows me to tell you that, when the Romans showed up in the 1st Century, they embarked on some very amicable and mutually beneficial trade with  the local tribe, the Brigantes.  We can assume this was a win-win situation, because that’s how the Romans did things.

Kendal 20160123_145251


Eventually, the Romans left, the Normans showed up, built a castle or two, introduced the feudal system (a little like introducing unions and fair trade, from what I here), and Kendal has never turned back.



Richard I, AKA Richard the Lion Heart, now enters the story.  In 1189, Rich needed some cash for his Crusades, so he sold a Saturday Market licence to the Baron of Kendal.  The Baron, in turn, collected fees from the dudes running the stalls, and Kendal’s base of trade and commerce was well and truly born.  A ha!  Market Town!

Another thing that has had me curious is the appearance of little alleyways tucked between buildings, usually in the commercial area of towns. Where do they go?  Am  I supposed to follow?  Several times in Lancaster, I have dipped into them, only to hear Karen calling, “Why are you going that way?”  Because I don’t know where it goes… my completely logical response.

Kendal 20160123_111348

Kendal 20160123_111514


These spaces are called yards, and nowhere on this trip have they been more prevalent and more inviting than in Kendal.  According to Visit Cumbria’s fantastic website, these yards typically housed anything from factories to studios, shops and other places of manufacturing and commerce.  I wonder what took place in this one?20160123_115447

The yards are still vibrant places of business with all kinds of independent and funky shops and restaurants.  Thanks to the Kendal Civic Society, the history of many of these yards is posted, giving an excellent glimpse into what they must have been like so many years ago.

Kendal 20160123_121722

Kendal 20160123_111423

Wainwright Yard was named after Alfred Wainwright, author of the many guidebooks and namesake for a society of walkers in the UK.  Wainwright loved the Lake District and used Kendal as his homebase, calling it home from 1941 to 1991.

I did try to watch a video featuring Wainwright retracing one of his favourite walks.  To be honest, just as there is no way I could do his walk across England, I couldn’t make it through the video; I’m afraid it was back to BBCs Great British Railway Journeys.

In the 14th Century, the wool business took off.  Those hills were alive with the sound of sheep and Kendal benefited.  Joseph Hardman’s photograph Kendal Rush Hour from 1953 shows the streets filled with sheep and can be seen on postcards, calendars, and other such important historic documents.  While spinning and weaving of wool is no longer the basis of Kendal’s economy, that bit of its history is still being celebrated (crafters, knitters, textile artists: don’t skip over that bit…. back up, check it out, book your holidays).

From spinning and weaving of wool, the town’s industry moved to shoe making.  Cumbria and Lakelands areas were already producing leather and, eventually, shoe makers seemed to be a dime a dozen in the area.  By 1853, shoe making was Kendal’s biggest employer.  Eventually, Kendal was home to the famous K Shoes.  The rise and fall of the company was pretty dramatic including a merger with Clark’s.  Today, Clark’s does feature a K line, but only a warehouse remains in the town.

Kendal 20160123_125048

The excellent Museum of Lakeland Life gives a nod to this part of the region’s history.  OK, sewing machine freaks, check out the shoe maker’s machine!

Fear not, I won’t take you on a comprehensive tour of the museum (and, luckily, my partner in crime has announced that she’s getting a little “museumed out” again, so these stunning tidbits may be fewer and fewer).  That said, who can resist period clothing displays?  Am I right?

Kendal 20160123_125822-1

Kendal 20160123_125450

Kendal 20160123_125616

The little beauty on the right is a cotton day dress c. 1835 – 1845.  Not unlike my casual house frocks for everyday, worn with a corset to cinch the waist and restrict breathing while looking after daily activities.

The tiered wool dress on the left, however, is made of wool (good grief) and would have been worn with the fantastic cage with metal or wooden hoops invented in 1856.  It should be noted that the cages were much better than the layers and layers of petticoats previously required to give a lady’s skirts this kind of fashionable fullness.  Imaging the relief of simply stepping into a metal cage!

Kendal 20160123_125705

My personal favourite is the lovely watered-silk 2-piece number c 1860 – 1870.  The hem of the skirt measures a full 15 feet (4.5 m).  Of course, soft grey and mauve were colours of half- or demi-mourning.  The lucky gal who got to step out in this beauty would already have served her 2 years in full on black mourning wear.  Look out, fellas!  Here comes the stylish widow!

I’m going to be up front with you here.  As beautiful as I find historic fashions, I always walk away from these exhibits with a greater appreciation for sweat pants and t-shirts.

Comfortable shoes are also key if you plan to visit a castle (did you notice that smooth segue?).  As Karen said, “I always forget that we’re going to have to walk up a hill to see these things.”  Of course it was important to build your average fortified residence high above the marauding crowds, so you had plenty of time to prepare before guests arrived, but after all these years, would an escalator be too much to ask?

Kendal 20160123_144445

Yes, we started down at the bottom, and that grass looks better than the slippery muck we scrambled up (Mom, I know I am finishing that sentence with a preposition, but I think you’ll agree that this is one of those times when the rules have to bend; I just can’t say, “the slippery muck up which we scrambled.”)Kendal 20160123_144337

So, on our journey up Castle Hill, I was thrilled when we stumbled upon Kendal Parkside Cemetary!  You know that we had to take a little detour!

Kendal 20160123_143058 Kendal 20160123_143351 Kendal 20160123_143437

A long bus ride, checking out the shops in all of those yards visiting the museum, climbing Castle Hill, and stopping off at the cemetary… what better way to build up an appetite?

We’ve dined on pie and liquor (a sauce, not a drink) and stewed eel in London, sampled fish n chips in a few locations, and an Indian take-away in Warrington.  We’ve had our fair share of pub grub.  This day it was paninis and a shared salad with smoked salmon, orange segments, avocado.  Of course, we’d never think of having a drink at noon.  That would be far too indulgent.

Kendal 20160123_134918

What a great day in this historic market town.  Kendal has changed a great day over the centuries.  It is still a market town, but I would say that what it is mostly selling is its location.  It is on the doorstep of the Lake District, is beautiful in its own right, and  is brimming with history.  It’s easy to see why tens of thousands of tourists flock here every year.





8 thoughts on “The Market Town of Kendal

  1. Super post….most informative…Certainly informed me more than I ever as about delightful Kendal. Have been there and in that region quite often…..Know a lot about the place now. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your best post yet, IMHO. Also, Dad would like to point out that he did Wainwright’s 192-mile Coast to Coast Walk the year he turned 71. I’m certain he doesn’t *mean* anything by that. He’s just sayin’ 🙂


  3. Thank you!

    We walked a piddly 10.4 miles today. 5.2 miles on the way home was against the wind. Winds gusting at 70km/hr. Exhausting. We laughed and said your parents probably go that far to meet up their rambling group before the actual walk! We bow down with respect.


  4. Ambleside, Grasmere, Keswick (love the Theatre by the Lake) mainly. Plan to do Ullswater walk maybe this spring. Also went out to Wastwater a couple of years ago as it was reckoned to be “England’s best view “, but my photographs didn’t do it justice so will try again. We’re not too far down the M6 so it’s no problem. Keep on blogging! Kindest regards, Helen.


  5. Our fear right now is all footpaths will be sodden and mucky. I feel I am missing out on the area. Might get there, yet. Thanks for the tips.


Please jump in with a comment, a question, or a suggestion. I'd love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s