Potted Guide To Keswick, Lake District

About Keswick, Lake District

Keswick has a long history, but much of what went before the Middle Ages is largely unknown. There is certainly evidence of Pre-Historic occupation close at hand, with the 5000-year-old monument of Castlerigg Stone Circle nearby. There is some evidence of the area being inhabited prior to the Roman occupation too, as the local Celtic tribe the Carvetii were certainly in evidence, with a number of hill forts round and about.

The Norse certainly settled in the area in considerable numbers, this can be seen in local place names; such as Bassenthwaite, Thornthwaite, Braithwate and Bassenthwaite (the only Lake in the Lake District… the rest are all meres and waters – again all to do with the Norse…).

But things really get off the ground in the 13th century when the first recorded mention of the town features, with the granting of the town’s market charter by King Edward I (aka Longshanks).

During Tudor times the town is at the heart of a burgeoning mining industry, with copper, graphite, and slate all being extracted. Copper and graphite (the latter also known as plumbago) from Borrowdale, were of particular importance in developing the might of the English Navy during the 18th century. Copper was used to protect the hulls of ships from infestation and graphite was used to line the moulds used in the manufacture of cannonballs, allowing the casting of smoother and rounder shot, which could be fired further than those of Navy’s enemies.

Graphite also had another handy use… in the 1500’s legend has it, that a group of local shepherds discovered a strange black material entangled in the roots of a storm blown tree. They quickly discovered this material left a mark, which they applied to the fleeces of their sheep as a way of identifying them. Gradually graphite’s application as a writing material came into its own, and by 1832 the first recorded pencil factory coming into being.

Keswick had strong literary associations too with Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who alongside Wordsworth were known as the ‘Lakes Poets’. The three, prodigious in their output, had a great many followers in high society, who unable to undertake the Grand Tour because of the Napoleonic War began to explore their own county. A great many inspired by the ‘Lakes Poets’ headed to the Lake District and in particular Keswick, which marked the start of the town’s tourist industry.

During the late 19th century the town also enjoyed a little fame as the home of The Keswick School of Industrial Art. The school was founded in 1884 by local vicar, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (who later became one of the co-founders of the National Trust) and his wife Edith. The pair inspired by the thinking of John Ruskin established evening classes for unemployed men in woodwork and metal work. These classes became so popular that by 1890 the school was exhibiting and winning prizes nationally for the quality of the craftsmanship produced. The school survived until the 1980’s, sadly closing due to lack of funding, however, examples of the work produced can be seen in the town’s Museum and Art Gallery Keswick Museum

Things to do and events in Keswick…

Today Keswick boasts what is described as the friendliest theatre in the UK – Theatre By The Lake The Theatre By The Lake This acclaimed repertory theatre presents up to nine of its own productions during the year, as well as a varied programme of talks, music, dance, opera, musical theatre, drama and dance.

This seemingly serene town also hides a little secret or two… it plays host to a number of internationally acclaimed events each year… Words By The Water, is an internationally acclaimed literary festival held over 10 days each March, during which writers and readers get together to share the pleasure of books, words and ideas Words By The Water

Then there’s Keswick Film Festival held annually every February. This acclaimed friendly film festival features a mix of preview, recent and classic films from all over the world plus guests, talks and shorts centred around one of the UK’s oldest surviving cinema’s The Alhambra Keswick Film Festival

If you enjoy your music Keswick may just reel you in too, as the town plays host to the largest and most popular celebration of trad, New Orleans, swing and mainstream jazz in the UK. Top talent congregate every May to listen to great music and soak up the atmosphere of the Keswick Jazz Festival Keswick Jazz Festival

Keswick Mountain Festival held Each May, is a celebration of the town’s links to the outdoors and the wealth of adventure sports to be enjoyed in the Lake District’s great outdoors. The festival features talks, music, demonstrations and lots of opportunities to get involved in adventure sports.