BLTC Press Titles

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Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

Hawkshead: (the northernmost parish of Lancashire)

by Henry Swainson Cowper


origin of mankind to epochs so remote, that we are forced to step from archaeology to anthropology and geology, to trace man in his earlier history. Dates have to be cast aside, and even figures and statistics, based upon the growth of rocks and alluvial deposits, bewilder us with their long rows of ciphers, and even more with the widely divergent conclusions which eminent anthropologists draw from these calculations upon the origin of mankind.

With these dim epochs and abstruse problems we are, however, perhaps fortunately, not brought into contact in treating of the history of Hawkshead; for hitherto no evidence has been found in this part of England of palaeolithic, and much less of pleistocene, man. Evidences, however, are not wanting that this district was inhabited in remote prehistoric times—the epochs when man wrought his tools and weapons from the native rock, and forged his spear and dagger of shining bronze. Here, then, commence the annals of Hawkshead.

In these days—the days of the earliest known human occupation—the face of the district known now as Furness Fells must have worn a vastly different aspect to that at the present time. Consisting as it does of a series of undulating valleys and minor fells, and placed at the foot of the rugged heights and higher hills which close it in to north and west, it would appear to the first-comers, if they approached from the south, as an immense cul-de-sac, where at any rate the "faint hearts," as they surveyed the rocky barrier, whose summits are so often cloud-capped, would probably pitch their wigwams; and pause, at least, before entering an inhospitable mountain region, which for all they knew might extend for many miles.

If, on the other hand, they came from the north, the horrors of the fells were to them a thing of the past. From rugged Kirkstone and Helvellyn's slopes their keen eyes would have scanned the lesser heights of Furness, with its broad sheets of water, and its valleys filled, no doubt, at that period with a dense growth of scrub and underwood, recognizable only at such a distance by its hue* Far away beyond they would have caught a glimpse of the fretted coast-line, the broad sands, and the silver sea. The tangled underwoods teemed with game, and the placid meres with fish, and as the fellsides were high enough to be clear of the jungle and marsh fog, and so low as to be free from clouds, the first-comers, from whichever direction they approached, would, we think, hardly pass without leaving a colony of some sort .

We will ask our reader to accompany us, in the character of one of these aborigines, to the summit of Coniston Old Man. At our feet and seven miles away to the east, gleam in sunlight the waters we now call Coniston and Windermere: but otherwise the scene is different from that of to-day. No fair green fields, no larch plantations, no stone walls, and, above all, no smiling villas or grey church towers arrest our view. Wherever we look, the lower ground presents a dusky tinge, which, Reader, we, who, axe and bow in hand, have traversed the country, know to be a tangled and impenetratable growth of scrub and forest, in which can be found the great urus, the wild swine, and even wolves, red deer, and bears.t Through this jungle

* Even as late as ihe time of the foundation of Furness Abbey the district was called a forest; so is it termed in Stephen's own foundation charter.

t Mr. Jno. Watson, in "The Westmorland Natural History Record" (Kendal, 1889), suggests the following dates for the extinction of large animals in these parts :— Brown bear, 500-1000; wild boar, 1620; wolf, 1680; beaver, c. 1100-1200. Macpherson, however, considers the wolf was rare, if not extinct, at end of the thirteenth century.

there are no roads; it lies evenly over all the low ground, and even clothes the fellsides to a height of five or seven hundred feet above sea-level. The hoary heads of all the great fells to the north and east are clear of it, while between us and Windermere, the lesser heights of Ironkeld, Latterbarrow, Colthouse, Hawkshead Moor, and further south of Bethecar and Finsthwaite rise up bare like islands from the sea of scrub.

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