Kendal town hall (c) David Dixon
Kendal town hall
(c) David Dixon

by Barbara Ballard

Kendal is a large market town situated on the River Kent, on the eastern edge of Cumbria, and is the southern gateway to the Lake District. Because the town was built largely of grey stone, it received the nickname 'the auld grey town'.

Kendal was granted its market charter in 1189, and it relives those days each year during the spring bank holiday. A medieval market with pageantry, music, and entertainment takes over the streets with strolling players, jugglers, and jesters, while sellers ply their wares at market stalls.

Kendal's prosperity came from the wool trade. Begun in the 13th century, the trade flourished in the 14th century when Flemish weavers came to the area. From this time through the 19th century there were many mills on the River Kent. The town's motto 'pannus mihi panis' (wool is my bread) relates to 'Kendal Green', a rough, hardwearing material worn by Kendal archers.

Holy Trinity church
Holy Trinity church

The town's old cobbled lanes and byways branch off the attractive main street. The yards of houses in Kendal were named after the owners, and many of the yards ran down to the river, where weaving shops, dyeing works and factories were located.

The 12th century stone ruins of Kendal Castle sit on a hill on the western edge of the town, offering views over the town and the surrounding hills. (An earlier motte castle-Castle Howe-was built in 1087 on the other side of town, but it was abandoned in the 13th century).

The castle was built by the de Lancaster family, barons of Kendal, and was originally of earth and timber construction. It was rebuilt in stone in the late 12th century by Gilbert FitzReinfred, who became the owner through marriage.

The castle then passed through several owners, including the Crown. Richard II gave it to the well-known Parr family of which Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife, was a member-she married Henry in 1543. The castle was derelict by 1571.

The castle ruins do not show any evidence of a keep or a gatehouse. The remains of two towers and some walls still exist. Unfortunately, the castle suffered the fate of many neglected buildings; much of its stone was carried away to be used for erecting other buildings.

Improper partial restoration obliterated many of the original clues as to the nature of the building. However, it is clear that there were a large hall and kitchens on the left of the gatehouse, and the private apartments and ladies' quarters were on the right.

Castle Street (c) Dave Bevis
Castle Street (c) Dave Bevis

The Abbot Hall Art Gallery, located in a former Georgian villa in a park beside the River Kent in the southern part of the town, contains 18th-century paintings and sculptures. Lake District landscapes by Turner and Ruskin make up part of the collection. There are also changing exhibitions.

The Museum of Lakeland Life, in a converted stable block at Abbot Hall, details the history of life in Lakeland over the past 250 years. You can walk down an Edwardian street and visit an 18th-century kitchen. The 'Victorians in the Lake District' section includes toys and games and Victorian decor in a 19th-century bedroom and parlour. For all lovers of the Arts and Crafts movement, there is a display devoted especially to it.

The River Kent and Miller Bridge (c) Ian Taylor
The River Kent and Miller Bridge
(c) Ian Taylor

Also located beside the River Kent is Holy Trinity, the largest parish church in Cumbria-only three feet narrower than York Minster. It was a place of worship as far back as the 13th century, but today's church is mostly 18th century. The church has five aisles-the central one being 800 years old-and an 80-ft. tower.

The Parr Chapel dates from the 14th Century when the family lived in Kendal Castle. The family coat of arms is carved on the ceiling. The black marble tomb is supposedly that of Katherine's grandfather, Sir William Parr. The black marble font dates from the 15th century. On the roof of the north aisle are carved angels dating from a Victorian restoration.

The development of the Kendal area from prehistoric to modern times is charted at the Kendal Museum, opposite the railway station. The collections, housed in a former wool warehouse, include local archaeology, geology, and history.

The Brewery Arts Centre, housed in a former mid-16th-century brewery (called Highgate) in the centre of Kendal, is a multi-purpose arts complex that offers theatre, music, cinema, art galleries, a restaurant, and more.

Stricklandgate Methodist Church (c) Alexander P Kapp
Stricklandgate Methodist Church
(c) Alexander P Kapp

Kendal is probably most famous for its Kendal Mint Cake. According to legend, a Kendal confectioner, trying to make glacier mints, forgot to keep a close watch on the candy and discovered that the mixture in the pan turned cloudy and grainy. He poured it out anyway, and the rest is history-the famous Kendal Mint Cake.

This 'mistake gone right' is credited to Joseph Wiper, who produced the cakes in his factory in 1869. His great-nephew, Robert Wiper, supplied Kendal Mint Cakes as energy boosters to the 1914-17 Arctic Expedition under the command of Shackleton.

Another company, Romney's was founded by Sam Clarke, who owned a wholesale confectioners in Kendal. In 1919 he bought an old Mint Cake recipe and started a factory. In 1953 this company supplied Kendal Mint Cake to Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest. The high-glucose-content candy is extremely sweet.

Kendal, set beside the River Kent, has much to offer in the way of shopping and restaurants, but its historic buildings, galleries, and museums give depth and meaning to a visit to this bustling Cumbrian town.

©2000 by Barbara Ballard. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including images, and reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited.

Photos are copyright as marked, reproduced with gratitude under a Creative Commons license

About Kendal
Address: Kendal, Lake District, Cumbria, England
Attraction Type: Town
Location map
OS: SD5191
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


HeritageWe've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.

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Find other attractions tagged with:

12th century (Time Period) - 13th century (Time Period) - 14th century (Time Period) - 15th century (Time Period) - 16th century (Time Period) - 18th century (Time Period) - 19th century (Time Period) - Arts and Crafts (Architecture) - castle (Architecture) - Edwardian (Historical Reference) - Georgian (Time Period) - Henry VIII (Person) - Medieval (Time Period) - Prehistoric (Time Period) - Restoration (Historical Reference) - Richard II (Person) - Victorian (Time Period) -


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Abbot Hall - 0.9 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Castle Howe - 0.9 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Kendal Castle - 1.1 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Sizergh Castle - 2.1 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Levens Hall - 3.8 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Halecat House & Gardens - 6.5 miles (Garden) Heritage Rating

Heron Mill - 6.9 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House - 7.1 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

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