500 million years ago
Skiddaw slates formed as silt is deposited on the sea floor and later compressed into slate. Skiddaw is thought to be one of Europe’s oldest mountains.
2 million years ago
Ice age glaciers form the landscape we see today, carving out valleys and hollows that are now filled with the lakes.
The Bronze and Iron Age leave remains such as Castlerigg Stone Circle on the outskirts of Keswick. In the twentieth century stone axes are unearthed within the circle. Legends surrounding the stones say that the stones are men petrified for their sins, and it is also said that it is impossible to count the number of stones, getting different figures each time
Romans enter Cumbria. Evidence of a Roman road to the East and West of Keswick, has led to speculation of some form of occupation on the site of the present town.
St. Kentigern (Bishop of Glasgow) sets up a wooden cross in what is now known as Crosthwaite, meaning the ‘cross in the clearing’. The original Crosthwaite church is subsequently built on the site.
Vikings in Cumbria. Many local words and place-names have Norse origins, such as Braithwaite, Portinscale and Threlkeld. However, there is speculation over the name of Keswick. It is commonly believed to mean ‘cheese farm’ from an Anglian derivation, though Scandinavian links have been made, such as Ketelswick, the bay of Ketil (a Scandinavian settler), or ‘kis’, the Norwegian word for the mineral Pyrites. Norse settlers continue clearing the forest off the fells, which had begun in prehistoric times.
Dunmail, last king of Cumbria, is defeated at Dunmail Raise by Edmund the Saxon king who then gives the land to King Malcolm of Scotland. The original medieval street pattern in Keswick reveals these uncertain times with long ‘burgage’ plots, originally fronted by timber-framed houses facing the Moot Hall, with allotments and orchards behind. These yards, which can still be seen, have narrow entrances that can be easily defended.
Crosthwaite Church built.
First documented use of the name ‘de Derwentwater’ by an ancient family of Danish or Saxon ancestry who were allowed to keep their lands around Keswick after the Norman invasion and adopt the place name as their own. Sale of much of Borrowdale to Furness Abbey and other local lands to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. Monk Hall, now Keswick Hospital, thought to be the headquarters of Fountains Abbey.
William de Derwentwater has a mill dam built on his land of ‘Kesewic’ – first reference to the name of the town.
Edward 1 grants Thomas de Derwentwater a charter to hold a Saturday market, which still takes place today.
The dissolution of the Monasteries means that wool produced in Borrowdale is handled locally instead of being sent to Yorkshire and woollen manufacture becomes an important cottage industry in Keswick, as this ancient rhyme shows:-
“May God Almighty grant his aid, To Keswick and it’s woollen trade”
Keswick – ‘a lytle poore market town’ (Leyland)
First pencils are made in Keswick after the discovery of graphite in Borrowdale. Traditionally a fallen tree brought up some of the mineral with its roots and the local shepherds find that it is good for marking sheep. Other uses include ‘casting of round shot and cannon balls’ and the medicinal uses such as ‘a remedy for Cholock, stone and stanguary’.
Formation of the ‘Company of the Mines Royal’ by Queen Elizabeth 1, extending the mining of copper in Keswick area to include ‘gold, silver and quicksilver’. German miners are brought over for their expertise and industrial complexes grow out of town, such as the Forge at Brigham, thought to havebeen one of the largest smelting works in Europe. Cumberland sausage is said to be derived from the German miners’ taste for their native bratwurst.
First Moot Hall built when a ruined courthouse is rebuilt by German miners as a store for copper mined in Newlands. Over the years it has served as a courthouse, market, prison, town hall, and in 1883 housed the museum. Today the building is used as the Tourist Information Centre.
To service the increasing community, the burgage plots begin to be filled in with workshops and small cottages, such as Packhorse Court Yard. The town also expands outwards along the river, using the water as a source of power; a water powered woollen mill is built, corn mills and later pencil works are sited on the river, using it for power.
John Bankes of Keswick is born. He became Attorney General and King Charles 1’s Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and was knighted in 1634.
Cromwell orders troops to destroy the copper and lead mines and the smelting works at Brigham.
James, the 3rd and final Earl of Derwentwater, and his brother Charles take up arms against King George 1 in the first Jacobite rebellion. James was found guilty of High Treason and beheaded in 1716.
A quarter of Keswick’s population dies of smallpox, cholera and black fever.
1760 – 1830
Enclosure Acts passed by parliament to improve food production and farming mean that land has to be enclosed within a wall, fence or gate. This has dramatic affects on the landscape and leads to the proliferation of dry stone walls.
Peter Crosthwaite opens the first museum in Keswick to cater for the new ‘Tour-ists’, those wealthy people who are prevented from going on the Grand Tour by the Napoleonic wars. His ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ includes a chicken with 2 heads, the head of an Egyptian mummy, the rib bone of a 21-foot giant, a pair of snowshoes and a set of Musical Stones.
Keswick – ‘a mean village, without any apparent trade; the houses homely and dirty’. (Hutchinson)
First recorded ascent of a fell, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge climbs Scafell.
Robert Southey moves into Greta Hall with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s family. In 1813 Southey is made Poet Laureate.
St. John’s church is built on the site of an old windmill.
Cumberland Pencil Company established in an old textile mill by the River Greta.
Keswick Gaslight Company formed.
Town’s first library formed by the vicar of St. John’s, Rev. Frederick Myers.
Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith railway opens bringing an influx of Victorian tourists to the town. The large terraced houses on Blencathra and Helvellyn Streets, constructed on a typical Victorian grid-iron layout, are built as boarding houses for these new visitors.
Keswick Museum founded by Keswick Literary and Scientific Society.
Keswick Convention founded by Canon Harford Battersby, then vicar of St. John’s.
The last graphite is mined in Borrowdale.
Henry Irwin Jenkinson encourages the purchase of ‘the Fitz’, between the Keswick Hotel and the River Greta, to be developed as a park for the people of Keswick. Henry and Thomas Hewetson, former Keswickians, provide the majority of the necessary money.
The sport of rock-climbing begins in earnest on the Lakeland fells after a series of fatalities on the Matterhorn brings the golden age of mountaineering to an end.
Canon Rawnsley, Vicar of Crosthwaite, founds the Keswick School of Industrial Art (KSIA) to provide winter work and teach useful skills, such as wood carving, metal work and later spinning and weaving flax in the Ruskin Linen Industry.
Keswick Electric Light Company produces its first power from the River Greta at Brigham Forge.
The National Trust is founded by Canon Rawnsley, Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter
The Keswick Museum building in Fitz Park opens to house the exhibits previously shown in Moot Hall, including Flintoff’s Model of the Lake District. It was also build as a memorial to the Hewtson brothers, local Keswick benefactors, and to serve as a Park keeper’s Lodge for Fitz Park Trust.
Beatrix Potter writes The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, set on Derwentwater. A group of squirrels sail to Owl Island, based on St.Herbert’s Island, on rafts, using their tails as sails.
The Art Gallery is added to Keswick Museum and shows objects borrowed from South Kensington Museum, now the British Museum, to inspire workers at the KSIA and the Threlkeld Quarry.
Keswick Publicity Association, now Keswick Tourism Association, is set up to promote Keswick.
Hugh Walpole begins writing the Herries chronicles charting the fortunes of a local family through many generations. The sixth volume is unfinished at the time of his death in 1941.
Keswick Launch Company founded.
1939 – 1945
Special sets of pencils are designed in Keswick containing maps and a compass to help escaping British and allied prisoners of war. Roedean College, Brighton is evacuated to Keswick for the duration and the Driving and Maintenance School is based in Keswick, to teach soldiers about all the new vehicles including the first jeeps seen in this country.
The Queen’s coronation is celebrated on a freezing June day with a pageant held in Fitz Park – local children dress up to represent all countries of the Empire.
The railway closes and the new A66 trunk road uses the route of the old trackbed to the west of Keswick.
New library built in Heads Lane, including a local history section of 300 books from Sir Hugh Walpole’s own library.
The ‘Queen of the Lakes Pavilion’ in Station Road is demolished after 93 years as a theatre, disco and roller skating rink.
The Theatre by the Lake opens, replacing the old mobile Blue Box Century Theatre which came to stay in Keswick in 1967.
The Foot and Mouth epidemic hits Cumbria. Restrictions over access to the fells also hit the town’s tourism quite badly. The new National Park Tourist Information Centre re-opens n the newly modernised Moot Hall.
Pedestrianisation work in the Market Square and Market Place begins. In January a well is found right against the foundations of the Moot Hall. The well, which is over 4m deep and still contains water, was afterwards capped over.