: The Gunpowder Trail
we should have saved this outing for 5th November! Although
there is no known connection to Guy Fawkes (nor likely
to be given the difference in centuries and geography),
the central theme this week was Gunpowder.
Time was a little tight so we had
decided to stay
local. I have lived in this area for
over forty years but was quite taken aback when John L suggested that we follow
the gunpowder tramway. I knew nothing about it.
I was aware that this had been an important area for the manufacture
of gunpowder, that there were the ruins of a gunpowder factory by the River
Kent at Sedgwick, that there were other former gunpowder manufacturing sites up near
Gatebeck and that the rather grand Sedgwick House was built by William Wakefield
in 1868 out of the profits of gunpowder and banking.
Also, that a descendent of his, Wavell Wakefield,
had captained Sedbergh School, Harlequins and England at Rugby Union (a distinction
later shared by Will Carling) before becoming 1st Baron Wakefield of Kendal.
But a gunpowder
tramway was news to me.
According to Ian Tyler in his publication Gunpowder
Mills of Cumbria, it was a 3ft 6in tramway from the Gatebeck Gunpowder Mills,
via Crooklands Wharf on the Lancaster Canal, to Milnthorpe railway station. It was
authorised by Westmorland County Council in 1874, completed 1875 and passed for
use in 1876. Using horsedrawn wagons only (the horses were fitted with special
copper shoes to prevent sparks), this railway was not subject to the
Railway Act and needed no act of Parliament.
Allegedly, at one stage the
gunpowder mill produced 60% of the gunpowder in England
but I have heard that claim before about other such
not in the village of that name but at "Libby's
Level" where the road from Milnthorpe to Crooklands
crosses the mainline. It was closed in 1968, as part
of the Dr Beeching cuts. Close-by was the
Station Inn. I thought the landlady was known
as "Aunty" who was exceedingly old and kept
very long and illegal opening hours. John thinks
she was called Mabel. Aunty Mabel perhaps? Either
way, I don't recall ever going in and my understanding
is that it is a pub no more although John thinks otherwise.
There's one way to find out!
tramway closed in 1937 when the gunpowder works also closed.
lesson over, let's get on with the walk!
the weather forecast a few days before,
what I was expecting was running rain.
which, funnily enough, Pete managed to provide
through this video of his son, Craig, in
concert with his band, Joker's Dozen. To
find out more, click on Running
for those of a sensitive disposition!
fact, when John picked us all up it was
not just running rain, it was positively
McLaren with Joker's Dozen
it had stopped by the time we reached Endmoor to begin
the inspection of the first gunpowder site (or chronologically,
the last). Disappointingly,
there was very little left of it to view. There
was a Nissan Hut converted to an office and a building
that appeared as if it were iron clad but on closer
inspection the panels turned out to be polystyrene awaiting
rendering! However, there was one old building
that looked as if it belonged to the gunpowder era plus
the factory manager’s house with the inscription IW
1852- the W presumably being a Wakefield.
Hut manager's office
iron clad building!
house, as was.
into the car and on to John’s house where we started
the walk proper. We dropped down through parts
of Endmoor I had never previously seen and picked up
the line of the old tramway by the side of Peasey Beck.
There was not a lot of evidence of it having been
a tramway but this we followed as best we could as far
as the A65 and the Crooklands Wharf.
line of the old tramway
this where the tramway crossed Peasey Beck?
route then lay to the north, following the canal until
it ran out of water at Stainton. Here the rain started
so we used the bridge over the filled-in canal as a
convenient lunch shelter until it passed by.
the only boat on this section
north along the canal
for the County Show
stone walling competition
with six cygnets
shelter at the end of the water
we trod the line of the canal to the south end of the
378 yard long Hincaster Tunnel where it is still filled
with water. Here in days gone-by (1819 onwards)
the horses were unhitched to be taken overland whilst
the boats were propelled by boatmen’s feet on the tunnel
walls. At the far end we took the team picture.
canal tunnel south end
at the north end of the tunnel
showing the height of the horse path
canal, once again filled-in, then heads north towards
Kendal and we took the towpath as far as Sedgwick where
we dropped down into the village and passed the splendour
that is Sedgwick House.
looking round this building in about 1987 after it
had closed as a school. I was working for Prolific Life
& Pensions (an offshoot from Provincial Insurance)
and we were looking for new offices to cope with our
expansion. I think Stan was with me. It
was a rabbit warren of a place, quite unsuitable for
modern office accommodation, so we declined the opportunity,
later to take over the Bridge Mills sock factory, demolish
it and build the new offices on that site by the River
Kent in the centre of Kendal. Today Sedgwick House
comprises rather smart apartments.
reaching the River Kent near where the murdered Shafilea Ahmed's body
was found, we headed upstream as far as the footbridge
that crosses over to reach the National Trust Caravan
Site that used to be the first of the gunpowder factories.
There were the remains of several old buildings to be
seen plus a still partially working mill race.
the River Kent
more gunpowder buildings
race feeder stream in spate
the far end the path was blocked by a sign refusing
entry into the field. I have walked this path
for the best part of forty years. For some of
that time it was supposedly closed to the public but
the public still regularly used it. More recently
it has been an open path with latched gates. I
think all that makes it a right of way but the owner
obviously thinks differently. It was good to see from
the marks on the ground that the public do not agree
with him and, similarly, we were not deterred, pressing
on to the Hawes Lane Bridge where there is a tree with
from the bridge- click to see the strange
we turned up the hill towards Natland then at the canal
bridge turned south before heading for home.
question that remains unanswered is why this area was
so favoured for the making of gunpowder? True,
we have water and carbon (from burnt trees) in great
quantity but so have a lot of places. Sulphur
and saltpetre are not indigenous. So why was gunpowder
manufactured in such quantities so far from the major
conurbations? John undertook to look into this and report
back. In the process he found a detailed article
about the Gunpowder
Mills of South Cumbria.
It can be found on pages 8 to 14 of the hot-linked document.
7th September 2011
those who would like a bit more of Joker's Dozen, here
is their latest release: Soho
W wrote to me after this report was first published
to point out that there was a problem with the link
to the Gunpowder
Mills of South Cumbria. He added:
rented one of the cottages at Gatebeck for a few months
in 1987. I have a recollection of finding an odd tower
whilst wandering in some woodland to the north of the
Cooperage (Greggy's scrapyard) which I was told was
a Shot Tower. They dropped molten lead through a sieve
from the top of the tower and it formed into the right
sized lead pellets as it fell, landing in a pool of
water at the bottom. Seems an appropriately related
industry to go with gunpowder works.
also remember reading that the UK produced something
like 90% of the world’s gunpowder. This sounds very
war-like, but apparently by far the bulk of it was used
in blasting – creating cuttings for the world’s railways
which we were also rather good at building at one time!
Now, if I could get that link to work I could
verify if any of these random memories of mine are actually
supported in print!
the link was repaired and visited, he responded:
although the way it is written it presumes a lot of
knowledge (lacking, in my case) about the process involved
in gunpowder manufacture so it is a bit lost on me!
But it does confirm my comment that the powder was largely
used for blasting rather than warfare.
the bit about the Higher Gatebeck site doesn’t mention
my Shot Tower. So perhaps it wasn’t one after all.
Can anyone throw any light on the
climbed in feet:
Don, John PL, Pete, Stan,
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A Promenade of
The B Team
A Little Bit Of
Home From The
Taking The Brunt
Up The Spout
Not The Royal Wedding
Kentmere Parts 1 & 2
5th, Saturday 7th May
Five Unknown Tarns
Gurnal Dubbs Revisited
A March Through The Mist
Wednesday 15th June
All The Way From Barrow
Suitable For The Guests!
Graylings In Flagrante
First Indecision Outing
The Tale of Tony's Triumph
The Gunpowder Trail
Wednesday 7th September
Four Lords a-Leaping
Thursday 15th September
Heversham Head and Mhor
Way Of The Roses
- 14th September
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