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Friday, 24 October 2014

Working with nature

THE long-lost story of industrial activity in the countryside can be read like a book by walkers – if you know what to look for.

How a group of local history and archaeology enthusiasts were able to see the signs was described by John Hoggett at an autumn conference held in Broughton Victory Hall.

Mr Hoggett took part in the R2R Legacy project which carried out a survey of 95sq km.

His talk on The Lost Crafts of the Duddon and Lickle Valleys was given to members and guests of the Cumbria Industrial History Society.

He said: “It was a landscape which did conceal the past much more than we knew.

“We found new things every day we went out.

“You could be almost tripping over things in places you didn’t expect them.”

Before 1850 the economy in the Duddon and Lickle was based on local need, with most things produced for local consumption and the rest, such as wool and meat, sold through local markets.

Yet 100 years ago trade directories show the Broughton area had people making hoops and swill baskets, brush stocks and handles for rakes and forks – all made from managed coppice woodland.

There was also mining for iron, copper and slate.

Around 1910, Bulmer’s Directory of Furness and Cartmel showed a total of 13 swill-making shops, one blacksmith and even a man who doubled as a plumber and a bellhanger.

There were four butchers, seven publicans and 52 farmers.

Farm and fell products included wool, vegetables and meat, feedstock, hemp and flax, peat, bracken and grain.

Flax was used for cloth and hemp for rope and sail cloth – the seeds from both provided oil.

In 1553 Henry VIII required all farmers to use a proportion of their land for hemp to make sure the Royal Navy did not go short of supplies.

A well-trained eye can still make out the retting ponds where the hemp was left to rot before pilling, scrutching and heckling to free the natural fibres.

There were retting ponds on a commercial scale at Old Hutton which had links to the owners of the rope works at Ulverston.

Peat was another country industry and it was cut for household fuel, for roofing and for hedge banking.

Stone-built peat stores or drying houses are easily mistaken for field barns.

The clue to their original use is often a paved trackway or sledge route to the building.

Bracken was also taken from the fells as winter bedding for animals and even as a roof thatching material.

It could be burnt in kilns to provide potash as a fertiliser and a product in the soap and glass industries.

l The Cumbria Industrial History Society’s next public talk is from 7.30pm on Wednesday at Greenodd Village Hall by Gavin Watson, author of the industrial section of the new Cumbria Pevsner guidebook.

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