The landscape survey report for this small yet important tract of moor and woodland located on the east side of Coniston water is now available online via the OA Library.
In early 2010 we undertook an historic landscape survey for the National Trust on their small parcel of landholdings on the eastern side of Coniston Water, Cumbria for estate management purposes.
The study area comprises long-established coppiced woodland that has been providing wood for fuel and as raw materials for a considerable period. The history of the area is closely linked into woodland industries, and in 1339 a grant was awarded to Furness Abbey to enclose woods and make parks, including Lawson Park, Parkamoor and Water or Watside Park, all of which fall within the survey area. To extend the useful life of the woodland, the monks employed the traditional practice of coppicing.
Following the Dissolution of Furness Abbey in 1537, the King’s Commissioners found little timber of any value, and what remained was let by the commissioners to William Sandes and John Sawrey to maintain their three iron smithies. Two definite bloomeries have been identified in the study area and both have been subject to geophysical investigation, revealing significant sub-surface deposits. Neither has been securely dated.
In the post-medieval period, the woodland on the steep valley side was sub-divided into enclosed woods, presumably owned by different speculators, farmers and landowners. The woodlands were further sub-divided into coppice hags, to differentiate between blocks of coppiced trees in different stages of a rolling cycle of growth and harvest. Coppice management and associated industrial processes were labour intensive there is evidence for at least five potential woodsmen’s huts where workmen would have lived for an extended period of time.
Charcoal burning platforms are the most ubiquitous of the archaeological remains left by charcoal burning. There were 164 examples recorded by the present survey, which were distributed in a densely-packed swathe along the steep wooded enclosures of the valley side. Many platforms were located adjacent to access trackways and/or streams, as water and transport were integral parts of the process. A network of at least 23 sinuous trackways were recorded.
There is a painting by Alfred Heaton-Cooper of charcoal burners at work c 1908 that is most likely to be of the study area on the western edge of High Barn Woods.
Evidence for the peeling of bark, a primary process in the tanning industry, is moderately well represented throughout the study area, with six surviving examples of bark peelers’ huts. Evidence is limited for potash production, with just three surviving large circular potash kilns located near to the lakeside road.
It seems that post-Dissolution the Parkamoor farmed landholdings (not The Park) were eventually sub-divided into Low and High Farms in c1614. The extant farmhouses have elements of surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century architectural design. The survey identified two areas of building platforms, one at each of the farmsteads; they may relate to a further domestic sub-division of tenements at each farm in the early eighteenth century.
Traditional woodland industries declined in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and by 1920 the furnace at Backbarrow had turned to using coke, stifling the last major market for charcoal in the region.
The plot locations in the literary fiction of Arthur Ransome found in Swallows and Amazons (1930) revolved around real-life places in the Lake District which he remembered from childhood and as a young man, he had friends who were charcoal burners in the Nibthwaite area. The lake depicted in the book is presumed to be Windermere, but with the surrounding landscape being akin to the Coniston area. Peel Island on Coniston Water formed part of the fictional camp of ‘Wild Cat Island’ in the novel. It is near here that the charcoal burners Old Billy and Young Billy work in the woods located just to the south of Wild Cat Island, in their hut described as a ‘Red Indian wigwam’. In the eleventh book in the series The Picts and the Martyrs (1943) a woodman’s hut called the ‘Dogs Home’ forms the main plot location; the real-life hut/cottage is located to the north of the study area.