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ambleside history...

The Romans built a stone fort at Waterhead called Galava around AD 120 (now in Borrans Field) - one of a number built to secure trade and service routes through South Lakeland. Galava was linked to the Roman port at Ravenglass (via Hardknott Pass), to Brocavum (Brougham) near Penrith along ‘High Street' (an elevated Roman road between Ullswater and Haweswater), and southwards to Watercrook, near Kendal. After the Romans departed around AD 400, Norse settlers moved in, founding a settlement on high ground above the town centre. It is thought that Ambleside may have been named after a Norseman called Amal (i.e. Amal's saeter - or summer pasture).

Medieval Ambleside had a thriving woollen industry centred on Stock Ghyll. This fast-flowing beck provided power for a number of fulling mills (fulling was the process of pounding newly woven cloths with heavy hammers (or stocks) in soapy water to thicken and shrink the fabric). The coarse cloths were taken by packhorse to Kendal for finishing and then despatched all over the country and overseas. The beck also powered corn and flax mills and in later years, bobbin mills and bark-crushing mills (for the leather tanning industry). Woodland industries were very important with many of the surrounding woods being coppiced to provide wood for charcoal (to smelt iron ore) and bobbin production.

Ambleside was granted a market charter in 1650, and Market Place became the commercial centre for agriculture and the wool trade. The old packhorse trail (now a bridleway) between Ambleside and Grasmere was the main route between the two towns before the new turnpike road was completed in 1770 (now the A591). Smithy Brow at the end of the trail was where packponies were re-shod after their journey. With the coming of the turnpikes, the packhorse trains were superseded by horse-drawn stagecoaches, which regularly travelled between Keswick and Kendal (via Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere). The Salutation Hotel, a former hostelry dating from 1656, developed into a coaching inn where horses could be stabled overnight. The Royal Oak and the White Lion were also coaching inns.

The 17th to mid-18th centuries were a major period of rebuilding. Wealthy yeoman farmers and landowners, prosperous on the profits of the woollen trade, started building substantial homes for themselves. Many houses (notably at Troutbeck) date from this period, with a particularly fine example at Townend in Troutbeck. Another, at How Head in Ambleside, has fine round Westmorland chimneys, wrestler ridge tiles and mullioned windows. The house was partly built using stones from the old Roman fort.

Painters, writers and poets started exploring the Lake District in the mid-18th century in search of the picturesque and sublime aspects of nature. The poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) moved to Rydal Mount in 1813 and was offered the post of Collector of Stamps for Westmorland. His office was in the Old Stamp House on Church Street, Ambleside and his job was to distribute official stamps for legal documents and collect the excise duty on their sale. The post gave him sufficient salary to enable him to continue writing poetry in his spare time. Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), a writer, political activist and close friend of the Wordsworths, came to live in Ambleside and published a well-regarded guidebook on the Lakes in 1855.

Early guidebooks, along with the romantic musings of the Lake Poets and the artistic rendition of Lakeland scenes, enticed people to come and experience the awe and natural beauty of the Lakes for themselves. Wealthy industrialists from the urban manufacturing areas built large country houses here, and the arrival of the railway in Windermere in the 1840s provided the catalyst for a wave of Victorian visitors. The old market hall was swept away, hotels and guesthouses were built to accommodate the new tourists, the Windermere Steam Yacht Company started ferrying tourists up and down the lake in 1845 and the wooded area around Stockghyll waterfall became a Victorian pleasure park.

Since then, people have continued to flock to Ambleside in the central Lakes to enjoy outdoor activities or take advantage of the town's plethora of specialist shops, eating houses and art and craft galleries.

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