To the north, a cobbled Roman road over Wrynose Bottom can still be traced and another Roman road may have come down the Duddon valley. The rocky promontory of The Hawk, near Broughton Mills has been identified as a Romano-British settlement.
The Vikings arrived in this area by boat, following the courses of the rivers Duddon and Lickle upstream in search of fertile grazing land. Traces of their presence are indicated by local place names such as Seathwaite (‘summer dwelling in a clearing') and Ulpha (‘wolf hill').
Farming was the mainstay of community life, and sheep farming is still an important activity in these valleys. Wool, sheep, cattle and even fish were regularly sold in Broughton, and a cattle market is still held here on alternate weeks. Herdwick sheep, then as now, still graze the upland commons and from time immemorial the local hill farmers met periodically at Walna Scar to return stray sheep and catch up on the local news. The Walna Crag Shepherds Meet still congregates on the first Saturday in November, but now rotates meetings around three local pubs at Torver, Broughton Mills and Seathwaite. Another group of hill farmers have formed a co-operative (Original Cumbrian Wool) to ‘add value' to their home-produced wool by turning it into attractive throws, travel rugs, floor rugs, cushion covers and fabric.
Historically, the occupants of this area took what they needed from the land in order to survive. Attractively banded slates were quarried from Walna Scar, slate is still quarried today at Broughton Moor and Kirkby Moor, and ores of iron and copper were dug out and smelted in local furnaces. Woodlands were worked to provide charcoal as fuel, bobbins for the textile mills and to make oak swill baskets, a locally important industry. Elsewhere the inhabitants dug the nearby mosses for fuel, ground their home-grown corn, tanned their leather and produced quicklime to spread on the acidic soils. All these activities gave rise to a network of footpaths, bridleways and tracks radiating from farms and villages to fields, woods, chapel, mill or quarry which, when combined with the natural beauty of the area, makes Broughton and its surrounding valleys an ideal walking area today.
Broughton-in-Furness was the focus for much of this rural activity. Local trade in wool, cattle, iron ore and copper mining and woodland products built up a thriving town, which was granted its Market Charter in Elizabethan times. On 1st August every year, a proclamation is read out from the steps of the obelisk, warning all to keep the Queen's peace and not to short-change customers. Those that infringed the rules used to be placed in the adjacent stocks. Nearby are the original slate fish slabs where sea fish from Haverigg and freshwater fish from local rivers were sold on market days.
The Market Square was designed by John Gilpin Sawrey, the Lord of the Manor in 1760, in imitation of the elegant Georgian squares of London. The obelisk at its centre was placed there to commemorate the golden jubilee of George III in 1810. The Town Hall, dating from 1766, was once the Market Hall and now houses the Tourist Information Centre and a craft gallery.
Today, Broughton is a thriving small market town with a specialist butchers and grocers, an artisan bakery, two local craft shops and several fine hostelries. Its location and proximity to good transport routes allows easy access to Coniston and the heart of the Lakes as well as to the Furness Peninsulas and Cumbria's west coast.