history of shap...
The wealth of ancient archaeological remains on the moors and fells around Shap indicate a long history of human occupation. The limestone plateau stretching from Orton to Askham is littered with prehistoric remains. There are stone circles at Oddendale (NY 592 129) and Gunnerkeld (NY 568 178) but one of the largest was at Kemp Howe to the south of Shap, now truncated by the main West Coast Railway. A double line of stones, the so-called ‘Shap Avenue' led from this circle in a northwest direction. Elsewhere, a few standing stones can be seen in fields to the west of Shap - one known as the Goggleby Stone and another, the Thunder Stone. On Moor Divock, the Cop Stone, a solitary large boulder overlooking the Lowther valley may have been connected to the prehistoric remains at Shap.
Shap Abbey included a church, chapter house, living quarters for the monks, refectory, cloister and an infirmary. The monks also had a fishpond and corn mill and farmed sheep on the surrounding land, acquiring considerable wealth from the wool trade as a result. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries around 1540, Shap Abbey fell into ruin - the lead was stripped from the roof, the windows removed and the building stones taken away for re-use elsewhere. Much of the carved stonework ended up at Lowther Castle. Today, all that remains is the church tower and the foundation stones of many of the ancillary buildings.
Shap was on an important droving road from Scotland into England and later became a stopover on the main north-south coaching route down the western side of England, attracting a bustling trade in goods and services. Coaching inns and ale houses lined its long street catering for weary travellers and the old Market Hall bustled with activity on market days. Bonnie Prince Charlie came this way as his bedraggled army retreated during the Jacobite Rebellion and is said to have lodged at Stuart House in Shap on 17 December 1745. Two days later at Clifton, his army fought the last battle ever to be fought on English soil.
The Lowther family have long been associated with this area, originally occupying an old hall in the heart of Lowther village. As the family grew in wealth and influence, they needed somewhere to live that befitted their new status. In 1682, plans were drawn up for a grand new house, Lowther Castle, surrounded by extensive parkland. Just 40 years on, the original castle was destroyed by fire. The replacement castle, completed in 1811, was a monument to Gothic extravagance, with a host of towers, turrets, pinnacles, battlements, ramparts, fortified gateways and even a cloister. The grandeur of the interior was matched by the exquisite formal gardens, laid out with avenues of beech trees, glittering lakes and far-reaching vistas. The fairytale castle remained the home of the Lowther family until 1936 when the lead was stripped from its roof, leaving the castle open to the elements. The empty shell is now the focus for new plans to restore the gardens and create exhibition space within the former stable block.
In Victorian times people came to Shap Wells to bathe or drink the waters of the Spa Well. Shap Wells Hotel opened in 1833 to accommodate visitors to the spa, providing a bath house and landscaped grounds. During the Second World War, the building was requisitioned as a prisoner-of-war camp for senior German Luftwaffe and naval officers.
As the population of Manchester expanded in the Victorian era, Manchester Corporation sought to secure reliable water supplies for the inhabitants of its city. Thirlmere Reservoir had already been constructed and Haweswater was regarded as another suitable location for holding drinking water. Local objections were swept away and in 1919 Parliament granted permission to build a dam across the valley. The surrounding land was compulsorily purchased and construction began in 1930. To house the workers and their families, the Corporation built the model village of Burnbanks near the dam wall. As Burnbanks became a settled community at the foot of the reservoir, so the old village of Mardale at the upper end of the valley was sacrificed for the greater good of providing water for the Manchester conurbation. The village now lies submerged beneath the waters of Haweswater, its skeletal remains only appearing during periods of drought.
Shap is famous for its pink granite, which has been quarried here since 1865. The feldspar-rich granite was highly prized as a decorative polished stone and used to grace the facades of prestigious buildings around the world. Although pink granite is no longer extracted, Shap is still locally regarded as the quarrying village with active limestone and ‘blue' granite quarries. The limestone is burned in large kilns, visible on the edge of Shap village, for use in the steel industry while blue granite is primarily used for railway ballast.