The Auld Grey Town of Kendal is the third largest in Cumbria, behind Carlisle and
Barrow in Furness
The town lies in the valley or of the River Kent, from which it derives its name, and has a
a total resident population of 28,586, making it the third largest settlement in Cumbria
behind Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness.
Kendal today is known largely as a centre for tourism, as the home of Kendal mint cake, and as a
producer of pipe tobacco and tobacco snuff. Its buildings, mostly constructed with the local
grey limestone, have earned it the nickname Auld Grey Town.
History of the town
Kendal is listed in the Domesday Book as part of Yorkshire with the name Cherchebi. For many
centuries it was called Kirkbie Kendal, meaning village with a church in the valley of the River
Kent. The earliest castle was a Norman motte and bailey (now located on the west side of the
town) when the settlement went under the name of Kirkbie Strickland.
A chartered market town, the centre of Kendal is structured around a high street with fortified
alleyways, known locally as yards, off to either side, which allowed the local population to seek
shelter from the Anglo-Scottish raiders known as the Border Reivers. The main industry in those
times was the manufacture of woollen goods, whose importance is reflected in the town’s coat of
arms and in its Latin motto Pannus mihi panis, “meaning cloth is my bread”. “Kendal Green” was
a hard-wearing wool-based fabric specific to the local manufacturing process. It was supposedly
sported by the Kendalian archers who were instrumental in the English victory over the French at
the Battle of Agincourt. Kendal Green was also worn by slaves in the Americas and is mentioned
in songs and literature from that time. It is noted by Shakespeare as the colour of clothing worn
by foresters (Henry IV, Part 1).
Transport in the early days
Early travellers to Kendal complained of eight miles of nothing but a confused mixture of Rocke’s
and Boggs. Riding horseback was the fastest form of travelling for the road was no better than
the roughest fell tracks on high ground and spongy, miry tracks in the valleys
The Kendal Mint Cake
Kendal is known for Kendal mint cake, a glucose-based type of confectionery reputedly
discovered accidentally by Joseph Wiper during his search for a clear glacier mint.
Used on numerous expeditions to mountaintops (including Mount Everest and K2) and both
poles of the Earth, its popularity is mainly due to the very astute decision of the original
manufacturer’s great-nephew to market it as an energy food, and to supply Ernest Shackleton’s
1914–1917 Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
By the time the business was sold to competitor Romney’s in 1987, there were several rival mint
cake producers, many of which are still in business.
Tobacco and snuff
Snuff production in Kendal dates from 1792 when Kendalian Thomas Harrison returned from
Glasgow, Scotland, where he had learned the art of snuff manufacturer. He also brought with him
50 tons of second-hand equipment, all carried on horseback. Pipe tobacco and other tobacco
products were subsequently added to the firm’s production. Ownership of his firm passed
eventually to his son-in-law, Samuel Gawith, whose eponymic firm, Samuel Gawith & Co.,
continues in business to this day. Following Samuel Gawith’s death in 1865, the firm passed into
the hands of his two eldest sons. During this time the business was administered initially by
trustees, including Henry Hoggarth, and John Thomas Illingworth.
Illingworth left the firm in 1867 to start his own firm, which remained in business until the 1980s.
The youngest son of Samuel Gawith the First subsequently teamed with Henry Hoggarth to form
Gawith Hoggarth TT, Ltd. Both Samuel Gawith & Company and Gawith Hoggarth TT continue in
business today in Kendal, producing snuffs and tobacco products still used around the world.
Samuel Gawith and Company also hold the distinction of employing the oldest piece of industrial
equipment still in production use in the world, a device manufactured in the 1750s.
Kendal has a marine west coast climate,
Kendal’s early prosperity was based largely on cloth manufacture. In the 19th century, it became
a centre for the manufacture of snuff and shoes; the K Shoes company remained a major
an employer in the town until its factory closed in 2003. There are still a number of industries
based in the town, such as Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon (manufacturers of pumps and turbines),
James Cropper paper makers (based in Burnside and who make, at no profit, the paper for
the Remembrance poppies for The Royal British Legion, Mardix (switchgear), Lakeland and
Kendal Nutricare, who have a facility making baby milk in the north of the town. Tourism is now
one of the main employers, but there is also a significant IT and design sector in the town,
enabled by increased broadband availability.
On 26 February 2003 Kendal was granted Fairtrade Town status.
A bridge over the old course of the Lancaster Canal, now used as a footpath
The Lancaster Canal was built as far as Kendal in 1819, but the northern section was rendered
unnavigable by the construction of the M6. Part of this section was also drained and filled in to
prevent leakage, and the course of the canal through Kendal has now been developed. The
canal towpath, however, remains as a footpath through Kendal. A campaign is currently
underway to restore the canal as far as Kendal.
Written by: Alex Nelson – nationalrail.com
For more news and information on travelling to and through the UK, visit nationalrail.com. Curious for more thrilling articles on places to go in the UK, stay tuned for more!