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Local History

Ambleside’s history goes back at least to the Romans, the Vikings (who gave us our local place names) and to Charles Dickens who had this to say in Household Words:

“Round Ambleside you will indeed find hills and waterfalls – decked with greasy sandwich papers and porter bottles, and the hills echo with the whistles of the Windermere steamers . . . brass bands play under your hotel windows, char-a-bancs, wagonettes and breaks of all colours rattle about with cargoes of tourists who have been `doing` some favourite round. Touts pester you in the streets and in the hotel coffee room you overhear a gentleman ask angrily “Why don`t they build an `ut on `elvellyn – they`ve got one on Snowdon.”

Dickens also made some rude comments about the apparently excessive drinking habits of the local people. The only thing that has changed is that there are more locals now. One theory is that this drinking is stress related, brought on by constant territorial invasion by tourists.

Not Just a Rural Past

A popular misconception is that Ambleside has a solely rural past. It was in fact highly industrialised, involved heavily in the production of charcoal, used in smelting the iron ore of Furness and west Cumbria, then timber for the production of bobbins for the textile industry. It adopted water power at an early stage and later developed machine tool manufacture. Quarrying and mining were local industries, and quarrying continues to be, despite attempts by conservationists to stop it, an interesting case of blinkered thinking – we are forced to use local slate and stone for building.

Oral History Group

The Ambleside Oral History Group has been recording interviews with local people since 1978, with memories of life as far back as 1885. The digital archive of interview transcripts is available and searchable online and a series of articles based on these, entitled ‘The Way We Were’ is also available.

Here are a few pictures of old Ambleside, which despite the pressures remains a most desirable place in which to live and work, with a fascinating past and present where the diversity, perversity, kindness, generosity and humour of its people never ceases to delight and amaze.