Looking down at the town of Keswick on the edge of Derwentwater

Keswick Conservation Area

Why is Keswick special?

Keswick is a large conservation area, of high density, with distinct characteristics. The town has medieval origins, based around a planned 13th century street pattern of market place and narrow ‘burgage plots’ which served the agricultural community. The town developed initially as a result of industry (copper and graphite mining, smelting of copper and processing of ‘wad’ for pencil manufacture). In the late 18th century Keswick began to develop as a tourist centre for the visitors who were interested in the contemplation of lake and mountain scenery attracted by guide books such as that written by Thomas West.

Thomas West’s guidebook of 1778 identified a series of viewing stations around Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite from which the picturesque beauty of the landscape could be fully appreciated. West’s tour around Derwent Water started at Keswick and worked in a clockwise direction to include 8 viewing stations. Additional viewing stations were proposed by the 18th century entrepreneur Peter Crosthwaite and are depicted on maps that he produced to sell to visitors. By 1802, Coleridge noted that Keswick swarmed with tourists for one third of the year. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, the Wordsworths and the Shelleys all lived or owned land around Keswick in the early 1800s and all found inspiration for their literary endeavors from the landscape which features in their work.

Wordsworth’s friendship with John Marshall (1765-1845) of Leeds had a significant impact on the ownership and management of the landscape. Marshall acquired the Greenwich Estate, which owned large areas of land on the outskirts of the town, large parts within the conservation area, and the Wordsworths were instrumental in influencing his cultural values and the landscape improvement.

Keswick continued to grow in popularity, in part influenced by the draw of its associations with the poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, and more recently Hugh Walpole.

Summary of special interest

The special interest that justifies the designation of Keswick Conservation Area is summarised as follows:

  • A dramatic landscape setting of lakes, high fells and hinterland of agro-pastoral landscape, with extraordinary literary and artistic associations;
  • Association with nationally significant literary figures: Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Canon H. Rawnsley, John Ruskin, Hugh Walpole;
  • Villas designed for key residents, dominated by Greta Hall, a former observatory and later home of S.T. Coleridge and R. Southey
  • An awareness of its natural beauty and conscious effort in the second half of the 19th century to design buildings that complement its native character and are harmonious;
  • Significant patronage from social reformers, entrepreneurs and influencers with a conscience about the landscape, society and a desire to enhance the town for the public benefit and greater good, whether this is by example, through education or through charitable concerns;
  • Strong linear character with a planned medieval 13th century core which is a highly valued street pattern, with remains of burgage plots;
  • Two principal landmarks - the 1813 Moot Hall at the Market Place, the pivotal building of the town, and the 1838 St. John’s Church, with its landmark spire;
  • The ever-present powerful River Greta, which was once harnessed for industry but which today dramatically fluctuates in level;
  • Large peripheral areas of public open space, parks and amenity trees, which were sometimes ornamented, and designed to be visited, enjoyed and heavily used by visitors and residents alike;
  • Well-preserved and carefully detailed, cohesive blocks of Victorian terraced houses that developed from 1863, after the arrival of the railway;
  • A wealth of details including: decorative pierced bargeboards and eaves brackets, bay windows, dormers, oriels, finials, decorative ridge tiles, blue enamel street signs;
  • Well-preserved domestic Georgian suburb to the south with unified cottages and striking Georgian character;
  • Greta Hamlet (1910-11), a small self-contained garden suburb of 25 houses surrounding a central court, built in the spirit of the ‘garden city ‘movement;
  • Picturesque and rustic public buildings of dark rubble dolerite developed by the Marshall family;
  • An eagerness to celebrate its own historic associations; for example, the use and re-used of local and literary names and the celebration of its diverse geology – found in building materials and walling;
  • A hub of well-oiled tourism, pivotal to local road networks, dominated by hotels, guest houses, self-catered accommodation and tourist-associated shops
  • Linear views to distant fells with specific peaks.
  • Panoramic views from Viewing Stations at Crow Park, Castlehead and Latrigg overlooking the town

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