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The Lake District

Lake Industries

The Lake District, inspiration for generations of poets with its breathtakingly beautiful scenery and natural features, isn’t primarily regarded as a hub of British industry. However, the region’s natural resources have spawned a diverse range of activities, many of which still thrive today.

Cumberland farmers sheering sheep
Cumberland farmers sheering sheep
© TopFoto.co.uk
Farming, especially sheep, has been the Lake District’s major industry for centuries. However, the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic had a devastating affect on the area: not only were millions of animals slaughtered, but businesses dependent on tourism were hit when visitors were discouraged — and, in some areas, forbidden.

Mills and mining

The District’s rich geology made it a centre for all types of mining. In Neolithic times, the slate-rich Lake District was a major producer of stone axes, primarily around Langdale Pikes, and slate-mines sprang up on fell-sides all over the district. The slate mine at Honister Mine is still in operation.


Gypsum, used in the plaster industry from the 1820s, was mined around Cotehill, Kirkby Thore (still working) and St Bees Head - coal mining in West Cumbria also began here in the 13th century, when monks from St Bees Abbey opened mines at Arrowthwaite. Cumbria’s last deep coal mine, Haig Pit, closed in March 1986. Copper was also mined throughout the district and the locally-mined graphite led to the development of the pencil industry, especially around Keswick.


In the 1800s, the Lake District had more than 65 bobbin mills in operation, supplying Lancashire’s spinning and weaving industries. One, Stott Park at Newby Bridge, was still working up until 1971; it was subsequently bought and restored by English Heritage.

Food and drink

There are more than a dozen micro-breweries in the Lake District: Yates, the oldest, was established in December 1986. Coniston Brewery’s Bluebird Bitter - named after Donald Campbell’s boat - was voted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 1998. In October 1999, the Tirril Brewery resurrected a famous Lakes brewing name that had disappeared when J Siddle's Tirril Brewery closed in September 1899. The Great Gable Brewing Co, based at the famous Wasdale Head Inn, had to postpone its launch for a year because of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. Of the bigger breweries, Jennings, near Cockermouth, has been producing ale since 1828, using pure Lakeland water.

 
The Lake District’s most famous food is Kendal mint cake, the slabs of sugar and peppermint beloved by mountaineers and trans-Arctic expeditions alike. According to local legend, it was "invented" by accident when a local confectioner, making glacier mints, took his eye off the mixture and was left with a cloudy mixture. The accredited inventor, however, is Joseph Wiper, who started producing the cake at his Ferney Green factory in 1869. The recipe was eventually bought by Sam Clarke in 1919 and his company, George Romney Ltd in Leightons Yard, have been producing it ever since.

 

Ships and nuclear

Whitehaven Harbour, Cumbria, 1842
Whitehaven Harbour, Cumbria, 1842
© TopFoto.co.uk/HIP
In the 17th century, Whitehaven developed a shipbuilding industry and its most famous company was Brocklebanks, founded in 1788. This shipping line continued until 1968, when it merged with Cunard.

Barrow-in-Furness has been the home of British submarine building since the founding of The Iron Shipbuilding Company in 1871 by James Ramsden, Their first foray into submarine-building was in 1886 - two steam-engined boats for the Swedish industrialist Thorsten Nordenfelt. The company was bought by Vickers in 1897 and, in 1901, won the contract to build the Royal Navy’s first five submarines. By 1914, Vickers had built 94% of the Navy’s 74 submarines.

 
Of course, Cumbria’s most controversial industry is nuclear - specifically, the Sellafield reactor and reprocessing plant, a mile north of Seascale. Calder Hall, the world's first commercial nuclear power station, opened here in 1956. In October 1957, a fire at the Windscale nuclear reactor resulted in a radioactive cloud heading south towards several major Northern towns.