The Central Lake District

in Building

In the central part of the Hotels lake district much of the local stone is not a very suitable building material except for rough work. The volcanic rocks are usually too hard and difficult to dress, so that farm buildings are often a jumble of pieces of different shapes and sizes. Originally no mortar was used and considerable skill had to be exercised to piece together the variable shapes. Both the outer and inner faces were built of larger stones, with smaller fragments forming a rubble infill. The greenstone of the Borrowdale Volcanic Series was favored for this type of wall and many of the buildings in places like Coniston and Ambleside made considerable use of it.

Even some of the modern bungalows follow this traditional building technique where they have to conform to the planning requirements within the National Park. Many of the older buildings, in both the towns and rural areas, have suffered from a roughcast finish in concrete over the original stone, presumably to keep out the rain. The practice became widespread in the nineteenth century and now it is only in the more isolated corners of the Lake District, as in Long Sleddale, that many of the original farm build¬ings have remained unaltered. Great, roughly shaped blocks of greenstone form the cornices or lintels over the doors, with the rest of the wall a jumble of rocks carefully fitted together. Another favoured building stone, especially in the south around Windermere, is the flagstone from the local Silurian beds. Although hard, it splits relatively easily and has been much used in the past.

Its grey or brown hue gives the whole building a rather somber appearance, especially under dull rain-laden skies. Where igneous rocks like granite are available for building, the picture changes considerably. The Eskdale granite, with its even-sized crystals, is especially pleasing and was extensively used in the past. The same is true of the Threlkeld granite, a bluishgrey rock with pink patches, which was formerly in demand in the Keswick district. The Roman Catholic Church in Keswick completed a few years ago was built of this stone but it seems likely to be the last, as the quarries at Threlkeld have now gone over entirely to making road metal. Perhaps surprisingly the Shap granite, in spite of its great demand for heavy construc¬tional work, makes little impact on the Lakeland landscape as a building material. Hardly a building in Shap itself uses the hard rock, preference being given to the more easily shaped limestone found only a few miles away.

The limestone in fact is a very favoured building material in many parts of the outer Lake District. The whole character of a town like Kendal stems from the use of the local light grey rock quarried only a short distance away on the hillside. The fact that the limestone can be easily shaped and arranged in courses often with an ashlar facing gives a cleancut appearance to the building whether it be in the town Centre or in the old mills by the side of the River Kent. On a smaller scale, limestone has been used in the planned villages of the Lowther estate as at Newtown and Lowther itself .

Nearby Askham, with its individual cottages and farms set well back from the road with a broad greens¬ward in front, is equally pleasing. Where iron staining has affected the limestone or calciferous sandstone beds, a delicately coloured grey rock results. This was formerly quarried near Dacre and used in the Georgian front of the house at Dalemain by the banks of the River Eamont. In its beauty the rock is rivalled only by light purple varieties of the Penrith Sandstone, once extensively quarried in the Eden Valley a few miles away to the east.

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Adrian vultur writes for Hotels lake district

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The Central Lake District

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This article was published on 2011/01/11