Kendal Since 1820 GAZ Kendal


Kendal’s manufacturing base was boosted by the Lancaster canal, which reached the town in 1819 (closed 1944) and the Lancaster & Carlisle railway, which opened in 1846, with the spur through Kendal to Windermere opening in 1847.  The town gained a significant industrial base across the 19th century, not only in textiles but also in iron founding and shoemaking.

Textiles: the introduction of steam power from 1843 accompanied an increase in the scale of the woollen industry.  The major woollen mills were:

·         Dockray Hall Mill (or Gandy Mill), operated as a woollen mill from 1788; diversified into carpet-making from c.1830; ceased to make woollen cloth after First World War; demolished 1940.

·         Castle Mills (woollen), on the site of the medieval corn mill, later a fulling mill; then carding and spinning mills.  Rebuilt 1806 and further expanded in 1855 for power loom weaving by J J and W Wilson; closed 1933.

·         Low Mills were rebuilt as a woollen fustian mill in 1806.

Carpet making, established in the town in 1822, became an important specialism, first at Dockray mills, then at Castle Mills ,where it continued into late 20th century.  Hosiery knitting, established by E W Thompson & Sons, in 1878 at Sandes Avenue and Bridge Mills, Stramongate (‘the sock mill’); closed 1980s.

Iron foundries, developed after the canal and railway allowed coal and iron to be transported cheaply.  A foundry was established at Low Mills c.1840. Canal Iron Works (on site of former warehouses at the Canal Head, redundant after the coming of the railway), began as agricultural implement manufacturer 1853, developed turbine-making; sold to Gilkes 1887.  Isaac Braithwaite & Son had established a laundry machine engineering works (Ibis Works) on Shap Road by 1927.

Shoemaking grew out of the long-established leather trade in the town.  In 1829 there were 7 tanners and c. 30 shoemakers. Somervell Brothers, who established a leather business in Kendal from 1842, started shoe manufacture from 1860s, registering the trade mark ‘K Shoes’ in 1875.  By 1900 it was a major employer, producing 170,000 pairs of shoes annually. Survived until 1990s.

Other specialist industries included snuff manufacture established outside the town at Meal Bank in 1792.  By the later 19th century there were three main firms of snuff manufacturers in the town:  Samuel Gawith; Gawith & Hoggarth and Illingworths; the first two survive; Illingworths closed 1983. Limestone quarrying, lime-burning and polishing stone into ‘marble’, on Kendal Fell from c.1800.

The town’s population more than trebled across the 19th and 20th centuries.  Inclusive of Kirkland and Nether Graveship, the total number of inhabitants grew from c.8,000 in 1801 to 14,183 by 1901.  The town’s economic base was transformed across the 20th century, with the loss of both the textile and shoemaking industries.  Some manufacturing remained (on new industrial estates to the north of the town, such as Farley’s milk food works, established at Mintsfeet in 1970s).  Service industries and administration provided employment, notably the Provincial Insurance Company, which had its headquarters in Kendal from 1919.  As well as being the seat of county government for Westmorland County Council (1889-1974), the town continued to serve an important local government function, containing the offices of South Lakeland District Council and the Lake District National Park Authority and several departments of Cumbria county Council.

As its manufacturing industries declined, Kendal evolved across the second half of the 20th century into an administrative, cultural and tourist centre, its position on the edge of the Lake District attracting a significant retired population.  The town grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, its population rising from 18,541 in 1951 to 27,505 in 2001.