Sue Shiels of the Burneside Heritage Group recalls a lover of flora and fauna in the nineteenth century


After many years of searching, I tracked down an original copy of an elusive booklet. Published in the late 1800s, it was written by a man named James Robinson and was entitled ‘A Country Lane: its flora and its fauna’.

James Robinson was born at Hawkshead in 1824, but he spent most of his childhood with his uncle, a steward at Holker Hall.

Educated at Flookburgh School, he was later apprenticed to a printer in Ulverston, before moving on to work for The Westmorland Gazette in Kendal. Later he bought a bookselling and printing business in the Fish Market, Kendal which he ran for about 20 years.

He had a keen interest in and love for natural history and on moving to Bowston, to take up an appointment as cashier at Cropper’s Burneside Mill, he found that the lane he walked daily, from home to work and back again, was an ideal place in which to study the local flora and fauna.

In 1878 he published his booklet about the natural history of the lane, which sold for the modest price of 6d. The profits were donated to Cartmel Fell Parish Church Restoration Fund.

James Robinson died in 1893 and is buried in Bowness graveyard.

His book offers a rare glimpse of a country lane in late Victorian times before the days of modern traffic and modern farming.

Birds such as Skylarks and Lapwings abounded in the fields and the hedges and the hedgerow banks provided a rich natural habitat.

Yellowhammers and Whitethroats were then present and the Nighthawk (Nightjar) could be heard at dusk. The mellow light of glow-worms could also be seen at night.

Farming in those days differed from today with the fields yielding crops of golden grain or a bounty of wildflower rich hay.

To come across a detailed description of a country lane in late Victorian times is a rare, if not unique event, so Burneside Heritage Group decided to reproduce a facsimile copy of James Robinson’s booklet in a new publication entitled ‘A Country Lane Revisited’, which is now on sale.

To highlight the many changes that have taken place over the intervening years the second half of the book incorporates a detailed survey I carried out of the same lane in 2011-2012 together with a year’s diary covering the same period.

Books are available at £6 from Kendal Library, Seward’s Bakery Shop, Burneside, or from Sue Shiels, 10, Carlingdale, Burneside, LA9 6PW. Telephone:01539 722460.