Historian Arthur Nicholls reveals the stories behind some of Kendal’s streets
Many streets in most of the post-war housing around Kendal are named after places in the Lake District.
There is one exception on Heron Hill where the name of our Lakeland poet is seen on Wordsworth Drive. He is world famous and there can be few in Kendal who have never heard of him.
Walking around the town you are sure to notice streets and yards bearing the names of Kendal people of the past. They are living memorials to them.
Highgate is a good place to start. Incidentally, the suffix ‘gate’ is the old Norse word meaning ‘street’ so Highgate is the high, or main, street. It was earlier called Soutergate – the street or road to and from the south.
The name Dorothy Dowker, daughter of James Dowker, Kendal’s deputy Recorder, who died in 1831, is immortalised in Dowkers Lane.
She bequeathed £3,242 to found Dowker’s Hospital (known as the Old Maids Hospital). This was an almshouse for ‘six females of good and chaste character, born in Kendal, having attained the age of 50 years without being married’.
The plight of older, poor spinsters then was dire. The women had to obey rules, such as attending church regularly, living quietly and helping each other in sickness and health.
The Hospital, built by George Webster in 1833, stood beside the path to Abbot Hall Park. It was demolished in 1963 when the present Dowkers Lane was constructed. To this day, the charity pays £1 per week to five elderly ladies.
The Dowker family memorial in the Parish Church lists an earlier James Dowker, who died in 1784, three of his sons in the following three years and his widow in 1784 – almost the whole family in only six years.
Jennings Yard recalls William Jennings, who was reputedly the biggest man ever in Kendal. He was a corn merchant, grocer and cheesemonger with a shop at the head of Jennings Yard.
Everything he did was on a grand scale. When he took delivery of produce for his shop it often covered, and blocked, the pathway.
He was extremely stout and when he died he was buried in the garden of the Unitarian Chapel in Branthwaite Brow.
Very little is known about Captain French. A man of that name was a church-warden in 1660. It is likely that he was a retired sea captain, who bought land and built a house in the lane bearing his name.
The name of Bishop Blaize is recalled in the yard bearing his name. He was the patron Saint of woolcombers and so has a direct link with Kendal.
He was famous for curing sore throats, common among wool workers.
Legend has it that he was very pious and performed miracles, including saving the life of a boy who was dying with a fishbone in his mouth. The Bishop was eventually beheaded.
Look out for more stories to come.