Hawkshead - relishing fame in the 21st century

PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 August 2013

View from the church grounds looking across Hawkshead

View from the church grounds looking across Hawkshead


A village tucked away in the corner of the Palatine County of Lancashire has always had a knack of becoming known in the wider world. Mike Glover reports

The name Hawkshead resounds across the centuries and continues to have a an impact in the global economy.

The picture postcard village, near the northern tip of Esthwaite Water and to the west of Windermere, was originally owned by the monks of Furness Abbey. In medieval times, it grew to be an important wool market.

It gained not one, but two royal charters within 21 years: In 1585 Hawkshead Grammar School was established by Archbishop Edwin Sandys of York after he successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth. Then it was granted its first market charter by King James 1 in 1608.

Remarkably the old school building is still owned by the Sandys family who live at nearby Graythwaite Hall and is run by trustees on their behalf. The lovingly preserved building is a highlight of any visit to the village.

The rest of the 17th century belonged to wool and the prosperity it brought, with many of the buildings from that era surviving even now. In the late 18th century poet William Wordsworth was educated at the school, with his name etched into one of the original desks. In the 19th century he eloquently described the charming village in his epic poem, The Prelude.

In the 20th century Beatrix Potter settled nearby in Castle Cottage after marrying local solicitor William Heelis, with her bequest of much local land to the National Trust making sure it was well prepared for the development of the tourist industry to the Lake District. The village is now dominated by National Trust and Beatrix Potter themed shops.

So what else has Hawkshead come up with to keep its name in lights in the 21st century? Well the answer is food, drink and clothing.

Leading the way is the eponymous Hawkshead Relish, the company set up just 12 years ago by husband and wife team, Mark and Maria Whitehead. They started making just 24 jars a week of their Westmorland chutney in the kitchen back in 2001. Now they are turning out between 7,000 and 10,000 jars a week. Last year showed an 18 per cent sales growth and 2013 looks like being equally successful.

Red Onion marmalade has taken over as number one savoury, pushing Westmorland chutney into second place and Beetroot and Horse Radish Chutney third of the 122 products now sold. Raspberry and vanilla jam tops the sweet list.

Mark, who is the chef and driver of new development, and Maria, the sales and marketing expert, recently received the rare distinction of joint MBEs for services to the food industry in Cumbria. The incredible growth is mainly due to exports. According to Maria there has been a surge, particularly to Eastern Europe including Russia.

This month may see that demand grow even more when they take their wares to Anuga, in Cologne, the world’s biggest food and drink fare.

Back home Maria says sales are being boosted by the increased interest in origins of what we eat and drink in the wake of the horse meat scandal.

‘People are more interested in the provenance of the food they eat. They want to know what they are buying, in terms of ingredients, and where it is from,’ she added. Hawskead village has its own new brewery called Cumbrian Legendary Ales and, in a good example of local firms working together, they are providing ingredients for Hawkshead Relish’s new beer jellies. They are getting rave reviews, going particularly well with strong cheeses.

The company, still with a shop front in the village square, has expanded into a new barn production plant near Esthwaite. They are also developing a demonstration centre, first for colleges and school groups, but possibly also for groups like the Women’s Institute.

There have been new jobs created in all this expansion and that takes us to another aspect of the village which is desperately trying to reverse the Lake District-wide trend of houses being bought up by second-home owners and as holiday lets, while local young people are driven away by prices. In Hawkshead, the ratio is roughly 50-50.

There have been three or four ‘pocket developments’ in Heelis Place, Barngates, and the car park, where four affordable houses are being built, as part of South Lakes Housing scheme.

Hawkshead has about 800 people on the electoral role, but the population can more than double during the tourism season, which may partly explain the one blight on this Lake District idyll: the car park.

Local councillor David Fletcher says the charges are driving away visitors. Shop-keepers display angry signs saying they won’t provide change for the unpopular registration recognition machines, which, on the day Lancashire Life visited, were driving queuing would-be users mad.

Our advice is to take plenty of change. Five pounds will buy you four hours to tour the clothes shops like Stewardson’s of Hawskead and of course Hawkshead Relish; see the school and visit as many watering holes as you can get through. One, Poppi Red, manages to combine coffee culture with crafts and cushions.

And whether you need the change or not, do find time to visit Main Street Arts and Crafts if only to sample the hand-made Windermere Ice Cream.

It is run by Bolton-born and Blackpool-raised Sandra Higham, who says after three tough years, the sunshine has helped trade pick up this year.

And she smiled as she gave just the right change for the car park.

5 things to do in Hawkshead

Visit the grammar school and spot the name William Wordsworth carved into a desk by the would-be poet

Have a stroll up to the church and take in the wondeful views

Take a tour of the Beatrix Pottery Gallery displaying some of her original work

Go trout fishing on Esthwaite Water - it’s easier than it looks

Have fun in Grizedale Forest, great for walks and mountain biking

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