If you have the time then here is a little of the history of our area and Crow How dating from AD 80-85 to modern day. Hope you enjoy it!
As far as Rydal Valley is concerned (the name Rydal meaning “valley where rye was grown”) we can go back as far as the Roman occupation to find evidence of documented history of the area.
The Romans had built a fort (Galava) just outside of Ambleside around AD 80-85 on the North shore of Windermere and proceeded to lay a road through Rydal Valley towards Grasmere, very similar in position to the existing road used today. There is evidence that firstly watch-fires and then perhaps a Roman Fort were built on Old Hall Hill which is situated behind the cricket ground a few hundred yards away to the North of Crow How. A junction adjacent to the hill did exist, one leading to Grasmere and the other over Loughrigg towards the Romans Ravensglass Fort which does give good reasoning to a permanent fort or watch-tower being on the hill to watch over this commercially strategic important area. The area around the hill today is used as grazing for sheep and cows but then it was very marshy and prone to flooding which sometimes forced the Romans onto what we call the “Coffin Route” to venture into Ambleside or further North.
Perhaps round AD 360 the Romans left the area, later Britain and Rydal falls into obscurity until around AD 945 when Edmund, King of Wessex, had to subdue the province of Northumbria in expelling two minor kings, one a Dane. Fed up with Northumbrias renewed help from the Danes of Dublin, who were passing through Cumbria, he set out to overthrow Dunmail, King of Cumbria and to pass Cumbria to Malcolm, King of Scotland who promised to pledge allegiance to him in return. According to tradition the battle took place at what is now known as Dunmiail Raise, the main road travelling up out of Grasmere towards Keswick where a large cairn is meant to mark the graves of the fallen soldiers and can be clearly seen in between the duel carriageways. Edmund then passed through the forests of Rydal where he is thought to have set a watch-tower on Old Hall Hill to guard his return.
Rydal falls into relative obscurity in the history books until it appears in the records in a document dated 3rd May 1277, which tells of a dispute between Sir Roger de Lancaster, lord of the Baronery of Kendal, and William de Lyndesey. Sir Roger de Lancaster, regarded by some as a ‘petty tyrant’, had hunting lands around Martindale and Ullswater but had always converted Rydal Valley to use as a deer park for the use of the Norman rulers for sport.
Deer parks were not uncommon in Lakeland at this time; huge tracts of land being designated as Deer Parks and the rights of the inhabitants within them handed down for generations were severely curtailed.
The animals of William’s tenants at Ambleside had strayed into Sir Roger’s hunting preserve at Rydal. A fine was imposed of a half penny for every ox, cow, mare, pig or five sheep caught in the deer park. A higher rate of one penny was charged for every five goats which probably meant that they created the most damage when let loose in woodland. The park was much more afforested than today but the most interesting item in this medieval dispute is that the two litigants agreed to build a fence around the deer preserve-to define it as a park. The boundary most likely took the form of hedging, standing stones and walls with can be seen still to this day on areas such as Nab scar.
Surprisingly, today quite a few traces of the deer park remain, following its demise around 1500 when the park was turned over to sheep – indeed this was only a return to what it had been previously. The fell at the head of the valley is called Fairfield, a Viking name which implies that Viking or Norse settlers grazed their flocks on the high fell for the summer long before the Normans arrived.
Sir Roger de Lancaster probably stayed at a hunting lodge about half a mile out of Ambleside on top of the rocky knoll (Old Hall hill) beside the cricket field. This was probably originally a crude “Pele Tower” construction. The cricket pitch now overlays the orchard and part of the wall, which may have apparently surrounded the moat, remains as do the foundations of the fish tanks in the adjacent field. It is very probable that a church or chapel had stood on the knoll before the lodge, it being the driest area in the valley. Sometime in the mid 1300’s work began on the ‘Corn Barn’ which is to the side of Crow How (seen on the right on the front page panoramic picture). This being the first documented case of buildings and activity on our site.
To the northwest are the River Rothay and its famous “stepping stones” crossing point, so beloved of children and some adults! This may date from this time.
The lodge was extended and became known as the manor-house, serving as an administrative centre to the district. It would have had a great hall, living and eating rooms for the master and servants, a dog-house, stable, smithy, dove-cote and a knight’s chamber which was used as a guesthouse for travellers of rank or distinction.
We can strongly surmise by the history of other sites that the manor-house kept its Pele Tower fortifications due to the turbulent times where petty warfare on each other’s lands was common due to a distant and weak government, mainly in the form of cattle rustling and thievery.
At this time in the 1400’s the Le Flemings appear in Rydal, the Le Flemings pedigree claimed by French records to go back, unbroken, to the time of Charlemagne of France. For certain they can be traced back to 1126, and possibly linked with the 1066 Conquest.John Fleming married Isobel de Lancaster thus inheriting Rydal Manor and its hunting lands when they past to her on her father’s death. Though not living at Rydal Hall as it was then known (having a large estate in Coniston) they did spend time there, most likely in the summer months hunting in the park. John’s grandson David resided permanently at the Hall later though with his wife Jane and raised six sons, Jane living at the Hall until around 1600 where it was said to be in a dilapidated condition.
With her death the Hall was not deemed saving and was demolished, leading us to the final part of our tale….
The ‘New’ and current Rydal Hall was built by the first Sir Michael Le Fleming in the 16th century and then enlarged in the 17th century (then altered and refaced in the 18th century) thus leaving the ‘Old Hall’ to fall into disrepair.
In 1659, when no use for it became evident, Adam Fisher was told to dismantle and use the remains of the Old Hall to repair and enlarge the Old Corn Mill which is opposite Crow How (dating back to the 1300’s) by sledging the stones to the Corn Barn for the wallers to begin work. Gradually the old ponds and gardens of the Old Hall gave way to grazing with the Old Orchard now being the setting of the Cricket ground.
The ruins during this time and in later years had a lasting legacy in the valley though as detailed from this excerpt from ‘A History of Rydal’:
‘Superstitious terror, indeed, kept the memory of the Old Hall alive through many generations. Stories sprang up to explain its abandonment; and the deserted rock, crowned with its pile of ruins, struck awe into the heart of the traveller who after dark passed it on his road to Rydal. Strange sounds, strange sights, pervaded it by night. Wailing voices, as of spirits in distress; headless ghosts (three in number), that danced upon its summit; and later, a white dog that terrified passengers across the Old Orchard, even, it is believed, to the middle of the last century (now the 1850’s). No one now living owns to having seen the white dog, but old men and women confess to having often in childhood, laid their ear to the road-wall that leans against the How, and to thinking that they heard, while they listened in breathless expectation, strange muffled sounds issuing from its depths – the ‘durge-like note from inmost chambers far remote.”
Other stories tell of buried treasure on the site as well as secret passages to the New Hall with even Wordsworth even commenting in one of his sonnets of the haunted character that place had obtained. Little now remains of the site.
Mr Fidler first lived in Crow How with his wife and family, farming around 200 acres for over 20 years, the farm being locally known as Fiddlers Farm . It remained as a Farm House until 1933 when it was turned into a Country House, separate from the farm (now called Rydal Farm) and complete with a heated garage and tennis court set in 5 acres of gardens.
During the Second World War it reverted back to a private house, then soon after flats untilthe late 1960’s when it became a Hotel once again, at one stage having 14 bedrooms as to the 9 we have today. Renovating the house we have opened up hallways and areas that resemble closely the layout of the house in the 1930’s and have reverted to a Country House Bed & breakfast establishment set in 2 acres.