Yards of Ale

An Idiosyncratic Tour of Kendal's Yards and Ale Houses

There are numerous books and publications about "Auld Kendal" and its yard system ranging from Cornelius Nicholson's 1832:

The Annals of Kendal:
Being an Historical and Descriptive Account
of Kendal and the Neighbourhood
with Biographical Sketches
of Many Eminent Personages
Connected with the Town

through Percy and Margaret Duff's fine range of old photos to publications by the present day expert, Trevor Hughes.  Even Wainwright got in on the act with his Kendal in the 19th Century sketches.

This is not one of such Auld Kendal yards publications although there will be references to various items of historic interest (to me, perhaps not for others).

There is at least one publication about the history of the licensed premises:

Kendal Pubs

by Dave Kingwell & Brendan Jameson

This website is not one of such licensed premises publications.

However there will be references to various pubs still open (or maybe recently closed) and perhaps some elements of their background.

In other words, these web pages are not to be taken as an historical nor an exhaustive (or even accurate) guide.

They exist purely as the result of a whim I had one day whilst wandering around Kendal with time on my hands.

Having implied that this is not a history lesson, a paragraph or two might help set the scene.

Firstly the Yards. One of the features of Kendal is the number of "yards" that exist (or existed) off the main streets.  Local mythology (and Wikipaedia) suggests they were built to protect the population from marauding Scots.  Given that at times in the early second millennium Kendal is believed to have been in Scottish hands, they might equally be regarded as defence against marauding English.

However, the truth is likely to be rather more mundane and of industrial origin.

Kendal was a town based on wool- its motto is Pannus Mihi Panis (Wool is my bread) and Shakespeare makes reference to archers dressed in Kendal Green.

The yards are thought to have started as a system of primitive wool factories.

The merchant would have a fine house at the top or bottom of the yard (depending on the slope to the river).

Naturally, the workers would live in the surrounding cottages leading downhill.

To support the dating argument, there are no yards to be seen on John Speede's 1614 map of Kendal but they are very clear on the map prepared for the 1861 edition of Nicholson's Annals of Kendal.



It seems likely therefore that they were mainly of Georgian to early Victorian origin. Certainly to my untrained eye, the architecture of the master buildings appears to be of that era.  Several yards have (or had) either a church or a theatre or other fine building at its far end. Many had (and still have) a public house at their entrance.

Hence the theme: Yards of Ale.

My intention was to wander through the hinterlands of Kendal, visiting as many of the yards and the alehouses as was reasonably practical.  Tony volunteered to come with me which was a big help because, as a Kendalian interested in such things, he had a detailed knowledge of the yards and even more so of the pubs.  The only trouble was that he envisaged the tour taking place in one day and I thought it would be sensible for it to take a little longer.

Kendal has (or had) a very high ratio of pubs to people, second only to Otley.  Or maybe Tony made that up given that both towns and their pubs figure large in his life.  

Whichever, the number of licensed premises in Kendal has changed little over recent years, although those that we would call a pub are much fewer in number and several of them currently have their doors shut.  Even so, a circuit in one day is well beyond my capabilities and would eliminate any possibility of remembering anything about them, never mind the yards.

Several years later

It is several years since I wrote the above.  Since then two things have happened and one hasn't.

The first thing that happened is that in 2017 Trevor Hughes and Arthur Nicholls produced a book called  The Yards of Kendal.  

This is not a direct mirror of what we intended to do and indeed could be regarded as complementary or even a base point from which to work.  Certainly it is a much more learned account of the "the atmposphere and character of the yards and the lives of their inhabitants."

However so far, we haven't got round to starting the project so that is the thing what hasn't happened.

The second thing that has happened is that two of my grandchildren, Luca and Ellie, were intent on exploring Kendal's yards.  Alas they are too young as yet to take their Opa (that's what they call me) into the pubs but hopefully that day will come!

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