KESWICK, a market-town, in the parish of Crosthwaite, union of Cockermouth, Allerdale ward below Derwent, W. division of Cumberland, 27 miles (S.S.W.) from Carlisle, and 291 (N.W. by N.) from London; containing 2,442 inhabitants. This place is more celebrated for the beauty of its lake, and the magnificent scenery by which it is surrounded, than for historical interest. Prior to the time of Edward I. it was the property of an ancient family one of whose descendants in the female line, in the reign of James II., was created Earl of Derwentwater. James, the third earl, having taken part in the rebellion of 1715, was, in the early part of the following year, beheaded on Towerhill; and his large estates, being forfeited to the crown, were settled upon the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital. The manor, with the lands, was purchased by the late John Marshall, jun., Esq., M. P. The town is romantically situated in a valley, embosomed in hills of various elevations, and sheltered by the towering Skiddaw, which crowns the lofty range of mountains that bounds the northern extremity of the vale. The houses, though chiefly of stone and generally well built, are rather neat than handsome in their appearance. A market-house, with a turret, was erected in 1814, by the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, for the transaction of public business; and there are some good inns and respectable lodging-houses for the accommodation of the numerous parties that make the town the principal station in their tour of the Lakes. Two museums have been formed, both well supplied with specimens of the most curious minerals and fossils with which this part of the county abounds.
The lake Derwentwater, which is within less than a mile of the town, and separated from it by rising ground, is nearly three miles and a half in length, and one mile and a half in breadth; of an irregularly elliptical form; and remarkable for the tranquillity and brilliant transparency of its waters, which reflect with additional lustre the sublime scenery that adorns its banks. On the bosom of the lake are some picturesque islands, of the richest verdure and most luxuriant foliage. Lord's Island, five acres in extent, was the site of a noble mansion belonging to the earls of Derwentwater, the foundations of which, now the only remains, may, though with difficulty, be distinguished in the woods by which they are overspread. Vicar's Island, now called Derwent Isle, containing six acres, belonged to the abbey of Fountains, at the dissolution of which it was given by Henry VIII. to John Williamson: it was for some time inhabited by a company of Dutch miners; but is now elegantly laid out in plantations and pleasure-grounds, in the centre of which is a handsome villa. St. Herbert's Island, comprising four acres, was so called from its having been for many years the site of a hermitage occupied by that saint, of whose cell there are still some faint remains: the late Sir Wilfred Lawson, Bart., built a small grotto, or fishing-cottage, on this beautifal island, which is almost in the centre of the lake. There is also an island called the Floating Island, which occasionally rises from the bottom, but, constantly adhering to the earth beneath, never changes its position; it is covered with reeds and rushes, interspersed with a variety of aquatic plants, and forms by its sterility a striking contrast to the other isles. The smooth surface of the lake is occasionally disturbed by a visible agitation of the water, when there is not a breath of wind in any part, and when the atmosphere is perfectly calm: this phenomenon is called the Bottom Wind, but the cause of it has not been satisfactorily ascertained.
The river Derwent has its course through the lake, which also receives the waters which in heavy rains issue in torrents from the fells of Borrowdale, on the south: the falls present a spectacle of awful grandeur, the torrent tumbling over huge abrupt masses of rugged cliffs, separated by a tremendous chasm. Near the south-east extremity of the lake are the falls of Lowdore, an immense amphitheatre of precipices, whose waters, rushing with impetuosity, and frequently interrupted in their descent by projecting rocks, form a stupendous cataract, the roar of which, when the violence is aggravated, in rainy seasons, may be heard at a considerable distance. At the extremities of the fall are Gowder Crag, 500 feet in height, of rude and terrific aspect, and Shepherd's Crag, in the fissures of which are almost every variety of forest-trees, plants, and flowers, growing with wild luxuriance. Within this concave range of rugged cliffs is a powerful echo, of which the numerous reverberations are repeated with great force and distinctness of articulation; a cannon discharged in this situation produces an effect equal to that of a park of artillery, the successive reverberations continuing with diminished force until they gradually die away. The northern extremity of the lake is characterised by features of majestic grandeur, the more prominent of which are the Skiddaw and Saddleback mountains; the former 3022 feet above the level of the sea, of a darkcoloured slate interspersed with verdure, in several parts affording pasturage for sheep, and terminating with a double apex almost constantly enveloped in mist; the latter undulated with graceful curve to the height of 2789 feet, of similar hue with Skiddaw, and having its northern declivity covered with herbage, and overspread with various mountain plants. In the distance, the Carrock Fell, 2290 feet in height, is seen among the interesting group of objects that add beauty and magnificence to the scenery for which Keswick and its vicinity are so deservedly celebrated.
The manufacture of coarse woollen goods is carried on in the town to some extent, consisting chiefly of kerseys, blankets, &c.: there are also several manufactories for black-lead pencils, the material for which is obtained in the well-known mine at Borrowdale, in the neighbourhood. The mountains abound in mineral wealth; and upon Greta river, which passes by the town, are corn-mills, and a forge for the manufacture of spades, scythes, and edge-tools. The market, held on Saturday, is very considerable for corn, which is pitched; and in addition to the varieties of fish which the lake produces in abundance, the town is supplied with mutton of superior flavour, and with provisions of every description. The old shambles, which stood at the north end of the town-hall, were pulled down in 1815, and a new structure was erected. The fairs are on the Saturdays before Whitsuntide and Martinmas, for hiring servants; and on the Saturday next after Oct. 29th, for cheese and sheep: on the first Thursday in May, and every alternate Thursday for six weeks following, there are small fairs for horses and cattle; and a large cattle-market is held on Oct. 11th. The county debt-court of Keswick, established in 1847, has jurisdiction over the sub-registration-district of Keswick, and the chapelries of Newlands, Buttermere, and Threlkeld.
The parochial church stands about three-quarters of a mile north-westward from Keswick. The district church of St. John, at the southern extremity of the town, was erected in 1839, at a cost, including the parsonage-house, of more than £12,000, defrayed by the late John Marshall, jun., Esq., and has been endowed by his representatives; it is an elegant structure in the early English style, with an embattled tower surmounted by a spire, and on the south side is an octagonal building with a pyramidal roof, used as a vestry. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of Mrs. Marshall, widow of the founder. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans. About a mile to the south, on an eminence, the summit of which forms a plain of considerable extent, is a supposed Druidical temple. Sir John Banks, lord chief justice in the reign of Charles I., was born at Keswick, in 1589: the parish workhouse was founded by him, and in 1644 he bequeathed £200 for building a manufactory, also lands now producing £200 per annum, for employing the poor. The place was for some time the residence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge; and Robert Southey for a long period lived at Greta Hall, near the town, where he died in March, 1843.
Extract from: A Topographical Dictionary of England comprising the several counties, cities, boroughs, corporate and market towns, parishes, and townships..... 7th Edition, by Samuel Lewis, London, 1848.