Is a township and chapelry stretching as far as the Three Shire Stone, the most northern limit of the county. It formed part of the domains of the old family of le Fleming, into whose possession it came in the time of Henry III. (1216-1272) by the marriage of Richard le Fleming with an heiress of Adam de Urswick. About the year 1409, Thomas le Fleming married Isabel, a daughter of Sir John de Lancaster, by whom he acquired the Manor of Rydal, in Westmorland. Coniston Hall, the residence of the le Fleming family for seven generations, is a low antique building on the borders of the lake, with chimneys wrapped in ivy. It is supposed to have been erected in the reign of Elizabeth, and has been made the subject of an historical romance by the Rev. W. Gresley. Once the abode of nobility it is now the homestead of a farmer.
The township embraces a district of the most romantic and picturesque scenery, ever varying and ever varied, sometimes calm and placid, at others bold and rugged, seeming almost to satiate even with variety.
" The earth was made so various, that the mind
of desultory men, studious of change
And pleased with novelty, might be indulged."
Coniston Lake, or as it is sometimes called Thurston Water, in this township, lies embosomed among the hills; it is between five and six miles in length, and about half-a-mile in breadth. It is situated at a height of 187 feet above the sea's level, and has a depth in some parts of 27 fathoms. A depth of 40 fathoms is said to have been obtained in one part. Perch (locally called bass) of small size, trout, eels, and pike are found in the lake. Char, once abundant and of fine quality, is now very rare. Like other lakes bounded by high mountains, this water has its echoes ; and so great are their multiplying powers, that eleven distinct reports may be heard on a serene evening from the discharge of one cannon. In the lake are two small islands, one called Knott's Island from the proprietor, and the other Piel Island, though they are more familiarly known as the Fir Island and the Gridiron, from the Scotch firs which cover the one and the shape of the other.
Much of the scenery around the lake is of a most beautiful description. Mr. West in his guide, published a hundred years ago, speaking of this lake says :-" It will be allowed, that the views on this lake are beautiful and picturesque, yet they please more than surprise. The hills that immediately enclose the lake are ornamental, but humble. The mountains at the head of the lake are great, noble, and sublime, without anything that is horrid or terrible. They are bold and steep, without the projecting precipice, the overhanging rock, or pendant cliff. The hanging woods, waving inclosures, and airy sites, are elegant, beautiful, and picturesque."
The tarns in the feeders of Coniston Lake are Levers Water, Low Water, Gates Water (Goat's Water), Blind Tarn, and Beacon Tarn ; and amongst its views are the Vale of Yewdale with its stupendous crags and venerable trees,
" Woods crowding upon woods, hills over hills
A surging scene ;"
and the valley of Tilberthwaite, where the fells on each side appear like one mass of blue slate from the numerous quarries made in them for its extraction. Immense quantities of flags and slate are exported to all parts of the kingdom. Beneath the stratum of flag lies a band of limestone rich in organic remains ; and among them may he seen coral, brachipoula, tentaculites, and trilobites. In a quarry about two miles from Coniston on the road to Ambleside, about twenty species may be collected. The slate quarries have added very materially to the prosperity of the district, and afford employment to a large number of the inhabitants.
One of the chief attractions of Coniston is the Old Man, the Alt Maen or High Stone of our British forefathers. This peak attains an elevation of 2,649 feet above the sea's level, and several other eminences in the same group reach a height little inferior to the Old Man. To climb to the summit of this mountain and view the beautiful panorama which everywhere meets the eye, is the feat of all tourists to Coniston who are possessed of youth and agility sufficient for such an arduous undertaking. Those who deem the exertion of making the ascent on foot too great, may reach the top on the mountain ponies kept for the purpose at Water Head Hotel. On its apex are three heaps of stones known as the Old Man, his wife, and son, probably the remains of some Druidical or Saboean superstition. Geologically, the mountain belongs to the green slate system, beneath which lies the band of dark greenish blue limestone before mentioned. The mountain is rich in metalliferous ore, there being several veins of copper intersecting its eastern side. The ore is found in the form of pyrites, and is owned by the Coniston Mining Company. The entrance to the mine is in a very secluded part of the Old Man, and its workings extend vertically to a depth of 252 fathoms, but horizontally they penetrate upwards of half-a-mile into the bowels of the mountain. The mine produces not only abundance of copper ore, but also a large amount of magnetic iron ore, with traces of lead, blende, and nikel silver. Thirteen waterwheels are used in working the mines, and employment is given to about 50 men. They are less productive now than formerly. At one time a large number of hands were employed, and about £2,000 expended in wages. The botanist will be rewarded for his rambles in this neighbourhood, by the replenishment of his portfolio with numerous specimens of rare and valuable wild flowers and ferns. The tall Osmunda Regalis (Royal fern) finds its habitat in some of the watercourses, the beautiful spleenwort maidenhair covers the old walls and copse sides like a cushion of velvet ; two or three varieties of the Blechnum are to be found ; two varieties of Lycopodium are common on the hills, and
" Supreme in her beauty, beside the full urn
In the shade of the rock stands the tall Lady Fern."
Coniston is a village of dispersed dwellings, some situated high among the hills, others near the shores of the lake, about 4.5 miles S.S.W. from Hawkshead, and 14 N. from Ulverston. The Chapel is a very plain edifice, covered with rough-cast, and rebuilt in 1810. It contains 384 sittings, of which 120 are free, provided by a grant of £125 towards its erection from the Incorporated Society for the building of churches and chapels. This is a perpetual curacy worth £150, and is now held by the Rev. C. Chapman. The old chapel was consecrated in 1586, but appears to have had no endowments, as in 1650 it was returned as being without maintenance, except what the inhabitants subscribed for the salary of "Sir Richard Roule, their Reader." The school belonging the church was erected in 1854 to supersede an older one, which was converted into a Mechanics' Institute. In 1878 the old building was taken down and the site added to the church yard enclosure ; and a new and handsome building was erected for the Institute at a cost of £500. £400 of this was obtained from the sale of the old building, and the remaining £100 was raised by subscription.
The Catholic Church, which, with its Gothic windows and gables, its saddleback tower and adjacent presbytery, forms a pretty group of buildings beautifully situated on the Broughton Road, is of recent date, and is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was erected by public subscription, and was opened September 29, 1872, by the Right Rev. Alexander Goss, the Catholic Bishop of Liverpool on the Sunday before his lamented death. The church, which is calculated to hold 200 souls, is much indebted to the munificence of the late Miss Aglionby, of Wigton Hall, a lady much respected in the district, and celebrated throughout England for her breed of English mastiffs. Her body is interred at the entrance of the church, which is under the pastoral care of the Rev. Henry Gibson.
The Baptist Chapel was erected in 1837, and the Primitive Methodist one in 1859. The Wesleyan Chapel was erected in 1875 at a cost of about £800.
The village is now lighted with gas-oil by Whittles patent lamps, seven of which were put up about twelve months ago in appropriate places, the cost of their maintenance being defrayed by public subscription. The railway from Broughton to Coniston, nine miles in length, runs through a tract of very romantic country. The township is rated at £3,181, but the gross rental is £3,631. The rateable area is estimated at 7,423 statute acres. The principal landowners are Stanley Hughes le Fleming, lord of the manor, a descendant of the ancient proprietors whose residence was so long at Coniston Hall ; Victor A. E. Marshall, Esq. ; Exors. of the late Geo. Geldart ; and Lieutenant- Colonel Bousfield has an estate in this township.
Coniston Hall, described in a previous page, was styled by West the " Lady of the Lake." It is now occupied by Wm. Dawson Inman, farmer. Holly How is another good dwelling, the residence of Mrs. Sarah Barratt. Holywath, occupying an elevated situation and commanding a fine view of the lake, is the residence of Lieutenant-Colonel Bousfield. High Ground, the residence of Joseph Tyson, yeoman. The gardens in front of the house are planted with yew trees, which are very fantastically trimmed, representing boats sailing and various other ornamental shapes.
Post, Money Order, and Telegraph Office, and Savings Bank, at Roger Bownass's. Letters arrive via Ambleside at 8 a.m., and are despatched at 5 p.m., except from June to September, despatched at 6-15 p.m.