Kendal was the administrative centre of Westmorland, and is best known as the home of Kendal Mint Cake and of Alfred Wainwright. It is also a major shopping centre and still has a number of industries.
The town has two castles. The 'old' castle was built in c.1092 by the third baron of Kendal, Ketel de Tailbois. Only a grassy mound now survives, topped by an obelisk set up in 1788 to celebrate the centenary of William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution. This castle was burnt down by the Scots in 1210.
The 'new' castle was built c.1180 by Gilbert fitz Reinfried and is located on a grassy hill overlooking the town. It was reinforced after Bannockburn, when it was owned by the Parr family (from the 13th to 16th centuries), but after their period it fell into disrepair.
In the Middle Ages Kendal was a centre for the cottage spinning industry and became famous for Kendal Green which was formed by mixing blue from woad with yellow from dyer's yellow broom, found in the Kent valley. Medieval Kendal was centred around Kirkland, at the southern end of the main street around the parish church. The earlier Roman town of Alauna was also to the south and was built around a ford over the River Kent. The thirteenth century parish church is 103ft wide, making it the second widest in the country (and is only 7ft narrower than York Minster). The church contains the Parr Chapel, a memorial to George Romney the portrait artist and a helmet and sword said to have Robin, the Devil of Belle Isle, Windermere. During the Civil War he rode into the church in an attempt to take revenge on Colonel Briggs, who had besieged his house. Robin was struck down, losing his sword and helmet.
Next to the church is Abbot Hall, which contains a very high quality Art Gallery in a Georgian house, and the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry. The Kendal Museum of Archaeology and Natural History is in the newer town.
The current town centre is based around the 1826 Town Hall, with Stricklandgate to the north and Highgate to the south. A number of yards lead off the main street, many dating to the eighteenth century when they housed weavers. Dr Manning's Yard, Collin Croft, Shakespeare Yard, New Inn Yard and the Old Shambles are all worth a visit. The market place and the surrounding complex of streets are to the east of the main street. Kendal is also notable for its complex one way system, which takes most traffic away from this central area.
The wool industry was important from the 13th century, and the town's motto 'Pannus mihi pani' (Wool is my Bread) comes from this period. Traces of the wool industry can be seen at Sandes' Hospital, an almshouse for widows of men working in the wool industry, and in the Fleece Inn and Woolpack Yard.
Kendal was one of the few Lakeland towns to remain prosperous in the mid-18th to mid-19th period when many centres further into the fells suffered from the collapse of the small scale local textile industry. Kendal gained a small industrial quarter during this period, with water-powered mills on the Kent. The town was thus one of the more important manufacturing centres before the industrial revolution. It became the home of Romney's of Kendal (the makers of Kendal Mint Cake), K Shoes (taken over by Clarkes in 1981) and Provincial Insurance (now part of Axa). The town also contained saw-mills, bobbin-mills, corn mills, paper mills and gunpowder mills.
A number of regular events take place in or close to Kendal. The annual Kendal Gathering is a torch-light procession with carnival events and live music that takes place in the autumn. Sadly the 2012 event had to be cancelled, but it should return in September 2013. The Westmorland County Show takes place in September, currently on a site close to the M6 junction. The Lakeland Rose show currently takes place on the same site, although following a theme the 2012 event had to be cancelled (this time due to the poor weather).
Kendal has a good theatre, at the Brewery Arts Centre
Directions: Kendal is close to the M6, and is on the A6 and just to the north of the A 591, the main road into the southern Lakes.
Grid Reference: SD 516 928