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The Story of Appleby in Westmorland


This book was long-listed for the 2007 Lakeland Book of the Year Award.

About this book:

  • ISBN: 9781904524359 (hardback)

  • Published 2006

  • Price £15.95 + post

  • 268 pages

  • Illustrated with 50 photographs, maps and plans


About the Book:

TO the casual visitor, Appleby in Westmorland may appear just a typical little English country town, tucked away in some of the country's loveliest scenery. That appearance is deceptive. Few towns have been caught up in so much history. Beginning as a cluster of farmsteads built by Danish settlers over a thousand years ago, it alternated between Scottish and English kingdoms and became the seat of a powerful Norman barony. By 1300 it had grown into a prosperous market town, run by some sharp-dealing merchants. Sacked by the Scots and slowly rebuilt, it became the home of an extraordinary woman - the Lady Anne Clifford. Its ancient Grammar School has turned Westmorland boys into Archbishops, Generals and Lord Mayors and narrowly missed educating President George Washington. For over six hundred years it sent two Members to Parliament - Prime Minister William Pitt among them. Until 1974 it was England's smallest County Town. Few places of its size - for it has never had more than three thousand inhabitants - have contributed so much to the story of the nation. In this new book that story is told clearly, simply and with flashes of humour.

About the Author:

Sir Martin Holdgate has known Appleby from childhood. Growing up in Blackpool, the Eden Valley was his holiday home and the stimulus to his growing interest in the countryside. In 1956 he first wrote a History of Appleby as a digression from his work as an academic biologist. Since then he has been an Antarctic scientist, University Lecturer, Director of Conservation Research, Civil Servant, co-ordinator of national action to combat environmental pollution and Director General of the World Conservation Union. He has worked extensively with the United Nations and was co-Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. Martin Holdgate was knighted in 1994 and in 2000 he and his wife Elizabeth retired to live in the Eden Valley. This new Story of Appleby in Westmorland appears exactly fifty years after his first youthful publication on the subject.


It's a wonderful book. First division local history, readable, engaging and setting an apparently insignificant market town at the heart of a thrilling national tale. Eric Robson, writer and broadcaster.

This book... is the result of scholarly research and gies a valuable insight into the evolution of this beautiful town. Anyone who wishes to know more about the Eden Valley and Appleby should read this book. Lord Hothfield.

Sir Martin writes in a lucid and accessible style to give us a fascinating chronicle of the impact of national events and local leaders on Appleby's history. The book conveys vividly the way in which the town's fortunes and those of the barons of Westmorland, owners of Appleby Castle, ebbed and flowed and were reflected in the changing landscapes of the town across the centuries. Dr Angus J L Winchester, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Lancaster University.

A handsome hard-bound volume... There can be relatively little relating to the town which is not noted here... A fascinating store of information on, and insights about, Appleby itself, a town of unusual importance for its size... An impressive and gripping record of Appleby's intriguing past. B J N Edwards, in the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Newsletter, no. 54, Spring 2007.

The author's breadth of knowledge and interest in the town shines through and amateur historians and proud Westmerians alike will find much to tantalise their historical tastebuds. The Westmorland Messenger, Feb. 2007.

An engaging book... which provides an insight into the development of this beautiful town. Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, December 2006

Highly-Readable Work
There have been numerous examples of distinguished public figures writing local histories in their retirement, with very variable results. In truth, Martin Holdgate (scientist, conservationist and one-time civil servant) came to local history young in life, writing a 77-page 'A History of Appleby: County town of Westmorland' in 1956, as a digression from his early biological research at Cambridge. This was the area where he spent his childhood holidays. Lightly revised and reissued in 1970, the book has now been substantially expanded and rewritten, and though still largely dependent on what others have published, its strength lies in the synthesis of huge amounts of complex material - a skill which has impressed so deeply all who have known Sir Martin.
The book is a history of Appleby, not of Westmorland, but the author points out that a town exists only in the context of its locality and region, so it might be read for its history of the border lands of England and Scotland, as illustrated by the experiences of Appleby. The structure has changed little, tracing the town's prehistoric origins, Roman-British and Scandinavian influence, and the emergence of a prosperous, planted medieval borough which never outgrew the capacity of its two churches and relied on the natural protection of the river and the safety given by a strong castle.
Appleby prospered when England had a strong government at peace with its northern neighbour. The town's well-being was undermined by the Border wars, especially when coupled with outbreaks of human plague and murrain among livestock. Geography and history worked against the town, which never thereafter fulfilled the potential briefly glimpsed in the 13th century. The impression thereafter is of continuity, even of modest prosperity, but also of a town ticking over, drawing upon agricultural activity but with hardly any industry.
The role of personalities was most strikingly illustrated by the singular figure of Lady Anne Clifford, a rare example of a personage of no first-class historical importance, but who nevertheless imprinted her character upon a whole countryside. It was not until the 18th century that a greater prosperity again became evident, most strikingly in the rebuilding of so many structures in stone. Few places the size of Appleby - which has never had more than 3,000 inhabitants - have made so large a contribution to national history.
The book endeavours to range beyond the political context and personal detail to speculate at times as to how the town must have appeared, sounded and smelled. This highly-readable work concludes with a brief description of the present town, bringing together the different threads of conflict, ambition, industry and culture which have interacted over ten centuries with the patchwork of building amid the open countryside of the Eden Valley.
The Local Historian, November 2007.


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