Posted in Cumbria, History, Local stuff, Monday Mystery

Monday Mystery: is this map real or fake?

We were having lunch in Esquires Coffee Shop in Ambleside earlier, and were much intrigued by a large and apparently antique map painted onto the wall. We spent a happy half hour browsing it and pointing out local landmarks, old-fashioned place name spellings and the like, and much fun was had.

Until we started to spot the mistakes. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t expect antiquarian maps to be beacons of precision. Many of them were compiled by people with scant geographic knowledge of the region they were working on, who relied on local knowledge, old tales, and phonetic spelling from folk with interesting regional accents.

But in this case it was a little more than that. Several places I’d have expected to feature on the map didn’t. In some cases, such as the village of Coniston, there’s a case for saying the village came later. Much of Coniston is Victorian, and the map was clearly purporting to be early eighteenth century at the latest. But Hawkshead parish church, which dates from as early as 1300, was also missing. And then we came to Windermere.

The original settlement here was Bowness, which was an early fishing village on the shores of the lake. The town of Windermere didn’t exist until the railway arrived and terminated in the small village of Birthwaite in 1847. After that Birthwaite and neighbouring hamlets Applethwaite and Heathwaite were quickly expanded and merged to cater for the sudden influx of tourists. And yet on the map, there was no sign of Bowness, and the small dot next to the lake was helpfully labelled “Winandermere”. Sure enough, Winandermere was an early spelling of the name of the lake, but as far as I know, it never applied to the town. The, er, non-existent town.

So, is the whole map fake? If so, it’s a clever one, with graphics, lettering and spellings that look just like the real thing. If not, why the confusion over Windermere?

I’m genuinely baffled, and if anyone can help solve the mystery I’ll be forever grateful.


Fiona lives in a slate cottage within stone-throwing distance (never a good idea in Glass houses...) of England's largest lake. She enjoys history, gardening and photography, and rarely has her nose far from the pages of a book - or a cup of tea.

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