Road Gates

From an article by David Imrie in “Thornthwaite-cum-Braithwaite and its People”, published by the Women’s Institute in 1971

(Page created 19/04/05)

From the unknown past until around 1930, there were many gates on some of the secondary roads in the neighbourhood of Braithwaite. Today only three remain. One bars the entrance to the lane which goes past Newlands Church to the lower house at High Snab; the other two prevent easy access to High and Low Skelgill. One is below Catbells; the other is at Stair. Those roads barred by ancient gates are surfaced with tarmacadam, and well-kept by the County, but the gates have been allowed to stand, because the roads are not important highways.

The fell gate nearest to Braithwaite on a thoroughfare was known to generations of dalespeople as the Sheepshank Gate, although the origin of the name is a mystery. It hung at the end of the wood which covers the north end of Barrow, and was maintained by the farmers concerned to stop their sheep from wandering down towards the village. Occasionally in the remote past some needy person would have a spell of casual gatekeeping there, but no one was on duty permanently. No doubt, those with mettle-some steeds were glad to pay a copper or two for having the gate opened for them, although locals must have predominated. The Sheepshank Gate has never been on a really really busy route. In 1969 the stoop on which it swung was removed by County roadmen.

The gate which formerly barred the top of Stair Brow was in a better category. The coaches which went daily in summer from Keswick and back via Borrowdale, Honister, Buttermere and Newlands were sources of much revenue for gatekeepers at Stair Brow. Shortly before the gate was removed (more than 30 years ago) children from Stair Farm (1647 AD), then owned by Mr Reginald Folder, were the principal attendants. As an extra, they fitted the shoe to the coaches on the appropriate wheel before the steep descent. This shoe was the only brake in those times, and it tore up the road badly.

The most lucrative, however, was the Bank End Gate at the north end of Catbells. Rather strangely, it was owned by the Marshalls of Hawse End, who provided a shelter for the keeper, and who actually appointed him. He had to be a disabled person, but whether the disability had to be the result of war wounds or not is not clear. The last attendant at Bank End Yatt, as it was familiarly called, had an artificial leg, which he removed as he had got to his post for the day. This was applied psychology. He realised tips would flow more freely to a person hopping around on one leg with the aid of a crutch than to someone apparently in full physical strength.

This gatekeeper succeeded one with a disabled arm, who lost favour with the Marshalls because he was inclined to be rude to stingy tippers. But he did not take his dismissal with good grace. One night about 3 a.m. he returned, and burned the shelter to the ground. For this he received a prison sentence.

There was at that time a second gate complete with attendant’s shelter near Manesty Farm, but its ownership was obscure. Possibly several farmers maintained the gate for their own benefit. No cattle grid replaced it, but there is now a grid at Bank End.

At Littletown there were two gates, one at each approach to the hamlet. And immediately across the valley another gate swung at the upper end of Seeds or Selves Lonnin, only a few yards from a former inn, now represented by stone outbuildings belonging to Rigg Beck House. None of those three gates ever attracted casual attendants. They were not on a tourist route. Incidentally the vanished inn was known to locals as Mill Dam Inn, but there are grounds for believing that its proper name was the Sportsman’s Inn. Apparently the liquor licence was granted to the wooden house above, when the ancient building fell into decay.

The last gate on the Braithwaite-Buttermere road was at Aiken (or Aikin). It was designed to keep Keskadale sheep on their own heaf, but whether it or any other of the Newlands gates were or were not effective is a moot point. In the days of horses, most of the gates were probably shut most of the time, because the users of them had an interest in holding back sheep. But when motor cars and flocks of foot tourists invaded the Lake District, the gates became irksome and were left open for days. Therefore they fell into decay. One significant point is that the sheep, except in very severe weather, remain largely on the fells without them.