THE poet Gray, 18th century traveller, arrived in Settle and compared it with “a shabby French town”. Indeed, it became one of the finest remaining examples of an old market town. Dr Bill Mitchell investigates.
SETTLE is located on a fault line between the limestone country and millstone grit. The market place has an attractive backdrop known as the Shambles. About turn – and you see the Naked Man Café.
Settle straddled the packhorse route between Kendal and the West Riding. A river ford became known as Kendalman’s. In the years prior to 1989, what was known as the Keighley-Kendal road was thronged with traffic. In that year a bypass was constructed. Settle still caters for many visitors.
The Duke of Devonshire, Lord of the Manor of Settle, who contributed a foreword to a small collection of local photographs I compiled, informed me that the Manors of Settle and Giggleswick had come into his family in the middle of the 18th century. At that time the family had acquired those of Bolton Abbey and Londesborough.
The Duke’s legal connection with the fairs of Settle ended in 1924 when the Market Place was transferred to the parish council. He had been delighted in 1949 to receive an invitation from the old Settle Rural District Council to attend celebrations to mark the 700th anniversary of the granting of the market charter.
Settle developed a character of its own, being separated by open country from other sizeable towns. Dominating all is Castleberg, a limestone knoll that is frequently decked by intrepid climbers. On a clear and sunlit day, before my wonky- knee stage of life, I enjoyed using a footpath that enabled me to use Castleberg as an observation point. The view gives the town a Lilliputian character.
It was especially grand if I heard the toot from a steam-hauled train and watched its passage on embankments and viaducts. The flattish ground beside the crag was once a Pleasure Park, with swings and refreshments available. The entry fee was – a penny!
Crowds have gathered in the Market Place on many occasions, including – in 1927 – when there was the Total Eclipse of the sun. It occurred early. The crowd soon dispersed. There have been numerous special occasions when the Market Place has been packed with excited people. My favourite was when Songs of Praise was transmitted. The brass band that provided the music was comfortably installed on a platform near the Town Hall. Those who watched the programme would have been enchanted by “shots” of the landscape in which the town is situated.
Tuesday, market day, attracts a throng. Canvas-topped stalls and metal trailers, appear with the speed of mushrooms and offer a wide range of goods. Long years ago, pens were set up to house livestock. Walk around the market place and you would be under the gaze of scores of sheep. Geese from farms in the area were driven into town for the Goose Fair. The webbed feet of the geese had been reinforced for the journey by driving the birds through pools of tar, then over stone chippings.
Settle lends its name to the Settle-Carlisle, a celebrated railway. It was threatened with closure in the 1980s but just before the end of that decade the railway was reprieved. A viaduct near the church once had its superstructure badly damaged through the derailment of a wagon forming part of a goods train but no one was injured.
Settle had a tollbooth. You paid for admission. This structure was referred to in a document dated 1716. It was originally a market hall, its style being described as Jacobean Gothic. When it became a town hall there was a grand chamber for the council. My special memory of the building is of flights of steps and labyrinth of passages.
A large house which used to be the home and surgery of Dr Buck is now a branch of the NatWest Bank. The Co-op occupies space which used to be a cinema. A range of shops is handy for shoppers. There have been solemn moments, such as a time when horses were checked to ensure their suitability for the 1914-18 war. The checking was carried out by Mr Vine, a local vet.
Radiating from the Market Place are Kirkgate, an old route beside which is the Victoria Hall and a Quaker Meeting House and Constitution Hill, which is steepish and, if the road is followed, levels out and leads to Langcliffe. Upper Settle, with its Green and attractive buildings, was first seen by travellers before the present route took shape. The Market Place is a central feature of renown.