Townships: Claife

Page 380

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.

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Clayf, 1292; Clayfe, 1315. Sourer, 1336.

This township, having an area of 4,579 acres, (fn. 1) may be described as a cluster of hills rising at points to 800 ft. above sea level; they descend very steeply on the east side to Windermere, their tree-clad sides forming one of the beauties of the lake as seen from Bowness, and somewhat less steeply to Esthwaite Water on the west. (fn. 2) At the north end is Blelham Tarn, discharging into Windermere, and the southern end is bounded by Cunsey Beck, the outlet of Esthwaite Water. The chief villages are those of Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey at the south end in a little valley or pass extending from Esthwaite Water to Windermere; at the north end are the hamlets of Wray, Lonethwaite and Colthouse. Wray Castle is a stately modern residence on the shore of Windermere. (fn. 3) There are the customary divisions of Upper Claife, 2,077½ acres, and Lower Claife, 2,501½ acres, north and south respectively. There was a population of 563 in 1901.

The principal road, almost the only one, is that which leads from the ferry on Windermere by way of Far and Near Sawrey (fn. 4) to Esthwaite Water; one branch here goes round the south end and west side of the lake, the other goes along the east side of it, keeping within Claife. At the head of the lake it passes Colthouse and turns west to Hawkshead, but a branch continues northward to Wray and then to Ambleside. From Far Sawrey a road goes south to Cunsey, near the banks of Windermere. The Lake steamers call at the ferry.

The legend of the 'Crier of Claife' is connected with a spot on Latterbarrow, at the north end of Claife Heights. The ferryman heard a loud call for a boat on a stormy night, and returned alone, dumb with fright. The cry was heard later, but no one would attend to it; and at last by exorcism the spirit was 'laid' in Claife. (fn. 5)

The soil is light and gravelly, with subsoil of rock and gravel. About half of the land is in grass, and much of the rest is woodland.

There is no manor of Claife, (fn. 6) and though Sawrey has given a surname to a family, the branches of which occur at other places in Furness, the records are almost silent as to this part of the parish.

The principal ferry across Windermere was that from Claife; it was long held by the Braithwaite family, who paid a rent to the lord of the Richmond fee as owning the waters. (fn. 7)

An Act for the inclosure of the commons was passed in 1794, (fn. 8) and the award was made five years later. (fn. 9)

For the Church of England St. Peter's, Sawrey, was built in 1872 (fn. 10); the Bishop of Carlisle collates. At Low Wray St. Margaret's was built in 1845; the patronage is vested in the executors of David Ainsworth.

It has been stated already that the Society of Friends acquired a burial-ground at Colthouse in 1658, and a licence for meetings was granted in 1689. The meeting-house there, built between 1688 and 1720, is still used. There used to be a school connected with it, and there are various charitable funds. (fn. 11)

A school was founded at Sawrey in 1 775.


  • 1. The Census Rep. 1901 gives 4,458 acres, including 24 of inland water.
  • 2. At the north end of this lake is a pool called Priest Pot, probably a fishpond for the monks at Hawkshead Hall.
  • 3. It was built about 1840 by Dr. James Dawson of Liverpool, and has changed owners more than once. Mr. David Ainsworth bought it in 1898; he was M.P. for West Cumberland 1880–5 and 1892–5, and died 21 Feb. 1906.
  • 4. The Far and Near refer to the distance from Hawkshead; Extra and Infra are also used.
  • 5. J. Richardson, Furness Past and Present, i, 95.
  • 6. It was called a 'lordship' in 1564 in a dispute as to common of pasture in Brathay; Ducatus Lanc. (Rec. Com.), ii, 283.
  • 7. Abstracts of deeds concerning it from 1575 to 1800 are printed in Cowper's Hawkshead, 524–9. There were three customary ferries, but that in the middle was the chief; it paid 6s. 8d. lord's rent in 1575, and the ferryman had the sole right to carry passengers and goods there, though fishermen and others with boats might use the landing-place. Thomas Braithwaite in 1699 attempted to raise the customary 1d. toll for passengers; this was defeated, but on the Hawkshead fair days he was allowed to charge double. See also the End. Char. Rep. 1901.
  • 8. 34 Geo. III.
  • 9. Cowper, op. cit. 208.
  • 10. A district chapelry was assigned in 1873; Lond. Gaz. 17 Jan. Services were previously held in the school.
  • 11. Deeds are cited in H. S. Cowper, op. cit. 118; also Quaker Char. Rep. 1905. Bishop Gastrell in 1717 notes only one Dissenting meeting-place, which would be that of the Baptists; and one of the deeds referred to, dated 1729, speaks of the meeting-house as lately built and walled round. There was an endowment of £10 to provide hay for the horses of worshippers coming from a distance.