Over Shap by Track, Road and Rail

by Heather Ballantyne

Orton and Tebay Local History Society welcomed Jean Scott-Smith to their January meeting to give them an illustrated talk called “Over Shap by Track, Road and Rail".

The routes featured covered a period from Roman times to the present day starting with the two Roman roads that pass to the east and west of the area. We were given details about the packhorse and drove roads and, probably the strangest,  The Assize Road between Kendal and Appleby. This route runs up Long Sleddale then via Mosedale and Wet Sleddale to Shap. However it was almost certainly  an old well-established road prior to 1199 when it is mentioned in the grant of lands to Shap Abbey, but why?

Then we looked at the old road from Kendal over Shap Fell. This is often referred to as the “Roman road” (a title often given to any old fairly straight road) and it is still quite navigable, with some sections accessible by vehicle.  This road was abandoned when the Heron Syke turnpike was built in 1753 with this new road running through Westmorland from Burton-in-Kendal to Eamont Bridge. It was constructed under the supervision of John MacAdam, who was surveyor of roads in the area and he lived at Cockell House in Penrith.

This road had distinctive mileposts, some of which survive. The Shap tollbar at the junction with the Orton road survived until the mid 1950s when it was demolished to make the road wider. A slide showed tables detailing the revenue at the toll houses and showing the impact on income when the railway opened in 1846. Because of this change the turnpike was dissolved in 1882.

This same route became the A6, with familiar landmarks such as the Jungle Cafe, Leyland Clock, and Fell Top Cafe made from two buses.

Images of vehicles on the road and stuck in the winter snow were shown. One slide showing Shap with wagons backed up through the village and the WVS ladies, who provided refuge and food in the memorial hall for the stranded drivers.

The next part of the talk dealt with the building of the Lancaster and Carlisle railway between 1844 and 1846, this being a great feat of engineering given the tools available, and there were many iconic images of trains climbing Shap Bank and of Shap station. The railway affected many areas of trade but it opened up new trading opportunities and gave Shap a new prosperity.

The last development was the building of the M6 between 1967 and 1970. This had a great impact on Shap’s fortunes, with several businesses closing as a result of the decrease in passing trade.

This brought us to  the unveiling of the Shap Fell memorial in 1994, and a special vintage commercial vehicle run to mark the 20th anniversary of the unveiling. We also saw a slide of part of the millennium window in St. Michael’s Church, Shap, showing the routes which had featured in the talk.

Jean was thanked for an interesting talk given to a full house which brought back many memories.


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