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Westmorland Carriers

Thursday 27 February, 2020, by Karen Griffiths

The development of turnpike roads in the mid-eighteenth century, funded from tolls paid by their users, meant that wheeled vehicles became far more common in the Westmorland Dales from that date. Up until then, trade goods were almost exclusively carried on the backs of packhorses along narrow hillside paths.

We looked at the role of the Victorian commercial traveller or bagman in our blogpost ‘Venders and bagmen‘. These salesmen carried samples around the area and took orders which were then sent out to customers at a later date in carrier’s carts. But the carrier had several other roles as we have been discovering.

One such carrier business was known as the ‘Orton Carrier’ and the story of the family who ran it has been recorded by local historian Hilary Wilson. This was a village carrier, the sort that connected a nearby town, in this case, Kendal, with its rural villages. We are grateful for Hilary’s permission to reproduce the story here:

This is the story of the Orton Carrier as told to Hilary Wilson by Billy Lund of Tebay in the late 1970s. John William Lund was born in Barrow-in-Furness in 1892 and married his wife Hannah who was from Manchester. They had eight children in total and the two eldest boys both help their father in his business.

The Orton carrier loading up in Orton, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
The Orton carrier loading up in Orton, 1916. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne

John William (Billy) and George Henry were both born in Tebay but the family moved to Orton where their father started a carrier business. The father, also called John William, spent the early part of his life in Manchester where he showed promise of being a great musician and became a member of Sir Charles Halle’s Orchestra. On moving to Tebay Mr. Lund established the Tebay Temperance Brass Band but after his death in 1932 this began to struggle to get members. After being a carrier Mr Lund became a success as a greengrocer in Orton and lived at Cumberland House. Here is the story told by his son Billy.

“For years Billy worked with his father as “The Orton Carrier”. Every Monday morning they set off for Kendal, not via the most direct route which is about fourteen miles, but zig-zagging here and there to either side of the main road to pick up butter, cheese, boxes of eggs and even shopping lists from the farms. Often the goods were left on stands at the lonning [ lane] end to save time. There was little theft in the countryside then, despite the lean times of the twenties and thirties.

On arrival in Kendal the goods were delivered to the shops, the horses stabled and the shopping lists filled. They obviously stayed in Kendal because the next morning it was back to Orton, following much the same route and making their deliveries. They made this trip three times a week all year round.

The wagon, as you can see from the photos, was  fairly robust, with large wheels for easier pulling over the rough roads of the day, There were two horses; one in the shafts and a leader, the trace horse [an extra horse hitched to help pull a load]. For descending steep hills the trace horse would be taken to the rear of the wagon and hitched on the back so it could act as an extra brake, through the breechings [a strong leather strap passing round the hindquarters of a horse harnessed to a vehicle and enabling the horse to push backwards].

There is one particularly nasty hill on the way back from Kendal at Docker Brow, with an almost right angled bend to the left half way down. In winter, with ice on the road, this became something of an ordeal. The trace horse was duly hitched to the rear of the wagon, the brakes screwed half ‘on’ and then they would launch themselves over the edge. “The shaft horse” he said “was a canny old Irish Draught mare. She would half squat and brace herself as they started to slide.” Reaching the corner Billy and his father would put their shoulders to the wagon side and physically heave the back end round so that it was lined up for the second part of the descent. All in a day’s work for them.”

The Orton Carrier with trace horse hitched up in front of the shaft horse, 1916. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne
The Orton Carrier with trace horse hitched up in front of the shaft horse, 1916. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne

Carriers never travelled with an empty cart if they could help it. They picked up goods one way; delivered and collected more on the way back. Farms sent their produce – eggs, butter, bacon and so on into town by carrier and merchants sent goods like sugar, flour and cloth back the other way to farm and village customers.

This newspaper advert by a Kendal tea dealer includes the instructions “Orders, if sent by Carriers, should be in writing, and addressed to us; and when cash is enclosed, please state the amount”

Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 01 July 1854 p4 Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved
Westmorland Gazette – Saturday 01 July 1854 p4 Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (

This company paid for the carriage of their goods if two pounds or more of tea were ordered it seems. Country carriers in the Bristol area in the late nineteenth century charged per size of the parcel: “The carriers charged for delivering shopping items according to the size of packages; in most cases the amount lay between a few pence and a couple of shillings.” Kenneth Morgan (1986) ‘Country Carriers in the Bristol region in the Late Nineteenth Century’ p5

Long distance carriers, travelling from town to town, eventually went out of business after the arrival of the railways, but village carriers like the Orton Carrier tended to actually compliment the railway and so thrived well into the early years of the twentieth century. Academic Allan Everitt has published an excellent article about the role of the village carrier called ‘Country Carriers in the Nineteenth Century’ (The Journal of Transport History vol. ss-3, 3: pp. 179-202, First Published Feb 1, 1976). He writes that as well as acting as a shopping agent,

“…the carrier’s cart was the most usual means, often the only one, by which bulky parcels and goods were dispatched from the nearest town or railhead to their country destination. There were many variations on this theme in the carrier’s life. Perhaps the most usual custom, if one had any goods or parcels to be delivered in the countryside, was to leave them at the inn or ‘station’ which the carrier frequented in town. In some cases, the railways themselves arranged with local carriers to run services for them.” ibid p181

In 1894, Orton’s local carrier was William Simpson and he is described in Kelly’s Directory of Westmorland as “CARRIER. – Wm. Simpson to Tebay Junction station, daily” (p116). By 1906, Kelly’s Directory has two carriers recorded, John William Lund, the Orton Carrier of our story above, and a Mrs William Patrickson. Both still running the service to Tebay Junction station. There is no mention of the service to Kendal.

More recently carriers became known as ‘travellers’. Isobel Barker lived in Bretherdale from 1918 to 1946 and her memories of life there were recorded in the community produced booklet ‘Memories of Orton. A Westmorland Parish Remembered’ (1998):

“We had travellers come for orders. Thomas Dixon Hunter and Thomas W. Bowman used to come for orders and they would deliver. There was also a man came into the valley for butter and eggs and he carried groceries and vegetables. We didn’t have to go out for a lot.” pp17-18

Another Orton local, Les Thackeray recalls a similar story, again using the word ‘traveller’:

“I can remember mum buying groceries for 5 weeks from the traveller who came from Ravenstonedale across the fell and down to the front of the house – 5 stone bags of flour, 1 stone of sugar, bucket of lard. Nothing was wasted – flour bags were later used to make pinafores and pillowcases. T. Bowman, grocery stores and millers, (where today’s Post Office and Shop is), travelled round the farms in the same way.” ibid pp80-81

Orton's grocery store, unknown date. Note the building with the whitewashed porch to the right of the photo - this is where the Orton Carrier is shown loading his goods in the photo above. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne
Orton’s grocery store, unknown date. Note the building with the whitewashed porch to the right of the photo – this is where the Orton Carrier is shown loading his goods in the photo above. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne

Some detective work in Kelly’s 1894 Directory for Westmorland gives us a bit of background detail to the carriers operating out of Ravenstonedale in the previous century. These were longer distance/town to town operators it turns out and we have two listed, Robert Bousfield and Miss Elizabeth Nelson (who was also a farmer). It looks like they had some sort of loose partnership as they tended to travel on the same days in an apparently regular circuit as follows:

  • Nelson & Bousfield both departed from ‘The Rose & Crown’ inn, Kendal on Saturdays and travelled to Kirkby Stephen. Nelson apparently went via Tebay and Ravenstonedale.
  • Bousfield departed from the ‘Golden Fleece’, Kirkby Stephen on Mondays and travelled back to Kendal via Ravenstonedale
  • Both Nelson & Bousfield travelled from Ravenstonedale to Kirkby Stephen on Mondays and from Ravenstonedale to Kendal on Fridays
British (English) School; Part of Stricklandgate, Kendal, Showing the 'Rose and Crown Inn' and the 'White Lion Inn'; Kendal Town Council;
British (English) School; Part of Stricklandgate, Kendal, Showing the ‘Rose and Crown Inn’ and the ‘White Lion Inn’; Courtesy of Kendal Town Council;

Bousfield therefore sets out from Kendal on a Saturday and ends up in Kirkby Stephen later the same day we presume. By Monday he is back in Kirkby Stephen and then does the return journey from there to Kendal this time via Ravenstonedale. He turns round the same day it seems and travels from Kendal back to Kirkby Stephen via Ravenstonedale. This does seem to be a remarkably long distance to cover with a horse and cart in one day – even on the modern road network it is 47 miles in total. Allan Everitt (op cit) reckons 15-20 miles as being a far more normal distance to cover in a day and 40 an absolute maximum. Bousfield must then return home to Ravenstonedale and spends a few nights there before travelling from there to Kendal on Friday. He presumably stays overnight in Kendal, ready to set off in the morning back to Kirkby Stephen on the Saturday.

Nelson has a slightly different routine. She sets off from Kendal on the Saturday like Robert but she has stops in Tebay and Ravenstonedale on her way to Kirkby Stephen. She returns to her farm in Ravenstonedale until Monday when she does a short run from there to Kirkby Stephen. She presumably returns to Ravenstonedale to tend her farm for the rest of the week then on Friday she sets off with Robert for the run to Kendal. She must stay overnight, then the circuit begins again the following day with the run from Kendal to Kirkby Stephen.

We wonder if perhaps Robert Bousfield had more than one cart and driver, it seems to be the only explanation for him being able to operate over such long distances with such quick turn around times. Find out more about the Nelson family in the blogpost A family of carriers: the Nelsons of Newbiggin-on-Lune

The arrival of the motor vehicle after the First World War sounded the end of the horse-drawn carrier business.

John Burra was born and later farmed at Ghyll Bank, near Orton, retiring in 1997. He remembers in his younger days a variety of people selling goods coming to the farm regularly, presumably by that time, using vans and lorries:

“Many salespeople called at the farm. They sold a variety of goods from wellingtons to sheets. The Co-Op and Birketts called. Dixons of Newbiggin-on-Lune sold animal feed and groceries. Hilton Coates supplied meat on his weekly round.” ibid p82

Today, even the narrowest of Westmorland’s lanes prove no obstacle to the modern equivalents of the village carrier, the supermarket delivery van, once again delivering groceries to our doorsteps, and the courier businesses collecting our parcels and whisking them away all over the world for a price.

Read more about Westmorland’s carriers in Andrew White’s 2009 online article ‘Kendal Carriers‘. You can download it as a PDF below:

Another really useful source on nineteenth century carriers in Cumbria is Rob Vickers’ 1998 article in TCWAAS ‘Country carriers in Victorian Lakeland‘ pp277-286. Download the PDF below:

< Previous ‘A Way Through blog post Venders and bagmen

Next ‘A Way Through blog post A family of carriers: the Nelsons of Newbiggin-on-Lune >

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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