The Lake District can be a hard environment for farming with exposed slopes, thin soil, high rainfall, and strong winds. However, in such an isolated environment producing food and meat was essential for survival, as well as for economic gain. Some crops could be grown in the valley bottoms including oats, rye and barley, but Lakeland has always been predominantly a sheep farming area.
Commercial sheep farming was introduced by Cistercian and Benedictine monks in the 11th and 12th century leading to a thriving wool industry. The motto of Kendal ‘Pannus mihi panis’ meaning ‘Cloth is my bread’, shows the importance of the industry to local towns. With the dissolution of the monasteries a new wave of independent Lakeland farmer emerged known as the Statesman.
The fells are still farmed today with the traditional Herdwick and Roughfell breeds of sheep can still be seen. Their coats made a tough and waterproof fabric while their adaptations to cold temperatures and sparse food make them hardy enough for year-round life on the fells. You can find out about all this and more in our farming gallery.
Featured Object – Farmer’s Smock
A smock was a traditional garment worn by agricultural workers, especially shepherds in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Made of wool or linen they were cheap and easy to make and were worn to protect the clothes underneath. Most were decorated with a special type of embroidery known as ‘smocking’ which used decorative stitches to hold pleats of fabric in place.