A lakeside town, Bowness-on-Windermere is a desirable location which attracts a vast amount of tourists to its location. Despite being close to one another, Bowness and Windermere have two different town centres but are still considered one large town. Both of their historical origins are quite distinct, Bowness has been a long-established settlement built around the late medieval parish church of St Martins (although origins can apparently be traced to the 11th century by invading Norseman), while Windermere came to province after the establishment of the railway service from Kendal around 1847, attracting a massive amount of people. In fact, Bowness was established before the town of Windermere.
Bowness comes from Old English meaning 'the headland where the bull grazes' and the 'on-Windermere' part was added on later in order to distinguish Bowness-on-Windermere from other Bowness villages in Cumbria, the first evidence of this was supposedly on the 1899 Ordnance Survey.
However, Bowness didn't start to prosper until the 19th century. It grew from a small fishing village to a town supported by tourism. It did become part of the boat-building industry to provide sailing yachts, rowing boats and steam launches. In fact, it was the railway connection which the people of Bowness protested against in their village which caused this population boom as in 1801, 843 were resident in Bowness but a century later in 1901, the number reached above 5000.
St Martin has been at Bowness since the beginning of the 13th century. However, in 1480, the church burnt down and only the font, the base of the tower and one door was left but it was rebuilt in 1483. The interior is composed of 14th and 15th century stained glass incorporated into an eastern wing window, painted texts on the massive beams and frescoes on the chancel walls and even a 300-year-old wooden statue of St Martin, craved by a local craftsman and the font which survived the 1480 fire.
One of the oldest taverns in Bowness, the Hole in the Wall, which derives from a small window which ale was passed through to servants on their duty of watching their master's horses. It is in fact the setting for Charles Dicken's narrative 'The Champion Wrestler of All England'.
Bowness was also the inspiration for the lakeside town of 'Rio' in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons with the 1869 Esperanto iron steamboat in the Windermere Steamboat Museum being the model for Captain Flint's boat. Bowness is also the place to find the Beatrix Potter attraction.
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Cumbria Tourist Information