Brief History of Bouth by Ron Mein

No one can say exactly why or how the village of Bouth evolved in this location, but what we can say is that the natural recourses and geography played a major role in deciding its location.

Over seven hundred years ago this area was covered in dense forest, no roads, few pasture fields as we know them, wolves roamed these forests and travellers were few and far between. Those that did travel followed the many packhorse trails that traversed the country in every direction.

Local people who lived off the land had little need to travel out of their own parish, those that did were generally wealthy land owners, clergymen, nobles or drovers driving live stock for sale in the market towns of Ulverston, Flookburgh, Dalton, Broughton and beyond. Trade goods were transported along these packhorse trails, which avoided low lying ground which tended to be mire or marsh, the trails took the shortest direct rout between places.  Ancient maps show that Bouth is located on high ground midway between the river Crake and the Rusland Pool crossing points and at a junction where several packhorse trails converged. We can assume that these cross trails would be a regular meeting place for travellers and drovers, one of whom may well have seen a business opportunity, purchased some land, cleared it and then built some stock pens and a house that could possibly offer some overnight accommodation. Once established, ale may have been brewed on the premises to sell to thirsty travellers thus offering an overnight stop on this busy trade route, and without realising it this imaginary business man may well have laid the foundation for a community that would evolve into the village of Bouth.

The history of Bouth cannot be told in isolation from the parish of Colton.  The history of Colton parish can be traced to very early times when in the year 1272 King Edward the first granted a royal licence to the Abbots of Furness Abbey, to impark certain portions of the Furness Fells namely Oxen Park, Hill Park, Abbot Park and Stott Park.  In 1292 the word Bowth (note the spelling) is first mentioned when Alexander de Bowth gave to William Cockerham, the Abbot of Furness a part of one messuage and twenty four acres of land, a messuage being a dwelling house with outbuildings.  Under a grant dated 29th November 1337 King Edward 111 gave to the Abbot and covenant of Furness free warren in their demesne lands in the county of Lancaster including amongst other parts, Coltona, Bouthe, Rolesland, Haverthwaite, Finsthwaite and Nuberthwaite.

In the book the Furness Coucher Vol 9 page 173, Canon Raines says this is the second time the word Bouthe appears and is spelt differently and being in composition it probably bears a definite meaning.  What could the word Bouthe mean? There appears to be no other name or term that seems calculated to shed any light on as spelling in those days was not the fine art that it is today it is copied Bouthe but Bowche might be the correct reading in which case it could quite possibly represent a form of Scotish “Bucht” or “Bught” which signifies a shed or sheep fold, however it is more likely that “Bouth” is right and the connection is with the English word “Booth” which is a slight building or skeet. No doubt the Booth would have been put up first as a pastoral convenience or requisite and this would eventually supply the name for the locality.

So from this we can assume that from a sheepfold or shed in this location the village of Bouth has evolved over the last seven hundred years.  On the dissolution of the monasteries the possession of Furness Abbey in Coulton were annexed to the Duchy of Lancaster and were held for the crown by payment of bloomsmithys.  The latter was reversed in the year 1565 to the Crown and the payment charged direct to the tenants themselves.  In 1613 the bailywick of Coulton, Nibthwaite and Haverthwaite were granted in free farm to William and George Whitmore of London, this rent was granted with other privileges of the liberty of Furness by Charles 11 and eventually passed by marriage to the Duke of Buccleuch.

Dr Whitaker says that Coulton parish has never given its name or residence to any family of ancient account, nor distinguished by the birth of any considerable name, but  “the quiet retirement of the vales are delightful”

Furness amongst other monasteries was dissolved by King Henry V111 in the year 1538 and in the same year Colton and Hawkshead were made a chapelry under the parish of Dalton-in-Furness. The exact date when Hawkshead and Colton were severed from the parish of Dalton is not certain but was probably about 1582.

Bouth Village

Bouth like many other villages was built in the form of a square.  It has been suggested that this was for protection, but protection from what, border raiders, wolves or bad weather, who knows?  One thing is for certain, the square made it easier to contain livestock on market days

Written records concerning the village other than parish registers of births, marriages and deaths are rare prior to 1800, but nevertheless it is possible to build up an accurate picture of the village from information that is available in old books.  In the late 18th century Bouth was a flourishing village for several reasons: (1) the 1763 Ireleth to Kendal turnpike ran through the village which was then the only good road north of the estuary. (2) Bouth held two annual fairs, one at Whitsuntide, the other in October. Both were hiring fairs at which farmers hired staff, usually on a six-month contract. (3) Bouth was the centre of many small farms scattered around the area of Rusland valley, Colton, Nibthwaite and Haverthwaite. (4) The port of Greenodd was very near, with the turnpike traffic passing through the village on its way, to and from the port.                                       

In the 849 directories of Furness and Cartmel, Bouth is said to have six large farms and a malt kiln, which occupied the buildings now known as Kiln Cottages. There were three Inns recorded in the village in 1849, later a fourth opened. The village was a very busy and prosperous place in the early part of the 19th century until the “new road” opened in 1829 which we know as the A590 crossing Haverthwaite moss from Greenodd to Haverthwaite cross roads. Almost overnight all the traffic that had passed through Bouth diverted onto this new road and Bouth became a sleepy backwater and remained so for almost thirty years.

In 1849 Bouth could boast at having the following businesses: a butcher, a tailor shop, a drapers shop, a painter and glazier, a second tailor, a shoe maker and a druggist. The village regained some of its former importance when the Dickson family opened the Gunpowder mills at Black Beck in 1860. These mills eventually employed more than 70 people, and provided employment for the next 68 years.  Father, sons and daughters followed each other into this very dangerous industry. Black Beck suffered ten fatal explosions in which 33 men were killed before the works closed in 1928.

By 1910 some businesses had changed.  By then the village had a wheelwright, a post office a swiller, a butcher, a grocer and a coal merchant, a timber merchant and a Co-operative store and three public houses- the White hart, the Commercial Inn and the Stock Bird Head. At this time the gunpowder mills built the Bouth reading room, now called the Village Hall, for use of their employees and their families. It was equipped with oil lighting, a selection of books, a billiard table, dartboard and chairs and tables. The building was originally clad externally with weather boarding and had only one door opening onto the road.  Later when the weather boards had rotted it was clad in corrugated iron, and in 1965 villagers made the second entrance in the south wall.  It is difficult to imagine that right up to the early 1960s dances and socials were held in the hall with the local Sid Banks Dance Band providing the music.

After the gunpowder mills closed in 1928 employment was found in woodland industries, swill and besom making, coppicing, farm labouring.  Some went to the Backbarrow Blue Mills and Iron Works, and a few men transferred to the Low Wood gunpowder mills, travelling on foot or bicycle. After 1950 people began to find employment in more distant places such as Vickers Armstrong’s shipyards in Barrow, Glaxo Laboratories and Ashley Electrical in Ulverston.  Now in the early twenty first century, farming offers the only employment other than the White Hart Inn and the Black Beck Caravan Park, with only one family working in the traditional woodland industry.  Bouth has once again become a sleepy pleasant backwater with most of the world’s troubles passing it by.