Market Cross, Kirkby Lonsdale
|Council:||Westmorland & Furness|
|Westmorland and Lonsdale|
Kirkby Lonsdale is a small town in the Lonsdale Ward of southern Westmorland. It stands on the River Lune, whose dale gives it its name, 13 miles south-east of Kendal and ¼ mile north of the Lancashire border. The parish of Kirkby Lonsdale had a population of 1,771 recorded in the 2001 census.
The town's means simply "Church town in Lune's dale", and while most of the elements of the town's name could be Old English or Old Norse, the ending -by marks it out as Norse. It is one of a number of towns and villages bearing the name Kirkby in Westmorland and beyond, suggesting a settlement around the church serving the neighbouring hamlets. Such "church towns" (kirkeby) are common in Norway.
St Mary's Church, the parish church, is a Norman structure with fine carved columns.
The view of the River Lune from St Mary's churchyard was praised by John Ruskin as "One of the loveliest views in England" and it was painted by J M W Turner. The view is known today as "Ruskin's View".
The Devil's Bridge spans the River Lune in Kirkby. It was built in about 1370 of fine gritstone. It consists of three spans, the western two measuring 54 feet 8 in each and the eastern one 29 feet. The piers are hexagonal, measuring 60 feet round.
The Lune, rushing from the fells, is often in flood in season and such floodwaters will easily reach the base of the arches and run over the tops of the cutwaters.
The bridge's name recalls the idle local legend, similar to that attaching to many bridges of the same name. It tells that holds that the Devil appeared to an old woman, promising to build a bridge over the river in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. When the bridge was finished the woman threw bread over the bridge and her dog chased after it, thereby outwitting the Devil. Several large stones in the surrounding area, including the Great Stone of Fourstones, are ascribed to the Devil's purse-strings' bursting open as he ferried masonry to build it.
The legend does ill service to the genuine builders, the mediæval workmen who built this remarkable, solid bridge to stand unbowed against a capricious river like the Lune.
A fair is held each September. In past years this was a two-day Victorian fair for which the streets were closed to traffic and filled traders' stalls, craft demonstrations and entertainment filled the town centre, while visitors were encouraged to wear Victorian dress. Yearly festivals will continue to be held in September but under different names, with different attractions.