The First Thousand Years.

The Lancashire pipe roll of 1190 – 1199 confirms the gift of Torver by William de Lancaster to Augustine de Heaton. In the document the place name is written - “Thorvergh”. This is the earliest spelling I know of.

The arrival of Vikings into the United Kingdom from Scandinavia during the 9th and 10th centuries is often portrayed as the familiarly violent invasion. This was most certainly the case, particularly along the east coast of England. Raiding for looting, murdering, hostage taking and enslaving the unfortunate peoples of England was rife from the very late 8th century through to the relative (but sadly brief) calm which followed the final route of the Danish at the battle of Brunanburh in 937 by Athelstan (Alfred the Great's grandson). The east of the UK from Northumbria down to Essex was prosperous from trade in wool with western Europe and hence a tempting prospect for Danish raiders. Elsewhere in the British Isles a different kind of incursion was being made. The mountains, rivers and valleys of the Lake District and further north into Scotland were hard places for the Anglo Saxons, originally from north west Europe, to farm. However, from even further North in Scandanavia, particularly Norway, the conditions here looked relatively benign and so there was there was gradual immigration and assimilation into the fusion of cultures which continues to this day.

In general terms the place names east of the Pennine ridge are of eastern Norse origin (Danish) and reflect the extensive period of occupation and control under Danelaw. In Cumbria and Lancashire it is the west Norse (Norwegian) we can hear echoes of in our places and language. The proximity of the east coast to Denmark made it the obvious destination for Viking raiders to land and take whatever they could before sailing back to Denmark with their spoils. The west coast is a longer and more hazardous journey by sea from Scandinavia and so migration and assimilation was gradual, often taking a circuitous route via Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

A great many place names and features of the Cumbrian landscape are of west Norse origin. As we know, the Norwegians had settled here in the 800s and 900s but even after the country was brought under the heel of the Norman conquerors a hundred years later, the mountains of the Lake District were still 'off limits'. Whilst there are plenty of entries in the Doomsday book for Lancashire, there are precious few for Cumbria apart from a scattering around the coast. Even in 1087 after the 'harrying of the North', the mountains of the lakes were a no-go zone, "there be Dragons"! Well, there probably weren't any real dragons but there was almost certainly a farmer called Thorsteinn.

The name Thorsteinn is still popular, particularly in Iceland. It derives from Thor's stone and signifies strength. All languages evolve and echoes of other tongues, ancient and modern are adopted and adapted over time. The Norwegian Vikings had settled Ireland before heading across the Irish Sea, east towards the west coast of England. During their time in Ireland they had assimilated Gaelic ‘loanwords’ into their language. ‘Ergh’ is a Norse loanword from the Gaelic ‘Airigh’ and means shieling and hill-pasture. Hence ‘Thorvergh’ means the hill-pasture belonging to a Scandinavian called Thorsteinn.

There are other Scandanavian names deriving from Thor. Thorwald is Thor's wood, Thorbjorn is Thor's bear, so why Thorsteinn in our own village? Interestingly the modern name Coniston Water was (in the 17th century) named ‘Thurston Water’ and before that 'Thursteinn Waeter". It would seem likely that the 'Thor' after whom our village is named, also gave his name to the lake.

So (controversial proposition coming up...) the name of our lake has has undoubtedly changed, even appropriated by our friends and neighbours at the top of the lake in ‘King’s hamlet’ (Coniston) from its original, named after our own eponymous Thorsteinn of Thorvergh (Torver). Perhaps there is a case for returning it to its true and original name, Thurston Water?

The simplified and anglicised spelling ‘Torver’ appears in the records of Henry VIII in 1537.

Torver was once part of the Harrington’s estate (although I can find nothing yet about them) and it passed to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk who, in 1553, was attainted of high treason and forfeited his estates. It was purchased, along with Ulverston, by an ancestor of the Duke of Buccleuch in 1736, and remained in that family name until beyond 1882.

Moving closer to the present day, Torver boasted a school (re-built in 1873), a railway station on the beautiful Foxfield to Coniston railway which opened in 1859 and the village Church, St Lukes, which was rebuilt in 1849, although a chapel is recorded on the site as early as 1538.

The village shop and post office opened in the mid 1800s and, to go back again to the start, we find The Church House Inn (previously ‘The Kirk House’ or ‘Kirk’us’) which dates from 1378 – well, some of it does, and it has a few ghosts who might be worth having a word with.

In the latter half of the 20th century improvements in transportation brought Coniston and the larger towns within easy reach of the big cities and signalled a decline in Torver’s independence, as it did for villages throughout the land. The railway track was ripped up and the school closed. The shop ceased to trade in 1979. But the people are still here.

We know where Torver is, but where was it?

It is interesting to note that, other than the Kirk’us, no buildings in the present village centre pre-date the coming of the railway in 1859, which suggests that the original village may have been a little removed from where it is now. So where? An interesting possibility is Crook, that little gathering of houses up a narrow lane barely passable with anything bigger than a small family car. What we also know is that Crook once boasted a blacksmith and an ale house, although what else is lost to history. But why would so much activity have taken place up a very narrow road well away from the village centre? The present village centre, at least.

Just to the north of Souterstead, approaching the village, the A593 leaves the winding route from Broughton and doglegs to the right before a sharp left to bring it onto the ‘Torver Motorway’ which follows the old railway track, and on into the village we know today. Now, if you have a local map handy, trace a line from Souterstead, ignoring the dogleg and passing through Brocklebank Ground, Undercrag and High Torver Park, all old and significant houses now set well back from the main road. The line is almost straight and traces what is now a footpath. Could it be that the original road followed that line all the way to Crook, the small but active centre of old Torver?

All pure speculation, of course, but were it so the old road would have followed a course away from the valley bottom where flooding must have been a problem before modern drainage and more solid road building techniques. The stretch along the Motorway right through to Crook Corner is, I believe, the only part of the whole road from Broughton to Coniston that lies in the valley bottom.

It would also account for the location of the Kirk’us inn, originally built to house monks who were attached to a monastery down Ulverston way (Furness Abbey), and most likely to have been built in a more remote spot that its central position in the modern village would suggest, but sufficiently removed from Crook to meet the requirements of monastic seclusion.

If anyone has any views on this, or any information about how Torver might have looked before the railway came, we would very much like to hear from you.

Interesting links:

The Genuki Torver page provides some very interesting history of the village.

British History Online - Townships - Torver