The First Thousand Years.
There is, of course, much dispute over how Torver came to be and how it got its name. Well, it was a long time ago and people forget, especially after a thousand years. The name was almost certainly given by the Old Norse folk who liked to name things as a bit of a break from all that rapin’ an’ a’pillagin’. What we can be pretty sure of now is that the Vikings weren’t nearly as bad as the traditional history makes out. They settled here and farmed the land, and they’re still here in the blood of Cumbrian folk.The Norse words ‘torf’ and ‘erg’ give us ‘the turf roofed hut’, a clear indication of there being a settlement here, and the name ‘Thoruergh’ was first recorded in 1195 when Richard the Lionheart was king and Robin Hood was making his famous fashion statement in Lincoln green tights. We know it had evolved into ‘Thorvergh’ by 1246 with the simplified ‘Torver’ appearing in the records in 1537 (Henry VIII, romping somewhere between Jane Seymore and Anne of Cleves ).
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.
The Genuki Torver page provides some very interesting history of the village.