The origins of this quaint little market town are shrouded in mystery, but the shaft of a Saxon Cross discovered in the Parr Chapel dates it back to as early as 850.
Kendal is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, but the arrival of the Normans ushered in a new era for the town as the motte-and-bailey Castle Howe was constructed for the first Baron of Kendal on a prominent position overlooking the town. This new lord, Baron Ivo de Tailebois, granted the old parish church and its land, still known as Kirklands, to the newly founded Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary at York. The church was rebuilt in Norman style using the sandstone from the original Saxon church that had been scavenged from the old Roman fort at nearby Watercross when its occupants were recalled to Rome at the end of the 4th century. A magnificent hall was also built for the Abbot, imaginatively named Abbot Hall. This is now home to an excellent art gallery, while the stables house the Museum of Lakeland Life, both of which are well worth a visit.
Kendal quickly reestablished itself as a market town with the Market Square in the centre of town playing host to a twice-weekly market (Wednesdays and Saturdays) since the 12th century. This brought an age of prosperity to the town and the old Castle Howe was abandoned, of which only the earthworks now remain marked by an 18th-century column, as the more prestigious Kendal Castle was built on the other side of town. The unique location and flourishing market lead to Kendal becoming the centre for the country’s burgeoning wool trade, and the prosperity that this brought saw the town’s distinctive limestone buildings start to grow up around the square, not least of which was the magnificent Town Hall that now houses the Tourist Information Centre.
As the wool trade started to die off, Kendal managed to reinvent itself as a major tourist stop-off, somewhat cynically billing itself as "the gateway to the lakes" despite being some 10 miles from Windermere. The gamble paid off, and the town is now home to some fine museums and art galleries showcasing the best of the region, making it an essential stopover on your way into the Lake District National Park.