Alston, Cumbria

From Academic Kids

Template:GBdot Alston is a small town in Cumbria, England on the River Tyne. It is said to be the highest market town in the country, although it lacks a regular market. However, it does have a market 'cross' (a large shelter with central pillar), at about 1000 feet above sea level.

The town lies on the long distance footpath, the Pennine Way, and is home to the South Tynedale Railway. It grew up at the confluence of the South Tyne and the River Nent to service the leadmining industry in this part of the North Pennines. The parish of Alston Moor, of which Alston is the centre, owes much of its original development to lead mining. This may have begun in the area in Roman times, and became much more important in the 13th century when the area was known as the silver mines of Carlisle - silver was found in a high proportion (up to 40 ozs per ton of smelted lead) and was used to create coinage in the Royal Mint established in Carlisle for the purpose. Most mining was very small scale until the mid-18th century, from when it flourished until its decline in the late 19th century. The biggest mine owner was the London Lead Company, a Quaker organisation with enlightened employment policies, which established schools, a library, a laundry and a 'ready-money' shop in Nenthead, four miles away. Zinc and later fluorspar were extracted from the mines from the late 19th century until the 1950s, when the last mines closed.

A 'dual economy' has operated for much of the area's history with people originally working as smallholders as well as being employed in the mines (although only men were allowed underground and women's employment was ended soon after the industry began to boom - hence women were the mainstay of the smallholdings). Nowadays, many farmers also have other enterprises, such as bed and breakfast accommodation, and until recently several people were employed in one of the local, small, private coal-mines. The last of these has now closed. A foundry offered crucial employment during much of the 20th century, but closed in the late 1970s. Along with the closure of the railway link to Haltwhistle, this was a severe blow to the town and its surrounding villages and hamlets. However, after a period of depression, the area is transforming, with tourism and computer-based industries making a difference to the economy.

The landscape of the area - wild, high and bleak - is a product of this history, where with a trained eye or some good information (available from the Tourist Information Centre) you can read the clues on the ground to gain a sense of how the land has been worked in the past.

The parish of Alston Moor has a total population of about 2000, rather under half of whom live in Alston itself. There is a primary school (and another in Nenthead) and England's smallest secondary school (an 11-16 comprehensive) in the town. The local cottage hospital is a valued facility, and shopping is remarkably good for such a small place. An excellent wholefood shop, a Co-op supermarket, a vegetable shop, two butchers, a newsagent's which also sells hardware, an outdoor clothing shops and a number of craft, gift and antique shops are all available.

It also has a community website at: [1] ( The Cybermoor Project has brought the internet to almost every home on Alston Moor, and broadband to many, despite the area's relative remoteness compared to other areas of England.


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