W.G.Collingwood mentions Coney Beds in his 1907 article "Three more ancient castles of Kendal". His comments "Another site, Coney Beds on Hayfell, was not visited on this occasion, but should be added to the list of Kendal castles" obviously point to the importance of this now vanished earthwork, a site that has long since mysteriously been erased from the historical landscape of the surrounding fells of Kendal. Unfortunately, all we have to illustrate this site now, are some maps and a single diagram of some of the features that were once visible within the confines of the earth ramparts that surrounded it.
Above. Aerial photo of Kendal and fells, showing location of Coney Beds.
Travelling West out of Kendal on the B6254, and then turning onto Hayclose Lane at the Station Inn, and heading North, will take you onto Hayfellside, East facing fells, overlooking Kendal out towards Scout Scar and eventually Morecambe Bay. About half a mile along Hayclose Lane, on the West side (left) of the road, the open fields between Hayfellside Barn and a house hidden by a screen of trees the site of Coney Beds can be found. These days the fields are criss-crossed with boundary walls and are grazed by sheep and cows. There's no indication of the earthwork that once stood here.
Maps, over the years, appear to show the earthworks as fairly substantial, until 1971's map shows an empty field with no earthworks, only the name Coney Beds. It is thought that the earthworks at Coney Beds were destroyed when the common land above Kendal was Enclosed during an 'inclosure of 1815' whereby common land and open fields were walled and removed from public ownership. A trench was dug in the area soon after the destruction, but nothing was reported from these archaeological explorations.
Above. Map of 1868.
Above. Map of 1898.
Above. Map of 1914.
Above. Map of 1971.
By 1971, the earthworks appear to have gone, and only a 'place name' indicates the location. Coney Beds has alternatively been known in the past as Coney Heads and High Graves. My best guess is that there may once have been some rabbit warrens here, as at Mallerstang near Lammerside Tower. As these warrens are often referred to as the Giant's Graves, it's not a huge stretch of the imagination to suggest that in the past, the warrens here may have been thought to have been giant's graves.
Above. Aerial view of the Giant's Graves at Mallerstang.
The word 'Coney' is an alternative name for an adult rabbit.....Coney Beds could well have been a collection of rabbit warrens, perhaps not a fortified site after all. This suggestion is provided with a little weight when a sketch of some features once found inside the enclosure is seen.
Above. Sketch of features found inside Coney Beds earthwork, taken from the Annals of Kendal by Cornelius Nicholson.
The oblong features look to me just like the rabbit warrens found at Lammerside....long lozenge shaped earthworks, used to farm rabbits for fur and meat. These warrens would have been protected with earthwork ramparts and fences, and would normally have been associated with high status houses....a licence was normally required to build and maintain warrens. It is interesting to note that the maps shown above, dating from 1914 and 1971, show the area to the North and West of the earthworks as "Deer Park", and the area generally to the West as "The Park". If this label denotes a deer park as would have been found in the Middle Ages, an assumption can be made in that the rabbit warrens were part and parcel of this emparked landscape. Another bold assumption could be made, that the land was emparked for the then owners of Benson Hall, only a two and a half mile drive North along Paddy Lane.
There are other important hall houses in the local area, all connected with families of means and land, noted in historical records from the mid 1200s to the early 1600s, all of which may have been responsible for the emparkment of this area above Kendal. Skelsmergh parish, with its hall house and pele tower, belonged to William of Skelsmergh during the mid 13th century. Between 1230 and 1246 the land was granted to Robert de Leyburne, and his son, Nicholas de Leyburne was granted 'free warren' in 1301. Perhaps the earthworks at Coney Heads were part and parcel of Nicholas' development of his Skelsmergh estates.
Cornelius Nicholson in his the Annals of Kendal, mentions Coney Beds at length:
Another exploratory fort, or encampment, called Coney- beds, is situated on Hay Fell, on the east side of Kendal, in the field immediately above the house called High Park, belonging to Wm. Wilson, Esq. It is nearly on the summit of the hill, and overlooks the vale of Kendal. Before the inclosure in 1814, its vallum and fosse were very perfect, inclosing a bell-shaped area, the upper end of which was 128 feet in breadth, its sides 208, and the southern end, which was semi-circular, 224 feet in diameter.
About half way down the area, and on its eastern side, were two interior entrenchments, having a sort of bending street between them, and each of them having the southern end semi-circular. The less of the two which adjoined the east vallum was 42 feet on the north, 70 on the east and west sides, and 70 across the south. The other was 64 feet on the east and west sides, and 80 on the north, and across the south. Both of them had pits unequally dispersed (as is represented in the engraving), all of which, except the central one, which was round, were of irregular shape. The remaining part of the great area was smooth. This encampment overlooked the fort on Helm, and commanded a view of several hills in Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire ; of the estuary of the Kent ; and, in clear weather, extended even to the mountains above Beaumaris, in Wales. This station was trenched after the inclbsure, but nothing was discovered to lead to its history. From its form it must have been made in the latter period of the Roman empire ; and probably was a place of temporary- retreat for the garrison at Water Crook.
In the time of the plague which desolated the kingdom in 1597-8, provisions were brought to this spot by the country people, and deposited for the inhabitants of Kendal, which was their only intercourse during that destructive period, when, according to the following inscription from a stone in the Church of Penrith, 2,500 of the inhabitants of Kendal were swept away."
Typically of many Victorian antiquarians, a large number of earthworks seems to have been associated with the Roman occupation of the British Isles....Cornelius Nicholson doesn't fail us in this instance, and puts Coney Beds firmly into the category of Roman. My gut instinct is that this was an area used to farm rabbits, purely and simply....both of the place names suggest this....High Graves and Coney Beds, and even the sketch provide for us in the Annals of Kendal seems to suggest earthworks similar to those found at Lammerside in Mallerstang.