Now attracting an average of 16 million visitors a year Windermere was originally known as Birthwaite and was a virtually unknown village in Cumbria until the railway link from Kendal was completed in 1847.
It was then decided that the name ´Birthwaite´ would be confusing for people wanting to visit Lake Windermere, and in 1859 the name of the village was also changed to Windermere.
The railway terminated in Windermere, to avoid the steep hill leading to the lake shore at Bowness and was a major factor in early tourism to the Lakes. Most visitors in the early days arrived from Yorkshire and Lancashire and it was reported that over 125,000 people visited Windermere in the first year of the railway being open.
Horse-drawn carriages ferried people from the railway station to the Lake, and local hotels arranged excursions around Windermere and Bowness.
Bowness-on-Windermere, before the introduction of the railway was a fishing village and the vast majority of residents earned a living from fishing or agriculture. Other commercial opportunities arose when Victorian visitors began flocking to the lake to enjoy the ´benefits of the country air´ and several hotels and boarding houses sprang up around the lake.
The lake was used to transport stone, charcoal and minerals since the 15th Century when a ferry service operated across the narrowest point, between Bowness and Ferry House. Large rowing boats ferried people, animals and goods across the lake.
The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway was linked to ferry services from Lakeside in 1869, which turned Bowness into a popular and fashionable destination for day trips.
Many rich businessmen from Lancashire and Yorkshire bought large country mansions on the Lakeside in the 19th Century – many of which are still standing today. The homes were bought at holiday retreats or as commuter homes, such as Belsfield, which was purchased by Henry Schneider in 1869 and was one of the first Windermere homes to have a jetty at the bottom of the garden. Schneider was an iron magnate who arrived in Barrow-on-Furness in 1839 and would sail to Lakeside in his steamboat, Esperance.
Another famous residence was Storr´s Hall, which was bought by John Bolton in 1804. Bolton was born in Ulverston in 1756, and was one of the wealthiest men in Cumbria. He extended the mansion and created a park. John Bolton was a Cumbrian who made a fortune as a Liverpool slave trader. He bought Storrs Hall with some of the proceeds and used the residence to entertain in style, holding regattas on the lake which were attended by Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott among others.
Brockhole, which is now the National Park Visitor Centre (since 1969) was built in the late 1880´s by Henry Gaddum a silk merchant from Manchester, and became a convalescent home after he sold it.
Three of the original four Windermere Lake Steamers still survive, and include the MV Tern of 1891, the MV Teal of 1936 and the MV Swan of 1938. The MV Swift was of 1900 was broken up at Lakeside in 1998, and although the boats are still described as steamers, they are now motor vessels which converted to diesel in the 1950´s.
Fourteen islands are dotted around the lake and Belle Isle is the largest. Formerly known as Longholme, Belle Isle was the seat of the Lord of the Manor during the civil war in 1250. In 1774 the wealthy Curwen family named the island after their daughter Isabella, and they built a circular house on the Island.