Kendal received its first Borough Charter in 1575 from Queen Elizabeth I, allowing the formation of a Town Council, to be made up of 12 Aldermen, thus creating self government for the town. Following the Norman invasion in 1066, there had always been a Baron in Kendal who was effectively the law in the town. The last Baron, Sir William Parr, (Brother of Katherine Parr) had lost his titles and lands some years before and this left a void in Kendal with no one in authority. The granting of this charter, which is still kept in the Town Hall and in remarkable condition, solved this problem. This facilitated the start of the collection, as Kendal now had the right to have various regalia, namely two silver Maces and a town seal. A subsequent Charter from Charles I in 1636 which superseded the Elizabeth charter, added the right, for the first time, to have a town Mayor and Kendal has had one ever since. They were entitled to have a new town seal, featuring a portrait of Charles and Kendal also was given the right to have a Sovereign Sword, one of only 47 towns in the country to have this honour. Since then the collection has just kept growing. The Aldermen and Mayors of Kendal, at that time, comprised of wealthy and important businessmen from the local area, who commanded a special social status and respect. The names of the early Mayors are like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Kendal’s history and features all the major powerful families, many of who are still around today. Many of these Mayors would leave a legacy to the Town Hall following their term of office such as silverware or other objects of value. By the mid-1700s it became the custom for Mayors to have their portraits painted (in oil) and hung in the Town Hall for posterity. This heralded the start of the pictures collection and the earliest one still surviving is a miniature of William Gurnal, Mayor of Kendal in 1752. Subsequent Mayors continued the trend and so the collection grew. Over the years various benefactors also contributed paintings of local importance, such as influential citizens, local members of Parliament, and other town and church officials. By far the most valuable are a number of George Romney paintings and sketches which includes his first ever commission, ‘a hand holding a letter ‘which was used to show the location of the post box in the King’s Arms Hotel. His study of ‘King Lear in the Tempest’ is on display in the Abbot Hall Art Gallery and his ‘Kendal Sketchbook’ is on show in the Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall. George was not a Kendal man but he did his apprenticeship here before moving to London to further his career. Other donations to the collection continued for many years right up into the twentieth century and not only included oil paintings but many watercolours and prints from well known artists, notably some of the ‘Heelis’ (Beatrix Potter) collection following her death. Currently, the whole collection of paintings and artifacts consist of over 500 items and is kept primarily in the Town Hall and features regularly in public exhibitions and displays.
Kendal Town Hall
Highgate, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4DU England
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