A view over North Road and the Old Forge, with Kirkby Stephen Parish Church beyond
|Population||1,822 (2011 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||KIRKBY STEPHEN|
Kirkby Stephen is a market town in Cumbria, in North West England. Historically it was part of Westmorland. The town lies on the A685, surrounded by sparsely populated hill country and about 25 miles (40 km) from the nearest larger towns: Kendal and Penrith. The River Eden rises 6 miles (9.7 km) away in the peat bogs below Hugh Seat and passes by the eastern edge of the town. Kirkby Stephen has a parish council and acts as a centre for surrounding villages and parishes, including Nateby, Ravenstonedale and Mallerstang. A community and council centre in the library provides information and services for all local councils (county, district and parish).
Secondary education for the town and surrounding area is provided by Kirkby Stephen Grammar School. This was founded in 1566 by Thomas Wharton, 1st Baron Wharton, under letters patent granted by Queen Elizabeth I. Although it has retained the name "grammar school", its old buildings were replaced long ago, and it is now a comprehensive school and Sports College with approximately 410 pupils. Within the grounds of the grammar school there was at one time an open-air swimming pool built in the 1960s for the school and local community, which was open from May to August to members of the Kirkby Stephen and District Swimming Club and to visitors to the area.
In 1352-1353, Roger de Clifford, Baron of Westmorland, obtained a charter from King Edward III for a market and two annual fairs to be held in the town. This was reaffirmed by a charter granted in 1605 to George, Earl of Cumberland, by King James I, for "one market on Monday and two fairs yearly; one on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after Whitsuntide and the other on the two days next before the feast of St. Luke."
The Monday market, with livestock sales at the Mart in Faraday Road and stalls on Market Square, remains an important event in the town and surrounding countryside. There were special celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James charter. St Luke's Fair, or "Charter Day", is celebrated every year at the end of October, when the Charter is read at the "Charter Stone" in Market Street. The special "Tup sales", very important in this sheep-rearing area, still take place at around this time each year.
Kirkby Stephen serves as a base for tourism in the Upper Eden Valley area and for walking tours of the Valley. It is on the route of the Coast to Coast Walk, devised by Alfred Wainwright, Each June there is held the "Mallerstang Horseshoe and Nine Standards Yomp", which takes a strenuous route along the high ground on both sides of the neighbouring dale of Mallerstang, including Wild Boar Fell and the summit of nearby Nine Standards Rigg.
The surrounding countryside attracts walkers. There is a Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Team to assist those not fully prepared for harsh conditions on the fell tops.
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It is sometimes said[according to whom?] that Faraday Road (parallel with High Street and Market Street) is named in honour of the scientist, Michael Faraday (1791-1867), but in fact it remembers his uncle, Richard Faraday, who was a respected local tradesman. Richard's younger brother James was for some time the blacksmith in Outhgill, but his third child, Michael, was born soon after they had moved to London. The Faraday brothers moved from Clapham in the West Riding to the Kirkby Stephen area because the family were all members of the Sandemanian sect, and at that time there was locally one of the few Sandemanian communities with a chapel, which stood in the courtyard behind what are now the Costa Coffee premises.
Unlike neighbouring Brough, Kirkby shows no evidence of Roman settlement, but there are many traces of even more ancient eras in the area, including the remains of a large Iron Age earthwork or hill fort known as Croglam Castle, on the south-eastern edge of the town.
A second, older railway station is Kirkby Stephen East station at the southern edge of the town. Originally a large junction of the South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway and the Eden Valley Railway, the station was reopened by the Stainmore Railway Company in August 2011 as a heritage centre and operational railway representing the 1950s. It is open to visitors every weekend.