Early signs of occupation in the area are a Neolithic stone circle on Casterton Fell and remains of Celtic settlements at Barbon, Middleton and Hutton Roof.
During the Roman occupation, a Roman road followed the course of the river Lune, linking the forts at Low Borrow Bridge (near Tebay) and Over Burrow (south of Kirkby Lonsdale). A Roman milestone unearthed in 1836 and described as 'the best in the country' was re-erected on a hill near Hawkin Hall (SD 623 859), close to where it was found.
Kirkby Lonsdale developed at a crossing point over the River Lune where several drovers' and packhorse routes converged. It is one of the few Cumbrian towns mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is described as Cherchibi (village with a church). The earlier church was wholly rebuilt by the Normans, who also erected an artificial mound or motte on nearby glebe land. A wooden tower or 'keep' would have been built on the top, and the stronghold used as a base to administer power and control over the surrounding area. In later years, the mound was used for cockfighting, hence the current name of Cockpit Hill. In 1093, Ivo de Taillebois (Baron of Kendal) gifted the church at Kirkby Lonsdale to St Mary's Abbey in York, which held it until the Dissolution. Thereupon the Abbey and all its possessions, including St Mary's Church at Kirkby Lonsdale, were granted to Trinity College, Cambridge, which retains patronage to this day.
In 1227, the town gained a market charter and the right to hold an annual fair every September. Every week, stallholders would gather on Market Street to sell their wares, with horse traders in the Horsemarket and pig sellers in Swinemarket. Thursdays were, as now, the scene of great activity as people flocked into the town to buy all manner of goods and merchandise.
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