Hawkshead is an ancient township that has flourished since Norse times, belonging to Furness Abbey until the 12th Century. The monks owned Hawkshead Hall, just outside the village, of which the National Trust owned Hawkshead Courthouse is all that remains. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, Hawkshead grew as a market town, with many buildings dating from the 17th Century.
Hawkshead is still the same mixture of higgledy-piggledy houses, archways, and squares beloved by William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Cars are banned from the centre, there being a large car park on the outskirts of the village. Tourism is now the main industry of Hawkshead, with many pleasant inns, guest houses, teashops and gift shops.
The Old Grammar School was founded in 1585 by the Archbishop of York, Edwin Sandys. The ground floor classroom retains many old desks covered in carving done by the boys, including the poet William Wordsworth and his brother John. The building only closed as a school 1909. Upstairs is the headmaster's study and a classroom containing an exhibition relating to the history of the school, the founder and William Wordsworth.
The Beatrix Potter Gallery, a 17th Century building, was once the office of the local solicitor William Heelis, who married Beatrix Potter in 1913, and has remained largely unaltered since his day. The Gallery, now owned by The National Trust, houses an annually changing exhibition of a selection of Beatrix Potter's original drawings and illustrations. The National Trust also own many other buildings in the village, thus preserving its almost museum like air.
About half a mile (0.8 km) out of Hawkshead is the hamlet of Colthouse. Here is one of the oldest Quaker meeting houses in Cumbria.
The 17th Century Church of St Michael & All Angels stands high looking out over the village, and has fine views to Esthwaite Water, Claife Heights, Latterbarrow, Helvellyn and the Langdales.