Keswick became widely known for its association with the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Together with their fellow Lake PoetWilliam Wordsworth, based at Grasmere, 12 miles (19 km) away, they made the scenic beauty of the area widely known to readers in Britain and beyond. In the late 19th century and into the 20th, Keswick was the focus of several important initiatives by the growing conservation movement, often led by Hardwicke Rawnsley, vicar of the nearby Crosthwaite parish and co-founder of the National Trust, which has built up extensive holdings in the area.
The town is first recorded in Edward I's charter of the 13th century, as "Kesewik". Scholars have generally considered the name to be from the Old English, meaning "farm where cheese is made", the word deriving from "cēse" (cheese) with a Scandinavian initial "k" and "wīc" (special place or dwelling), although not all academics agree. George Flom of the University of Illinois (1919) rejected that derivation on the grounds that a town in the heart of Viking-settled areas, as Keswick was, would not have been given a Saxon name; he proposed instead that the word is of Danish or Norse origin, and means "Kell's place at the bend of the river". Among the later scholars supporting the "cheese farm" toponymy are Eilert Ekwall (1960) and A. D. Mills (2011) (both Oxford University Press), and Diana Whaley (2006), for the English Place-Name Society.[n 1]