Six Essays

The following six essays were originally published in “Cumbrian Miscellany” in 2001, a tribute book to the memory of Bill Rollinson

The Seventh Duke of Devonshire

Dr John D Marshall was a specialist in local and regional history at the University of Lancaster, 1966-80. He had regular contacts with Bill Rollinson whose wit and merriment helped to keep local studies on ‘an even keel’.

Although the late Bill Rollinson was principally a lover of the Lake District, he was fascinated by his native Barrow and gave some arresting and brilliant lectures on the early history of the town, The writer had the privilege of enjoying some of these. This article is contributed by way of a gesture of warm if posthumous thanks to Bill, who understood the importance of primary sources, but, brilliantly used printed works as well. He was also a most valuable fellow-moderator of local history examination scripts at Charlotte Mason College. Above all, Bill often pointed out that local history must be readable. The following article sets out to apply Bill’s rule.

One of the most important themes in local history is that of decision-making and that of the people who engaged in it.

Who started great industries in one’s town or district? Who decided where building should take place? And who helped to develop the area’s industries where there had been no such development before? And who rescued them from the consequences of hard times?

This is a brief study of one of the most important industrial decision-makers to appear in any locality, let alone in Furness. He influenced the lives of many thousands of people in Barrow, and he had a sense of duty to the Furness area. Many readers will know something about him, although few will know more than a few basic facts, he presided over the astonishing growth of Barrow.

The Second Earl of Burlington and Seventh Duke of Devonshire (1808-91), was intimately involved in the growth of the Furness slate industry, in Furness agriculture, in Barrow steelmaking, and in Barrow shipbuilding and in the town’s attempts to establish international trade. It was he who managed to save its Victorian industries when all seemed lost. Much has been written about him, although most of the output is rather inaccessible in journals like the “Economic History Review” and the “Agricultural History Review,” or tucked away in specialist sources which are in some cases not even in Barrow library or archives.

Furness local historians should be aware that the Seventh Duke’s personal diary, stretching over more than 30 volumes, is now available in Barrow Record Office, albeit in the form of an unsatisfactory photocopy. Nevertheless, it is one of the most remarkable primary sources to enter our archives, and there is an immense amount of work to be done on it. This article merely scrapes the surface of the Duke’s story, and if our local historians are looking for a worthwhile theme it is here.

The Second Earl of Burlington’s predecessor was of course the first of that title, and he held the latter for only three years (1831 –4). The first earl was better known in Furness as Lord George Augustus Cavendish, and was the grandfather of the Second Earl, who settled at Holker Hall as a young married man at some time in the 1830s. The Second Earl committed himself to serious public service in Furness when he assumed the chairmanship of the newly formed Ulverston Board of Guardians in the late summer of 1836. This gave him an excuse to stay at Holker with his young family of three sons and a daughter for regular periods. He was then 28 years old, with the plaudits of a brilliant record at Cambridge still ringing in his ears. He had been a Senior Wrangler and the first mathematician of his year and retained the association with Cambridge over a lifetime, becoming the university’s Chancellor in later years.

Burlington had also received some excellent training for this office by his experience as Chancellor of the University of London when still only 26. Holding comparatively advanced political opinions, he lost his seat at Cambridge as a consequence of his espousal of Reform but he was returned as the MP for Malton in 1831. It should be borne in mind that he was not committed, during the decade of the 1830s, to local activities over and beyond his work with the Ulverston Guardians, and he spent a large part of the years 1838 and 1839 touring Italy and Germany. However, this semi-idyllic existence was brutally terminated by the death of his wife, the former Lady Blanche Howard, on April 27, 1840.

This tragedy, with its attendant agony of spirit (well and painfully reflected in his diary) caused Burlington to retire to Holker Hall in a state of deep religious introspection. Here we can distinguish one of the visible and enduring strands of his existence; he found real solace in the Anglican Church, which also appeared as a special local interest. Grief never left him, as his diary volumes show. Fortunately, he was not yet responsible for the vast Cavendish estates, which occupied tens of thousands of acres in England and Ireland, although as a successor to the Dukedom of Devonshire he was well aware that that responsibility awaited him, and he was fully willing to act as an enlightened and conscientious landlord.

Holker Hall remained his favourite residence for the rest of a long lifetime. Its charms took precedence even over the glories of Chatsworth, or over the other Cavendish seats. Living at Holker, enabled the earl to concentrate on the supervision at the Kirkby slate quarries (originally worked by farmer-entrepreneurs) which were developed rapidly as a Cavendish possession from 1843. Almost immediately, these became known as the Burlington Quarries, and rapidly became the most extensive and productive in Lakeland.

Burlington supervised them conscientiously, and his careful observations find a regular place in his diary. It becomes clear that not only did he follow the quarries’ work processes, he had a specially appointed mining engineer, Stephen Eddy, who also advised the Cavendishes on the working of lead in the family property at Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales. As time went on, the Earl surrounded himself with knowledgeable advisers of this kind, both inside and outside Furness.

The Burlington range of quarries occupies the crest of Kirkby Moor, and as early as 1809 an iron railway carried slates down a long incline to a loading wharf. Ideas of a more elaborate railway, with steam traction, were longer in taking shape yet the notion of a railway outlet had been aired in Furness as early as 1825. However, it is worth noting that the earl was only partly the prime mover for what became the Furness Railway. A significant driving force was the Cavendish family’s firm of solicitors, Currey and Co. of Great George Street, London.

Consequently Burlington was forced willy-nilly to pursue the idea of the railway as a means of breaking a transport bottleneck from the slate quarries. The Curreys appear to have been genuine enthusiasts for the railway and they even managed to draw the illustrious Joseph Paxton of Crystal Palace fame in their wake. Paxton, in turn, was a close associate of the Sixth Duke of Devonshire, a spendthrift whose activities were mercifully hidden from his successor and cousin, Burlington. Consequently, in January 1858, the newly inducted Seventh Duke of Devonshire confided to his diary that the Cavendish estates were heavily encumbered or indebted as a result of his late cousin’s activities. By good fortune, the Duke, as Earl of Burlington, had already become established as chairman of the Furness Railway in 1848.


But for several years, Burlington was more interested in his slate quarries of that name than he was in other Furness industries, and, as for the railway, he nearly succeeded in selling it off! In the eleven years between the desperate first crisis of the railway in 1848, and his accession to the Dukedom, Burlington had in fact formed a picture of the Devonshire estate’s finances, and he wrote resignedly that “This is a worse condition of matters than I had expected, although from knowing the (sixth) Duke’s ignorance of business, I did not expect to find them very flourishing.” The Cavendish estates remained encumbered by debt for at least a decade subsequently, but Burlington’s Furness investments were crucial, and the development, following 1852, of a vast pocket of haematite iron ore at Park, on Cavendish land in Low Furness, was to make available eight and a half million tons of rich ore in 34 years. As Burlington knew, the F.R. was at first primarily a mineral line, but it rapidly became one of the most profitable in Britain. Barrow, at the ore-exporting end of the line, grew from 1847 into a flourishing port, and within another decade and a half it was mounting a (vainglorious) challenge to Liverpool.

This story is well known. But what was the new Duke’s attitude to it? Unsurprisingly, that attitude, as shown in his diary, was somewhat distant, and Devonshire (as we shall now call him) became interested in Barrow mainly in the eighteen-sixties, when its steelworks did phenomenally well and when the town grew visibly and remarkably. Devonshire’s view of this urban and economic transformation was largely restricted to the boardroom and the committee; even so, his impact on the management of the Furness Railway was considerable. Devonshire, from 1848, “headed a small committee of experts who succeeded in putting the struggling line back on its feet by rigorous measures of economy.”

In the late fifties and sixties, the first real transformation in the district took place, and stemmed from the establishment of an ironworks on Cavendish land at Hindpool, near Barrow (1859), largely through the drive of H. W. Schneider, a freebooting metalliferous mining entrepreneur. At the side of Schneider, the Duke cut a shy and retiring figure, but together with the F.R. Board he encouraged the Schneider promotion. Nevertheless, his slate quarries continued to thrive. Paradoxically, Devonshire regarded the Furness Railway as a burdensome responsibility, and, as we have seen, he was associated with attempts to lease or sell it to other railway companies or individuals; fortunately, these attempts were in vain. Despite the Duke’s reservations concerning it, the railway company was increasingly at the very heart of Furness economic development. After I860, the fortunes of the F.R. remained buoyant until 1874; the Furness Railway’s dividends (at this time) were larger than those of any other major British railway company. Meanwhile, the Schneider and Hannay ironworks provided the basis for the construction of a great Barrow steelworks, promoted in 1863 and in full operation in 1865; the Duke was the chairman of this enterprise, but held only a small fraction of the Haematite Steel Company shares in the early stages of the works. Yet its dividends paid rarely less than fifteen per cent in these years.

From the mid-sixties, the economic history of Barrow and district becomes a crowded subject. Devonshire, at the heart of most of the important events, remained aloof from the population whose lives he was profoundly conditioning, much of the time enjoying peaceful withdrawal at Holker. In the mid-fifties he confessed himself bothered by railway speculators, whose efforts he saw as “cutting up the place”…. “at present I have kept clear of all.” We must remember that Devonshire was one of the greatest landlords in England or Britain, with nearly 90,000 acres in Derbyshire, nearly 20,000 in the W. Riding and some 13,000 in Lancashire (1883), of which a considerable part was in Furness. By the early sixties his net estate rental reached £100,000 a year, six or seven times his income from industrial dividends. A little scrutiny of these figures, however, shows that much of the Cavendish land cannot have been of high quality, as it lay in the mountainous or hilly north, and only in certain favoured areas, like Furness, did Devonshire actively pursue large-scale agricultural improvement. Much more income came from extractive industries (iron ore, mining, lead as in Yorkshire, slate quarrying).

By the early seventies, Devonshire had greatly increased his industrial investments, until the income from them outstripped the farming rentals from his massive estates. By 1874 the annual income from these two sources, dividends and estate rentals, amounted to a third of a million pounds – and much of this income came from Barrow industries. There was a huge upswing in the steelworks and other fortunes between 1870 and 1874. Devonshire had no doubt where this money came from – the steelworks (1871) dividend at 70 per cent. This astonishing record was the product of a mass of favourable factors in Barrow and Furness.

Exceptionally rich supplies of high quality non-phosphoric iron ore in Furness itself. A railway specially constructed to carry the ore to be smelted on the spot, a combined ironworks and steelworks designed to manufacture steel rails for the main railway routes in the world (like the Canadian Pacific and the Trans-Siberian railways).

A steadily enlarging market within the British railway networks, a smelting site with good nearby supplies of water and limestone, and fairly good rail access to other industrial centres like Sheffield.

The only palpable disadvantage to the Barrow entrepreneurs lay in their supplies of furnace coke, which had to be brought across the north Pennines from Durham – and the Duke of Devonshire had played a part in establishing a railway link over the moors, the South Durham and Lancashire Union.

Meanwhile, Barrow was beginning to grow at such a pace, post-1860, that it began to offer problems of town management and planning. These problems were by degrees taken on board by, at first, Barrow Harbour Commissioners and the Furness Railway, acting through the railway’s chief engineer, J. R. McClean, The first three Barrow Building Societies played some part in laying out blocks of land, but the master-plan for the town, in essence adhered to from 1856, was the handiwork of James Ramsden, the General Manager of the Furness Railway, and he laid out large symmetrical portions of the so-called Hindpool Estate, a substantial part of which belonged to Devonshire, Ramsden evolved logically into the town’s manager, and his role in this operation was never questioned. When in 1867 the new town was given borough status, he became almost automatically the town’s first mayor.

Devonshire, closely associated with the administration of Barrow industries, seems to have left Ramsden to his own time-consuming devices, and the development of the Furness town was in the end the work of Ramsden and J.R. McClean, It is not generally known that other Ramsdens were operative in developing towns on the great Cavendish estates, like E.W.Wilmott in Buxton, and GAWallis in the spectacularly conceived resort of Eastbourne. Both of these Cavendish agents were political and administrative leaders in their towns, and were respectively the first mayors of the latter. But Ramsden, the earliest to reach the mayoralty, was not technically a Cavendish agent (the manager of the Furness Cavendish estates in the eighties and nineties was a Mr. Drewry, who concerned himself very little with industrial management), and he was also the only such functionary to be knighted (1872). Ramsden was allowed much freedom by his industrialist colleagues, and the stark social gap between the Managing Director of the railway and the Duke himself may have worked to the former’s advantage. The evidence of Devonshire’s diary indicates little cordiality (and considerable distance) as between the Duke and his employee, and the phrase ‘paid man’ was later used at election time.

When agriculture was thriving, as in the sixties and early seventies the Duke’s net estate rental increased from £94,156 (1863) to £ 141,716 (1874). The development of Eastbourne and Buxton was not especially profitable. But, forgetting the sheer weight of lucre derived from Barrow, the promotion of these two centres was immensely successful. Of the two Victorian resorts, Buxton was old-established, but Eastbourne was virtually a clean-slate creation set a-growing near the Cavendish Sussex seat of Compton Place. Under the patronage of the young Earl of Burlington, and with the help of his agent Mr. Simpson, the new resort struggled to reach an identity, helped by the Furness Railway’s engineer S. R. McClean, who looked after drainage and sewers. After twenty years, however, it commenced to grow with conviction. Large houses and rich incomers were encouraged to give the place a leisured, leafy atmosphere. Its population ballooned from 10,361 in 1871 to 34,278 two decades later. It is startling to discover that it grew nearly as rapidly as Barrow – but otherwise the contrast could not have been greater. Eastbourne exhaled elegance, wealth and peace; Buxton retained style and restfulness, but did not grow greatly. Barrow’s story we know already.

The period of the greatest building activity in Eastbourne (1870-4) coincided with the great wave of profitability and company promotion in Barrow. Devonshire celebrated Barrow profits, but confined his record of success largely to houses built or about to be built. He approved of the affluent resort of Eastbourne of course, but he had shown very little interest in the human side of the borough of Barrow, apart from nominating its earliest council and bemoaning some high-church deviations on the part of the Vicar of St. George’s, Barrow, who was a champion of the newly founded hospital in the town. Devonshire was ready enough to give subscriptions for the building of local churches (not only Anglican ones), and was himself deeply devout. Otherwise his moral and mental connections with turbulent Barrow were limited in the extreme, and his Diary makes few references to the town. Nevertheless, Devonshire did have a sense of obligation to Barrow, a very real one. He knew that the fate of Barrow’s industrial infrastructure was almost a matter of life or death to those who worked there, As far as he was concerned, Barrow was not to be ‘the Town that was Murdered’ (the sensational title of Jarrow at a later stage in history), and when it fell on evil days he was there with succour.

By 1874, Barrow’s industries had begun to take shape, although they were still in a half-finished state. The Barrow dock basins had of course been part-opened by 1867, but were largely empty. By the later year, Barrow’s imports were beginning to fall catastrophically, and the downturn reflected the failure of Barrow’s newest industries, like the Flax and Jute Works in Hindpool. The Barrow Shipbuilding Co. (1872) had hardly started operations; the Haematite Steel Co. lay at the centre of Barrow hopes and aspirations. It produced 250,000 tons of pig iron in 1873, and 100,000 tons of steel, using over 3000 workmen at that point in history. Fortunately for all concerned, the Barrow Haematite Steel Co. remained operative throughout the depression years. 1874-1893, and was Barrow’s enduring achievement. The Barrow Shipbuilding Company and the Jute Works were, by contrast, failures by almost any measure, and there was a severe shortfall of managerial experience and skills in both these enterprises.

Devonshire had been induced to subscribe large sums to all these new Barrow industries, notably by James Ramsden but also by Schneider, and the Duke came to regard Ramsden with a measure of distrust; after all, it was not the latter’s money that was at stake, and by 1878 the Duke concluded that the reorganised direction of the main Barrow enterprises would ‘leave less power in Ramsden’s hands’, an outcome that he clearly regarded as desirable. Over several decades Devonshire had come to see the town manager, Ramsden, as an insatiable collector of expenses and investments, which inevitably the Duke viewed with distrust – this was so, for example, when the Barrow docks were first under construction in the sixties, and for many years subsequently Ramsden was blamed for extravagant over-investment by Furness Railway shareholders. Was this Vision’ or over-ambitiousness? When record profits had poured from haematite mining and sale, Furness Railway operation and steelworks production, Devonshire had had no cause for worry; he had simply ploughed back the massive Barrow dividends when new investments had to be financed. But when the prolonged slump of the Great Depression made such stratagems impossible, he was obliged to support the ailing Barrow companies by extensive borrowing. By 1877, the Duke’s Diary contains the following resigned remark: ‘It will clearly be necessary for me to find a great deal of money to prevent a smash’ (this with reference to the Shipbuilding Co.). During the period of depression, the Duke was always likely to encounter crises, and on the 26 July 1886, regarding the shipbuilding enterprise, he

remarked ‘unless matters improve shortly a catastrophe cannot long be averted’.

Disaster was avoided by constant addition to the mortgage debt already incurred by Devonshire, which by 1888 stood at the immense figure of £2,000,000. By sheer accident, this was also the magnitude of the sum that the Duke had poured into Barrow, representing some 80 per cent of his total investments. It was fortunate for Barrovians that the Duke had a conscience about the large profits he had already drawn by 1874, a conscience that guided his conduct until the end of the eighties, when any remaining element of the Barrow boom finally burst.

Although the then Barrow shipyard was up to date and capable of building five vessels at once, it never managed satisfactorily to ensure a steady flow of work, and suffered severely from labour troubles, The Duke looked for a better future for Barrow in the ‘sheltered and cartellised production of men of war’ (1887), and the eventual appearance of the Naval Construction and Arms Company in Barrow in 1888, with the Duke’s eldest son (The Marquess of Hartington) as chairman, in fact opened a new chapter in the history of Barrow. The Duke himself had concluded that ‘it is almost certain that Barrow generally… will derive great advantages’, this from the new naval (and submarine-building) connection.

The Cavendish identification with the Furness Railway continued, and the Marquess took over as chairman (1887), even though he was never to see ten per cent dividends paid by the company again. Meanwhile, the Duke had received another hammer-blow from fate with the assassination of his son Lord Frederick Cavendish in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in May 1882, and his misfortunes wrought their effects.

The writer, when visiting the Chatsworth archive some fifty years ago, was introduced to a member of the Cavendish family, an old lady who could just remember having seen the Seventh Duke at Chatsworth before his death in 1891. ‘He looked a tired, grim old man’, she said. He had helped to keep the family fortunes more or less intact, but he had paid most bitterly for his efforts. These were not negligible, after all; the Duke had steered the Furness Railway for nearly forty years, and Barrow remained as a great industrial centre

Much in this article is based on one vast primary source, The Diary of William, second Earl of Burlington and Seventh Duke of Devonshire’ in 30 MS. volumes running from 1840 to 1891, i.e. the period of the Duke’s death. The Diary was originally made available to the present writer at the Chatsworth House archives in 1952-3. He was then working in close association with the late Professor Sidney Pollard, who generously shared information from this voluminous diary, and who wrote a seminal article, S. Pollard, ‘Barrow-in-Furness and the Seventh Duke of Devonshire’, Economic History Review,

Second Series, vol. VIII, 1955, pp. 213-221. Dr. Pollard and the present writer also collaborated in a joint article on the effect of the Furness Railway: The Furness Railway and the Growth of Barrow’ Journal of Transport History, I: 1, November 1953, pp. 109-206. The writer’s ‘Furness and the Industrial Revolution’ then followed in 1958, and readers of this book will see many scores of footnotes relating to entries in the Seventh Duke’s Diary. These can still be used by researchers requiring further information, but the Diary should be used with the Directors’ Minutes of the Furness Railway Company, which are now, like the Diary itself, kept in photo-copied form in the Barrow Record Office. There is plenty of room for other work on these and similar sources, although the outline of the Duke’s story is as given here.

Notwithstanding the importance of the subject, little more appeared for nearly two decades, perhaps because the story of the Duke seemed to have been thoroughly covered, But it was known that the Seventh Duke of Devonshire had other town-building interests, notably in Eastbourne and Buxton, and the rise of the specialised study of urban history prompted the appearance in the Agricultural History Review (Vol. 25, 1977) of the Review’s Silver Jubilee Prize Essay. The Landowner as Millionaire; the Finances of the Dukes of Devonshire, c. 1800-c. 1926′, by Professor David Cannadine. Professor Pollard had approached this subject primarily as an economic historian interested in the wielding of local power; Cannadine was concerned with the aristocracy as a social group. In 1980 his major work appeared: ‘Lords and Landlords; The Aristocracy and the Towns, 1774-1967′. This dealt with the town-building propensities of the Cavendishes, but also those of the Calthorpes in Edgbaston, all in far greater detail than had ever before been attempted. The Seventh and Eighth Dukes of Devonshire are seen against a much wider social panorama, and the finances of the Cavendishes are examined minutely.

Thanks to Professor Cannadine, we know how rich, or apparently rich, the Seventh Duke was after the pursuit of his vast Barrow investments. The Cavendishes survived.

There is still room for a rounded study of the Seventh Duke, and these historians have provided an excellent launching platform.


Whatever the circumstances of Settle’s appointment, however, in post he was his own man.

If John Settle was reincarnated as a modern politician he would probably take as his slogan “tough on ill health, tough on the causes of ill health.” Settle believed in fresh air, exercise, hard work and good food. He often lambasted the bad habits and negligence of parents but never lost sight of the wider social setting. His annual reports stressed the need for individual responsibility – cleanliness, common sense, care and attention – but he repeatedly called on the Council to improve the general framework of health care, even though, as he later remarked, “I was often a voice crying in the wilderness.” To the modern eye Victorian Barrow was a town of death and disease but by contemporary standards it was reasonably healthy, more so than most other northern towns of a similar size. Reading Settle’s reports, three themes stand out – infant mortality, epidemic diseases and what can be called ‘civic housekeeping’.

When John Settle first became Medical Officer, almost one in five newborn would die within their first twelve months. Gradually this declined to a rate of one in seven by the 1890s and had reached one in ten by the time of his retirement. Better medicine played its part but Settle was convinced that “ignorance of mothers treating their children is the principal factor in infant mortality.” He was ahead of his time in calling for day nurseries, “with benevolent ladies to supervise”, and for lady Health Visitors to educate young mothers on a personal, intimate level where male inspectors would inevitably fail. He campaigned against illiterate midwives who were unable to follow written instructions and was sanguine enough to report that “time will weed out the worst, and the Sairy Gump of Dickens’ time is nearly extinct.” Settle was brave enough to accuse certain families of deliberately neglecting their infants in order to financially benefit from insurance payments. This willingness to court controversy was repeated in his championing of illegitimate children. They died at a rate of more than twice that of legitimate children: “they seldom get the mother’s milk and the mother’s care .. France, where children are scarcer than with us, the State is a good foster mother.” Settle’s crusade against infant mortality was more than just a doctor’s conscience; on 12 July 1884 his son Charles died six hours after delivery.

Epidemics were an accepted part of life in Victorian England. Figures which we would now regard as horrifying were common – in Barrow, measles killed 106 in 1883, 83 in 1886, 67 in 1898 and 70 in 1902; scarlatina, whooping cough, typhoid and tuberculosis were regular visitors. Settle was not averse to blaming ignorance and “intemperate social habits” for the virulence of some outbreaks. One in Cemetery Cottages, Ormsgill, he regarded as “dirt fever…. affecting as it does the dirty, poorly fed and generally dissolute class of the community.” He often despaired of parents allowing infected children to mingle with the healthy. But he was also aware of the social background to disease. Respiratory illnesses killed most in Hindpool because workmen went from the heat of the steel furnaces to cold, often damp homes. As for tuberculosis, “if every man, woman and child was well fed, well clothed, clean in person and surroundings and living on dry soil in well ventilated houses, there would be no need for sanitoria”.

This insistence on civic housekeeping, or social medicine, saw Settle campaign for years for a public disinfector, a refuse destructor, improved drainage and an isolation hospital capable of handling more than one disease at a time. Year after year he called for a public abattoir to replace back-street slaughterhouses discharging waste which “pollute our sewers and endanger our health”. In similar vein he championed a municipal lodging house to replace the disease-ridden private houses, which were “a hotbed and breeder of depravity” or which had “a miserable back door entrance and back door character.” Sometimes Settle met with success – a public abattoir and disinfector were introduced – but many improvements would not happen for twenty years or more after his retirement. Towards the end of his term as Medical Officer, Settle became more active in the Barrow Naturalists’ Field Club and was President for the years 1908 to 1910. His occasional lectures mirrored the themes of his annual reports to Barrow Council. In ‘Health, Houses and Architecture’ (1907) he claimed that modern houses were less healthy than their more primitive predecessors because they kept out fresh air and helped to breed infectious disease; in ‘The Mistaken Art of

Working From the Wrong End’, he explained that money spent on treating disease

would better be spent on better housing conditions; ‘In the Sweat of they Face Shalt

Thou Eat Bread’ confirmed his belief that work and exercise were necessary adjuncts to good health.

John Settle’s retirement as Medical Officer was a low key affair. In August 1910 it was reported to the Health Committee that he would leave office on 31 December. The Minutes record the Committee’s “regret at the severance of his long connection with the Corporation”, a curiously muted valediction. When Settle went there was only a quiet presentation in the Town Hall. Again we must beware of using too much imagination. Settle may have found the increasing levels of public health bureaucracy and legislation not to his taste; there may have been a falling out. Equally he may just have thought that thirty-two years was enough for anyone. For another ten years Settle continued in private practice. In 1923 he wrote a series of articles in the Barrow News looking back on the young Barrow he had known some sixty years before. They provide a fascinating insight into leading characters of Barrow’s ‘heroic age’ – “the railway gave us James Ramsden and the Steelworks Mr Schneider and Mr J.T. Smith. These three, Caesar-like, came, saw and conquered. They found a wilderness and out of it constructed a town”.

On Schneider, Settle says that he disliked humbug and make believe. “His personality attracted everyone and his reputation was immense. We could not call it exactly good or moral, but it was great never the less …… he was fine, tall and big and spoke with a strong voice. Schneider’s favourite attitude in life is well depicted in his statue. When emphasising a point he would place the two forefingers of his right hand on the palm of his left. It was an attitude of his own and quite characteristic.” Settle was one of the party who journeyed to Belsfield, Schneider’s home at Bowness, to urge him to stand in Barrow’s first Parliamentary election. His eventual defeat by the Liberal John Duncan in 1886 was a surprise, which Settle blames on Schneider’s headstrong performances on the hustings – “if he had stayed at home with an a attack of gout and got J.T. Smith to speak for him, I believe he would have won hands down. His bright visions of sitting in the House of Commons were blotted out for ever. This depressed him and weakened his heart” (Schneider died in November 1887).

Settle confirms the wily, background influence of J.T. Smith and also the fact that

Schneider, Ramsden and Smith were not personal friends – “knowing something of the

prickling acerbities of Sir James and the irascible outbursts of Mr Schneider, to place them in the same room for ten minutes with JT must have meant war of a wildcat and bulldog character.” Settle showers praise on the work of Ramsden, at one point comparing him to Romulus. Myths abounded of him – “that Coppernob (Furness Railway engine No 3) would take sugar from his hand ….. that a visitor recounted to his friend that he had gone ‘to that place where they first erected a statue and then built a town around it.” We discover that Ramsden’s statue is close to lifelike, with one exception, the kind of information which can only be gained through personal reminisce – “in life, Sir James was never short of some covering for his bald spot and when he had to remove his hat he wore a skull cap. On one occasion the head of his statue was covered with a workman’s cap and a policeman had to shin up the statue to remove it.”

Three sections of Settle’s articles touch on his work as Medical Officer. He was of the opinion that the rash of industrial accidents in the 1860s and 1870s was the result of the employers having no liability: “it did not cost a company anything to kill a man.” He quotes a story, which he judges apocryphal but true in essence, of a man asking for a job in the Steelworks. He was told that there was no vacancy at the moment but “do you see that man at the Bessemer? When he’s killed, you can have his job.” The Employers’ Liability Act, by placing accountable responsibility on employers for the safety of their employees, brought improvements where moral persuasion had failed. On education Settle advocated a relaxed approach, preferring play to serious learning until the age often. This was based on his belief that until that age the brain should be allowed to grow ‘naturally’ and he recalled an example from his own schooldays: “a young man was introduced to our school. He was quite a big chap, probably nearly twenty and he didn’t know even his alphabet. We jeered at him until we found that it wasn’t policy because of his size. But in six months things changed. He caught up to us and steadily forged ahead. He took up subjects such as algebra and Euclid….. his brain had expanded naturally under Nature’s teaching and he was now earnest to learn.”

Settle repeated many of his misgivings about common lodging houses. Often they were full of “the flotsam and jetsam on the sea of life who float into these houses, blown by the adverse winds of heaven.” Yet not all could be tarred with the same brush: “in their common rooms you might hear a conversation in better tone than often heard in the Council smoke-room.” He admitted to a grudging respect of these who ran them, especially one Mrs. Scally – “men of the lodging house class, rough as most of them are, are more easily managed by women, and as regard the rowdy element, Mrs Scally was assisted by a fine St. Bernard dog. Mrs Scally has made money and has shops, a farm and property galore. She has also had four husbands, not all at once, but in Indian file – a regular female Bluebeard.

John Settle’s wife Harriet died in 1907. Shortly after he moved from their long-time home at 21-23 Storey Square to 189 Abbey Road. In 1918 he made his last move to 30 Hawcoat Lane, where he lived with his housekeeper Alma Redfers. He was in the habit of going for a late afternoon walk and on Friday 15 February 1929 he set off at 5.15p.m. There was snow and ice on the ground and when Settle did not return at his usual time, Mrs Redfers and a neighbour went to look for him. Settle was found halfway along Cliffe Lane; he had fallen two or three times, on the last occasion fracturing his leg. Dr. Alien attended to him, apparently the first time Settle had ever been a patient. John Towers Settle died at llpm on Friday 22 February; he was buried at Barrow cemetery on the following Tuesday, which would have been his 82nd birthday. A link with Barrow’s infancy was broken. Settle’s words which began his Barrow News articles now served as his own testimony: “the grim Reaper of Men, with hoary lock and swinging scythe, has gathered in his harvest, and most of these who could tell us of sixty years ago now lie under the quiet hillside.


A northern working class childhood is clearly not as romantic as one spent in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or with the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop but it was for me, as it was Bill Rollinson, the place we were both proud to call home.

The offices of the North-West Evening Mail in Abbey Road where I now work are, at most, a 10-minute walk from the house in Park Avenue where I spent most of my childhood years. Strange as it may seem, as I get older I find this proximity increasingly comforting. A consequence of this familiarity, particularly as a working journalist in the town where I was born, means that much of what I write draws upon memories of Barrow’s past and how it is dealing with its present.

So, that said, what follows are some recollections and reflections of a Barrow boyhood – some day they might be expanded into something more but for the time being it’s a small essay – As if it were yesterday. It’s funny the things that stick in my mind from my Barrow childhood. Mere instances for the most part but somehow they have been tagged for later reference, snapshots randomly filed into a subconscious picture album. At the time there was no reason, no flash of lightning or shattering, “I’ll remember that,” moment.

Now years later, even though I can barely remember what I did yesterday, the day I fell into the Red Waters trying to get a closer look at a dead cat, burns as bright as it did when I squelched home through the Barrow streets.

A madeleine dipped in tea might have done the trick for a Frenchman whose name I forget, but hot Ribena and thickly buttered crusts on a winter’s afternoon while the wind whips across the Irish Sea does it for me.

In the summer when something as simple and as singularly unromantic as the smell and feel of sun-soft tar or heat reflecting from a red-bricked terrace brings the memories of things past for this Barrow boy.

Of course the timing of such Proustian moments is unpredictable and entirely arbitrary. Sometimes it’s just the way the light is or when I find myself in a part of town and, thankfully there are still many places left despite the huge changes of the last few decades, when the turn of a corner brings a familiar sight.

Memories can rise to the surface when I least expect them such as halfway through an Evening Mail five-a-side match at the Sixth Form College. Phil “Chopper” Pearson, committed yet another infringement of the rules he makes up as he goes along, and slammed the ball into the net from inside the area. It all came flooding back.

The final of the inter-junior school five-a-side competition, 1963. We were the Golden Eagles, pride of the Sacred Heart, as we battled against the odds to reach the final against St Mary’s. It was four each with only seconds to go when their centre forward broke through the middle and headed for our goal. The ball went loose and despite a desperate lunge I failed to stop him scoring from well inside the area. Sadly all our protests were in vain and though he won’t thank me for recalling it, Furness Cavaliers’ stalwart and current player manager, Dave “Stoggy” Staunton, our captain, burst into tears. I remember it as if were yesterday.

Born during the 1950s, mine was a generation growing up free of the intruding video camera recording a child’s every moment from the day they are born. Surprisingly by today’s standards of 24/7 recording, the only professional photograph from my early years was, ironically taken by an Evening Mail photographer in 1959 at the Grasslands Convent School Catholic Sports Day. Caught forever, the line in sight, a fine striped tee-shirt on my back and the promise of crisps and pop to the winner.

Oddly enough the fading black-and-white family snaps suit my memory of events or at least the selective manner in which I choose to recall them. For the most part the pictures were taken with a Box Brownie and where some capture the moment exactly, others fail to stir a single thought about the time and moment they were supposed to record.

Wide-eyed I stare in shades of grey, snapped at parties and family outings but no matter how long I stare back I can neither recall anything about those long-gone days or even recognise the child in the picture. Of course I know it’s me but it seems the only thing we two have in common is a seemingly inordinate and continuing fondness for striped tee-shirts and baggy shorts. Whereas a collection of crimped-edged snaps, scattered through a green-backed family album is just the way I recall things, randomly and in no particular order.

It’s words more than anything, some last spoken more than 40 years ago that can still be replayed at will. “Christmas next Eric,” sighed Mr Butler to my dad, wearily resigned to the fact that the annual spending spree was laying in wait for his wallet a mere eight weeks away. He said this as we turned our soot-blackened faces and smoke-stung eyes from the annual Park Avenue bonfire for the 50-yard walk back home. November 5, 1963 or so I suppose, the year’s uncertain but I remember – As if it were yesterday.

Numbers too. Nowadays I might not be able to remember where I put the car keys five minutes after putting them down, but I can recall our old Co-op dividend number without a moment’s hesitation. Mind you it’s hardly surprising. “8098,” shouted me mam for at least the millionth time in her life as I set off for Greengate Co-op, “Here’s a note and don’t forget to tell the lady your check number.”

Numbers such as the car registrations of vehicles we owned. The black Mayflower was NLX 308, Then there was the second-hand Morris Traveller (URM 936), followed by a two-tone white and connaught green Wolsley 1500 (MEO 103).

If there is one overall memory of my childhood it’s one of a life lived outside on the streets of Barrow. Front streets with rainbow-striped flapping plastic blinds hanging in open summer doorways when nobody was worried about walk-in thefts because they didn’t have anything worth pinching. Sitting on kerbs, scraping the soft tar with lollipop sticks, orchard raiding, falling off bikes, falling off walls, falling out of trees, dead cats in the Red River and bommie night – all outside.

My childhood Barrow was a time when Back Street Boys meant something slightly different to being a member of a boy band. Specifically, my back street was behind the Greengate end of Park Avenue, a washing-strung strip, edged by a row of garages standing above a thinly grassed bank dropping to an easily scaled fence separating us from the railway line running into Barrow station a few hundred yards away. That back street was my life then.

It was a short-trousered, scuffed-kneed life set to the accompaniment of steam trains muscling their way down the line. A time of shiny-bright Supercars, crossbows, dutch ‘arrers’, brick fights, dog bites and countless tetanus injections at North Lonsdale, penny lucky bags and tuppeny ice-blocks, Blackjacks, 3-2-1 Zeros, Victor and Valiant comics, Meccano and of course Mass.

Brought up as a Roman Catholic I remember Mass on holy days, Mass on Sundays. Lent, confessions, benedictions, endless sermons, itchy green serge suits for Sunday, incense and early morning walks to the Sacred Heart Church to serve as an altar boy at Mass.

It is always dark in these memories and Marsh Street tunnel was the worse bit. It was spooky and what made it worse, across the road lived the strange, smelly man who sold newspapers and comics that he kept stacked in his hall. I think he had had polio and scooted along on his hands and his house stunk so strongly of sweat and fish I can smell it now – As if it were yesterday.

That famous sprinter Peter Leach, sporting the stripy T Shirt, takes the lead at Crosslands Convent Sports Day in 1959

The ‘Back Street Boys’ c 1960, champion bommie builders. At the back, David Butler; front row, Howard Butler, Eddie Braithwate, Mike Kenny, Peter Leach and Desmond Casey.

I can also clearly remember an incident in the early 60s when Terry, one of my classmates at the Sacred Heart School, fell from the bars in the playground. Now, this was the era of concrete yards, and Terry broke his arm. I don’t recall anybody being unduly concerned, apart from Terry of course, who was non too happy. One thing that did not happen, was that his mother did not immediately rush across to see the head and demand an inquiry, or threaten to sue the school. All that happened, was Terry was taken off to North Lonsdale where he had his arm set and put in a plaster cast, which cheered him up no end and made him the envy of the school, particularly as he had a week off school. Meanwhile, things carried on as normal. Terry was mentioned in prayers at the next assembly and the following playtime we went back to playing the games we always played which, apart from swinging from the bars, including such apparently deadly pursuits as British Bulldog – and Conkers!

Sometimes my perspective on childhood memories can be altered by modern-day events such as when not that long ago I learned something about a man I had barely known when he was alive, my paternal grandfather – Sam Leach. I remembered two things about him – he had a turn in his eye and he dropped dead on the doorstep of his Newbarns home following a heart attack and I was told in the front room of 162 Park Avenue.

That was in 1961. He was 66 years old and I was eight. Forty years and half a lifetime away when I lived in a different world to the one in which he had lived. I didn’t know that then of course, he was just some grumpy old intolerant git that never smiled. Consequently, I wasn’t too bothered at his passing at the time, because I thought him a particularly angry and very scary man. What I didn’t know then but know now was the harshness of the life he had led and the times he lived through. To be honest, if I had it wouldn’t have made much difference.

I was just a kid but now, thanks to my uncle, I do know and it makes a difference.

Sam was an infantryman in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme and was shot. When he returned home, he worked in the Barrow Steelworks where,  my granma told me, he would often go to work on a Friday and not return until Sunday. He was known throughout the mill as a hard man, a very hard man. The First World War and the subsequent hardship of his life are way beyond the grasp of most of us in this cosseted society. But it shaped him and,  made him into the man that appeared constantly angry to a young lad.

Beyond all this and other memories though, I remember as a kid always waiting for someone to come out to play. I was always up early; something that stays with me today and I can’t understand anybody who wants to stay in bed after 7am, unless they have overindulged in the fine wines. Consequently I was always waiting for my mates to get up. They did in the end of course but I’d usually lost interest by then and the horizons that had seemed boundless but a few hours earlier had narrowed to the width of the walled back street.

At six-o-clock in the morning I’d been ready to go to darkest Africa hunting for ivory or the Spice Islands in search of nutmeg but by dinner-time had settled for smashing windows in the empty house at the end of the street. My fault really I suppose I should have just gone on my own.

Still there was always Bommie Night that was the real highlight of the year, even if Mr Butler did see it merely as a stepping stone on the way to the excesses of Christmas. Weeks of preparation began during the long summer holidays with widespread collecting ranging far and wide was already under way. Door-to-door collections; “Scuse me missus, ‘ave you got ‘owt’ for our bommie?”

If we were lucky we’d get an old leather horsehair stuffed settee with casters, thrown out in the post-war modernisation boom, to be replaced with black vinyl and nylon cushioned chic, its bonfire day still in the future. Like free­wheeling wonder waltzers loosed from the carousel, we’d ride them bouncing, bucking and spinning downhill until the wheels, screaming in protest finally snapped bringing us grinding to a juddering halt.

Looking back, our bonfire collecting bordered on fanaticism. A need to constantly be the biggest with our archenemies the gangs from the streets surrounding the cooling tower across the railway line. Well before the time when councils banned them, ours was always on the field at the back of Park Ave. When I say field, it’s only in the loosest sense of the word. Really it was just one of those grassy patches of common land still in existence for the 20 or so years after the Second World War. Sadly the developer’s eye fell on it years ago and now garages are the headstones marking where Indians once fell to our cowboys’ guns and where we built fire brigade-summoning-bonfires and plucked caterpillars from giant ragwort. Yes, in those freer, less mollycoddled times ours was the Everest of bommies.

What days they were! Exciting, adventurous times when, it has to be said some things ran us foul of the law and we would have been done more often if we hadn’t been quite so fleet of foot and foolish enough to evade the chasing bobbies with a dash across the railway lines. When we were caught it was a clip round the ear and a warning; “I’ve got my eye on you lad,” which was more than enough.

Then there were the banana slides in Barrow Park, polished mirror smooth with bread bags. Speed was the thing and travel beyond the slide measured. Distances compared. If NASA scientists had our ideas on lubrication and gravity defying leaps, Neil Armstrong would have landed on the moon five years earlier.

Two words that were never used together when I was a lad were designer and clothing unless you count gabardine. The main weapon against the winter months wasn’t some fancy fleece jacket emblazoned with the name of a native New Yorker; it was a woollen balaclava, like pulling a Brillo pad over your head. In the post-war recovery years of the utilitarian 50’s clothes can only be described charitably as serviceable, which is where most of them could be found these days – in Charity Shops.

There are many good things about being able to make a living in the town where I was born, not least when the air and the light are just so, I get a glimpse, even a taste of something most of us misplace along the way –childhood. In my case it’s heat from a sun-tanned terrace caressing my face as I pass by in such a way I have to reach out and feel the glaze-smooth brick. Or it’s just a sight or a sound. When a walk down Lumley Street takes me by the Sacred Heart church, a sight that still strikes me as spooky today as much as it did when I was an altar boy, brings me to my old school. Unseen children’s voices spill over walls before tumbling down the streets where I walked so many times. It’s – As if it were yesterday.

Or sometimes it’s just a cloud on a summer’s day, ice on a winter’s pond or conkers in autumn, a time of year when I still collect a handful just to keep the tradition going.

So, after all these years I’m reasonably content. Winning the Lottery would settle my debts of course but it wouldn’t change much else other than I wouldn’t have to work and my fiscal shackles could be loosed once and for all.

No, it’s a contentedness probably stemming from when I was a lad when all I wanted to be was a footballer or an astronaut until I found out I wasn’t good enough for the former and in the wrong country for the latter. You see I like living and working here among the red bricks, and I know that I am lucky to have a job that lets me get by.

From a window near the desk where I work I can see the roof of the house where I grew up. From another I see the cemetery but I don’t look out of that one too much. With age, moments, when I can turn my head and welcome a familiar sight or sound, increasingly make me smile. Anyway enough of this indulgence. Suffice to say, like Bill and his Hawke Street home I am not ashamed of my past or the future that will hopefully keep me here for a good few years yet to come.

On my bookshelf is a copy of “Barrow’s Boys.” It’s a biography of Ulverston- born Sir John Barrow who was second secretary to the admiralty during the nineteenth century and a man who played a major role in Britain’s rise as an empire through his promotion of world exploration. “Are you in there?” said my niece to me one day when she saw the title, “Are you one of Barrow’s boys?”

“No love not in that sense,” I replied smiling, “But in another way, yes I am, and I’m glad”.


Arthur Evans being presented with a watch in 2001, after completing nearly 50 years of writing articles for the Evening Mail. His wife Jean is on his left, holding a bouquet. The Editor, Steve Brauner is on his right.

An Ancient Lakelander, The Herdwick

Arthur Evans, retired schoolteacher, and Jim Melville’s son-in-law, has been writing historical and natural history articles since 1948 for the NW Evening Mail and for The Westmorland Gazette, since 1981. He has also written four books relating to the Lake District. Like Bill Rollinson who Arthur found ‘a delightful man’. He was fascinated with all things Norse and their connections and eventual influence within the county, much of which still permeates many facets of Cumbria. Arthur shared Bill’s interest, marvelled at his enthusiasm and was grateful for his friendship.

The terrible outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 resulted in the slaughter of many thousands of sheep and cattle. It certainly threatened the continued existence of a breed of sheep unique to the Lake District. This is the Herdwick, a tough, goat-like animal of unknown but undeniably ancient origin and affiliation; a breed which is certainly the oldest species of farm animal to appear in the Lake District.

The first record of the name that I can find dates from the early 16th century –though this refers to an area – a “Herdwick” – a land area holding a flock of sheep; a title soon transferred to a specific breed. This tough, hairy-woolled goat-like animal is able to survive on the toughest herbage. Indeed, within living memory it was a near – permanent resident on fell and mountain side the year round, but shifted from their native “heaf on higher land briefly no more than a few times a year. Pregnant ewes were brought down onto this gentler, softer ground near the homestead to lamb, returned later in the year to be clipped and “salved” – an ancient protection against the attack of ravaging blow flies; a practice now replaced by controversial “dipping”. After this, the animals are then “pop-marked” to indicate ownership (formerly by greasy “reddle” – red, haematitic clay – now by modern fast dyes). Towards the “backend” – autumn –the ewes return to be serviced by a chosen “tup”, the Lakeland name for a ram.

Some modern Herdwick, like the animals of old, still retain a devotion to their patch of home ground called the “heaf. Indeed, such animals formed a lifelong attachment to a specific area. There are many examples of this in animals sold and transferred elsewhere – sometimes many miles away – returning unerringly to former home ground, the “heaf. Modern practice has altered much of this, however, with the animals being transferred to better (and softer) grazing, often on land near the sea or within some of the more sheltered Lakeland valleys.

Herdwicks were once unique to the Lakeland fells. Now, Yorkshire Swaledales, Westmerian Rough Fells and other similar hardy breeds are replacing the indigenous Herdwick. One very popular breed in this group is now the Welsh Mountain Black, though to date they seem to be held only on milder slopes or within the better valleys. On the mountain slopes proper, the Herdwicks are yet the hardiest, but their numbers diminish year by year. Herdwick meat is reputedly the sweetest, but the tough, wiry wool is proving to be virtually unsaleable these days. Much of the unsold 2000 clip was burnt in sheer despair. Which is a great pity for this wiry, tough material is almost unique. It may be harsh indeed to more delicate skins, but it is virtually waterproof, warming, and very hard wearing indeed. A few brave pioneers battle on with it, but theirs is a difficult job. This wool makes tough, hard-wearing carpets and blankets, but is very difficult to dye – which creates a great limit to sales. Yet the loss of every Herdwick to Lakeland means the loss of another piece of history. Not only is this tough goat-like animal unique to the area, but it is  probably one of the most ancient inhabitants of the area.

Where did it originate? There is a wild story of Spanish origin; the first Lakeland animals supposedly swimming clear of a wrecked Spanish Armada vessel. Others insist on a Viking origin – again with animals landing from a ship, this time a Norse longboat – a tubby “drakar” – to swim ashore in West Cumberland – perhaps at ancient Ravenglass. Other folk suggest prehistoric origin, the animals arriving here with the first Neolithic farmers and settlers four thousand and more years ago. A few suggest French origins, the breed introduced and developed by incoming Cistercian monks. A few folk declare older Spanish connection. No one knows the truth, but certainly the coarse-woven “habits” – the harsh clothing – of Furness Abbey monks and dependent local peasants was made of this hard-wearing material. Almost in living memory more than one farm labourer was made to wear the “harden sark” –the new woollen shirt – of his master and thus soften it for the farmer’s future use.

One peculiarity (amongst many others) attached to the Herdwick breed is the use of “Celtic counting” by their shepherds. Each major Lakeland valley has its own version, but all of them show some affinity with the Old Welsh language of long ago. Welsh numerals, which also show some affinity with the “Celtic counting” up to ten – however slight. They are as follows:

Modern Welsh.

1: Un                   2: dauordwy        3: tri or tair  4: pedwar or pedar  5: pump     

6: chwech            7: saith               8: wyth        9: naw                       10:deg

Compare these numbers with the

Ancient Welsh:

1: un          2: dou         3: tri           4: petuar      5: pimp   

6:chwech   7:seith        8: wyth       9: nau          10: dec

And with the Coniston version of the

“Celtic counting”:

1: Yan         2: Taen       3: Tedderte       4: Medderte              5: Pimp

6: Haata     7: Slaata     8: Lowra             9: Downa               10: Dick.

Modern Cumbria covers much of the area once held by the “Cimri” – the “Compatriots” of Welsh kinsman further south. This was in a time long before the arrival of Anglo-Saxon, Norseman, or Norman invader in the area. Was this also the time of the original Herdwick sheep?


Did you swim from splintered drakar

Hard aground on Cumbrian sand?

Or came you from Armada’s galleon

Stove-in, wrecked, on Bootle’s strand?

Perhaps you walked with cowled Cistercians?*

Bleating over new-grazed fells?

Or did you come with Stone Age trader?

By rings of stone? Or pagan wells?

Did you know the Beltane bonfires

Or Druids’ oak, or Celtic grove?

Who first clipped that wiry grey wool?

And who was he who first it wove?

Who were they who gave you number

Yan and twan, and tethera, dik?

Who called you firstly, tup, or twinter

And herded you with crooked stick?

Who marked your fleece with greasy crimson,

Named you “gimmer”, “yow”, or “hogg”?

Who took you first upon the mountains,

By whistle, voice, and eager dog?

What, exactly, is your lineage?

Who bred you? Tough, and white of face?

Who brought you here, O Cumbrian Herdwick?

Are you the last of ancient race?

A.L Evans.

Where did they originate? And when?

Cumbria, particularly on regions of mountain and fell. There is a folktale that the first Herdwicks scrambled ashore from either Viking drakar or Spanish Armada galleon somewhere between Bootle and Ravenglass. The breed may be much older than either story suggests, though a Norse origin is suggested by some. Another possibility is that Neolithic farmers Ca. 4000 years ago introduced it

Another clue is that the old counting method mentioned in the poem is probably Celtic in origin – perhaps even prehistoric?

*Certainly Herdwick sheep and wool created much of Furness Abbey’s wealth.


lain McNichol is a qualified archaeologist who combines his knowledge of history and talent for acting to bring the past to life in the school classroom under the guise of various characters. These range from a Neolithic Man to second world war A.R.R Warden!

A few years ago a member of a local group, who will remain nameless, rang me up and asked me to speak at the societies annual dinner. During the call I was told by the caller that: “I have already spoken to Mr Rollinson and unfortunately he has a prior booking.” I spoke at the event and had a very pleasant evening. The next time I met Bill I told him that I had gone up in the world as for at least one local group I was second choice after him for after dinner speaking, we both found this highly amusing.

There was another time when I bought a second-hand copy of William Cell’s diary, which Bill edited. The bookshop owner told me Bill had been in the day before and signed the copy I had just bought. The owner had put an extra £3 on the price of the book. I thought Bill was going to choke when I told him but he didn’t offer to refund the £3!

I first met Bill at one of his lectures in Barrow library and more than any other single person he inspired my interest in local history and the fascinating development of human life and society in Furness thanks to his inspired lectures and sites visits around the area.

The enthusiasm Bill could put into his talks was phenomenal but it didn’t stop there. When I was researching “Life in Victorian Lakeland”, Bill didn’t just lend me his work “Life and Tradition in the Lake District”, he gave me a copy.

He really wanted people to continue to study the history of the area and I’m sure they will. Bill would always help people as much as he could in their research. A call to Bill would result in a stream of sources of information to help your work and even now I still think: “I’ll just ring Bill about this,” before I realise he is no longer with us.

However, we do have his work and the memory of his enthusiasm to inspire us in continuing to look at the past, without which we cannot understand the present and have no chance of divining the future.

Holy wells are a common feature in many parts of the British Isles, probably due to the fact humans and indeed all life need water in order to survive. Therefore it is not surprising many wells or springs, which provided good healthy drinking water would, even in this notoriously damp climate, be regarded as holy or sacred.

Apart from this obvious reason why many of these sites were regarded as special, some wells, often spring sites as opposed to places where wells have been sunk, were given special regard because the water that bubbled forth had medicinal properties. For instance, the hot springs around which the city of Bath developed are a world famous British example. The most famous medicinal spring near Furness is probably the Holy Well at Humphrey Head, which today is a sad dribble near the beach where a sign warns not to drink the water.

This is in contrast to the status of the well as late as the 19th century. Then, there was a house at the base of the cliff where the occupants ran a thriving business selling the water as a “grand flusher-out” for all ailments, with a clientele ranging across the whole of north-west England.

In particular the water was believed to be excellent for the complaints of lead miners and in the early 1800s the house had accommodation for people who wished to stay and consume the water over a longer time or in greater quantity. Tide and time have long since dispensed with the house and as we have seen, the reputation of the well is in similar disarray.

This state of affairs is nowadays quite common and in Furness much the same. Only one of the sites we shall look at in this essay is cared for and even this is generally locked up – a far cry from the days when these places were venerated and celebrated for their life-preserving qualities by societies more respectful of nature than our own.

One aspect of these sites that shows us how deeply they were respected is the sheer age of their use. This can be seen in the fact, as with many other pagan sites, when Christianity arrived they were sanctified and the holy men and women of the new religion replaced the old gods and goddesses. This is probably not quite the case in two of the Furness wells but more of this later.

This essay does not claim to mention all the holy wells in Low Furness but contains the more interesting I have found. Undoubtedly there are more. So if you dear reader know of others please do not condemn me or make rude comments about: “So-called experts who think they! how all and know nowt,” at the bar of your local. Please let me know, particufarly if you have any good legends or stories that may well have missed the rarefied ears of Furness’s Victorian antiquarians.

In Barrow’s record office there is a book called, “The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire,” written by Henry Taylor. It contains most of the wells mentioned here as well as much other information which I would recommend to anyone interested in this topic but enough of this and let us look at the holy wells of Low Furness.

I decided to look at these wells in alphabetical order, which means we must start with the Abbey Well which is placed in the corner of the Amphitheatre adjacent to Furness Abbey, next to the railway line.

Taylor says: “The Well appears to have been a structure of some importance.”

If this was the case there is very little to see now. There is a substantial hollow where the stream runs under the railway embankment which would appear to be the feature mentioned in early Ordnance Survey maps but beyond that there is nothing to suggest a well on the site at present.

Next on the list is the Bean Well on the shore of Morecambe Bay near Baycliff. This well is still visible as a spring that gushes onto the beach near to the appropriately named Bean Well Scar.

The name Bean Well probably comes from the Latin “bene” meaning well or the good well referring to the plentiful supply of water that it produces. However, it is possible, as in Beanthwaite on Kirkby Moor it could derive from the Viking name Bjorn or Bjarni and may mean, “The Well belonging to Bjorn”. Like the beach at Aldingham, Bean Well Scar was used in the 18th and 19th centuries, if not earlier, as a loading point for the local iron ore trade.

Ore was brought down in carts to the beach where barges were stranded at low tide, the barges were loaded and then re-floated as the tide came in, sailing out of the bay to various destinations, including South Wales. It would seem that at this time Bean Well and other springs along the shore were in great demand to satisfy the considerable needs of thirsty horses engaged in carrying ore to the beach.

Brigget Well lies down a lane off the road between Leece and the Coast Road and appears on the 19th century tithe map for the parish of Aldingham.

The spring feeding this site is at present lost in a marshy area of ground but it is the name of this site that is of great interest. We can fairly safely assume that Brigget is a corruption of Bridget, a very popular Irish Dark Age Saint. Many also believe it to be a Christianised and sanctified form of the Celtic goddess Brigantia, who gave her name to the association of North West British tribes known to the Romans as the Brigantes.

Is it possible that this well has remained dedicated to Brigantia after 1500 years of Christian domination? 1 don’t know but I do feel that this area would be worth investigating as a possible Celtic/Romano British religious site and as anyone who has studied archaeology in Furness knows sites of this period are as rare as hen’s teeth.

In Dalton there is mention of the Mary Bank Well at Goose Green which probably refers to the Virgin Mary, an understandably popular Saint in Furness due to the special dedication to the Virgin of the Cistercian Order to which the monks of Furness belonged. There is also mention in the works of Harper Gaythorpe, a 19th century local historian, of there being another well  dedicated to Our Lady in the hamlet of Chapels near Kirkby. Although the name of the village suggests an area certainly worthy of more research there appears to be no trace of the well.

The next well is probably one of the best known in Furness and that is Michael’s Well, or more colloquially, the Mickle Well, in Gleaston, near Ulverston.

The well lies near the green known as the Guards and just behind the hall at the western end of the village. It is locked behind a door with a sign telling how to get the key. Its name probably refers not to the dragon slaying archangel Michael, but to one of the two Michael le Flemings, lords of the manor of Muchland (i.e. Michael’s land) who had their headquarters at Aldingham Motte during the 1100s


It is still possible to hear stories about the past importance of this well to the villages around Gleaston. For instance I have been told that in the early 20th century people from Scales would use the well in time of summer drought, because, unlike water supplies in Scales, the Mickle Well never dried up.

Another story regarding this well that I was once told at the bar of “The Farmers” in Baycliff, was that Oliver Cromwell took his last drink there!

St Helen’s well near to the sadly very derelict St Helen’s Chapel and close to Goldmire may now be lost under Bennett Bank tip at Thwaite Flat near Dalton. This is a very great shame as some late 19th century excavations here seemed to show some evidence that there may have been medieval healing baths here.

The dedication to St Helen is interesting as she was the mother of Constantine the Great, the Emperor who made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. She was also credited with finding the true cross, or at least finding five crosses, all with good claims to be the real one. To test them, she placed a corpse on each and the cross that revived the corpse was declared the real one.

Early English historians believed her to be British born, a daughter of Coel Hen, legendary commander of Hadrian’s Wall and better known as Old King Cole. Possibly of more relevance to the origin of this well dedication is the fact that there was a Celtic water goddess called Elen.

Also in the Dalton area, near the northern end of the town is Yarlwell.

In the Domesday Book it is recorded that Furness was held, prior to 1066, by Yarl (Earl) Tostig who was killed at Stamford Bridge in the dreadful run up to the battle of Hastings. Whether or not he is the Yarl commemorated in Furness names such as Yarlside and Yarlwell, we will probably never know.

As a final item in this rapid tour of wells and water sites, I thought I would finish with Urswick Tarn and its legend. Although it is obviously not a well in itself there is one in the tale and I feel that somewhere behind this lies a remnant of the importance water held in the days when the only taps in Furness were at the abbey, or before Christianity reached the district.

The story goes that at one time Urswick was short of fresh water, presumably a long time ago when the weather was different!

Villagers asked the vicar to intercede with the good Lord to provide a well. He did as he was asked and lo and behold, a well appeared as if by magic and for a time everything was fine. Then, the ladies of the village complained that although the well was greatly appreciated, it was very difficult to wash clothes in it, to say nothing of the quality of the water after such abuse and could they have a stream as well.

The parson um-ed and ah-ed over this for some time, but eventually agreed to as the Lord a second time. Consequently, the next morning there was a brook babbling through the village. There is a saying that goes along the lines of: “Gratitude being merely the anticipation of favours yet to come”. In the case of the early villagers of Urswick this was only too true, for a few days later an angry crowd approached the vicar demanding, with menaces, for another, clean source of water as the stream was dirty and no good.

The vicar deciding not to follow advice about turning the other cheek turned on the crowd and saying: “Water, water, I’ll give thee water.” He turned on the celestial taps in the form of a rainstorm and didn’t stop until the last whinging villager was drowned and the village had vanished beneath what is now Urswick Tarn.

For any adventurous souls who feel they might like to dive beneath the tarn to find the remains of this aquatic Gomorrah, don’t bother, because another village legend claims it is bottomless.

The version of the legend I have given here is the one that was current when I was at Urswick Grammar School more than 20 years ago. There may well be others but at least in part the old mystery of the freshwater holy sites of our district have been preserved into the early 21st century and long may they continue.

If they do not we will end with a culture with no local tradition and one that is bland as refined lard. As the “North Lonsdale Magazine” would proudly proclaimed 100 years ago “What is local is often national”.


Dr Elizabeth Roberts is a former Director of the Centre for North-West Regional Studies in Lancaster University. She is a social/oral historian with a particular interest in women’s and family history. Her tape recordings are unique and extracts from these are recorded in her books e.g. ‘ A Woman’s Place: An oral history of Working Class Women, 1890-1940. Born in Barrow, she has spent most of her life in the North West and is involved in the local community as a magistrate and school governor.

Although Bill Rollinson and I attended the Barrow Grammar Schools at the same time we did not actually meet until the 1970s. By then Bill was a well-established historical geographer with the University of Liverpool. At that time he was living in Hawke Street, Hindpool, and was in charge of Liverpool University’s Extra Mural programme for a wide area of the northwest. I was researching the social and economic history of working-class Barrow in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries using both official records and oral evidence.


There was no formal internment for the stillborn but for those who had lived before they died, funerals were very important. Indeed before the first World War it is true to say that funerals were more important than were weddings, as was evidenced by the greater numbers of people attending the former rather than the latter. Working-class people were very poor a hundred years ago with very small wages. There was little disposable income for anything above paying for the necessities of food clothing and shelter. Before the introduction of the first National Insurance scheme (under the provision of the Act of 191 I brought in by David Lloyd George Chancellor of the Exchequer) only a minority of people had any health insurance. I estimate from the annual returns of the various Friendly Societies that not more than one sixth of Barrovians were covered for free health care through contribution to one of the societies. (These included the Oddfellows the Free Gardeners and the Rechabites.) However such was the importance of having a dignified and respectable funeral that every one of the families interviewed had death insurance for every member. It is one of the paradoxes of the time that paying for a “good” funeral for the dead was seen to be a higher priority than investing in health care for the living. Of course, as is clear from the gravedigger’s remarks, there were people who could not afford death insurance and they had the indignity of a pauper’s grave, a fate dreaded by the vast majority of working-class people.

Robert Roberts writing of his childhood in Salford at the beginning of the twentieth century wrote, “To have a body put away on the parish was to bear a lifetime’s stigma”

The still birth of the baby in Rose’s story is a reminder of the terrible toll of infant deaths that was experienced at that time. Sadly, we do not know how many stillborn babies there were, as the number was not recorded until 1926. However we do know about the infant mortality rate, that is the number of children dying before their first birthday out of every 1000 born. For the years 1901 –05 the average rate for Barrow was 129. (9) The Medical Officer was proud of the fact that this rate was lower than the average for England and Wales (138 for the same period) and considerably less than that for a town like Preston, which had the very high rate of 179. (However to understand what a terrible toll of infant deaths these figures represent we should remember that today the Government is aiming for the average infant mortality rate for all areas to be less than 5.)

It is sometimes difficult to comprehend how parents felt about the death of their children a hundred years ago. Many more babies and children died than just those under one year. The most dreadful record in a Barrow family in my survey, was the one where I interviewed a woman who was the youngest of sixteen children. Of these only three survived into adulthood. The feelings of the parents are inconceivable but I reject the view, sometimes expressed to me, that somehow parents got used to premature deaths and somehow did not mind the loss of their children. I interviewed another woman who was one of sixteen children, of whom eleven grew up. “She buried some. She had them too often. I can remember her carrying that little coffin with the baby in . . . She said that every baby she saw she wanted to snatch. She would have stolen anybody’s baby to fill that want. She had all those but she wouldn’t spare one” .

An unqualified midwife apparently delivered Rose’s mother’s stillborn baby, as was usually the case. An Act had been passed in 1902 stating that all new midwives had to be qualified. It is frequently assumed that this meant that thereupon the old unqualified midwives ceased to practice. This was not the case, the law simply stated that the older midwives had to be registered. Many (2   of them continued to practice long after the 1902 Act. They remained popular with mothers, as they were cheaper than the qualified midwives and were also seen by many to be friendlier and less “starchy”. There is little evidence from respondents that these unqualified midwives were at all like the infamous Sarah Gamp, created by Charles Dickens who was frequently drunk and who enjoyed a laying out as much as a lying in. Rose mentions four times the letter that her mother gave her to give to the gravedigger.  It is doubtful if Rose realised the significance of this letter. The midwife wrote it in compliance with a law of 1874 that stated that whoever delivered a stillborn baby had to affirm this in writing. This was an attempt to stop the crime of infanticide. We have no idea how widespread this practice was before that date but the Government were concerned enough to pass this law. The gravedigger would not have been able to bury the baby without this letter.

Neither Rose nor her mother had any doubts that Rose’s first responsibility on that particular day was to the family and not to her education.  By 1900 working-class children and their parents had accepted the idea of compulsory elementary education, (i i) However families rarely saw education as providing more than training in the three basic subjects of reading writing and arithmetic.

There was a widespread attitude among working – class families that once these basic skills had been acquired then there was little point in continuing with schooling, family needs and concerns were of greater importance.

Therefore for older children earning money was thought to be more important than going to school and children left as soon as they were legally entitled to do so. Many children had part time jobs to supplement the family budgets long before they left school. It was more usually boys who did this as girls were expected to help at home. So this next respondent, recalling her Saturday job, is unusual in being a girl in part time work but her feeling of pride in her job is typical of the young workers of the time. They felt a sense of achievement and believed that they were making an important contribution to the family’s finances.

“We didn’t have much but we were quite happy with it, I remember my first job, it was in Barrow Market and I worked in Bowden’s sweet and biscuit stall. I was thirteen at the time and I had to stand on a box to reach the sweets on the counter and I got a shilling for 9 o’clock in the morning until 8 at night.”

“But I wasn’t allowed to work until the market finished because of my age.” “In fact it went on ’til about 11 didn’t it?”

“Yes, well I had to finish at 8 and I know that my mum got ninepence out of my shilling. I got twopence and my brother and sister got a halfpenny each. And 1 was keeping the house with that shilling.”

In the year following the incident with the stillborn baby, Rose decided that the family finances required her to leave school altogether and earn money as a full time worker. However she was not yet fourteen years old, which was the legal school leaving age at that time.

This is her account of going to the Hiring Fair in Ulverston. Again I have no other account of a child being hired, but Rose’s attitude to both school and to the importance of earning money were very typical of the times.

“How old were you when you first went to the Hiring Fair?”

“I was thirteen and I told m’mother I was going to the Hiring Fair. She said, “You can’t. You’re not fourteen.” I said, “Tell the teacher I’ve gone to m’grandmother’s and she told her I’d gone to m’grandmother’s me and m’friend, both of us.”

“Where did you go?”

“Longridge in Preston”

 “Were you homesick at all?”

“We used to feel it, but what was the good? Then I went to Newlands Bottom corn mill near Ulverston and m’father used to come every Sunday, and it was very hard times then. It was the Durham strike that was on then, and he used to come to ask the old farmer if he could sub a pound off Rose’s money, as they hadn’t anything. He used to give him a pound. Probably when Martinmas come, time to come home I’d hardly owt to come home to.”

“They paid you at the end of six months did they?” “Yes at the end of your six months.”

“One Christmas I was at Longridge and Christmas Day come, and I was a bit homesick you know. And we had our Christmas dinner. I washed up and all that and she said, “Has thou finished now?” I said, “Yes madam” So she said “Well get all that paper there you’ll see a lot of paper there and there’s a big needle and a ball of string. If you go down to the paddock (that was the toilet) sit there and take the scissors and cut some paper up and thread it for the lavatory.” And I sat there on Christmas Day and I think I cried nearly a bucketful of tears. Christmas afternoon and I was sat… sitting cutting bits of paper and getting this big needle threading them and tying knots in them hoops till about half past four, when I went in for m’tea. Sitting there on the lavatory seat.”   

The contrast between Rose’s experiences of Christmas and those of a modern child could hardly be greater. Judged by modern standards Rose had a hard and difficult childhood with too much responsibility, too little education and overshadowed by death, However, it was not an unusual childhood for Barrovians in the early twentieth century. Yet there was a positive aspect to Rose’s experiences which should not be ignored … She had a feeling of self-worth, of having fulfilled an important part in her family’s life, of being, as indeed she was, of value.  Rose represents the many resilient Barrow children in the early twentieth century. Like them, she grew up to be a brave and resourceful Barrovian.

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