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-
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-
One of the most important themes in local history is that of decision-
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-
The Second Earl of Burlington and Seventh Duke of Devonshire (1808-
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 –
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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 –
Exceptionally rich supplies of high quality non-
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 –
Meanwhile, Barrow was beginning to grow at such a pace, post-
Devonshire, closely associated with the administration of Barrow industries, seems to have left Ramsden to his own 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-
The period of the greatest building activity in Eastbourne (1870-
By 1874, Barrow’s industries had begun to take shape, although they were still in a half-
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 –
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-
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-
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-
Second Series, vol. VIII, 1955, pp. 213-
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-
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.
DR JOHN SETTLE
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 –
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 .. ..in 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 –
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-
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-
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 –
Settle confirms the wily, background influence of J.T. Smith and also the fact that
Schneider, Ramsden and Smith were not personal friends –
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 –
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-
John Settle’s wife Harriet died in 1907. Shortly after he moved from their long-
A BARROW BOYHOOD
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-
So, that said, what follows are some recollections and reflections of a Barrow boyhood –
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-
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-
The final of the inter-
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-
Oddly enough the fading black-
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-
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-
Numbers such as the car registrations of vehicles we owned. The black Mayflower was NLX 308, Then there was the second-
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-
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-
It was a short-
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 –
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 –
Sometimes my perspective on childhood memories can be altered by modern-
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.
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-
If we were lucky we’d get an old leather horsehair stuffed settee with casters, thrown out in the post-
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-
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-
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 –
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-
“No love not in that sense,” I replied smiling, “But in another way, yes I am, and I’m glad”.
An Ancient Lakelander, The Herdwick
Arthur Evans, retired schoolteacher, and Jim Melville’s son-
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-
The first record of the name that I can find dates from the early 16th century –
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 –
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-
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 –
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 –
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
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
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” –
Did you swim from splintered drakar
Hard aground on Cumbrian sand?
Or came you from Armada’s galleon
Perhaps you walked with cowled Cistercians?*
Bleating over new-
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?
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 –
*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-
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-
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 –
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-
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-
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-
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”.
WITNESSES FROM THE PAST
Dr Elizabeth Roberts is a former Director of the Centre for North-
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-
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-
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 –
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-
There was a widespread attitude among working –
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-