Saturday, 16 January 2021


On 27th March 1948, 27-year-old Mr. Basil Beavan Peachey left his home at 10 The Grange, Shirley, Croydon, where he lived with his parents, and travelled to Ainstable, in Cumberland for an adventurous walking holiday; he was their only child. He stayed with a friend Mr. Ian Joseph Peacock at his home of The Dale, Ainstable, arriving on Sunday 28th March. Although in the previous 12 months he had done little walking, he was used to such adventures. He stayed there for 2 days and when he asked about good walks, Mr. Peacock, suggested a walk to Alston via Cross Fell, although he advised him to take a map and compass if he was to do it alone. He set off on the Tuesday morning with enough food for 2 days. The understanding was that he would be back either on the Wednesday evening, or Thursday morning at the latest. He spent Tuesday night at Alston Youth Hostel where the warden was a Mr. Alfred Herbert Last, arriving at 6:15pm and told Mr. Last that he had come over the fell; Mrs Last was of the belief that he said he had come over Cross Fell. 

Basil stayed the night at the hostel then set off around 9:30am but did not say where he was heading to. A man fitting his description was seen by two other climbers at 1pm near Cashwell mines. The map reference for this mine is NY714360 and is 680m above sea level; Cross Fell summit is 893m. This individual was heading for Cross Fell, so had covered over two thirds of the distance to the summit; the climbers stated the weather on the mountain was very severe. Even in the valleys there was a mixture of snow, hail and sleet, with very high winds, and the rivers rising rapidly. The day was described as one of the worst that spring.

When he did not return to Ainstable by Thursday evening, Mr. Peacock alerted the police and a search was organised utilising the newly formed Keswick and Borrowdale Mountain Rescue team, this unit of expert volunteers having only been commenced two years previously by Colonel Horace Westmorland. He himself was of mountain family stock, the high fells and crags of Lakeland had coursed through his blood, a heritage of his famed father Thomas Westmorland and uncle Edward. His aunt Mary Westmorland was only the second woman to climb Pillar Rock in 1873, in company with her two brothers. Horace himself had trained troops in the Canadian mountains during the war and had since returned to his native Cumberland. Following a call for their assistance, Inspector Bell of Keswick put out a letter stamp dated 2nd April, requesting the team, on the agreement of Col. Westmorland, to assemble at 9am on 3rd and travel by bus to Penrith for the purpose of the search.

The family were informed and Mr. Leslie Beavan Peachey, (a former WWI pilot) and his wife Edith Florence, travelled to Penrith and began a vigil in a local hotel, although due to the severe weather, they were initially asked not to try and assist in the search.

The operation was also supplemented by an R.A.F. Mountain Rescue unit who were based at Topcliffe in Yorkshire, and lead by Flight Lieutenant J. L. Smith. They were able to utilise their walkie-talkies in the hunt and searched around Cross Fell and the Kirkland Valley, which is on the southern side of the mountain but despite three days they were unable to locate any trace of the missing man. Basil himself was a civilian employee of the R.A.F. who had served throughout the war with the service. An ambulance was kept on standby at Kirkland and the local farmers, shepherds, cyclists, and around 40 residents of the area had joined the protracted search over ten square miles, all without success.

They gave up the search at 6:30pm on Monday 5th; their leader reported that the snow was many feet deep in drifts and greatly hindered their efforts to locate the missing hiker. It was obvious that he had likely perished in the adverse conditions, but the snow was beginning to melt and they intended on returning at the next weekend, in the expectation that the snow would have all but gone, making any body location much easier. Two farmers still continued the search along with other local people and Pc Foggin of Kirkland. As the weather improved a little, the parents also ventured onto the mountain, eager to join the search and came to understand the arduous and futile nature of the search; they were also aware that Basil had been inadequately dressed for the conditions he was about to encounter on the fell. He had only been wearing flannels, a sports jacket, and an open necked shirt, and carrying a light picnic lunch and a haversack. They by now knew that there was virtually no hope of their only child being found alive but still held out some, no matter how futile it appeared. Mr. Peachey senior had asked the R.A.F. team to resume the search in the near future, and hoped that bond of kinship for a fellow R.A.F. brother would spur them on. They returned back to Croydon in the knowledge their son was unlikely to be found until the snow melted. The Peachey's seemed cursed with bad luck; Mr. Peachey senior had been involved in several collisions in his lifetime, both road, rail, and in the air. Basil had returned from West Africa during the war, to marry his fiancée, but she had died suddenly just prior to the wedding. Edith was distraught by the culmination of all these events, leading to this final one, the likely loss of her only child.

The Parents had never been to the north of the country before but had never before been met with such kindness and sympathy as they experienced at Penrith, for which they expressed the utmost gratitude to the townsfolk, through the Penrith Observer. They were particularly praising of Superintendent Marsh for his thorough organisation of the search and also went on to praise the R.A.F. team and the Beacon Wheelers cycling club, and everyone who assisted, for their efforts in trying to locate their son.

Rotherhope ('Rudderup') when it was a working mine.

On Wednesday 14th April, four North-East youths who were on holiday in the Alston area, were walking towards Rotherhope mine, along the Black Burn stream. About 250 yards from the mine they saw someone lying on the bank and believed the person to be asleep. When the man did not move, they approached him and realised he was dead. Two of the boys went to a nearby house, which was only 300 yards away, for help and after recovery of the body it was realised to be that of Basil Beavan Peachey. The inquest was held at Alston Police station by the deputy coroner for East Cumberland, Mr. F. W. Soal, without a jury present, on the afternoon of Friday 16th; Mr. Peachey snr. had returned and was in attendance. The above account was given by several witnesses with the addition of the evidence of Dr. J. R. Hassan, of Alston, who confirmed that there was no injury on the body. The deceased was muscular in build and well nourished, although there was no food in the stomach. His expert opinion was that the male had died of exhaustion and he confirmed the arduous conditions on the day he had gone missing, even those in the low valleys. He also stated that it was his belief that he had died that first night, his lack of clothing and conditions would have exhausted him, causing him to lie down and fall asleep; death would then have overtaken him. Mr. Peachey snr. said that his son was not foolish; only the day before his son had walked to Alston he had received a letter from him stating that he had already been on the heights the day he wrote the letter and the mist was so dense he could see little more than a yard in front of himself, yet had navigated himself back down to the valley by use of his compass. Mr. Peachey snr. knew he was very accomplished in the use of such apparatus. 

The mine is marked just left of centre, towards the bottom of the shot, on Black Burn. 

After the inquest was concluded he told the local news reporters that he believed his son would have fought for many, many hours before he gave in to the cold in a state of utter exhaustion. He wished people to know that Basil had not been the sort of chap that would face any hazard foolishly.

The funeral took place on the afternoon of Saturday 24th April, at Penrith cemetery, conducted by Rev. Norman Robinson, of St. Andrews church. Present were his mother and father, his friend Mr. Peacock and his wife, and Inspector Thompson and Sergeant Milne both of whom represented the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary.

This was perhaps the first official search for the Keswick/Borrowdale team (although I would be happy to be corrected on this point). Colonel Westmorland had led a party of men in a rescue on 25th April 1946, where they assisted in the search for an injured climber, Captain Wilfred Noyce, who had fallen 150ft when blown off Shark's Fin ridge, into Hellfire Gap, on Great Gable. Col. Westmorland had commenced the start of a team then, recognising a need for a skilled group of volunteers to aid the inexperienced police, but due to movement of some outside of the area he had further appealed for volunteers to be part of the rescue team in November 1947, just four months before this tragic incident.


Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The unsuccessful search for Robert James Shannon along Styhead Pass in October 1953.


Although there is a vast increase in mountain rescues from the early pioneering days of rescue teams, modern equipment and electronic devices assist greatly in the speedy recovery of those in danger of either injury, or exposure to the harsh mountain conditions. The location of those in distress are now invariably quickly located, and help provided by the MRT volunteers who give their time up selflessly, to assist their fellow man. The times where a person is believed to be in danger when realised by others only through their loss of any contact, are thankfully now more rare, relatively speaking. Because contact is, and can more easily be made (although not an exact science), rescues are shorter although sadly far more frequent. It is perhaps worth considering what incidents used to be like in those earlier days of rescue parties. Here is an account of a 1953 incident that commenced with the Keswick and Borrowdale Mountain Rescue Team, which had been formed in 1946 to expertly assist in helping those who came to distress on the mountains of the lake district.

On Saturday 10th October 1953, 53-year-old Mr. Robert James Shannon, an insurance clerk, of Liverpool, arrived with his 23-year-old son Guy Borthwick Shannon who was a Merchant Navy Engineer, at The Glaramara Guest House, near Seatoller, Borrowdale, for the purpose of a walking holiday. On Tuesday 13th Guy left the guest house with a party of other residents for a long walk over the mountains. Robert was a stranger to the area but later that same day he set out on his own to head through Seathwaite, and over Styhead Pass, heading for Wasdale, intending on returning later that same day. He was wearing a beret, light blue corduroy trousers, a brown jacket, raincoat, and boots.  He had spoken to the landlady, Miss E. M. Reed, and said that he had not been well recently following a breakdown in his health, thus necessitating a holiday. He still set off on his journey, describing the walk as a short one of around three hours. 

The Seathwaite route to Stockley Bridge and beyond to Styhead.

Looking back towards Seathwaite from Stockley Bridge.

Ascending to Styhead, Seathwaite in view.

Styhead Tarn, looing to Lingmell, Wasdale beyond.

Styhead Tarn, looking back to Seathwaite, with Base Brown to the left.

Guy and his party later returned and it was not until they were to sit down for their evening meal that concern began to be expressed for his father's whereabouts and safety. A search party of guests was quickly organised by Guy and they set off in search for his missing father. The night was described as one of the worst that year, with light snow falling on the high fells, with a strong wind, and a low mist had suddenly descended, covering the pass of Styhead. They travelled as far as the Wasdale Head Hotel where it was established he had reached there, had a meal and had then intended on journeying back to Borrowdale. The search party were otherwise unsuccessful in discovering Robert's whereabouts, or path taken, and returned back to their guest house at 4am. The search continued the next day in better conditions, assisted by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, under the leadership of Colonel Horace Westmorland, himself an expert on mountain survival and the son of Thomas Westmorland, one of the famed Westmorland brother's and builders of Westmorland cairn on Great Gable. The Cockermouth team also set out to search the Buttermere area, with members, staff and visitors, of the outward bound centre in Eskdale, lead by Eric Shipton, the Everest climber and centre warden, also searching the Ennerdale area. The police set up a walkie-talkie station at Seathwaite and Pc Thompson of Braithwaite acted as liaison officer between the various search teams. All efforts proved to be fruitless, but the search continued despite the growing concern. Due to the weather, little hope could be held out for finding Robert alive. The Keswick Team had spent 16 hours on the Wednesday search, Cockermouth and the outdoor centre staff had been out for eight hours. The task resumed on Thursday; the Keswick team now replaced by the R.A.F. rescue team of West Freugh, near Stranraer. These were also supplemented by another 17 men from the R.A.F. team from Topcliffe, Yorkshire, again with no success. The bloodhounds of Dr. F. T. Madge, who covered the districts of Westmorland, were utilised to try and discover his whereabouts, again without success. The Outward Bound Centre staff spent 4 nights camping in the Styhead area, engaged in the search. Guy had been ceaseless in his efforts to locate his father but when all checks had been done, with discussions even on the tarns of Styhead and Sprinkling being dragged, the search had to be called off following a sixth unsuccessful search on Monday 19th by around 80 searchers; only time would now likely reveal Robert's fate.

On Sunday 6th February 1955, Mr. Claude Holmes, of Helvellyn Street, Keswick, of the Royal Navy and stationed at Anthorn, was scrambling in a deep gorge/ravine above Taylor Ghyll Force, on Base Brown mountain, near Seathwaite, which was not frequented by walkers. He had returned home for a day and went out walking around Taylorgill Force. He turned left up the gorge and  came across a boot with a sock inside it; going further up he found an emaciated body. He quickly reported it and although not certain, it was supposed to be that of Mr. Shannon. Colonel Westmorland, of Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, recovered the human remains, assisted by Dr. J. C. Lyth the team medical officer, Inspector Walton, Pc Thompson, and three other members of Keswick Rescue, Mr. L. Sandham, Mr. S. Edmondson, and Mr. T. Holt. They took the body to the Keswick mortuary. Mrs. Shannon was informed of the sad discovery. On the night of Monday 7th February, an inquest was held at Keswick where Guy Shannon was in attendance and told the Coroner, Mr. Atkinson, that he had no doubt the remains were those of his father. The court established that he had died following a fall from a 50ft crag which had resulted in a fracture of his skull, and the verdict was one of 'Accidental Death'. On the basis of the facts known on times, that it had been approaching darkness when he reached Styhead on his return. He had clearly become lost and had failed to cross Styhead Gill, for Stockley Bridge, and the safe route off the pass. Somehow, he had gained height and fallen, leading to his death in the steep gorge.

It would not be capable of establishing whether a modern incident could have resulted in an emergency call being made by the injured party, before slipping into unconsciousness but there would be various modern influences that could greatly assist in a faster conclusion. There is a possibility that the incident could have been viewed by others, as far more tourists access the routes than in the 1950's, but the time of day and light conditions may have even prevented this. Many people now use social media and immediately self locate by the uploading of photographs of their location, giving modern rescuers a route to extrapolate upon for search purposes. Even where death has likely occurred and no contact made, the use of  trained MRT search dogs, helicopters, and drones, could assist in concluding an incident far quicker. Although the latter may not assist in saving life, these techniques bring conclusion to a family, allowing them to at least grieve. The Shannon family had to wait 16 months for that conclusion, likely one of the longest 'rescue' incidents for all the Lake District teams.

Friday, 1 January 2021

The Kitterland and Brig Lily Disaster and deaths of Constables John Craige and John Wright on 28th December 1852

On Wednesday 22nd December 1852 the 169-ton brig Lily, owned by Messrs Hatton and Cookson of Mersey Street, Liverpool, set sail from that port, bound for Ambriz, Lower Guinea, on the west coast of Africa. Its cargo was 61 tons of dynamite in total, 20 puncheons of rum, some small arms, machetes,  and various goods for bartering with. It was caught in storms, beaten about the channel, when at around 11am on Monday 27th it was driven onto the uninhabited Island of Kitterland, in the sound between of The Calf, and the Isle of Man. The captain was John Owens, and the crew numbered a further 12 men. Despite the waves beating upon the vessel, the crew managed to take to a boat and attempted to get to safety, gaining footage on the rocks. The captain and three of the crew, one an orphan boy, in trying to gain higher and safer ground, were swept away and drowned, the carpenter was killed by the foremast falling on him. Only eight gained the safety of the higher ground of the uninhabited island. The local people of Port St. Mary became aware of the stricken vessel and launched their best boat to save the survivors, and managed to get them back to their village. William Fanning was the second mate of The Lily and had a compound fracture of the leg which was expected to take months to heal.

The vessel was insured by Lloyds and the sub-agent on the island was Mr. Enos Lace, the Port St. Mary grocer and shipbroker; he had also supervised the earlier crew rescue. He got a message despatched to Mr. Boardman, the agent in Douglas and a salvage of cargo was agreed; the vessel was lost, but the cargo could in large be salvaged. At about 4am on Tuesday morning, he and 29 other men set off to recover the cargo; a large portion of the gunpowder was stowed high up and was expected to be still dry; the tide was out which meant that the stricken vessel was high up on the rocks, this would aid the salvage operation. Two of the men were the Chief Constable (the equivalent to a modern sergeant) of Castletown, 32-year-old John Craige, and 26-year-old Constable John Wright; both would be there to ensure the full recovery of the cargo along with Mr. Lace. Suddenly, at 8am, a terrific explosion occurred which was mistaken by many local people to be an earthquake. The miners at the level mines of Ballacorkish, which were three miles away were 35 fathoms underground and were thrown onto their backs and the lights extinguished. Bales in flames were seen hundreds of feet above, flying through the air like meteors; a spar was driven several feet into the ground in a field at The Howe, and debris was strewn all over the parish of Rushen. Even in Douglas, which was 16 miles away, houses were severely shaken by the blast. A second boat had just been launched to assist the salvagers and eight to ten men had been standing a few hundred yards away on the mainland when the explosion happened, which blew the hats off their heads. One was a ‘Tide Waiter’ or customs officer, called J. Watterson, who described the devastating scene. When the view cleared, where a vessel and men formerly stood on Kitterland, nothing at all now remained. The cry went out from the mainland, “Every soul is gone into Eternity.” The second boat managed to then get to Kitterland and only four bodies were found. Although badly mutilated, three of them were identified as, William Cowin, William Watterson, and John Hudgeon.

In the immediate aftermath it was supposed that everyone involved in the salvage was killed but one man called James Kelly had survived, although he was very severely injured with part if his cheek and his his ear blown away. It had been supposed that one of the men had caused the explosion by smoking a pipe, but he was able to give an account that discounted that theory. He said that when Mr. Lace and the others went on board before daylight there was a strong dirty smell, but no smoke could be seen. When day dawned around 7am, smoke could be seen coming from the hold. The men had cleared the cabin of goods and stored them on the island but now became fearful of the smoke and wished to quit the vessel. Unfortunately, a decision was made to extinguish the fire, by cutting a hole in the deck and to pour water inside. He was returning to the vessel having stored some salvage on the island when a terrific explosion occurred which flung him back 30 feet. When he regained consciousness, his face was covered in his own blood, which was gushing from his wounded cheek; he had been found sitting dazed by the second crew, with other body parts lying around him. He was adamant that no smoking implements had been taken onto the ship by the men of Port St. Mary and was certain that the explosion had been caused by a fire not of their making.

The community of Port St. Mary was devasted and there was hardly a residence that had not been touched by the tragedy. The funerals took place at Kirk Christ, Rushen, with the whole community in attendance in solemn mourning. What bodies that could be found were placed in coffins, but most of these human remains were unidentifiable, and were collected and buried together as a mass within the grave. Twenty-five of the dead were from Port St. Mary, two from Castletown, and two from The Howe; the disaster in a split second turned 22 wives into widows and made 77 children fatherless.

The deceased were:

From Port St. Mary

John Fell, 27, (mariner), married, two children,

William Cowley, 42, (mariner), married, four children,

William Kermode, 55, (labourer), married, five children,

Edward Gale, (publican), 42, married, no children,

Henry Gale, 37, (mariner), married, seven children,

John Gale, 45, (labourer), married, five children,

Thomas Witted, 26, (mariner), married, no children,

John Cubbon, 57, (joiner), married, no children,

William Lawson, 52, (master mariner), married, one child,

Thomas Callister, 43, (mariner), married, six children,

William Taubman, 42, (blockmaker), married, three children,

John Callister, 29, (mariner), married, four children,

Samuel Callister, 29, (carpenter), married, one child,

John Callister, 22, (mariner), married, three children,

Thomas Turnbull, 32, married, seven children,

George Costain, 32, (roper), married, five children,

William Watterson, 31, (mariner), married, five children,

Thomas Nelson, 46, (carpenter), married, one child,

Charles, Clugton, 43, (labourer), widower, two children,

Enos Lace, 51, (shopkeeper/roper), widower, six children.

Robert Callister, 33, (baker/mariner), unmarried,

Edward Qualtrough, 22, (assistant tide-waiter), unmarried,

William Watterson, 29, (mariner), unmarried,

William Cone, 22, (mariner), unmarried,

John Hudgeon, 21, (mariner), unmarried.

From Howe

Edward Watterson, 25, (fisherman), married, no children,

John Watterson, 31, (carpenter) married, six children,

From Castletown

John Craige, 32, (chief constable), married, three children,

Constable John Wright, 26, (constable), married one child (and widow expected to be in confined every day).

The only survivor, James Kelly, was from Port St. Mary; he was married, with three children.

Unfortunately, there were no poor rates on The Isle of Man, so there was no legal provision for the now destitute families. A subscription was commenced for the unfortunate widows and their children, both in Liverpool and the Isle of Man where Mr. Gawne of Kentraugh immediately headed the list with a donation of £100. After the first publication of the initial donations, by The Liverpool Mercury on 18th January 1853, the fund had reached £769 11s 1d. They also reported further contributions made, which included £26 5s from Messrs. Curtis and Harvey Hounslow Gunpowder factory, a general contribution of £30 from Messrs Milners’ Phoenix Safe Works, and many smaller contributions. The unfortunate rumours stating that some of the salvagers had been smoking, thus being the authors of their own deaths, began to spread. The Liverpool Mercury had to discredit these false accounts stating that the recovery was supervised by the Lloyds sub-agent and the chief constable of Castletown. They went on to say how these rumours were unhelpful to the relief fund and encouraged people to donate further. A talk was given in Liverpool by the Reverend Hugh Stowell Brown on 14th February on the subject, ‘The State of Religious Freedom on the Continent’; the proceeds were to be given to the Lilly disaster fund. After 5 weeks the fund was announced as sufficient and had reached £4,000, buoyed by the support of The Queen and Prince Consort, who made a £50 donation.

In April 1875 Mr. Thomas Quillam, of The Marble Works, Castletown, erected a large monument to commemorate the disaster. This had been done on the insistence of the committee of the ‘Kitterland Explosion Fund’.

The Monument.**

On 12th February 1889 the Oddfellows ‘Harbour of Peace Lodge’ of Port St. Mary held a meeting. It boasted 500 members and had commenced in 1839. It was highlighted what the purpose of the lodge was, and the work they did in support of its community. It had meandered along until the brig Lily disaster of 1852 when their widow and orphan fund, something the speaker believed other lodges did not have, had been prompt in their duty to the bereaved families at that great time of distress.

In late March 1891, James Kelly died at his home at Willow Terrace, Port St. Mary; he was 68 years old. He had been regarded as one of the hardest working and bravest of fishermen in the area and made a living from catching crabs and lobsters; also, from attending to the Chicken’s Rock Relief Boat, with his son. He was interred at Rushen churchyard.


My interest in this began with the death of the two constables, for the purposes of The National Police Roll of Honour but due to it being a large part of history of The Solway Firth entrance/Irish sea area, I decided to compile a fuller account on the whole event.

Specifically, on the officers themselves:

In June of 1841 20-year-old John Craige resided at Malew Street, Castletown, with his 25-year-old wife Catherine, nee Hampton. They married on 17th February 1841 at Braddan parish, Isle of Man. It is unclear when he commenced in the police but it 1851, he is recorded as the Chief Constable of Castletown, living on Castle Street with Catherine. They had two boys living with them in 1851, John Hampton Craige (4), and Samuel Hampton Craige (1), both boys born in Scotland, although the reason for this is unclear. John Hampton Craige unfortunately died and was buried at Malew on 4th October 1852. Margaret Catherine Craige, was baptized on 21st April 1852 and was an infant when her father died. All three children were baptized on this same date of 21st April 1852, at Saint Mary’s, Castletown. In 1861 the daughter, Margaret Catherine, was then living with her maternal grandmother and step-grandfather on The Key, Castletown; James Mylchreest, the step-grandfather, was now retired from his former position of harbour master of Castletown. John and Catherine had two earlier children; William John Craig was baptized on 2nd November 1841, baptised at Castletown), so missed the June census earlier that year, and in 1851 he was recorded with his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather  the harbour master James Mylchreest. Mary had previously been widowed under the married name of Hampton; Catherine (constable Craige’s wife) was the child of that previous marriage. When Mr. Hampton died Mary married James Mylchreest on 21st September 1824. Thomas James Craige was baptised on 15th August 1844 but no records show him surviving, so likely died prior to the 1851 census, most likely at or soon after his birth. Catherine died in 1857 and the four children were left orphaned. William John Craig went on to become the Auctioneer and shore-broker, possibly this was an insurance broker for Lloyds. William died and was buried on 27th August 1903 at Braddan.

John Wright was born in Ireland and little is known of him until 1851 when he was a 24-year-old police constable in Castletown. At that time, he was married to 28-year-old Margaret (maiden name believed to be Sennett), who was local to the area. On 13st August of that year Sarah Elizabeth was baptized at St. Mary’s, Castletown. Their son John was baptised on 13th February 1853, and Margaret was known to be near confinement when her husband died in the Kitterland explosion. Margaret appears in the 1861 and 1871 censuses and does not remarry; John junior was still living with his mother and was a mariner; he cannot be followed in later censuses. A John Wright died in 1877 and is believed to be constable Wright’s son, John. This man was aged 24 years old and was buried at Castletown.

**The Monument image is reproduced with kind permission of 1414Jan, and is taken with permission from the 'Find a Grave' website, ID number 48003845.

Monday, 21 December 2020

The St. Bees Head Lighthouse Tragedy of 1822


St. Bees Head Lighthouse, by W.H. Bartlett, drawn in 1842

There has been a lighthouse at St. Bees Head since 1718 and it was the last one to be lit by coal fire, which was highly inefficient, requiring a lot of maintenance and supervision. It was high on the cliffs of St. Bees Head with only Tarnflat farm as the only building that was in view from the premise, at a distance of roughly half a mile. In 1822 the keeper of the remote lighthouse was William Clark; he was married to Mary, who was by then 32 years old and they had five children, with Mary also pregnant with a sixth. The oldest was Christine (or Christina) who was 12 years old, then Isaac (9), John (7), Jane (5), and James (3). The Clark family had a routine of visiting Tarnflat each morning and evening to obtain their milk from the farmer.   On Thursday 17th January William had gone into Whitehaven, which was about three miles away, for the purpose of visiting the market, and was accompanied by his 12 year old daughter. (Copied burial records suggest the oldest was a son called Christian, but news reports state William went to Whitehaven with his 12 year old daughter, not a son, so I have assumed the burial record was not very legible and was incorrectly copied as 'Christian'. Due to current  COVID restrictions I am unable to fully verify). On his return that evening he was perfectly sober and made his way back to his home. 

The first hint of something unusual came about when no member of the family had gone to Tarnflat farm for the Friday morning milk supply but no great concern was initially attached to this anomaly. Later that evening however the farmer realised that the beacon of the lighthouse was not lit. That was a serious concern to him, as he knew this was something William would never neglect to do. Due to this, the farmer and others went to the lighthouse and found the place locked, with a strong smell of smoke emanating from the premise. Despite their constant banging on the door they could raise no-one. Fearing the worst, they forced their way in and found Mary with four of her five children all unmoving, and in the same curtain sided bed; strangely none of these bed curtains had caught alight. There had clearly been a fire within the premise and the occupants of the bed were all dead. Only the youngest suffered burn marks to its leg, from the ankle to the knee; the fifth child was in a room above and had also died from smoke inhalation. William himself was lying on the floor and was alive, yet insensible. He was also burned on his right arm and down the right side of his torso; it was supposed that the draft of air from under the door had been sufficient to maintain his life, but it was despaired that he would succumb to his injuries. 

An inquest was held at Tarnflat the next day, Saturday 19th, by the coroner Peter Hodgson Esq., in the presence of a jury. The above circumstances were inquired into and the court had been unable to establish a time of the incident. It was supposed that the fire had commenced following a spark from the beacon coal fire having caught in the clothing of the father and somehow had begun smouldering when all the family were asleep. Had anyone been awake it was supposed would have aroused all the others. A verdict of 'Death by Suffocation' was returned by the jury. 

Mary Clark and all her children were interred at St. Bees churchyard on Sunday 20th, a great crowd of local people attended to pay their respects, moved by the tragic circumstances of the whole loss of a family, with the exception of the father. 

The newspapers reported that William, against all medical expectations, began to recover. He recalled only that some of the children appeared to be sick, likely from the smoke of the fire, but could offer nothing as to the cause of the fire itself. No doubt this account was formed following his rousing, before he himself succumbed to the smoke and he fell into unconsciousness. Although the community were relieved at William's continued recovery they feared for what kind of life he would live from then on. He was known to be a loving, caring husband and father, but was now bereft of the whole of his family. 

The tragedy finally brought about change of the beacon for the improved safety of the seafarers plying there inherently dangerous trade  along the Cumbrian coast. The corporation of Trinity House, London, caused the erection of a new lighthouse for the purpose of exhibiting the new Argand lamp and reflectors. It was reported in mid December that the first showing of the new light was expected to be on Wednesday 1st January 1823. This device had been patented in 1784 by the Swiss inventor, Aime Argand, and was an oil burner which utilised a wick between two metal tubes, the light of which was reflected to sea. The use of this system meant that navigators of the Solway Firth entrance could see both the St. Bees light and the one on Douglas Pier when passing between them, creating a far safer journey for both the vessel crews and their vital cargoes and passengers.



Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The Deaths of John Litt in 1880 and William Litt in 1895, of Keswick.


John Litt was born in Keswick around 1832, the son of Thomas and Mary, nee Porter. His parents were both born around 1806 and were married on 28th June 1829, in the parish of Crosthwaite; Thomas is known to have been a tailor. John appears to be the first child, born in 1831. He was followed by Thomas jnr. (1834), Joseph (1836), William (1838), and Henry who was born and died in 1841, prior to the 6th June first national census of that year. William died in the second quarter of 1842 and a Ann was born in the third quarter of that year. Jane was born in the last quarter of 1845, then a second William was born in the last quarter of 1848.

Little is known of John in his early life but in1851 he was known to be a boot cleaner at the Royal Hotel, Keswick, and unmarried. Ten years later he had improved his position to that of Groom and on 16th October 1862 he married a Sarah Davidson, of Underskiddaw, in Crosthwaite Church and was then a bus-driver at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Grasmere.

On Saturday 20th July 1867 John was before Keswick Magistrates following being reported by PC Roche* for furious driving the Royal Oak Omnibus around the corner of the hotel itself, so he must have moved employers but in the same role of driver. When the officer remonstrated with him for nearly knocking over an old woman if the horses had not been stopped, he used foul language towards the constable. The magistrates fined him £1 with 9s 6d costs, or 14 days imprisonment in default. 

John and Sarah were to have three children, John (1863), Mary Hannah (1866) who sadly died 18th October 1868, and William (1868). 

John was a keen follower of the hunt and on the morning of Tuesday 9th March 1980, with a friend called John Vickers he attended the Blencathra hunt when it went into the area of The Bog, near mere's Gill, between Raven Crag and Threefooted Brandeth, near High Seat, Keswick. This is the fell group between the Thirlmere Valley and Borrowdale. He has appeared fatigued but did not complain, and the hunt moved on to the Borrowdale area. After the completion of the hunt his family became increasingly concerned that John had not returned that evening or night, so on Wednesday morning they  alerted the hunt followers. Mr. David Powley immediately went to Mr. Oliver, who was the shepherd of Castlerigg and believed to be the last person who had seen John. The only hope they had was raised by the knowledge that Mr. Vickers had also not returned and could the two still be together somewhere on a task or jaunt? While others searched different parts of the fells the two men, with a dog, immediately went to the area where Mr. Oliver had last seen John, which was in the Mere's Gill area. Unfortunately his body was found by the two men only about 15 yards from where Mr. Oliver left him; he was lying on his back, with his head pointing down the valley; his body was quite cold and stiff. The other searchers were contacted and attended the area. At a little after 12noon the searchers constructed a bier out of their mountain sticks and carried John's body to the nearest place a horse and cart could be accessed. It was taken home to his grief stricken family at 3pm. 

Doctor O'Reilly had treated John and had no hesitation declaring that he had suffered from disease of the heart. The coroner was informed but deemed it unnecessary to hold an inquest. John was laid to rest in Crosthwaite Church graveyard. 

At some stage it was decided to commemorate John by the erection of two stones at the place where he died at mere's Gill.

I decided to visit the memorial and add to the Litt history as much as I could, to give as comprehensive account as was possible and place an easy to locate map reference for others. 

Standing next to the John Litt Memorial.
Inscription: 'IN MEMORY OF J. LITT WHO DIED MARCH. 9. 1880.'

The two stones together, looking to Raven Crag. 

The second stone with an uncipherable inscription.

The John Litt Memorial Map Ref: NY296186

The stile over the fence to the east of High Seat. The green forested areas ahead are Raven Crag (right) and Sipling Crag (left). The light green area between the two has two small bumps, the right one has the memorial plaque.

Sarah went on to earn a living as a laundress. Sadly tragedy was again to follow as their son John died on 4th May 1884, aged only 20 years. William, the only surviving child of John and Sarah, died on 5th May 1915; Sarah was to live until the age of 77 years, dying on 15th March 1917.  All the family are commemorated on the same headstone in Crosthwaite Churchyard. 

Although the the death of John Litt was the more well known incident, with the erecting of the memorial and modern walkers visiting it due to its reference in walking books, it was not the most tragic occurrence within the Litt family. 

John's brother William went on to become a joiner in the town at Gatey Court. He was married to Mary and they had at least six children. On Tuesday 30th July 1895 the newly elected MP for the Mid-Cumberland area, Mr. James William Lowther, arrived with his wife and children at Keswick Railway station, to reside over the summer. A reception had been organised by local dignitaries and the whole town turned out to greet him; it had been done against James Lowther's wishes. A carriage was brought to the station and the horses were unhitched, with local men then pulling the conveyance along to the Royal Hotel, halting temporarily on the south side of the upper market square. It then proceeded down the street past the town hall and was passing opposite Greenhow's Dining rooms, which was on the north side of the Market Place. Large crowds had also gathered there to offer their congratulations, and the intention was for the carriage to be pulled to Derwent Hill, where the Lowther's were to take residence for the summer. William was at the dining rooms talking to a local builder called William Cowperthwaite; he then crossed the road to assist in pulling the carriage, which was travelling at a moderate speed of around four miles per hour. In making a grab for the rope he missed it, overbalanced, and fell, causing three other men to fall over him, two of whom were a waller called Joseph Pearson, and a carter by the name of Robert Wren. The two carriage wheels passed over William's head, crushing it and almost immediately killing him, such was the horrific nature of the injuries caused. Mr. Pearson was also injured, but was able to make his own way home. Gatey Court was nearby and William was taken to his residence and grief stricken family. Two doctors had been nearby and at the house one thought he detected a pulse, so reanimation was attempted, but with no success. Mr. and Mrs. Lowther had been shocked and visited the widow on the Wednesday morning to express their deep sympathies, leaving a substantial sum of money to defray any immediate expenses. 

The inquest was held in the courthouse on the afternoon of Wednesday 31st and following the formal identification of the deceased by his brother Thomas, the evidence of the accident was given by various witnesses. These included Michael McNicholl the coach driver, Mr. Pearson, Mr. Cowperthwiate, and other witnesses who saw the accident occur. Police Inspector Logan of Keswick had also been at the victory procession. All stated that the carriage was not travelling fast and managed to stop within three yards of the accident occurring. Although the verdict was one of 'Accidental Death', the coroner was critical of the usual practice of the unhitching of horses and the drawing of it by human power alone. The inquest jury and the witnesses agreed to hand their fees and expenses to William's widow.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

The Thirlmere Attempted Murder case of 1888.


Thirlmere, with the draw-off building below Helvellyn.

With the construction of the Thirlmere reservoir commencing in 1886, by the Manchester Waterworks, a huge team of workers, Navvies, 'navigators', were required on a semi-permanent employment basis. Of course, such a team, spread down the length of the pipeline, from below the Wythburn fells to Manchester, would require housing and communities of huts to be built to house the men, many with families. One such site was near the reservoir itself, at Dunmail Raise, the boundary between Cumberland to the north, and Westmorland to the south. In May 1888, one of the huts was occupied by an engine driver, 37 year old William Gill, who originated from the Sheffield and Doncaster area; he was married to a local woman by the name of Agnes Harrison on 5th June 1871. She came from Soulby, near Kirkby Stephen and they were married there. There first child, William, was born at Ulverston in the first quarter of 1877, with Agnes their first daughter, being born at Barrow-in-Furness in 1879. These were followed by Florence, Samuel, and Rose, the latter was born in 1887, now in the Grasmere area, so William was clearly working on the reservoir construction then, albeit the initial stages. Part of the hut system was that the occupants could take in a number of lodgers, which he Gill's did. 

The view of Thirlmere from Blencathra

Looking towards the northern section of the reservoir, from the ascent Browncove Crags ascent of Helvellyn.

In the afternoon of Sunday 13th May 1888, William and some of the other reservoir workers went into Grasmere, returning worse the wear with alcohol; which they also brought back to the huts. Two of the lodgers were a Thomas Peak and Thomas Forrest. They all had dinner and later Agnes herself went to bed upstairs; Thomas Peak, in his stocking feet, also went to his room. William was in a drunken state and remained downstairs but it was not long before he himself decided to make his way to bed. When he went into the room he found a sight he did not expect, Peak was in the bed with Agnes. Peak quickly left the room, and William, clearly furious with the sight he had been confronted with, went back downstairs, grabbed a loaded shotgun and returned to the bedroom with a wild look in his eye. The others heard the discharge of the gun and both Peak and Forrest dashed into the bedroom to find William stood over his injured wife, reloading the weapon. Both men immediately jumped on Gill and it was then found that on the discharge of the gun he had peppered his wife's face with the shot. She had tried to dash out but William had either aimed poorly, or Agnes had ducked or fallen; the main shot hit the bedroom door. The bulk of the discharge missed her but she was still struck in the face and scarred. Although no official report by Agnes was made to the police about her husband shooting her, news quickly spread, and the Grasmere constable heard about the incident that night, and detained William for an offence of Attempted Murder.

He was brought before the Ambleside Magistrates on Monday, and then again on Wednesday, for the purpose of examination. The chief witness was Agnes herself, but it soon became obvious when questioned by police superintendent Shields that she was unwilling to give any evidence that incriminated her husband in such a charge of attempting to murder her. She at first stated that she was unsure of William had fired the gun when she was still in the bedroom. She had to be threatened by the court with imprisonment before she admitted that it was, but again said that she could not say whether he did it to try and injure or kill her, or merely to frighten her. Better evidence came from the two lodgers, Peak and Forrest, who gave their accounts. Peak had admitted following Agnes to the bedroom and being caught in bed with her by William. Neither could say whether the aggrieved husband's intent was to wound or merely frighten his wife. The magistrates were satisfied that he should stand trial and remanded William to appear at the Summer Westmorland Assizes.

That William found himself in a situation not of his own making, was obvious, but it was clear he should not have taken the violent, life threatening action that he did. Sympathy was clearly felt towards him, displayed firstly by his errant wife, but also by the courts themselves. On Monday 4th June, his solicitor put the remand before Mr. Justice Charles, of the Queen's Bench. Having then looked at the circumstances he decided to release William on Tuesday, on his own recognisances of £100, and two other sureties of £100 each. 

The case was then before Mr. Justice Stephen at Westmorland Assizes Court, held at Appleby on Wednesday 4th July. The judge took his seat at 10am and went through the case summaries after swearing in the Grand Jury. He outlined the case of William Gill, who was charged with attempting to murder his own wife. He said that it was a strange case, but appeared more formidable than it really was. That the gun had been discharged was without doubt, but whether it was with the intention of killing his wife or merely to frighten her was in question. He said that the accused's wife and the lodger both gave very confusing accounts at the hearing; he commented that the latter ought to have been thoroughly ashamed of himself. He made the final point that although a serious incident, there had been great provocation, and that this, he expected would have an affect on their judgement. The Grand Jury agreed and decided that there was no case to answer, and returned a 'No Bill' judgement, meaning no trial took place. 


One could think that this was a story of a spurned husband losing his mind and trying the take the life of his errant wife who was unfaithful to him; it is not, it is a story of true love winning out! 

By the census of 1891 the Gill's were still at the Lake Foot Huts, and there were ten lodgers (Thomas Peak was now not one of them). William and Agnes added to their family with the birth of another son, Joseph Henry, born in the second quarter of 1889. William no doubt did the maths and was satisfied that the birth was far enough beyond the 9 months gestation period to have been the result of Agnes's infidelity. They were still together in 1901 and were in the Burrington area of Hereford; William was still an engine driver. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

The Pennine Bridleway 'Murder' between Clapham and Selside.

If anything awakens the sleepy nature of an rural isolated community, it is the finding of a body in that otherwise peaceful area, especially where a mystery surrounds its finding and identity. One of the more well known and often referred to one, is the pack woman's grave in the Langdale Valley of Lakeland, now a mecca to be visited by walkers of the valley and summits of the Lake District, especially following a reference in the famous Wainwright guide books of the 214 similarly named summits. The pack woman's grave is denoted by a cross near Rossett Gill; although a location of some antiquity, it is believed that she was merely overcome by the weather, with no marks of violence on her remains. Over many years, it would not be surprising that other remains were discovered at intermittent times, across the nation.

One such event, in terms of geography, occurred in North Yorkshire, but surprisingly is not referred to now. On the afternoon of Wednesday 9th September 1936 a minute search was made of the area of the limestone plateau between Clapham and Selside, where the famous clints were to be found and taken for the decoration of alpine gardens. This track skirts the southern flank of the well known mountain of Ingleborough and is part of the national trail, the 205 mile Pennine Bridleway which runs from the Derbyshire hills to Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria. A Mr. R. Richardson had been collecting these clints for his employer, Jack Preston, to sell to gardeners for such decoration, and a few months previous he had noticed some bones, covered by limestone rocks, in a hollow in the clints, near the pack-horse track. These were in the area of Mr. T. Newhouse's farm, South House, near Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Plan view of the area with the Pennine Bridleway going through the Clints towards Selside, South House to the right. 

Ordnance Survey plan of the area. The red flag denotes the general area where the skeletal remains were believed found,

Mr. Richardson regularly found sheep bones during the course of his searches and assuming these were such remains, he left them. That afternoon he decided to remove the covering rocks and take out the bones, intending to remove the clints for his employer when he realised that the skull was human. The bones were very weathered, with neither flesh nor clothing attached at all. Later in the evening he informed his employer and both went along to Settle police station and reported the matter. Superintendent Elliott and Sgt. Turnbull immediately went to the area and confirmed that the remains were indeed human and these were then conveyed to Settle Police Station. The bones had been in a cleft in the clint that was 7ft 6ins in length and 18 inches wide, and being partly covered with limestone boulders; it was suggestive of a coffin.

The scene where they were discovered, and the bones themselves, were inspected by Mr. Tot Lord, a well known Settle antiquary, who confirmed that in his opinion they were of some considerable age, likely centuries old. They were bleached and had suffered in condition from the wind and rain. He believed them to be the remains of a woman and she had suffered from fractures both to her arm and skull. The best theory was that she had been waylaid on the trail, likely in the days of pack horses, and had been buried in the clint. It was decided that no inquest was necessary, due to the historic nature of the death; it is unclear where her unidentified remains were buried.

The strange event seems to have been once again forgotten. In reality, such a route back in 1936, would have been used mainly for local travelling between these isolated communities; war was soon to follow, which would understandably turn all eyes away from such small and unrelated events. However, such incidents, if recalled, are now points of interest to those seeking recreation and exercise in more modern times of leisure activities and are a 'must' to refer to as any party passes the path of such tragedy, especially where violence likely brought an end to a life.