Saturday, 28 November 2015

Brothers Water - a Monument in the Landscape?

Brothers Water from High Hartsop Dodd ascent
Seen above is the beautiful small lake of Brothers Water, which is a wonderful area to start a walk to Hartsop above How, Dove Crag with Priest's Hole, or High Hartsop Dodd and Middle Dodd; parking at Cow Bridge car park. You can even park here for Caudale Moor, High Street and the route onto Boredale Hause to access Place Fell, Angle Tarn Pikes and Brock Crags; perhaps onto the High Street ridge. Many commence a walk from Cow Bridge and the location allows one to easily choose a short walk in changeable weather or a long one, or even to adapt a walk if the weather conditions improve or deteriorate. Some locations in the lakes don't lend themselves as well to this adaptation as this area does, hence its popularity, coupled with its beauty. All walks at some stage take in the view of this little lake, spoken of by Dorothy Wordsworth who on 16th April 1802, left her famous brother William at Cow Bridge and walked along the lake writing:
  ‘..... the boughs of the bare old trees, the simplicity of the mountains, and the exquisite beauty of the path ..... the gentle flowing of the stream, the glittering, lively lake, green fields without a living creature to be seen on them.’
Most walkers have heard the story, or folklore, of the lakes name being changed to Brothers Water following the death of two brothers in its waters; that said, most have also heard folklore tales of coffins on galloping horses at Burnmoor Tarn and heart shaped woods on the Howgills being rather 'Romeo and Juliet' in its tragedy of feuding families causing rifts and lovers in suicide pacts; none of which could be evidenced, however, they are marvellous tales. This change from the previous Broad Water name to Brothers Water is fact which can easily be seen from viewing old maps and prints. Maps of 1600's refer to it as 'Broader Water', from 1700's as 'Broad Water' which persisted to the end of that century. In 1800's however the name change is recorded in maps and on old prints of the time.

 The reason for this change has stubbornly persisted and on any balance of true or untrue, it has to be said that it is not as far fetched as other 'folklore' tales, seeming to have a ring of truth, the problem always was to show the evidence of this, or was it just that - Folklore?
I have recently been able to do some work on this and the tale; I was aware of the reference in 1855 by Harriet Martineau in her: 'A Complete Guide to the English Lakes', she references:

'Brothers' Water derives its name from the accident - which is said to have happened twice,- of brothers being lost in it, in the attempt of one to save the other. On one of the two occasions, the accident happened through the breaking of the ice, when the brothers were making a venturesome short cut across it to church.'

 Here we now have a reference albeit confusing, to perhaps two sets of brothers, but there is no other reference that I can find that repeats this.
It was time to try and put this one to bed as the expression states. Three things needed to be established:

  1. Did this occur?
  2. If so, who were the brothers?
  3. If so, when?

The view of Brothers Water from Angletarn Pikes, looking to Red Screes beyond with Caudale Moor to the left and Kirkstone Pass between the two fells.
 With Harriet Martineau as the bench mark it was clearly before 1855 if it did indeed occur. Through checking of old articles in one of 1890's it states that in a previous (named) article of 1819:
 'Brothers Water figures on the map as Broad Water'.
Maps take time though to be re-drawn and new names inserted. The same article refers to a manuscript diary of 1789 as:
'We soon passed a small lake, a feeder of Ullswater, called the Brothers, from two brothers having been drowned in it.'
The 1819 writer made no other reference so the compiling writer of the 1890's article fell strongly on the side of the manuscript writer of 1789. This now locates the incident in time-scale as previous to 1789, yet the Brothers were not named.
By viewing a further article from the 1850's it again referred to the story specifically naming the brothers as 'Atkinson' and having died as a result of falling through the ice in a frost, though here there was no reference to a specific, or any date.
There was now firm evidence of the incident (though more would be helpful), the way it occurred and the surname of the two brothers who died.
In order to confirm this and research the date I set out to view microfilm of the registers of Patterdale Church, not surprisingly called St. Patrick's. By scouring back through the registers it was eventually shown that on (Thursday) 5th January 1786 John and George Atkinson were buried having been involved in a tragedy where both drowned and they resided at Low Hartsop, which is just over the road from Brothers (or the then Broad) Water. Being a burial register and not an inquest report(none now appearing to exist) it does not say where, how, or specifically when they died. One would expect that the bodies would be quickly recovered, especially if it was known where they had went to, or if someone witnessed them fall through the ice; any funeral  one would speculate to occur within a week. This seems to suggest that the date of their deaths would be in the last week of 1785.
 By going further back in the registers there was a John Atkinson baptised on 4th November 1758 at St Patrick's Church, Patterdale, with George baptised on 31st March 1766. The father of the brothers is listed as Thomas Atkinson and there was at least one other child, Mary, also shown in the records. This puts the brothers at 27 and 19 years of  age, two young adults. I found no other reference to another set of brothers dying earlier, though there are other drownings recorded so am satisfied that the referral by Harriet Martineau to two separate incidents is incorrect.
 An uncorroborated account gives a reason for the brothers deaths; it states that they were taking a short-cut to church across the ice on the lake. This is very doubtful as the lake appears to take a longer detour from Low Hartsop, and even if they were going to church (which may indicate they died on Sunday 1st January 1786) they lived on the Kirkstone Pass side of the lake and there is still no reason to walk across it as good access is easily obtained from each side without need of a short-cut; it is also past the lake. There is no residence in the area that I could regard as better to take a short cut over a frozen lake than a journey either side of it; it is simply an impractical short-cut. On as balance of probabilities I would say they were there purely for a recreational purpose, perhaps skating?

The view across Brothers Water from the Cow Bridge to Hartsop Hall path.
Although it would add to the incident to know specifically why they were on the ice it is perhaps irrelevant to understanding the name change; it is clear the event of two brothers dying did occur. The alteration of the name from 'Broad Water' to 'Brothers Water', was likely to be as some verbal act of remembrance by local people that then entered into the written documents of maps, sketches and editorials of walks by writers, etc.
The three questions posed earlier are now answered, to the best of anyone's ability some 230 years later. No monument exists as a form of remembrance, there is no cross to view as at Fleetwith Pike with Fanny Mercer, or plaque such as the Gough memorial on Helvellyn, yet they are honoured still, in the landscape name of 'Brothers Water'; which is very fitting to their memory.

The view from Caudale Moor ascent to the mine, looking across to Hartsop Above How.
**** FURTHER UPDATE 7 MAY 2016****
One issue that concerned me regarding the above article was that of trying to get an actual report made nearer the date of the drowning, for a more detailed account. I can now add that I have came across such an account dated 25 January 1786, which contains more information. This article initially confuses the account but goes on the give greater detail as the how the drowning happened and also the origin of the place name of Brotherswater or Brother Water.
I will firstly touch on the 'confusion' as it gives the name of the brothers as Watson and not Atkinson. This is a news article and I believe the surname was printed incorrectly as the parish register recording the deaths is absolutely clear in the name of Atkinson. Accepting this as an error that was repeated as the news was reported, the article then goes on to give details of the brothers and what they had been doing that day.
 They were the sons of a yeoman of the parish and had apparently visited a friends house, crossing the frozen lake in the early morning, following a hard frost. They returned in the evening and set out to again cross the lake. Their father was working in the fields and saw them crossing. He was aware of the danger caused by a thaw that day and waved to get their attention to prevent them crossing. They either did not see or hear him, or they misunderstood his signals; once in the centre of the lake he saw them go through the ice and drown. It was the next day when the bodies were eventually recovered.
The article gives the ages as 19 and 16, which is again different from the details I worked out from the registers, yet the lake and the time period are correct so this must be an error or at least an estimate. No first names are used in the article, just the surname Watson.
The eldest was brought up to husbandry (farming?) and the youngest was being educated for the church by Reverend Wilson of Keswick. It goes on to importantly say that he was absent from the school for the Christmas vacation (which puts us right back to the time zone in my article above, as proof they are one and the same incident on this lake).
Returning to my comment in the original article of:
 '.... the referral by Harriet Martineau to two separate incidents is incorrect'
It appears I may have erred in this respect as this information source uses the term Brother Water at the time of the 1785/6 drowning and it goes on to conclude:
'It is said Brother Water is so called from a fatal accident of the same kind which happened some centuries ago.'
So it was already referred to as Brother Water or Brotherswater prior to the Atkinson drownings; however, although the first drowning appears to have occurred centuries previous, it may be that the same occurrence cemented the name in the area and so made its way onto the maps. As the earlier occurrence is so distant and unclear on an actual time band, it is impractical to research this further, but this now adds some weight to the two occurrences. The articles of the 1800's refer to Brotherswater being a reference to the Atkinson brothers. The passage of time has muddied this attribution but time cannot sanitise the dread any parent feels at the thought of seeing their own offspring disappear through ice within sight of the safety of their own front door.

**I have previously published this account, and other new material, for public knowledge. I did so in the expectation that anyone wishing to further expand that public knowledge would do so by highlighting this original account, and then adding new information they discover themselves. Sadly I am aware of one site that has repeated a large section of an account of another all but forgotten lakeland memorial to two boys that drowned and making out it was new, despite his following my many new lakes history accounts. I was asked by a person writing a book for Wasdale MRT for the generation of funds to assist that worthy cause. I gladly agreed to its use and he stated he would reference my original account. Such a stance by the latter is an honourable one; I hope the former person reflects on his conduct and no longer copies my work and then makes out he has found a new lakes history; that is dishonourable and diminishes him.**



Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Fairfield Tragedy

On 26th March 1951 two young ladies, Miss Betty Baker(23yrs) and Miss Peggy Johnson(21yrs), set off from Grasmere to walk to Ambleside. Betty was a nurse and Peggy a laboratory assistant and they were holidaying in the lakes over the Easter weekend, staying in youth hostels. They had stayed in Borrowdale, they were now at Grasmere and had booked into Ambleside before ultimately heading for Kendal. They set off for Ambleside on what started as a good morning, yet the weather deteriorated soon after and they never arrived. When this was realised searches commenced, but to no avail. The 26th had been the Easter Monday and the weather over the weekend had been some of the worst on record, football and rugby matches were cancelled or abandoned as were certain race meetings. The girls were dressed in military style capes with plenty of gloves and socks and seemed dressed for the conditions, with food and condensed milk to eat. Peggy Johnson herself had walked hundreds of miles with her brother-in-law in the lake district and the family later reported that she knew the area well. The brother-in-law would later be heavily involved with other family members in the search of the area.
Around the same time another search was being conducted on the Helvellyn range and the reports were again of a fine start to the morning but developing into a blizzard ranging over the fells on the Monday afternoon and conditions during the search were of snow drifts 10 to 20 feet in places. By 30th March no additional information had come to light of their last location yet the searchers were still standing by for a window in the weather to resume the search, although it was also being considered by Kendal Police whether the official search should be resumed through no knowledge of the route taken by the young ladies. 
  There was an assumption that it was not a valley bottom walk, this would be uncommon for young people to partake in as an activity, also, had someone been injured the other could easily report such an incident. It is reasonable to suppose that there was an intention to climb some fell, the weather on the Monday morning had looked favourable. Without route detail this gives a search area of various mountain ranges of the central fells over to Langdale, the smaller Loughrigg Fell and the Fairfield range, the Fairfield Horseshoe being one that many start near Grasmere and conclude at Ambleside. Through publicity a lady from Blackpool contacted the police stating that she believed she had seen two girls fitting that description in the Langdale valley drinking coffee at a hotel. The landlord was contacted and stated that the blizzard had started at around 10.30am and many hikers abandoned their walks, catching the 1.20pm bus to Ambleside. The two unnamed girls in question had not been able to take that bus as it was full. The search had originally concentrated on the Cumberland area but based on this information a search was organised for the next day largely covering the triangle of Grasmere, Langdales and Ambleside. Superintendent Ridley at Kendal Police Station admitted that they had no idea where to search but the aid of several hundred volunteers on the Sunday may turn up to comb the surrounding fells in the expected improving weather. This amount of searchers can in itself cause large safety and logistical concerns and there was a need to log all the volunteers going onto the fells to search and log their return, which thankfully all had done so by 7 pm. 
It was recognised by those with knowledge of the area that with the exception of the Fairfield route all other accepted routes to Ambleside were relatively safe. That same Monday another Leeds lady had been injured and rescued following a 150 feet fall on the Fairfield range. The hunt for the Todmorden Chemist Mr Barker who had set off from Patterdale Hostel that same day and had not returned, continued and they were also now searching for Miss Baker and Miss Johnston. Spare a thought for PC Barrass at Patterdale rural station; he was involved in the rescue of  the lady who was injured on Fairfield (Deepdale Hause), the search of Helvellyn and The Dodds for Mr Barker, and the search for the two girls. He came from the Sheffield area and was posted to Patterdale the previous August. This was his first experience of mountain walking/climbing and had been out on the Helvellyn range for eight hours one day, returned at dusk and was out again the next day. The three rescue missions in very adverse conditions were a baptism of fire for this six foot burly novice of the mountains, but he took it all as his days work, though his wife and young children were understandably concerned for his safety.
By 2nd April 500 volunteers and dogs were involved in the search, one of the biggest ever mounted in the British Isles. Despite every daylight hour being utilised it was still proving fruitless with no new information or indication of what route the girls had taken on their journey to Ambleside. Two separate pairs of ladies gloves were found, one on the west side of Grasmere and one in the foothills of Ambleside, they were sent to Yorkshire for viewing by family members to assist in any identification; it later transpired they were not the girls gloves. For the next search two main areas were chosen, the west side of Grasmere toward Ambleside and the east side of the valley, Fairfield. A local resident had reported seeing two young women who at around 11.00am on the Monday of the young ladies departure from Ambleside, had headed up Nab Scar and both the distance and the description of the slacks they wore meant this was now the best information available.

Fairfield's bland summit on a clear day.
  Fairfield range is high yet safe in good conditions, just a high walk, yet easy to get lost on in poor visibility and to stray off the path risks exposure to steep falls as the lady injured discovered that day. The families and friends were engaged in the search and had reached the realisation that the girls were probably dead, but needed closure, some certainty of their fate, to begin to move fully into a stage of grief, yet couldn't while some hope still existed, no matter how slight. Local Shepherds with their dogs acted as guides for the family members searching, waiting patiently as the city dwellers struggled in the conditions that the Shepherds took as their normal terrain and working environment, but understanding the need for the family to be involved, not idle in the unending expanse of time to fret within.
Mr Sydney Cross a distinguished mountaineer and licensee of the Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Langdale searched the Langdales with others he viewed as experienced in the conditions which were two feet of compacted snow and at times zero visibility.
The girls were members of the Co-operative Holiday Association(CHA) Leeds branch and members of that branch  had travelled to assist in the search. The CHA had originally been begun by T. A. Leonard, for whom a plaque in recognition of his contribution on holidays and the betterment of the individual who was holidaying in the area, was placed on Catbells as a memorial. It was just such friendships he espoused, and it showed on this search; some were on the fell and searching at 5 am in the morning. 
It was by some small miracle that with such numbers and fell conditions that no one was killed in the course of the search. At the conclusion of the day Superintendent Ridley recognised this and stated the hopelessness of the task, being no further forward with definite knowledge of the direction of the girls, all searches that day being fruitless. It was now eight days since they had gone missing in terrible mountainous conditions and weather, no one was saying it publicly, but it was now a body recovery exercise. The official search would continue, but scaled down to local people and police. Prayers were being offered at the church of St Cyprians, Harehills, Leeds, Miss Johnson's place of worship.
On 4th April the search continued, small parties of Ramblers still went out and were briefed on safety, but they did not form any official police search. By now the families had viewed the gloves and they were not those of the girls, so gave no indication of their route.The search was again fruitless despite 'sightings' from members of the public which were all checked, including people seen on Helm Crag (west of Grasmere) and two girls asking for directions to Alcock Tarn (east of Grasmere) and questions were being now asked as to why routes were not logged, helicopter search assistance nor utilised (it was deemed unsafe) and a search for a real answer to cut such accidents.
By Monday morning, 9th April the search was officially called off; the same numbers hundreds of volunteers had unofficially scoured the fells continually, but also to no avail. Superintendent Ridley repeated that not a single trace of the girls whereabouts or route had been traced. More than 1,000 had assisted over the last few days and he thanked them. He did ask walkers and shepherds to be aware and to continue to keep a look-out for any clue, but only as part of their normal walks or working life of the shepherd. The younger family members and Co-operative Holidays Association still searched. The weather conditions had improved greatly and the snow below 2,000 feet had disappeared. The police had been convinced the ladies would not have reached any higher; snow drifts in gulleys and against walls were probed for their bodies. At the conclusion of the day still no trace was discovered. The mystery of the most detailed search in Lakeland history was still unsolved. 
On 9th April an off duty 22 year old R.A.F. man from Preston was climbing in the Fairfield area when he noticed a red object in a gulley in Deepdale that exits on the Patterdale side of Fairfield. He decided to investigate and made a difficult descent into this gulley finding a red cardigan, blue silk pyjama jacket, a multi coloured head-scarf, a green jumper, a pair of brown shoes and a white handkerchief. When it was reported Westmorland Police (now encompassed within Cumbria Police) organised an experienced party to search the area now known as Flinty's Grave. The clothing was recognised as belonging to Miss Baker and Miss Johnson and as it was just clothing it may have been that a haversack was dropped over the gulley. It was the best indicator of the route and they had clearly achieved the top of Fairfield, a natural route being from the Alcock Tarn direction for a high fell walk to Fairfield and on to Ambleside. Like Helvellyn, the snow here can hang as a cornice and cause an unwary walker can fall into the abyss of the valley below in a blizzard. The families on hearing the news were about to start to travel, but were advised not to do so due to further adverse weather affecting the roads. They were however, holding on to every hope, not realising the terrain the clothes were found in, that the girls had left a trail for searchers to find them. 

The view through Deepdale from Fairfield summit. 
On 10th the search party, in company with the off duty R.A.F. gentleman, went to search the area and saw lower down in Deepdale two boot-heels sticking out of the snow  and there found the body of Betty Baker. The weather was snowstorm conditions once again and they struggled to bring her body out to Patterdale via Deepdale. It was then decided to leave the search, awaiting conditions to improve. At least now the Baker family knew the fate of their loved one and the Johnson family had the expectation of the same fate; a conclusion to the melancholy affair seemed to be drawing closer.

Heading up Deepdale, Cofa Pike ahead, Flinty's Grave to the left in the background.

 An inquest was opened at Kendal on 12th April and after some preliminary evidence of identification, it was adjourned to the next day. On 13th, following medical evidence the verdict was given as Miss Baker dying of a fractured skull (which the pathologist stated may not have proved fatal in its own right) and exposure. The coroner took the step of asking walkers to exercise discretion when faced in such conditions as prevailed that Easter Monday. The body of Peggy Johnson still had not been discovered when the inquest was closed.
On 21st April a local Troutbeck man was walking his bloodhound on his normal trail at Deepdale Head. He noticed the dog scratching in the snow and on climbing down to investigate he found the body of Miss Johnson under a foot of snow; she had come to rest not far from the area where Miss Baker had been found. He immediately went to Patterdale and reported the find, returning with a party of huntsmen and Shepherds, organised by PC Barrass. The body was recovered and brought out to Patterdale, then transported to Kendal so that a further inquest could be held. This was duly done the next day and the head and neck injuries she sustained meant she would have died immediately from the fall of several hundred feet. Superintendent Ridley said at the inquest that a scheme had been now suggested that the Youth Hostel members should in future record in the hostel registers their intended route when they depart on walks. Not to have such a scheme at this time meant that half of the many searchers had been looking in the wrong area. 
Such a scheme may not have saved the girls but it could have brought this tragedy to a conclusion much sooner which would have at least been of some benefit to the families.

 Looking across to Fairfiled. On the left is St. Sunday Crag, leading to Cofa Pike and onto the flat top of Fairfield. The snow specks on the crag face indicate Flinty's Grave and it's steepness in snow. 
 It must be remembered that the search for Mr Barker on the Helvellyn range had taken up manpower, both of the police and volunteers. He was eventually found after been missing for nine days and was within 100 yards of the A591 Keswick to Ambleside road and within 400 yards of The Kings Head at Thirlspot. Due to the adverse conditions the body had been covered in snow, which only cleared when the rain melted it. The coroner was critical in this case with reference to the clothing Mr Barker was wearing, he was dressed in shorts. He had sustained a sprained ankle, which may have slowed him, causing heat to be lost. He was found to be wearing a wind-breaker jacket, a leather jerkin, two pullovers, a shirt and vest, corduroy shorts, two pairs of socks and studded shoes. He still had food in his haversack and evidence showed he had recently eaten. It was accepted that he had a good knowledge of both walking and the Lake District, but having apparently injured himself, he would be unable to move quickly to generate heat and the cold overpowered him, when he was just about to reach the safety which the Country Inn would provide, but that proved too much to achieve at the obvious limits of his endurance to the conditions. 

Many searches for lost walkers had occurred before, many have occurred since and many will continue to occur in the future; but Fairfield was the biggest and likely never to be equalled, thankfully.


**I have previously published this account, and other new material, for public knowledge. I did so in the expectation that anyone wishing to further expand that public knowledge would do so by highlighting this original account, and then adding new information they discover themselves. Sadly I am aware of one site that has repeated a large section of an account of another all but forgotten lakeland memorial to two boys that drowned and making out it was new, despite his following my many new lakes history accounts. I was asked by a person writing a book for Wasdale MRT for the generation of funds to assist that worthy cause. I gladly agreed to its use and he stated he would reference my original account. Such a stance by the latter is an honourable one; I hope the former person reflects on his conduct and no longer copies my work and then makes out he has found a new lakes history; that is dishonourable and diminishes him.**


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Plane Landing Feat on Helvellyn

Most visitors to Helvellyn's summit will at one time view the plaques on that summit and if the weather allows, they will take the time to read the inscriptions. Most are amazed at the feat of adventure they read which gives the account of the landing of a plane by the pilot.

The inscription reads:


John Leeming was the chairman of the Lancashire Aero Club and Hinkler was a famous flyer who had himself flown in the Schneider Cup, in 1925, which was won by United States.

Above is a better reflection of the terrain they had to land there craft on.

What is not generally known by the walker is that this was their 3rd attempt to land the aircraft, the first being on 15th, however the weather conditions of mist up to a level of 4,000 feet meant that the attempt had to be abandoned, as they stated they would have had to rise to 6,000 ft; Helvellyn is 3,118 feet. They had understandably been very disappointed and had wished they had set off earlier in the morning when the weather had been better. During the flight from Woodford, made in separate planes, the weather had got progressively worse and they were battered by hail and shower. They hoped to make a further attempt on 16th. On their return to Woodford, snow was beginning to fall, which says something of the conditions these brave man pitted themselves against.
The second attempt could not be made until 21st, which was made this time together, but the wind proved to be too strong and again was abandoned. They landed at Lancaster and had developed an engine fault which was then repaired.
On the third and successful attempt they took off from Lancaster around 1 pm, both together in the plane, which they reported had behaved splendidly. They passed over Scafell with a wonderful panorama,  though they did run into some cloud banks,  but reached Helvellyn shortly after. They reported hitting air pockets, one in which they reported falling 500 feet and were pleased to be harnessed in as they could have been thrown out and were 'tossed like corks'; they later described this as the most difficult part of the feat. During this turbulent fall they lost a letter which had been intended to be posted at Thirlmere; they also lost a cushion, so it would have been a bumpy ride back for one.
They made a splendid landing but it was not one of the two locations they had reconnoitred. They had decided to 'go for it' and put it down, at 1.35 pm and within 10 yards of the summit cairn, by their reckoning.  Hinkler had to keep the engine running at full power to prevent the plane rolling down the hill as Leeming hurried out to chock the wheels with stones. The landing had not been without incident as any walker knows it is one of the flatter fell tops but not actually flat when close on it. They came in at approximately 80 miles/hour descending in a spiral of three circles, landing and striking boulders described as 18 inches in size. 
Leeming approached a flabbergasted Professor E. R. Dodds of Birmingham University, who by chance was partaking in his interest of hill walking, and requested a piece of paper from him. After much fumbling  the Professor produced a bill for minor university articles, which Leeming accepted and certificated it with cold hands scrawling that the said landing had been obtained. Photographs taken of the event and the certificate, proved to any doubters that the feat had been achieved.
It had  been commented on at the time that with dogged spirit and despite the lack of preparation, i.e. someone to indicate the best landing and put out smoke trails to show wind speed and direction, they still pulled it off. 
The bravery of the feat was commented on yet it was also recognised that this was hoped to be a rare event due to the desire of others to enjoy the tranquillity of these open mountainous spaces. The whole purpose of the daring event was to show the worth of modern aircraft and their ability to land safely in the most inaccessible of places. Personally, I think they proved that!

Mr Leeming went on to co-found Northern Airlines Ltd. and started a campaign for Manchester to commence the first municipal airfield, which was based at Barton Aerodrome in 1928. In 1931 he organised an appeal for Manchester girls to be the passengers in air races around Manchester which was part of a pageant organised by Northern Airlines. Sixteen girls from sixteen districts were required, they had 500 applications and the matter had to be settled by ballot.
In December of 1931 he was called as an expert witness to a 21 year old male motorcyclist's inquest where the rider was seen by witnesses to develop a wobble and crash. Mr Leeming gave the expert opinion that leaning over a handlebar at 60 - 75mph could cause temporary blackness; he referred to it as brain amnesia, comparing it to what pilots can also suffer. The coroner accepted it as a reasonable hypothesis and it was recorded as the cause of the riders accidental death.

As for Hinkler, he attempted to break the flying record to Australia (he has himself set such a record in 1928), in January 1933 but went missing. A search was conducted for him by a Captain Hope who himself went missing but was thankfully found. He had to give up the search around 22.01.1933 as he began to realise the enormity of the search area. Hinkler's body was discovered near the end of April by peasant charcoal burners in the Tuscan mountains of Italy, only identified by damaged documentation and the plane markings. The body was approximately seventy feet from the wreckage, the helmet was thrown off and he had very serious head injuries leading to the assumption that death was instantaneous. He was honoured by Mussolini, his body lay In State in the little village of Castle San Niccolo, no Union Jack could be found so he was wrapped in the Italian flag and buried with full Military Honours at Florence.

Returning to Leeming, the Barton Aerodrome proved unsuitable for larger aircraft and he was asked to find another site. Despite initial objections, Ringway was chosen and opened in 1938, now Manchester airport. 
He was also an accomplished author including children's books, the more famous one being Claudius the Bee for which Walt Disney bought the film rights. 
At the start of the Second World War he joined the RAF and was forced down over Sicily in 1940, destroying confidential papers and reportedly over £200,000. He was held in prisoner of war camps and  managed to write home explaining how well and kindly they were treated. He regained his freedom by eventually convincing his captors of his mental illness and was released in 1943.  He later wrote a book on the subject. The mental illness had been a ruse to escape and he returned to duty. 
It was then reported that in June 1943 he was involved as an instructor pilot in an incident where two Hurricanes were circling at tree top height. The other plane crashed into Downside School at Chilcompton, near Bath; here the boys were engaged in a cricket match. Nine of the boy spectators and the other pilot, Sub Lt. A. C. McCracken (the trainee pilot being 'tail chased' by Leeming in the exercise) were killed. A Mr A. Myddleton Welshere (or Wilshere) who appeared at the inquest for Sub. Lieutenant. J. F. Leeming stated that he had only circled the ground once.
After the war he continued to write; he died in 1965.
John Fishwick Leeming (8 January 1895 – 3 July 1965) was an English entrepreneur, businessman, early aviator, co-founder of the Lancashire Aero Club, gardener and author. One could also describe him as a man who lived a full life - but he is best known and honoured for landing a little plane on Helvellyn.


**I have previously published this account, and other new material, for public knowledge. I did so in the expectation that anyone wishing to further expand that public knowledge would do so by highlighting this original account, and then adding new information they discover themselves. Sadly I am aware of one site that has repeated a large section of an account of another all but forgotten lakeland memorial to two boys that drowned and making out it was new, despite his following my many new lakes history accounts. I was asked by a person writing a book for Wasdale MRT for the generation of funds to assist that worthy cause. I gladly agreed to its use and he stated he would reference my original account. Such a stance by the latter is an honourable one; I hope the former person reflects on his conduct and no longer copies my work and then makes out he has found a new lakes history; that is dishonourable and diminishes him.**


Sunday, 22 November 2015

A historical walk on Skiddaw.

Skiddaw, that magnificent mass of a mountain that is the backdrop to the Lakeland capital, Keswick.
Above can be seen the true beauty of the northern lakes with the town resting in the valley. From left to right can be seen Dodd, the ridge of Ullock Pike to Carlside, Skiddaw itself, Skiddaw Little Man, Lonscale Fell and finally Latrigg to the front of Lonscale, this being the wooded area and below the snow line. To the far left, the Glenderaterra Valley can be seen, formed by Lonscale and Blease Fell, which is the western flank of Blencathra (Saddleback). Magnificent as this mountain is to view, the usual route to the summit can be mundane in its test of walking and navigation. It commences from the parking area on the dead end road above Underscar, this parking is itself at nearly 300 metres. Be careful, many cars go to this parking area but it is potholed so needs 'negotiation'.
 The area of Latrigg was itself the subject of an access battle, the chief protagonist being Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley of Crosthwaite Church, the founder of The National Trust and he is buried in that churchyard. He led a party of his parishioners with crowbars, I assume for access provision and not weapons, to assert their authority on the landowner for the right to walk and have access to this small yet beautiful viewpoint of Keswick. This led to a civil court battle in July of 1888 which thankfully resulted in a compromise with the landowner, and has resulted in legacy of the public being able to soak up the view from this 367 metre high fell.  Many walkers miss this small summit off their itinerary when climbing Skiddaw, the over 3,000 foot summit being the singular goal of their walk, yet they miss the greatest view of the area in doing so, and only adds 30 minutes overall, to any such Skiddaw walk. 
Keswick, Derwentwater, and the Borrowdale Valley in view
Setting off for Skiddaw from Latrigg car park

The route above is both the start and end of the walk, heading out up toward Little Man and passing the Hawell memorial stone erected primarily by Canon Rawnsley in memory of the great breeders of Herdwick sheep in the area.
"Great Shepherd of Thy heavenly flock. These men have left our hill,
Their feet were on the living rock. Oh guide and bless them still." 

The erection of such reminders of the end of life caused some criticism from writers of the time who in their walking reports commented about the desire to walk and enjoy life and not death:

  "... But why O Canon thus bring mortuary sentiments into the soul of the tourist just when he palpitates with the keenest life?"  

Carrying on up the fell one faces the wide yet steep ascent on the left of Whit Beck and when this flattens a diversion can be made to Lonscale Fell, or the walker can continue on for Skiddaw, having the option of going over or round the back of Little Man. Eventually the summit is reached, in modern measurements 931 metres high, with it's panoramic views of Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater, across to Blenacthra, before swinging round to the Caldbeck Fells. Toward the east is The Glenderaterra Valley and the valley route to Swineside; where these two meet is Skiddaw House which I will later comment on twice as we journey toward it.   Most walk back via the same route they came up yet the better though longer walk is to head towards Dash Falls via Bakestall and Dead Crags, before turning for Skiddaw House. 
I have previously commented on the mundaneness of the route up to Skiddaw yet it would be wrong to suppose it is without its risks. One summers day, early in the last century Reverend Peel and his wife were staying in the Keswick area on holiday from Darlington, and she wished to go to the summit of Skiddaw.  Despite the weather being poor earlier that week, causing failed attempts to commence the walk, one day the morning weather not being good, but she and her maid set off for the summit in the afternoon. The weather came down once again and they unwisely pushed on for the summit. When they did head back they missed the gate between Skiddaw and Little Man and headed instead toward the treeless Skiddaw Forest. In the meantime Rev. Peel had become worried and had set off with others to search. The rain came, they got wet through, night descended, the women were not located and everyone except the Reverend returned to Keswick. He was joined in the morning by others, a total of fifty, but despite these numbers they were hampered by the weather and still his wife and maid were not found. Around noon the sun managed to break and the cloud lifted off the mountain. At 3 pm, after over 24 hours on the mountain, they were found sheltering behind a rough  wall, exhausted and suffering from lack of food and exposure to the harsh elements. Mrs Peel's comments were 'We were just preparing for another night'. A youth who was on the search party was despatched to Skiddaw House for food to sustain them. They were escorted down to Glenderaterra Valley, on the Blencathra side, where a carriage awaited for their transport back to Keswick. The Reverend was informed as he was still out searching and immediately made his way from the hut on Skiddaw to Keswick to join his wife. (No doubt he sang praise for the safety the good lord had bestowed on his ill-judged wife that day.)
Sadly such episodes continue to occur and not always with the same fortunate ending. Cold as it was for them, at least it was the summer and they were capable of sustaining the night temperatures. 

Our walk now takes us from the summit of Skiddaw to Bakestall and Dash Falls before the story once again returns to Skiddaw house for another event. Bakestall gives an excellent view of the Solway Plain, across to Overwater and Binsey. It is simply a question of walking beyond the trig and following the fence line down to Bakestall, then continuing to Dash Falls. Here you hit the only drivable (4x4) track to Skiddaw House for the occupants. This route makes a pleasant change being along the heathered bridleways of the Northern Fells, the grouse shooting grounds for which Skiddaw House was the lodge for Lord Lechonfield. It is at Skiddaw House that another piece of history forms this route story and unfortunately did not have the happy ending that Reverend Peel's wife had. 

Looking to Skiddaw House from Dash Falls track, the remotest residence in England.
Skiddaw House, now a youth Hostel.
It was at this house that a person died of alcohol poisoning in 1863. Sad as that is, one would ask why this merits a piece of a history write up? The person who died of alcohol poisoning was Thomas Hodgson and he was nine years old! 
A shepherd's meet had been organised by the Donald Grant who lived with his family at Skiddaw House and he was the gamekeeper for Lord Lechonfield. Ten to twelve shepherd's attended and one was Mr William Todhunter, a farmer and innkeeper at Threlkeld. Being the innkeeper, he brought a bottle of rum and a bottle of gin - but they were gallon bottles. Thomas had attended from Brockley Crags (I assume Brockle Crags on Great Cockup) with 10 year old Peter Grant, one of Donald's sons.
 Viewing the inquest details that are available it appears that Thomas was given various full glasses of rum and gin and despite being taken to his bed he returned on two occasions. He was clearly very drunk, howling like a wolf in the garden at one point. At 7 am the next morning he was found fitting and a doctor was sent for, the messenger reaching Keswick at 10 am and Dr Oswald George Rumney got to the premises at 1 pm. Despite numerous methods of revival, including strong coffee and spirits of ammonia, Thomas was constantly sick with his pulse fast and weak. The Doctor left at 7 pm and Thomas died shortly after this. 

Brockle Craggs Thomas's father was a husbandman, a small farmer.
The inquest was held at The Royal Hotel on Crown Street, Cockermouth (which burned down in 1864) with Dr Bell as the Coroner. Evidence was given by the other children present who stated Thomas was given large quantities of alcohol by named shepherds. The Coroner gave the shepherds the option of not giving evidence and it is notable how the caution he gave them resembles closely the one given to suspects today. William Todhunter and others wished to be heard and William agreed he brought the alcohol in gallon bottles. All the men agreed they knew Thomas got 'fresh' with the alcohol, but beyond a small quantity of mixed alcohol with water (the boy, Peter Grant, in evidence had said no water was mixed with any alcohol) all denied actually giving Thomas alcohol. 
The coroner said he could only speak for himself but:

'... everyone denied giving the boy any drink; he also noted that all the men were ‘rather fresh’ and were not aware of what they did.'

He also noted one of the shepherds had stated he saw the boys get some drink but could not tell who gave them it.
The coroner asked the man to leave while he and the jury considered the case; the men withdrew and the coroner then explained to the jury the case before them. He summarised that:

  'he believed the boys had spoken the truth but they had taken drink themselves and could not say how much they might have had. He did not think that they could return any other verdict than that the deceased died from excessive drinking, but there was no evidence the deceased had taken the drink against his own free will. Had the men forced him to take it, then they would have been guilty of manslaughter. It was a sad thing to think that boys of such tender years should be allowed to take drink, and he thought that it showed that those who had given the drink to the boys were in a sad state of demoralization. He thought that they should caution those men, and tell them the very serious thing they had done. They had killed the deceased through sheer neglect. The men were all well up in years and ought to have known better than to give any of the boys the smallest quantity of drink.' 

The jury returned a verdict of death through excessive drinking and reprimanded the men for the serious manner in which they had conducted themselves, expressing a hope that they would be more careful in future to whom they gave intoxicating drinks. 

Many have walked past Skiddaw house oblivious to this event, as I have myself done. Like me, I am sure they will glance to the garden and view in their imagination a young boy drunk and dying. 
From Skiddaw house it is a straight walk back along the track that skirts Lonscale Fell, with its high level, yet flattish track back to Latrigg car park. One can just make out the old mine workings in the valley bottom which thankfully do not scar the landscape too much. Here the eye is naturally drawn down the length of the valley to the view across High Rigg and the towering Helvellyn beyond. 
As the walker achieves the car park they have walked in excess of 17 kms and 900 metres ascent, without the additions of Latrigg, Lonscale and Little Man. To add these three fells makes it a 21 km walk with 1100m ascent. 
Happy walking.


**I have previously published this account, and other new material, for public knowledge. I did so in the expectation that anyone wishing to further expand that public knowledge would do so by highlighting this original account, and then adding new information they discover themselves. Sadly I am aware of one site that has repeated a large section of an account of another all but forgotten lakeland memorial to two boys that drowned and making out it was new, despite his following my many new lakes history accounts. I was asked by a person writing a book for Wasdale MRT for the generation of funds to assist that worthy cause. I gladly agreed to its use and he stated he would reference my original account. Such a stance by the latter is an honourable one; I hope the former person reflects on his conduct and no longer copies my work and then makes out he has found a new lakes history; that is dishonourable and diminishes him.**

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Reverend John Toft - Caldbeck




For many years I travelled the roads above Caldbeck, often passing the memorial ( a rough map reference would be NY31042, against the southern road wall) to The Reverend John Toft. This for 'Lake Lovers' is just a smidgeon outside the National Trust Boundary and is situated on the Brocklebank Road which goes from Bluegate Crossroads to Red Dial above Wigton on A595 (and the old Roman Fort). It has been known that he had been  administering to his flock at Heskett New Market and Caldbeck, as the inscription states, and on his route back to Wigton had died at this location; the local population erecting a monument to commemorate his passing. I always wanted to know a little more about the man so with a bit of internet ratching, managed to turn up that he was buried in Northallerton of all places. Whilst on a recent holiday nearby, I decided to visit to find his grave and see whether this added any more information.

In Loving Memory of


Unfortunately it didn't, beyond the knowledge that the grave still stands and the inscription adds to the testimony of the man. 
I then managed to view a short yet fuller account of the events that led to his death, though no one actually witnessed this. He died as stated, on the Sabbath, the Sunday. The inquest was held on Monday evening by the East Cumberland Coroner at Wigton, the late Reverend being the Superintendent of the Wesleyan Chapel for the Wigton area. The evidence presented was that he had conducted three services in the Caldbeck and Hesket-New-Market area and set off to cycle back to Wigton. (To anyone who knows this road it is a steep hill to Bluegate Crossroads before the crossing that starts to descend to Wigton.) There were no bruises to his head or body and it was supposed that he was pushing his bike up the hill when he had an apoplectic seizure. The medical opinion put forward was that he had given services in the warm atmosphere of the chapel and on cycling uphill in the cold air in a macintosh overall and cape, the seizure would have been brought on. It was noted however that the chain to the cycle was detached. A verdict of 'Natural Causes' was returned by the jury who also paid a tribute to his worth'.
It was stated he was a native of Yorkshire and had been in the Wesleyan Ministry for 38 years and widely known in the north of England, the location of most of his ministerial labours. He had also worked on the circuits of Cockermouth, Malton, Skipton, Doncaster and Barnoldswick. From Barnoldswick he then proceeded to Northallerton before taking up a position at Wigton two years prior to his death.

To date this is as much I can find of the Reverend. Perhaps there is some Toft family member who has more information on him. It is a sad event though he would look on life as a transient journey to meet his maker eventually; there are worse backdrops to the end of ones life than the beautiful view from above Caldbeck of the northern fells. 

The Hill the Reverend John Toft cycled up and the view behind of The Caldbeck Fells. Left to right; Carrock Fell, High Pike (centre) with Brae Fell, Great Sca Fell and Knott over to the right.


**I have previously published this account, and other new material, for public knowledge. I did so in the expectation that anyone wishing to further expand that public knowledge would do so by highlighting this original account, and then adding new information they discover themselves. Sadly I am aware of one site that has repeated a large section of an account of another all but forgotten lakeland memorial to two boys that drowned and making out it was new, despite his following my many new lakes history accounts. I was asked by a person writing a book for Wasdale MRT for the generation of funds to assist that worthy cause. I gladly agreed to its use and he stated he would reference my original account. Such a stance by the latter is an honourable one; I hope the former person reflects on his conduct and no longer copies my work and then makes out he has found a new lakes history; that is dishonourable and diminishes him.**

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Fanny Mercer - Fleetwith Pike

Most Lakeland walkers to Buttermere Valley will have at some time become aware of the white cross on Low Raven Crag, near the base of Fleetwith Pike. The cross becomes a draw to the curious who are interested in any marker of history in Lakeland.

A winter view of Fleetwith Pike, from the lake path out of Buttermere

Fleetwith and Low Raven Crag.

The Fanny Mercer Memorial Cross below Low Raven Crag
The inscription reads:

'Erected by Friends of Fanny Mercer.
Accidentally killed 1887'

Very little has been written however on the circumstances of how the tragedy happened, beyond she fell while carrying an alpenstock.
Fanny was born in the second quarter of 1869, in Rugby, Warwickshire, and was baptised on 28th July of that year. Her parents were Thomas, a painter by trade, and Anne (nee Shortridge). Fanny was the oldest of four children and her younger siblings in order were, Thomas (Tom), Mary Ann, and Mabel.
Fanny Mercer was in service to the Reverend P. Bowden Smith a master at Rugby School who resided at Barby Road, next to the school itself. The family and their three servants holidayed in the Lake District, stopping at Wood House on the shores of Crummock Water, the Bowden Smith's having holidayed there for five consecutive years. The servants were a Clara Tamer, Walter Clarke (the butler|) and 18 year old Fanny Mercer. To Fanny, it was an adventure for she had never been away from her native Rugby, and here she was in the beautiful and exotic valley of Buttermere; an adventure to savour and be thankful to her employer for the opportunity his employment afforded her.

After dinner on Thursday 8th September 1887, the three servants set off from Wood House and went by the Scarf Gap track to the top of Honister Crag, where the famous slate quarry is situated. They reached the summit about four p.m., and commenced their descent towards Gatesgarth by Raven, or Low Raven, Crag. Clara Tamer was leading, Walter was about six or seven yards behind, and Fanny was a few yards further at the rear. This placed her as highest on the ridge, and Clara lowest, Walter being between them. Fanny was going to get down to where Clara was standing, and took hold of her alpenstock close to the top. She leaped off the ledge on which she was standing, but instead of sliding her hands down the alpenstock she clung to the top, with the natural consequence that she was carried a considerable distance farther than she had anticipated. She jumped right over the Walter’s head, twisted round, and fell backwards a distance of 20 feet, striking with her head on a rock. She then rolled 130 feet down the steep mountain side. The instant Walter saw how his companion was jumping he caught hold of her dress to try to hold her. This was impossible, and a portion of the garment was torn off and left in his hand. A young man was working near to the place where she finally came to rest, and he went at once to her, but she was unconscious. Her companions went down and assisted to carry her to Gatesgarth, about a quarter of mile away; two of Bowden Smith's sons were passing and also  assisted. A mounted messenger was quickly sent to obtain the services of Dr. Forsyth at Cockermouth, about a dozen miles away. The Rev. S. Atlee of Buttermere and his guest the Rev. T.T. Smith, who had some surgical skill through his North American missionary work, attended in a carriage from The Victoria(now known as The Bridge) Hotel, Buttermere. They did all that could be done, but she died after about four hours, and before the doctor's arrival. The back of her head was terribly injured, but her face was only slightly bruised and no other bones were broken. 
The next day an inquest was held by the Deputy Coroner of Cockermouth, Mr. John Simpson, at Gatesgarth. Rev. Bowden Smith identified the body and said he had last seen her alive at 9am on the Thursday. He had been on the lake when he heard of the accident and had then immediately made his way to Gatesgarth Farm. After the above circumstances had been given to the inquest, the jury, with the Farmer Mr. Rudd acting as the jury foreman, returned a verdict of Accidental Death.

Gatesgarth Farm, where the inquest took place.
On Monday 12th, the body was transported to Keswick for departure on 4:12pm train, and returned to her native Rugby. 

The funeral took place in the Rugby Cemetery on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th, in the presence of a large concourse of sympathising spectators, the burial service being read by the Rev. J. Murray. Some of the deceased’s fellow servants acted as pall-bearers, and others followed with the mourners. Among the floral tributes were beautiful wreaths from Mrs. Bowden-Smith and family.

In time a cross was erected by her friends to commemorate her passing. 

Low Raven Crag and the Cross, bottom left of the crag.

Close up of the cross and the Mountain Rescue donation box.

For such a young ordinary working class family member, the memorial cross would become one of the most well known markers of tragedy in the English lakes, forever memorialising the name of the young girl and anchoring her name in Buttermere.

For the Mercer family, Tom became a teacher of music, specialising in the violin and Cello, and married a Swiss lady called Bertha Niggeler; they had three daughters. Mabel was a dressmaker and died a spinster in 1943 aged 67 years. Mary Ann married a watchmaker called William George Steele and they had three daughters. Tragically another death occurred for the Mercer family with the passing of Mary Ann, aged 37 years, only a year after the last child, Hilda Eileen, was born. This last child appeared to be too much for William George to care for and she appears to have been raised by her Mercer grandparents. Both lived to a good age, Ann dying aged 80 in 1930 and Thomas 5 years later aged 90.