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 to give greater detail as to 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.
On the 10th July 1839, Thomas Atkinson died at Low Hartsop, aged 83 years. This was reported in the Westmorland Gazette which also quoted that it was his sons that died in the then named Broad Water. It went on to state that since the occurrence the water had since been called Brothers Water. 

**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.**




  1. Many thanks for you interesting historical observations which add to our understanding and knowledge of the Lakes. Cheers, Roger @ loweswatercam

    1. Ann & Roger, thanks, it was time to sort that one out. I have a few more as I have been off with a bad foot so have had some 'research time'.

  2. Thanks - we have just stayed at Brothers Water and had heard sketchy tales regarding its naming. Your blog post is the only writing I could find that elaborates so much on the origin of the name

    1. Thanks Adrian. I find it pointless blogging all the walks as they have been 'done to death' but I like to think in my knowledge and research that I can add something to peoples knowledge of the fells and lakes. Other blogs for that area cover Caudale Moor, White Cross Bay(Windermere), The plane landing on Helvellyn(who Leeming was) and HMS Glorious (WWII) and St Martins church at Martindale. These are just a few. Once again, thank you for your kind comments.

  3. thanks adrian. just returned from brothers water yesterday. great article. wordsworth wrote a poem regarding a drowning near halifax west yorks . sadly the viewpoint was from a bridge recently demolished by the council. this sad incident was within his time and suitably dramatic do you know if he wrote of it at all.
    steve trafford

    1. Steve, I don't know of any poem he wrote mentioning this, though asking the Wordsworth Trust may be an idea, or one or two Wordsworth experts on twitter. Thanks for the comment on the article. The other lakeland ones are interesting and worth a read. I hunt for those facts that are 'undiscovered', or significantly add new facts to previous incidents around lakeland. All the best with your lake district adventures.
      By the way, it's Raymond, I was answering Adrian above.

  4. My grandad used to tell me this sad story when we drove past the lake while on holidays during the 1980s, very interesting to hear it again after all this time with so much more detail. Thank you

    1. That is most kind; thank you. I am pleased you found it interesting.

  5. Very interesting to come across your detailed research - I have a copy of an old 17th century map which calls the lake Broader Water, and was reminded of it a few days ago on seeing this detail enlarged from the same map on the wall of Esquire's cafe in Ambleside; anyhow, knowing the folk story of the brothers' drowning I found myself wondering if there might be a connection between 'Broader' and 'Brother' ie since the German for brother is bruder, then could the earlier name actually be a Germanic/Saxon derivation from brother hinting of an older tale of this sort? But perhaps this is just a coincidence and my whimsy was brought on by a surfeit of caffeine in Esquires!

    1. Thanks for that, and it may be that it was. The older mines were worked by German miners, who were regarded as the experts. Ennerdale was also earlier known as Broad Water.

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