Saturday 26 March 2016

Haweswater, the Wilkinson and Ashworth Tragedy of 1874


On 10 July 1874 Robert Noble Wilkinson (15 years) of Wet Sleddale and his cousin George Ashworth (18 years) of Manchester, visited their relatives house, Anne and William Noble of Littlewater, near Haweswater. At 5:30 pm they said they were going to the foot of Haweswater to bathe. Robert returned for a towel and said they may or may not bathe. Some time later, George's mother, who was also staying at their house, became concerned at the length of the boys absence and at 8:30 pm she and Anne Noble  went in search of them, but found no trace. They returned and alerted the men of the family who then went in search, finding their clothing placed on some stones on the north side of the lake, but no sign of the boys. They got a boat and entered the water and with the assistance of Mr Thomas Kitchen of Measand, using lights and boat hooks, they found the body of George in six feet of water, 30 yards from the shore.  Robert's body was recovered a further ten yards from his cousin.

On the afternoon of Saturday 11 July, an inquest was held at the home of William Noble. The above circumstances were given and of evidential value in the cause of death it was also noted that George Ashworth had been taking swimming lessons in the public baths at Manchester; it was believed that one of the boys had got into difficulties and the other went to assist, resulting in the double tragedy. (For anyone interested further I have the names of the jury members, one being a John Greenhow and I know my ancestors were from the east of the lake district.)
Some time after the tragedy a memorial stone was erected near the scene, yet the valley was then flooded in 1930's and the monument was then moved higher to prevent it's complete loss to the new reservoir which was built to quench the insatiable thirst of Manchester's growing population and industrial expansion.
I became aware of this memorial stone whilst researching other some Mardale matters, in particular, the Greenhow's of Goosemire, the ruins just below the old corpse road. No picture seemed to exist for the memorial, which was puzzling and suggested it no longer existed as modern photography and the internet access makes such knowledge easily available to the tourist/walker. I walked the northern side of the lake shore from the car park at the head of the valley in search of this as far as Measand Beck, to no avail, but some later checks by my wife (my top none paid researcher) suggested it was near the village of Burnbanks. This was built for the workforce when the dam was constructed and originally consisted of  66 properties. There are now only 16 and not the original ones which had cast iron panels! Again, nothing was apparent but local checks revealed why this was the case and explains why the memorial has never been within common knowledge as it was on the reservoir side of the wall, which is generally regarded as beyond public access. We again set out along the Burnbanks path to discover it's location and eventually found it.
The gate for access (the latch opens to allow entry under the deer fence).

This gate is located along the Burnbanks to Measand Beck track and is the first one you come to along the wall. It is located at NY501160 as a map reference, near where the 'Homestead' is marked, for those who struggle with map references.

The replacement memorial stone, flanked by the two carved natural boulders.

 This memorial replaces the original which had unfortunately split in two across it's width. It was stapled together but has clearly since been replaced, I believe with the same inscription. I have recently seen a newspaper cutting showing the original stone, both intact and later stapled, but don't have a hard copy.
The wall that can be seen is the boundary wall that separates the path from the reservoir.

The carved 'Ashworth' boulder on the left

The replacement memorial stone
The carved 'Wilkinson' stone on the right.
 Checks had shown that Robert N. Wilkinson had been buried at St. Michael's Church at Shap and a visit revealed the headstone. This notes both boys and it appears both boys are buried together, although a check of burial records would need to be viewed to confirm this.
The headstone at St. Michael's Church, Shap.
 The headstone inscription reads:
In Affectionate
Remembrance Of
Robert Noble Wilkinson
Of Sleddale
Aged 15 years
George Ashworth
Of Manchester
Aged 18 Years
 who were drowned whilst bathing in
 Lake Haweswater
 July 10th 1874.
A sudden change we in a moment fell,
We had not time to bid our friends farewell,
It is nothing strange death happens unto all,
It was our lot that day tomorrow you may fall.

A wider angle.

A sad tale, but these are what record the history of the valleys of Lakeland. People stop off at the Gough memorial stone on Helvellyn, the crash site of the Halifax LL505 on Great Carrs and the white cross to Fanny Mercer on Fleetwith Pike, yet no-one stops at this site. The people of the valley erected the memorial so that they would be remembered; it would be a fitting tribute for like visitors to the valley to do so, now the location is hopefully more widely known.


  1. Thanks for telling this largely unknown story Ray. Another sad tale for this region which had had more than its fair share tragedy. Hopefully a few more people will visit the memorial now.

    1. Thank you. Working on ther church at the moment.

  2. I agree Ray, thanks for the information in such a readable form. Roger, Loweswatercam.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.