Monday, 26 October 2020

Auld Will Ritson of Wasdale Head

The Wasdale Head Hotel, owned and extended on by 'Auld Will Ritson'.

William Ritson was born in 1808 at Rowfoot, a small farmhouse at Wasdale Head, and would come to be renowned for his colourful and full life, at the head of that remote Cumbrian valley. He was the son of John and Anne Ritson and little is known of his early life with the exception of one account told in The Penrith Observer newspaper in October 1923, which gives an insight into his mischievous or 'embellishing' character. The young William had been with a friend in the valley when they were looking in a hollow tree for wamp (Cumbrian dialect for wasp) nests. They were accompanied by a  gentleman who was staying in the hamlet and the two boys blocked off the bottom of the hollow with dry grass and sticks for a fire. The other lad scaled the tree and filled the top with sods. Will's companion said, "Mind thoo doesn't set fire till't afooar Ah come doon." This gentleman then winked at Will, who took this as a sign and immediately set the grass and twigs alight. The wasps spewed out of the top, repeatedly stinging his companion, who raced to a nearby stream, immersing himself within its waters for relief against the pain inflicted by the many stings he received! The gentleman was so pleased to have been witness to such sport that he gave the boys half a sovereign; to one (our Will) it was easily earned, to the other, hard earned. In the same newspaper it was said that he could remember being christened and after running away and being dragged back, had threatened  the parson saying, "If thoo does that agean ah'll punch tha", when he had 'sprinkled' him. Many of the tales of his life were from various people who knew him well. John Ritson Whiting, a relative and later landlord of the Hotel, George Seatree, and J. W. Robinson (Robinson's cairn) of Lorton, Reverend John Hodgson of Netherwasdale, and Edwin Waugh, a noted Lancashire poet, were all valuable sources. 

Little is known of his education, but he would come to be a farm boy, husbandman, shepherd, wrestler, and a huntsman for Mr. Rawson of Wasdale Hall and also a Mr. Huddleston. He also was a boatman, guide, innkeeper, and last but by no means least, a humourist. His tales were affectionately known to be 'lies', but told transparently and without malice, to cause astonishment without disgust. Occasionally, when the opportunity presented itself, he would subdue any leg-puller with his even greater tales of happenings in the valley. 

He appeared in a wrestling match at Eskdale Sports and Fair in September 1829, so would have been 21 years old. He won, or 'stood', in the first 5 rounds, the 6th was the final and he found himself pitted against a George Addison; he stood in that round also and won the wrestling bout. Wrestling was part of his early life and he was a formidable foe. At the Keswick Sports of August 1831, he was not as fortunate, however; he progressed to the creditable third rounds in two events on the first and second days.

William married Dinah Fletcher, of Netherwasdale, and they had two sons, John (born 1836), and William (born in the first quarter of 1844).

In October 1849 a tour had been done by antiquity historians of West Cumberland and they required a guide with a great knowledge of the area. That guide was William and he led them through the Netherwasdale area, informing them that the confluence of the Bleng and the Irt was known to him as King's Camp from his early hunting days. Checks of historical maps by the antiquarians confirmed this. It showed William to have that local knowledge, invaluable for a such a group of researchers and an ideal place for some form of camp for protection of the valleys in more ancient and violent times.

The first reference that can be discovered to 'The Wastwater Hotel' was a fine dinner provided in April 1862 at the end of a fox hunt in the area, Mrs. Ritson's cooking being heartily recommended. In Whitehaven Archives there is reference to a visitors book at Row Foot (the original farm name) dating from 1857 to 1863. One would expect this to be the origins of the inn, then hotel, and it seems perfectly feasible that the business started firstly as what is now called a 'Bed and Breakfast', but expanded to be the renowned inn. Notable visitors listed for long periods are those academics of Oxbridge Colleges. William's father John died there on Wednesday 16th October 1867 at the age of 82. There are some references that the inn was initially called The Huntsman Inn, although the names seem to move equally between those two names and The Wasdale Head Hotel. It seems that Will, being a shrewd businessman, saw a developing opportunity with the tourists that would visit the area and Wasdale contained the highest mountain, the deepest lake, albeit the remotest of valleys. The establishment became a mecca for the new breed of climbers who would come to flock to the area, with easy access to the climbs of Great Gable, Pillar Rock, and the Scafells. These men were either noted within society, or of influence within the universities and connections in the press of the time. Through this, it is not difficult to surmise that The Wasdale Hotel and its strong characterised landlord, came to be renowned throughout the nation. Of Will himself, he saw no purpose in this new sport of climbing and would advise customers that it was a sure enough way to obtain a broken neck for their troubles; however, he still made a profit from their ill-judged passion.

William was a farmer and a huntsman and one would expect that combination would bring about a wish to exterminate any fox he would come upon, but that was not the case and he displayed a human aspect to his character. In February 1863 it was known that running about his yard was a tame full grown fox, previously thought to be an impossible feat for such a wild animal. It moved freely among his foxhounds, which he kept a small pack of. One can only assume he had raised it from a cub, perhaps following the death of its mother in a hunt. This scratch pack of hounds was said to have been the beginnings of the famous Eskdale and Ennerdale pack.

January 1864 found both him and his son William junior doing jury service, sadly at the home of his father and following the inquest into the death of the Wasdale Head schoolmaster and parish clerk of 18 years, 63 year old Mr. Isaac Benson. He was known to travel to Whitehaven every Christmas but due to fever in the town his visit that year had to be cancelled. He stayed at various houses in the Wasdale Head area and one of his pupils had recently contracted the fever. On Monday 18th January he was to vacate that house and believed that because of the fever, none of the other residents would take him into their abodes.. The number of pupils at the school had dropped and all these factors placed him in a low state of mind. He had left Mr. Ritson's public house at about 6pm on Saturday 16th January. The next day he was found in the schoolroom with his throat cut. The verdict was suicide.

That William was the great orator of many a yarn is undisputed, holding his audience spellbound with the increasingly broadening tale, yet the listener was held until the end, duped until the final sentence revealed a story so preposterous it surely could not be true? However, such an artist of deception was himself capable of being duped by an expert. William could be forgiven for being drawn in to a lie as his stories were always without malice, unlike that told of 'Thomas Ruddick', on 8th November 1866. He gave the air of a gentleman and had stayed at the hotel, arriving in October in a fine suit, although it showed signs of age. He left in the first week of November without paying his bill but the weather was inclement, so turned around, returned, and told old Mrs Ritson that her son had granted him permission to use his coat, before taking the road once again. This was also false and when this was discovered, along with his permanent departure, a search was made for him by Whitehaven Police. He was eventually found by Carlisle City Police and taken to Whitehaven, appearing before the Magistrates in May 1867. He was remanded for a week, awaiting his appearance at Bootle Magistrates, the offence occurring in their area.

Two ships were known to have been built in Whitehaven, each with the name of Wasdale. It was said that William was a shareholder in at least one of them, and both carried figureheads of Mr.  Ritson. Sadly, The one was lost; it had sailed from Whitehaven on 9th December 1868 and had been caught in gales. It never arrived at its destination of Newport with its cargo of iron ore. By 9th January 1869 reports were received that a large ship went into Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran, and reported having struck a two masted ship in a storm. They could not help the crew and the last heard was of them shouting to launch the boats. A boat with Wasdale on the side was picked up at Islay and a nameboard with Thos. Pickthall was also found. There had been seven crew on the Wasdale, the Captain was Thomas Pickthall, and he was regarded as a fine sailor. All left widows and families.

In 1873 cricket was sweeping the nation as a community sporting event, and Wasdale Head was no exception. Holmrook was challenged to a game, and one took place on 14th August, sheltered below the mighty mountains of Yewbarrow, Kirk Fell, and Great Gath. One would struggle to imagine how such a tiny hamlet could put together a credible team, but staying at William Ritson's was a Cambridge University party, including Richard Pendlebury who was the senior wrangler at the university. They had been staying there a number of weeks and it was they who challenged the Holmrook club, who duly accepted and the day turned out to be ideal cricketing weather. William and the Wasdale reverend ably provided the entertainment as the runs mounted, no doubt the beers flowed at William's bar too, so he would turn a healthy profit as a result. Holmrook won by 101 runs, over two innings but the day was so enjoyable that a second game was agreed and played the very next day at Holmrook. Although Holmrook again won, this time it was by a mere 14 runs. A William Ritson was a player for Wasdale Head, although this would likely be his son, who would be a far more likely contestant by way of age.

Perhaps the great measure of Auld ill Ritson's standing in the community was the reference the local people of the area gave to a small waterfall, just 500 yards up Mosedale from the hotel, which they named Ritson's Fosse, and this is displayed on modern Ordnance Survey Maps as Ritson's Force. 

In the year of 1876, two tragic events occurred in Lakeland, both having William Ritson and his Wasdale Hotel involved in the events. The first occurred in August 1876 and involved the disappearance of a London silversmith called Edward Barnard, who was eventually found dead in the Ennerdale valley, having been last seen on his walking expedition at William Ritson's hotel. The second occurred just two years later when on 1st May the 82 year old Reverend James Jackson set out from the hotel to climb Pillar Rock. When he didn't return a party of local shepherds was sent to search for him and he was eventually found dead on the mountain. For further reading the incident accounts I have recounted in greater detail in the below links:

William had retired around 1879 and moved to Nicholground, Netherwasdale, with Dinah, who unfortunately died on 26th July 1888 aged 83 years, the funeral taking place on Sunday 29th at Netherwasdale. Dinah had been equally well known throughout the area, and a lake district tour had come to be regarded as incomplete without a visit to the Wasdale Hotel. William died on 4th March 1890 and was also buried at Netherwasdale Church on Friday. He had been in failing health following the death of his wife. By this time both of their sons had passed away, William junior in 1878 and John in 1888, but they had borne William and Dinah four grandchildren. Auld Will was regarded as being of a kindly disposition, ready to do a good deed for any neighbour and known affectionately by the children of Wasdale Head as 'Uncle Willie'.

It was now following his death that the eulogies and later recollections of his life would reference the tall tales he would had come to be famous for. One cannot begin to list all the 'lees' that uttered from his lips but perhaps some are worthy to give an outline of his complicated character, a shrewd businessman one day, a jester who could spellbind an audience in an inn the next. There was the tale of he and his friend and fellow crony, Edward Nelson of Gatesgarth Farm, Buttermere, agreeing to swap the two parsons of those valleys. William agreed to 'liver' the Wasdale parson to Buttermere, 'sound of wind and limb'. The tale went that just as he escorted his haltered parson over Black Sail Pass he slipped his restraint and bolted back to his native valley.

He would hold an audience when telling them of there being two inns in the valley with the landlords at loggerheads and in competition for the business of visitors. One inn was 'The Cock inn', short for The Black Cock'; the other was 'The Bull inn'. One day a new parson arrived in the valley and the landlord of the Cock decided to ingratiate himself in his favour and seek his custom by taking down the sign and replacing it with a picture of the parson, painted by 'Jerry' of Gosforth. The next day the locals were disgusted at this so gave their business to The Bull. The landlord of the Bull then 'bowt the Cock sign frae laal Jerry' and had it erected over his inn. The changing of The Cock sign to one of the Parson caused such a bother in the valley that the landlord did not know whether to take down the picture of the parson or not for fear of insulting him. The solution was had when Will Ritson 'whispered summat in the clot heed's ear' and Jerry the painter was again sent for. The next morning the locals woke to see the picture of the parson still above the inn, now with these words 'in girt red prent (print)': "THIS IS THE OLD COCK."

There was the tale of two clergymen coming from St. Bees and wanting to be taken to the top of Scafell. They set off with Will but plagued him with questions until they got to the top. Once there, one told Will to "Just mount the beacon and offer thanks to Providence that you have brought us to the summit at last." Will did so mount the beacon and said, "Oh Lord, I thank Thee that oot o'thy mercy Thoo has letten this day these two wise asses come sa near to heavan - for Thoo know'st its the nighest they'll iver git tul it." A variation of the same basic tale involved him escorting seventeen parsons to the summit; there may have been a large difference in the numbers, but not in the punchline! There was at least a third version but now with a bishop and a Dean. The bishop couldn't make the summit and was to send Will on, until the guide said, "Come on my Lord, come up, you'll mappen nivver be nearer heaven." The Bishop finally made it, spurred by his guide's encouragement. Clearly Will knew a good tale when he struck on one, he just embellished it, perhaps for his own variety. 

Will was a church warden and when the bell cracked and it could not be used to call the community to the service, but Will had a solution. He climbed inside the tower and at the top of his voice, cried out, "Bell-ell, Bell-ell, Bell-ell", for 5 minutes. It had the desired effect and the community came to worship; as the tale goes.

A further yarn involved a 'lie' being told to Will himself. He let a gentleman look through his strong looking glass and that individual stated that he could see a midge on Scafell Old Man. This of course was a lie, to which the looker regarded he had played Auld Will well at his own game of tall tales. Will took the glass off him and looked himself before returning it, saying, "By gock, Ye's reet; I saa it wink." This closed the contest; Will was victorious, as usual.

 A further 'story' was one of a tourist, impressed by the healthy air and beautiful location, asked Will if anyone actually died in the valley? Will replied, "I nivver remember but yaa cease (case), it wus auld Ann Wasdale of Bowderdal" He then went on to explain how her coffin was strapped to the back of an animal. On reaching the church and hearing the bells toll, it bolted and ran off over the fells. The local people searched without success, until three weeks had passed before it was finally found, with the coffin still strapped to its back. He finished the tale with, "I think folk gat rayder flayt o' deein eftar that. We nivver hear o' nin now."

Other tales of his were of turnips that were mined and were so big that they were scoured out and used as sheep pens. Foxhounds were crossed with eagles, and could fly over the higher Lakeland walls; the extend of his long life on the body of work regarding his white lies, was unending.

The famed memory of Will's tales, or 'lees', would pass down the ages within the Cumbrian and wider northern communities. It really ended there though, until something extrordinary happened in November 1973. The BBC and Copeland Borough Council worked in conjunction with each other to revive the title which Will had, with all the necessary humility the occasion called for, awarded to himself, namely the world's biggest liar. There had been a competition back in his day to decide who could tell the best lie. Will had told the judges that he could never tell a lie, so was awarded the title! Now in 1973 the challenge went out and the competition was to be held on 27th November at The Santon Bridge Inn. Even the BBC producer Dennis Coath entered. Each contestant had two minutes to spin the biggest lie possible. The first winner was a farmer by the name of Tom Purdham who seemed to repeat the claim of Ritson by saying he had hollowed out a giant turnip and lived in it. He actually told two lies; he told the BBC Nationwide (programme) that he was not a competitor, so they didn't interview him! The competition caught the imagination of the national press, both newsprint, radio and TV, and it went from strength to strength. Of course, it was a competition of 'amateurs' and to protect its' integrity politicians and lawyers were barred, it was deemed that they were too expert at telling lies! In 2003 the competition took on an international status with a South African winning it. Sue Perkins, the comedian, won in 2006, the first woman to do so, thereby adding to the status of the now world renowned event. 

Will Ritson's name lives forever more by the noteriety of The Wold's Greatest Liar competition, and that's the truth of the white lies he thrived upon!

Thursday, 30 July 2020

The murder of Gamewatcher Thomas Davidson at Kershope Forest in 1849

Thomas Davidson Memorial Stone, erected in 1852 - Kershope Forest

Thomas Davidson was a game watcher for Sir James Graham, Bart., of Netherby Hall and had given him loyal service for over twenty years. He was the visible expression of 'poacher turned game-keeper', for in his younger days had been an acknowledged artist of that first discipline; which made him expert in the apprehension of poachers, instinctively knowing their ways and how to prevent their unlawful activities. He was married to Margaret and they had eight children up to 1849 and lived at Kettle Hall.

The remains of Kettle Hall (map ref. NY553810)
Further image of Kettle Hall remains
On the morning of Thursday 8th November he told Margaret that he was going to check the area of the moors and fells, around Christenbury Crags, in the remote Kershope and Bewcastle area; it was the outer reaches of Cumberland, bounded to the north be Scotland, and to the east by Northumbria. That evening he had not returned, which concerned Margaret, and when he had not arrived back by the Friday morning, she alerted the gamekeeper, Mr. Armstrong who lived at the shooting box at The Flatt. He organised search parties but nothing was found, so they set off again on Saturday morning. One of the party was Thomas's brother John and at 10am he came across Thomas's body, on the Kershope Farm, near Wysefield sheepfold, on the north-west side of the Black Lyne river and about two miles from his home. He was face down and although most of his clothing was undisturbed, his neckerchief was drawn tight into his neck. At the post-mortem, this and his facial injuries from fingernail scratches and bruising as if kneeled on, showed he had died from being strangled. Around the near area were at least three footwear marks of other people, although made indistinct by recent rain. The body was removed to the deceased's house.
News of the murder was communicated to Carlisle City Police and on Sunday morning, Superintendent Sabbage and two officers attended the murder scene. The inquest was held at The Flatt, on Monday 12th. 
Suspicion had fallen on three local men,  one a notorious poacher called Joseph Hogg, of Two-Darg, near Graham's Onset; he was 24 years old and unmarried. Another was a married man called Andrew Turnbull, also 24 years old, a husbandman of Shank End, in the baillie, which was half a mile from Hogg's house. Both men were present at the inquest after being summonsed, and warned they were suspected of the murder. Both were cautioned and warned they need not say anything. On oath Hogg said he was on his own all day Wednesday, seeing Turnbull once at a shop called Hardmanor (believed to be around NY511771) but not since, until going to his house on Sunday, but found him from home. He had stayed with his cousin John Nichol Hogg on Wednesday night at his father's house and both remained there all day Thursday, dressing fishing hooks with his mother and sister. He denied ever having seen the deceased since being at court on Saturday 27th October, when he was found guilty of shooting without a licence on Sir James's land, based on the evidence of the deceased. He was fined 40 shillings with costs and had paid it immediately, otherwise it would have defaulted to 2 months imprisonment.
Turnbull contradicted this by saying he was in the company of Hogg all day Wednesday, shooting woodcocks and they had been joined by Nichol Hogg. He said he remained at his own house on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday, and that Joseph Hogg had came to his house for an hour on Sunday, after the police had left.
Joseph Davidson was the deceased's son and had been at Joseph Hogg's one room house on Thursday evening and Hogg was not present, only his 14-year-old sister and his own daughter who was six. Ann Hogg, the sister, said Joseph only left the house for quarter of an hour on Thursday and had initially denied that Nichol Hogg was present but after being pressed, changed her evidence to say that he remained that night and they were joined by Turnbull. Nichol Hogg had left at 9am on Thursday and returned at 1pm. Mrs. Hogg had also gave evidence and when pressed, had also changed her account to say that all three had been present at her home on Wednesday night and Nichol Hogg had gone out on Thursday morning, returning in the afternoon, when she had then gone to Joseph Davidson's house for tea.
Nichol Hogg as found at an inn at Rickergate, Carlisle, on Monday night and summonsed to appear at the inquest on Tuesday morning; he was 35 years old, married, although separated from his wife. He said he and Joseph were at the Hogg residence on Wednesday night, and they went out together on Thursday morning, picking up Turnbull where they went to the Lyneside and Cumcrook wood. They shot two woodcocks and two snipes, taking them to Carlisle on Saturday.
All three were now taken into custody and held at the gaol to await the result of the inquest which was adjourned until Monday 26th. 
On that day the inquest reconvened with Sir James Graham, who was part of an anti-poaching association, being represented by a Mr Hewitson. Both Hoggs were not present but legally represented; Andrew Turnbull was in attendance, due to events that had happened while incarcerated at the city gaol. There was a need for him to be re-examined and before he was sworn he was warned he need not say anything that may criminate himself in the murder of Thomas Davidson; he was then sworn. He told the inquest court that both Hogg's had come for him at 7:30am on 8th to go poaching at Christenbury Crags area (NY577823) on what was a misty and wet morning. He initially declined and they said that Davidson dared not go out in the mist. Although reluctantly, he now went out with both men. Joe Hogg had said to him that if they came across 'old Tom', they would put an end to him and he expected him to help. He refused, saying he would not stain his hands with another man's blood, but if they did it, he would not say anything. They had been firing around the crags and made their way to Doe (now Dove) crags (NY561863) and made their way down Craigy (Craggy) Cleugh (NY536853), to Skelton Crags. They had two brace of grouse, a black cock and a wood cock, for which he accepted 4 shillings as his share. They then shot a further brace and came off Skelton Pike (NY542836). He told the court that they got down to Wyses Fauld at about 3.30pm when he looked back and said that 'Old Tom' was coming! meaning Davidson. They ran about 100 yards with Tom about 60 yards behind them. He ran on as Joe stopped and struck down Davidson, who protested saying it would be worse for them and surely they wouldn't kill him. Joe said he had cost him a great deal of money and it would be the last time. As he threw him down on his forehead he grabbed his coat neck and calling back Nichol, they both set about Davidson, but he, (Turnbull) could not say exactly how. When Davidson moved no more, Joe got up and cursed him for not helping but demanded that he told no-one. He could do nothing but say he wouldn't, for fear of being killed himself by them. They found his plaid (tartan twilled cloth worn over the shoulder) and prospect-glass at Coldwell Syke and placed cloth around him and the glass into an inside pocket. They took 3 sovereigns and 15 half-crowns from a purse, splitting it 3 equal ways, and left a £1 note and some silver. They left via Caldwell Syke, and came out at Routledge Burn where they parted. He never saw them again until the Sunday, Joe Hogg visited him while he and his wife were eating supper. Both discussed that they had been visited by the police and Joe said they were talking queer about them both, but the police had nothing on them. When Joe left he whispered outside to him to hide the clothing and footwear he had worn that day. He confirmed that on the Thursday evening they had discussed what each would say about their movements on that day. He went on to say that the only person he told of the murder was his wife, and asked her to get rid of his shoes after the Monday morning.

Jemima Turnbull next gave evidence and was reminded that she need not say anything that would incriminate her husband. (In modern criminal court speech, being his wife, she was regarded as a competent, but not compellable as a witness against him her oath of marriage standing higher than her oath to the court, and the two may conflict her). After stating that they had been married for about 18 months and had no children, she then largely confirmed the account of her husband, and having hidden his shoes in the byer, she later gave them to a constable.
A number of witnesses gave evidence then Elizabeth Hogg, the mother of Joseph was asked to swear the oath and kiss the holy book. Initially she refused but was warned and then did so. After a further warning of the consequences of not being truthful, with great reluctance she confirmed the Joseph was away from home on 8th, and was with Nichol. She confirmed they came back in late evening and had two woodcocks and a snipe with them. When pressed on other birds she again refused, constantly looking to her son's legal representative for support but was asked the same question on twenty occasions before the coroner was satisfied he had at least received a reply on oath. There were further points put to her on the handing of clothing to Constable Snowden and also Superintendent Sabbage. There was then a debate on the taking of the game birds to Carlisle, and who had taken them. Eventually, her account was read to her and she agreed with its accuracy. 
Next was Mr. John Steel, a reporter for the Carlisle Journal. He confirmed the conviction of Joseph Hogg for a poaching offence which occurred on 16th October. After paying the fine he had heard, and noted, that Hogg threatened harm on Davidson, who had witnessed and reported the poaching offence; the threat had been loud enough for the whole court to hear.
The other piece of important evidence was that of Joseph Davidson, the son of the deceased. He had been with Turnbull in the middle of June, heading to Newcastleton and met a John Hunter; they all went for a drink together. Davidson threatened that if he met Thomas Hunter, 'at a convenient place, he would be on him'. He warned Turnbull, and Hunter also said it was a sad thing to threaten a man's life, drunk or sober.
The inquest was adjourned and re-opened the next day, where evidence of footwear was given. Four sets of prints were found at one location and the marks seemed to match the shoes of the deceased Davidson, also Turnbull's and Nichol's, but not Hogg's. Evidence of the seized clothing was also given before the coroner then summed up the evidence. At the conclusion the inquest jury's verdict was that all three men had murdered the game watcher by strangulation with his own neckerchief.

That evening Mr. Orridge, the gaol governor, received committal warrants for each of the prisoners to stand trial for the murder at the next Assizes. The next morning he went to Turnbull's cell with Joseph Gallagher, the turnkey, and relayed the news as the prisoner read his bible. Turnbull again said that he had nothing to do with it. Gallagher gave him his supper at 5pm and both passed pleasantries before bidding each a good night; all appeared normal. Gallagher returned the next morning at 6:50am but the cell appeared empty. He shone a light into the corner, only to find Turnbull suspended from the window bars, strangulated by a towel, with his feet 6 inches clear of the floor. He had suffered a lingering death as it was clear from the boot marks on the wall that he had convulsed for a period of time once he had kicked away the stool he had stood on. He locked the door and went for the governor who immediately attended. On checking Turnbull's hand it was quite cold to the touch, so he had been dead a considerable time. He was cut down and laid on the bed, which had not been slept in. On checking the cell Mr. Orridge noticed writing on the walls, which had been done with the charcoaled end of a stick burnt in the fire.
Above the window was: 'The two Hogg' are guilty, I am innocent. I will not come in the hands of man'
Above the fire-place was: 'I commit my soul to God that gave it, take my body to my father's burying place.'
Above the bed was: 'My dear, you and I was lovely, but I am torn from thy breast. Don't weep for me.
Jemima, my dearest, my heart's delight and treasure, I am innocent; I die with pleasure. We meet again with pleasure. Beware of bad company. My parents are not to blame; they did their duty. Adieu, my dear friends.'
Mr. Orridge informed Superintendent Sabbage and the Justices, as he was obliged to. Also, rather than send a message to Turbull's family, being in such an outlandish place, the next day he sent a personal messenger to inform them. He wife arrived that same afternoon, unaware of the death of her husband and Mr. Orridge had to break the news. She was distraught and eventually was keen to fulfil his dying wish to be buried with his father, but the authorities, although desirous to see his request completed, stressed on Gemima that the cost would take all her funds. Eventually he was buried at Christchurch cemetery, Botchergate, with no family member or friend to mark his passing, only strangers.
The inquest was held on the morning of Friday 30th, at The Three Crowns Inn, on English Street, where the verdict was one of suicide, with no evidence as to the state of the balance of his mind at the time.

The trial of the two remaining men took place at the Spring Assizes on Saturday, 23rd February, 1850, before Mr. Baron Alderson. The case for the prosecution was gone through as each witness gave their evidence, which was similar to that previously given at the inquest hearings. However, despite the contradictory accounts of the now two charged men to that of certain witnesses, the similarity in the footwear markings at the scene to those of the seized footwear, the threats given by Joseph Hogg as witnessed by the press and now attested to by the magistrates at court when they were uttered, when the counsel for the defence stood he asked the judge if there was a case for his clients to answer? His Honour said that it appeared not and was a case of evidence from an already perjured man. He asked the jury to consider if there was any evidence that strongly supported the account of Turnbull. When the jury expressed unease, the judge stated that evidence of an ordinary accomplice was bad to rely upon at any time. However, when an accomplice is called the jury can observe his manner and he is available for cross-examination and the effect of such questions upon him may tell materially upon the jury. Here, they had never seen Turnbull, but knew he had sworn falsely. He asked them how they could have any faith in his statements without seeing the effect of that cross-examination upon him? Was it reasonable to act on such testimony?
The jury further considered this matter and after some hesitation, returned a verdict of Not Guilty, without any need for the defence to put forward their evidence; the two Hoggs were released.
A leopard doesn't change its spots, or a poacher his habits. On 27th September 1850, Joseph Hogg was arrested with his two relatives, his cousin John (Nichol) and brother Walter, for poaching at The Flatt, Liddesdale Southern Scotland. They were captured and handed to officers at Newcastleton. On 17th November 1855 a muffler was stolen from a public house in Rickergate; John (Nichol) Hogg was later arrested for the crime and sentenced to 3 months hard labour, just into the new year of 1856. On 20th November 1857 it was reported that Joseph Hogg was charged with illegal shooting of game on Sir James Graham's land but he did not appear and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Although no news reports appear to have been written, feelings in the local community must have ran deep, with a desire to remember and honour the memory of Thomas Davidson. A memorial stone was erected in 1852 on the place where his body had been found and is the first image of this article. It reads:

Upper section of the inscription

Lower section
Following gaining knowledge of this incident I decided to visit and research the murder as best I could. We parked at Cuddyshall Bridge (NY520808) and walked to the monument.

After viewing and photographing the marker my wife and I decided to walk to the location of Kettle Hall as it is marked on OS maps. It took us across Blacklyne House, on the bank of Black Lyne Beck, which the poachers had crossed in the course of their search for gamebirds.

Blacklyne House 'Bothy' (locked).

Black Lyne Beck, looking south

Black Lyne Beck, looking north

The disappointment was to reach the location of the former residence of Thomas Davidson, only to find it raised to the ground, although the basic shape and size could be just made out. It would be tiny, yet accommodated a his large family of eight children.
One part of the story appeared to be missing and that was the grave the of Thomas. He was known to have been buried at St. Mary's Church, Stapleton, and we assumed that as there was no image anywhere available, then the grave would be unmarked. That was not the case and my wife located it in a short space of time. Perhaps there is no realisation in the parish to the local significance of this simple marker, there being no clue in the inscription to the violent manner in which he died.

Stapleton Church and the grave in relation to it.
I had originally thought that I had identified the correct Joseph Hogg in Paragraph (1) below, and had published that as the correct one, when it is not him. I have left the matter, as it seems to have formed an issue with a descendant of the one referred to, he being unsure if his ancestor is the one connected with the scene of the murder. I can now say with almost certainty that HE IS NOT the same Joseph. I have attached a second account in Paragraph (2) that I am as certain as I can be, identifies the correct one. 
**Paragraph (1)
Of Joseph Hogg, he had been born in Scaleby and christened on 23rd August 1823, the son of Thomas and Ann.  He went on to marry a Jane Wilson some time prior to 1851, and in that year they had a son, David. Ann was born in 1854, Mary Jane in 1857, Joseph Wilson in 1862, Elizabeth in 1865, and the last was Barbara in 1868. In the 1881 census they had two grandchildren also living with them at Burn Hill, Scaleby West; they were John Joseph 4 years old, and Jane, 2 years old, although it is not clear at this time who the parents were. Joseph is recorded as an Agricultural labourer. In 1891 he was 65 years old and still an agricultural labourer for a farmer called Bell, lodging with them at Bar Close, Scaleby; Jane was living in with her daughter, now at Aspatria. Joseph and Jane were to move to 28 Etterby Street, Stanwix, Carlisle, and he died there on 26th August 1899 and Jane died there on 17th September 1909.
**Paragraph (2)
There was a Joseph Hogg who in the 1841 census was living at Two Dargs (township of Bailies), aged 12 years, living with his parents, Walter and Eleanor, nee Davidson. He had two siblings, Walter aged 10 years, and Anne also aged 10 years , but not believed to be twins. There is then a Joseph Hogg, listed as born in the Bewcastle area, who in 1850 is detained in Jedburgh prison. There is nothing else known of this Joseph Hogg, but his father originated in Scotland and his mother, in Bewcastle. Since the border is so close it is safe to assume this is the same Joseph Hogg who was at the scene of the murder. This also appears certain to be the one arrested over the border in September of 1850. It may be that he stayed north of the border after his release, or shortly after, so is lost to further searches, but he is the only one that fits the circumstances. 

Of Joseph Hogg and the murder, the decision of the courts has to be accepted and that was, he was innocent. That said, he was certainly a witness to it and that lingering doubt, raised by the contradictions in his account when compared to those of other witnesses, would always raise doubts on that innocence within his community. Whatever happened, he took the knowledge of the horrific strangulation of Thomas Davidson to the grave with him.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Constable Alfred Schollick Wilkin, Village Policeman at Pooley Bridge. Lived 1848 - 1923 and his son Alfred.

Cumbria Constabulary recently had a request for assistance in helping a member of the public with any details they may have on a retired officer of the old Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary, the dates were pre 1900. His name was William Schollick (sometimes spelt Scholick) Wilkin, and he was known to have at sometime be stationed at Pooley Bridge. The constabulary now has no museum and there was no data, so I was asked on a personal level if I could assist the member of the public as I have recently done a number of historical policing issues. 
I was able to supply that member of the public with nearly thirty incidents that the officer was involved in, and some family matters too. As it developed there came an interesting piece of information that could loosely be called Pooley Bridge history, so I thought I would document the officer here, for local knowledge. 

William Schollick was born in Longtown in the second quarter of 1847, the 'Schollick' being his mother's name. He was the 1st born of five brothers and one sister, he and his brother John were born prior to the marriage of the 'parents', although John was recorded as a Wilkin. It may be that William had a different father, or just that the parents had not married at this time, but were a parental partnership. Little is known of him but in the 1861 census his mother was by then a widow, with William working as a bobbin turner. 
William married an Elizabeth Scott, also of Longtown, in the 2nd quarter of 1869. From a eulogy of his death on 22nd March 1923, he was known to have worked for a short spell for the North British Railway, prior to joining The Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary in 1870. Now as a police officer his life and career begin to be mapped out in newspaper accounts of court cases, and occasional family matters. His first recorded case was on 2nd February 1871 at Whitehaven court where Mary Anne Connolly, a 'fallen woman', was before them for being drunk and disorderly, PC Wilkin being the arresting officer. Through other cases in Whitehaven, his collar number is recorded as PC148. In March of 1872 he and a colleague were charged with assaulting two ore miners they had arrested for police obstruction. The allegation was the miners had incited a prisoner to assault the police officers. After a heated argument in court over procedural issues, the two miners was found Guilty, and the case against the officers was dismissed without any case going ahead against them. The other Whitehaven cases were generally licensing offences and assaults, the standard fare of any police officer who patrols the streets.
In May 1874 a change occurs where he is at Workington Magistrates with a case of theft of a plank of pitch pine wood from North Side area, the property of the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company; William was then recorded as being stationed at Seaton, near Workington, still in West Cumberland; the culprit received 3 months imprisonment. There was another case of burglary in 1874 then he is recorded dealing with a case of someone playing 'Pitch and Toss', in Seaton in 1877; the offender was fined 2s 6d, with costs! On Monday 7th October 1878 a presentation was made to him by the residents of Seaton, of an inscribed silver tea and coffee service with a cruet stand, in gratitude of his work in the village over his 5 years as their officer. It was said that he had given a great deal of his time to the welfare of those in the village and there had not been a single refusal in the gathering of subscriptions for the gift by the committee. Constable Wilkin replied that he was both honoured and it was the proudest moment of his life.
He had now moved with his family to Pooley Bridge and would spend the final 16 years of his career at that rural office. He dealt with cases of snaring hares, and various cases of disorder in the village. In July 1887 he was at court with two men who had poisoned fish in a beck near Greystoke, one receiving £1 fine, the other £3, as it was his 3rd occasion before the court for similar offences. Police work invariably involves an officer in family tragedies, and one such case was the death of Isaac Howell, of Croft House, Greystoke Gill, who was found in the river Lowther on Friday 9th October 1891, having gone to tend stock; the inquest result was 'Found Drowned'. 
The greatest public praise Constable Wilkin received was following a case before the Assize court towards the end of October 1886. A notorious burglar called Charles Webster (alias Thomson) 46 years, and a tramp called George Moor, 26 years had broken into a house of Isaac Harrison  at Castle Sowerby on 18th September and stole property. Then on 17th October they broke into the house of William and Elizabeth Davis in Greystoke parish. On this last occasion Constable Wilkin tracked them from Watermillock to Windermere where he discovered they had then parted company. He sent a telegram to Kendal police, who detained Webster; Constable Wilkin then proceeded to Ulverston and apprehended Moor at a lodging house, with the assistance of the Lancashire Constabulary. At Carlisle Assizes, due to Webster's previous criminal record he received 5 years penal servitude, and Moor, 12 months hard labour. It was said that the officer had put a check on a crime wave in the area.
On 16th July 1896 he assisted in a dragging operation on Ullswater where a young lady called Annie Wilson, daughter of William Wilson the leaser of the Keswick Hotel, had been struck by the boom of the sailing yacht she was a passenger in, and knocked overboard, immediately sinking and she was drowned. It had occurred near Howtown and the drags were being used at Stybarrow Crag, in another operation to recover a body of a boy who had drowned on the Saturday. That operation was suspended to search for Miss Wilson's body. It was found near 10pm that day. 
As his career drew to a close he came up to the moment where he had the narrowest of escapes from serious injury, or even death, and at the hands of poachers. On Thursday 21st January 1897 he came into Penrith in a very dazed state. At 6:10am he had come across two poachers at Red Hill, Sockbridge, carrying bags and each had a 6ft long ash stick. He went to search them and was threatened. He continued and was beaten by both with the sticks, yet managed to knock both down with his truncheon as he heard them shout about killing him and throwing him off the bridge and into the water. One got up and as the officer went to seize the bag, he was knocked unconscious by a blow to the back of the head and left lying in that state. Both men, James Thompson and Robert Thomlinson, had been known to him and were later arrested. He had been too ill to attend the remand hearing, a huge lump, being on the back of his head. At the Petty Sessions on Tuesday 2nd February Thomlinson received a 4 month sentence, and Thompson received 6 months, due to previous offences.
William retired from the constabulary in 1897 and the Wilkin family took up residence in Penrith. The 1901 and 1911 censuses showed him to be at 3 Mill Street and recorded him as a retired policeman and also said he was a farmer. The latter census stated that the couple had had 11 children, sadly only 6 now survived, and it is at this point that an ordinary story of a diligent officer, takes a turn that appears to be little known, if at all, in the Cumbrian area. 
Of those children, John was a postmaster at Saltburn, William had a large ironmongery business at Barrow, Alfred had gone into the confectionary business on the North East, and James was in British Columbia; the two daughters were now married. William and Elizabeth had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, but this memory was marred by Elizabeth's death, just a week after the happy event. William spent his time visiting family and it was whilst at Alfred's house, on the North East that he died on Thursday 22nd March 1923. He was laid to rest at Penrith cemetery on Saturday 24th, a large crowd of family and friends accompanying him to his grave.
The son Alfred was born at Pooley Bridge on 22nd April 1883 and it is that association with the confectionary business that is a revealing piece of Pooley Bridge history. He was born Alfred Schollick Wilkin but when he died on 20th September 1943, he died as Sir Alfred Schollick Wilkin. He had begun a confectionary business and this quickly expanded into one of the most successful brands the country has known, the Cremona Toffee. It led to the development of a 'Garden Village' industry, one of the first in the north; A. S. Wilkin Ltd., Cremona Park, High Heaton. He became a giant of the confectionary industry and was known to be heavily involved in any improvement in its conditions and standards. He became an executive member of a number of Food manufacturing federations and alliances. He later worked on the introduction of light industries to Tyneside, his company ideas gaining the approval and adoption of Ramsay McDonald. As WWII approached he gave his efforts towards anything associated with war production. He was also a member of the Newcastle and Gateshead Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Council of Commerce, Kings College, Newcastle. He was a supporter of the conservatives and for the 12 years prior to his death he was chairman of the Central Division Conservative Association. Of his other accolades, he was a Freeman of the City of London and a member of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers and Liverymen of the City of London. He was knighted in June 1939 'For Political and Public Services in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 
Alfred died on 19th September 1943, aged 60 years, leaving a wife and three sons, all serving with the British Armed Forces. I am sure his illegitimately born son, who became a police officer, would have been proud of Alfred's achievements.

Not wishing to detract from the work of others, I have attached two links which explain further the detail of Alfred's rise from the son of a Pooley Bridge Police Officer, to become a Knight of the country. The 2nd link is a sale site, but they use a document to explain the history and adds to the story.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Windermere WWII Training Tragedy - Six Drowned Soldiers

In July 1945 the Kings Royal Rifle Corps were stationed at Westwick Camp, Barnard Castle, Durham. The war in Europe had drawn to a close, although the conflict was still continuing in the Pacific against the Japanese. It was an uncertain time and those hard earned skills of battle needed to remain within the experience of the British Armed Forces, and passed to newer, inexperienced troops, through field exercises in order to prepare them for battle.

Belle Isle to the left, on Windermere; Looking north to Ambleside.
Such a group needing to train were the Kings Own Royal Rifle Corps. They travelled from Barnard Castle and on 20th July they commenced a training exercise at Windermere, to practice their assault skills with the use of an inflatable craft which was designed for nine; it was to make three trips with troops on board. They were detailed to cross from the Westmorland side, at Cockshott Point, to Belle Isle, the largest island in the lake, which was approximately 300 yards from the main shoreline; the intention was then to cross further to the Lancashire side of the lake. On the first trip to Belle Isle, eight crossed and two returned; a further six then boarded for the second crossing. The boat again returned with two men and a further six soldiers and a second lieutenant then boarded, so the whole party was 21 strong in total. The weather was poor as they set off in the early hours on their 'mission' from the point, the wind blowing at half a gale, with the waves cresting, described at the time as 'white horses'. What occurred on the third crossing would result in the death of five soldiers and their officer, and would be the worst drowning on the lake for over 310 years. The first two crossings had been uneventful despite the weather, but the third was hit by a sudden squall and it began to fill up from the back; it then capsized throwing the nine men into the water. All were in full kit and five of the soldiers and their officer were drowned. One man tried to swim to the island and was assisted by Lieutenant Joll, who was in overall command, and had previously made the crossing now swimming out to assist his soldier. The remaining two clung to the capsized boat, which was approximately 40 yards from the island; their colleagues on the island found a rowing boat to assist in the rescue of them. Having got his man to the safety of the island, the lieutenant now swam across the lake to reach the main shore at Bowness and then ran across the fields to raise the alarm. Once the police were informed, Inspector Illingworth, of the Westmorland Constabulary, enlisted the help of a Norman Garnett and eight other local boatmen who were experienced on the lake; they then set about the recovery of the bodies with grappling irons, which was successfully accomplished over the next six hours in what was described as dangerous conditions.
The inquest was held on Monday 23rd July and all the men were named. They were:
  • 2nd Lieutenant Rodney Nigel Holt, aged 20 years, of Mile End House, Romney, Hants.
  • Rifleman Jack William Weir, aged 19 years, of Viewmount, West Hill, Culloden, Invernesshire.
  • Reginald Ernest Taylor, aged 19 years, of 45 Bordon Place, Stratford-on-Avon.
  • Harry Cohen Richards, aged 19 years, of 48 Wedmore Street, Upper Holloway, London.
  • Henry Frank Thorpe, aged 18 years, of 19 Tolvin Street, Hammersmith.
  • Ronald William Digby, aged 21 years, of 172 Doyse Gardens, Willesden.
Lieutenant Dourish Evelyn Joll had earlier declined his name when the press had inquired, following his brave actions in swimming the lake to raise the alarm and get help; now at the inquest the coroner was able to praise his heroism. At the conclusion verdicts of death by misadventure were recorded.

All 6 men are Remembered with Honour, marked by singular war grave headstones, or named on a Memorial. Second lieutenant Holt is buried at Hollybrook cemetery, Southampton; Rifleman Weir at Kilchuiman burial ground, Invernesshire; Rifleman Taylor at Stratford-Upon-Avon cemetery; Rifleman Richards is Remembered with Honour at Brookwood Memorial, Surrey; Rifleman Thorpe is similarly Remembered at Mortlake Crematorium, Kew, Richmond-Upon-Thames; and Rifleman Digby at Willsden New Cemetery, Borough of Brent, Greater London.

The tragedy, devastating as it was, occurred in the backdrop of war and reporting on it would have its  official limitations. It would also need to be seen, on a national level, as merely another incident of loss of armed service personnel among the many many thousands who had passed before them, with similar loss of civilian lives. Time passed, and despite the ceremonies at the war memorials quoting Lawrence Binion's words 'We Will Remember Them', Windermere had all but forgotten the tragic fatalities of men training in what was still a war footing mentality of the day. However, a Windermere resident called Don Lowis recalled the tragedy and in 2015 questioned why their six names were not mentioned at the town memorial? The local Royal British Legion Branch decided to do this on Remembrance Sunday 2015, this now being the 70th anniversary year of their deaths. On Saturday 6th February 2016, a plaque was placed on a seat next to the memorial which names all six men. In that way the town would also remember and so honour the ultimate sacrifice the six paid, training for the defence of their country.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Lanty Slee and his 'Mountain Dew'.

Yew Tree Tarn and Holme Fell, near High Arnside, Tilberthwaite.
A lot has previously been written about Lanty Slee, the most notorious illicit whisky distiller in Lakeland. Although the likely locations of his illicit stills have been identified, little more has been added to the facts of his life, moving him more towards a legendary figure, rather than a man of the times, trying to make an extra 'bob', albeit an unlawful one, to maintain his family. I will now try and add that more factual detail, and add at the end to the folklore that developed at the time, based on his notoriety, even some time after his death.

Black Fell summit, behind High Arnside.

Lancelot, or Lanty, Slee was born in the Kirkby Irleth area of Lancashire (now in the south of Cumbria) around 1802. Little further is known of him until he was married to a Miss Mary Richardson who was 18 years younger, on 3rd June 1839, at Ulverston. Lanty's occupation was recorded as a husbandman, so he was involved in farming. In the 1841 census the Slee's were recorded as living in the Tilberthwaite area.
The first clue to Lanty's additional 'profession' as a fermenter of Morning, or Mountain, Dew, came on Tuesday 28th September 1841. Excisemen at Ambleside had received information that an illicit still was at work at the premises of Lanty Slee, who lived in a remote cottage near Tilberthwaite. They set off on that day from Hawkshead, accompanied by constables Grisdale and Jackson. Once there, they systematically searched for the still and eventually found it in an ingenious location; the floor of the stable block had been excavated and a trap door built at its head where the horse's forelegs would be. This had been hidden from view by a heavy covering of hay, and of course, the horse. All Lanty had to do was to call the animal, which would then allow either ingress or egress to or from the hidden vault. A great deal of work had undergone its construction in order to prevent discovery while in operation. The flue of the 25 gallon capacity boiler had been ingeniously routed underground and linked into the chimney of the house itself. It was clear to these officers of the law that the equipment was nearly new, a great expense having been laid out as the scale of the illegal operation of distilling had been expanded to increase the very profitable, yet unlawful, production of the 'dew'. Also seized were two barrels of malt, two casks of sour porter, one cask of treacle, and 27 gallons of wash. Found concealed in some nearby bracken was a small quantity of the whisky itself, which was also impounded; everything was hauled off for storage at Ambleside by the police, as evidence for the court, and also for its later destruction. The excisemen and police had known that Lanty had been conducting his illicit operation for the last 20 years, but had never had the information to locate his still. It has long since been said that he was known to have various such equipment spread across the surrounding valleys, he being a man of the area, working by day in the quarries and mines, also to some degree by farming the land; yet under the cover of darkness he engaged himself in the more profitable occupation of distilling and smuggling his whisky, producing annually 400 to 500 gallons. His product was said to be the strongest known and that now he was caught, the locals would commence a Tea-total Society, as they normally would when his stocks had run low; now it appeared this was forced upon them, by the invoking of the law on his illicit actions.
The newspapers of the day reported that he would never have been caught had it not been for the report of his 'wily lodger'; it appears he was informed on by another. This passing of information to the authorities would no doubt have brought about some reward to the informer; without that it was said he would have continued uninterrupted long into the future. Who that informant was is unclear, but known to be lodging with him in June of that year were two other adults, a 70-year-old quarryman called James Woodend, and a 65-year-old Mary Graham. One other possibility was a Henry Brake who also lived in the Tilberthwaite area. Lancelot Slee had just been before the local magistrates and fined £4 for assaulting Brake. This was the highest fine issued that day at court, the next highest being only £2. Whoever the informer was, he or she, would be forever disowned by the whole neighbourhood; their supply of whisky was now severely interrupted.
On 7th October Lanty was taken before the magistrate W. Gale Esq., by the excise men and fined £30 for the illegal production of whisky. In default of the fine, he was committed to Preston House of Correction for 3 months. 

High Arnside Farm.
By the census of 1851 the Slee family were shown to be at Arnside, Lanty was now recorded as a farmer with 94 acres. He was known to have not altered his ways and continued with his illegal industry to supplement his legal occupation of farmer, come quarryman. He displayed great guile in the concealing of his operations and was never caught in the act of actually transporting, or supplying his much sought after product. The problem of remaining secret would once again rear its head as the crime of illicit whisky distilling requires: possession of a great deal of equipment which would be housed in one location, along with the storage of products for fermentation, and finished whisky for distribution. All that is needed by the excise officers is that the equipment is found, then the identification, and prosecution of the fermenter is inevitable. Lanty lasted for another 12 years before his operations were once again 'interrupted'. He appeared before the Hawkshead Magistrates on 9th May 1853, charged firstly with possession of a private still for illicit distillation, and secondly for having such a still in his custody. A Mr. Scott, of the Board of Inland Revenue prosecuted the case and Lanty was defended by Mr. Wilson of Hawkshead. 
Apart from the defendant the main witnesses were, Mr. C. Bowdon of Customs and Excise, Mr. Gilbanks who was the property owner who rented the High Arnside to the defendant, and a Mr. (William) Pattinson who was from the area. A summary of all the evidence shows that Mr. Gilbanks had rented the property to Lanty, three years previous to the last Martinmas, the first six months were for free rent. He was unaware of any cave in the field, which was known as Old House Field. 
Mr. Bowden had gone to the premises of High Arnside on 12th March, based on information he had received, and discovered a cave about 400 yards from the house in the named field. The entrance was blocked off by a flag and loose brackens. When he entered it he found it to measure about 15ft by 10ft; it was 4ft high at the entrance, rising to about 7ft further back. There was a flagged floor, with rafters and flags for a roof, covered with turf; the sides were also mainly of flags. Inside was a fireplace with recent ash in the grate, the chimney of which was also concealed with flags and bracken. There was a copper still in the fireplace, with a head and worm attached. Mr. Bowden also found a wash tub with a quantity of fermenting wash inside, three casks with taps, two gallons of treacle, two further gallons of 'low wines' (the name given to the first product of the distillation process), three pints of whisky, a second tub, a quantity of oak firewood, and several feet of lead piping. Water was conveyed into the cave via a concealed drain from a dam above, which had been ingeniously constructed to appear to irrigate the adjacent field by the simple turning of a diverting stone, when not in use feeding the boiler. On going to the house, Mrs Slee said her husband was not at home. Mr. Bowdon then went into the barn to obtain a horse and cart to remove the items for evidence, and found within firewood similar to that in the cave. The boiler itself could not initially be removed from the cave entrance; two flags had to be taken down in order to finally do this. He informed the court that a nearby cart track also showed signs of recent and continual movement along it. He finally caught up with the defendant on 27th April, whereupon he served several summonses on him. On cross-examination he stated that it was his opinion that the cave had been used for the illegal distillation process for up to three years, the rafters, being well blackened by the smoke created. The entrance stone was three feet by one and a half feet in size, and a stile leading from the house to the cave was about 8 yards away from it. 
The well worn track.

A possible location of the still?

Mr. Pattinson had been the previous tenant and he told the court that when he had left there was no cave in the field only a small pit, nor any watercourse, dam, or sluice. There had been a stile from the house into the field, but no footpath. The field used to be mown, but he had never seen the Slee family doing so, nor had he recently seen any animals grazing on it. The cave itself could not be seen from the road. When he was questioned about his relationship with the defendant he confirmed he had quarrelled with him about the delivery of sheep. He had killed him a sheep, but had never stolen sheep from him, nor killed one without Slee's knowledge; he denied ever killing his dog. He accepted that 12 weeks previous he had spent some time in the House of Correction through him being unable to pay his debts.
At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. Wilson addressed the magistrates, saying that the evidence was not sufficient to convict his client, but after a lengthy consultation, the magistrates disagreed and found him Guilty and fined him £100, granting a warrant for immediate levy of the fine, to be paid within 6 days. It had been clear that despite no direct link to Slee, no one else could have conducted such a business at the cave without his knowledge and connivance.

It was reported by the news correspondent for the area that the locals of Great and Little Langdale had enjoyed the soothing privilege of the 'Mountain Dew' for nearly 50 years. Despite the vigilance of the excise men and officers of the law, as soon as one still was discovered and broken up, another would take its place and production would increase. Only the previous week one such still had been found in a mud hut in a plantation, near a mountain called John Kell. The apparatus was carried away and the hut raised to the ground. Only a few years previous a still was discovered and impounded at Ambleside. That very night a party of Dalesmen 'released it from the custody of the law', and when the guilty party was released from a period of hard labour, his apparatus was ready for him to continue production. Was this Lanty's equipment from his first arrest? 

That was not to be the last contact of Lancelot Slee with the law. It has always been the case that those that flout to law, still turn to it at their perceived moment of need, and Lanty was no different to other law breakers. On 15th November 1859, so when he is around 57 years old, he was at a wood sale at the house of farmer John Greenhow, at Tilberthwaite, when he alleged he was assaulted by Daniel Dawson of High Park, and Daniel Graves of Oxen Fell. Dawson had remonstrated with Lanty over his sheep being loose and in his fields, to which Lanty called him a liar. He said he was struck in the face by Dawson for this. He got up to leave their company when Graves tripped him and both then set about punching him. Lanty's son John confirmed this account and added that all three men were drunk at the time. As a result of other witness depositions, Dawson was acquitted and Graves was found Guilty and fined 20 shillings.

There have been many widespread accounts of the number of illicit stills dotted secretly around the Tilberthwaite, Wrynose and Langdale areas, some within the living memory of local people, still showing the evidence of equipment storage and the burning of wood for the boilers. It is clear from both these above reported court cases that Lanty had been engaged in the production of his 'Mountain Dew' for all his adult life and had shown him to be well known as the expert at both its production and the avoidance of discovery. Had it not been for the informants in both these incidents, then he would have evaded the law all through his illicit distilling career. Of Pattinson, to speculate, it appears he was in severe debt and therefor ripe for an influence from the excise authorities, perhaps through a visit to the House of Correction and an inducement to a reward for any information leading to a successful prosecution. It is believed that he, understandably, could not show his face in the area again after giving evidence against a hero of the community. Later accounts said of 'Will Patty' that he was in business with Lanty but always managed to distance himself from the production process and himself evade being captured in the act of illegal distilling of the 'Dew'. It seems likely that the whole debacle was a fall out of business partners.

Of the Slee family, it has been discovered from census entries that Lanty and Mary had ten children; however there appears to have been eleven. Their son Joseph was born at the end of 1851, but this name appears to have been a reused one. A Joseph Slee was born in the same area, in the first quarter of 1850 (mother's maiden name of Richardson) and died in the last quarter of the same year. No other Slee's with a mother of that same maiden name were born in the area, so it seems the name was repeated following the death of their child; the dates meant the first Joseph missed any census recordings. Lanty himself passed away at Greenbank Farm, Little Langdale, on 21st May 1878, and was buried in nearby Chapel Stile churchyard; Mary had died 3 years earlier. On his death his illicit activity does not seem to have brought him great wealth as his probate recorded his estate to be valued at below £100. Still, he lives on in the folklore of the area and wider three counties community of Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland. 

Emphasis of this point  was given when on 28th October 1897, when Mr. Daniel Irvine Flattely died at his Windermere residence. In his earlier life he had been the local supervisor of Excise at the Inland Revenue of the Civil Service and spoke with some humour on his dealings with the notorious Lanty Slee, who he regarded as the foremost countryside distiller of those earlier days. He quoted where Lanty had been detained and his illegal still, worm, and working plant, had been taken to Ambleside by the police. No police station yet existed there, so it was all stored for security overnight in the brew house of The Royal Oak, for production at court the next day. The local people were at odds with these actions of the officials of the law and in the morning it was found that all the equipment had disappeared, causing the prosecution to fail. He went on to quote that Lanty was not always that lucky, but the fines, although severe, did not cease his operations, the public themselves subscribing to these penalties, meaning they were paid almost immediately. Lanty apparently had a number of 'interviews' with the magistrates and it was recalled that he could be compared to a modern magician, for within a radius of 20 miles he was supposedly able to lay his hands on a bottle of his 'Dew' within 5 minutes. Mr. Flattely had said that Mr. Davy, the magistrate, had once said to Lanty in the court: "I am told that you are able to furnish your friends with a glass of spirit at any time when desired, but I think we have broken the spell this time." To the considerable merriment of the court audience, and no doubt to the annoyance and humiliation of the magistrate, Lanty produced a full bottle from his coat pocket, held it up and replied: "Mappen ye'r rang. Will ye hev a touch"? The fine on that occasion was set at £50, but again, it was subscribed by the townspeople and paid within an hour of being set. The equipment had also been 'relieved' by them from the custody of the law enforcers and was ready for use by the time Lanty had returned to his place of 'work'. It was also said that this was the third time such a seizure of equipment had been so relieved from lawful possession by the authorities. The law officer and the offender can always have a healthy respect for the task of their adversary, each metaphorically nodding to the cunning and adptitude of the other; it appears this was certainly the case with Mr. Flattely, and no doubt it was with Slee himself.
One other account that supports this return of fermenting apparatus and circumvention of the law, came from a W. Nuttall, of Mountain View, Borrowdale, who told the a newspaper in the 1950's, that his father had known Lanty. Slee had said to a partner, who Mr. Nattall believed to be Neddy Mawson, "If ivver I'se te'an thou mun folla un meak sew'er thou gits t'worm." (Translated as: "if ever I'm taken you must follow and make sure you get the worm.") One day his unfortunate detention occurred. Lanty and his equipment were bundled into a cart for transport to Kendal for his appearance at court. As they passed Skelwith, Lanty pressed his escort to allow him a drink but the escort would hear none of it; this was repeated at Ambleside and again refused. However, when they got to the Lowwood Hotel the escort relented and both went inside. Eventually, when they came out, Lanty had to lean against the cart for support but was able to look inside and see that the worm had indeed been removed, no doubt in accordance with his earlier instruction. At court the following day his defence was that it was impossible to use the equipment for distillation. An expert was called into court, who confirmed that without a worm one could not make alcohol with the equipment. The case was dismissed and no doubt the property returned to Lanty, and the whole operation would recommence.


Lanty was not the only brewer of Mountain Dew that plied his trade in the Lakes. Perhaps the other renowned one was Moses Rigg, but despite his name embedded in the landscape of Moses Trod and his 'smugglers retreat' at the back of Great Gable, nothing can be found of his existence and operation. One of the Ambleside locality was Johnnie Campbell who was renowned in the area, but never caught by the woefully few excise men assigned to enforcing the law. It was said that he had a number of narrow escapes, just avoiding the schemes of authorities to catch him with the evidence upon him.
Another was 'Whisky Walker' who plied his trade in Borrowdale, another area of mining and quarrying operations. It appears he was never caught, but may not have been on the same scale as Lanty. Tales also abounded about Walker, and in a letter of Thomas Carlyle to Alexander Craig Gibson (1813 - 1874) a surgeon, folklorist and antiquarian, on his receipt of a copy of 'The Folk Speech of Cumberland', Gibson spoke of his rendering aid to two young men who came across a barrel of Walker's whisky and drunk the product neat, with disastrous results. It was not said whether they died of that gleeful alcohol gluttony. he also spoke of Neddy Mawson, confirming him as a further accomplice of Lanty Slee. 


Monday, 15 June 2020

The Shepherd of Skiddaw Forest

The mother of all modern democracies would, understandably, be claimed by the English nation, with its Parliament, later to expand beyond its boundaries to join with Scotland, forming the British Parliamentary system. At the heart of that is the fundamental right to vote(although I accept that never arrived for women until after the suffrage movement in 1916-1917.) Did every man have that right, or at least that ability to influence the direction of his nation?

One article I came across was 6th September 1890 edition of the Westmorland Gazette which suggests that was not always the case, and that came about purely by the practicalities of location. I attach the article as a point of Lakeland history:



The remote township of Skiddaw, in Cumberland, is the scene of constitutional struggle. In Skiddaw there is no church, no post office, no police station, and indeed no population save the solitary occupant of the only house of which the township boasts. It is by and on behalf of this individual that the struggle with the State is being carried on. He is the shepherd of what is known as Skiddaw Forest, although the term used to designate a region that is destitute of anything that may be called a tree. Being neither a pauper, a criminal, nor lunatic, living in his tenement continuously, and at peace with himself, he claims the right of a British citizen to exercise the franchise. It is here that the difficulty has arisen. There are no overseers of Skiddaw to make out a voters' list, and, further, there is no place of worship or public building whereon to post it. Overseers of adjoining townships decline to meddle in the matter and the result is deadlock. In ordinary circumstances a refusal to pay taxes would probably elicit from some quarter or another an ingenious solution of the difficulty. But unfortunately the rates appear to be paid by the landlord's agent to the Cockermouth Union, so that our luckless shepherd makes no direct payment that might be withheld. In the old days had he been possessed of resources, not to say local influence with himself, he might possibly have bribed himself, voted for himself, and unanimously lent himself to sit in Parliament for Skiddaw. But this royal road was long ago closed for repairs, and has never been re-opened. Under these circumstances, it is not easy to see what the shepherd of Skiddaw Forest is to do. If he were to get himself appointed as local census clerk, to count himself next April, his house, where this operation would be conducted, might perhaps by a stretch be called a populous place within the meaning of the Act. But even then there would be no overseer to post his name upon it, and he would have to remain without the privilege and dignity of the franchise unless he could be made an overseer as well. It is to be feared that the noble British Constitution has been framed in ignorance of the needs of Skiddaw. 

This of course was the remote shooting lodge of Lord Lechonfield, which would contain his gamekeeper for the area and the keeper's family.

Skiddaw Forest with the wood at centre left containing the secluded Skiddaw House.
It is believed this voting anomaly continued until corrected by the Keswick Revision Court on Tuesday 2nd September 1930 when it was corrected, certainly for local government voting.