Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends
The Little Book of Cumbria by David Ramshaw. History Press. £9.99
If Cumbria is only England’s third largest county by area – North Yorkshire is by far the largest and Lincolnshire just pips it by seventy square miles – Cumbria is certainly England’s highest county and David Ramshaw has had to cram a lot about this great mass of county into The Little Book of Cumbria.
He begins with Spatrie and the Viking chief unearthed on Beacon Hill. Then there’s George Moore, “merchant, millionaire and philanthropist” - the man who built Wigton Fountain as a memorial to his wife. He died in Carlisle, aged 70, when he was knocked over by a runaway horse outside the Grey Goat Inn.
A beautifully enamelled sword dating from 50 BC was found at Embleton, and eventually made its way to the British Museum. In 1985 a replica of the sword was made by apprentices at British Steel and handed over to the church in the village. “The Wythop church bell hung in a tree near the east window.”
The derelict brickworks at Wythop only made fifty tons of bricks and then the kilns were overheated and they collapsed. The scheme was a scandal, a case of “share-puffing”.
The Lorton Yew, made famous by Wordsworth, was actually sold to a cabinet maker from Whitehaven for £15, but a gentleman from Cockermouth saved this historic tree from destruction.
And the protracted rumblings that were heard at Whiteside, near Brackenthwaite, in 1908 “might be the sign of a slumbering volcano beginning to stir once more”.
Joseph Budworth, in 1792, came across locals at Scale Force hurling dogs over the 172 foot waterfall “for sport”. Previous visitors had enjoyed the spectacle, watching any dogs who survived the fall as “they limped away looking bewildered at the treatment they had received from their owners”.
It was in Buttermere where Sir Rowland Hill, the man who reformed the post office, saw a woman at a cottage refuse a letter. She explained that the envelope was marked with a message from her brother and so she avoided paying the £1 fee. And so the idea of the Penny Post was born.
Ari Knudson was a Norseman who organised many successful raids against the Normans in the country between Brough and Alston. His name and fame lives on in the phrase “Fighting like old Harry”.
In the 1830s several of George Stephenson’s locomotives were shipped along the recently opened Carlisle canal on their way from Newcastle to Liverpool. The railways marked the demise of the canal. In 1853 the canal was drained, a railway built, and trains ran where once the ships had sailed.
One of the two quartz crosses on the summit plateau of Blencathra was built by Harold Robinson in memory of a friend who had died in the war. He carried the stones up the mountain every day from Threlkeld quarry where he worked.
In the 1950s it was proposed to build a damn across Mosedale which would create a reservoir which would back up almost as far as Skiddaw House.
“Castle Crag is the central ‘tonsil’ of the Jaws of Borrowdale.” The Normans occupied it in a vain effort to control the valley. In the nineteenth century it was a slate quarry and in the twentieth it was home to the Borrowdale hermit, Millican Dalton.
And that’s just a taster. David Ramshaw, a well-known local publisher and author, has rammed no end of stories and anecdotes and facts into this neat little book. If you want an intriguing moment from Cumbrian history, want a tale to amuse your friends or fancy compiling a pub quiz on Cumbria or if you want to swat up the answers, The Little Book of Cumbria is the ideal book for you.