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A Cumbria Anthology
A Cumbria Anthology
Selected by George Bott
'Enchanting lakes, and stupendous mountains; verdant plains, tremendous rocks,waving woods, sweeping cataracts, natural castles, Roman camps,and the little hills, all at once conspire to raise the traveller's admiration and surprise!
Here the Contemplating Philosopher will meet with his heart's desire! The gay tourer with pleasures he never experienced before! The Valetudinarian may here meet with health and the Unfortunate with calm repose! In this quarter are found almost endless scenes of matchless beauty, majestic grandeur, and delight'
Peter Crosthwaite (1782)
148mm x 210mm paperback
No one could sell the Lake District better than Peter Crosthwaite, the eccentric creator and curator of the Keswick Museum. Back in 1782 he was promoting the Lakes to the enterprising tourist: “Enchanting lakes, and stupendous mountains, verdant plains and tremendous rocks, waving woods, sweeping cataracts, natural castles, Roman camps, and the little hills, all at once conspire to raise the traveller’s admiration and surprize! Here the contemplating Philosopher will meet with his heart’s desire! The gay tourer with pleasures he never experienced before! The Valetudinarian may here meet with health! And the Unfortunate with calm repose! In this quarter are found almost matchless beauty, majestic grandeur, and delight.”
Earlier writers could be equally awed. Michael Drayton, the Elizabethan poet, thought double-headed Skiddaw was like Mount Parnassus, the Greek home of the Muses. He describes (an imagined) panorama from the summit that saw all features looking adoringly towards this ultimate mountain.
John Keats, three centuries later was not so fortunate after he had risen early to climb Skiddaw before breakfast: “We fagged and tugged nearly to the top, when, at half past six, there came a mist upon us and shut out the view.” However, the eleven-year-old John Ruskin was filled with poetic enthusiasm: The summit of Skiddaw at last we attain./ Then our swift, eager eyes we impatiently threw/ On th’extensive, the wondrous, the beautiful view.”
The counties of Cumberland and Westmorland were not just the haunt of tourists. People worked there. The famous wad mines that supplied the lead for the Keswick pencil industry were opened once a year. The black-lead was so valuable - it was the only source in the world at the time - that the miners changed into special clothes before their six hour shift, and were thoroughly searched afterwards. For the rest of the year the mines were flooded to prevent theft.
Other people worked hard. In Cartmel in 1789, the school master was expected to do a twelve hour day beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning. And he might not be over-well remunerated. In eighteenth-century Cumberland, a schoolmaster might depend on “whittle-gait”, which was “the privilege of using his knife, in rotation, at the tables of those who send their children to his school.” A clergyman, similarly, might find himself rewarded with “a harden sark, a guse-grassing and a whittle-gait.”
A working life could be dangerous. In 1749, a man demolishing a wooden frame on Kirkby Stephen church tower, in throwing the wood down, found his coat snagged on a nail and fell down with it, dashing his brains out.
One hundred and fifty years earlier the imposing church at Holm Cultram was burnt to the ground when a workman took a live coal into the roof to search for a missing chisel.
George Bott’s anthology of writings on Cumbria is a treasure trove of history and folk-lore. George, who died some five years ago, was the author of “Keswick, the Story of a Lake District Town”. Few people were better versed in the history and literature of the county than George.
This anthology gives a rounded picture of the Lakes, its scenery, its people, their life and history. The great and famous rub shoulders with the long-forgotten. Wordsworth describes his neighbouring Rydal Falls in a sonnet and both Jane Harriet Schillio and Benjamin Travers give their description of the falls. Wordsworth wrote an angry poem about the Kendal to Windermere Railway, but there was also a lively poem in Punch about the railway that might have run alongside Derwentwater.
Peter Crosthwaite might have promoted the Lakes as a resort for contemplation, calm repose and health, but Robert Rawlinson in an official report on the sewage system in Keswick, could rail against there being “more dirt, disease and death than any decent town”.
George Bott knew the history of the Lake Counties in all its richness and variety.
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