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Cumbrian Ancestors Unwrapped
Cumbrian Ancestors Unwrapped
This book is neither a family history nor a social history, but rather a synthesis of both. It is the history of the Cumbrian branch of the Donald family, as researched by Dennis Donald, detailing the lives of the famous and the infamous Donalds from 1632 to the present day.
Paperback; 295 x 210mm
265 photographs and illustrations
Book Review by Steve Matthews.
Cumbrian Ancestors Unwrapped by Dennis Donald. P3 Publications. £13
"There were Donalds at Anthorn, Kirkbride, Whitrigg and Cardurnock."
The Clan Donald had left Islay in the fifteenth century and settled in Ulster and Galloway and a few had crossed the Solway to make a livelihood on the "rich peatlands" of Cumberland.
They left their mark. Dennis Donald still has the will which Isabel Donelt signed "in the bone-chilling damp of New Year's Day, 1565". And he has other wills: Elynge Donelt, 1575; Nicholas Donelt, 1575; John Donald, 1581; another John Donelt, 1597; a Thomas Donelt of 1612, who was wealthy enough to leave an inventory of his possessions; and a William Donnald of 1677. William left "one great Arke, one Table, one great stone Trough, one paire of Waine wheels with the kaythes, one plough gate of geare".
The family had prospered and were to prosper further over succeeding generations. The Donalds spread across the lands of the Solway and beyond and left many traces of their lives. There is an earthenware jug which commemorates the marriage of William and Mary Donald in 1784. There is the farmhouse, Warwick Hall, near Westnewton, where they made their home. There is the stained glass window in Aspatria which is a memorial to their son, Thomas Donald.
Mary's brother, Matthewman Hodgson, a confirmed bachelor, developed a successful practice as a lawyer in King Street, Wigton. As an old man, he bought Solway House near Anthorn Lough and a small cottage at Blaithwaite on the unenclosed lands to the west of Wigton.
In 1815, he gave Blaithwaite to his nephew William. William married Mary Ann Fearon of Cockermouth. The family still have a valentine card sent by William to Mary. Within a garland of flowers, the card displays the endless knot of love proclaiming that, "Love is a virtue that endures for ever". Within three years of her marriage, Mary was dead, and her widowed husband, after a further three years, married the energetic, forceful and evangelical Jane Bell of Wreay.
The small isolated cottage at Blaithwaite was transformed into "a six-bedroomed mansion, complete with landscaped gardens, a sweeping drive, and an abundance of decorative mouldings. ceilings and architraves". William died in 1835, and Jane was left to raise six children on her own. Undaunted - her brother had become a powerful ironmaster over in the North-east - she continued to expand house and farm. There is a map, delicately hand-coloured, which shows her developing ambitions and her aspirations for the land and her children's future.
There were other members of the extended family who left their marks. One, George Moore, left the magnificent, gilded fountain which stands at the heart of Wigton. Thomas Parkin launched a lifeboat. William Henry Gibson, fraudster and transported convict, left a blacker mark. Matthewman Hodgson Donald became a cotton manufacturer in Carlisle, but he was also an enthusiastic member of St Cuthbert's Church.
Matthewman's daughter, Mary Jane, left a group of beautiful watercolour paintings of flowers, but her real passion was for snails. She wrote papers on the gasteropoda of Cumberland when she was 27, and, aged 78, she published a paper on British Carboniferous Locioemotidae.
And there were others: John Silas Lawson, a gold prospector; Gertrude Bell of Mesopotamia; John Parkin, "a reclusive scientist"; Janie Parkin, who was known for her "horses, hounds and muddy big-heartedness"; and there was the centenarian, Frances Norman, who witnessed the transformations brought about by a hundred years of history.
They all left their mark. Traces of their lives are to be seen in the documents and artefacts, the pottery, books and paintings to be found in the Donald household.
Dennis Donald has imagined the life of a family over more than five centuries from the time when William Donald sat on a bog oak on the Solway shore to the days when the ninety year old Frances Dugdale leapt "across her vegetables after cabbage-white butterflies, shouting, 'You beggars, you beggars'".
This book, beautifully illustrated and with many of Dennis's own fine drawings, is one further artefact to become part of a Cumbrian family's continuing history.
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