Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Colourful Characters of Cumbria's Eden Valley by John Sharpe. Hayloft. £10.
James Lowther, thanks to a sequence of fortunate deaths, became "the richest commoner in England" before he came of age in 1756. Egged on by an ambitious widowed mother, he was determined to make the most of his wealth and position and, thereby, he earned himself the title of "Wicked Jimmy". He was a member of Parliament in 1757 and came to control nine seats in the house. The members at his command were known as "Lowther's ninepins". In 1761 he married Lady Mary Stuart, the daughter of the wealthy Earl of Bute. As John Sharpe comments: "Their match was hardly made in heaven, but it was good for his social status without curtailing his amorous adventures."
In 1786, he manipulated the "mushroom election" in Carlisle. Seven hundred freemen were entitled to vote. Lowther made 1400 miners from Whitehaven and others honorary freemen, his "mushroom voters", and had his man elected to Parliament.
He also had a capacity for "merciless parsimony". He avoided paying compensation for a mining accident, by closing his mines down. He refused to pay the five thousand pounds owed William Wordsworth's father at his death in 1783, and he never paid the unfortunate Daniel Bloom who managed his carpet factory with its foundling employees for thirty years.
Lowther is just one of John Sharpe's fourteen men of eminence - he tells of no women - who have graced the Eden Valley over the centuries.
Just like Wicked Jimmy, Philip Wharton was a pampered young aristocrat who came into his fortune at an early age. John has a concise way with dramatic anecdotes: "Entering parliament on his 21st birthday, Duke Philip soon exercised his considerable talents as an orator with so vitriolic an attack on the Stanhope government's integrity that Lord Stanhope had an apoplectic fit and died the next day." He was president of the blasphemous Hell Fire Club, was dissolute, dissipated and debt-ridden. He squandered his fortune and Robert Lowther bought his Westmorland Estates. He became a Catholic, a Jacobite, and a traitor and wandered around Europe in "a state of drunkenness and beggary, pursued by a clamouring mob of creditors". As some redemption, he died in a Spanish monastery at the age of 32.
Others of John's heroes have been more respectable and respected. William John Woodhouse was born on Clifton Railway Station in 1866. His father was a railwayman. Thirty-four years later Woodhouse was Professor of Greek at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Joseph Scott, the son of a newspaper printer, was born, in Penrith, six months after Woodhouse. He became "Mr Los Angeles", a campaigning advocate and a leading citizen in the rapidly developing city. Today, it is his statue which stands next to that of Abraham Lincoln in front of the Los Angeles Courtroom. David and William Workman from Clifton had played important roles in the founding of Los Angeles a century earlier.
A less attractive character was John Metcalfe Carleton of Helbeck Hall, near Brough. He was "a consummate con-man, irresponsible social-climber and archetypal Georgian rake".
Far more admirable was the Rev. William Warkman, from Clifton, who, together with his son, Henry, served the parish of Earsdon and the Delaval family for over ninety years.
Another son of Clifton was Henry Bloom Noble. He became the most successful Manx businessman of his day and left his vast fortune to educational and medical causes on the island.
The criminal and the virtuous, the worthy and the vicious, colourful men who all hailed from the Eden Valley, are to be found in this entertaining collection of pen portraits.