A Peopled Landscape: A Lakes Anthology by Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley introduced and edited by Stephen Matthews. Bookcase. £15.
Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley died one hundred years ago in 1920. Today he is remembered, if he is remembered at all, as one of the three founders of the National Trust.
Yet, he has, arguably, played a greater part in shaping the Lake District we know today than nearly anyone else.
He was a Lincolnshire man, the son of a country vicar who, after university, exhausted himself working in the slums of London and Bristol. He married and came to work in a small, undemanding, out-of the way parish in Wray on Windermere.
He rapidly involved himself in campaigns to defend the Lakes from railways and to keep footpaths open. Within four years he was offered a parish that his bishop considered to be near to heaven.
He stayed in Crosthwaite Vicarage for the next thirty four years and in that time established a national reputation for himself.
He seemed involved in everything. With Edith, his wife, he started the Keswick School of Industrial Arts. He re-introduced May Queen ceremonies and Harvest Festivals. He was to be seen everywhere, on committees, on the county council, on school boards, on local organisations and on clubs and he was a leading light in the fight to preserve the Lake District in its natural beauty. He organised campaigns to stop the closure of footpaths up Latrigg and alongside Derwentwater. He fought the proposal for a railway to run a railway from Borrowdale to Braithwaite.
He built monuments. Some to ordinary people like shepherds and some to great men like Wordsworth and John Ruskin. And he built great celebration bonfires on the top of Skiddaw to the Queen’s Jubilee and the Tercentenary of the Spanish Armada.
He also wrote extensively, airing his opinions on everything from the plight of Armenian refugees to the evils of saucy postcards. But more than anything, he wrote about the Lake District. Perhaps he has written more on the Lakes than anyone has before or since. For Rawnsley the landscape would restore the spirits of men suffering under industrialism. It would make them whole again.
He saw a peopled landscape. He imagined the Lakes populated by the great men of past ages, ranging from the old saints like St Kentigern, St Cuthbert and St Herbert, to the Romantic and Victorian poets.
He also had time for the common people. He rejoiced in the Cumbrian dialect and would write of his conversations with shepherds and other people who worked on the land.
His Lake District was one where an older, finer, better way of life was still preserved. It was a way of life that was rooted in its history.
In these two anthologies, Stephen Matthews reprints for the first time since Rawnsley’s death, a wide and representative selection of Canon Rawnsley’s writing on the Lakes. A Peopled Landscape looks at the picture he painted of the whole of the Lake District whereas a Canon in Keswick offers a complementary collection of material concerned with the immediate Keswick area.
Canon Rawnsley is part of our Lakeland heritage. These two volumes demonstrate why, a hundred years later, he deserves to be remembered.