Monday, 20 February 2017

The driverless coach

We like to think we've invented everything and pat ourselves on the back at our own ingenuity. But the latest 'invention' the driverless car is nothing new. In 1837 a man found himself on a coach and horses with no driver. His adventure was later told in a letter to Rev Nicholls of Ravenstonedale, Westmorland (now Cumbria) and published in 1877. Here it is:

"It is about forty years ago since the writer commenced a journey to Newcastle-upon-Tyne from the Bull Inn, Sedbergh, about one o'clock one severe frosty morning in midwinter, per the old Exmouth coach. The passengers consisted of myself and a lady and gentleman inside; Willy Taylor and Tom Heavyside, the driver, outside. We travelled at a good speed up to Dicky Metcalfe's, the Cross Keys, Cautley, a distance of about five miles ; and being a very cold morning, Willy the Butcher and the driver went into the inn to have a taste of Dicky's gin, but left no one in charge of the horses. Consequently they got tired with waiting, and started full trot towards Kirkby Stephen. 

Metcalfe hearing the horses, started off and ran a considerable distance after the coach, clothed only in nightshirt and slippers; but the speed of the horses being so great he had to give it up. During this time I was looking out of the coach windows, but never mentioned what had happened  to either the lady or gentleman. This part of the road was narrow and very dangerous, being entirely unprotected from a deep rocky river, so that I decided to leave the inside and hold on behind until we reached the next steep hill, called Rawthey Brow, which was about a mile further on the road; but in alighting from the step I fell upon a sheet of ice, and this prevented me from again reaching the coach, or of informing the occupants of what had occurred; but in their case ignorance was certainly bliss in crossing the moors on that dreary morning.

Still I kept on running until I reached the inn at Cross Bank, kept by Mr. Shaw, where I engaged a horse, and without saddle followed after, expecting at the bottom of each steep hill to find the coach upset; but to my great astonishment I found it standing in front of the King's Arms, Kirkby Stephen, its usual place, and the lady and gentleman in great perplexity sitting in the inn, wondering what had become of the driver and the person who had so abruptly left his seat in the coach without speaking a word, and concluded I must have been either drunk or insane, or had robbed them. But when they found their money and watches all right they could not conjecture how they had lost the coachman, nor what had caused me to decamp, until I had revealed to them the mystery, and told of the many dangers they had escaped in their journey of ten miles without any driver, while at the same time the reins were dragging about the horses' legs. 

In consequence of the heavy drifts of snow which occurred in several parts of our journey the horses had to be driven to the very edge of the road. We waited some time in Kirkby Stephen, expecting the driver; but as he never made his appearance, I was compelled to mount the coach box and drove through Brough to Spittle, a distance of ten miles, at which place we obtained another driver. Before again proceeding on our journey I did not omit the usual practice of opening the coach door and, in joke of course, tipping my hat to the lady and gentleman, who, instead of bestowing the usual gift, very politely acknowledged their appreciation of my exertions on their behalf." 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Cumberland Bridal Cake

Recipe by Babs Park

In 19th Century Cumberland, a wedding cake with a difference formed one of the marriage customs. The bridal party, after leaving the church, repaired to a neighbouring inn, where a thin currant cake, marked in squares, though not entirely cut through, was ready for the bride’s arrival. Over her head was spread a clean linen napkin, and the bridgeroom, standing behind the bride, broke the cake over her head, which was then thrown over her and scrambled for by those in attendance. We don’t have the original recipe but ‘Grandma Park’ has devised this on the descriptions available of the cake:


4 oz (120g) self raising flour
2 oz (60g) butter or margarine, plus a little extra to grease baking tray
2 oz (60g) caster sugar
1½oz (45g) sultanas, raisins or currants
2 tbsps (40mls) water


Pre-heat over to 350/180/gas mark 4.
Sieve flour into a bowl and rub in the butter/margarine until the mixture is the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.
Add the sugar and fruit and give it a good mix.
Add water to form a firm dough - if necessary add more water but only in small amounts.
Roll out the dough until ¼ - ½ inch (up to 1cm) thick. Dust with a small amount of flour to stop dough sticking to the surface and the rolling pin.
Place on a greased baking tray, lightly mark the cake into squares if desired. Glaze with egg and milk mixture and place in the top of the oven for about 15 minutes or until nicely golden brown.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Waterside Boggle

Esthwaite Water - picture by Mark Kent

CHRISTMAS - the traditional time for joy, laughter, blazing log fires... and ghosts. In Celtic tradition, midwinter - with its long nights - was the time when the world of the living and the world of the dead were at their closest. This gave rise to the idea that it was the season was when ghosts and spectres could walk among us. 

It's on Christmas Eve that Scrooge's ghosts come knocking. And I remember as a child, Christmas Eve was always when the BBC showed its late-night MR James' horror story. So here's one haunting tale from Cumbria to scare you on your way to bed. In fact, not just any old boggle, dobbie, fetch or boggledeboo. This is easily the scariest ghost story I've come across in my researches into Cumbrian folklore.

HS Cowper. Credit: Lakeland Arts Trust
It's to be found in the very dry papers of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, although variants of it have appeared in other books since. The story is told by 19th century antiquary and collector, Henry Swainson Cowper - usually just known as 'HS' Cowper - and relates to Claife Poorhouse which stood on the banks of Esthwaite Water. This small tarn stands in the south of the county near Coniston, in what would have been at one time north Lancashire rather than Cumbria.

From the outset, it should be stated that this stretch of road by the Poorhouse had a long and fearful reputation for being haunted and I will talk later of some of the other ghosts reputedly seen there in the dark hours. It was generally referred to as The Waterside Boggle and HS Cowper writes that "in most cases the apparition is sighted by a night pedestrian, and when approached, suddenly and silently disappears". While researching this boggle (a Cumberland term for a type of ghost) Cowper was told about a woman still living who had actually spoken with the ghost. "Of course I interviewed her at once," he wrote. She was now elderly and somewhat of a cripple - the result of an accident in the Coniston copper mines where she had worked - but he assures us she was "yet intellectually perfectly vigorous". 

Her encounter had taken place some 30 years previously (ie about 1860). At the time she was living with - and nursing -  her mother at the poorhouse. In the neighbourhood at that time was, she said, a wicked chap called 'S' who had a terrible quarrel with one Roger Dugdale. This feud led to a fight one night as Roger was landing his boat near the poorhouse. 'S' was the victor, succeeding in drowning Roger in the lake. Such an event obviously caused a stir in the community but since the woman did not know the men it was no more than scandalous gossip to her.

But events took an unexpected turn one evening when the woman and her mother were sat in their rooms. She was surprised to see a man walk into the house - a man unusually dressed in his best Sunday clothes. The woman recalled: "He held out his hand to me, and said something but I didn't catch what it was. I had no idea who he was and took his hand. It was as cold as ice. He went to the mantel and struck a light with some matches." 

The mysterious visitor then turned round and left as abruptly as he had arrived. The mother then turned to her daughter and said: "Bairn - whatever have you done. That was Roger Dugdale."

The daughter had never met the murder victim so had no cause to recognise his ghost. She told Cowper, "I was almost dead with terror." Her mother tried to reassure her, saying that he would never come again "as he's been spoken with and touched" but it's clear the encounter had left a permanent effect on the daughter.

But what had the wandering soul said? Had he uttered the name of his killer? Sadly, the daughter had been unable to distinguish any words. And why was he dressed in his Sunday best? It's unclear what he was wearing on the day of his murder. And why should his ghost go to the poorhouse? So many questions and sadly so few answers.

There was one final twist in the tale. When the daughter went back to the mantel no matches had been struck, despite her clear recollection that this is what the figure had done.

There seems little doubt this was a sincere account of a 'real' event. It's not your usual ghost story and it sends a shiver down my spine each time I read it. I have only edited it slightly for clarity and the full version is available online on the CWAAS archives. Cowper refers to a number of the other supernatural experiences people had at this spot by Esthwaite Water but I'll leave you with just one:

"One of the vicars of the parish used to tell his friends how, walking one night from Sawrey, he was approaching the poorhouse when he observed an old lady in old fashioned bonnet walking before him. it was early in spring, and there had been a snow shower so that the road was all white. The vicar trudged along till he was abreast of the figure, and then, thinking she was probably a parishioner, he bade her 'good-night' as he passed. As there was no reply he turned to see who this unsociable old body was. To his horror, under the wide-brimmed bonnet, he saw a death-like countenance with goggle eyes, which gleamed like colour glass with a light behind them. The apparition then suddenly disappeared through a gap in the wall. The vicar, astounded, went up to the wall, but no trace of the figure could be seen. He then looked back along the road which he had come. the moon was bright, and he noticed  a strange thing: The snow bore only the tracks of one pair of feet, and those were his own."

Sweet dreams - and merry Christmas.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Dobbie Lane

Dobbie Lane and Dobbie Bank, Cark, Cumbria

Extract from The Annals Of Cartmel Or Annals Of Cartmel 1872 by James Stockdale, relating to the Dobbie that haunted Dobbie Lane

The road from the lower part of Cark to Holker did not, until about the year 1815, pass by the west end of the High Row Cottages as it does at present. The old road to Holker passed from near my house, through the place where the lower gateway now is, into Carke Villa grounds, and up the hill into where the coachhouse and stable yard of Carke Villa are at present, and then into the present Holker Lane. Where these barns, stables, and yard now are, the lane was very narrow, and overhung with high hedges, there being a deep and wide sandhole at the top.

This lane had ever had the terrific name of “Dobbie Lane!” and so terrific was it indeed, that even those who were the stoutest of heart did not pass that way to Holker on a dark night in winter without having, as the saying is in this country, “their hearts in their mouths!”.

About the year 1809, a servant boy, then in the service of my late father, was sent with some newspapers to Mr. Kirkes’, of Holker House, one dark winter’s night about eight o’clock. He, like everyone else, had his apprehensions of “the dobbie;” still he passed through this frightful Dobbie Lane without observing anything. On his return, however, and when just beginning to descend the steep hill, he ventured to look back, when, to his infinite terror, he beheld a ball of fire following him! In an instant he took to his heels, “terror lending him wings” - particularly as he could perceive that the ball of fire, as he called it, was close behind him. In a few minutes he entered the kitchen at Carke, where were sitting some of his fellow servants, and, to their utter consternation, fell flat on the floor in a fainting fit. Very soon my father and mother, and some relatives who were staying in the house, were summoned to the kitchen to witness this extraordinary occurrence. Restoratives were administered as quickly as possible, and in about ten minutes the boy was just able to utter the word “dobbie,” and then fell into a second fit, in which he remained some time. After a while he had so far recovered as to be able, trembling and terror stricken, to make known to them what he had seen, as he has been related above.  All those who heard the tale he told, of course laughed at him, believing that he was labouring under some delusion; but from what I am about to relate, the truth of which cannot be doubted, a different opinion probably will be entertained. Several years after this, about the year 1817, after Dobbie Lane had been closed, my brother, coming late one winter’s night from Cartmel, (about twelve o’clock), on passing through Hoker, saw a light opposite the gate which then led into the Pot Level, nearly opposite to where the present new schools are. As the light was an odd-looking one, and had passed across the road, and was then on the top of the opposite wall, he at first thought that some of the gamekeepers might be behind the gate with a lantern, and that the light on the wall was reflected from the lantern. Knowing that he would have, on his return from Cartmel, to pass through Cartmel Park Woods, he had provided himself with a brace of pistols, and with one of these in his hand he approached the gate into the Pot Level, when all at once the light (and a most unnatural-looking light it was) came flickering down from the top of the wall into the middle of the road, and on his approach ran before him at about ten yards’ distance, along the middle of the road, till my borther, in some astonishment, stood still; when it at once passed along the ground across the highway and up the wall, placing itself on the top a second time. Of course it was not easy at the time to account for a phenomenon of this sort. My brother then again walked forward, on which the light left the wall, and came a second time into the middle of the road, moving along the very centre as my brother walked forward, stopping short in its onward course and retiring across the road to the top of the adjoining wall on every occasion of his stopping, and as regularly leaving the top of the wall and moving along the middle of the road on his approaching it; and such were its vagaries all the way (200 yards) to the west end of the High Row Cottages, where my brother, on passing down to his own home, not a  little astonished, left it, about ten yards from him, in the middle of the highway, being then quite at rest with the exception of a slight fluttering motion. The light, it may be mentioned here, was a pale (phosphoric) light, rather bright, but not flashing or sparkling, and was about the size and shape of an ordinary pineapple.

It happened that I was awaiting  my brother’s return from Cartmel that night; and on mentioning what he had then just seen, I marvelled for a while, of course, and then said, “Surely this must have been ‘Will-o’th’-Wisp,’ let us go and try if we can see it again.” Accordingly we were not long in reaching the place; but it was in vain: for though we walked backwards and forwards for more than an hour along the lane and Pot Level Field,  the light never appeared again. No one will doubt that this was the luminous “Jack-o’-t-Lanterns,” or  ‘Will-o’th’-Wisp,’ to which the superstitious and credulous have ever ascribed extraordinary and mischievous powers, and was no doubt that “dobbie” previously mentioned, which so frightened my late father’s servant boy, and very probably from time to time many others, so as to give the name of Dobbie Lane to the old road from Carke to Holker. Even at this day, there are not a few people who, in passing on a dark night the gate leading into Carke Villa stable yard, and the hollow in Pot level Field, have not some apprehension of seeing this “dobbie” or a hobgobbling of some kind. It is well known that there are particular districts and places where this  ‘Will-o’th’-Wisp may occasionally be seen, and these are about swampy grounds, stagnant ponds, churchyards, and other burial places, and it has been observed to be but little affected by storm and wind, and to retire always on the approach of anyone, and to follow occasionally when anyone retires from it. The field call ‘Pot Level’’ adjoins the old lane called Dobbie Lane; it is bowl-shaped and of course the very reverse of level, there being in the middle of it, a  considerable hollow or depression, in which part, formerly, there was a rather deep pit or pond of water. Till about the year 1775 this field was rough, coppice wood, but was theng rubbed up and trenched over in the usual way. As a great quantity of stones and rubbish was turned out in this operation, the whole mass was thrown into the deep pond, so as to entirely fill it up, and some soil being laid on the surface, this part became much like the rest of the field. Anyone however looking at the hollow place in this Pot Level Field, even at the present day, will at once perceive where the pond or tarn has been, and in father proof of stones and rubbish having been thrown into the water, it may be mentioned that in the very dry summers the grass on the place turns brown, whilst in very wet weather the water rises above the stones and soil, appearing more or less on the surface.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Finding Maggy

Maggy's Lonning
Maggy's Lonning, Loweswater

Finding Maggy

Maggy's Lonning at Loweswater has not quite lost its character despite it being a tarmacked road. It is a single track road (NY 13587 21016) that leads to the impossibly-small car park by Loweswater and I've always had a soft spot for it. Perhaps it's the loneliness in the north-western corner of the Lake District that gives it its appeal or perhaps it's the name. Who was Maggy and why was the lonning named after her? And there's also a packhorse bridge nearby called Maggy's Bridge (even OS mark it as such) so she appears to have been at one time a famous or well-loved person in the valley. I did once ask the farmer who Maggy was but he said no-one knew. Well, thanks to the astonishing work of the British Newspaper Archives, I've now found out something about her.

The British Newspaper Archives are slowly but surely scanning in 400 years of newspaper archives into digital format, making the easily accessible and, more importantly, searchable. I've used it many times and was randomly surfing one morning when a search for lonning came up with a note about Maggy's Lonning at Loweswater. It was in The Cumberland Pacquet for 1833:

VILLAGE FAME - A clever and worthy old lady, sister to the eldest of the three venerable men named in the preceding paragraph (ie John Mirehouse, of Miresike, who died aged 102) and who died at the good old age of 98 years, although never the owner of a foot of land has had the honour of having her name perpetuated in her native vale (Loweswater) in Maggy's Lonning (lane or road), Maggy's Bridge, Maggy's Gate, Maggy's House, Maggy's Garden and her 'flowers grown wild' and even the very birds in Maggy's Robin and various anecdotes of Maggy's sayings and doings. Poor Maggy! her garden no longer smiles, and her house now lies in ruins.

The preceding paragraph talked about the Mirehouse family which "furnishes such instances of longevity as are rarely to be met with". In particular it spoke of Maggy's brother, John Mirehouse, who died in 1807 at the age of 102. A further Google search revealed that The Literary Panorama (Published 1808) told how on his 100th birthday he "received a very numerous party of his neighbours ("all his juniors") seated in a new oak chair, and cloathed in a new coat, which, he pleasantly observed, might, with care taken, serve his life-time."

But what more of Maggy? The tantalising paragraph indicates she was indeed well loved and something of a village character but sadly not much more. Research in this age of Google can almost be too easy but a family tree on and references in Google Books revealed she had been born on St Valentine's Day 1714 in Loweswater and later married to become Margaret Longmire. She died in 93rd year (ie 1807) on Tuesday, July 14th  according to The Athanaeum Vol 2 (published 1807) at Thrushbank, Loweswater. But the Pacquet said she lived to be 98. Further research may resolve that mystery although the burial records kindly put online by the Lorton & Derwent Fells Local History Society does not include her.

So for now, we can at least revive the identity of Maggy as Maggy Longmire (nee Mirehouse) who was born on February 14th, 1714 and died in 1807 or 1813. And at least we still have her lonning - and bridge.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Ghosts for Sale

The Tannery Boggle

IT was the day that The Whitehaven News (in Cumbria, UK) advertised Six Live Ghosts for sale. And it wasn’t even April Fool’s Day. October 20, 1932 was even a bit early for Halloween. Yet there it was: “Miscellaneous. For Sale, Six Live Ghosts. – Apply, Tannery, Egremont.”

The ‘explanation’ elsewhere in the paper asks more questions than it answers but reports on a most remarkable sighting of a boggle by multiple witnesses. It’s a tale worthy of Scooby Doo but the Whitehaven News reporter seemed convinced from the outset that it was nothing but a hoax. The News’s Egremont correspondent reported: “An old tannery at Beck Green which has been in disuse for many years has been the centre of great activity since last weekend. Men, women and children armed with crude but effective weapons have been engaged in a new pastime or ‘ghost-laying’.”

It seems rumours of a ghost in the building had spread through Egremont resulting in crowds of people keeping watch from the old black bridge. Among them was the Egremont correspondent who received this statement from former Sergeant Rose: “What I am going to tell you is the truth. On Thursday evening, between half-past ten and eleven o’clock, four young men came to the garage opposite in an exhausted condition. One of them was my son. He was trembling like a leaf and when I asked him what was the matter he gasped out he had seen a ghost down at the old tannery. I went to investigate and, keeping watch, I saw something rise up from the ground and float towards the tannery.”

Sadly our correspondent gives no more details of that sighting but the policeman returned the following night with his wife, son and other witnesses. And astonishingly the ghost once again made an appearance – this time bringing a fellow spectre with it.

He said: “I left the others near the Black Bridge and secreted myself in the ruins. I looked towards the top of a small hill on the road past the tannery and suddenly I was aware of what looked like a white mist rising from the ground. It gradually assumed the shape of a human body about five feet seven inches in height. There was no head and no sign of feet. Gradually the thing, whatever it was, floated down the road until it was opposite the cart entrance to the tannery. It slowly turned towards the entrance and then I made out a similar figure by its side. I called out for the rest of the party and my wife, son and two ladies came up. What they saw terrorised them. The thing had floated up the step against which carts used to back for loading and was standing in the doorway. It paused a moment and then vanished inside. The women were terrified and ran. Presently the husband of one came and we entered the building together. We lighted a candle and looked round the room but saw nothing. There was no sign of footsteps on the dust of the floor.”

The following night – a Saturday – word had spread about the Tannery boggle and more than a hundred spectators turned up. But they seemed determined to send the apparition back to its supernatural home and were armed with sticks and stones. But the ghost, which hitherto had appeared with the regularity of Hamlet’s father, failed to appear.

Mr Rose described the ghost in more detail to the Whitehaven News: “It was certainly nothing human. I particularly watched the place where its feet should have been to see how it walked, but there were no feet; it simply floated along the ground. I have been in the jungles of India and in the desert. I have seen strange sights and heard strange noises but never before have I experienced anything like this. What I have told you is the truth: the nine people whom I have mentioned by name will bear me out in that.”

At one point Mr Rose and his son had thrown stones at the ghost as it stood in the doorway but the stones passed straight through the figure. And another witness was later discovered who had seen the ghost a few days before but had been too scared to say anything. Yet despite the expert testimony of Mr Rose and the other witnesses, The Whitehaven News decided it must be a hoax, a practical joke. This seems largely based on the placing of the advert in that week’s For Sale section offering six live ghosts for sale. It’s not known who placed the advert or why.

Today the tannery ruins can still be seen but neither hide nor hair has been seen of the boggle.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Beating the Bounds

SATURDAY, August 27 2016 will see the people of Caldbeck walk the boundaries of their parish – a tradition held every 21 years.
Why only every 21 years is anyone's guess. Such 'beatings of the bounds' are normally held annually although there are probably only a few dozen parishes in England that continue the tradition. And Wigton must be one of the last in Cumbria.
North of the border the tradition is more commonly continued as Common Riding or Riding the Marches and an echo of this can be found at Egremont each September when 'Riding the Boundary' sees horse riders process from the sports field to the town centre and back (ie not around the town's boundary!).
Such traditions were usually held at Rogationtide (so that's roughly just after the fifth Sunday after Easter) and had a very clear purpose. The people of the village would walk the boundary ensuring everyone knew precisely where it was and hopefully boundary disputes could be avoided. In some parishes the procession would literally go through someone's house and out a rear window if the house was unfortunate enough to lie across the boundary!
To help 'mark' the boundary specific stones or trees would be used but a more traditional way of ensuring young people remembered might be to give them the 'bumps' at important spots or even hold them upside down and (gently) bump their head on the ground. In 1871, a perambulation in Beckermet impressed the route on their youngsters by throwing pennies into the beck which formed the boundary and allowing them to scramble after the coins. At other spots songs were sung, sports were held or tobacco distributed. The Beckermet tradition died out at the turn of the 20th Century but was revived in 2003 as a charity fundraising venture by West Lakeland Rotary and Inner Wheel.
The only other revival of a boundary tradition that springs to mind is fell-runner Joss Naylor's beating of the Wasdale boundary in 2012 to mark the Queen's Jubilee. It's a route that stretched for 35 miles with an ascent of 11,000ft so it's probably safe to say it won't be repeated by others any time soon.
* Details have not yet been released of the Caldbeck boundary walk on August 27 but will be announced on Patterdale also holds an annual parish walk; this year it is on Saturday, July 2. See