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.