No man is an Island, entire of itself...
Those well-known words of John Donne have become something of a cliché, but I make no excuse for using them to introduce this talk, since the focus at Allan Bank this year is of course the acquisition of Grasmere Island by the National Trust, a goal which had been in the Trust's sights since the beginning.
It has been suggested that the threat to the island on Grasmere was in fact the trigger for the actual foundation of the National Trust by my great grandfather, Canon Rawnsley, in collaboration with Octavia Hill and Sir Robert Hunter. I would like to examine that claim; to review the circumstances leading up to the official inception of the Trust in 1895, to outline the early acquisitions of land in the Lake District in which Rawnsley was an active agent; to consider to what extent Hardwicke Rawnsley can be considered a 'Green' Victorian, and finally to reflect upon the present and future rôle of the National Trust in Lakeland.
But first of all a bit about Hardwicke's background and upbringing, and the influences which shaped his character and were to determine his career.
Canon Rawnsley is even today a name to conjure with, particularly in this part of the world. Here he was first and foremost considered as the Defender of the Lakes, long before the National Trust came into being.
However, no man is an island – we are all, as John Donne says, metaphorically a part of the continent, (even though at this very moment the United Kingdom is trying to detach itself therefrom!) and therefore we are, in our formative years particularly, and perhaps throughout life, subject to outside influences, human and environmental. The old philosophical argument – is it by nature or nurture that our characters are formed? (I think most of us would say, a bit of both.)
So I would like to begin with a brief biographical sketch of Hardwicke, and then to consider three of the most important human influences on his life and character.
Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley, was born on 28 September 1851 at the Rectory, in the idyllic surroundings of Shiplake-on-Thames. With his twin sister Frances Anna, he was among the ten children of the Rector, the Reverend Drummond Rawnsley and his wife Catherine Franklin, the niece of the explorer, Sir John Franklin, of whom we have been hearing such a lot recently. The melting of the Arctic ice has resulted in the discovery of the wrecks of his ships Erebus and Terror, lost with all hands, during his last expedition in search of the North-West Passage. (There is currently a major exhibition Death in the Ice, taking place at the National Maritime Museum in London)
William Wordsworth, who was to become Rawnsley's chief muse and inspiration very early in life, had died the year before Hardwicke was born.
The second major influence on the formation of Hardwicke's character was his godfather, Edward Thring, the forward-looking educationist, who was a friend of Hardwicke's father. Drummond Rawnsley was very interested in Thring's liberal educational theories, emphasising the discovery and drawing-out of the latent abilities and interests of each individual boy, rather than the 'one size fits all' regime of Classics and mathematics, which was the norm at the time. It was not surprising then that Drummond Rawnsley should send his sensitive son to Thring's experimental new school at Uppingham, where Hardwicke, being more interested in nature and the arts than intellectual subjects, was to thrive.
Edward Thring, a lover of the Lakes and a great admirer of Wordsworth, introduced his godson to the poet's works and to the Lake District, where his family had a holiday house. Hardwicke stood with his godfather at Wordsworth's grave, and walked with him in Wordsworth's Easdale, experiences he was never to forget. For Hardwicke it was, as with so many others, Lakeland was a case of love at first sight.
After Uppingham, Rawnsley went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where it was perhaps not surprising that he distinguished himself more on the sports field than in academic pursuits!
At Balliol he became acquainted with the third major influence on the course of his life – John Ruskin, by this time a towering intellectual dynamo: artist, art patron and historian, poet, essayist and social reformer, who had for some years held the Chair of Fine Arts at the University.
Ruskin, lionised by the undergraduates, who were in considerable awe of 'The Master', had recruited many of them, including Rawnsley, to take part in an exercise of social improvement and manual labour, the repairing of a road for the villagers of Hinksey, just outside Oxford. This project was as much for the social benefit of the student labourers, as for the welfare of the local population!
Having scraped through his degree, and given up his original idea of becoming a doctor, Hardwicke decided to follow his father and grandfather into the Church. There followed a period of mission work in Soho in London, under the wing of Octavia Hill, to whom he was introduced by John Ruskin. Here, overwork brought on a nervous breakdown, and Octavia arranged for him to stay for a period of recuperation with her friends the Fletchers, at the Croft in Ambleside. Here he was to meet his future wife.
In 1875, Hardwicke was ordained curate, and was sent to take charge of the new Clifton College Mission in Bristol. He threw himself wholeheartedly into this project, in which he described himself ruefully as being half priest, half policeman, often physically having to throw drunken trouble-makers out of prayer meetings before returning to conduct the service as if nothing had happened. Literally, you might say, muscular Christianity!
It was while in Bristol that Hardwicke cut his campaigning teeth; leading an appeal to save the historic tower of St. Werburgh's Church, which the local council wanted to demolish to make room for a road-widening scheme. The tower was duly saved, though moved to a new site. Had he but known it, this campaign was a foretaste of what was to become Rawnsley's life's work.
In 1877 he was ordained priest. His cousin, Edward Preston Rawnsley, had recently inherited Wray Castle, on the shores of Windermere, and as patron of the living, offered it to Hardwicke. As a beneficed clergyman he was now in a position to marry. He promptly proposed to Edith Fletcher, the daughter of his erstwhile hosts at the Croft; they married a month after his ordination, and moved into the Vicarage at Low Wray where they lost no time in becoming involved in the life of the Lake District. Together they inaugurated craft workshops run on Ruskinian principles, and in due course went on to found the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, to provide employment and training for local artisans.
No man is an island. No great ideas spring ready-formed from nowhere. We are all the product of heredity, upbringing, environment and outside influences. Chance meetings and fortuitous circumstances can change the whole course of our lives.
So it was with Hardwicke. There were of course other influences which shaped his character and were eventually to lead Hardwicke to become involved in the foundation of the National Trust in 1895, and more than a century later to the acquisition of Grasmere Island for the nation, but I think the most significant were the three I have already mentioned, Wordsworth, Thring and perhaps John Ruskin most of all.
First of all then, William Wordsworth. He was born in Cockermouth, and spent almost the whole of his adult life in the Lake District, a great deal of it here in Grasmere, including a couple of years at Allan Bank, of which he became the first tenant, in 1808. Wordsworth came passionately to love Grasmere, about which he wrote extensively, both in poetry and prose. He frequently rowed over to the Island on the lake, as he recorded in this bucolic poem, written, as he noted, “in pencil upon a stone in the wall of the house (an outhouse) on the island at Grasmere.”
Rude is this edifice, and thou hast seen
Buildings, albeit rude, that have maintained
Proportions more harmonious, and approached
To somewhat of a closer fellowship
With the ideal grace. Yet as it is,
Do take it in good part; alas the poor
Vitruvius of our village had no help
From the great city; never, on the leaves
Of red morocco folio, saw displayed
The skeletons and pre-existing ghost
Of beauties yet unborn – the rustic box,
Snug cot, with coach-house, shed, and hermitage.
Thou seest a homely pile – yet to these walls
The heifer comes in snow-storm, and here
The new-dropped lamb finds shelter from the wind.
And hither does one poet sometimes row
His pinnace, a small vagrant barge, up-piled
With plenteous store of heath and withered fern
(A lading which he with his sickle cuts
Among the mountains), and beneath this roof
He makes his summer couch, and here at noon
Spreads out his limbs, whiles, yet unshorn, the sheep
Panting beneath the burthen of their wool,
Lie round him, even as if they were a part
Of his own household: Nor, while from his bed
He through that door-place looks towards the lake
And to the stirring breezes, does he want
Creations lovely as the work of sleep -
Fair sights, and visions of romantic joy!
As a founder of the Romantic Movement, Wordsworth was among the first to cherish the unique and fragile natural environment of this jewel of the landscape, the English Lake District, and was most anxious that it should both be known and appreciated, as well as preserved for posterity. His Guide to the Lakes was first published in 1810, one of the first tourist guide books. There is no actual description of Grasmere unfortunately, but it is often mentioned in passing, in the course of his recommended itineraries round Lakeland.
Revered though he was by Rawnsley and others as the prophet of the Lake District, familiarity bred, not contempt exactly, but something of a lack of awe and respect among the indigenous population. Hardwicke in his Reminiscences of Wordsworth Among the Peasantry of Westmoreland recounts that Wordsworth's aloofness, and habit of wandering, in very simple cloak and wide-awake hat, speaking to nobody, but muttering under his breath, had not particularly endeared him to the locals. Although they appeared to be aware that he was a famous poet, they had certainly never read any of his poetry. In contrast, his fellow poet Hartley Coleridge, was considered to be much more approachable and jolly, and always passed the time of day with everyone he met. But as one of Hardwicke's interlocutors explained, ' L'ile Hartley was a philosopher, while Mr. Wudsworth was a poet'. Which naturally explained everything!
Rawnsley's profound love of Lakeland had been awakened in him to a considerable extent by Wordsworth's poetry, to which he had been introduced at an impressionable age, as I said earlier, by his godfather and headmaster, Edward Thring, himself an accomplished poet. Hardwicke evidently knew Wordsworth's epic autobiographical poem The Prelude almost by heart, often quoting extracts from it in his writings, and Wordsworth's sonnets were the model for his own prolific poetic output, nearly always in sonnet form.
It could be argued that Wordsworth and Edward Thring were the prophets who through Rawnsley, prepared the way, but it is John Ruskin, whose ideas and philosophy were to shape the whole concept of the nascent organisation, who could be considered ex ante as the fourth, invisible, founder of the National Trust. Or, at least as its eminence grise.
In 1849, in The Lamp of Memory Ruskin had written:
“God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail; it belongs as much to those who come after us as to us; and we have no right by anything that we do or neglect; to involve them in unnecessary penalties; or to deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath.”
Rawnsley certainly subscribed to that credo.
Ruskin's ideas of social justice had influenced not only Hardwicke but also Octavia Hill, who long before the inception of the National Trust, was a well known figure and a force to be reckoned with in the areas of social housing and the conservation of open spaces in urban areas. Octavia had herself been a student of 'The Master'. It was Octavia, as I said earlier, who was instrumental in Rawnsley meeting Edith Fletcher, who became his wife, and with whom he was later to work so tirelessly on social and educational projects in Lakeland.
So to return to Ruskin's 'Great Entail', what were the factors which increasingly threatened the natural environment?
First, the increasing pace of industrialisation and the rapid growth of cities such as Manchester; and the expansion of the railway network, which made mass tourism a possibility, in the process, creating a threat to unspoilt landscapes. These factors made the conservation of ancient buildings and monuments as well as the rural environment, a matter for urgent action.
Early initiatives to stem the tide of destruction were the Commons Preservation Society, founded in 1865 on the initiative of Lord Eversley; the Kyrle Society, founded in 1875 by Miranda Hill, sister of Octavia; and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, founded in 1877 by William Morris and others.
These initiatives were timely, but John Ruskin had been ahead of the game. As early as 1854 he had written to the Society of Antiquaries to ask them to support his scheme for a Fund to preserve mediaeval buildings, offering personally to subscribe £25 annually for such a purpose. What came to be known as the 'Conservation Fund' was set up and Ruskin duly stumped up his £25 but it never really got off the ground. The Fund, unable to attract sufficient donations, never had enough money or enough clout to achieve a great deal.
In 1871 Ruskin made his home at Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water, and his advice and support were frequently sought by Rawnsley in connection with various Lake District campaigns, as well as the countless other initiatives in which he and his wife were involved.
Edith Hope Scott, in her 1931 account of Ruskin's Guild of St. George, quotes a letter from Hardwicke, written in 1896 from Crosthwaite, in which he acknowledges his debt to Ruskin's influence. (Two years earlier Ruskin had appointed Rawnsley as a member of the Guild of St. George) While ruefully confessing that he has done too little to justify Ruskin's acceptance of him to his circle of knights, he goes on to say “that he has not been unmindful of what he had promised, and that he had endeavoured, no matter how humbly, to work for the Master in the Guild spirit. All the work for kindness to animals, for children's happiness; for working-men's joy in handicraft; my Keswick School of Art, my May Queen Festival,etc., etc., is owed to John Ruskin.”
Requesting Hope Scott to ask the St. George's Guild members to indicate what actual work they were doing on St. George's lines, Hardwicke goes on, “This will stimulate us and encourage us... and since example is better than precept, I send you an account of our National Trust, for which again St. George is answerable...”
John Ruskin, famous and respected until the end of his life, rather fell out of fashion after his death, and the extent of his influence in the areas of conservation, and indeed as a personal guru of Rawnsley is, I think, only now beginning to be appreciated.
(At this point I would like to acknowledge a considerable debt of gratitude to Michael Allen, who is in the course of preparing a Canon Rawnsley website, for the enormous amount of information he has been generous enough to share with me during the course of my preparation for this lecture, including some very useful material on Ruskin.)
While the remit of the Commons Preservation Society, had been widened to include the protection of public rights of way, and, in conjunction with the Kyrle Society, to the preservation of beautiful areas of countryside whether in public or in private ownership, there was as yet no truly national organisation to undertake the preservation of the unspoilt landscape and places of historic interest. This lack was increasingly being recognised by Rawnsley, who from his earliest years as incumbent of Wray, had involved himself in various campaigns to prevent the despoliation of the fragile environment of the Lakes.
Hardwicke defended public rights of access to the fells and campaigned against the closure of footpaths, most notably, or perhaps most notoriously, in 1887, in connection with access to Skiddaw over Latrigg and Fawe Park. He mobilised objections to road-building around Loughrigg and over Sty Head Pass and brought pressure to bear against the re-opening of the lead mines in Borrowdale, to service the increasing demand for lead occasioned by the building boom; he campaigned to prevent the blasting of a quarry on Loughrigg; he objected to telegraph poles disfiguring Grasmere Common.
And as if this were not enough, he took up arms against the damming of lakes, objecting to the despoliation of the unspoilt natural beauty of Thirlmere by its conversion into a reservoir, to increase the water supply to Manchester. This particular battle was among the first to bring him to national notice, but it was to be one of the few campaigns in which he had eventually to acknowledge defeat. Realising that the urgent need for an adequate water supply for the fast-growing city had to override aesthetic considerations, he conceded the field with a good grace, but did however keep a watchful eye on the management of the amenities, and the landscaping of the surrounding area in the following years.
Railway encroachment, both for passenger traffic and industrial purposes, was another very real threat, and Rawnsley was not slow to act, though he was not the first to take up the cudgels. As early as 1844 William Wordsworth, foreseeing the danger of a north-south bisection of the Lake District by the railway, had voiced his objections to the building of a line from Kendal to Windermere, fearing an eventual extension to Keswick via Ambleside and Grasmere.
Wordsworth's prescience was justified, when some 30 years later it was rumoured that an extension of the line was indeed being planned from Windermere to Ambleside, just as the poet had feared. Robert Somervell, with the support of Ruskin, published a pamphlet in protest against the extension of the railways in the Lake District, and prepared a petition to Parliament. In the event however, nothing came of this particular project, but there was a general feeling that this was just the calm before the storm.
As indeed proved to be the case.
In 1882, in the absence of any permanent 'watchdog' to safeguard the landscape of the Lake District, a Bill, to permit the building of a rail line to carry slate from the quarries at Honister to the railhead, almost slipped through Parliament unnoticed. However, and fortunately before it was too late, Rawnsley and others found out what was going on. It is probably worth quoting in full Hardwicke's broadside published in the Spectator dated 10 February 1883:
“We dwellers at the Lakes have been electrified to find that whilst men slept, the proprietors of certain slate quarries on Honister Pass have got a Railway Bill past private inquiry unopposed; have complied with standing orders, and sent it on to the Select Committee of the House of Commons. This Bill is to empower them to do irreparable mischief to the loveliest part of our English Lake scenery. It is proposed to run a railway for the slate waggons down into Borrowdale, thence to skirt the west side of Derwentwater, where it will be impossible, from the nature of the ground, to hide their line of rails—no trees or intervening rocks exist there—to pass under Catbells, thence to cross the Vale of Newlands, and to join the Keswick and Cockermouth Railway at Braithwaite.
“This will mean that Borrowdale and Derwentwater will no longer be the quiet resting-ground for weary men. The slate -waggons will be joined at no distant time by passenger waggons, and the unwelcome, unappreciative navvy will make room at his side for the beer-drinking excursionist from Keswick to Honister, " all the way for 6d." Artists will be exiled, and the exquisite terrace lawn of the grassy steep west side of Derwentwater will be maddened with shrieks of engines shunting, or heavy trains of slate howling and roaring as they carry their loads to Braithwaite.
“When will the State protect the manifest good of the health- seeking majority, against the private-pocket schemes of the adventurous, money-seeking minority? Is not England each year needing more and more its pleasure-grounds "to health and resting consecrate," to be preserved inviolably for its busy, bustling children, who seek rest and, alas! too often find none? Will you not, Sir, help us in this matter to swell the chorus of dissatisfaction, that for a few pence a load extra to the Company who project this Buttermere and Braithwaite Railway, the thousands who come to Borrowdale should find the old haunts of peace and beauty possessed by slate-waggons, and their attendant nuisances? If the slate is really necessary to the public, the public will pay the cartage, as heretofore. If the public will not pay the cartage, it looks as if they could get as good slate cheaper elsewhere. I can do little but urge publicity to be given to the case, and invite the strong co-operative opposition to the scheme that seems to be needed without delay.—I am, Sir,& c., Hardwicke D. Rawnsley”.
This rallying cry had the desired effect; a Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence Committee, of which Rawnsley, Gordon Somervell and W.H. Hills were the leading lights, was quickly formed in response to the threat, and the Railway Bill was withdrawn in April.
Hardwicke, still incumbent of the living of Wray, where the small amount of parish work gave him plenty of spare time to direct his energies elsewhere, now saw his opportunity. He had for some time considered that a permanent Association for the protection of the Lake District from unscrupulous development was overdue, and here was his chance. The furore over the projected desecration of the Vale of Newlands, so beloved of the poet, had raised the awareness of the members of the Wordsworth Society of the very real threat posed by uncontrolled railway development. The members of the Society were drawn from a wide spectrum of the arts and professions, people with influence and contacts. So on 2nd May of that same year, 1883, Hardwicke, as an active member of the Society, presented a paper to its members, diplomatically engaging their interest with his opening sentence:
“My only excuse for reading this paper, is that anything that pertains to the English Lake District has an interest for members of the Wordsworth Society, and the battle that was lately fought and won against the steam-dragon of Honister – the Braithwaite and Buttermere Railway – is a thing of the past; but to Wordsworth is owed thanks for the winning of it; and we may fitly thank him in the strength of whose spirit the victory was gained.”
Wordsworth, Ruskin and St. George had won the day, and Hardwicke used his power of oratory to the best effect by massaging the egos of the Wordsworth Society members, highlighting their efforts in support of the campaign, which had resulted in the defeat of the Bill.
After some ten pages, he gets to the point:
“Our only chance of keeping Lakeland inviolate is to be on the watch with a powerful national, one might dare to say international, committee... with a backing of Members of Parliament to help us at Westminster.” (And with a hint to the wealthy among the audience that they might dig deep into their pockets); “with a considerable sum of money behind us for expenses if need be.”
What was needed then was a permanent Defence Society, which in collaboration with the Commons Preservation Society, and other conservation organisations, would have sufficient clout to prevent the destruction of Wordsworth's shrine. To this end he diplomatically reminds his audience of their duty to preserve Wordsworth's spirit for the current generation and the generations to come. This was a masterstroke of diplomacy on Rawnsley's part; diplomacy not always it has to be said, being his strongest point, and this clarion call to arms turned out to be a major landmark in the conservation of Lakeland.
The Lake District Defence Society which was born as a result of this meeting was to prove the template from which the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty was to be created some 12 years later.
The railways had already attracted considerable tourist traffic to Windermere, and envious glances were being cast by Ambleside commercial interests wanting to share in the prosperity which the advent of a rail link would undoubtedly bring to their district. Colonel Rhodes, a local landowner who had campaigned with Hardwicke in 1878 against the closure of the footpath to Stock Ghyll waterfall, now changed sides, and offered land for the building of a railway terminus.
By 1886 it was reported in the press that an Ambleside Railway Bill had been deposited for debate in Parliament the following year, and a bitter and acrimonious campaign ensued, in which the Lake District Defence Society was a major player. For once though, Hardwicke, suffering from nervous strain brought on by overwork, did not play an active role, the cudgels being taken up by W.H. Hills on behalf of the Lake District Defence Society. Claims and counter-claims flew to and fro in the correspondence columns of the national newspapers, each side accusing the other of making misleading statements or simply of telling lies, but Hills, in a letter to The Times in December 1886 reiterated what nobody could possibly deny, that the Lake Country is, as he wrote,
“Not only a tract of landscape beauty more perfect in its way than any to be found within the same narrow compass elsewhere in Europe, but nearly every hill and every stream, every glen and hamlet; every nook and corner of this miniature Switzerland is steeped in the memories of some of the greatest and purest lights of English literature; many of whose noblest springs of inspiration were found by the sides of its unpolluted streams; and amid the solitude of its lonely fells.
John Ruskin, when asked for his opinion on yet another railway project, voiced it with some asperity in a letter first published in the Birmingham Gazette:
“I do not write now further concerning railroads here or elsewhere. They are to me the loathsomest form of devilry now extant, animated and deliberate earthquakes; destructive of all wise social habit or possible natural beauty; carriages of damned souls on the ridges of their own graves.”
(I wonder what he would have said about HS2!)
The row continued unabated for some months, but in the end and ironically, mainly thanks to the withdrawal of support by the London and North Western Railway, who stated that they would not operate the line if it was built, the Ambleside Railway Bill was thrown out on financial grounds, and the Lake District Defence Society had won the day. It had been a close-run thing.
But railways were not the only threat to the fragile environment of the Lakes. The mass tourism made possible by them brought with it other problems, problems which continue to provide a headache for the National Trust and other conservation bodies to this day. The increasing influx of visitors threatened to destroy the scenery which had attracted them in the first place. Landowners, irritated by gates being left open and stock escaping, closed footpaths and rights of access to beauty spots.
Hardwicke did not hesitate to mobilise the great and good in support of the numerous campaigns in which he was involved. Among them was Beatrix Potter, whom he had first met in 1882, the year before he took over the living of St. Kentigern at Crosthwaite. Her father had rented Wray Castle for the summer. Beatrix was to become a lifelong friend and supporter and a considerable benefactor of the National Trust. In 1912, already well known as a children's writer, she joined Hardwicke in objecting to threatened ribbon development and the construction of a hydroplane factory on the shores of Windermere. Had this gone ahead it would have destroyed for ever, the Roman Camp at Borrans Field.
Hardwicke's campaigning zeal was not confined to combating threats to the environment. As a man with a well developed social conscience, once installed at Keswick, he took an interest in promoting better nutrition; in improving standards of education, in the process of which he was instrumental in founding several new schools, and in combating drunkenness through support of the Temperance Movement. In the spirit of Ruskin, from his earliest years as incumbent of Low Wray, he worked to revive traditional Lakeland arts and crafts, in 1884 founding with his wife Edith, the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, run on Ruskinian principles, to provide training and employment for local men.. Here the classes in repoussé metalwork which Edith had started while Hardwicke was still incumbent of Wray, were extended to include more ambitious work in copper, brass, silver and pewter; often using traditional Norse designs from Cumbrian tradition. Classes in wood-carving and weaving followed. The KSIA, which was eventually housed in a purpose-built Arts & Crafts building on the banks of the Greta, endured for 100 years, specialising latterly in the creation of objects in stainless steel. Many examples of KSIA work can still be seen in St. Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, where Edith Rawnsley herself designed the reredos and the metalwork gates to the churchyard.
To return to Grasmere:
Prince of Wales Island, in the middle of Grasmere, came up for sale in 1893, and was bought at auction together with a building plot at Town End, by a Mr. John Thomas Belk, a solicitor from Middlesbrough. Mr. Belk set about 'improving' the island by erecting a flagstaff and putting up a few notices. These 'improvements' drew a polite protest from Mr. W.H. Hills of the Lake District Defence Society, who wrote to protest:
“As neighbours, we have some delicacy in approaching you about the changed character of the island in Grasmere, which has lately become yours. The island, in its former state of simple turf and fir-cluster has become historic. Wordsworth's poems describe it and painters from all parts of the world have painted it. Sacred in its simplicity, it was honoured in the literature of the English-speaking race and in the memories of residents and visitors. We dare to think that to change the appearance of the island by planting it with unornamented shrubs would be a loss. And we are so sure that the association with hotels, restaurants and seaside villas which is suggested by a flagstaff is out of keeping, that in the best interests of the neighbourhood, we venture to ask if you will consider allowing the island to revert to its former condition. We note with regret that the gale has robbed your island of some of the celebrated Scotch Firs. We should willingly bear the cost of any such replanting of the fir-cluster as shall seem good to you....”
This somewhat officious intervention was not taken in good part by Mr. Belk who, in righteous indignation, thundered in reply:
“You and some persons, neither residents of Grasmere nor neighbours of mine, inform me how I am to deal with property I purchased at an auction months ago. Had you and your associates desired to regulate the manner in which the property was to be managed, it was competent for you to have bought it at the auction. Now you stand quietly by, leave somebody else to purchase the property, and then desire to insist on your own views. You are hardly respectful when you charge me with vulgarising the valley.
I intend the flagstaff to continue on the island at least until my neighbours in Grasmere satisfy me that it is a disfigurement of the valley. I have not heard that the owners of other flagstaffs there have been communicated with by you in such terms. Notice boards have not been placed on the island. Some small iron intimations for the benefit of the public have been placed six inches above the ground, and those shall remain there.... I suggest that you and your friends, who seem to have leisure, do not waste it over flagstaffs.”
History does not relate what happened to the flagstaff, but was the failure to acquire this historic island for conservation a crucial factor in the founding of the National Trust a short time later?
Evidence for this suggestion appeared in an article by Norman R. Vennew, entitled The Preservation of Buildings and Scenery of National Interest, A Talk with Canon Rawnsley, which appeared in an undated journal called Great Thoughts. Asked how it was that he first came to have the idea of such a society as 'The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty', Rawnsley is quoted as replying:
“Well, you see, I had long had my thoughts turned to something of the kind from my close connections with the 'Commons and Footpaths Preservation' movement. I had taken rather a prominent part in endeavouring to keep open for the full and free use of the public such footpaths and roads as were being encroached upon by landowners and other authorities in my neighbourhood at the English Lakes. The step from this to desiring to have some responsible body which could, and would similarly watch over and protect splendid and historic buildings, beautiful pieces of scenery and national objects of intense interest, was a natural one. So it is not to be wondered at that I soon began to think seriously on this matter, and to endeavour to do something towards initiating a movement with this object in view.
“What brought the idea to a head was the fact that – about the year 1895, if I remember rightly - there came into prominence some magnificent pieces of scenery in my own Lake District which were likely to be lost to the public use unless they could be secured and held in trust by some authoritative body as a national possession. These were the famous Falls of Lodore, the island of Grasmere, and also the summit of Snowdon, in North Wales.
“Now I felt that it would be shame on us for all time if we allowed those three splendid objects to skip through our fingers as national assets, and to become private property. But we had no organisation that could step in and offer to protect them. I knew from frequent experience how much working-men appreciated such glorious scenery, and how much they loved to visit it. So I resolved to make an effort to start some movement which might help in the preservation of such places for the nation. I first consulted the late Miss Octavia Hill, who with the late Sir Robert Hunter, had long and assiduously worked on behalf of the Footpaths Preservation Society and the Kyrle Society and whose sympathies in this other matter would, I felt sure, be very keen. Miss Hill, with her wide experience, quite agreed with me that it was just the right time to begin such a movement, and she advised me at once to consult Sir Robert.
“I did so, and found him an eager sympathiser. Then, on his recommendation, and on Miss Hill's also, I next saw the late Duke of Westminster, who had always taken intense interest in the preservation and upkeep of such historic and beautiful spots. Sir Robert Hunter, with myself, had an interview with his Grace, and not only did the Duke promise us his powerful support freely and fully but he lent us his house in Grosvenor Square for a first meeting of influential people, with the view of forming a strong society which should carry out the aims and objects set forth....
“At that first meeting”, the Canon recalled, “we formed the Trust. We consulted Lord Eversley, then Mr. Shaw-Lefevre, and Lord Bryce, then Mr. James Bryce, whose legal skill and wise advice were much appreciated by us, and we got a Charter from the Board of Trade, so as to make our position as strong and secure as possible.”
Octavia Hill had died in 1912 and Robert Hunter in 1913, so that article, unfortunately undated, was probably published in late 1913 or early 1914 since there is no mention of the outbreak of the First World War.
Old men forget. Were this the only evidence, apart from a mention in Eleanor Rawnsley's biography of Hardwicke; a mention which seems to be almost a verbatim quotation from that article; were this the only evidence to support the contention that the private sale of Grasmere Island was the trigger for the foundation of the National Trust, it could be considered a flimsy foundation on which to build a theory. Fortuitously, however, it has come to light that as early as July 1899 Rawnsley had contributed a paper to Saint George: The Journal of the Ruskin Society of Birmingham, which corroborates this account.
The following is a brief extract:
“The way in which the Trust came into being was simple enough. During the past twenty years I had noticed in what great peril from railway incursions, mine exploitations, and the like, our little beautiful bit of, as yet undisfigured Lake country had been. I have fought the hydra-headed monster 'Progress', and by the help of friends and Members of Parliament have done something to protect that little bit of playground … But all the time there was growing upon me the conviction that unless we could nationalise the district, that great playground for the North Country millions of Lancashire and Yorkshire was doomed. Long and earnest talk with such people as the Duke of Westminster; Mr. G.F. Watts, the Rt. Hon. G. Shaw Lefevre, Sir Robert Hunter, Lord Thring, Miss Octavia Hill, and others, made me feel that the time had come when the Legislature might step in wisely and nationalise the district. Nevertheless there was grave doubt whether they would even appoint local commissioners to have jealous eyes upon any damage or desecration by unnecessary exploitation.
“Then, suddenly, I heard that an island in Grasmere was to be offered for sale; then Lodore Falls came into the market; at the same time Snowdon was sold. My heart was hot within me; and I suggested that; pending legislation; a Company or a Society should be formed capable of holding any beautiful bit of scenery or historic site for the good of the people.”
As it happened, Octavia Hill had simultaneously been in contact with a correspondent in America who had outlined to her a scheme set on foot in Massachusetts, for the purchase or acquisition by deed of gift of beautiful or historic land or monuments pro bono publico, exempt from taxation as long as the sites remained open to the public.
Armed with the details of this American scheme, Rawnsley laid it before the committee, which first met in London in 1894, and which was subsequently incorporated as the National Trust for the Preservation of Objects of Historical Interest or Natural Beauty, the following year.
We left the newly-formed National Trust, following its incorporation in 1895. Filled with enthusiasm and wasting no time, the Committee set to work at once to identify suitable properties to acquire. Almost immediately Rawnsley was able to announce the acquisition of the Trust's first property, Dinas Oleu – the Fortress of Light, a small area of drystone wall-enclosed grazing on a headland overlooking the beautiful Mawddach Estuary at Barmouth on the coast of Wales.
The donor was Mrs. Fanny Talbot, an old friend of Hardwicke's, a disciple of Ruskin and a member of his Guild of St. George. She had originally intended the property as a gift to the Guild. However she had since changed her mind, having taken offence with Ruskin a year or two earlier. She was miffed by his refusal to take an interest in the day-to-day running of a row of cottages below the cliff, which she had given to the Guild as a co-operative housing scheme. She was now seeking a new beneficiary. Hardwicke saw his chance and suggested the National Trust as an eminently suitable recipient!
Visitors to Dinas Oleu today need to be pretty fit – it is a long way up, and a steep climb, as I know to my cost, having acted as porter and carried all his equipment for Joe Cornish, the photographer who took this image for Graham Murphy's Founders of the National Trust!
The first building bought by the Trust was the historic but dilapidated half-timbered Clergy House at Alfriston below the Sussex Downs near Lewes. This is what it looked like in 1894.
For this magnificent mediaeval Wealden hall house, now beautifully restored and set in a splendid recreation of a Tudor garden, the princely sum of £10 was paid to the Church Commissioners.
Rather incongruously in such a setting, today's visitors are invited to relax in a row of rather dilapidated deckchairs, screen-printed with the portraits of the three founders of the National Trust, Sir Robert Hunter, Hardwicke Rawnsley and Octavia Hill!
As the new century dawned, John Ruskin succumbed to an influenza epidemic and died at his home at Brantwood. The pall for his coffin, designed by Edith Rawnsley, was created of Ruskin linen and hand-embroidered with wild roses.
Hardwicke mourned the loss of The Master in this sonnet:
John Ruskin - At Rest. Sunday 21 January 1900
The rose of morning fades, and ghostly pale
The mountains seem to move into the rain;
The leafless hedges sigh, the water-plain
Sobs; and a sound of tears is in the vale;
For he whose voice for right shall never fail,
Whose spirit-sword shall ne'er be drawn in vain -
God's Knight, at rest beyond the touch of pain;
Lies clad in Death's impenetrable mail.
And all the men whose helmets ever wore
The wild red rose St. George for sign has given
Stand round; and bow the head and feel their swords;
And swear by him who taught them deeds not words:
To fight for Love; till, as in days of yore
Labour have joy, and earth be filled with Heaven.
As a tribute to his memory, Rawnsley suggested that an appeal be launched by the National Trust for a memorial to the man who had been to a considerable extent the inspiration for all three founders' appreciation of nature and historic architecture.
The memorial, a monolith of Borrowdale slate with a bronze medallion portrait of 'The Master,' was erected on Friar's Crag on the shores of Derwentwater, on land which was later to be bought by public subscription as a memorial to Hardwicke himself.
Ruskin had written of Friars Crag:
“The first thing which I remember; as an event in life was the intense joy; mingled with awe; that I had in looking through the hollows of the mossy roots, over the crag into the dark lake...”
Those mossy roots still adorn the margins of the lake.
Early National Trust acquisitions in Lakeland in which Rawnsley played a major part included the beautiful 100-acre Brandlehow Estate below Catbells, on the western shore of Derwentwater, which came onto the market eighteen months after the erection of the Ruskin memorial. A condition of the sale was that the purchase price of £6,500 should be raised within six months.
Appeals committees set to work in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and in Rawnsley's home parish of Keswick. Appeal letters were sent out to 'all lovers of Ruskin' and contributions were solicited in factories in all the main industrial centres in the north of England. Many ordinary workers sent small sums, with touching accompanying letters. One man sent two shillings; saying that he “once saw Derwentwater and could never forget it, and that he would try to persuade his mates to help.”
Within five months the target was exceeded by more than £1,000. Princess Louise, as Vice-President of the National Trust, performed the opening ceremony in typical Lake District weather – freezing cold and damp; a howling gale tore the marquee to shreds and rendered the speeches inaudible, but at least, as The Times noted, the rain held off for the ceremony! Her Royal Highness and her husband the Duke of Argyll each planted an oak tree. The three founders, Canon Rawnsley, Sir Robert Hunter and Miss Octavia Hill followed suit.
Exactly 100 years later, to mark the centenary of that occasion I too was invited to plant an oak tree at Brandelhow. Once again I am sorry to say, on a freezing cold day and in a howling gale, though I don't think it actually rained either. And I did have the benefit of a microphone!
A larger appeal for Gowbarrow Fell and the beautiful waterfall at Aira Force followed. In his book Round the Lake Country, published in 1909, Rawnsley took the opportunity to acknowledge the support of those who had subscribed.
“When the Speaker on August 9 of 1906 declared Gowbarrow Fell and Aira Force open to the public for ever, under the direction of the National Trust; he said humourously: 'You have all heard, I have no doubt, of how a mountain was once in labour and brought forth a mouse. On this occasion it is the mice that have been in labour and brought forth a mountain'.
“As one of the mice who have laboured to obtain this Fell for the joy of the people, it would be well for me to put on record at once our thanks to the sixteen hundred public-spirited persons who have enabled us of the National Trust to add this noble property to our list of places to be preserved for the nation in their ancient beauty to all time.”
Always an opportunist, Rawnsley goes on to urge, “people who feel that they are passing away to the silent land, and have no heirs and much money to bequeath, shall remember that, in addition to the Bible Society; the Infirmary, and the Homes for Dogs and Cats, there is a Society which by its work, is doing its best to keep the Book of God's older Scriptures – the Book of Nature – open for the people.”
And in case his reader misses the point, he hammers it home by adding that the National Trust is, “a Society that prevents the need of the infirmary by ministering to the holiday, the rest and health, of the toilers of the land; and that, at any rate, if the cat be a wild cat, that fast disappearing creature from our English fell-land, the National Trust will give it a chance of a home”, and so on, in the same vein, for another couple of pages.
After Aira Force, Grange Fell in Borrowdale; the Bowder Stone as a monument to King Edward VII; the Castlerigg Stone Circle, of which Rawnsley was joint donor; the remains of the Roman Fort at Borran's Field and Queen Adelaide's Hill were all acquired for the benefit of the nation.
From then on a steady stream of Lakeland properties were acquired by the National Trust, acquisitions in which Rawnsley as an active Hon. Secretary would have been closely involved.
Like many Victorians, Rawnsley had a somewhat morbid interest in memorials, an interest unfortunately given ample scope as a result of the casualties of the First World War, and the public was encouraged by him to subscribe to the gift of open spaces to the National Trust as memorials to the fallen. Rawnsley himself gave a viewpoint in Borrowdale, which he named Peace Howe, as a memorial to the men of Keswick who lost their lives in the conflict.
Other acquisitions included the summit of Scafell Pike, given in 1920 by Lord Leconfield in memory of the men of the Lake District who fell in the War, and Castle Crag, as a memorial to the men of Borrowdale.
Nearly all of Rawnsley's Lakeland titles, apart from Literary Associations of the English Lakes, which first appeared in 1895, were published after 1899, and were written with the principal aim of raising the profile of the National Trust, and encouraging visitors to its properties in Lakeland. The first of these publications, Life and Nature at the English Lakes, is dedicated, “to my dear friend Mrs. Talbot (the benefactor of Dinas Oleu) whose heart is in the Lake Country.”
Rawnsley's last, and only non-Lakeland title after 1895, A Nation's Heritage, is an account of visits to Trust properties in the West Country; dictated to his long-suffering second wife Eleanor Simpson, on their honeymoon in 1918, and has a tear-out National Trust membership application slip bound into the back of the volume, the requested annual subscription being ten shillings.
Apart from acting as Honorary Secretary to the National Trust from its foundation until his death, and as we have seen, being instrumental in the acquisition of many Lakeland beauty spots by the Trust, Hardwicke in turn influenced others to benefit the Lake District by persuading them to donate land or money to appeals for the purchase of properties. Among these donors, pride of place must be given to Beatrix Potter. Either during her lifetime or by her legacies, and as a direct result of her friendship with Hardwicke, Beatrix Potter donated several farms and vast areas of unspoilt Lake District countryside to the National Trust. Many others have followed her lead.
So, to move on to the last part of the title of this talk:
To what extent can the epithet 'green Victorian' be applied to Hardwicke Rawnsley? Victorian he obviously was, but whether or not he could be described as ‘Green’ will depend of course upon what is understood by the epithet, ‘Green’.
'Greenness' was not a term used in the 19th century, and seems to have come into common parlance more in the 20th century with the rise of the 'Green' political parties in the 1960's. So what is meant by 'Green'?
The American writers Vicky Albritton and Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, in their book entitled Green Victorians – the Simple Life in John Ruskin's Lake District, in which Rawnsley plays a supporting rôle, take it to mean a reaction against the steam-driven industrialisation of the means of production, the mass-produced manufacture of cheap and shoddy goods, the mushrooming of cities, the exploitation of the workforce ('hands') in insanitary factories, combined with a longing to return to the simpler way of life and, what its exponents saw, as the dignity of labour, and the joy experienced by their creators in producing well-made hand-crafted goods, while at the same time respecting the fragility of nature.
In this spirit was begun what came to be known as the Ruskin Linen Industry, founded by Albert Fleming, a devoted disciple of Ruskin. A middle-aged bachelor from London, on holiday in the Lake District he discovered for himself the joy of spinning, and longed Canute-like to stem the tide of industrialisation and to teach the ancient and all-but-lost skills of their grandparents to the new generation. He and other followers of Ruskin wanted to revive and preserve an element of the traditional Lakeland economy associated with that simpler way of life.
Fleming was no woolly-headed idealist however, and ran what my father would have called 'a tight ship', and to the surprise of many, the Ruskin Linen Industry made a small but steady profit. A letter from Fleming to Rawnsley dated January 1885 survives, in which he asks the by now Vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick and Canon of Carlisle Cathedral, to look out for some new recruits as outworkers for this cottage industry:
“Six new spinsters would be a real help – the poorer the better, as they then work more eagerly and regularly... When you have six likely women in view will you kindly write or wire to Miss Twelves, St. Martins, Elterwater and she will arrange to come over and teach them.”
Michael Allen suggests, in his forthcoming essay on Hardwicke's early poetry, that a crucial difference between Rawnsley, Wordsworth, Ruskin and other Victorian commentators, is that while they longed for a return to a nostalgic past, Rawnsley was anxious to preserve the monuments and traditions of the past not as it were 'in aspic' but in order that the generations as yet unborn, might learn from them, so as to build a new future. The past and present are a continuum, and knowledge of the past, which can be obtained by the preservation of ancient monuments and traditions, informs and enlightens the present.
I think I agree with this analysis, which in the terms of the Albrittons' definition of 'Green', as a wish to recreate the nostalgic past, would make Rawnsley not so 'green' after all, but perhaps more of a prophet of the future. What a pity therefore that; as experience tells us, the lessons of history are never learned!
In contrast to Ruskin and his circle, Rawnsley wanted the 'green and pleasant land' of the Lakes to be preserved as a resource for recreation and peace for the workers in the increasingly industrial cities, while at the same time ensuring that the traditional way of life, hill-farming and local craft industries could continue to provide employment for the resident population. Wordsworth too, as the Albrittons acknowledge, was on the side of the shepherd. He considered that “the rough hills and poor soils of the region ennobled the mind, by fostering habits of independence, industry and self-sufficiency. In his poem, Michael, (a shepherd), the eponymous hero loves his farm more than his own blood, and his character was inseparable from the fields and hills which were his living being”.
What was true for Wordsworth is still true today. James Rebanks, whose family has farmed in the same area of the Lake District for 600 years, in his account of The Shepherd's Life which I read as part of my preparation for this lecture, makes this eloquently clear. The life of a hill-farmer today, in spite of the modern amenities of quad-bikes, electricity and running water, is still a hard and lonely one, governed by the unforgiving nature of the landscape, the fells and the weather, just as it had been for Wordsworth's Michael. But in spite of it all, his Herdwick sheep and the lakeland fells are the love of his life, which he would not exchange for all the world.
Rebanks, with whom I have been in touch after reading his book, considers that of all the poets and writers about the Lakes; Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, Collingwood and of course Ruskin; all, with the exception of Wordsworth, southerners to a man; Hardwicke Rawnsley and following his lead, Beatrix Potter, had arguably the most progressive attitude to the native people and culture of the Lake District. The reason being, he says, that they understood the divide between the romantic, aesthetic literary view of the Lakes, and that of the fells as a working environment for the often unheard local people, and “sought to get closer to the people he knows”. He suggests that, “after them, there was a backward step, culminating in Wainwright and a sort of reduction of the place to fell-walking and urban escape”.
Being interested in every aspect of Lakeland life, Rawnsley certainly made it his business to learn about hill farming and the lives of the local people, and much of his, often lyrical, writing about the Lakes is devoted to tales about them, and to descriptions of the cycle of life on a fell farm. He wanted to inform his readers: The Sheepdog Trials at Troutbeck, At Brig-End for the Sheep-Clipping, On Helvellyn with the Shepherds, for example, are some of the chapter headings in his Lakeland writings.
In his By Fell and Dale at the English Lakes, published in 1911, Rawnsley discourses on the rearing of the incredibly hardy native Herdwick sheep, which were thought to have been introduced by the Vikings.
He had evidently made himself something of an expert, and he gives a detailed account of the breeding activities at different times of the year, the ear-marking or 'smitting' of the flocks and the centuries-old method of counting the sheep in what may have been a memory of old Norse. This varied from one Vale to another, but unfortunately today has largely been forgotten, though James Rebanks tells me that he remembers his grandfather's generation continuing that tradition. In Borrowdale for example the numerals one to ten were Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Methera, Pimp, Sethera, Lethera, Hovera, Dovera, Dick, and so on.
In spite of their vicissitudes, and narrowly escaping being wiped out during the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001, the Herdwick sheep continue an important feature of the Lake country today, and for this reason I would like to share with you a couple of brief extracts from Rawnsley's book:
“Visitors to our Lake Country; as they ramble over the fells, must be constantly struck with the exceeding beauty of the delicate, lithe, little sheep; with their shy black faces and their dainty feet; that give life to the mountain-side...
“The most remarkable characteristics of these Herdwick sheep are their homing instinct and their marvellous memories. For example: a flock of sheep, driven down a road which was blocked at the time, had to pass through a gate, and so back again through another opening in the wall to the roadway. This was when they were being driven back to the fells: They did not pass along that road again for many months. The road was no longer blocked; and the wall had been built up; but as soon as they came to that place they all topped the wall and insisted on going back again through the gate. I have myself seen a flock driven along the road, and suddenly, when they came to a certain place, spring into the air, and was told that at that particular point in the former year a pole had been across the road, and the sheep had jumped it when they came to the place. Though no obstruction now existed, they leapt over an imaginary pole.
Rawnsley had a great admiration for the fell shepherds, considering that they must be direct descendants of the colonisers from the north:
“They are a fine race these Viking shepherds, as anyone may see who will go to a dog-trial in the Lake Country. We have still amongst us the Michaels that Wordsworth knew and described. And men of character they need to be: They are called to face all storms upon the height. They must find their way through blinding mist and over country that to the unexpert would mean death. .. Men too they are who are as silent as the silent places wherein their work lies. Even at a shepherds' meeting they are monosyllabic... Men of long sight they are and of marvellous memory. I spoke just now of the memory of the Herdwick sheep – the memory of the master for 'kenning' place and face is more wonderful still. To the ordinary holiday wanderer upon our fells, that a drove of sheep as they pass towards the intake can be thought of or recognised as individuals, appears an impossibility. It is not so with the shepherds...”
Rawnsley's enthusiasm for the indigenous sheep may well have inspired Beatrix Potter, who in 1906 herself started a breeding programme for Herdwick sheep at Hill Top Farm, in Sawrey which she had bought a couple of years earlier. Thanks to the example of her shepherd, Tom Storey, she was to become a considerable expert on the breed, winning prizes at many shows; and just before her death she had the honour of being elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association, though unfortunately she did not live long enough to take up the office.
Beatrix Potter, or Mrs. Heelis, as she was better-known to the farming community, who had lived through the slump and saw the start of the Second World War, died a few days before Christmas in 1943. Concerned for the continuation of the traditional fell-farming way of life, in her Will she generously made a gift of no less than fifteen farms, and 4000 acres of land to the National Trust. Possibly foreseeing that the pressures of mass-tourism, once the war was over, might threaten the traditional sheep-farming, she stipulated, as James Rebanks notes in his book, that her fell-farms should continue to raise, 'fell-going flocks of the pure Herdwick breed.' Long may they continue to do so.
“No man is an island intire unto itself”.
The three founders of the National Trust, Hardwicke Rawnsley, Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter, enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, each one bringing qualities to their visionary project which were not inherent in the other two. And before them, William Wordsworth and John Ruskin whose ideas they developed and realised, among others. Hardwicke Rawnsley paid homage to these two, his greatest inspirational models, in Ruskin & The English Lakes, published in 1902:
“All that is mortal of these two prophets of the Lord rests in lakeland earth: Grasmere Churchyard and Coniston Churchyard are now individually consecrated; and pilgrims to either shrine will think of the double debt we owe; and hear not one but two clarion voices calling us, to lowlier reverence, loftier hopes; and love for men and Nature more devout.”
“They will hear, within the voices of these seers, a word of warning: This little twenty-mile-square of hill and dale fed their souls with noblest passion, and lifted up their hearts to noblest heights: Every year the quiet and the seclusion of it is threatened; every year its unspoiled beauty is in jeopardy. No one who truly cares for the future of Great Britain, can think of this National Resting-ground robbed of its healing charm - its power to inspire and invigorate the thought of the present, or illustrate and enforce the thought of the past. All that is mortal of Wordsworth rests in Grasmere Churchyard; all that is mortal of Ruskin lies at Coniston: But we are false to the trust that they gave the tender earth of the countryside they loved so truly if we will not listen to their spirit words, and strive as well as we may to keep the land of their inspiration a heritage, for the helpful thought, the highest pleasure and the fullest peace of the generations yet to be.”
Hardwicke would I feel sure be very pleased to know that the National Trust, which he jointly founded and to which he devoted the last 25 years of his life, is indeed fulfilling that trust and preserving his beloved Lakeland as a resource and inspiration for our own and future generations.
Wordsworth, his first and lifelong inspiration was never far from Rawnsley's thoughts, and in 1915 in the darkest days of the War, Hardwicke revisited the poet's grave in Grasmere for a moment of quiet reflection:
At Wordsworth's grave, 7 April 1915
Beneath the yew by Rothay's freeborn stream
Filled with his music crystal as his heart
Today from all the world I go apart;
A hundred years rolled backward as in a dream
And all of you that doth immortal seem
Comes from the grave to bear a patriot's part;
Your healing clarion tuned by sonnet art
Sounds; and your great song-banners forward gleam.
Wordsworth, our Empire needs thee at this hour,
For now a second tyrant stands confest;
A ruthless wide-world dominating foe;
Oh, turn not mighty spirit to thy rest
But bid us forth as happy warriors go
With Freedom's inextinguishable power.
The following year the influenza epidemic struck and Hardwicke's wife Edith was among the victims. Too ill himself even to attend her funeral, and worn out by the strain of his duties both as Hon Secretary of the National Trust and of his parish work in wartime, following her death, Hardwicke decided to retire from the ministry at Crosthwaite, and move 'over the Raise' to Grasmere. Here at Allan Bank, the house which he and Edith had bought for their retirement, he lived out the last four years of his life. Constitutionally incapable of living alone without a helpmeet, he raised some eyebrows by marrying his old friend and secretary, Eleanor Simpson only 18 months after Edith's death. She survived him for 39 years, living here at Allan Bank until her death in 1959.
As I mentioned earlier, on their honeymoon in the West Country touring the National Trust possessions, Hardwicke dictated his last book, A Nation's Heritage, to her. He had a gift for descriptive and often poetic prose. Here is a short extract from this last book:
He begins with a splendid account of Dinas Oleu, the very first property acquired by the Trust, as I mentioned earlier:
“The traveller who would see Barmouth, should visit it in the last week in May or first week in June. The little grey town beneath the cliff is not yet overflowing with visitors, and he will not be troubled by litter on his visit to the famous Panorama Walk. Even if there were no interesting National Trust possession at the end of his journey he would be well repaid by the marvel of the landscape as he passes down the estuary from Dolgelly. Leaving Dolgelly station we may see Hengwrt in the woodland to the right; the home that for the latter part of her life was the retreat of that tireless worker, Miss Frances Power Cobbe. As the train stops at Penmaenpool we can view a square mile of sandy flat, covered with short sea grass and carpeted with myriads of shell-pink thrift flowers. If the tide is flooding in, this same pink and green carpet is interlaced with glittering pools of water that seem as if some giant writer of hieroglyphs had been at work with blue paint. If the tide is out we shall find rainbow-coloured sands, en-isled by grey-blue water with herons standing like silver sickles in the sun and companies of white gulls that jewel the fringes of the tideway.”
That enticing description still holds good today, except that there is no longer a train connecting Barmouth to Dolgelly. In the late 1960's or very early 70's if I remember rightly, we rode in the last train on that line, and then stood numbly watching the works train which followed, ripping up the track behind it, as it made the journey back to Dolgelly. A heart-breaking moment for us railway enthusiasts. The track was subsequently I believe made into a cycle path, but the ghost of that wonderful train still whistles down the line.
Rawnsley died before the full impact on society caused by the First World War had really become apparent, so he would not have seen that the traditional Lakeland way of life was threatened by the modern world.
As the Albritton's comment, the Lake District is hardly a primaeval wilderness – there are traces of human habitation going back to the last Ice Age, there was a stone axe industry in Great Langdale, with a considerable export market, even to the continent of Europe. The bronze age peoples cleared the woods around the peaks to make grazing space and dwellings, and the distinctive and hardy Herdwick sheep were introduced, possibly by the northern Viking settlers. Mining of copper, lead and other minerals may date back to Roman times, and charcoal burning for smelting was carried on from mediaeval times, and at Whitehaven there was a flourishing trading port for coal and tobacco.
None of this activity marred the natural landscape however. The damage to the environment is unfortunately caused by the sheer weight of numbers of those who wish to visit and enjoy this beautiful scenery and way of life, and this is of course a major headache for the National Trust and the National Parks Commission and others, who seek to balance the public's right of access, with the preservation of the natural environment which they have come, to enjoy.
There has apparently been talk of 'rewilding' parts of the Lake District, and to this end farmland has been bid up by the National Trust to prices too high for local farmers to compete. This to the outside observer does seem to be a pity, when fell-farming has been for centuries a part of the rich tapestry of the Lakeland landscape.
James Rebanks, 'The Herdwick Shepherd' as he is happy to be known, in The Shepherd's Life says it all, so I would like to quote a short passage from this moving account of his way of life. The Napoleonic Wars, which put the Alps and the Continent off the tourist map, forced the leisured classes to seek the native mountains and lakes nearer home, and as a result, the Lakeland landscape suddenly became a major focus for writers and artists.
As Rebanks says,
“From the start; this was, for visitors, a landscape of the imagination; an idealized landscape of the mind. It became a counterpoint to other things; such as the Industrial Revolution... or a place that could be used to illustrate philosophies or ideologies. For many, it was; from its 'discovery', a place of escape; where the rugged landscape and nature would stimulate feelings and sentiments that other places could not. For many people, it exists to walk over, to look at, to climb, or paint, or write about, or simply dream about. It is a place many aspire to visit or live in.”
But this popularity has its disadvantages also: “Today”, Rebanks continues,
“16 million people a year come here (to an area with 43,000 residents) They spend more than a billion pounds every year here. More than half the employment in the area is reliant upon tourism – and many of the farms depend upon it for their income by running B&Bs or other businesses. But in some of the valleys 60 to 70 per cent of the houses are second homes or holiday cottages, so that many local people cannot afford to live in their own communities.”
This being so, it is surely one of the paramount duties of the National Trust as major landowners and guardians of this fragile landscape to support and encourage the indigenous people of the Lakes such as James Rebanks; to try to understand and fulfil their needs, in order to maintain the traditional farming way of life of this incomparable part of the world, and at the same time to avoid simply transforming the Lake District into a sort of glorified theme park. I hope they can rise to the challenge and I do not envy them the task!
Hardwicke Rawnsley, the guardian of the Lakes, as he was known to so many, was a man of his time; a man born into the accepted class structure of the 19th century, who could not have foreseen the effect that cheap travel and the consequent democratisation of mass tourism would have on the traditional symbiotic way of life here, unchanged for centuries, and which he so appreciated.
I am often asked what my great-grandfather and the other Founders of the National Trust would think about the way it is being run today. Of course there is no answer to that question – they could none of them have foreseen that as a result of the First and even more, the second World War, the old way of life and the established hierarchy of classes would disappear for ever – they could not have foreseen that the great country house feudal system would not survive, that the old families would by and large no longer be able to afford the upkeep of those houses, and that were it not for the National Trust stepping in with the Country House Scheme, many of our most beautiful and historic buildings would have fallen into disrepair and been demolished. As it is, many have been saved by the Trust, restored and opened to a public who would never otherwise have had an opportunity of seeing, as it were, “how the other half lived.”
The disadvantage of course is that these magnificent places have perforce become museums – rooms are roped off, one is not allowed to touch the furniture or to sit on the chairs, and this is often a bone of contention with visitors. But it should not be forgotten that the entrance fees provide an essential source of income for the maintenance of these properties, and also for the upkeep of the thousands of acres of countryside owned by the National Trust and open to all, free of charge.
At this point I hope it is not inappropriate to congratulate the National Trust and Elaine Taylor the Curator on the way in which Allan Bank has been transformed, since it was taken in hand after the last tenants left, and made into the user-friendly, interactive community and family resource which it is today, buzzing with more life and activity than it ever can have had since Wordsworth and his growing family lived here as the first tenants at the beginning of the 19th century. To her I also owe a debt of gratitude for information and for a large number of images to illustrate this talk.
So to return once again to our starting point, I would like to end this evening with one of Hardwicke Rawnsley's sonnets on Grasmere – an old man renews his vigour by contemplating the lake, as Wordsworth had done before him.
Child of the tarn, the fountains, and the sun;
The hills that rear their beauty by the shore;
Thy calm enisléd water-plain once more
In tears I come to visit; e'en as one
Who with his hoard of strength is well-nigh gone,
Comes in great pain for wasting of his store;
Treading the thirsty wilds he trod before;
In trust to find where cooling waters run.
For I am aged; but from these rocks I take
A conscious touch of their immortal youth:
Feeble and worn; thy lake with freshness fills
My veins; invigorate of thy sinewy hills;
And wavering, lo; am wiser for the truth
That clothes thy mountains and that haunts thy lake.
Hardwicke suffered a severe heart attack in the Spring of 1920, while attending a meeting of Convocation in York. He returned to Allan Bank where, with typical energy, even though now bedridden, he insisted on carrying on business as usual. He died on 29th May and was buried in Crosthwaite Churchyard with his first wife Edith.
Eleanor lived on at Allan Bank for nearly 40 years as a widow, and joined her husband in Crosthwaite churchyard only in 1959.
Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley passed away nearly a century ago, but his spirit lives on in the Lakes, and his enduring memorial is of course the National Trust, which he helped to found; a cause for which he campaigned tirelessly and to which he devoted the major part of his life. How delighted he would be to know that Grasmere Island, where it all began, is now secured for the nation.
As Wordsworth was Rawnsley's chief inspiration, perhaps he should have the last word, in the form of course, of a sonnet:
Valediction to the River Duddon
I thought of Thee; my partner and my guide;
As being past away. Vain sympathies!
For; backward, Duddon! As I cast my eyes,
I see what was, and is, and will abide;
Still glides the Stream; and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains; the Function never dies;
While we; the brave, the mighty; and the wise;
We Men; who in our morn of youth defied
The elements; must vanish; - be it so!
Enough; if something from our hands have power
To live; and act; and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go;
Through love; through hope; and faith's transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.