In early August 1882, Hardwicke and his family paid a visit to his parents at Halton Holgate. They then travelled to Winchester to spend time with Willingham and Alice. On 31st August Willingham received a telegram to say that their father had died suddenly. Like Hardwicke, Robert Drummond had suffered regular bouts of ill-health. Nevertheless his death was unexpected. Before the end of the year Hardwicke was offered the rectorship of Halton Holgate, a living that stretched back in the Rawnsley family to 1825 when Hardwicke’s grandfather became vicar of the parish. After much soul-searching Hardwicke declined the offer. Eventually, in early 1883, the offer of the living of St. Kentigern Church at Crosthwaite, near Keswick, worth £400 per year, was made by Harvey Goodwin, Bishop of Carlisle.

No parish could have bene more suited to Hardwicke than Crosthwaite. It was steeped in history, with the first church on the site believed to have been built about 553 A.D. Crosthwaite takes its name from a ‘clearing’ in the woods where St. Kentigern, the church’s founder, is said to have placed his cross and began converting some of the local inhabitants to the Christian faith. The existing church of St. Kentigern dates from the early 1500s.

Crosthwaite Vicarage, the Rawnsley’s new home, built on the top of a hill about half-a-mile from the church, is a Grade II listed building commanding panoramic views across the surrounding countryside. Crosthwaite was a large parish in Cockermouth district measuring about 10 miles by 10. It contained a number of townships, including Keswick. In addition, St. Kentigern Church was the mother church to five chapels – Borrowdale, Newlands, Thornthwaite, Wythburn and St. John’s in the Vale – which meant that Hardwicke, as well as being vicar, was also the Rural Dean.

By far the largest town in the parish, Keswick had flourished with the opening of a railway station in the mid-1860s. Its population was about 3000 when Hardwicke took up his post, a number that greatly increased in the summer months when tourists visited the area. Hardwicke’s induction at St. Kentigern’s took place on 9th July 1883. A notable feature of St. Kentigern Church is the presence of consecration crosses, with nine on the inside and twelve on the outside. Robert Southey, the poet, who lived in Keswick, is buried in the churchyard. There is also a large marble effigy of the poet in the western part of the south chancel aisle, placed there in 1846. On two sides of the tomb are inscriptions written by Wordsworth.

The social, intellectual and commercial activities associated with running a parish were soon evident as Hardwicke and Edith strove to make their presence felt. Getting to know their parishioners and their needs was paramount, especially with winter approaching. Within the first few months they set about raising money to install heating in the Parish Room. A gallery in the same building was converted into a reading room for use by clubs associated with the church. Hardwicke initiated further fund-raising to recruit a curate. He began to give a series of lectures, the first one on ‘Martin Luther: sketches of his life and times’, and started Bible classes for men. External speakers were commissioned to give lectures on topics such as ‘Health in the Home’ and ‘Food and Drink’. A Crosthwaite Church Lay Mission Band was formed. This involved individuals holding cottage meetings, shortened forms of evening services, hymns and addresses, at cottages in the surrounding areas.

To help promote the virtue of abstinence from alcohol, Hardwicke and others formed a Keswick-wide Temperance Rescue Band, charged with taking in hand certain known cases of excessive drinkers, with a view to dissuade them from their evil habit. The importance of Sunday Schools and involvement with the Sunday School Teachers’ Union continued after the move from Wray. Hardwicke and Edith rarely failed to be part of the annual Keswick Sunday School outing to Seascale.

Missionary work played a large part in the life of the church and Hardwicke was elected President of the Keswick Church Missionary Society. He invited missionaries, often old friends from school or university, who had gone to work overseas, to come and give talks. The parish sponsored an African teacher, So-Songolo, at Nyassa.

One alteration to the church in these early years in which Edith had a major part was the installation of the Reredos in December 1888. Edith worked on their design and managed the part of the art work that was carried out by the Keswick School of Industrial Arts.

Amongst all the turmoil and excitement of a new parish, Edith and Hardwicke were dealt a devastating personal blow when Alice, Edith’s beloved elder sister, died suddenly. She contacted diphtheria whilst visiting someone in Ambleside. Alice was rushed to the London Fever Hospital but died on the 24th February 1884. To say that Alice’s death was a shattering blow to Hardwicke was an understatement. He poured out his grief in a series of sonnets, the like of which he had never written before nor ever wrote again. Even when close family members, such as his father and younger brother, had died, Hardwicke did not react so emotionally. Nor even when Edith died many years later. These sonnets were eventually published in Valete: Tennyson and other Memorial Poems (1893).

The tragedy of Alice’s death may have partly spurred Edith and Hardwicke into an even more hectic whirlwind of activities. He became heavily involved in the anti-railway campaigns and the work of the Lake District Defence Society. Edith was energised by their founding of the Keswick School of Industrial Arts. Neither was there any shortage of parish work. The need for a curate had been obvious from their first few months, and the Reverend John Sharpe Ostle arrived in May 1884 to help with the work load. He stayed five years. In September 1889, the Reverend Arthur John Heelis was appointed curate. Heelis was the bother of William Heelis who, in 1913, became the husband of Beatrix Potter.

Full of youthful energy, Hardwicke became involved in many activities. He joined a group who wanted to promote Keswick as a tourist destination. He was elected to the committee of the Keswick Literary and Scientific Society in March 1884 and lectured to its members at their monthly meetings for many years. He gave lectures to many clubs and organisations across the county and beyond, usually on Wordsworth or his experience of visiting the Middle East in 1879. In June 1883 he was elected a member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. He became Acting Chaplain to the 1st Cumberland Volunteers Brigade of the Border Regiment. Whenever possible, the Rawnsleys attended the annual Volunteers’ New Year’s Day Shooting Competition during the day, and prize giving ceremony in the evening. In 1887, he was invested as Chaplain of the Greta Lodge, 1073, of Freemasons.

Education, be it vocational or academic, loomed large in Hardwicke’s assessment of how to improve the lives of less fortunate people in society and it was everyone’s duty to do what they could to bring about improvements in educational opportunities. Under the driving force of Edith, the Keswick School of Industrial Arts was a major stepping stone in this direction. In a separate development, Hardwicke was elected a governor of Crosthwaite High School. Dating back to at least 1571, and possibly earlier, the school had languished in recent years. The time was ripe for major improvements. Henry and Thomas Hewetson, major benefactors of Keswick, had proposed the funding and building of a new school. As a governor of Crosthwaite School Hardwicke was ideally placed to help drive forward such educational opportunities in Keswick. In due course he was to become a major figure in the educational landscape of the country.

As was seen during his two years at Bristol, music was an abiding passion. Almost immediately on moving to Crosthwaite Hardwicke was elected to the committee of the Keswick Choral Society. For the remainder of his time in Keswick he was to sponsor, organise and preside over dozens of concerts and musical entertainments in the town. In 1885 he engaged members of a local orchestra to act as a Town Band to entertain visitors during the summer. As his reputation spread he was asked to help organise and adjudicate at the Cumberland Musical Festival and the Westmorland Musical Festival, these often being large 2-day events attracting entries from many parts of the country.

The main outdoor recreational area in Keswick was the Fitz Park Recreation Ground. The brainchild of Henry Irwin Jenkinson, Hardwicke’s future collaborator on ensuring right of access to footpaths in and around Keswick, the Park was opened to the public in 1882 after generous donations from the Hewetson family enabled the land for the Park to be purchased. Hardwicke was appointed a Trustee in September 1884 and devoted a large amount of time and energy in furthering the development of the Park for the benefit of residents and visitors. In recognition of his efforts, he was made a Life Trustee in 1903.

Henry Irwin Jenkinson was also the instigator of the ‘Keswick Old Folks’ Christmas Do’. The first one was held in 1872 and became an annual event in the calendar of the town. With the Rawnsleys arrival the event could not have found more ideal supporters. Hardwicke was a fervent believer in keeping such traditions going. At Christmas 1883, six months after his arrival in Crosthwaite, he was confined to the vicarage with a cold and could not attend the dinner. He insisted, however, on walking to Oddfellows Hall, where the dinner was being held, to introduce himself to those he had not seen and offer his apologies for not celebrating their dinner with them as was his desire. His impromptu speech says a lot about the man – his empathy with the people, his humour, his willingness to go the extra mile, his determination to uphold traditional activities, and his recognition as the how big a job he faced in Crosthwaite:

And now, for I am half afraid of that doctor catching me here, I must wish you all again a Merry Christmas and a Glad New Year. I hope sincerely we all may meet for many Christmases to come, but as I say the word “hope,” I know the many chances against such reunion, and because of that I am the more glad to be able to say I hope to see you all again. Some of you, I know, will be saying, “Oh! That’s t’ parson is he? Well, I nivver clapt eyes on him afore!” And sorry enough I am that it should be possible to be said; but you know, friends, it is my misfortune and not my fault, for until the surgeon can discover some way of cutting me up into sixty pieces and promising to sew me together again I cannot do as I should wish to do—know all of you personally within the first six months of my residence here, and I want to know you all personally. I don’t care for a nod of the head; I want a nod of the heart, and from what I have learned already of Cumberland hearts, though they may bide a deal of knowing, they are worth it when you get to know them, and these gatherings tend to let us know one another’s hearts. I wish you a happy Christmas.1

In later years Hardwicke became chairman of the organising committee of the ‘Old Folks’ Do’ and very rarely missed the event. His last appearance was Christmas 1919 when he presided over the dinner. This was two years after leaving Crosthwaite and less than six months before he died.

The inauguration of a Keswick May-Day Festival on 22nd May 1885 was another landmark in the town’s history. Other places in Cumberland had a May Day Festival but this was the first in Keswick, at least in the memory of most of its inhabitants. Hardwicke was undoubtedly the driving force behind the idea and, on the day, he acted as the Master of Ceremonies, leading the open coach which was drawn by a white horse and in which sat the May Queen. The May Day festivities were to become an annual feature in the calendar of Keswick, growing larger with every passing year.

Continuing were they left off at Ambleside, the Rawnsleys became involved with the local St John Ambulance Association. First aid classes had been started in 1881, before the arrival of the Rawnsleys. At the meeting of the Association in May 1884, Hardwicke reported that 26 men and 15 women had gained certificates in the previous three years. He reminded his listeners that since there were many mines and mills in the area, and the Association had trained over 40 individuals in first-aid, it was time that a centre be formed that could be called upon to render first-aid in cases of accidents and emergencies.

The health and well-being of his fellow citizens was of paramount importance to Hardwicke and he did all he could to educate them in the basics of how they could prevent themselves from becoming ill and what to do if someone was sick. He arranged for outside lecturers from groups such as the National Health Society and the Berner’s Street Health Association to come to Keswick and give talks on topics including ‘Commonsense Clothing’, ‘The Sick Room’. ‘Cholera and its Prevention’ and ‘Dangers to Children’. He was well aware that the environment in which many of the people in Keswick lived was not conducive to promoting good health.

Active participation in everything he did was the mantra that Hardwicke practiced. Standing on the side-lines letting others do the work was not an option for him. A good example was the promotion of beekeeping in the neighbourhood. Beekeeping was not only a remunerative pastime for some poor country folk but it indulged Hardwicke’s passion for science, involving, as it did, the study of bees, honey-production, flower fertilisation etc. Less than 12 months after moving to Crosthwaite he invited all local people interested in beekeeping to tea. A Keswick Association, with Hardwicke as President, was formed to help promote the benefits of beekeeping and to share knowledge and expertise. In 1901 he was elected chairman of the Council of the Cumberland Beekeepers’ Association, a position he held for many years.

Another notable activity which brought considerable publicity to Keswick and in which Hardwicke was heavily involved was celebratory bonfires. The first was the lighting of two bonfires on Skiddaw on 20th June 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s fifty years on the throne. This was followed by a bonfire on 19th July 1888 to celebrate the tercentenary of the Spanish Armada.

During these early years in Crosthwaite, Hardwicke found time to continue his researches into Wordsworth. At the last meeting of the Wordsworth Society on 7th July 1886 he proposed the setting up of a permanent memorial to the Lake Poets. Both Hardwicke and Edith were elected to the Committee to take the idea forward. The Committee came to the conclusion that a library and reading room should be established in Keswick. Eventually the proposal was abandoned but it was resurrected in a different form with the purchase of Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere, by the Reverend Stopford Brooke a few years later.

At the meeting of the Wordsworth Society referred to above a discussion took place regarding what was to be done about the ‘Rock of Names’. This was a large rock by the side of the road near Thirlmere and a place of pilgrimage for visitors who were drawn to the Lake District by its associations with Wordsworth. It had been a meeting place for Wordsworth and Coleridge in the early 1800s and on it were carved the initials ‘W.W., M.H., D.W., S.T.C., J.W., S.H.’ representing William Wordsworth, his wife Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Wordsworth, and Sarah Hutchinson. Engineering works had begun at Thirlmere to dam the lake and create a large reservoir which would, when finished, submerge the ‘Rock’ under water. In July 1891, Manchester Corporation dynamited the Rock to use the pieces as building material. Hardwicke and Edith, painstakingly and lovingly, sifted through the debris for a number of days searching for fragments that contained any initials. These they used to build into a new cairn above the height of the road. Here the ‘Rock’ stood for over a century. In 2006 it was removed and re-erected at the back of Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home and museum.

As well as publishing Reminiscences of Wordsworth Among the Peasantry of Westmorland (1884), Hardwicke edited a series of sermons by English and American preachers, Christ for To-day (1885), and published another book of poems, Sonnets Round the Coast (1887). The death of his first mentor, Edward Thring, in October 1887 brought the usual flow of commemorative sonnets. In addition, Hardwicke wrote a biography, Edward Thring: Teacher and Poet (1889). In 1888, he published three articles in the Cornhill Magazine under the title of ‘A Coach Drive at the Lakes’. These articles were published in book form in 1890 under the same title.

Now a national figure, Hardwicke was constantly travelling around the country, writing letters and articles, and giving lectures. It is not surprising that his health suffered. In 1887 he was forced to take a rest and went to Cannes with his mother and sister. During this visit his brother, Walter, was taken seriously ill in Cairo and Hardwicke went to his aid staying several weeks until the illness subsided. During his time in Egypt he took the opportunity to renew his interest in the country’s archaeological history.

Nothing is known about Noel’s upbringing at Crosthwaite in the 1880s. It is not known whether he was taught at home or at a local school. In the few surviving letters that Edith wrote to Willingham, there is no mention of her son.

There can be little doubt that Hardwicke’s presence in Keswick did much, even in these early years, to enhance the profile of the town and contribute to its popularity as a place to visit. It is also during these years that he emerged as a national figure, not only as the Defender of the Lakes, but as the champion of the Keswick School of Industrial Arts.


1 English Lakes Visitor, 1883, 29 December, p. 4.

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