One outcome of the Braithwaite and Buttermere Railway campaign was that it identified the need for a permanent organisation to be on the alert to thwart any developments that might be injurious to the scenery of the Lake District. It was during this railway campaign that the idea for a Lake District Defence Society (LDDS) emerged. The embryonic Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence Committee provided the blueprint for the new organisation and its leaders formed its leadership. Although the genesis of the LDDS was undoubtedly a joint endeavour with colleagues such as W. H. Hills and Gordon Somervell, it was Hardwicke who took centre stage when he presented the proposal at the annual meeting of the Wordsworth Society on 2 May 1883.
The presentation bears all the hallmarks of having been written entirely by Hardwicke. It is dated April 1883, the same month that the Braithwaite and Buttermere Bill was withdrawn. The Wordsworth Society meeting, coming so soon after the defeat of the railway bill, was a golden opportunity for Hardwicke to make his proposal for a permanent organisation to defend the Lakes. He knew full well that if he could get Wordsworth Society members on board then the new society would have a great chance of being successful. His presentation to them was couched in terms such that they could hardly refuse to back him. It was a masterly stroke in marketing the idea of a LDDS. Hardwicke’s presentation was a major landmark in the history of preservation of the Lake District.
The executive of the LDDS was already in place in the guise of the Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence Committee: Gordon Somervell, Hon. Treasurer; Hardwicke, Hon. Secretary; and W. H. Hills, Albert Fleming and Herbert Moser as executive members. For the following 12 months, the committee and others discussed and argued about a number of issues including the name of the new society, whether they should join forces with other like-minded organisations, and what their detailed remit should be.
Hardwicke favoured retaining the word ‘Permanent’ as part of the society’s title. Other members felt this was unnecessary and made it long-winded. Discussions with other groups also complicated the name that might be given to the new society. One such group was the Aysgarth Society, dedicated to preserving the Yorkshire Dales, and names such as the North of England Lakes & Dales Society, and the National Society for the Defence of English Lakes and Dales were mentioned. One newspaper even reported that a union was ‘proposed between the Aysgarth Defence Association, the Lake District Defence Society, and the Commons Preservation Society’. If this was the case, nothing came of the proposed union.
W. H. Hills drafted the first publicity/recruiting leaflet of the LDDS. Archive holdings of these early leaflets show how much debate took place before the remit of the new society was agreed. Everyone supported the view that the society was against railway and mineral exploitation. Hardwicke, however, was keen to see that rights of way and commons were protected. Other executive members disagreed, fearing that they would alienate local landowners. One leaflet, dated May 1884, stated that the object of the Society was:
To protect the Lake District from those injurious encroachments upon its scenery, which are from time to time attempted from purely commercial or speculative motives, without regard to its clams as a National Recreation Ground.1
Hardwicke’s plea to the Wordsworth Society that its members join the LDDS was successful. Analysis of the membership of the LDDS has been closely scrutinised and criticised. It faced accusations of being elitist and failing to represent the ordinary working man, even though it claimed to want to keep the area as a resting and recreation ground for such people. There were concerns that it was unrepresentative of people living in the Lakes, with most of its members living outside of the area. Of a membership of approximately 400, less than 10% were from the Lake District. Certainly within the LDDS itself, executive members such as Hills and Moser were uncomfortable with a lack of representation of local people. Hardwicke on the other hand seems to have been unperturbed by such criticisms. He wanted the LDDS to be a national, not local, organisation. In addition to an executive committee, local committees were formed in major cities such as Manchester and London. Both Robert Hunter and Octavia Hill were members of the London Committee.
The fledgling LDDS was very fortunate in that contemporaneous with Hardwicke’s appeal to the Wordsworth Society, an Ennerdale Railway Bill was laid before Parliament. Like the Braithwaite proposal a few months earlier, the Ennerdale Bill was weak, being another example of speculators wanting to make a profit without due consideration of the economics of their case or damage to the Lake District. The new proposal was to build a 6-mile line near Ennerdale Water on the western side of the Lake District that would carry iron ore to the existing Whitehaven-Egremont-Cleator line. In some ways the Ennerdale Railway became a recruiting vehicle for the LDDS. Hardwicke appeared before the Select Committee in Parliament discussing the Bill. He must have felt overjoyed when it was rejected by the Committee on economic grounds on the 18 July 1883.
The need for a society to be permanently on the watch for development proposals was reinforced less than twelve months later when a modified Ennerdale Railway Bill was reintroduced to Parliament. It too was rejected on economic grounds.
Having overcome a number of railway proposals the LDDS were now well-versed in putting forward arguments against attempts to further develop the rail network in the Lakes. The arguments rested on a common set of themes. These were that there would be damage to the landscape; such proposals were made for purely speculative purposes; the Lake District was already easily accessible by rail; development would devalue the Lakes as a place of rest and recreation and would not benefit the local community.
In late 1886, an Ambleside Railway Bill was published. This proposed to extend the line from Windermere to Ambleside, laying the ground for future expansion to Grasmere and Keswick. This Bill did not fit the framework of earlier railway Bills that the LDDS were used to opposing. The Ambleside Railway Bill differed from earlier proposals. It had solid backing in the local community – from tradesmen, hotelkeepers, industrialists, some landowners and Town Councils. And its promoters had gone to considerable length to minimise any damage to the scenery. The LDDS and CPS were against the Bill, as were most national and regional newspapers. Arguments and counter-arguments filled the columns of many newspapers with each side shouting loudly that their opponents were telling untruths. Crucially, for the Bill’s opponents, the London and North-Western Railway, who the promoters hoped would work the line once built, withdrew their support. This had a significant impact on the economic case for the railway.
This time, however, Hardwicke was not the driving force behind the opposition. During January and February 1887 when the Bill was being debated in Parliament he was recuperating overseas from serious illness caused by stress. It was left to Hills to spearhead the campaign against the Ambleside Bill on behalf of the LDDS. Hills was very ably supported by the CPS, especially James Bryce, its chairman. The Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons in February by a majority of 12.
After passing its second reading, the Ambleside Railway Bill was sent to a Select Committee for detailed discussion. The Select Committee ‘threw out the Ambleside Railway Bill upon financial grounds, expressing no opinion upon the alleged probable advantages of the line to the district’. It seems clear that had the London and North-Western Railway supported the Bill it may well have passed. It is ironic that Hardwicke and his colleagues had a railway company to thank for ensuring that Wordsworth’s great concern that a line would be built from Windermere to Keswick did not come to pass.
Rejection of the Ambleside Railway proved the death-knell for similar proposals in the Lake District. One recent commentator has argued that the LDDS were lucky in the railway proposals that were made in the Lake District during the 1880s:
The cases which the L.D.D.S. were involved with in the 1880s were basically financially unsound local railway schemes, and as such they faced no major opposition or national railway company to fight against. If they had to do so, both their arguments and organisation would have been greatly tried. As it was, the society relied heavily upon the legal advice and parliamentary expertise of the Commons Preservation Society. Without it, the L.D.D.S. would have achieved little.2
Railways, however, were not the only enemy that threatened the landscape of the Lake District. In 1885, Manchester Corporation began engineering work to dam the lake at Thirlmere and convert it into a massive reservoir. This was six years after the passing of the 1879 Thirlmere Act which gave Manchester Corporation the right to build the reservoir, raise the water by 50 feet and extract up to 50 million gallons of water a day. As part of the 1879 Act, Manchester Corporation had also agreed to build a new road high up on the west side of Thirlmere. During the six years that passed after the 1879 Act, Manchester had downgraded their forecasts of the amount of water they needed to take from Thirlmere. The new forecasts were that Manchester only needed 10 million gallons of water per day and that the water level would rise by only 20 feet. On hearing this news the LDDS Executive were jubilant. They had always thought that the new road would be unsightly and spoil the landscape. Now, they concluded, it was not needed. They communicated their views to Manchester Corporation Waterworks Committee.
Manchester Corporation were delighted since this offered a significant reduction in their costs. They agreed to seek an amendment to the 1879 Act to annul the need for a new road. Unfortunately, in taking their decision, the LDDS were acting in haste and on their own initiative. They do not appear to have consulted any other parties who might have a stake in the new road such as local residents, hoteliers, tradesmen etc. The MP for Penrith, James Lowther, was another person who was not in agreement. Even some members of the LDDS became uncomfortable with the decision when it became public. Hardwicke was also facing a dilemma. He was at this time standing for election as an Independent Liberal for the Keswick Division of Cumberland County Council. Not surprisingly many of the electors who were in favour of the new road wanted to know what his views were on the subject. There are no records of Hardwicke’s comments on the new road during his election campaign. After his election on 18 January 1889, however, subsequent events lead to the view that he either altered his opinion or gave ambiguous answers.
Recognising that his position as both a member of the LDDS Executive and a County Councillor were now in some conflict Hardwicke took matters into his own hands. Gordon Somervell, Treasurer of the LDDS, notified his colleagues on 1 February 1889 that he had received:
A very illegible note from Mr. Rawnsley saying that he has resigned rather than hamper the society. His election is at the bottom of this. A lamentable result!3
This must have been an agonising decision for Hardwicke to take. He, and others, had badly misjudged the situation and the strong views of people living in the area. It was certainly a mistake for the LDDS to suggest to Manchester Corporation that the road be abandoned without any consultation with others who might be affected. Whether Hardwicke then gave some support for the new road in his election campaign is not known, but it seems as if some of his colleagues thought he had.
Eventually Manchester Corporation agreed to honour their initial obligations and the new road was built. This was the first defeat suffered by the LDDS and it came about because of their own insistence that they were right and could speak on behalf of all the communities involved. They had ignored local views before and got away with it. But not this time. The reservoir was officially opened on 12 October 1894 with both Hills and Hardwicke attending.
Manchester Corporation and the LDDS continued their skirmishes for many years to come, mainly on the issue of tree planting. The Corporation had pledged in the 1879 Thirlmere Act to make good the beauty of the landscape after engineering works were completed. What happened in practice was the wholesale destruction of the native woods and forests. The indigenous oak, ash, birch and other trees were felled and replaced with lucrative conifers such as larch, spruce and fir extending over more than two thousand acres. A cartoon appeared in the Manchester Evening Chronicle as late as 1911 showing Hardwicke pleading with an axeman not to cut more trees down on the shore of Thirlmere. In 1985 the legality of this planting was challenged in the courts by Mrs Susan Johnson who argued that it was not part of the agreement made by Manchester Corporation in the 1879 Act. Mrs Johnson won her case and Manchester Corporation has been forced to adopt a new approach to tree planting. Mrs Johnson was the daughter of Henry Herbert Symonds, a future chairman of the ‘Friends of the Lake District’.
It was during the 1880s that the LDDS had a major impact on preserving the scenery of the Lake District. Railway expansion and mining speculators were the most headline catching campaigns. But there were numerous other smaller campaigns involving roads, bridges, footpaths etc. that did not grab the headlines. For the next 20 years the LDDS was not involved in any national issues. Largely due to the unstinting effort of Hills it kept going with involvement in local issues such as the siting of telegraph poles, footpath closures, the opening of new quarries, and hydro-aeroplanes on Windermere. In 1900 they defeated a proposal for an electric tramway beside the Windermere, Bowness and Ambleside road.
After the flurry of railway activity in the 1880s the Society is hardly mentioned in the national newspapers. Much of its work had been taken over by the National Trust. So what did the LDDS achieve? Perhaps its greatest achievement was not any specific campaign. Rather it was that it constantly kept the Lake District prominently before the public eye. It ensured that the preservation of the landscape of the area became a national issue. The battle cry that the Lake District was unique and a national asset was successfully sold to the nation. It is no coincidence that it was a failure to buy land in the Lake District in 1893 that galvanised Hardwicke, Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter to bring to fruition the idea of a National Trust. One might argue that so successful was the LDDS in keeping the Lake District at the forefront of national conservation consciousness that without it the formation of a National Trust would have been delayed.
The LDDS was also the platform which brought Hardwicke to national prominence. Other people worked diligently behind the scenes in the various LDDS campaigns, no one more so than W. H. Hills whose contribution was acknowledged by Hardwicke in his book, Literary Associations of the English Lakes (1894), which is:
Dedicated to my Kind Friend and Fellow-Labourer William Henry Hills, who has done more than any Man in the District, to keep our English Lakeland, Undisfigured, and “Secure from Rash Assault,” for the Health, Rest, and Inspiration of the People.
It was Hardwicke, however, who became the public face of the Lake District. He did this by sheer force of personality and energy. He was the first to make an appeal for a permanent organisation for the Lake District. Even though he resigned from it, he remained the public embodiment of the fight to preserve the area in its natural condition for the nation for ever.
- Carlisle Records Office. DSO 24/15/1. Lake District Defence Society.
- Dowthwaite, Michael. ‘Defenders of Lakeland: The Lake District Defence Society in the Late-nineteenth Century’. In Westall, Oliver M. ed. Windermere in the Nineteenth Century. Centre for North-West Regional Studies. University of Lancaster. Occasional Paper No. 20. Lancaster: University of Lancaster, 1991, pp. 59-60.
- Symonds, Henry Herbert. The Destructives and Us: Defence of the Lake District, 1875-1913. Chapter 2: ‘Thirlmere’. Draft manuscript. Carlisle Records Office DSO 24/24. p. 13.