Search This Blog

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Finsthwaite Tower

Up above Finsthwaite, on the opposite side of Lake Windermere from Fell Foot and the tides of tourists heading up towards Bowness there is a tower on a hill. Now obscured by trees it was once visible for miles around.

Originally of three storeys it was built in c1799 by James King of Finsthwaite as a memorial to the exploits of the Royal Navy.

Interestingly Mannex, in his History & Topography of Westmorland and Lonsdale North of the Sands (1849), suggests that the 'observatory' was in fact built in 1797 and talks of people carving their names in the wooden frame. Was there an earlier, timber tower? Perhaps he talks of the door frame?
There is a dedicatory inscription ...

To the Memory of
The Officers, Seamen and Marines
of the
whose matchless Conduct and
irresistible Valour decisively defeated
the Fleets of France, Spain and Holland
and preserved and protected

In 1798/9 things did not look good. Britain was deeply involved in the wars with Revolutionary France which appeared to carry all before it. Ireland was aflame and receiving French support, and British India was threatened by Tippoo Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore. In the previous year Napoleon had taken Malta and set about conquering Egypt with the intention of marching on to India to join up with Tippoo and then jointly booting the Brits out of the sub continent.

However, the best laid plans of Old Boney came to naught courtesy of Nelson who obliterated the French Fleet at Aboukir Bay in the Battle of the Nile, Egypt on August 1, 1798. In October of the previous year Admiral Duncan had defeated the Dutch Fleet, then allied with the French, at Camperdown

James King was clearly impressed by the Navy's achievements. He did, however, have a personal interest. His father's marriage bond of 1751 describes him as aged 35 and 'lately surgeon on HM Ship Loo'. James senior was a Liverpool man but married Isabel Taylor of Finsthwaite (1722-66). James junior was born in 1755 and eventually inherited Finsthwaite House from his mother's younger brother, Edward (1731-90). James continued to live there until his death in June,1821, an old bachelor.

There was no such ship in the Royal as an HMS Loo but there have been a number named HMS Looe.
  •  32-gun fifth rate launched in 1696 and wrecked in 1697.
  •  32-gun fifth rate launched in 1697 and wrecked in 1705.
  •  42-gun fifth rate launched in 1707. She was reduced to harbour service in 1735 and was sunk as a breakwater in 1737.
  •   44-gun fifth rate launched in 1741 and wrecked in 1744.
  •   44-gun fifth rate launched in 1745 and sunk as a breakwater in 1759.
  •  30-gun fifth rate, formerly the privateer Liverpool. She was purchased in 1759 and sold in 1763.
The ship wrecked in 1744 lies off the coast of Florida and is a popular diving site. It had a dramatic end. Indeed its undoubted fame was probably the prompt for the ship's inclusion in James senior's marriage bond. But that cannot be a certain conclusion without further research at the Royal Naval Museum archives.

Thanks to Janet Martin for the pics and info


The Taleban are, I think, a fearsome foe for western armies. They are totally motivated and quite ruthless; they will not tolerate foreign forces on their soil. But it has been so for generations. Their fathers and grandfathers fought the British to a standstill for more than a hundred years, then the Russians and now the Americans who, courtesy of Butcher Blair, dragged us back into the present, Fifth Afghan War. Thus far they have always won ... and following the revelations on Wikileaks it seems they may well continue to do so. Throughout this whole miserable business the tribesmen of this extraordinary country have inflicted grievous casualties.

Perhaps the Afghan's greatest success was in utterly defeating the British forces under General Elphinstone in the First Afghan War of 1839 - 42. The Brits, fearful of Russian influence, decided to impose a friendly and malleable figurehead on the country and proceeded to replace the popular Dost Mohammed with their own dissolute and corrupt puppet, Shuja Shah. Realising that Shah would never survive alone, 10,000 troops were dispatched to support his regime and local warlords were bribed to keep their peace. It didn't last. In the Autumn of 1842 the Afghans rose up, besieged the Kabul cantonment and threw the Brits out. In the subsequent withdrawal through the snow of the Jugdulluk & Khyber passes some 16,000 British and Indian troops and their camp followers were massacred.

If you are ambushed here in the passes, as the Brits were, there is nowhere to run. What a place to die.

Of all those who left Kabul Dr William Bryden was the only man to ride into safety at Jalalabad. This famous painting by Lady Butler provides a fanciful impression of his salvation.

Of the many who died one at least is commemorated in Cumbria, at Wreay, near Penrith, where stands, surely, the most extraordinary church in the County, a fantasy of styles drawn from across Europe.

The church which replaced an earlier structure was designed and built by Sarah Losh, (1785 - 1853), the daughter & heiress of a local landowner, drawing on architectural features that she had encountered whilst on a 'Grand Tour' with her sister, Catherine, about 1817. The basic form is that of a classical Roman Basilica. All the work was done by estate servants; the wood carving in particular is spectacular with its angels, birds and animals. Sarah never married but she was clearly a woman education and taste.

Looking again at the photograph of the nave there are two carved pine cones, symbolic of eternal life, at the edge of the pic. Others can be found elsewhere in the church. The choice is deliberate, for in the corner of the graveyard is an enclosure containing the burials of the Losh family and their friends and other memorials concentrated here from the cleared graveyard. Among these is another large pine cone and an inscribed block of stone that originally stood beneath a tree, now long gone. The inscription reads ...

This Kheuat Pine is Planted
in Memory Of W Thain, Major
of the 23rd Ft. It Was Raised
From Seed Transmitted by Him to
 Friends. He Perished in The
Fatal Pass of Coord Cabul
...... ..... ..... Lamented by All
Who Knew Him

Thain died in the snow of the Jugdulluk pass. He was a close friend of the Losh family and had fought with a Colonel Elphinstone at Waterloo where he was slightly wounded by grape shot near La Haye Sainte while serving as Adjutant of the 33rd Foot in Halkett's Brigade. Is this the same Elphinstone who led the retreat from Kabul?

Apart from the pine cones Thain's death is also believed to be commemorated by the recurrent symbol of the arrow which is a striking feature of the west door of the church.

The fatalities of the First Afghan War were commemorated in India by the building of the church of St John in Bombay (Mumbai) where the many names - of Officers - are listed. Forgotten men from forgotten wars.

Here is a short film of St John's church today, a relic of Empire.

Saturday 24 July 2010


As a consequence of travelling round the county of Cumbria I have acquired a considerable collection of church guides. Written by vicars or local enthusiasts they describe the origins and history of the buildings, windows, artifacts but rarely war memorials. They are seldom valued as objects of craftsmanship. Thus it was rather nice to visit Calthwaite church and discover quite a comprehensive description of the memorial in the church guide.

The church, designed by JH Martindale Diocesan surveyor for Carlisle, was only built in 1913. It is a lovely building, quiet and peaceful and contains some magnificent wood carving done by George Fendley of Warwick Rd, Carlisle.

The war memorial is another example of the work of Beattie of Carlisle. 

Close examination provides a glimpse of the way in which the rifle and helmet were drawn out of the Aberdeen granite. The sculptor drilled holes around an outline allowing the detail to be isolated and worked on.

The church guide describes the unveiling ceremony ...

58 Calthwaite men joined the armed forces of whom 12 were killed in action ... The Memorial was unveiled on Sunday afternoon, 16th January 1921, by the Earl of Carlisle, who lived at Calthwaite Hall as a boy and had no doubt known many of the men commemorated. The service, conducted by the recently instituted vicar, The Rev WW Farrer, was short, simple and impressive. ... The congregation sang the hymn 'The Saints of God' and then went outside to gather round the memorial. Lord Carlisle reverently withdrew the Union Jack which covered the inscription, and the vicar and Mr Reece offered dedicatory prayers. Two buglers from Carlisle Castle sounded the Last Post.

Charlie Foster, one of the men commemorated, was the son of the headmaster of Calthwaite School, who recorded his death in the school logbook in October 1917, adding the comment 'No singing today as master not in singing mood'.

Such grief from war. For what?

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Return to Clifton - The Last Battle on English Soil

By far the most popular posting on this blog is that which describes the Battle of Clifton ... The Last Battle on English Soil. I recently found myself driving down the old road and took the opportunity, with my mate Rod, to take some more pictures of Battle memorials in the village.

Herewith is a close-up of the dedication plate on the stone put in place below 'The Rebel Tree' by the Goodchilds in 1936.

There is also a dedicatory plaque placed on the renovated fence and gate by Scots patriots around the millenium.

In Memory of Fellow Scots Who Lie Here in Foreign Soil.
Never Forgotten.
Prosperity to Scotland And No Union.

Siol Nan Gaidheal

On the east side of the A6, just a few yards south of The Rebel Tree, lies an ancient Holy Well, now enclosed and 'made safe' in true Health and Safety fashion. It appears that this too was adopted as a further battle memorial.

It has two plaques built into its fabric.

The allusion in the inscription below to a tree planted in 1995 on the 250th anniversary of the skirmish is confusing. There is no tree anywhere close by so I guess this plaque has been relocated to the well's enclosure from elsewhere.

Thursday 8 July 2010


Sometimes I am truly amazed at the number of memorials that exist in the smallest of communities. Today I had a drive up to the hidden villages lying between the Eden and the hills of Lakeland north west of Penrith; a landscape of gently rolling farmland, leafy lanes and dispersed farming communities. In amongst these is a scatter of wonderful old churches and chapels. Skelton is one such.

The church of St Michael with its 14th century tower lies at the edge of the village. It is approached through a lych gate, itself a memorial commemorating the men of the village who died in the Great War. Shame about the plastic container!

The names of the men are carved on the sandstone base.

A further memorial in the form of a stock graveyard cross can be seen to the left of the church tower interestingly using the dates 1914 - 1918. The names are again inscribed together with the dedication...
'They died in War that we might live in Peace'.

Inside the church are two hand drawn rolls of honour. The earlier one listing all from the village who served and died in the European War was drawn by Irwin Walker in March 1921. He did not serve but being the son of a farm labourer he may have been exempt.

The central detail is beautifully drawn.

The second roll, drawn by RF Allinson in September 1949, lists those from the Second World War and includes seven women, reflecting the totality of the nation's engagement in the conflict where the women's services were so central to the national effort.

At the bottom of the nave, beneath the organ, is an oak screen that appears to have no purpose. Was it originally elsewhere in the village? The central panel lists the dead of 1939-45.

On the north wall of the nave is a spectacular plaque bearing the arms of the Cowper family and dedicated to the life and Great War service of Lt Colonel Malcolm Gordon Cowper. He joined the East Yorkshires from The Buffs as a 22 year old subaltern in 1898 and led the 6th (Service) Battalion thro' all of its battles in Gallipoli, France & Flanders between 1915-18.

The places named here are long forgotten by the vast majority of people but in the post 1918 years they would have been familiar to all, dark names resonant with death and heroism.

To find so many memorials in such a small, quiet community is indicative of the huge emotional impact of the world wars of the twentieth century. It is something I can only imagine, at best emotionally reconstruct from the echoes I felt as a child. I have just been watching the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Britain on TV and an Air Marshall observed that to young people that conflict is as remote as Trafalgar or Agincourt. Perhaps so, but it is sobering to contemplate the effort that places such as Skelton made to put the memory of Great Events in the ancient continuum of English history.

Deeply moving.

Sunday 4 July 2010

William Morris at Bassenthwaite & a connection with the Battle of Britain

Don't know where I would be without Rod and his amazing camera; this blog would certainly lack some great images. He seems able to get superb pics in every condition of light, without a tripod. It's an impressive camera though! And this week it came into its own again.

Probably the most common form of memorial to be encountered in the county is the plaque. Sometimes carved wood or more commonly brass or bronze they are everywhere, in chapel, church, school and factory. Many are made by Wippel or Osborne, both companies being major suppliers of church furniture and ornaments since Victorian times. However, communities and individuals occasionally employed slightly more exotic makers, the Keswick School of Industrial Arts or, in the case of one at Bassenthwaite, William Morris.

This beautiful plaque, signed Morris & Co (Westminster) Ltd, commemorates Lieut Henry Rathbone Hele-Shaw RFC, killed in action on the Somme on July 19, 1916....

Henry Hele-Shaw was the only son of Dr Henry & Mrs Ella Hele-Shaw of Westminster, neighbours of Morris & Co. Educated at Marlborough he had just obtained a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge when war broke out. He joined the Public Schools Brigade and quickly obtained a commission in the RGA and obtained a Royal Aero Club flying certificate number 1728 on September 7, 1915 flying a Maurice Farman Biplane. (His date of death here must be when missing officially became killed)

He joined the Royal Flying Corps in late '15 acting as a ferry pilot before joining 70 squadron where he was very soon wounded. Shortly after rejoining his squadron he got into a scrap while piloting Sopwith 1½ Strutter A386, with 2nd Lt Robert Claude Oakes (formerly Royal Field Artillery) as observer. On the same day Ltn Kurt Wintgens of KEK Vaux claimed a victory over Strutter '9653' near Arras, probably Hele-Shaw. It was Wintgens' 9th of his eventual 19 victories. He was shot down on 25 September 1916.

It seems that young Henry was identified and buried by the Germans in the village of Le Verguier near St. Quentin where his grave was discovered by advancing British troops in April 1917. Post war he was reinterred at Jeancourt Communal Cemetery, near Peronne.

Here is his medal card.

The young man's father, Dr Henry Selby Hele-Shaw, was a high profile figure.

Born in Billericay in 1854, the eldest of thirteen children, he was apprenticed to Rouch & Leaker, Engineers, Bristol, before obtaining a degree at Bristol University. At age 27 he became the University's first Professor of Engineering. In 1885 he took the new chair of Engineering in Liverpool where he met and married Ella Marion Rathbone of the important Liverpool Quaker family. In 1904 he established a college of Engineering in the Transvaal and became Principal. A member of The Royal Society he died at the Cottage Hospital, Ross on Wye in 1941 leaving his wife, who died in 1947, and a daughter.

Henry was also important to the development of the Motor Car, the discovery of Hele-Shaw Flows (??) and the invention the variable pitch propeller, central to the success of British Fighters during the Battle of Britain.

Although Lt Hele Shaw's parents lived in London the memorial is probably here because his mother's family lived at Bassenfell Manor, a significant country house close by. Her sister, Hilda Maria Rathbone, has an extraordinary Arts & Crafts memorial in the church.

It is unsigned but has to be a major designer. Is this also Morris?

Rod sent me the following info; (he seems quite impressed!)

...the Hele-Shaw model is an analogue model modeling fresh water, salt water, oil or gas thro porous media (rocks). It consists of two parallel plates of glass. Separation represents permeability, immiscible fluids of differing viscosity represent the waters etc. It models a vertical slice thro an aquifer. I once, in a former life, built one of these models with a guy from Imperial College. It represented the intrusion of saline estuary water entering the Wirral red sandstone aquifer.


See here or here for further info; very technical.