Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District

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Wordsworth’s The Westmorland Girl

In 1845, Wordsworth aged 75  wrote a poem to his grandchildren about a free spirited orphan girl who rescued a lamb from drowning:

“And the bleating mother’s Young-one, / Struggled with the flood in vain; / But, as chanced, a Cottage-maiden / (Ten years scarcely had she told) / Seeing, plunged into the torrent, / Clasped the Lamb and kept her hold.”

And, taking this one incident, the old man then inflated her brave and dramatic gesture to more lofty and inspiring heights for the younger members of his family:

“Watchful as a wheeling eagle, / Constant as a soaring lark, / Should the country need a heroine, / She might prove our Maid of Arc.”

This “Maid of Arc”, Sarah Davies, came to live in Broughton-in-Furness. She was buried in an unmarked grave on 4th September 1872 aged 37, a week after giving birth to a baby boy.

According to HV Koop who wrote a history of the town, a wreath was laid on her grave at the Wordsworth Centenary in 1950 and our local historian, Wal Greenhalgh, did much sleuthing to verify the facts.  A Sarah Mackereth was born in Grasmere in 1834 (or 5) and she married Samuel Davies in 1867.  The family moved to Broughton after the census of 1871 and in a town directory of 1876 there’s an entry for Samuel Davis as the farm bailiff at Eccleriggs.

When I contacted the staff at Wordworth Trust, they were delighted with this nugget of Wordsworthalia and Rebecca Turner, the Assistant Curator, added a little extra information from their collections:  in a letter of 1834, Wordsworth writes: “The little Poem which I ventured to send you lately I thought might interest you on account of the fact as exhibiting what sort of characters our mountains breed. It is truth to the Letter”. 

Fabulous! … what sort of characters our mountains breed”.

How did they know where to lay the wreath?

According to Wal Greenhalgh, the Vicar of the time wrote in the margin of the Parish Register: “Wordsworth’s Westmorland Girl” next to her name and, with great good fortune, the Barrow Record Office holds the Sexton’s notebook which details: “interred between Hancock’s tombstone of Myreside and William Fleming’s tombstone.”westmorland girl

If you would like to go and pay your respects in St Mary Magdalene’s churchyard, follow these instructions: from the South east corner of the church walk, at right angles to the church, into the graves (minding the crocuses and snowdrops!).  As you walk, keep looking to you right, soon as you come parallel to a sundial monument some graves away and half hidden by a tree, you’re at the spot. Find Jacob Knight’s tombstone (pictured), which is between Hancock’s and Fleming’s grave, and her unmarked grave is there, roughly under Jacob Knight’s.

If you would read another post about Wordsworth : Dorothy’s Daffodils :  click here.

The Ruskin Museum

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Ruskin Museum

The Coniston Room

The Ruskin Museum, down a side street and hidden away, is a huge cabinet of curiosities.  I felt like some sort of Alice wandering around a Museum Wonderland, each area as intriguing as the next.  It’s delightful toy box of memorabilia, informative displays and original artwork.   After a relatively recent revamp, its collection is split into three rooms to help visitors navigate their way around such a disparate yet fascinating collection: The Coniston Room including the small sailboat “Mavis” the original “Swallow” from “Swallows & Amazons”; The new Bluebird Room with lots of details about the World Speed Record attempt; and the Ruskin Room, a lovely Victorian parlour crammed with watercolours and other memorabilia of Ruskin and Collingwood.

What I truly like about the museum is that there is such a variety of objects that, if you are with a family, then everyone will find something of interest – although, I must confess to getting overwhelmed at so much on display.  I’ll have to come on my own sometime.  The boys loved the “Mavis” and the miniature stone houses from the John Usher collection.  I was fascinated by the Neolithic finds and copper mining display whilst Bill spent time in the Bluebird Room, staring at grainy black and white photographs of the speed king, Donald Campbell.  We all loved Ruskin’s slightly rusting and used watercolour paint boxes and dog eared sketch books.

Bluebird Room

The Bluebird Room

Ruskin sketchbooks

The Ruskin Room

You need an hour at the very least to sample its delights.  The museum’s own (quirky) website is here to check on exact location in Coniston, prices and opening times.

If you want to read my post about a young boy’s encounter with Donald Campbell, click here.

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Kids Crazy about Owls? Muncaster Castle!

cute owlsIf you have children under the age of 12, then you’ll know about the Owl Phenomenon: patch worked with big buttons on cushions, stamped on purses, appliqued on t-shirts, drawn on pencil cases and printed on notebook covers. It’s ALL OWLS.

Is it a trickle down from Harry Potter and Hegwig?  Or from the Seventies/Scandinavian design trend we are going through?  Who knows.  It maybe just because they are easy to draw and relatively unisex.

Anyway, if your kids are into owls, then Muncaster Castle is a must during your stay at Sykehouse Cottage.  It’s near Ravenglass and about a half hour car drive north from Broughton in Furness.

The Castle keeps over 50 species in its World Owl Centre from the giant Eagle Owl to the tiny Pygmy Owl.  They breed endangered species including the British Barn Owl.

The Castle also has 70 acres of lovely grounds and the terrifically exciting and quite possibly scary (if you are under 9) Meadow Vole Maze.

You can go in the Castle as well – and check out the ghosts – but we’ve never made it inside as there is too much to do outside.

Save at least half a day for the visit.  The place re-opens on 9th February 2013 and further details can be found here on their website.

Alec Miller : master carver and sculptor

Alec Miller  Portrait by William Strang, 1903

Portrait by William Strang, 1903

Our family has roots in both the South Lake District and the North Cotswolds, so I am always delighted when I find links between these two beautiful parts of the country.

One strong connection is the Arts and Crafts movement and, within that, a true craftsman, Alec Miller. At the age of 23, he joined CR Ashbee’s experiment of the Guild of Handicraft in Chipping Campden in 1902 – already a trained and working sculptor.  When the Guild folded in 1908, Miller stayed on in Campden and formed a partnership with his younger brother, Fred, and a fellow carver, Will Hart, calling themselves:  “Messrs. Miller & Hart, Architectural Sculptors and Carvers” at “The Studio, Campden, Glos.”

Around 1910, Alec was commissioned to do the woodcarving at the Parish Church of St Mary & St Michael, Great Urswick, just south of Ulverston.  The work is fairly unusual because it is the work of one man and includes the rood screen, the choir stalls, the pews and statues of St James and St John.  The wood carving here is delicate and approachable; it has a warmth and vitality which makes you like Miller very much.  (South of Ulverston on the A590, past Swarthmoor, left turn to Great Urswick.  About 25 minutes drive from Sykehouse Cottage.)

He was also responsible for the decoration in the Coronation Hall, Ulverston, some 3 miles away.  The building is a traditional proscenium arched theatre built between 1911 and 1918 to commemorate the Coronation of King George V.  Miller designed  the extraordinary ornate plasterwork, foliage and putti, with a “Britannia and the Empire” allegorical frieze.  All of this was originally cast in cement, then hand finished with carving by Alec Miller.  (About 20 minutes drive from Sykehouse Cottage.)

In addition, Alec Miller also carved several war memorials in the South Lakes area: at Dalton-in-Furness – with a carved flame on the top, found opposite the Town Hall; at Millom – a very tall war memorial the central feature of which is a statue of St Michael overcoming a dragon; at  Seascale – in front of St Cuthbert’s Church, a Celtic cross in red sandstone carved with vine tendrils and traditional Celtic patterns; finally, further North, at St. Bees – a large St George and the Dragon war memorial with curving side panels.

In Jane Wilgress’s biography of her father she writes ‘in the years of the first World War, … The Ulverston work must have kept the wolf from the door in these difficult years for the arts.’

My thanks goes to Carol Jackson of CADHAS for the detailed information.  Further information can be found on their website: