Blindbothel

Blindbothel is on the edge of the Lake District National Park and has an area of about 500 hectares (1230 acres). According to the 2001 census, there were 60 households across the parish with a total population of 148. It is located a couple of miles south of Cockermouth and on its eastern side borders the west side of the River Cocker with Lorton Parish on the other bank (see photo at right). The River Cocker flows from Crummock Water north to Cockermouth. For an accurate map of the Blindbothel Parish boundary, see here. Blindbothel has the smallest population of the four civil parishes, being an almost entirely agricultural area. Many of its farm houses, barns and cottages have in recent years been converted into holiday accommodation. Over the years, people living on the eastern side of the parish have tended to mingle into Lorton and Loweswater, as there is no shop or pub in the area of the civil parish.

In the History, Directory and Gazetteer of Cumberland & Westmorland 1829, Blindbothel is described as “a small township, containing twelve scattered farm houses about 2½ miles from Cockermouth”. The Earl of Egremont was recorded as the Lord of the Manor, “but the soil belonged to various proprietors”. The 1847 Gazetteer refers to the township as containing only 1200 acres of freehold land, mostly owned by Messrs. William and Isaac Nicholson and Mr John Norman. A school, Paddle School, was established for the education of poor children. It was endowed with 20 acres of land awarded at the time of the enclosure of Blindbothel and Eaglesfield commons. A number of prominent people have lived in the area now comprising the Civil Parish of Blindbothel.

James Dickinson , one of the earliest propagators of the doctrines of the Society of Friends, more often named the Quakers, was born at Green Trees in 1657. There were a number of Quaker families in Blindbothel, Mosser and Whinfell. The meeting at Pardshaw Hall to the west of the parish was one of the ‘mother churches’ of Quakerism in Cumberland, dating from George Fox’s preaching journey through Cumberland in 1653. [Source of information: http://www.imagesofCumbria-Blindbothel]

Isaac Fletcher (1713/4-1781) of Underwood, Mosser was also a leading member of the Quaker community. Fletcher was very much involved with the community, serving for a time as a school master at Pardshaw Hall and later as clerk and elder. He was the youngest child of Japheth and Margaret Fletcher, and an educated yeoman and lawyer. Japheth owned much property including an estate at Mossergate which he had inherited from his uncle. His wife Margaret was the daughter and heiress of Thomas Allason of Underwood, and it was here the Fletchers made their home. There were several properties at Underwood and in 1743 Isaac married his neighbour Susanna, daughter of William and Susanna Harris.

Isaac and Susanna Fletcher settled in the Harris’s Underwood farmhouse. Isaac inherited the Mossergate estate from his father and the farm at Underwood from his mother. He then bought the Harris’s holding at Underwood from his brother in law. Both holdings at Underwood comprised 107 acres where he practised mixed farming. Crops tended to be oats, barley and potatoes. He kept a small herd of cattle for milk and cheese making, and a beef cow for killing in November to provide meat for the household. The tallow and hide were sold. He also kept a bull for serving cows on neighbouring farms for which he received an income, a flock of sheep, horses, a pig for fattening, geese, ducks and turkeys. The gardens and orchard were also very productive for vegetables and fruit which were sold through local markets.

From the mid 18th century, agricultural improvements were being made. From 1756 onwards, Fletcher and his neighbours began hedging their plots of land. He also assisted in the division of a shared pasture in Whinfell Township named Toddell Pasture. In 1759, he built a lime kiln on leased land near the limestone outcrop of Pardshaw Crag, albeit outside the Parish. He produced a regular supply of lime for improving his own land and for sale locally.

Using his legal knowledge Fletcher also acted as a land surveyor. He carried out surveys for several estates locally as well as for landowners in the Cockermouth area. He himself was a substantial landowner until financial difficulties forced him to sell some of the property. Fletcher had a number of business interests, such as importing corn and textiles, and trading in rum. But his main interest was in the Stocking Factory in Cockermouth. Part of the production was intended for the American market, and exports formed part of a trading network which was controlled by Quaker merchants.

Between 1765 and 1773 Fletcher began to take an interest in mining and minerals. He attempted to mine lead in Mosser. The ordovician rocks of the Mosser area contain small veins of lead. He employed miners to sink shafts on his property at Mosser but little lead ore seems to have been raised. In 1770 he began importing graphite or plumbago from America through a group of Quaker merchants, for the purpose of pencil-making.

[Source of Information: relating to Isaac Fletcher is from the Introduction and notes in “The Diary of Isaac Fletcher of Underwood, Cumberland 1756-1781” edited by Dr Angus Winchester and published by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society in 1994. The diary is considered a valuable record which demonstrates the progress of agricultural change on the eve of the agricultural revolution, spanning the period from the beginning of the Seven Years War (1756-63) and to the end of the American War of Independence (1775-83)]

Joseph Sutton (1762-1843) was an artist who was the most prominent member of the Cockermouth School of Painting. He was born in Cockermouth in the house of his uncle, Joseph Faulder. He was a Quaker, and was the senior-most member of The Cockermouth School of Painting. Faulder encouraged Sutton to go to London and study at the Royal Academy. Joseph Sutton was a pupil there from 1798-1801. He then returned to Cockermouth, and in 1803 married Miss Winder, daughter of Mr Jude Winder of Rogerscale, at the Friends’ Meeting House in Cockermouth. The Suttons lived on their estate at Rogerscale and Sutton built himself a painting house on the banks of the River Cocker. He had articled to him six apprentices since there was such a heavy demand for his paintings from the local gentry. The Rogerscale estate was split up during the 1950s and 60s. The Painting House is now known as Woodlands. [Source of Information: “Sutton and his Circle, the Cockermouth School of Painting 1750-1880” by Mary E Burkett]

John Wilson Robinson (1853-1907) of Whinfell Hall was a farmer, cragsman, businessman, pillar of the local community, and climber. He followed on from his father, Wilson Robinson and forebears, as farmer and owner of Whinfell Hall. The property had been the home of John Wilson, who was the great-great granduncle of Robinson, and his wife Sarah. The date 1734 and the initials of John and Sarah are inscribed on a stone in the masonry above the lintel of one of the buildings there. They were a strong Quaker family and yeoman farmers.

The 1881 census records Robinson at the age of 27 as unmarried living with his 71 year old father, an older sister and two younger brothers. Two years later he married Eliza Janet Willis who was three years older than himself. They had met in 1869 while Robinson was at Ackworth, a Quaker boarding school in West Yorkshire. Janet’s father was a teacher at the school. Before he had gone to boarding school at the age of fourteen, Robinson along with his siblings’ was educated at home by a governess. As Quakers, the family attended the meetings at Pardshaw Hall. On their way home, the children liked to go via the barn at Toddell to see the revolving weathervane – “Jonah Dixon’s Little Man fighting with the wind”. It was made of wood, representing a soldier of the Peninsular War.

As a local man and farmer, Robinson knew the fells intimately. He lived the life of a gentleman farmer. He and his wife both worked on the farm with hired help, which meant he was able to take time for his climbing activities. He first climbed Pillar Rock in 1882 and became a close friend of the legendary climber W.P. Haskett-Smith, who is considered to be the founder of rock climbing. Robinson was loved by the cragsmen of Wasdale Head and would take novices under his wing including women. He was very conscious of his responsibilities as an experienced leader. As an authority on the fells, he encouraged many climbers who became significant climbers themselves.

Robinson was involved with local matters. He was a manager of Lorton School along with William Alexander of Oakhill, John Wilson of Fairfield and others. He also took an interest in the Reading Room in Lorton and gave active support to the Lorton Christian Temperance Society and the Band of Hope. In addition to this, he was on the Rural District Council and represented his parish for many years on the Cockermouth Union of Board of Guardians. In the late 1880’s, Robinson was in financial difficulties. This was partly due to the change in agricultural practices at the time. In 1885, he rented an office in Keswick and became a land agent and auctioneer. Whinfell Hall was let, and he and his wife moved to a rented house in Brigham.

In 1885 Robinson introduced the Alpine rope to the Lake District. He proposed the idea for a club for fell and rock climbers in 1887, but the Fell and Rock Climbing Club was not formed until c.1906. He was vice-chairman of the Club at the time he died in the summer of 1907. Following his death, the Whinfell Hall estate was sold. The Robinson Cairn was erected on the high-level route from the Black Sail Pass to Pillar Rock, pioneered by Robinson, to commemorate his contribution to rock climbing. [Source of Information: ”A Lakeland Climbing Pioneer, John Wilson Robinson of Whinfell Hall” by Michael Waller]

The Highton family lived at High Rogerscale for a number of years. According to Kelly’s Directory for 1925, Robert Earnest Highton and Anthony Thomas Steel Dixon were the chief landowners in Blindbothel. Highton’s son Langton was married to Marjorie Thompson (who was related to Helena Thompson, the Museum in Workington being named after her), and they lived at High Rogerscale with their three daughters. Robert Highton and his wife had moved into Elder Cottage close by. At the culmination of his career, Langton Highton became Managing Director of United Steel in Workington. Marjorie Highton was the chairman of the Women’s Institute in Lorton for many years, and during the Second World War she organised the ‘Penny a Week Fund’ for the Red Cross. In the 1960s, Langton and Marjorie Highton converted their Barn, which was close by, into a house and moved there on selling High Rogerscale.