William Lawson (1798 - 1847) & Jane Hind (1794 - 1872)

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Wetheral Priory in 1739 with the cascade in the gardens of Corby Castle clearly visible on the other side of the river Eden
Until the middle of the 18th century Cumberland did not really feel like part of England. Poor road links to the rest of the country (and North to Scotland) meant that there were few opportunities for businesses to trade beyond their own area, and the region was comparatively poor. The building of a turnpike in 1758 from Carlisle to Newcastle, and better links to the ports, meant that the county could take advantage of the industrial revolution, and industry started to boom. Makers of soap, candles, whips and, particularly, those associated with wool, became wealthy, as weavers in the country were able to send their cloth into Carlisle and other centres. The Lawsons claimed to have inherited their land from Elizabethan times [1] but the rebuilding of their family home - Holme House - suggested that the second half of the 18th century had been good to them as well. Holme House was in the parish of Warwick, 'pleasantly situated on the West bank of the river Eden', just above Wetheral and four miles East of Carlisle. Jeremiah, the patriarch of the family at the turn of the century, had been born in Holme House, and clearly had business skills that enabled him to build on his inherited wealth. Much later, in 1841, a newspaper referred to his excellent management of a trust fund that had been in danger of losing a lot of money before his 'faithful interposition'. As well as managing trust funds, he was also keen to make sure that his own investments did not turn sour. A few years earlier the bridge in Warwick had been repaired, the consequence of which was that a wall now spoiled the view of some houses that Jeremiah owned. He wrote to the chairman of the magistrates complaining that his houses which 'were before remarkably well situated, commanding a fine view of the surrounding country, were now about to be blocked up by a walled embankment, which would considerably depreciate the value of the property.' [2] His complaint was worth making as the magistrates instructed someone to visit Jeremiah so that an agreement could be reached, such as replacing the wall with railings. He was clearly a man with influence, but not one without charm as well, it seems. He was described as a 'venerable and respected yeoman' when he died, whose old age was put down to 'calm and peaceful habits ... together with a cheerful disposition'. Even accepting the positive nature of obituaries, he appears to have been a well liked 'patriarch' who would also, presumably, have had the qualities to be a good father.
Wetheral Priory in 1786

Jeremiah and Mary had four children, a girl followed by three boys, the youngest of whom, William, was born in 1798. Aside from his properties, Jeremiah was a farmer. A farmer's life, especially in 1800, was not easy, but William and his elder siblings would have led a much more comfortable life than those who worked for his father. Others in the parish were richer than they were[3] ' but, in a small community, they were likely to have mixed with the most influential, even perhaps the lord of the manor. The Howards, who lived at Corby Castle, opened their gardens once a year to the 'right' sort of people [4], amongst which the Lawsons would certainly have included themselves. The gardens included an impressive cascade that tumbled down to the river below. However, one such 'Corby Walk' was the reason for a disaster in the parish shortly after Jeremiah and Mary had married. Although there was a bridge across the Eden at Warwick, where the Lawsons lived, there wasn't one between Wetheral and Corby, just up the river, so a ferry took passengers between the two villages. In 1792, with a ferry full of visitors on their way to the Howards, a 'foolish young man called Foster' tried to frighten the ladies by rocking the boat, with the result that it sank and two people drowned.

Sword dancing in about 1800
Like most of the country, the end of the Napoleonic War brought difficult times for farmers and most trades. In 1812 conditions in Carlisle weer so bad that hunger riots took place, and a few years later, weavers petitioned the Prince Regent to be sent to America to escape the terrible conditions. The Lawsons' wealth would have shielded them from the worst of the problems, and in 1820 William felt able to support and marry Jane Hind from Great Orton, another village close to Carlisle. As a young man, Jane's father, Thomas, had been a weaver, and his age and occupation suggest he might have been one of the 'Bampton Weavers' a group of young weavers from Great Orton and Little Bampton who worked in a mill in Dalston. As well as working together, they also performed together, and there is a record of their performing a sword dance at Great Orton on Shrove Tuesday 1781. Seven years later a group went down to London to perform at The Pantheon on Oxford Street, where they joked about needing a translator if the Londoners wanted to understand their songs. The weavers in this part of Cumberland appear to have acquired an unusual notoriety, but their type of entertainment seemed common in the area. A writer at about the time William and Jane were married said:

"At this period (Christmas) ... festivity became general and every table was decorated in succession with a profusion of dishes, including all the pies and puddings then in use... ... The aged sat down to cards and conversation for the better part of the night, while the young men amused the company with exhibitions of maskers, or parties of rapier dancers displayed their dexterity in the sportive use of the small sword. The performance of the rapier-dancers is the same with the well-known sword-dance, which is still remembered in some parts of Cumberland." [5]

It seems likely that Thomas Hind was more than just a weaver as the Lawsons would probably not marry into a family that was too far removed from their own social status. In fact, two years earlier, William's elder brother, Isaac, the heir to the Lawson inheritance, had married Margaret, Jane's younger sister. Perhaps Jane and William had met as a result of that relationship, but it seems more likely that the two families knew each other already, so were of similar standing. As a younger son, though, William could not expect to live at Holme House, but lived and worked a farm in Corby, possibly one owned by his father, until they rented the Bridge Inn.

The Bridge Inn: virtually unchanged since 1835
Two views of the Wetheral Viaduct in 1835 (above) and 1836 (below)
CorbyViaduct.jpg

Although the Stockton-Darlington railway had been started in 1821, the mania for railways did not really begin until the 1840s. The first railway to be built between the East and West coast of the country, earlier than most, was the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway which received parliamentary approval in 1829, and was using horses to pull carriages along the first part of the route from 1830. Both Isambard Kingdom Brunel and George Stephenson had applied to be the chief engineer, but the job went to Francis Giles, a shareholder in the company, who was soon faced with a practical problem. A few miles East of Carlisle the railway needed to cross the River Eden as it passed through a gorge next to the village of Wetheral and in 1834, after four years of building (and at about the time that the company replaced horses with steam engines) the Wetheral Viaduct was finished. Standing 100' high in red sandstone, it was one of the very first viaducts to be built in the country. It linked the two mediaeval villages of Wetheral, on the West side of the river, and Great Corby, which previously were only joined by a ferry; and was an excellent catalyst for increasing trade across the top of Northumberland. Within a few months of its completion, the Wannop family had spotted an opportunity and built the Bridge Inn alongside the railway, just outside Great Corby, and was able to make good use of its position to further his business interests. William Lawson became its first landlord.

The Bridge Inn was much more than just an inn. The building itself was hired out for events such as auctions, but next door to the inn was a branch railway leading to some staiths which allowed people to take coal from wagons. The staiths had been built by Mr Wannop, the owner of the inn, but William jointly leased them with the Earl of Carlisle. To reach the staiths it was necessary to switch some points that had been built by the railway company, but it was not clear who was ultimately responsible for ensuring that the points were reset for the trains going along the main line: a confusion that led to a tragedy only months after the line was opened. There was no dispute as to what happened, only over who was responsible: the train from Carlisle, pulling both cargo and passengers, arrived at the points and, instead of carrying down the line, turned into the branch line because the points had not been reset. A schoolmaster who was collecting coal with his horse gave evidence at the inquest: ‘I got hold of the mare to hold her till the engine got past; but on looking up, I saw the chimney of the engine coming towards me… I struck at the mare and she leapt out, and the engine and all fell upon the cart, throwing the mare and me down.' As soon as it came off the main line, the train had hit a man on the rails, killing him; and then it had gone on to hit six empty coal wagons. As they collided, the pillars holding up the rails gave way. the engine fell 8', as did the trucks holding the goods, but fortunately the passenger carriages just stayed on the rails. What no-one knew was that two teenage boys were travelling on the corn truck, and they were crushed to death. The inquest jury had to decide whether the railway company or William Lawson was responsible for operating the points, which had only been down for six weeks. The Company claimed that John Rowlands, 'a servant of Mr Lawson's' normally operated them, while William claimed that the Company operated the points at How Mill, further down the line, so should do these as well. The superintendent of the line stated that ‘Ever since the railway opened Wm Lawson has had the charge of the Points and switches here' and William replied that 'No-one has charge of the gates here. The railway is crossed by a public road about a quarter of a mile to the East, but there are no gates.' In the end the jury decided the deaths were an accident, but made the company pay a deodand of £15, and made it clear that both parties were partially to blame and should sort the responsibility out.

Wetheral in 1845 by Samuel Bough

(To be continued)

References

  1. Both when William's father, Jeremiah, died in 1850, and when his nephew died in 1894, their obituaries mentioned the patrimony that had existed since Elizabeth's reign
  2. Carlisle Times 1835
  3. In 1847 a Cumberland Directory said that ' the principal land owners are the Rev. Thos. Stainton, Mr. Michael Collin, and Mr. Wm. Robinson, but Messrs. Isaac Lawson, Joseph Slack, Christopher Wannop, and a few others have small estates here. ' It was probably not very different fifty years earlier
  4. Visitors were asked to leave their carriages at the inn in Corby village, so making it clear that only those who could afford a carriage were welcome
  5. For more details on sword dancing in Wetheral visit this website: http://www.theredhouse.totalserve.co.uk/trifolium5.htm