So many generations of Lowthers and their outrageous historic deeds. Such a multitude of history books appertaining to their historic deeds and misdeeds. Where does one begin? It would help if the gentlemen Lowthers of the estate occasionally had different first names to help me align myself with the particular century or generation of outrageous Lowther behaviour I am currently dwelling upon.
Their stories are written about in many old books regarding the history of the area, the way these stories have been gathered numerous and quaint. Someone telling someone else in an old pub that no longer exists, something he heard a while ago from someone else in exchange for a goose.
Who knows the actual truth? Maybe more will be discovered from fronds of letters, browning and abandoned in almost indecipherable old books, by cold eager fingers in a library in a grandiose stately home that have been passed down the ancient Lowther lineage for generations. Or somewhat more prosaically from a spectacularly eighties concrete building featuring the county archives down a small street in Preston.
But this book is about graves and gravestones so it makes sense to start here.
Roofless Lowther Castle is now the site of a giant adventure playground and ambitiously priced Victoria Sponge cake. It still holds through windowless arched windows, the same view of the same valley-as long as you try to ignore a few huddled figures in North Face Jackets, surprised and creased against a sudden non-suburban wind.
The Kendal Calling Festival is also held in the close vicinity, choose your time to visit carefully if you want a journey to the past, not a vista of teenage boys pissing against a hedge near the car park (voice of bitter experience)
The Lowther estate sells tickets to a family Halloween event, a date when the evil undead Jimmy is said to return from the dead and race through his ancestral estate with blood red eyes but do not fear, a nylon Asda skeleton outfit will keep you safe.
‘Jim Lowther said “The Mad Earl, Wicked Jimmy, died in 1802, and it is said that on the anniversary of his burial, if the moon is full, his spectre can be seen driving
his carriage at break-neck speed through the grounds of Lowther Castle. If the rumours are true, he’s already at large, so we advise families to come dressed in their best spooky costumes to keep him at bay.” (News and Star)
He neglects to mention the said ancestor died in June and it is that date that the legend relates to.
Canny old family, the Lowthers.
But this book is about graves and gravestones so it makes sense to start there.
St Michael’s Church, Lowther and the notorious Sir James Lowther is dead.
He behaved in a spectacularly outrageous manner, even for his time, ‘the worst and coarsest feudal baron ever imported into England by the Conqueror’ ( Cumberland and Westmorland, ancient and modern) owner of a vast fortune due to inheriting not one but three vast estates ( I think the same sentiment is felt by all readers here unless the unlikely event has occurred in which Jacob Reece Mogg is perusing these pages) making him one of the richest and no doubt despised man in the country.
His father was blamed for the Corporal Pit disaster in Whitehaven in 1737, pits unusual and innovative as the shafts went deeply and in these times unnaturally under the sea. The official records from the Lowther Estate at the time say that it was the worker’s drunkenness and/or desire to get back to the annual fair in Whitehaven which caused the tragedy. They left their duties or worked too quickly in hazardous conditions where dangerous fire-damp had been reported and ignored by the workers who just wanted to get out of the pit and have a day of eye-blinking fun and sun.
Twenty-two miners and three horses died in the explosion which many others, not betrothed to writing for the Lowther Family records, blamed on the poor upkeep of the mines.
The son of the above, James himself was miserly, notoriously so, an aggressive duel fighter, a womaniser and apparently a servant sodomiser and beater who had many delightful nicknames given to them by his many ill-wishers such as ‘Wicked Jimmy,’ ‘the bad Lord Lonsdale’ and ‘Jemmy Grasp-all, Earl of Toadstool.’
This unusual sobriquet was due to the way he was able to politely yet forcefully persuade his large workforce and estate to vote for a particular cause or person, closely relating to his own interests and politics.
A particular story of note is that despite his ‘a wench for every day of the week’ and lascivious lashings (and allegedly worse) of the servants, he fell deeply in love with the daughter of a tenant on his farm, establishing her in his home as a mistress of much importance. However, in these times, no-one, even those so suddenly risen in life as to wear fine silks is immortal and thus the said woman suddenly died.
James could not bear for her beautiful form to be taken from him and thus she lay, prettily putrefying, gently despoiling the fine bed she had been laid upon.
Another source says her corpse dined with him at his fine table. What a tragic shame there is no oil painting of this event.
The smell became unbearable, servants fled and according to legend, the devilish Sir Jimmy chased after them, ordering them back to his fine house. Smell? What smell?
His wife’s reactions are sadly not recorded although keeping one’s dead rotting mistress upstairs in the marital home would surely be a sound rejoinder to any domestic dispute.
Eventually the decomposing mistress was said to have put in a glass topped coffin and placed within a cupboard before her remains were finally taken on a long no doubt unpleasant journey for all concerned to a final resting place in Paddington cemetery, an unnatural burial place for a girl of little wealth but much beauty, born, bred, and dead in the beauty and poverty of the Lakes.
We still have not got to the part about his grave. I know. Let us try again.
St Michael’s Church, Lowther and the notorious Sir James Lowther is dead.
He was buried as he lived, rude,belligerent, entitled, unstoppable.
James died falling drunkenly off a long suffering horse; there were delighted whispers throughout the area of the rumour of him being buried alive, poisoned, waking up in his coffin, banging to be released, ignored, ignored, ignored.
A slightly different historical interpretation is ‘He was with difficulty buried; and whilst the clergyman was praying over him, he very nearly knocked the reverend gentleman from his desk.’- Cumberland and Westmorland, ancient and Modern
One is drawn in this ancient Cumbrian landscape to old rememberings of the works of Stephen King- fleshless buried hands suddenly shockingly shooting upwards through the graveyard soil. To be fair, I always imagine this when in a graveyard. Thanks, Carrie.
In the aforementioned book of old Westmoreland history, he is described as a boggle, a strange comedown for a man of much lineage and worth. As mentioned before, a boggle is normally a naughty hobgoblin with lineage to the ‘little people’, a dark-hued creature who is known to frequent caves along the North West coast. Not a dead man of a good bloodline and many riches. However another old interpretation of ‘boggle’ means someone mean or miserly so this might have been a more accurate portrayal. His own lineage died with him due to his poor long suffering wife not bearing children. I like to think she did this out of quiet maliciousness, used old, ancient remedies, ordered the servants for pennyroyal tea with a calm smile on her face and some coins for her servant.
This is a preferable thought to one of a woman, imprisoned, a woman who could not force her body to do something it could not do and despite a forceful unfaithful brutal husband, was blamed and named for not being ‘able’ to ‘produce’ an heir.
After James’s funeral, strange occurrences still occurred at the Hall and in the stables, even in his ‘couch and six’.
This reign of terror apparently caused the Hall to be left by most, a time when people were not afraid of working hard, the prospect of hunger being far worse. A position in a renowned estate was something to aspire to, whether you be a scullery maid or a Governess.
In the vicinity of the estate, people were said to be terrified of meeting James, as bullish in death as in life. People began to talk.
Such ludicrous behaviour as common gossip could not continue in such an ancient renowned seat and something had to be done. A priest was the answer and only Catholic priests can perform a proper exorcism.
A ‘good stiege’ did James hold against this exorcism, bloody-minded to the last, yet was apparently finally willing to concede to being sent to the Red Sea for a year and a day. One only wonders as to how such a submission by the undead could possibly be verified.
However, it was a trick, the priest read on and on until he finally cracked and resigned to his fate ( maybe due to boredom) was thus laid again.
But still the legend rises, still the legend comes to be, when at Halloween, midnight of course, James, wicked Jimmy rises and flings himself through his ancestral estate, his ghostly horses wide eyed and wide mouthed, his own eyes blood red.
Such a shame the public tickets to the castle are not valid until midnight.
Sadly and strangely, in these modern times, the annual but legendary timed and dated event of the dead evil Lord Lowther rampaging at midnight, with his famed coach and horses through his ancestral grounds has never been filmed or photographed. Maybe because people are looking for him at Halloween instead of the date of his death in June so miss that fiery projectory.
Now let us begin and end at his old tomb and his new tomb.
His tomb where he was so angry and restless in St Micheals Church, Lowther, from where such noise emitted from that he was taken from it from it and buried again, a less prestigious burial, no people of worth watching now as he is carried to the cold isolated spot of Hugh Laithe’s Pike, a place also known to be near or of the same spot of Wallow Crag.
Now, a sudden knowledge, a rememberance of Wallow Crag, of this legend and another one here, a murder and the story of a golden ring, this desolate spot rebounds in spectacular deaths and undeaths, indeed this Lowthers death is mentioned as a footnote to another murder here.
* There is a singular legend connected with Wallow Crag : “The vulgar believe that the spirit of Sir James Lowther, a gentleman who rendered himself remarkable! His penurious habits is imprisoned in the dark womb of the rock. The rustic natives of the valley declare, that when Sir James died he could not rest that various incantations were tried by the learned vicar of Bampton, to lay his ghost—that the reverend gentleman was roughly handled by the refractory spirit, but that at length, having sent for more books, the vicar fairly succeeded in lodging him in Wallow-Crag.”—Fisher’s Picturesque Illustrations of Westmoreland.
This name is written “Wastel” by some authors, and “Wastdale” by others; both are corruptions of “waste Dale,” to which the latter is nearer. – Literary Garland- 1845
But this book is of graves and gravestones, not the other murder on this lonely crag. James has been reputed to have been seen here at dusk, walking around the lonely stone said to mark his grave but never as yet in his romantically retimed for the public annual event in Lowther Castle.
it is a lonely place here, a lonelier place still or such a man of his influence and place in society.
A place to reflect upon his evil deeds for now and ever more.
Or perchance to dwell on how the price of a scone nowadays costs the same as a modest years wage on his old estate.
I went to Lowther Castle the other day and entered the small church of St Micheals. It was falling into dereliction, old stone engravings slowly shattering, the effigies of worth shattering quietly in the semi-dark. Outside was all cold blue sky and icy sward leading to Lowther Castle where people throcked to have a wander around and a scone in the tea room. Here was the frozen history of the Lowthers and a sign asking for people to donate to stop the church from sliding into further dereliction. A sign from the Lowthers, the Lowthers who own the hall, the ultra posh hotel, the pub, the Lowthers whose church is literally rotting at the seams, asking the random public for donations to keep their ancient and mighty Lowther ancestors history alive in their own historic disgracefully neglected church. The family mausoleum looks in far better condition.
The Lowther family are asking the public to pay for titled multi- millionaires own disgracefully neglected heritage after buying a scone and paying to look around their ancestral home.
An old article written In 2007 in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald features an article about a courtroom battle over the Lowthers three hundred and twenty five million pound fortune featuring the good old fashioned tropes of dying millionaires, watermarks on important documents, allegations of sexual abuse and an disinherited eldest son. This is Wilkie Collins in a time of smartphones and added to this the fact that that Hugh Lowther, the eight earl of Lonsdale was a long distance lorry driver and apparently refuses to be interred in the no doubt far more well appointed and looked after Lowther mausoleum nestled near the decrepit church.
In further Wilkie Collins style modern wrangling, online newspaper articles talk of the current Lord Lonsdale’ adopted son not being able to inherit.
It is not long until Halloween.