Written on 06/05/15 by Elizabeth Oldham

Beneath Helvellyn's Shade

This is a quirky little book, published in 1892, which in essence is an observation of Wythburn and the surrounds illustrated with little stories. It is especially interesting as all that stands today of the hamlet, which was called 'the city' of Wythburn, is the little church. The rest of the hamlet disappeared under Thirlmere with the extending of the two small lakes, Wythburn Water and Leathes Water, to create the reservoir.

Thirlmere from Fisher Crag
Thirlmere from Fisher Crag

Between the two lakes was a 'celtic bridge', which is a raised causeway with small bridges even higher along its length, the causeway being expected to be flooded occasionally. This bridge lay between Dale Head Hall, which is now a hotel, and another small gathering of houses at Armboth. Today only the summerhouse of Armboth House remains situated high above the reservoir near Falcon Crag.

We conclude this chapter with an incident of a different order, relating to the Nag's Head, told by an old inhabitant to the present writer, and still a cherished piece of local lore.

Scene: The little parlour of the Nag's Head. Shades of night falling after a grand September day.

Present : Christopher North, De Quincey, S. T. Coleridge, and Lal Hartley.* Everything jovial. Day's adventures talked over and bedtime near.

* All the 'personae' cannot be vouched for. S. R.

Enter landlord after shooting on moors, with gun, loaded, which he places carefully in a corner.

By-and-by Christopher takes the gun and pretends to examine it. The company continue to philosophize, but eye the professor suspiciously. North quietly proceeds to the fireplace, and slipping the muzzle up the chimney, fires. Tableau frightful noise, and avalanche of soot, in which the 'Lal' poet is completely enveloped. The company prepare to seize culprit, but he bursts off through the door upstairs, and bolts himself in. Great excitement, and Hartley is with difficulty cleansed from his mantle of soot.

Christopher North was an interesting character as that was a pseudonym of John Wilson who was a Scottish literary critic and author. He obviously had a mischievous side to him. 'Lal' Hartley referred to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's eldest son, who also became a poet, teacher and biographer. Hartley lived at Rydal for a while, at Nab Cottage which is now an English Language school.

The Nag's Head was a favourite haunt of the Lakeland Poets.

The interest that attaches to Wythburn in the present day consists, with many tourists, chiefly in its associations with the poet Wordsworth and other literary men resident in the vicinity about the begin- ning of this and the end of last century. I am not aware that anyone has hitherto attempted to write the natural history, or to describe fully the antiquities of the place. But every tourist seems to be posted up with regard to the ' Rock of Names,' upon which William Wordsworth and his friends are believed to have carved their initials. The new road (elevated many feet above the old coach-road) now being constructed by the Manchester Corporation is, it appears, to be honoured by having the pieces of rock containing these names inserted in its wall. The place from which the inscribed pieces of rock have been taken will either be brought by the raising of the water close to the lake or actually submerged. It will be a curious puzzle, I fear, to reconstruct the signatures.

The Rock of Names was blown up during the construction of the reservoir. The remaining pieces were rescued and placed in the woods. In 1984 they were moved again to the Wordsworth Trust's museum and was reconstructed in the garden of Dove Cottage. Now I'm no poetry reader, but to blow the rock up was an act of desecration. It seems nothing was to stand in the way of the Manchester Corporation and their reservoir.

Copies of the book surface occasionally but you can read, or download it, online at: archive.org

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