Friday 18 December 2015

The Lake District in the Early 19th Century

It's my pleasure to welcome Eileen Richards, with a look at the Lake District in the early 19th Century!


For my series, A Lady’s Wish, I chose the setting of a small village in the Lake District, a minimum ten days carriage ride from London.  Frankly, between you and I, I was terrified to write about London society.  I had also found this really interesting piece of folklore: The Fairy Steps, outside of Beetham, Cumbria. The Steps are part of the Lakeland’s corpse trails. Apparently, pallbearers would lower the caskets down the steps to be buried in St. Michael’s nearby.

Beetham, Westmorland, where all three novels are set was an Ecclesiastical town. The church, St. Michaels dates back to the 1300’s with the oldest part of the lower tower from Anglo-Saxon times.  The closest market town was Milnthorpe, which boasted the ability to receive goods via the River Bela.  Milnthorpe was about a mile to a mile and a half away. Not a bad walk from the village. Lancaster was the closest city at about 22 miles away.

The Lake District was an undiscovered country at a time when poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley were popular. The Romanticism movement embraced by these writers fueled the public’s curiosity to explore the natural wonders around them.  Wordsworth published his travel guide about the Lake District in 1810. He moved to Dove Cottage near Grasemere in 1799 and wrote some of his greatest poetry there. 

The Romanticism movement fueled an interest in the natural world.  Wordsworth’s book included information on Inns and stages so that the tourist traveling to the Lake District could easily find his way. What they discovered upon visiting was an incredibly beautiful landscape and some really unpredictable weather. 

Like tourism, the Industrial Revolution brought change to the remote areas of the Lake District.  Minerals and rock, timber, and water all helped to fuel manufacturing in the area. With Lancaster so close, work in woolen mills could be found, though the living conditions could be dreadful. For most folks, agriculture was still the big business of the area. 

The Georgian Era saw many large beautiful manor houses built in the countryside of England. Dallam Tower was one such house. It sits on the River Bela with a dear park of 190 acres that run all the way down to the river.  The house was built early 17th century and renovated over the years.  A pele tower was built in 1375 but was demolished to build the house in the 1720s. 

The Gentry earned their living from the land. The land is worked by tenant farmers who lease the land from the landowner. If you’ve watched Downton Abbey, you’ve seen this in action. 

Part of the storyline in An Honorable Wish has to do with the Williams family, tenant farmers on a neighboring estate, are in dire circumstances.  The head of the house, Mr. Williams has been critically injured in an accident.  His son is but sixteen and is not yet old enough to take control of the farm.  The family cannot pay the high rents due to the accident and lower yields.  Tenant rental agreements were signed for many years.  Rents were based on the cost of grain. If the price of grain was low when the agreement was signed, rents were low. If the cost was high, rents were high.   

The family is at the mercy of the land steward or the land owner. At the time this book takes place, 1818, land stewards and owners could evict at will any tenants they deemed unsuitable.  It could be for lack of payment of rent or some sort of insult made. 

It wasn’t until 1832 that Parliament passed any type of reform to provide protection for tenants.  The most notable change was allowing tenant farmers to vote. Prior to that only landowners could vote.  This gave the farmers a say.

References of Interest:
The Early Days of the Nineteenth Century in England, 1800-1820, Volume 1 by William Connor Sydney.  1898. Google Books:

The Rural Life of England, Volume 1 by William Howitt. 1848. Google Books:

Social England Under the Regency, Volume 1 by John Ashton. 1890. Google Books:

A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, with a Description of the Scenery by Williams Wordsworth. 1835. Google Books:'s%20guide%20to%20the%20lakes&pg=PP9#v=onepage&q=beethom&f=false

Jane Austen’s World Blog:

Regina Jeffer’s blog:

About the Author

Eileen Richards has been writing for most of her life. Poetry, totally inappropriate answers to essay questions in school, and interesting error codes during her 30 year IT career has prepared her for the manic world of publishing.

She writes sassy regency romps set in the small villages of England where the rules are bent a bit and gossip rules the day. Eileen resides with her husband and their diva of a greyhound in North Carolina.

An Honorable Wish

Tony Matthews spends his time in London’s most notorious gambling dens, frittering away his fortune. But when his latest victory leaves a man ruined, Tony knows he’s reached his lowest point. Determined to make amends, he returns home to his family’s country estate with plans to settle down and marry at last. And he hopes the lovely Juliet Townsend will help him—if only he can keep his disgrace a secret.

Juliet’s secret wish has always been for Tony to love her. The only bright spot in her dreadful London season was dancing with him—before he disappeared to the card rooms. Now, he’s returned, but has he truly changed? Or will gambling always be his mistress, even if she becomes his wife? And does Juliet dare risk her heart by finding out?

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Written content of this post copyright © Eileen Richards, 2015.


Annie Whitehead said...

I live so close to the Fairy Steps that we regularly walk round there at the weekends!

Sarah said...

Interesting research and nice to see the exploration of the plight of those outside the world of glittering aristocracy as well. Sounds like a good read.

Deborah Swift said...

Good luck with your novel. I live five minutes from Beetham too. The church has beautiful carved heads near the door, and lovely stained glass. The corn mill by the river is still a working mill.

Jemille de Nimes-Vertes said...

I will have to read Wordsworth tour guide. Had not heard of it! We fashioned our Lake Country visit out of TripAdvisor reviews!