Miss Gilpin of Scaleby Castle

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If the question were asked, which family in the North of England has been the most remarkable - which family, taken collectively, stands out in the clearest relief from the dim past - I would point at once to the GILPINS of Scaleby Castle. In that family group, no fewer than six figures have distinguished in one attainment or other. And first, as the central figure, we have the bluff old Bernard Gilpin, the Apostle of the North, than whom a manlier, braver man never lived. We read at one time that this homely country parson of the sixteenth century boldly confronted his own bishop, a Right Reverend Father of Durham; and at another time that he refused the bishopric of Carlisle, owing to the vast amount of intrigue and priest-craft then carried on in the diocese. We learn that his retired parsonage at Houghton-le-Spring was like a monastery, where hospitality and economy went hand in hand, and that his doors were always open to the poor and needy. We learn how he wandered over vast moorlands and heaths, with his Bible in his hand, to fulfil the mission of his Master; how he boldly rebuked the fierce borderer of Rothbury, among the wilds of Northumberland, for hanging up a glove in the church as a challenge to any man who dared to take it down. "I hear," thundered Gilpin from the pulpit, "that one among you hath hanged up a glove even in this sacred place. See ! I have taken it down; and who dare meddle with me ! "

Next follows Richard Gilpin, author of Demonologia Sacra, the good nonconformist divine, a a man of much milder temperament than the foregoing, but one nevertheless who could stand firmly and steadfastly by his principles when they were at stake. For some time he held the living of Greystoke in Cumberland, which he voluntarily resigned shortly before the Act of Uniformity1 came into force in 1662. After this event he retired to Newcastle-on-Tyne, and practised medicine with success. While there he was much persecuted for holding "Conventicles2" in his house in "the Whyte Freers." Bishop Cosen of Durham wrote to the Mayor of Newcastle, telling him to look sharply after "the caterpillars," as he dubbed the more prominent Puritan ringleaders. In brighter days the bishopric of Carlisle was offered to Richard Gilpin, who, by his firm refusal of it, appears to have set as little value upon being decked out with mitre and lawn3 sleeves, as the Apostle of the North had done before him.

In 1724, a century and a half after the brave old Bernard had been gathered to his fathers, a descendant of his was born at Scaleby Castle. This was the Rev. William Gilpin, who first appeared as an author in 1753, with a life of his great ancestor. He was one of our first and best writers on the picturesque. His Forest Scenery, Observations on the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland, and other works on kindred subjects, have now become scarce and valuable books. - A brother of the foregoing distinguished himself as an artist, and was patronized by the Duke of Cumberland and other noblemen. This was Sawrey Gilpin, R. A., who etched the cattle subjects which illustrate his brother's writings. His pictures may be found in the Royal galleries and in the collections of many eminent connoisseurs. - Another brother, Sir J. D. A. Gilpin, rose to such eminence in his profession that he was deemed worthy of a knighthood. As a medical officer in the army he experienced long and active service in Gibraltar, America, and the West Indies; and he was a great favourite with William the Fourth and General Washington.

And now we come to the subject of this brief sketch, Miss Catherine Gilpin, a worthy sister of the three brothers just named. She was born at Scaleby Castle, near Carlisle, in the year 1738, and was the daughter of the last of the Gilpins of that ancient stronghold. Her father, a man of refined taste, had formerly served as a captain in the army, and had at one time the command of the two companies of invalid soldiers who formed a great portion of the garrison of Carlisle in 1745. When the rebellion broke out, the Duke of Cumberland sent down Colonel Durand, a man of more military experience, to take charge of the troops in the castle; and to this gentleman, therefore, belongs the honour of surrendering the city to the Hundred Pipers. An old local ballad, after taunting the officers with deserting their colours too soon, makes honourable mention of

Gilpin and some of renown,
Who manfully stood,
To venture their blood,
In defence of their City and Crown.

Pennant, in his Second Tour to Scotland, says:- "At Carlisle, I had the pleasure to be introduced to that worthy veteran, Captain Gilpin, who favoured me with a number of fine drawings of views and antiquities relating to the county."

Miss Gilpin and Miss Blamire lived together for some time in Finkle Street, Carlisle; and it is more than probable that we are indebted to the friendship which existed between these two ladies for the few songs which the former has left us. It is a pity, however, that one who has written so well should have written so little. Her most conspicuous characteristic is a natural flow of quiet humour. If she was deficient in pathos, in tenderness of feeling, and in the overflowing fancy possessed by her friend; she wrote with greater force and energy, and her diction is generally as pure and appropriate. In private life, though somewhat eccentric, she was full of anecdotes, loved a good joke, and was always fond of bringing out in company the favourite songs of Miss Blamire. When visiting among her friends where there was children, nothing delighted her more than to gather them around her, with the least one probably seated on her knee, and then strike up in a lively manner:-

If tempers wer' put up to seale,
Oor Jwohn's wad bear a deuced price;
He vow'd twas barley i' the broth -
Upon my word, says I, it's rice, &c.4

Or else she would give a stave or two from the song which was written expressly for her "ain singing when set at her wheel."5

Mr. C. B. Gilpin of Juniper Green, near Edinburgh, has kindly sent the following recollections of "Aunt Kitty." He says:- "You ask for information about Miss Gilpin. I wish I knew more about her than I suppose anyone can tell. I imagine she was one of those sprightly characters whose whimsical vivacities are perhaps hardly altogether approved by strict sober minded people, who are content to walk in well trodden paths. I remember my father saying that she could hardy return from a walk without having some odd adventure to tell, which she professed to have met with. On such occasions Mr. Farish, (my maternal grandfather,) would sometimes say to her, 'Now, Kitty, you know that isn't true!' 'Not true - not true, indeed! and wherefore not?' she would answer with a good humoured pretence at astonishment, in a ringing voice that was itself full of animation. The famous Archdeacon Paley took great delight in her conversation, and many skirmishes of wit took place between them, in which, as my father thought, the Archdeacon often found himself overmatched. But somehow, (I suppose from the very eccentricities that made her remarkable,) I used in bygone times to hear less about 'Aunt Kitty' than of most of my relatives."

A gentleman tells me he has a vivid recollection of Miss Gilpin's figure as she moved about the streets of Carlisle at the end of the last century. Though then more than three score years old, she was full of life and vigour; her manner was lively and cheerful, and her step firm and elastic.

She died April 29th, 1811, aged seventy-three, and was buried in Scaleby churchyard, where a plain headstone has been erected to her memory.

 

Songs And Ballads Of Cumberland And The Lake Country, by Sidney Gilpin, published in London by John Russell Smith, and in Carlisle by G. & T. Coward, 1874.

 
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Notes

1. The act which restored the power of the Anglican church following the restoration of Charles II. The implication is that Richard Gilpin was a non-conformist.
2. Secret or illegal religious meetings.
3. A type of fabric traditionally used in a bishop's sleeves.
4. From "Barley Broth".
5. Miss Gilpin's Song.


19 June 2015

Steve Bulman