The Vale of Lyvennet

Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore

By John Salkeld Bland



The Manor House of Maulds Meaburn originally stood on the site of the present Hall, but we have no record of any of the manorial families residing at it. The present Hall has been built at different times. The oldest portion is the north part of the body of the Hall. It  has originally been nearly square, and lofty, somewhat in the character of a tower. This has been strongly built of hewn sandstone. This old portion may be traced by having around the bottom a champhered basement. This portion, has, however, been so much altered, re-roofed and built around, that it is difficult to form a correct idea of its original features. Afterwards the buildings have been extended; the south side has been partly pulled down and extended in that direction, forming an oblong, to the ends of which have been added wings. The south wing has two large rooms on the ground floor, one of which is wainscoted in the old Elizabethan style, and also one of the upper rooms; these are gained by a broad oaken staircase, which forms a projection on the west end of the wing. These rooms are lighted by large mullioned windows, and a tall projecting chimney gives a marked feature to the south front. A corresponding wing has been built at the other end, which projects beyond the north end of the old building. This has been used as a subordinate part of the house, in which were the wine-cellars, store-rooms,&c. At the same time also has been added to the north-west side of the old part a series of lower buildings, servings as kitchens, laundry, &c., and servants’ rooms in general. Still later, the central part or large hall, between the old Hall and south wing has been pulled down, and again rebuilt in a mere vulgar and temporary style; at which time the present door and chief entrance has been made. Above it, in bas-relief, a date of 1610, but at some after time it has been changed; the 10 being made to represent 76, by incising a top to the 1 and making it 7; and also the top of the o making it 6.

This date in its present form raises a query: Is it a doorway of the oldest part of the Hall, removed to its present position, and recording the date of its first erection? If so, it must have been built in Sir Christopher Lowther’s time, three years after he came into possession of his father’s estate. The date, however, is not very reliable, but it is very probable that it was built by his son, John Lowther, Esq., afterwards Sir John, upon whom, and his wife Ellinor, daughter of William Fleming, Esq., of Rydal, a settlement was made of the manor of Maulds Meaburn in 1615; and after coming into possession he purchased eight tenements, which make up the present demesne of Maulds Meaburn Hall; for in his time there was scarcely any left, the lands having been previously so parcelled out amongst the religious societies. Sir J. Lowther was one of the knights of the county in 21st James I, and also in three Parliaments in Charles I’s reign. He bought the manor and part of the demesne of Crosby of Thomas Pickering, Esq., and then gave it in marriage with his daughter Frances to John Dodsworth. He also bought half of the demesne of Reagill. For his second son, Christopher, he bought the Whitehaven Estates. This Christopher married a co-heiress, daughter of Christopher Lancaster of Craik Trees, and by purchasing the interest of the other two sisters added the whole of the Lancaster property to the Lowthers of Whitehaven. Sir John died in 1637, and according to a memorandum extant, his widow lived afterwards at Maulds Meaburn Hall, where she died in 1659; and by her last will and testament left the sum of £35 to the poor of Maulds Meaburn. The returns of this not being used till 1687, the person on whose land it was, was required to make it up to £40, and pay 40s. yearly; which was done: from which time it was regularly divided up to 1770. The first few years there were between 20 and 30 recipients, but they had dwindled down to 15, 12, and as low as nine.

Sir John was succeeded in the estates by his eldest son, Sir John Lowther, who in 1640 was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia. He was a great sufferer for the royal cause in the reign of Charles I, and during the usurpation lived retired; but was one of the Knights for Westmorland in the Parliament which restored Charles II. His eldest son died during his father’s life, so that he was succeeded in the family estate by his grandson, Sir John Lowther, who afterwards received the epithet of “The Rich.” To his second son Richard he gave the manor of Maulds Meaburn. This Richard lived at Meaburn Hall, and was the chosen member for Appleby in 1688 and 1690. To him we may attribute the general enlargement and extension of the Hall, and the laying out of the grounds in the way in which they still remain. These improvements, to all appearance, correspond in character to about the time of the altered dated – 1676.

At a short distance to the north of the Hall are a number of subordinate buildings, or barns, stables, &c., of more or less modern erection, the oldest of which is a well-built block on which is a square tablet having the initials R.L., Richard Lowther, and the date of their erection, 1693.

Another remarkable building stands near the road, known as Fletcher Hall; it is a lofty building, of about seven yards square, containing one lower room and one upper; it is entered by a door on the east side, and the lower room lighted by a window of three lights in the north; the upper story is lighted by two similar windows on the east side. Its use was probably as a residence for  the stewards or managing bailiff of the lords of the manor, and from this has derived its name “The Fletcher” from families of that name. These have been an influential family in Meaburn for many generations. In 1618 we find record in the register of the death of James Fletcher of Meaburn Hall Fold, and there are Fletchers recorded so far back as 1588. The present Fletcher has been rebuilt at the same time that the buildings of the Hall were extended.

The grounds have been laid out in the then fashionable Elizabethan style, and tradition yet affirms that they were at one time the finest gardens in the north. The entrance from the road is by a doorway with cheeks of solid masonry surmounted by balls, and a court on each side, mantled with ivy. Within this is a large level area in front of the Hall, flanked on each side with a row of now ancient yews; passing to the left through another doorway we come to the South front. Here is another large open quadrangle, laid out as a bowling green with a raised terrace on three sides; at the south-east and south-west corners are two garden houses in which the players might regale themselves in the intervals of the play. Running between these is a row of yew overhanging the once gravelled esplanade, which is ascended from the green by a few ornamental steps. Along the lateral terraces were also at one time yews and spruces; the former are all gone, and the latter represented by a few remarkably tall and half-blasted trunks of spruces, towering far above the surrounding trees. To the south of the green is an area covered with a number of remarkably tall trees; this surrounded by a high wall, alongside of which on the south side are a row of yews overshadowing what once have been neat walks. After making an angle, the wall, forming the western boundary of the grounds, runs direct to the north, where the road forms the boundary. The garden is entered from the field outside by three postern doors. Within the wall is a broad, raised terrace, running the whole length; ornamented with here and there a holly, yew or laburnum all of which, like the other trees, have gained a large size. Along the North wall are also rows of yews, some of which have fallen victims to the axe.

In the back garden is a large well, walled around, five yards by three. This supplies a large stream which flows direct north; on the east bank is a row of yews, and on the other, laburnums, which in summer enliven with their gay flowers their dark and sombre neighbours. Over-topping these on each side is a row of gigantic Scotch firs, the largest in the surrounding district. The extensive area included in these grounds have been ornamented by walks and shrubs, the latter of various kinds, fantastically cut. The last which disappeared was two rows of box, forming a long walk amongst lawns or flower beds. All the different rows of yews, hollies, &c., have in the times of the Hall’s splendour been trimmed and kept cut, and afterwards allowed to grow to their own natural way, which in their present neglected state are perhaps finer than when they received the tender nursing care of the gardeners. All this was no doubt done by Richard Lowther, when wealth was pouring into the hands of the family, at a time when a princely residence was the great ambition of the nobility and gentry.

After these tasteful decorations of the residence followed the beautifying of the neighbourhood. The park was planted with the present trees, which though now few, are noble specimens of what were, in the memory of those still living, so close and thick and dark that no vegetation flourished beneath them. The thick forest of oaks in the Mains would also be planted, with the avenues of yews and holly. The oaks have disappeared, and a young spring has overgrown the whole. The most remarkable neighbouring feature is the avenue on Morland Bank. This is a long, elevated piece of land, stretching out into the low-lying holmes, and probably its names is a corruption of Mer – or Mireland, from the marshes around. This has been planted on each side with Scotch firs, forming an avenue of about a mile in length. The trees are traditionally said to have been brought from Lowther, and were, at the time of planting a cart load each. From being so large when planted, they never attained so great a height. At the north end are Ratla Park and Hard Bank plantations, of about the same age. Of this we have a good guess: a man of the name Wharton, who died about 55 years ago, aged 90, assisted in his youth to plant them; so that it will be about 130 years ago; while the yews and park at Meaburn Hall, if planted soon after the erection of the present Hall, may be about 180 or 190 years old. We are no doubt indebted also to Robert, afterwards Governor Lowther, son of Richard, who would also follow in the footsteps of his father in beautifying the lovely valley, in which it was their lot to be placed. Nature had formed a district having great capabilities, and with all respect to the memories of those men, they have done their duty towards it with most praiseworthy taste, and what is chiefly to be regretted is, there are none to follow their footsteps, but “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

In the year 1700, Richard purchased Crosby Hall and the manor of Margaret Bayly. He married Barbara, daughter of Robert Pricket, Esq., of Wresal Castle, Yorkshire, and died about the year 1704. He was succeeded by his eldest son Robert Lowther, who was sometime storekeeper of the Tower, and in 1716 appointed Captain-General and Governor-Chief of Barbadoes. He married a lady by whom he became possessed of an extensive property in Barbadoes. She died, and it appears he returned to reside at Meaburn Hall, and brought with him a great quantity of sugar and rum, which was stored in the wine-cellar; and tradition still retains a vivid recollection of the superior quality of the Governor’s rum. For his second wife he married Catherine, daughter of Sir Joseph Pennington, Baronet; and issue two sons and three daughters.

Robert Lowther, Esq., from his patrimony and landed property, no doubt was an influential man in the neighbourhood. According to a valuation made the year before his death, his property in Meaburn is valued at £105; the next highest is John Salkeld, £41; the whole valuation of the lordship being £698 10s. It was his intention to rebuild the Hall; with this in view he had plans made, and a new site chosen amongst the yew trees in the south-east corner of Stoneycrofts, opposite the Mills. He had kilns erected for burning bricks in Eelmires, for that purpose, the remains of which may still be seen, and got so far as to pull down the middle part of the Hall; but his schemes were doomed never to be perfected, all further advance being stopped by his death, which took place in 1745. His death is said to have been caused by the Rebellion. The Lowthers were ever staunch Royalists, and either himself or his son James held out some favourable support to the encouragement of the Pretender; after whose misfortunes Robert, being of a very nervous and timorous disposition, became so perplexed and afraid of the consequences that it injured his health and was the cause of his death. He was buried beneath the Threkelds’ tomb in Crosby Church.

He was succeeded by his eldest son James, afterwards known as Jammy Lowther. This James, by the death of his father, by the death of Henry, Viscount Lowther, of Lowther, who died without issues, and by the death of Sir William Lowther, Bart., of Whitehaven,* who also died without issue, became possessed of three great estates of Meaburn, Lowther and Whitehaven.  James Lowther represented the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland for several years in Parliament, and was elevated to the peerage in 1784 by the titles of Baron Lowther of Lowther, Viscount Lowther, and Earl of Lonsdale; consequently he was the first Earl.

He was born at Meaburn Hall, were he resided at different times while the Hall at Lowther was in ruins, being burnt down about 1720.   There is every reason to believe Meaburn was his favourite residence, where he kept a large establishment, of which the dairy over the bridge bears unmistakeable evidence. He also stocked the park with deer; and there are many yet living who can remember the last of them being removed from Lowther.

In 1761 he married Lady Mary Stewart, daughter of John, Earl of Bute. Lady Mary appears to have been an accomplished lady, and extremely fond of sketching in water colours; some of her sketches are tolerably well executed. There is at Lowther a large portfolio containing numbers of her sketches, generally in the neighbourhood of Lowther, Ullswater, Shap and Meaburn; some of which are extremely interesting as depicting places now either gone or greatly changed.‡ He died in the year 1802, leaving no issue, and after his day, Meaburn Hall passed into the hands of farmers.

James Lowther was a man of noble qualities, but of very eccentric character, and many are the remarkable stories about himself and his spirit after death, yet lingering in the country.† One of the most noteworthy, illustrating his eccentric character, is that, on his once passing through the streets of London he saw a woman crying, with a child in her arms. His feelings being touched, he had enquiries made respecting her, and found her to be a handsome and beautiful woman, though of no high station; she had been seduced and deserted. He so much admired her that he induced her to become his mistress, and had her installed in one of his establishments. It so happened, when he was absent, she died; and for some time none of the household durst communicate the intelligence to him on his return. However, the body so much required burial, his favourite valet presumed to tell him; upon which he was immediately kicked out, and expelled his service. So great, however, was his affection for the deceased, that he had her embalmed, and put into a leaden coffin with a piece of glass over the face, and placed in his own private room. Two ladies’ maids, who were attendant on her in life, Sir James brought to Meaburn Hall, where they lived for some time as sole mistresses of the establishment; and tradition still remembers their names as “Miss Francis” and “Miss Oliver.”

Another character associated with the Hall, and almost as famous as his master in his own sphere, was Jos o't'ha, a sort of steward or bailiff for his lordship. He was a privileged favourite, and often used to drive his master over the moors to or from Lowther and Whitehaven; and sometimes, on the return journey, would indulge in John Barleycorn to a great extent. One story is told of one of these occasions, when he had imbibed too freely at Shap, in going past Scarr he saw some sheep in a young plantation cropping off the young shoots. Ever thinking of duty he drove them out, but soon discovered that two individuals had put them in again. These he soon found to be the Devil and Cross Jown, a notorious character who had lived at Ploverigg, but was lately dead. Jos remarked that “as soon as he saw them he set off, and they efter him, lick for smack, over Harbyn Rigg, an’ they niver gained a yard on him till he gat to Howbeck Brigg, when he lost seet o’ them.” Sometimes he carried his drinking propensities so far as to become blue-devilled; in which state he was wont to whip them about in the stables, requesting any bystanders to turn the door. One old man who was called upon, did his work so badly that Joe cursed him for allowing to escape now a horned ‘un and now a cowed ‘un. The old man in despair replied “Let me dew ill or dew weel, I’s always cursed.”

Jos was one of those who had nothing to fear from the reproof of his master. A story is told of his lordship, who, to tease Jo, taunted him with allowing the old women and children to get sticks in the wood. “Lord, yer honour” says Jos, “If ye were at teay end an’ me at tudders, an’ the Divil etween us wi’ a fiery stick, we couldn’t aw turn them.” But Jos was no neglecter of his master’s property, as the following anecdote will tell. A neighbour of his being dead, the bearers were passing along past the court wall with the corpse, when crack went to report of a gun, and immediately Jos’ broad face was seen above. “Oh Jos,” said one of the attendants, “what for dud ye dew that? ye suddenly shut at a corpse, man.” “Dam the rascal” was his reply, “He’s stown many a yat loop and crewk fra me; I was determined to give him a crack at last!”2

Jammy Lowther was more famous after death than in life, for no sooner was he dead than his spirit, ranging about in the gloomy hours of night, caused quite an uproar in the country. At the Hall was heard his load call and order, and his footsteps sounded in the rooms at midnight. At other times he rushed along the tops of the trees on Morland Bank, a headless driver driving his coach, drawn by six headless horses in a blaze of fire. Similar sights also occurred about Lowther and Whitehaven, and so great was the fear of him in the country that it was determined, with the assistance of a Roman Catholic priest, to lay his spirit.

The ceremony took place in Lowther Church at midnight, and so furious and boisterous was the spirit when called, that the priest, on coming to the words in the ceremony “forever and aye” was confounded by the spirit blustering, and calling “For a year and a day,” and he unconsciously said “For a year and a day.”  The spirit was content, and the terror of him somewhat abated; but at midnight after the appointed time, he again broke loose, and played his pranks with greater terror than ever. This could not be endured; a priest was again called, the ceremony again gone through, and Jammy Lowther’s rebellious spirit was “forever and aye” conjured to abide beneath the frowning cliffs of Wallow Cragg.

Before closing the history of this interesting old place, there is a legend connected with it worthy of record. In what is called the Green Room, two brothers of the Lowther family disagreed on some family matters beyond reconciliation. As no agreement could be come to, neither being willing to succumb to the other, they parted and went abroad, with the mutual determination never to see each other again. Previous to leaving, the doors of this room were blocked up, and seals placed upon them, which of course none durst break; everything in the room being left just as it was when last occupied by the brothers.

The room was thus sealed up for many years. Part of the wax was to be seen on the door not many years ago, and tradition speaks of curious people going to the window of the mysterious room, through which were to be seen the chairs, tables, and open secretary, just as when left by the estranged brothers.


* The owner of Whitehaven was Sir James, his father’s second cousin, son of Sir John, the great maker of the town. Sir William Lowther was his fourth cousin, and left him Marske. Lowther came to him from his second cousin. His eventual heir, Sir William Lowther, was the son of his third cousin; the latter also inherited the title of  Viscount Lonsdale under a special and remarkable limitation; this had been conferred on “Sir Jammy” when it was seen that his earldom was going to die out.  he new peer was created Earl of Lonsdale in 1807; it was reported in 1828, correctly or otherwise, that he had the offer of a Dukedom.

‡ A sketch of Shap Stones, made by her in 1775, is reproduced in Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society’s Transactions, vol. Xv., article 4.

† Few men have been more bitterly attacked than James Lowther has been, both during his life, and after his death.  He was masterful and capricious, a combination of qualities which does not make for popularity; he was devoted to electioneering, which earned him enemies; and it is worth noting that his chief detractors have a distinct political bias. They include Horace Walpole; Boswell; whose Parliamentary ambitions he disappointed, and above all, Rev. Alex. Carlyle, who devotes a page of his memoirs to a compilation of the worst epithets and opinions permissible to a Doctor of Divinity. Some of this is quoted in the Dictionary of National Biography article, omitting, however, the fact that the passage begins by showing the writer’s sympathy with his great rival, the Duke of Portland.
Sir James was a benefactor to the town of Whitehaven, and it was he who secured the first return to Parliament of the younger Pitt – from Appleby. An amusing tale is told of him that he once fought a duel with a learned serjeant-at-law, who had made free with his character in a case. At the meeting the learned serjeant is said to have shot his own toe! It is hard to believe that he would have been called “Sir Jammy” till his death, though he had long been a peer, had he really been “more detested than any man living” as Carlyle asserts he was; or the suggestion that he was a tyrant over his dependents and tenants in view of the fact that his funeral, which was, by his direction, strictly private and unannounced, “a large crowd of people from the neighbourhood were assembled, and behaved with the greatest respect, decency and decorum,” as the Gentleman’s Magazine quaintly puts it.




The Vale of Lyvennet, Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore, By John Salkeld Bland, 1910.
Originally transcribed by Diane Coppard and Kate Burns, and reproduced here with their permission.


1. Let me do ill or do well, I’m always cursed.

2. "what did you do that for? you suddenly shot at a corpse, man.” 
“Dam the rascal” was his reply, “He’s stolen many a yat loop and crewk from me; I was determined to give him a crack at last!
Puzzling this - yat is usually dialect for "gate", but what a yat loop is I have no idea. Crewk is presumably a crook, the shepherd's stick. So the devil is getting the blame for things Jo has mislaid, which suggests that a yat loop is also something portable.

19 June 2015.

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