Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

Workington and the Lake District

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WITH a feeling of considerable satisfaction a traveller on his way along the western coast first receives the intelligence that, in addition to the actual pleasure of locomotion in fine weather, an opportunity is afforded him of seeing, in the course of one morning as it were, gratis, most of those beautiful features of the country in succession, which so many thousands of people leave their own homes, and take so much trouble, on purpose to visit—I mean the principal lakes and mountains of Cumberland. Yet such is the case, for the "Lake Tourist" stage coach leaves Whitehaven every day during the summer, and proceeds through Workington, Cockermouth, Keswick, and Ambleside to Kendal. Mounted on the hinder part of a coach, on my way southward to Whitehaven, I heard two persons conversing on their projected excursion by the above conveyance; one, a stout, heavy, elderly man, the other his friend, both travelling together on a party of pleasure; so keenly bent were they on the expedition, and anxious to obtain a choice of seats, that they preferred going on through Workington as far as Whitehaven, and returning again the next morning, to remaining all night at the former place; for my part, at all times disinclined to a scramble, I got down at Workington, satisfied, as the Lake Tourist departed every day, to take my chance of a vacancy.

As sundry bills and placards advertised an agency at Workington, I had no sooner alighted than I proceeded to secure a place, but, though the said bills were printed in exceedingly large letters, I had much difficulty in finding the coach office; and wandered about a considerable time, till I found myself in a small street, where, after inquiring of many people to no purpose, a woman, who was washing, very kindly left her tub, wiped the soapsuds from her elbows with her apron, and undertook to direct me. She accompanied me a short distance, then pointing to a steep flight of wooden steps, rather resembling the broad ladder of a granary than the entrance to a house, there at the top of these steps, she said, was the office. I ascended accordingly, and arrived at a narrow passage with a thin deal partition on either side; at the extremity of which were two very small rooms, one to the right, the other to the left. As I saw nobody, I inflicted a smart rap with my switch on the partition, at the same time entered one of the tiny rooms, where, mounted on a high stool, sat a nimble little man, according to appearance a lawyer—that is to say, he was busily writing in fair, round characters on a skin of parchment. I asked him, where was the coach office; upon which he immediately accompanied me into the opposite little room, and responded to the vocation of bookkeeper. I could not help being prepossessed at first sight in favour of one who thus, though of small stature, worked as it were in double harness, that is to say, performed the duties of two professions, and who, moreover, assured me, on the part of the proprietors of the Lake Tourist, of the first chance of a seat in the morning.

In the morning, having arrived punctually at the point of rendezvous, it was with a feeling of disappointment I observed, so soon as the coach made its appearance, that she was what sailors call extremely" ill found ;" whether the wheels were of different colours no matter, at all events she was crazy looking, unsteady, and badly appointed altogether. The elderly personage, who had not proceeded to Whitehaven for nothing, now, with a sleek, smiling face, sat triumphantly on the box by the side of the coachman. As the outside places were said to be occupied, I immediately paid inside fare, the which I had no sooner done, than I was provided forthwith with a seat on the roof, and soon afterward the coach started with a jerk, and jumbled us all into our places.

Whether or not the Lake Tourist may clash with private interests in the town of Keswick I cannot say, but if one were to judge from the little attention paid to the passengers on their arrival, she enjoyed not much popularity. Perhaps it being the day of the regatta on Lake Windermere, the people in the inn were in an unusual bustle, running against each other merely in the way of business; at all events, we were ushered into an untidy room; an inferior display of cold meats was arranged on the table, and the waiters were neither attentive nor civil.

Out of doors the cargo of the coach was refitted under the direction of several persons, who, with much squabbling, seemed only unanimous in one point, namely, to place upon her as much as she was able to carry. Although heavily laden before, much additional luggage was now booked for Ambleside and Kendal, till the figure of the Lake Tourist was completely hidden by packages that overhung the sides—after the manner of strawberry pottles, to be seen in the summer, on the women's backs between Brentford and Covent Garden. Some of the passengers remonstrated, and said we should surely break down; and one little near-sighted man, after busily walking round and round, not only discovered with his eyeglass a serious defect in one of the wheels, but ascertained clearly, to everybody's dissatisfaction, that we had already travelled, nobody knew exactly how far, without one of our linchpins. A rusty nail, immediately produced as a substitute, was the only redress offered for the latter grievance; and as the proper authorities were not present, it appeared to be the best possible course to allow people's misdirected fancies to be jumbled together in the hope that common sense might find its level, and finally rise to the surface; for every passenger alike had a neck to be broken: the coachman was a civil, well-meaning person, and one huge fat man in particular, now about to take his seat on the coach, exerting himself for the general good, actually worked like a dray horse. The Lake Tourist had proceeded but a little way from the town of Keswick, when, at the foot of the first hill, it was found absolutely necessary that, previous to being dragged up, every one of the passengers should get down; this measure caused a vast deal of grumbling, nevertheless the difficulty, when we got to the top and had resumed our seats, vanished altogether in contrast with the disagreeable variety of going down: even with a dragged hind wheel the cattle were barely strong enough to support the weight behind them, and whenever the pace for a moment exceeded that of a walk, the vehicle rocked and rolled to such a degree, that all the pleasure of looking at the prospect was lost in the reasonable expectation of a catastrophe.

The coachman, notwithstanding all disadvantages, contrived to make the very best of his means and equipment; entirely by dint of steadiness and good driving he brought his charge safe within six miles of Ambleside. Then came the time of reckoning. Proceeding at a gentle pace down a long steep hill, with a dragged off hind wheel, the coach, having overpowered the horses for a few seconds, began to rock, laying an awful stress on the springs, first lounging on one side, and then on the other, till the defective hind wheel, (the near one,) being the weakest point, gave way all at once, every spoke breaking close to the nave, and over fell the Lake Tourist, striking the near edge of the top of the carriage within about four feet of the bottom of a seven-feet stone wall.

The crash, the scream of the women, and the scramble of people among the tumbling packages, were all simultaneous; for my own part, I was thrown, and partly helped myself, on the top of the aforesaid stone wall, where I might have sat comfortably enough on a thick bed of moss, had not many individuals required assistance. Several lay under the coach, which rested most perilously above them; these must all have been crushed, had not the coachman in falling kept hold on the reins, and quickly recovered his feet; fortunately, not a horse placed a foot forward, although the women inside, who were not in the least hurt, screamed loud enough to scare a regiment of cavalry.

Assistance was first rendered to the people under the coach, who were not long crawling out; then the women were pulled out of the inside, and, when all were collected, only one serious case appeared among the whole. The stout elderly man, in return for the pains he had taken to sit on the box, in falling therefrom had dislocated his ankle, and received other injuries; the box seat, therefore, was now fairly to be viewed by the rest of the party as one of those worthless objects in life, the which not to have obtained, many an individual, now and then —"credite posteri"—lives to rejoice.

Never did lovers of the picturesque profit less by the beauties of the country around them than the present group, every one's attention being entirely confined to a few hot, dusty yards of the turnpike road; some assisted in carrying the maimed man to an adjoining bank, others dipped moss and ferns in a rivulet, and applied a cooling embrocation to the limb, while one of the women, merely because she herself was frightened, still continued to scream.

But a material point of consideration was—how to prosecute the journey; and it was proposed, as the most feasible method, to obtain forthwith, if possible, some country conveyance, instead of waiting for relief from Ambleside, whence probably every hired carriage had departed for the regatta; but to this, and all other similar proposals, the fat man before mentioned, who got on the coach at Keswick, invariably dissented, always throwing cold water on every possible suggestion; nothing at all seemed to suit his fancy; neither did it please him that carriages should be hired of a neighbouring farmer, nor that they should be procured at Ambleside; his own proposition was, to take in charge himself, the wounded man, and the luggage, while every other individual set forward to walk to Ambleside.

The passengers grew impatient, and the fat man became surly; the latter, though resolute, was outvoted by a heavy majority, and the coachman despatched on one of the horses barebacked to Ambleside, to procure conveyance. A long time this messenger's return was most anxiously expected; even before a reasonable period had elapsed, apprehensions were expressed that he might never come back, and finally everybody turned to account the moments of leisure by grumbling and complaining one way or other. All agreed that the proprietors were most highly to blame; and as for the worn-out old coach—there she lay against the wall, her ailments now exposed in every part, while one pointed at a fracture, another a splicing, and a third vented his spleen on the rusty nail, or linchpin, in terms particularly aggravating and grating to the nerves of the fat man, who, right or wrong, stoutly defended the cause of the proprietors. Overpowered by numbers, and finding he had the worst of the argument, he talked louder and louder, puffed and blowed like a whale, and contradicted everybody one after another. On looking at him the only wonder was, how he could have managed to fall to the ground without absolutely bursting in twain; as it was, his coat only had suffered, which garment had split through the middle from the top to the bottom of the back—merely from the force of expansion.

I was not surprised at this person's being earnest in the cause he was pleading, seeing that, an inhabitant of the neighbourhood, he zealously espoused local interests, and that he stood vexed by a throng of opponents, one man against their united attacks; roaring defiance, as it were, against them all, his back towards the fallen coach, like Achilles by the body of his Patroclus; but the effect was quite dramatic, when, at last, irritated beyond all manner of bearing, in answer to somebody who threw him off his guard, he exclaimed, at the top of his lungs, that he himself was a coach proprietor.

Had the poor man by the side of the road observed the sensation created by this avowal, he would no doubt have forgotten in a moment all his bruises—one would really have imagined people wished to ride into Ambleside on the huge man's shoulders, so eagerly now did they press round him for explanation. On his part, having judiciously intended to waive the privileges of office, at the same time to defend the cause of the firm, the acknowledgment in an unwary moment no sooner escaped his lips, than apparently he could have bitten off his own tongue, and everybody's nose into the bargain. Seriously mobbed by all, and being a big sulky fellow into the bargain, nobody can exactly say how the matter might have ended, had not the coachman now most opportunely appeared, bringing with him a cavalcade of three or four carriages of different descriptions.

One of these was an open landau, and the rest tub gigs, as they are called in Cumberland; a vehicle, in point of fact, very like a tub set upon wheels, rather after the fashion of the Irish jingle or jaunting car, and particularly adapted to a hilly country, the equilibrium, although on two wheels, being capable of the nicest adjustment. The lame man was placed at full length along one of the seats of the landau, while the rest of the passengers disposed themselves in uncouth attitudes, together with the luggage, fortuitously assorted, in the tub gigs. Every one was satisfied with the best place he could get, and presently, all being ready, the landau was driven in front, and the other carriages forming line, and keeping close in the rear, all arrived together in about an hour at the town of Ambleside.

The day had been exceedingly fine, when, towards evening, a motley crew presented themselves before the fashionables of the regatta.

A characteristic identity at all times pervades the appearance of a set of stage-coach passengers, people actuated, for the present moment at least, by one common object, let their individual pursuits be ever so much at variance; and most particularly now, among those who had recently suffered together a common calamity, humanity suggested a degree of sympathy that even more strikingly involved the figures in the group within the pale of fraternity; nor could there be any greater contrast in nature than between those who composed this procession and the gay beings assembled at Ambleside to enjoy the festival.

As the ponderous maimed stranger was carried up the broad, well-cleaned entrance steps of the "Salutation Inn," I observed a jovial party in one of the rooms on the ground floor, dressed in the overwrought costume of sailors, and with studied negligence: these, as they carelessly sipped their wine, merely drew their chairs and bottles closer to the window, the better to scrutinize the unfortunate party; meanwhile I saw descending from above glances of kind pity that beamed from two pair of lovely female eyes in an upper story.

It was growing late, and the journey to Kendal still to be performed; as the sympathy of the public was now enlisted on the part of the passengers, they, as is the way of the world, grew obstreperous accordingly, nay, even inconsiderately fastidious as to the vehicle proposed to be furnished at the expense of the coach proprietors — whence arose additional cause of delay.

The fat fellow's troubles were by no means at an end; not only did the whole labour of the arrangements fall to his share, involving him in continual disputation with the passengers, but of the townspeople, both friends and foes were putting him to torture—the former by ill-timed inquiries relating to the accident, and the latter by gibes and taunts as they chuckled at his misfortune: he was, as it were, in a hornet's nest, stung on all sides by wilful buzzing assailants. In good truth he retorted manfully, and shuffled, and bounced, and perspired, moreover having a gruff voice, neither being over choice in his mode of expression, sometimes with considerable effect; still he was only one against a host, and stood at fearful odds till he found timely relief by half a dozen of his friends picking a quarrel among themselves. The subject was the concerns of the establishment: one horsed the coach, and another coached the horses; one worked this end of the line, and the other the opposite; in short, the ball of responsibility was bandied from this man to that man, in a manner to make it clearly appear that neither was responsible, and prove beyond all manner of doubt that the lives of the passengers had been intrusted to nobody at all. Thus three hours having elapsed before the vehicles that were to convey the party were ready to depart, the maimed man was consigned to the care of a surgeon at Ambleside, and the cavalcade of tub gigs proceeded on their way escorted along the streets by a crowd of spectators. The fat proprietor himself, together with one other passenger, brought up the rear in one of these said carriages, which contained, besides an inconvenient proportion of luggage, indisputable symbols of his profession, such as collars, harness, splinter bars, &c.

The adventures of the morning might now be called at an end, and thus was brought to a conclusion a premeditated party of pleasure. Happy indeed were all those interested, when, at ten o'clock at night, after all their mishaps, they found comfortable quarters at the inn at Kendal.


BETWEEN Kendal and Penrith, about a mile east of the turnpike road, on the top of the hill called Shap Fells, is a mineral spring, contiguous to which the Earl of Lonsdale, on whose estate it rises, not many years since erected a spacious mansion, with stabling, &c., to serve as an inn. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood were long accustomed to resort to the wells to drink the waters, and enjoy country society at the old original hotel, very far inferior to the present edifice; yet the partial patronage hitherto afforded the new establishment has not been sufficient to bring it into general notice. Its site is on a heathery moor, without a village or other buildings to mark the spot; neither is there, short as the distance is, any direct communication with the public road.

Those aware of localities, if travelling by public conveyances, usually descend from their vehicle on the exact meridian of latitude, deposite their trunk or valise under a bush of heather, and then, proceeding on foot to the hotel, despatch a porter for their property. It would seem there are no thieves at Shap, for not only is the above proceeding of ordinary practice in the present instance, but also with regard to parcels despatched from the hotel. These are always placed out of doors in a spot agreed upon between the landlord and the carrier, from whence they are removed by the latter, who passes with his vehicle in the middle of the night.

Strangers, whose knowledge of their whereabout is not so perfect, leave, of necessity, their arrangements to coachmen and guards, in return for which act of confidence, instead of being deposited within a mile of the Wells as aforesaid, it usually happens that they are whirled on four miles farther, merely to the end, literally speaking, that they may be carried back.

The unwary traveller, on his way from Kendal to Shap Wells, receives the first notice of this ruse de guerre, or mistake, or what not, by the sudden halt of the coach at the door of the public house. Here, before he has time to look about him, his luggage is thrown on the ground; when—everything lying in the middle of the road—the guard blows his horn, the horses spring forward, and he is left alone. At this particular crisis, like a spider in his web, out steps the landlord from his bar, and with a smiling countenance propounds, in the way of terms to the stranger, a neat post chaise and able horses; which latter it usually requires an hour to get ready, whether it be necessary to catch them at grass, or bring them in from the hayfield.

It is in contemplation, it is said, to erect a suitable porter's lodge adjoining the turnpike road, whereby the said difficulties of access to the wells will be entirely obviated.

On arriving at the hotel I found a comfortable, well-built house, the apartments exceedingly good, and the terms so unreasonably moderate, that one would imagine the landlord had been screwed down at least one peg below the point of possibility.

Arrangements, it appeared, were made for receiving different sets of company—I believe three: at all events, a schism had some time since arisen between the two principal parties with regard to the dinner hour; on which point issue was joined, and those who formed one set then split into two, each maintaining their own objects, and dining at their own hour.

For one set, breakfast was provided at nine, dinner at half past one, tea at six, and supper at nine: for the other, the time of breakfast was ad libitum, that of dinner, four, and tea, eight. Conceiving the latter arrangement better suited to rambling excursions on the hills than the former, whereby the day is absolutely frittered away in attending to eating appointments, and time subdivided into so many small portions, that each becomes of little value, I decided on joining the latter coterie, but was then informed that, on the last division on the question, when "the half-past-one gentry" carried the day, "the four-o'clock party" had retired from the field. Though I was at full liberty to support the privileges of the latter, had I chosen to do so, as I must in that case have been contented to dine alone, inasmuch as all those now at the hotel belonged to the victorious set, without hesitation I joined the majority, who, at that moment, were about to sit down to supper.

Temperance at this meal was the order of the day: indeed, neither at dinner nor supper did I see a glass of wine drank during two days I lived in the house. The party consisted chiefly of Cumberland yeomen, with their wives and daughters: of these, some of the ladies drank tumblers of milk, others swilled water gruel, nor, with one or two exceptions, was any stronger beverage introduced. Ginger beer, I may observe, was now and then called for, and bien moussu it really was; a better paneygric as to its quality cannot be pronounced, than a simple matter of fact, in the means adopted by a gentleman who sat near me to restrain its effervescence. lie thrust his fore finger up to the first joint into the neck of the bottle: even then it continued to hiss, and though, as he drank, he sternly fixed his eyes in the direction of the sound, the air was so obstreperous, that it was with extreme difficulty he secured the remainder of his liquor.

It would seem that the spare time of the visiters is entirely taken up, either in drinking the waters, or in attending to their effects; for, as to the resources of dissipation or amusement at the hotel, all may be comprised in a small jingling pianoforte and a bagatelle board in the drawing room, as well as implements for the game of "les graces" on the lawn—considerable energies are, however, imparted by the medicinal properties of the spring, which, besides being highly sulphuretted, contains saline particles in abundance. The bath house consists of two bathing rooms, one for gentlemen, and another for ladies: in each bathing room are two baths, the one divided from the other by a flannel curtain; the water being supplied to the drinkers in the front apartment from the same cocks that fill the baths.

The efficacy of the water is aided in a great degree by the elevated site of the habitation; whence, towards every point of the horizon, is extended, as far as the eye can reach, an unbroken prospect of mountain and moor. With all the advantages of a country inn, possessing ample accommodation for families in the house, and for horses and carriages in the outbuildings, provided the object of the party be to drink the waters, enjoy uninterruptedly the pure, clear air of the hills, and live altogether in private apartments, every facility towards comfort that can possibly be imagined may be found at this hotel.

George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

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