Two Victorian anglers visit Brotherilkeld
This extract from "The Angler in the Lake District" by John Davy M.D., F.R.S. etc. (1857) has very little to do with angling, but it does provide a surprising amount of information about Eskdale in the mid-19th century, particularly about Brotherilkeld farm. The book is written in the form of a dialogue between two companions on a journey- the previous stop was Egremont, and they arrived at Ravenglass by train:
- AMICUS: A quarter of an hour's "ride," as the Americans would call is, has brought us to Ravenglass. This town, too, seems to have seen better days.
- PISCATOR: Its sand-barred harbour, the estuary of three rivers, the Irt, Ite [sic], and Esk, is better adapted for receiving the small coasting craft of the olden time than the larger vessels now in use; and at that time there were more border baronial residences and religious houses, priories and monasteries than at present, and with more of influence and power; hence, it may be, its falling off. As there is nothing to detain us here, the sooner we start for Eskdale the better. The car with its single horse is ready.
- AMICUS: What a change, again, and how sudden! I little expected these stately groves; and if I am not mistaken, I see a castellated building through the trees.
- PISCATOR: That building is Muncaster Castle; and this fine avenue opening into Eskdale, and these stately woods, belong to the domain. Did our time permit, we would go to the castle, for from it is a view of surpassing beauty, Eskdale in its whole length, from the sea to its limitary mountains.
[some time later, though no gap is indicated in the text]:
- AMICUS: Fortunately, the sun is shining out, blue sky is appearing, and the higher hills in the distance are showing themselves above the clouds. As we advance, how wilder and wilder it becomes, and with how many touches of beauty,- the river acquiring the character of the mountain stream, gushing amongst rocks from pool to pool,- the skirting hills pine-crowned, and the bosky hollows with all their varieties of underwood. Even the few farm-houses we pass seem to denote transition in their aspect to a ruder and more primitive condition,- such as, perhaps, might be expected in going from a frequented to a more secluded region.
- PISCATOR: The rock formation here is of a bolder kind than any we have yet seen, and the hills are nobler in their forms. The prevailing rock is granite, accounting for these forms; and the qualities of soil it yields on disintegration may equally account for the luxuriancy of the wild vegetation which we witness, and the fine growth of timber amongst crags and precipices, as if designed for the study of the landscape-painter.
- AMICUS: There is the sign of a public-house. Is that to be our resting place? In its lowliness of appearance, it seems very suitable to its secluded situation.
- PISCATOR: That is the "Wool Pack," a fitting name; wool is the chief commercial staple of the dale: I know it well. Like most of the public-houses of the dales, its proprietor is a farmer. The comforts it affords to the wayfaring man, for whom it is chiefly intended, are greater than might be expected, judging from its appearance. One objection to it is that it is rather far from the best part of the river for angling, and from the finest portion of the dale for its scenery. We will go about a mile higher, where I hope we shall find shelter; and where, if the good people of the farm are, as I trust, well and doing well, we shall be sure of a kind reception.
- AMICUS: I hope you have not forgotten the way; our driver says he was never so far in Eskdale before. See, the road terminates! Where are we? What are we to do?
- PISCATOR: Do not be uneasy. That gate opening into the meadow is our way. Beyond are the chimneys of the farm-house, rising above the trees. Though it is three years since my last visit, I cannot be mistaken; the house is the last in the dale.
- AMICUS: A welcome cry, and yet in no friendly guise! What a rush of clamorous dogs!
- PISCATOR: Were other wanting, a sure sign we are near the house. Those five or six barking dogs are sheep-dogs; it is a harvest field they are rushing from, at the sound of our wheels. The people must be there; so near, we are sure of finding the house open.
[some time later, though no gap is indicated in the text]:
- AMICUS: I thank you for bringing me to Brotherelkeld- a name, you inform me, of the olden time. [A footnote derives the name from "Buther Elldr, the house of Buther, the older or old", referring to the book "The Northmen in Cumberland" (NB: later research rejects this notion utterly)] The house, the situation, the family, are in happy keeping,- all smacking of the olden time, and in character with pastoral life; at least, so it seems to me, at first sight. I liked the hearty welcome the old people gave you, and their quick recollection of you.
- PISCATOR: These good people- the farmer and his wife- are what they appear; and may I not say, something more, both in substance and worth. From the appearance of the old man in his rough apparel, you would hardly suppose him to be one of the largest sheep-farmers in the country, with a flock probably not under 2000; nor, from the hard aspect of the dame, and her curt words, would you expect so warm a heart and such genuine kindness. But I will not anticipate: while we are here, you will be able to judge for yourself; and I need not say be observant, for the place is a study; I hardly know another affording so good an example of the dale shepherd's life. But we mus not forget Eskdale and our angling. On a former occasion, I explored the higher dale, and have a pleasant recollection of its wildness and grandeur. Do see it; you cannot miss the way; you can fish as you go. I will presently follow, and we will meet here in the evening.
- AMICUS: Well met. Since we parted at noon, I have not seen the face of man. How profound are these mountain solitudes, and how dismal they must be in gloomy weather! Happily, there were gleams of sunshine, patches of blue sky with light clouds over head, and with cattle here and sheep there, even in the wildest and most secluded spots where not the faintest vestige of man was to be seen, I felt only a cheerful influence, reminding me of what I used to feel within the tropics, when in a mountainous region, three or four thousand feet above the level of the sea, where I could almost tell the elevation by the pleasant inward feeling, as if breathing an air at once soothing and exhilarating.
- PISCATOR: I have experienced what you describe; it is one of the pleasures of mountain travel, especially in a warm climate. I hope you were not disappointed in what you saw.
- AMICUS: No wise. I went up as far as the foot of Bowfell and Scawfell. The wild and dreary grandeur of the scenery there exceeded anything I have seen in the Lake District, and has left an impression I shall not soon forget. I tried the rivulet, but with no success, taking only, in the deeper pools, a few small ill-fed brook trout. Seeing the character of the stream, now so small, with its wide shingly bed, denoting how at times it is a wide raging torrent, I was rather surprised at taking even these. Lower down, where the two streams meet to form the Esk, there I captured a half dozen better fed and larger fish,- the largest of herring size, and as many more in those deep and beautiful pools between that junction and the house. Never have I seen water of greater purity or of finer colouring, or a more picturesque succession of the rapid and still.
- PISCATOR: I confined my fishing, and with success little exceeding yours, to the lower part which you so admire, and justly. The light-coloured rock forming the chaannel of the river, the green skirting banks, the pure white of the falls, the equally pure and almost azure hue of the deep pools, are indeed charming in their variety and contrasts with the accompaniments of wood and meadow and marks of culture, separating this from the wilder naked mountain region which you ascended.
- AMICUS: I can now more readily believe that the colour of water in mass is blue, for were it not for the faint yellowish hue reflected from the worn rock-basins, these pools would be entirely azure, little differing from that of the sky,- that depending too on water, or aqueous vapour. Pray what is the rock? Is it not granite?
- PISCATOR: In its forms it resembles granite, and belongs, I infer, to the same formation; but in composition it is different; I have some difficulty in giving it a name. Compact and finely crystalline, it is probably felspathic; the light hue it acquires from the efect of weathering is in accordance. Now let us sit down to our evening meal. Our kind hostess has her kettle boiling, her little round table spread before the wood fire, and some roasted potatoes ready. With the tea we have brought with us, and the remains of our piece of spiced beef, and the bread, butter, and milk she will provide, we cannot fail, if you have such an appetite as I have, amking a hearty good comfortable meal. We are to have the room to ourselves, this outer room, "the house," as it is provincially called, not the inner, the spacious one in which we have just put our rods, and which I believe is never used excepting on grand occasions, such as the yearly clipping-feast, a christening, or a wedding.
- AMICUS: Why, this is more than comfort it is luxury. You in the nursing rocking-chair which you have chosen, I in the elbow-chair, both cushioned,- the chairs, I presume, of the old master and mistress; the cheerful hearth and our well-provisioned table; potatoes, milk, butter, all excellent.
- PISCATOR: These are the produce of the farm, with the exception of the wheaten bread. The flour is imported; but the bread is made here, and with yeast from their own brewing. About this yeast I learnt a secret, when I was last here, how it can be kept good at least a month, by changing the water daily; and, what is also worth knowing, how brewer's yeast can be deprived of its bitterness by a like change of water.
- AMICUS: Surely this bread, which reminds me of Spanish bread, and is superior to any I have tasted since I left Cadiz, is not household bread.
- PISCATOR: It is "quality bread," as they call it, and is a dainty, I dare say, reserved for the old people. The family bread is oaten cake, of which there is a baking every two or three months. It and cheese are two of the chief articles of diet of the farm-servants.
- AMICUS: As we were coming by train to Ravenglass, I looked into a recently published Guide-book of the Lake District, and read some particulars about the cheese of the district which surprised me, given, as they were, as matter-of-fact to show the backward and rude state of the country, and the benefit likely to result by the force of example, from intercourse, according to the writer, with a more enlighetened and advanced stage of society. It, the cheese, is described as hard enough to strike fire with steel, as fit to be used as a substitute for flint in the gun-lock; and, marvel of marvels, it is told that one rolling down a hillside occasioned a conflagration by setting fire to the brushwood.
- PISCATOR: You may well say "marvel of marvels." The skimmed-milk cheese of the district is certainly hard enough, and unavoidably, the butter being entirely and intentionally separated; but it is not miraculously hard; like other things, it is obedient to physical laws. Had the writer considered what are the qualities requisite for a substance to act the part of a flint to strike fire with steel, and the conjunction of circumstances necessary to produce the effect, she would have escaped being imposed on by the laughter-making hyperboles of the shrewd and sometimes humorous natives. Need I remind you that, to strike fire with flint, a filament of steel must be abraded, which, heated by the friction of the collision, burns in the air by uniting sudenly with its oxygen. And, further, that no hardness that is known to belong to, or that can be imparted to any animal substance, not even bone or ivory, tooth or nail, is capable of producing the effect, i.e. the abrasion of steel, in the manner required. As to the advantages of intercourse such as are likely to result from the system of railways in progress, let us hope there will be an exchange of benefits; and that the dalespeople will not only derive some knowledge, and learn improved methods from their lowland neighbours, but that the latter also may learn something from the former, and most of all, not to hold them in disrespect.
- AMICUS: Those who can entertain such a feeling towards them should come here to be disabused of it. Where have I ever seen more order, neatness, and propriety? I have been prying about, but in vain, to find anything dirty or out of place. Upstairs, where I have been to change my wet shoes, the same order and neatness are to be seen as below, and not only in the comfortable spare bedrooms, where we are to sleep, but also in those of the servants. Even the oaken floors are polished. I am astonished; and also at the number and quantity of useful articles,- so much crockery, so much glass, and the endless variety of little useful articles. This within doors; but without, how different; I can see no garden ground, no vegetables grown, not a single flower; and in the fields, no green crops, only potatoes. In regard to these, may not lowland example be useful?
- PISCATOR: I thought you would be surprised as well as pleased at what you saw of the domestic economy, seen as you have seen it in its ordinary working order. Did you observe the small detached building in the yard, opposite the entrance? It is the working kitchen, and may partly account for the perfect cleanliness of the house. The chief cause, however, as far as I have had an opportunity of observing, is, that everything is cleaned the instant it has been used, and that instant put in its place, everything having a place. The contrivances for bestowing things away are curiously varied,- hooks, shelves, bags, drawers, and above all, chests, are in requisition for the purpose. In that large cupboard of old quaintly carved oak, the aumbry as it would be called in Scotland, the family supply of oaten bread is kept. On the shelves, in the inner room, you might have seen a goodly array of cheeses; that orderly collection of big earthen jars, of small kegs and barrels, are for holding and conveying beer to the field labourers. Look at this wall; what a miscellany of things is there arranged. I wish you would make a catalogue of them; but that would tire an auctioneer; and long may the time be before any such labour be required! In the inner room the cupboards, the beaufets are as well replenished, and with the more valuable articles of glass and earthenware.
- AMICUS: But why such an endless variety, and such profusion?
- PISCATOR: I fancy these mark the family means and wants;- well to do in the world, long settled here, far apart from borrowing help, and having occasionally to exercise a large hospitality, for instance, at the sheep-shearing, when, I am told, there are more than 100 persons collected, most of them dalesmen unpaid, volunteers to help in the clipping, with a few specially invited to witness the work and partake of the festivities,- all of whom are to be fed and feasted,- for such is the old usage on the occasion.
- AMICUS: I should like to see our notable active hostess at such a time, and to witness the doings.
- PISCATOR: Do you remember the sheep-shearing festivity as described by Shakespeare in his "Winter's Tale." From what I have heard, this, as conducted here, is very much the counterpart of that, the day being given to business, to work; the evening to carousing, singing, and dancing; and I am sure that the dame here is quite equal to her, the old farmer's wife in the play, in her best days, as described by him-
"-when my old wife liv'd, upon
This day, she was both pantler, butler, cook;
Both dame and servant: welcom'd all: serv'd all."
- AMICUS: It is interesting to find old usages preserved; and where can they be so well preserved as here, and in places like this? As I first observed, everything here smacks of the olden time: look at these cups and saucers; how antique is their pattern, how dark and grotesque the colouring and the figures on them. I can fancy them from Fienza. I have been asking whether rushlights are still in use here; and I am told they are, and are home made.
- PISCATOR: See the stand for burning them, partly made of wood, the bottom; partly of iron, the stem, and the latter so constructed with its terminal cavity and side bracket, as to answer both for the rush candle and the "white candle," as the common tallow candle is called here.
- AMICUS: Pray show me how it is used; and tell me how the rushlight is prepared, and why the common candle is called a "white candle?"
- PISCATOR: To distinguish it from the greenish rush candle. The latter is prepared much in the same manner as in Connemara; here a mixture of butter and grease is employed to saturate the rush. And in burning, of course it is placed obliquely at a regulated angle; and I may remark that, in using a common tallow candle, it is well to adopt the same practice, so that it may consume its own wick, and not require snuffing: the chemical reason of this I need not explain to you. You well observe that old habits and things have their resting place. Yet, I believe, only within certain limits, and that even in these seclusions, there is no want of tendency to change; all that is required is the conviction that the change will be beneficial and practicable. The dales people are shrewd people and keenly alive to their own interest. I was glad to hear,- it is an instance in point,- that the field labourers here are beginning to substitute coffee for beer. Our hostess tells me that they prefer it, finding it more refreshing than beer, and not so soon followed by thirst. The change has been made since my last visit; and, probably, on our next visit, we may find that coffee has given place to tea,- as experience proves that the latter, for the refreshment it affords, deserves the preference. This I have had assurance of from a distinguished Arctic explorer and naturalist. As to the absence of flowers, vegetables, and green crops, noticed by you as a defect,- that of the two first, I apprehend, is characteristic of the absolute pastoral life; that of the last of the same- of a want of the goodly modern union of the pastoral and agricultural, which is more or less a desideratum throughout the dale district, and, I may say, the Lake District likewise.
- AMICUS: Within the inner room is an inner, a bedroom. The door was open, and I looked into it. It too was a pattern of neatness and order, as if for show rather than use.
- PISCATOR: That is the bedroom of the master and mistress, and comparing it with the servants' bedrooms, clean and decent as they are, marks well the difference of rank. The bed, I believe, is one of the best characteristics of condition, at least in all the lower grades of society.
- AMICUS: I have been looking for books, somewhat curious to know the literature of the dales; but the only book I have found has been an almanac and of the present year.
- PISCATOR: This too must surprise you; in truth, the dales folk are not very much of a reading people; they are too much occupied; and the men are so much abroad as to have little time and opportunity for reading. here they rise early, before day in the winter; they are little within doors; and they go to bed early, even in winter, almost as soon as it is dark, never using a light. Did you not observe them half an hour ago passing through, and how they took off their clouted shoes before going up stairs?- which, by the bye, may account, with the application of a little beeswax now and then, for the stairs and flooring being so clean and polished.
- AMICUS: What a singular state! Now indeed I can fancy the dales people as representing a past period,- that when books were scarce and princely property; or somewhat later, when the few books in use were chained to the reading-desks.
- PISCATOR: This idea of yours is rather an exaggerated one. Probably the books belonging to the family, now that the young people are settled in life and out in the world, are put by in some drawer or chest well cared for. Though not a reading people, I can assure you that commonly, in the poorest homes even, there is a shelf holding a few volumes.
- AMICUS: Though I have not seen it, yet I will believe there is a Bible in the house; I am not so sure mentally of the stored library.
- PISCATOR: Do not at least doubt the Bible. Did you in the best bedroom observe the framed sampler hung on the wall? It pleased me much, so much indeed that I made a copy of the words worked upon it by the daughter of our host, a maid, as stated, in her twelfth year. I will read them to you, for they too are of the olden time, and distinctive, as I hope and believe, of the simple morals and religion of the dales people:-
"Be you to others kind and true,
as you'd have others be to you,
And neither say or do to men
Whate'er you would not take from them.
"Teach me, Lord, Thy name to know,
Teach me, Lord, Thy name to love:
May I do Thy will below,
As Thy will is done above."
- AMICUS: Excellent words; I thank you for repeating them. What a homily are they; and how much more deserving of being imprinted on the mind than any of the formulas of the modern Positive Philosophy.
- PISCATOR: And now, after our long talk, let us say good night, and to our beds; remembering, however useful books may be, and book-learning, that all knowledge is not written, and that the most elaborate and profound, without such habits as we have here witnesses, is of little worth and of little avail in the conduct of life.