In my last walking blog I related how the Spencer-Bell family tried to deny public access to the woodlands of Fawe Park, on the western shores of Derwent Water. Although the Keswick protestors of 1887 achieved a victory in tearing down the Spencer- Bell barricades, there is little public access even today, either to the shores of Derwent Water or in the surrounding woodlands.
The only real access is along the path from Portinscale to Hawse End, now part of the Cumbria Way. This path in itself is most interesting. It is thought to be the corpse path from Borrowdale to Keswick.
But it was not always so.
Until his death in 1879, this was all the property of General Sir John George Woodford, who lived to the grand age of 94. Unlike the Spencer-Bell family, Woodford kept the woods open to the public. As the Pall Mall Gazette remarked at the time of the mass trespasses:
he loved the people and the children of the people, and it was his delight to make and maintain for public use good roads to all the best view stations on his estate. in his time, and long before his time, the Fawe Park road had been public, and he jealously kept it so.
How sad that the Spencer-Bell family, on acquiring the estate, didn’t keep up that noble tradition of free access.
John George Woodford was a most fascinating man. He fought at the Battle of Waterloo and was thought to have been the last surviving British officer of that battle when he died in 1879. He was a great army reformer and was often in conflict with the Duke of Wellington. Woodford would not allow anyone to flog the men under his command, opposed the buying of officer commissions, and oversaw many other reforms which improved the lot of the ordinary soldier.
In 1818, when serving in France in the army of occupation, he undertook archaeological excavations at the battlefield of Agincourt, found surviving artefacts of that 1415 battle and reburied some of the bones of its victims.
Though born in Canterbury he came to live at Waterlily Bay on Derwent Water and really loved the place. And, unlike so many nineteenth-century landowners, loved to share his land with others.
What a pity so few landowners – even today – follow his splendid example.
(c) A and J Bainbridge 2020