I fell in love last weekend.
I was in Tesco, regretting buying a pork pie and browsing brochures when the one for Lowther Castle and Gardens hit me with this:
“There are no ‘keep off the grass’ rules here… we want you to explore, follow your nose, take away your own memories… We shan’t be rewinding the clock, restoring to what might have been. Lowther is made of many layers and that’s the challenge. Finding new layers for Lowther to reinvent its future.“
I gotta hand it to them. I was SO there, as sold as the pork pie I ate and still trying to block from my memory like a shameful one night stand.
Anyway, I think I’ll put the bathroom over here…I’m sorry, what? Entry is £8? I see. So, not literally my castle then. Thank goodness I didn’t go there hauling tiles or it would’ve been awkward. That wouldn’t have impressed my new love.
The castle’s romantic ruins is still part of the Lowther Estate, owned by the Earl of Lonsdale. Obviously, he doesn’t live here any more, but why is he giving visitors free rein? Why leave the management of the grounds to an independent charity that lets commoners do things like this?
The Lowthers are a very rich family, like, “actually-owned-the-town-of-Whitehaven” kind of rich. Their family tree can be traced right to the time of Henry II (12th century), and from the time of Edward I (1239-1307), each successive head of the family in the medieval times was knighted.
Unlike their political rivals from Hutton Hall, however, the Lowthers allow people to ramble through the thousands of acres that comprise their estate for free (just close the gates and keep dogs on leads so they do not scare the sheep), and they do not hide their dirty laundry. There’s a possibly necrophiliac ancestor. Another one would put Michael Jackson’s shopping habits to shame, and yet another who hated the castle and all it stood for so much that only petitions from the townspeople stopped him from demolishing it.
Now, that’s what I call “layers.”
The restless soul is purported to be the 1st Earl of Lonsdale, Sir James Lowther. And no wonder–this man was bullied as a child and grew up to be known as “Wicked Jimmy”, “The Bad Earl”, “Jemmy Grasp-all, Earl of Toadstools” and according to Alexander Carlyle, “A madman too influential to lock up.”
I guess some people just give off bad vibes. That can’t be helped if just part of your inheritance is worth more than £2 million and you control 9 Parliamentary boroughs in the Northwest (the Lowther “Ninepins”), but you leave an employee like Wordsworth’s dad to die while owing him £5000 in wages.
If this happened today, I’m sure his PR advisers would be able to put some positive spin on this with some photo-ops at an orphanage or making him a patron of some charity that has a mission of saving cats from tall trees. When he fell in love with the daughter of one of his tenants, made her his mistress and kept her in high luxury for the rest of her life, they could’ve been the century’s Wills and Kate. But this was the 1700s, and Britain had an equally loony king in the form of George III. When the earl’s mistress died, he wasn’t given a pamphlet entitled “How to Move On: The Art of Letting Go.” Instead, he went from being “wicked” to just plain “weird.”
He couldn’t accept that she was dead, and his servants weren’t allowed to point out this fact when he kept her body, dressing her himself and propping her on the dinner table and kept her lying in bed until the putrefaction became unbearable. Then she remained in a glass coffin for 7 weeks before finally being buried. No word on what her family thought of this.
Hard to believe he’s not the most (in)famous Earl of Lonsdale. No, that would be Hugh, the 5th Earl. Known as “Lordy” or the “Yellow Earl,” he was a second son who never expected to inherit and so joined the travelling circus. No, really.
When he inherited the earldom, he was like a lottery winner who couldn’t handle the “success.” He had scandalous affairs with actresses like Lillie Langtry, who’d also been mistress to Edward VII. Queen Victoria told the earl he must leave the country until the scandal died down. He went to the Arctic in an expedition so gruelling over 100 guides died, gave the Lonsdale Belt to boxing, built a hot-house to grow the yellow gardenias for his button hole, had the Lowther coat of arms reproduced every day in the stable yard with colored chalk and freshly laid sand, and he also extended the estate (flattening 20 farms in the process). But there was still some money left, so he bought cars.
He founded the Automobile Association , so we can thank him for the indecipherable route finder maps that have caused countless arguments between couples on a road trip. He lived a long life and kept spending without making money, and it makes one wonder. In the words of the band Cake, “How do you afford your rock n’ roll lifestyle?”
The answer, of course, was he couldn’t. He died with millions of pounds in debt which was shouldered by the 7th Earl, a D-Day veteran who was a successful businessman and engineer before he inherited the Lowther estates from his grandfather, the 6th Earl.
Maybe fighting along peasants in the war opened his gorgeous eyes, because when he came home, he made his contempt for the castle known:
“it was a place that exemplified gross imperial decadence during a period of abject poverty”.
He offered the castle as a gift to 3 local authorities but they all turned it down. He would have completely demolished it, but the townspeople petitioned him not to. So he removed the roof and some smaller wings, but left the silhouette intact as a romantic ruins. He didn’t forget the tenants–for some years the front courtyard was used as a pig pen, part of the gardens was used as a chicken farm and the rest were planted with timber. He had a passion for land, and he was an avid conservationist–he led the battle to prevent Ullswater from becoming a reservoir for Manchester and later he became one of the main supporters for preserving the Lake District.
He died in 2006, forever depriving the world of his sexy hotness. If ghosts are real and there is one haunting the castle, it wouldn’t be his. For those interested in numbers, The Sunday Times Rich List stated his net worth was around £80 million, and he is quoted as saying that he anticipated his death would result in a payment of
“somewhere between £3 million and £5 million to the Treasury because it’s high time society had its chunk.”
Well, he won’t get any argument from me on that one.