Walmgate Head House
It was a bright cold Tuesday morning in February the 19th 1895, about a mile up the valley from Bampton village, and a five minute walk from the lake at Haweswater, Mr. C. Wilson and his family who were from Manchester, were just rising from a peaceful nights sleep at Walmgate Head..
The house was a fine example of Victorian craftsmanship with many large rooms, some containing fine oak panelling and furniture of costly character, in the great hall were three magnificent carved oak sideboards with matching tables and chairs and a good deal of fine paintings.
Mr. Wilson only occupied the house for about three months in any given year from around June to September, leaving it for the rest of the year in the capable hands of a life long friend, and servant, Mrs Dinah Martindale.
On the Monday morning the day before Mr. Wilson noticed that Dinah was not looking as well as usual, somewhat feeble in her appearance, so he asked for her daughter-in-law to call in and make sure she was feeling all right.
The following day Dinah seemed to be in much better fettle, and with this news, soon after nine in the morning Mr. Wilson left for the day on business.
At around seven-o-clock the same evening a young man called Jonathon Dargue, who was then living with his parents who farmed at Thornthwaite Hall was walking back home from a days walling alongside the Haweswater beck.
As he approached the gateway to Thornthwaite Hall, which stands almost directly opposite the kitchen window, then the outer walls of Walmgate sat right up to the road side.
He noticed Mrs. Martindale her arms outstretched peacefully warming herself by the kitchen fire, normally he wouldn’t be able to see through the window, because the kitchen shutters by this time of an evening would be closed. For the night, anyway things seemed normal, and so as not to disturb her he walked quietly past.
Looking back over his shoulder, he also noticed a candle light coming from her living quarters and guessed she was about to retire for the evening, and walked off home for his supper, what happened between now and 8-30, no one really knows.
At 8-30 the same evening, Mr. Joseph Noble, a farmer residing at Littlewater and returning from Bampton, noticed a glare in the distant sky, just like that seen in the skies on November the fifth, which looked to be coming from the direction of Thornthwaite Mill.
Knowing it was a building on fire, he hurried back to his father’s residence at Eastward and got the assistance of his brothers and two other men, they soon donned their boots and were out and running in less than two minutes.
They all rushed off in the direction of the mill, but when they rounded the corner opposite Bull Cop field, they soon realised it was not the mill, but the large house at Walmgate head that was ablaze, it did not take long for them to valuate that any efforts in tackling the fire now, would be all but fruitless.
As they approached the building the main roof timbers on the older part of the house crashed in over and huge flames rose hundreds of feet into the night sky.
Mr Noble went down to Thornthwaite hall to get help there, shortly after the brothers heard cries coming from the barn, which they knew to hold around ten of their prised animals and the winters supply of hay and straw, and quickly made their release, the animals were found to be in good shape, even after being in such warm surroundings.
One brother entered the lower part of the house by smashing in a side window, only to find his way cut off by the flames, there was no way into the kitchen area where Mrs Martindale was seen earlier, once they had found a way inside, they witnessed the main hall and staircase ablaze, time was off the essence because their only route to the upper apartments would be cut off for good.
Then one man risking his life, ran up the burning staircase and quickly reached the living quarters, were Mrs Martindale was thought to be, only to be beaten back by a blast of heat and flames as he opened the door, he had a good look through the flames but could not see anyone in there, as this was taking place, Mr Wilson arrived and heard about the plight of Mrs Martindale, so he shouted for the man to come down immediately, for he did not want to loose anyone else to the fire.
As the search downstairs gathered pace they managed to remove a number of items, which included the grand piano, three tables and a prised mahogany table and many small items by throwing them out through the windows.
By now news of the fire had reached the village, Rev G.E. F. Day rang the church bell to attract others attention,
and soon there were hundreds of people watching the fire ripping through the house, no real attempt was made at tackling the fire, because all the streams and water troughs were frozen solid, no hoses could be found , and the only water tender was five miles away in Shap, and by midnight the fire had about burnt itself out.
In a note read later, a local cabinet maker said, all the main bedrooms in the new section of the house were panelled out with the finest south American redwood, this timber contains a high resin content, which contributed to the fires speedy route throughout this area of the building.
A visit to the site the next day gave a sad sight, only the huge walls were left standing, not one particle of wood was left, only tiny fragments of the porch section were visible.
Amongst the debris were twisted and bent brass bedsteads, the remains of several prised long case clock movements, lots of glass and porcelain pieces, melted and smashed beyond all recognition.
A few smaller inexpensive prints were saved, but the larger more valuable paintings and personal embroideries, all went up in the flames with everything else, a great loss costing well over £700.00 pounds for the value of the house, £300.00 of furniture and £40.00 of hay belonging to Mr Noble.