Cumbria’s Great Houses Encourage A Search Of Surnames’ Connections

30th July 2017News
Interior at Dalemain Mansion near Penrith

Following on from the Lake District gaining World Heritage Site status, a cluster group of dynamic great houses, heritage attractions and museums –  Cumbria’s Living Heritage –  is inviting people to discover whether they could have heritage links to some of Cumbria’s great houses and their past and present residents.

Cumbria’s Living Heritage (  is encouraging a dabble into genealogy by teasing people through the surnames linked to some of its greatest assets.  It wants them to ‘do a Danny Dyer’, get in their car, and arrive at the doorstep of properties and places that may be ‘in the family’.

Mancunians named Holt and Brooks need to sit up and take notice.  These were the surnames of the couple who had the stunning Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House built as a bolthole away from their life of brewing in Manchester. Indeed, Manchester’s Holts Brewery still creates great brews today.  One view of Windermere from the windows or terrace of Blackwell, or a stroll around this amazing Baillie Scott ‘Arts and Crafts property, explains why the Manchester family loved it so much.

Similarly, Mancunians may wish to get on the trail of the Gaddums who purchased the site of Brockhole – the Lake District Visitor Centre – in 1896.  William Gaddum was a silk merchant, while his wife, Edith Potter, was a cousin of Beatrix Potter, who visited frequently.  Whilst we know Edith was the daughter of Mancunians Walter Potter and Elizabeth Leech, William’s grandmother’s surname is shrouded in mystery, as her baptism record at Manchester Cathedral lists her only as ‘Sophia’.

Cumbria’s Living Heritage has plenty of other surnames to tempt.  If you are a Pennington or a Muncaster, you could have links to Muncaster Castle in the Western Lake District, where the family tree can be traced back to the 12th century.  A Pennington was on the first boat to America, helping to found the first successful English colony, Jamestown, in 1607. There are now many thousands of Penningtons all over the world.

Any Ramsdens from Yorkshire should also take an interest, as in 1917 the last Lord Muncaster died and the castle passed to his first cousin, Sir John F Ramsden (whose ancestors had built most of Huddersfield) on condition that his son would change his name to Pennington.  Sir John took seeds from his other great property, Bulstrode at Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire, to plant the rhododendrons that help make Muncaster’s gardens so breathtaking.

If you are a Skelton, it may also be worth visiting Muncaster, as it was once home to Tom Skelton, a shady and complex character who was the Castle’s ‘Fool’ and who is thought to be the original ‘Tom Fool’. A visit to Muncaster will tell you all about him, particularly as his ghost is said to haunt Muncaster.

Dalemain, near Penrith, home of the World Marmalade Festival and charming great house, is a place to which Laytons, Hasells and McCoshes should head.  Sir Edward Hasell was steward to Lady Anne Clifford, whose mother was a favourite of Elizabeth I.  When Lady Anne left him a large bequest in her will, he purchased Dalemain from the Layton family – minor knights.

There is a Cambridge connection here, as Sir Edward was born at Bottisham in Cambridgeshire. He married twice – to a Fetherstonhaugh and a Williams. His aunt and uncle had the charming surname of Rainbow.

Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum should be a magnet for not just Wordsworths, but Cooksons, Hutchinsons and Crackenthorps.  William Wordsworth’s grandfather moved to Westmoreland from Peniston in Yorkshire, keeping the cross-Pennines links of interest to genealogy seekers.

Swarthmoor Hall, the cradle of Quakerism, became the base for the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox, between 1652 and 1691, but it was actually owned by Thomas and Margaret Fell (nee Askew). When Thomas died, George married Margaret, living in the 16th century property which is set in 130 acres that today boast a ‘Living Quilt’.  If you are an Abraham, you may also have a link as Emma Clarke Abraham, a descendant of Margaret Fell, bought Swarthmoor in 1912.

Of course, genealogy can throw up many links and such is the case when looking at the families associated with Askham Hall –  a heritage hotel and wedding venue bought by the Lowther family 200 years ago. The earliest known Lowther dates back to 1150 and many family names are connected to the Lowthers, whose family tree boasts, ‘William the Good’, ‘The Yellow Earl’ and ‘Wicked Jimmy’.  For instance, Sir Richard Lowther (1532 to 1607), was married to Frances Middleton, daughter of Anne Tunstall.

Askham was originally an Elizabethan mansion, converted in the 16th century by Thomas Sandford, High Sheriff of Cumberland.  He was the father of Dorothy, who married into the Bellingham family, which rebuilt another Cumbria’s Living Heritage member property, Levens Hall near Kendal.  There, genealogy seekers can find out more about the Bellinghams in the Bellingham Buttery, where they can also enjoy a tipple of Levens’ own special brew Morocco Ale, the recipe of which was so precious that it was buried in Levens’ gardens during the English Civil War.

If you get on the trail of your family surnames this summer, who knows what associations you may have with some of Britain’s finest heritage gems.  The treasure may not be a huge financial legacy, but will most certainly lie in the voyage of discovery you take when exploring the past of Cumbria’s Living Heritage’s great houses.  To assist you and help you see all the quirkiest things on offer, you can even download your own Heritage Past-Port at, whether you are a Hasell, Gaddum, Potter or incandescent Rainbow.

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