A Short History of Temple Sowerby House
For several hundred years, Temple Sowerby House belonged to a local
family by the name of Atkinson. Unfortunately, by the 1970’s,
it had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was to be demolished.
Luckily, it was bought by two gentlemen who recognised its potential
and converted the building into the hotel that you see today.
A member of the original Atkinson family discovered that the family
was already settled in Temple Sowerby in the 19th year of Queen
Elizabeth I, 1577. In that year, Thomas Dalston of Acorn Bank the
lord of the manor, granted leases to certain inhabitants of Temple
Sowerby for 999 years. Among these inhabitants were Jane and William
Atkinson, a widow and her son.
Temple Sowerby House was formerly the principal residence within
the village of Temple Sowerby, one of the finest villages in the Eden Valley. The core of the house dates from the
17th and early 18th centuries and was originally a farmhouse, with the elegant front
wing being added in the early 19th century. During this period in
Cumbria, farmhouses were often re-built or enlarged with the old
one kept as a barn or outbuilding.
The Atkinson family created Temple Sowerby House to rival the existing ‘great
house’ at Acorn Bank, which was the local manor house at the
time. They built most of the present house in the 1720’s, the
year 1727 being carved into one of the sandstone door lintels.
The family were yeoman farmers, that is, they owned their house
and land, in the Eden Valley, and had become so wealthy through the local tanning industry
that by the early 1800’s they owned sugar plantations in the
West Indies too. This was often a lucrative investment for Cumbrians
who would trade through the flourishing West coast port of Whitehaven.
This trade implied by definition, the ownership and procurement of
slaves, an activity which, at the time, was perfectly normal and
Two members of the Atkinson family presented silver plate to the
church. In 1843 Mr George Clayton Atkinson gave a silver cup, which
had been made in London around 1771 and in 1888, a flagon, given
by Mrs Elizabeth Catherine Atkinson in memory of her sister. Elizabeth
was the wife of Richard Atkinson, late of Jamaica, who died in 1876
whilst she died in 1898.
Elizabeth, a widow by this time, is detailed as the head of the
household and landowner in the 1881 Census, having been born in Jamaica
in 1828. Also detailed are her daughters: Catherine aged 21, Marian
aged 19 both born in Temple Sowerby and Elizabeth aged 30 who was
born in Jamaica. Listed also is Elizabeth’s husband Christopher,
a JP and Barrister, and the servants comprising of a cook, parlour
maid, housemaid and kitchen maid.
There is also in existence, a fascinating Recipe or Receipt Book,
started on 8th January 1806 by Bridget Atkinson for her daughter
Dorothy Clayton. The book contains details of how to collar Eels,
Roast a Tench, Roast a Green Goose, make a sauce for Larks, prepare
a diet drink to sweeten the blood, a remedy for shortness of breath
and how to cure the bite of a mad dog!
Bridget (1730 – 1811) was married to George Atkinson Esq,
(1730 – 1781) Receiver General for Cumberland and Westmorland
and had 9 children. Dorothy married Nathaniel Clayton and died in
The areas of the house covering the bar, restaurant, private dining
room and our own private wing, date back to the early 1720’s.
The rest of the main building is Georgian and dates back to the 1820’s.
It is believed that the Coach House is of even earlier construction,
perhaps dating back to the 1500’s.
A Short History of the Village
The village of Sowerby (meaning land hard to drain and therefore
sour) became ‘Temple’ Sowerby when the Knights Templar,
a religious and military order established to protect the Jerusalem
Temple and it’s pilgrims, came into possession of the manor,
now known as Acorn Bank, sometime before 1228. The Templars were
suppressed by Pope Clement V and Philip IV of France under charges
of heresy in 1312 and in 1323 their estates including the Manor of
Sowerby, were given to the Knights Hospitallers, an organisation
still active throughout the world today. The Knights Hospitallers
remained until 1545 when Henry VIII gave the manor to a local family.
Temple Sowerby was known as the “neatest and best built village
in the county” and the “Queen of Westmorland Villages”,
and even today its elegant 18th and 19th Century buildings create
a special atmosphere, reflecting the past gentility and affluence
of the village. The village stands on the A66, which follows the
route of a major Roman road, a reminder of which - a Roman milestone
- stands on it’s original site, half a mile South East of the
village. Being halfway between Penrith and Appleby made it a strategic location.
There was a Roman Camp at Kirkby Thore, the stone for which was
obtained from the quarries on the Crowdundle Beck, which flows through
Temple Sowerby. The camp and its vicinity have at various times yielded
great finds, for example, an alter was found in 1739 dedicated to
the Egyptian Goddess Serapis and another to Belatucader, a local
North country god. Other sculptured stones prove that the Mithraic
cult had its votaries here.
In 1838 a mail coach overturned on the bridge over the Troutbeck
at Kirkby Thore, requiring it to be re-built. On removing the foundations
of the old structure, a compact mass of concrete was found, embedded
in which were coins, idols, amulets, rings, brooches and other ornaments
in surprising numbers. The coins covered the period from Vespasian
to Alexander Serverus, a period of about 150 years and included interesting
middle-brass Britannias of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. The bulk of
this find was distributed between local landowners of which, Miss
Atkinson of Temple Sowerby was one. Sir George Musgrave also benefited
but gave his share to the British Museum. It is not known what became
of Miss Atkinson’s share.
A few buildings, originally rubble built and thatched, date from
the mid-16th Century along with the bridge over the River Eden to
the North West. The bridge has been re-built several times including
in 1575 by the Gentry of Westmorland and by the County in 1748 (at
a cost of £550) and again in 1822 due to flood damage.
The North Westmorland Window Tax of 1777 shows that 36 houses in
Temple Sowerby were subject to the tax, used as a means of assessing
which households were liable to pay church & poor rates. The
tax was introduced in 1696 and repealed in 1851.
According to Church records, the number of people living in Temple
Sowerby grew from 299 in 1801 to 328 in 1811 and to 371 in 1821.
Today the number is about 300.
During the late 18th Century, local industries throve as the village
was a stop on the well maintained Penrith to Darlington turnpike
road, which was also the main local route to London. Stabling for
horses would be provided in buildings such as those by the King’s
Arms, which was probably established by 1650. The turnpike – run
by it’s ‘Turnpike Trust’ a committee of local gentlemen – resulted
in the growth of the village as a trading centre, with cattle and
sheep being brought by road to the four large annual fairs, including the Appleby Fair, still going to this day. These
colourful events continued until the railways reached the district
in the 1860’s with the station at Temple Sowerby being at Skygarth.
The improved communications provided by the turnpike brought other
gentry to the village, and several fine houses, gentlemen’s
seats and three inns were built, which also provided considerable
employment. The tanning trade flourished as a result of the cattle
fairs; local building stone quarries were another source of employment;
and from 1880, others were engaged in gypsum quarrying, an activity
still carried out locally by the British Gypsum works at Kirkby Thore.
The fairs, the road and the railway made Temple Sowerby a major
and affluent local centre. A Doctor, Tailor, Joiner, Masons, Smiths,
Cartwright, Cabinet-Maker, Clog-Maker, Shirt-Maker, Saddler and Dentist
all flourished, while spiritual needs were provided for by the handsome
Church of St James and the Wesleyan Chapel. Wesley himself is said
to have preached from a boulder by the Chapel door when he visited
Temple Sowerby in the 1780’s.
He was not very tall and the boulder now stands on the Maypole Green,
opposite the hotel and close by the old Methodist Chapel.
The church itself was extant in 1338 and rebuilt in 1770 using local
sandstone and again during 1875 to 1877, although retaining the 1770
tower and the numerous box-tombs in the churchyard, considered status
symbols at the time.
The Maypole, on the main road in front of Maypole Terrace, opposite
the hotel, occupies an ancient site of village festivities. Tradition
tells of a lying competition held on 1st May, when the man who told
the tallest story was awarded a grindstone to keep his wits sharp!
A Bishop who came to condemn this deplorable ceremony, maintained
that he never told a lie in his life, and was promptly awarded first
One of the first speeding fines in the country was imposed on the
road between Temple Sowerby and Penrith. The 3rd Marquess of Ailsa
was charged with breaking the speed limit of 20 miles per hour by
driving at 31mph. He defended himself against the charge by claiming
that, as he had to increase his speed to get uphill at the time,
he might well have exceeded the speed limit slightly but not as much
as the police claimed. He was fined £2 and costs.
The most recent development in the village is the opening of the A66 Temple Sowerby by-pass which took place on 18th October 2007. Temple Sowerby can once again be acknowledged as 'the Queen of Westmorland Villages' and the hotel, set in the heart of this lovely conservation village benefits from this truly peaceful setting in the heart of the Eden Valley.
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