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 respectable.

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 1827.

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.

Year

Population

1641

140

1671

147

1787

301

1801

299

1811

328

1821

371

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 prize!

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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