Lawson Park’s second custodian - by way of the King’s Commissioners at the Dissolution of the Monasteries – was the Sandys family, a still-significant landowner in the Furness area.
However, in 1670 Thomas Sandys gifted the farm to the Parish of Satterthwaite and their lengthy ownership continued until the late 19th century.
Throughout this time the farm was operated under a series of farm tenancies, including to one Isaac Wilson in 1846, for the annual rent of £134. Details of the estate’s fields, the landlord’s many rule and requirements, and fascinating references to the methods of land maintenance can be seen in the formal lease document:
Namely the dwelling house, the farm, the stable, peat house, and all the buildings. Several closes, enclosures and parcels of land by the names of Low field, Middle field, High Field, Near Grazing, Far Grazing, Round field, Crab tree field, New field, Paddock, Corn Close, Snell Field, Bean Paddock, Meadow head Paddock, Gill Croft and The Park, containing in total around 120 acres.
The tenant could not plough or break up more ley land other than New Field during 1849/50 and those fields under plough, by law, had to be laid down according to the former agreement made in 1846. The landlord and the tenant each had 20 bushels of lime which was to be spread on the part of the farm most requiring it.
Given the scarcity of any remaining trees and boundaries at the site now, these are especially evocative words. It is likely that the outbuildings and barns at Lawson Park were added piecemeal from the 17th century onwards, as finances and manpower allowed.
Agriculture remained the most important single industry in Cumbria throughout the mid 19th century, with well over 20% of the employed population earning its living in agriculture compared with the national average of 9%. Extensive arable farming gradually gave way to a concentration on dairying, beef or wool. These specialisations required less physical toil engendered by jobs like sowing, ploughing, turnip-lifting, harvesting and carting and the hill farmer enjoyed some advantages at this time – for he could use family labour, his rents were often modest and his outgoings for feeding stock were low.
However, the hill farmers who survived often did so by accepting very low standards of living and farming practice. From 1870 there was a decline in upland subsistence faming, seen in many abandoned high level farms, a decrease in the number of cattle kept on many parts of the hill, their replacement by yet more sheep, and a decline in available labour due to the amalgamation of estates and holdings. Amongst the many irreversible and significant side-effects of this change, still perceptible today, is the great increase in the spread of bracken, a invasive fern species which thrives in neglected upland terrain.
...scarcely larger than an average Park Lane dining roomRuskin’s influence at Lawson Park (1871 – 1900)
The eminent Victorian polymath John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) bought Brantwood, a then-modest cottage below Lawson Park, in 1871. Lawson Park, which he eventually also purchased in 1897 for £5000, features often in Ruskin diaries, with descriptions of schemes that he instituted here. Ruskin’s general approach to local life included the introduction of new ideas and enterprise, not always successfully, and he was often suprisingly ‘hands-on’ for someone considered predominantly as an academic. The diaries detail cranberry-planting outings, terracing and fruit-planting on the often inhospitable terrain between Brantwood and Lawson Park. Ruskin’s impact was a far-reaching marriage of contemporary thinking with traditional local resources, bringing new ‘industries’ to the area (including wood-carving and lace-making) and publishing his ideas about rural development very widely.
In April 1883 Lawson Park became the home of the Wilkinsons.
January 1st 1884 – Ruskin describes a day on the moors with WG Collingwood and his wife, meeting the shepherd Mr Wilkinson of Lawson Park. His diaries explain the relationship he had with these local tenant farmers. He appears to have given them money during the Christmas season to offset the various unlucky losses which the Wilkinsons had suffered:
Letters of Ruskin Vol 34: Ruskiniana
My good neighbours, the Watkinsons, of Lawson Park, have been put to great distress since they came here on the 7th of April last year, with goodwill to work, all of them, husband and wife, elder son and little daughter, but little more than their own hands and goodwill to trust to, and they have had a run of ill-luck since, besides the sorrow of losing their younger boy, a child of six, by the blow of a scythe. On the 17th day of July they lost a cow, for which they had given £20; then a calf, which they had reared; then the first of the great storms blew their range roof off, and scattered irrevocably or destroyed all their hay, forty three carts, all but a cart full. I partly reimbursed them them for their loss myself, enabling them to buy another cow, and the horse they now have, but this horse is now taken ill, just when they needed him(the shoulder and limb affected by abscess) and I believe myself quite justified by the worth and the good courage of the family in asking now for some further help for them so as to enable them to get another horse, and hire a farm labourer for the work which the son is scarce strong enough for. John Ruskin
Many related documents and artefacts can be seen at Coniston’s Ruskin Museum.
Ruskin conceived the still-extant trust, the Guild of St George, in 1871, as a means of transforming the declining state of Britain into his Utopian fantasy.
We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful. We will have no steam engines upon it, and no railroads; we will have no untended or unthought-of creatures on it; none wretched but the sick; none idle, but the dead.
Many of the founding principles and ideas for the Guild were drawn from Ruskin’s initial experiences and experiments within the Coniston valley.
In the neighbourhood of my own village of Coniston here are many tracts of mountain ground at present waste, yet accessible by good roads, and on which I believe the farmers and landlords would gladly see some labour spent to advantage.
This autumn, therefore, I have begun on my own ground, the kind of work which it had been my own chief purpose for the last twenty years so to initiate. I have attacked only the plots of rank marsh grass which uselessly occupy the pieces of irregular level at the banks of the minor rivulets; and the ledges of rock that have no drainage outlet. The useless marsh grass, and the soil beneath it, I have literally turned upside down by steady spade labour, stripping the rock surfaces absolutely bare(though under accumulations of soil often five or six foot deep) passing the whole of this loose soil well under the spade; cutting outlets for the standing water beneath, as the completely seen confrmation of the rock directed me, and then terracing the ledges, where necessary, to receive the returned ground.
I am thus carrying step by step down the hill a series of little garden grounds, of which, judging by the extreme fruitfulness of the piece of the same slope already made the main garden of Brantwood, a season or two will show the value to my former neighbours, and very sufficiently explain the future function of St George’s Guild, in British mountain ground of ordinary character.’
From Letters of Ruskin Vol II (1879)
To Miss Susan Beever, 5th May 1879
The whole household was out after breakfast to-day to the top of the moor to plant cranberries; and we squeezed and splashed and spluttered in the boggiest places the sunshine had left, till we found places squashy and squeezy enough to please the most particular and coolest of cranberry minds; and there, each of us choosing a little special bed of bog, the tufts were deeply put in , with every manner of tacit benediction, such as might befit a bog and a berry, and many an expressed thanksgiving to Susie and the kind sender of the luxuriant plants. I have never had gift from you, dear Susie, more truly interesting and gladdening to me, and many a day I shall climb the moor to see the fate of the plants
The semi natural woodlands that run through Grizedale forest are mainly sessile oak, with birch, alder, hazel, bird, cherry, rowan, elm and rare small-leaved limes. These woods have been used by man since before the twelve century when Norse-speaking people ran their pigs in the woods and called the valley Grizedale (Old Norse griss=pigs).
During the twelfth century the woodland became the property of the monks of Furness who established local woodland industries, and enclosed coppices worked on a 14 year rotation. At the dissolution many of the Grizedale coppices passed to the Sandy’s family. These coppice supplied enough charcoal for three bloomsmithies, and on into the 17th century they continued to contribute to the demand for charcoal from local furnaces, which went on smelting with charcoal until 1921. This local demand for charcoal continuing until quite recent times made the coppices more profitable than any agricultural use of the rocky land, and so they were preserved with their woodland soil and its fauna intact, as an economic asset.
The present state of the deciduous woods in Grizedale results mainly from the end of the local demand for charcoal, when the woods were allowed to grow up. The woods have also been modified to some extent by the planting of new species such as, sycamore, larch and beech, when extensive planting of larch took place in the early nineteenth century. In the 1930’s Grizedale was acquired by The Forestry Commission and despite extensive felling during the second world war, the woods still contain some of the finest mature oaks that are still left in the Furness Fells.
In the late eighteenth century the first commercial planting of European larch began in the Lake District. There is a long and well documented battle over the afforestation of this area, involving many organisations, predominantly The Forestry Commission and the National Trust, who could be viewed as adversaries in this matter.
But more recent reports of both bodies on their Lake District properties show how much they have in common, in care and concern for both Lakeland landscape and their tenant farmers. The two ancient sheep-farms (herdwycks) of Furness Abbey which face to the West on their high ridge above Coniston Water , Lawson Park and Park-a-moor have come to be an example of the two different ways, both good, in which these ancient settlements can be integrated into the Lake District of today: Lawson Park and a significant parcel of surrounding land were purchased by the Forestry Commission in 1947 from Edgar John Woodman of Low Bank Ground, (Coniston), and Park-a-moor was given to the National Trust in 1968.