The Local Government (England and Wales) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on the 19 March 1888; received the Royal Assent on 13 August and passed into law on 1 April 1889. The Act provided for each County Council to be divided into electoral divisions, each division to return one councillor, to be elected for a three-year term. The responsibilities of the new County Councils would include the repair of roads and bridges; the levying of rates; the construction and maintenance of public buildings; the licensing of public houses and places of entertainment; authority over lunatic asylums and prisons, and the control and conservation of wild bird populations. They would also be given a mandate for public health, being made responsible for the oversight of measures to contain contagious diseases.
The new Cumberland County Council was to have sixty divisions, reflecting the distribution of the local population. Hardwicke Rawnsley, despite his already heavy workload as parish priest, conservation campaigner, publicist for the Keswick School of Industrial Arts to name just a few of his concerns, seized the opportunity to extend his influence; offering himself as an Independent Liberal candidate for the Keswick Division.
Polling took place on 18 January 1889, and Hardwicke was duly elected with a respectable majority. He was determined that the devolved local government for which directly elected County Councils had been made responsible should really be of benefit, not just to Keswick but to the County as a whole. In the early days at least, he made a point of attending all meetings; of the main Council, as well as of the different committees to which he had been appointed. This self-imposed workload, added to his other commitments, took its toll of his constitution, which had never at the best of times been very robust.
Undeterred, Hardwicke quickly immersed himself in all aspects of the Council's work, putting down motions and amendments on a diversity of topics. In addition to his commitment to the Highways and Bridges Committee, within the first few months he endeavoured to promote reform of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act by calling for better collection of statistics on the incidence of diseases, while supporting the call for reform to the existing legislation, which, he felt, placed an undue burden on the County.
Despite the frenetic activity of his first year as a Councillor, Hardwicke continued as before to run his parish, and still found time for his numerous extra-curricular interests. Lectures were given to different Societies on a variety of topics; he attended an ‘Art for Schools Association’ in Edinburgh, and was an active member of the planning committees for the annual Keswick Agricultural Show and the new Autumn Agricultural Fair, which took place in the town. He made a visit to France in October for the Exposition Universelle in Paris; organised to mark the centenary of the Revolution.
In January and February 1890, Hardwicke suffered a severe bout of influenza, missing several Council meetings as a result. On his resumption of active duties at the Council in May he tabled a motion suggesting that Cumberland needed to appoint a county-wide Medical Officer of Health.
As in the previous year Hardwicke continued to balance Council and non-Council interests. The annual May Day procession in Keswick was organised; an exhibition of the work of the Keswick School of Industrial Arts was arranged; and a visit made to the Home Arts and Industries Exhibition in Birmingham. His involvement with a plethora of local societies such as the St. John Ambulance Association, Cumberland Change Ringers, Keswick Volunteers, Crosthwaite School, and the Derwent Choral Union, amongst others, continued unabated, while at the same time, fund-raising for new premises needed by the Keswick School of Industrial Arts was being got under way. As a trustee of Fitz Park in Keswick, he devoted considerable time and effort to thwarting the attempts of the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway Company to purchase a part of the Park in exchange for another strip of land owned by the Railway. He set up a fund to support the family of Mr. Thomas Irwin, a Keswick resident who had emigrated to the USA a few months earlier and, who a short while afterwards, had been killed in an accident.
On Sunday 30 November 1890, after preaching a sermon at St. Kentigern's, Hardwicke was taken ill, probably with a recurrence of the influenza which had caused him to miss several Council meetings earlier in the year. He remained in bed until the following Thursday, and then, with his usual obduracy and against all advice insisted, although clearly still very unwell, on travelling to London to attend a conference on County Councils and Technical Education. Hardwicke attended three of the conference meetings on the Friday. The following day, Saturday, 6 December, he travelled to Watford to visit a friend, where he took a turn for the worse, and became dangerously ill. His condition deteriorated to the extent that his life was almost despaired of and the following Monday Edith was sent for by telegram.
He remained well below par for several weeks, and in order to assist his recovery, in January 1891 the Rawnsleys joined half a dozen others on a specially chartered vessel for a cruise on the Nile, only returning to England in late April. A month later, Rawnsley was able to resume his Council duties, more than five months after the start of his latest illness. At the first meeting he was well enough to attend, he put down another motion regarding the continuing need to appoint a county-wide Medical Officer of Health and also proposed that a special committee should be formed to investigate the condition of the River Greta, currently severely polluted both by sewage and by the waste from a local mining company's operations.
Another item on the agenda for this May meeting was the election of an Alderman to the vacancy caused by the death of a previous holder of the office. Hardwicke's name was put forward, and he was duly elected. As an Alderman, Rawnsley would not need to seek re-election at the next Council elections, due to take place the following year.
Utilising additional funds provided by central government for technical education, Hardwicke proposed and managed the establishment of a Migratory Day School in the County. Such a School was a project dear to Hardwicke’s heart, since it would facilitate the revival of another traditional rural skill in imminent danger of dying out. The sales of native British butter had been in decline for several years, undercut by the imports of butter from Holland of a consistently better quality than that produced at home. Hardwicke was anxious to reverse this decline in Cumberland, and such a Dairy School would be an excellent start. The peripatetic School, which would run classes in different parts of the County, would have all the latest equipment, and would be staffed by skilled dairymen who would teach students more modern ways of making butter. The School was a great success and continued for many years, only finally being wound up in the 1930s.
On 21 July 1891, Mr. T. Paisley, chairman of the Highways and Bridges Committee announced his resignation. By a unanimous vote Hardwicke was elected to replace him. The work of the Highways and Bridges Committee, which accounted for a significant part of the County Council budget, was always in the spotlight. The Committee was responsible for the upkeep of nearly 500 miles of main roads, more than 200 county bridges, and about 40 miles of minor roads, and supervision of this network involved Hardwicke in a great deal of travel around the County.
A week’s holiday at Seascale on the west coast of Cumberland proving insufficient for him to recover, Hardwicke was ordered by his doctors to seek complete rest abroad. The Rawnsleys accordingly took the train to Switzerland in early May 1892, where they were to remain for nearly two months. During their absence Hardwicke learned that his mother had died in London on 20 May. He wrote a brief note to his brother, Willingham, accompanied as usual by a sonnet. Composing a sonnet rather than writing a letter to express his thoughts had by now become so much an integral part of Hardwicke’s psyche that he no longer felt capable of expressing his deepest feelings in any other way:
I can write in sonnet form what I cannot say in words & will send you this simple verse from my heart of hearts. I desire to be with you & shall come if I get yr telegram saying yes but I know it wd be unwise.1
Alfred Tennyson’s death on 6 October 1892 at Aldworth House, his home in West Sussex, was a major blow. Not only did the family intimacy between the Rawnsleys and Tennysons date back at least two generations, but Hardwicke’s mother, Catherine Franklin, and Tennyson’s wife, Emily Sellwood, were first cousins, and Catherine herself had been a great favourite of the poet. Hardwicke and Edith had visited the Tennysons several times in the 1880s, the last time they met having been at Farringford on the Isle of Wight in the Spring of 1890, two years earlier. Hardwicke had from his earliest youth been steeped in the life and works of the Lincolnshire laureate, whom he greatly revered. Immediately on hearing of Tennyson’s death Edith set to work to design a funeral pall. The pall of hand-woven Ruskin linen was embroidered at the Keswick School of Industrial Arts by Marian Twelves and other workers, with trails of 42 wild English roses, one for each of the years of the poet’s laureateship, enclosing lines from his poem, ‘Crossing the Bar’. The completed pall was taken by the Rawnsleys to Aldworth, where Tennyson’s body was lying.
On the evening of 11 October Hardwicke and Edith accompanied Tennyson’s coffin to Aldworth station for the rail journey to London, and then followed the hearse to Westminster Abbey, where the coffin lay overnight in St. Faith’s Chapel. They attended the funeral the next day and the Laureate’s burial in Poet’s Corner. In his book, Memories of the Tennysons (1900), Hardwicke gives an account of the events of those days. The sonnets on Tennyson’s death, with the sonnets written in 1884 for Alice Fletcher, and other memorial sonnets were published in Valete: Tennyson and other Memorial Poems (1893). The volume was critically well received.
For the next two years, Hardwicke, in addition to his considerable workload as chairman of the Highways Committee, continued to work tirelessly for the welfare of the people of Cumberland. Early in 1893 the residents of Keswick suffered a serious blow when one of the pencil mills went into liquidation, a disaster soon followed by a devastating fire at a local bobbin mill. Hardship and unemployment for many workers were the immediate results of these catastrophes, and Rawnsley naturally did what he could to relieve their immediate distress. He strove to reduce the hardship which had been caused in 1893 to many in the county by the increase in the rates for carriage of goods on the railways, an imposition particularly affecting the farmers, small tradesmen and factory owners. Pollution of the River Greta continued to be a concern. Already overworked, with the burden of extra Committees for the County Council, Hardwicke now found himself with additional demands upon his time. In November 1893 he was appointed 7th Honorary Canon of Carlisle Cathedral, and to add further to his workload, was now actively engaged in preparations for the forthcoming launch of the National Trust, which would take place just over a year later.
Among all these varied commitments, Hardwicke still found time in May 1894 to return to his old home at Halton Holgate to take part in the service to commemorate the re-opening of the chancel, and the dedication of the new organ at St. Andrew’s Church. In October, almost eighteen years since the Thirlmere Defence Association had been set up, he joined W. H Hills at the opening ceremony for the new Thirlmere Reservoir. That same year the Local Government Act 1894 continued the process, begun by the Act of 1888, of devolution of responsibility to local communities. Urban, rural and parish councils were now introduced, with members being elected by their constituents. The setting up of the new boundaries, the organising of elections and the education of the public in the new system added considerably to the responsibilities of County Councillors, with Hardwicke as usual taking his full share of the burden.
The second triennial County Council elections were scheduled for 6 March 1895. As Hardwicke had served six years on the Council both as Councillor and Alderman, he was due automatically to retire and to seek re-election if he wished to continue to serve. Mr. John Marshall, who had been elected Councillor for Keswick in 1892 following Hardwicke's elevation to Alderman, had recently died. It was a fairly general assumption, which Hardwicke would have been justified in sharing, that if he were to stand for re-election to represent Keswick he would be returned unopposed. By late February Hardwicke had announced his intention to stand.
At a meeting in the Keswick Pavilion on 21 February certain individuals decided to test local feeling in support of an alternative candidate, Mr R. D. Marshall, who had previously stood against Hardwicke in the 1889 election. The following evening it was reported that over three hundred signatures had been collected in support of Mr. R. D. Marshall, a result which must have come as a considerable shock to Hardwicke who probably did not realise that anyone serving six years in a public office, particularly a person with such a high profile as himself, would inevitably invite jealousy and opposition from some quarters.
During his election campaign speeches Hardwicke continued to emphasise the efforts he had made on behalf of Keswick, including the experimental station in agriculture, the dairy school, his concern for the prevention of tuberculosis, the successful application for a grant to support the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, the fight on behalf of fishermen on the Greta, the support he had given to the pencil-making and bobbin turning trades, and the funds he had obtained for the creation and maintenance of roads and footpaths in the area. In the end all was in vain. Mr. R. D. Marshall was elected with 525 votes against 400 cast for Hardwicke. The big battalions of commerce had won the day.
However, the energy and devotion that Hardwicke had accorded to his six years of labour and dedication as a Councillor and Alderman did not go entirely unrecognised. A group of supporters wishing publicly to thank him, arranged with Edith, without Hardwicke’s knowledge, to make a presentation to him on the evening of 10 May. Absent in London, he received a telegram from Edith informing him that on his return he was expected to attend an Ambulance meeting at the Crosthwaite Parish Room. It was not until he arrived at the ‘meeting’ that he realised what was going on. On behalf of the subscribers he was presented with a huge embossed silver tea-tray made at the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, a set of linen embroidered doyleys made by Miss Twelves, and an Address illuminated on vellum, bound in olive-green leather, with the signatures of all his well-wishers. He must have felt vindicated at last.
Following the Rawnsleys’ return from Switzerland, they were shocked to learn of the death of Edith's beloved elder brother, Herbert, an enlightened mining engineer, colliery owner and social reformer, who had collapsed and died while out cycling at his Ladyshore Colliery. He was only fifty-three.
As if he had not enough to do, with all his other interests and responsibilities apart from the Cumberland County Council, the 1890s were hectic years for Hardwicke in many other respects. In addition to all his public commitments he published numerous articles, sermons and letters, as well as three volumes of poetry. The first of these, Poems, Ballads and Bucolics (1890), contains ‘sketches from real life in Lincolnshire’, written in the Lincolnshire dialect which had been favoured by Tennyson in some of his own poems set in the county. Valete (1893) and Idylls and Lyrics of the Nile (1894) followed. Two prose works were published: Notes from the Nile (1892) and the two-volume Literary Associations of the English Lakes (1894).
Now that the dust has settled, more than a century later, perhaps it may be possible to arrive at a balanced judgement as to the success or otherwise of Hardwicke’s turbulent six years of involvement with Cumberland County Council. From one point of view, he seems to have been an effective Councillor. His energy, devotion and hard work resulted in many changes for the better in the County. On the other hand, over fifty per cent of the Keswick electors, once they were given the opportunity to vote, decided they no longer wished him to represent them. Perhaps in his enthusiasm he overstepped the mark.
1 Letter from Hardwicke to Willingham Franklin Rawnsley, 21 May 1892, WFR Letterbook 1892-1894, Langney Archive, LA/14/1.
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