The mining of slate and minerals was a centuries-old industry in the Lake District. Early railway expansion in the Lakes was mainly to support the mining industry, especially the lines built near the western seaboard. Honister, and neighbouring slate quarries in the centre of the Lake District, however, were about 15 miles from the western seaboard and packhorse transport of the slate was time-consuming and labour-intensive. When Braithwaite station opened on the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith line in 1865, this opened up the possibility of an alternative route which would cut the journey distance in half.
The mineral rights at Honister were owned by Lord Leconfield, and in March 1880 the Leconfield Estates leased both Yew Crag and Honister quarries to a consortium of industrialists. The commercial terms of the lease were confidential and only a handful of people knew the rental of £500 per year was fixed for two years only. After this time it would increase to £2,000 per year unless a railway was built by the lessees from the quarries to connect them with a public railway
In effect, a Parliamentary Bill approving the building of a railway line to connect with the public railway network had to be passed before the end of March 1883, otherwise the quarry lessees would suffer financially. The Braithwaite and Buttermere Railway Bill came before the Examiner of Private Bills on 26 January 1883. The proposal was to build a line from Honister Hause running alongside the western shore of Derwentwater through the Borrowdale Valley to Braithwaite. Once Standing orders were complied with the Bill was sent to the next stage in the Parliamentary approval process.
Two of the land owners affected by the railway proposal were Colonel James Fenton Greenall, owner of Lingholm, and Mr H. C. Marshall, owner of a large farm at Seatoller, near Honister Pass. Marshall not only owned land that the railway needed to cross, he also held mineral rights which the mine owners wanted to lease. In addition, the proposed railway route meant the compulsory purchase of two commons, over one of which Marshall owned the right of pasturage.
On hearing that a Bill had been passed by the Examiner of Standing Orders, Colonel Greenall wrote to the London Evening Standard objecting to it. Hardwicke immediately wrote back to the Evening Standard stressing that the proposed railway was not simply a local issue in the Lake District, but one of national interest that concerned everyone in the country. He argued that the railway was not needed and would only advance the profits of a small number of industrialists. He ended with a clarion call to the nation to wake up to the threat that the Lake District, and other areas in the country, were under:
Each year these public grounds of recreation and health are narrowed and invaded by private greed, miscalled enterprise. When will true public spirit awake, and, in the best interests of its age and the generations of busy England yet unborn, protest, and claim the State protection in a matter that concerns the State most nearly?1
The Bill’s proposers claimed that the line would carry people and cattle as well as mineral traffic. Percival Birkett, secretary of the Commons Preservation Society (CPS), thought that the offer to carry people was a ruse and that there was no intention to carry anything other than minerals. Costings submitted by the promoters were also thought to be a great underestimate if passenger traffic was to be supported. Following the example of the earlier Thirlmere campaign, a Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence Committee was organised by Hardwicke and others. They aimed to publicise the campaign as widely as possible and to elicit donations for a fund to fight the Bill in Parliament. With many regional and national newspapers, the CPS, local landowners and the Defence Committee ranged against them, the quarry directors soon realised that they now faced an uphill struggle to get approval for the Bill, especially as they were under severe time constraints.
The Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence publicity and money-raising campaign was orchestrated by a small number of individuals. In addition to Hardwicke, other prime movers were W. H. Hills, a retired bookseller living in Ambleside, and Gordon Somervell, brother of Robert, who was Treasurer. In all their literature and pronouncements they always stressed that they were working alongside the CPS, the latter being a well-known and well-connected protest organisation. Publicity material challenged the railway promoters assertions that the railway was for the public good. They showed that economically the line could not make a profit without further investment, an increase in the amount of slate mined, and the building of spur lines to other quarries. But the primary focus of the case against the railway was the damage that would be done to the scenic beauty of the area and the effect this would have on present and future generations who visited for rest, recreation and solace.
There is no doubt that Hardwicke and his colleagues, along with the CPS, galvanised public support in a short period of time. Not everyone in the Lake District, however, was an opponent of the railway. Some local newspapers came out in support, arguing that the railway would bring in more people and jobs. There were also claims that the voices of the local inhabitants were being drowned out by middle-class aesthetes and other notables in public life, many of whom had no connection with the area other than the occasional visit. The English Lake District Association had many members who were supportive of the railway.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary process continued. Lord Mount-Temple’s motion to reject, or delay the reading of the Bill for six months, was rejected and the Bill was approved at its Second Reading on 5 March by a majority of 46 to 11. Although somewhat dispirited, the Bill’s opponents continued to publicise and bolster their case against it. On 9 April, however, in an unexpected turn of events, the Bill was suddenly withdrawn. Newspaper reports on the withdrawal adduced a multitude of reasons why the promoters had taken this decision. Reasons given included the weight of public opinion; the opposition of prominent local landowners; the strength of the arguments in support of retaining the natural beauty of the Lake District; and the successful efforts of the CPS and the Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence Association in marshalling all these resources.
Not mentioned in most reports, however, was the crucial role played by Mr H. C. Marshall. The Bill’s promoters could not persuade him to give up the Commons that the line needed to cross. Neither would he lease the mineral rights on his land to the quarry owners. The failure to buy off Marshall meant that the promoters had no hope of meeting the deadline to get the Bill approved in order to secure a substantial reduction in the costs of leasing the quarries. It is possible that the Bill might have been rejected in Parliament even if Marshall had agreed to support the railway, but failure to meet the timelines imposed by the 1880 lease agreement meant that it would not be economic to carry on trying to get Parliamentary approval.
The successful campaign to defeat the Braithwaite and Buttermere Railway Bill did much to raise Hardwicke’s profile beyond the Lake District. His letter to the London Evening Standard on 5 February was one of the most impactful ones that he ever wrote. Many people were involved in resisting the Bill and the main reason for its defeat, namely the actions of H. C. Marshall, was not known at the time. Some more recent commentators have pointed out that Hardwicke and his colleagues were lucky:
The Braithwaite and Buttermere Railway was an ideal opponent for conservationists. It would have disturbed the serenity of a district particularly rich in scenic beauty and literary associations, and the only beneficiaries appeared to be a syndicate of quarry owners, probably acting at the behest of Lord Leconfield, who owned the mineral rights. . . . . It was Thirlmere all over again, with two crucial differences: the opposition case had much more general support, with fewer reservations or doubts, and the quarrymen were much weaker opponents than Manchester Corporation.2
This was Hardwicke’s first significant role in a major conservation campaign and it certainly gave him the impetus to throw himself headlong into protecting his beloved Lake District. It might have been H. C. Marshall’s stance that finally killed the Bill, but:
In the longer term, however, the opposition which the ‘Derwentwater and Borrowdale Defence Committee’ put forward against the Braithwaite-Buttermere Railway was a significant step in the recognition for the need of a permanent organisation designed to preserve and protect the Lake District from spoliation.3
- London Evening Standard. 1883, 5 February, p. 2.
- Marshall, J.D and Walton, John K. The Lake Counties from 1830 to the Mid-twentieth Century. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981, p. 213.
- Dowthwaite, Michael. ‘Defenders of Lakeland: The Lake District Defence Society in the Late-nineteenth Century’, p. 52. In Windermere in the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Oliver M. Westall. Lancaster: Centre for North-West Regional Studies, pp. 49-62.