A Twopeny Portfolio: #25 Sharrow Bay House, Ullswater

This article considers the final work of twenty-five bought at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2017, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.

The earliest works in the portfolio date from the golden age of drawing and watercolour in the early nineteenth century. Gradually, the contents unfold a story of transition to more modern times. Here we enter into the age of photography.

Unknown photographer
Sharrow Bay House, Ullswater, 4 February 1879
Photograph, albumen print, 6 ¼ x 8 1/8 ins, 159 x 206 mm, with arched top, on backing card, 13 5/8 x 15 11/16 ins, 345 x 399 mm, formerly mounted under a mat 1 3/4 ins top and bottom, and 2 ins each side.
Inscribed in pencil, lower left corner of mount, ‘4th Feby 1879’. On verso some ruled pencil lines, and various additions and calculations, together with scratches and pin holes.

As bought, this was a random photograph amongst a random assortment of drawings. It depicts a large Swiss-style chalet, double-fronted with a terrace overlooking level ground where several figures are gathered. My first thought was that the place had a vaguely Germanic air, and might well have been a holiday souvenir. The date placed it later than almost everything else in the portfolio, and there was not even a photographer’s stamp to provide anywhere to begin.

As the Twopeny family began to emerge from a systematic consideration of the drawings, It occurred to me that the photograph might somehow be associated with them: I wondered whether it could be the Twopeny family seat of Woodstock Park in Kent, but it turned out in part #9 that we had a drawing of that. It was not until we arrived at Edward Maxwell Twopeny’s drawing of Gibraltar in part #21, that we approached the later nineteenth century date of the photograph.

In part#22 we turned to residual material in the portfolio which included a portfolio within the portfolio that belonged to ‘Miss Parkin of Skirsgill’. It turned out that Skirsgill was near Penrith, but, sadly, not the house in the photograph. It transpired, though, that Miss Parkin could be identified as Sarah Margaret Parkin (1796-1849) who had been born at Skirsgill. So the task then became to connect Sarah Parkin with the Twopeny family. It emerged that one of her nieces, Caroline Elizabeth, married into the Twopenys and, indeed was the mother of Edward Maxwell Twopeny. She outlived him and her grandson, and spent her final years at the London home of her younger son, Charles Dynley, who was the last of the Twopenys. She died in 1919, and must have left her Parkin family souvenirs in her son’s custody. He died without issue in 1923, and his property passed to his widow, Gertrude Faux, who lived on at Hythe, Kent until 1954.

Sharrow Bay: Image feed from The Telegraph

Research into the wider Parkin family led eventually to Sharrow Bay, Miss Parkin of Skirsgill had four brothers, and the youngest of these, Anthony Parkin, built Sharrow Bay House on the north-east shore of Lake Ullswater, in 1840. The house survives with little external alteration. In the the later 1940s it became a country house hotel, one of the first of its kind, and its chef brought it to fame by inventing Sticky Toffee Pudding. Sadly it became a Covid casualty in 2020 when its parent company went bankrupt. The Telegraph published an Ode to mourn its passing. Just as I was planning a visit to photograph the subject myself. Hopefully it won’t be long before it reopens. The website is still online.

[Click on image to open website in a new page]

Although most might prefer not to visit in conditions such as those depicted here. The group gathered on what I took to be close-cropped lawns, are in fact standing on ice. The winter of 1878-79 was one of the coldest on record. The mean temperature in the Lake District was sub-zero from December through January and by the beginning of February the ice was solid enough to permit all manner of mischief. On Saturday 8 February 1879, just four days after the photograph was taken, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, reported:


On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Richardson, relieving officer of the West Ward Union, had been to Patterdale on business, and on returning home rode on to the ice sear to Glencoln [Glencoyne, on the west shore]. After proceeding about 400 yards down the lake, the Ice suddenly gave way, and the horse and rider were precipitated into fifty feet of water. Mr. Richardson luckily extricated himself from the saddle, and by the aid of the horse’s neck, made a spring which landed him upon sound ice. He then got hold of the horse’s bridle, by means of which he kept the animal from sinking, meanwhile shouting lustily for help. His cries were heard by three of Mr. Wilkinson’s sons, B. and W. Chapplow, J. Wilson, of Glencoln, and Mr. J. Wood, of Lyulph’s Tower, who hastened to the place. Some ropes were procured and attached to the horse’s neck and foreleg, and he was dragged from his watery stall on to sound ice. For sometime the horse seemed dead, bet eventually was got on to his legs, and was able to walk home. We fancy our worthy friend from the West Ward, the next time he visits Patterdale, will prefer the Queen’s highway to the glassy surface of Lake Ullswater.

(From another correspondent )

ULLSWATER.—This the Queen of Lakes has for some time been locked the embrace of H.R.H King Frost, and large numbers of skaters have taken advantage of the privilege thus afforded for that innocent and healthy exercise. Among the novelties that have been witnessed upon the ice may be mentioned the following: Captain Parkin, of Ravencragg [on the east shore, between Howtown and Sharrow Bay] presented a barrel of ale, which was supplied by Mr. Foster, of Tirril [between Pooley Bridge and Penrith], and carted on to the ice by Messrs. Joseph Thompson and Robert Altham. The gallant captain, accompanied by Mr. William Barrow. of the Sun Hotel, Pooley, drove across the lake from Eusemere [on the east shore, just south of Pooley Bridge to Flosh Gate [on the west shore] and returned, when three hearty cheers were given the adventurers. The Ullswater Foxhounds for once at all events proved the appropriateness of their title by journeying down the ice to the foot of the lake, where the huntsman and whip were refreshed with a draught from the barrel referred to above; and when Abram blew his horn the gallant pack responded with their well-known melodious tones, re-echoing through the woods of Dunmallet, and producing a charming variety of sounds. Mr. Geo. Smith, of Pooley, rode across the lake, as did Mr. William Fawcett, of Waterside House. But the above feats were all to be eclipsed on Wednesday last by Mr. Thomas Richardson. Alter visiting Patterdale he proposed to return by the new route, which has been in use this last fortnight, but only as a footpath. The relieving officer, however, did not leave the old route until he got near to Glencoln, when, with steady nerve, he drew up the reins of his noble steed, and turned him to face the ice, which he took without much ceremony. All went well, with every sign of success; when lo! just as the gallant officer had begun to console himself and feel comfortable by musing upon the grand and daring feat be was about to accomplish, the ice became treacherous and gave way beneath its load. Fortunately the officer cleared himself of his steed by springing upon the ice. Surely fortune favours the brave, as in consequence of Mr. Richardson expressing his intentions to proceed by the ice, there was a party of onlookers, who promptly rendered valuable assistance whereby the gallant officer and his half-drowned steed were once more on terra firma, minus the saddle, which was lost in the lake. While Mr. Richardson acted somewhat imprudently, considering the state of the weather during the last week, he is to be congratulated on his narrow escape. Certainly Wednesday last supplied the most novel scene yet witnessed, by placing our relieving officer in a position requiring relief! The ice is not so strong as it was, but it is not breaking up yet I ought to state that Mr. John Nicholson, of the Post Office, Pooley, has been the first to cross the ice, as well as the first to proceed thereby to Patterdale.

Before looking properly, I thought the party might have been playing croquet on a lawn, but on closer inspection one can see that they are playing golf on the frozen lake. The well-dressed man and woman in the foreground both carry proper clubs, albeit small irons. The paucity of equipment suggests perhaps that the sport was something of a novelty in these parts. Indeed in 1879 golf was still a novelty everywhere but in Scotland. At the time of the photograph there were still only twelve courses in England, and only one in the Lake District area, that at Furness founded in 1872. In the decade following this photograph another forty courses were founded, and in the following twenty years, hundreds more. But in 1879 the possession of golf equipment at all must have been quite radical. Not that they were quite properly equipped. There are only two proper clubs to be seen: The younger men improvise with rough branches and no-one appears to have had a proper ball, so what appears to be an old cricket ball has been pressed into service.

One hundred and forty-two years clouds the view. But the lives, thoughts, hopes, experiences and relationships here recorded never did any more than stare out in the hope that someone might recognise them. There were once eyes that could offer recognition and even care, but any such capacity was always prone to evaporation. Most of it now might never be recovered.

We can, however, answer the gaze of at least one of these figures, for we may be sure that the proprietorial figure on the terrace is the owner and builder of the house, Anthony Parkin. He was the youngest of the five children of Hugh and Sarah Parkin of Skirsgill. Family interests in coalfields at Whitehaven had devolved to him and he invested the proceeds mostly in land on the eastern shore of Ullswater around the house he built at Sharrow Bay in 1840. He is seventy-six in the photograph, and one of the wealthiest men in the region. When he died just over a decade later in 1890 his estate was valued at very nearly half a million pounds.

Yet almost nothing appears to to have been collected about his life. No portrait presents itself, other than his liminal appearance here, and no-one seems ever to undertaken any biographical research. In lieu of some proper work we might gather together here a few memoirs published in the local press.

The Penrith Observer was the first to report his demise on 11 February 1890:

DEATH OF MR. PARKIN, SHARROW BAY.—We regret to announce the death, on Friday, in his 87th year, of Mr. Anthony Parkin, Sharrow Bay. Although the deceased was widely known and respected in the district it was not by reason of any part which he took in public affairs, but rather, perhaps, on account of his wealth and the extent of his landed property, the major portion of the land between Pooley and Martindale belonging to him. Mr. Parkin, who was never married, was until a few months ago, a comparatively hale man, but at last age told upon him, and for some little time he has been under the care of Dr. Robertson of this town. He was a quiet, unostentatious gentleman, a great connoisseur in art, and a liberal-handed friend to those who stood in need of charity, by whom, indeed, his death will be sincerely deplored. He will be interred at Dacre on Thursday.

The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald followed on 15 February 1890:

DEATH OF MR. ANTHONY PARKIN. Mr. Anthony Parkin, of Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, after a long and useful life, went over to the ” majority ” last week, at the ripe old age of 86. The district can ill spare such men as he. He was a man of fine physique, tall and handsome, a typical English gentleman, and urbane in manner to rich and poor alike. Blest with an ample income, he used it largely for the public good, and, in works of improvement on his estates, was a large employer of labour. Much of his wealth accrued from his mining properties in West Cumberland, but his love of rural life led him to invest largely in landed property, and within the last twenty years he had made many Important additions to his real estate. When he set his mind on a purchase, he was difficult to withstand in the auction room, and many can remember the spirited competition some years ago between Mr. Parkin and Mr. Hassell for the Ellerbeck property, which he secured at £20,000, or £100 an acre. He did not much frequent the “busy haunts of men,” but loved his beautiful lake-side dwelling and grounds, where he spent a good deal of his time. Although a Conservative by party ties, he was of too retiring a disposition to be a politician, and took little part in public affairs. His remains were interred in Dacre churchyard on Thursday, but his memory will be green in the hearts of those who knew him best for years to come.

The Penrith Observer gave a full account of the funeral on Tuesday 18 February 1890

FUNERAL OF THE LATE MR. ANTHONY PARKIN. The remains of the late Mr. Anthony Parkin, Sharrow Bay, were laid to rest on Thursday last, in the family vault, in the picturesque churchyard of Dacre. Throughout the morning, which was fine, though cold and wintry, the ancient bells rang out a muffled peal, under the leadership of Mr. Thomas Harrison, clerk of the parish of Dacre for nearly half a century. Though not a parishioner, Mr. Parkin was highly respected by the villagers of Dacre, and every blind was drawn as the mournful cortege passed through the village, and his last resting place was prepared by four old retainers, inhabitants of the village, chief amongst the number being William Grisdale, an old and valued servant of the deceased gentleman. Soon after mid-day the funeral cortege was seen approaching the ancient burial ground, and many were in the churchyard respectfully awaiting the entry of the mournful procession. There were nineteen carriages in the funeral procession. The body was contained in three coffins, the outer one being of oak, with brass mountings. The vicar of the parish (Rev. J. White) and the vicar of Barton (Rev. T. Hodson) met the body at the gates, and the Rev. J. White read the opening sentences of the burial service. The remains of the deceased were carried to the steps of the altar, and from thence the Rev. T. Hodson continued the burial service, the Rev. J. White reading the lesson and pronouncing at the grave the Benediction. Two hymns were sung most feelingly by the choir, one after the lesson and the other after the committal to the ground, and the whole service was most Impressive. The church was quite full, and amongst the number we noticed : Mr. J. E. Hasell, Mr. E. Parker, Rev. E. A. Askew, Rev. H. E. Butler, Rev. T. B. Tylecote, Rev. M. B. Donald, Mr. J. Bush, Mr. W. Longrigg, Mr. W. Huddleston, Mr. W. F. Winn, Dr. Robertson, and others. A large number of wreaths of beautiful flowers covered the coffin, testifying to the respect in which the deceased was held, and which bore the following names :—Mr. W. H. Parkin, Mr. J. H. Parkin, Mr. P. W. Parkin, Mrs. Whiteway, Mr. C. D. Twopenny, Mrs. Hasell, Rev. J. and Mrs. White, Mrs. Wells Hubbard, Mrs. Paxton Parkin, Mr. W. M. Twopenny, Mrs. Mackintosh, Mr. J. H. Cumpston, Mrs. Parkin, Mrs. Biglands, the gardener and servants at Sharrow Bay, Messrs. E. & E. Hodgson. Messrs. N. Arnison & Sons were the undertakers, and, as usual, conducted their duties in a most satisfactory manner. On Sunday, the Rev. J. White, vicar of Dacre, in a sermon on Practical Christianity, based on the words ” Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me “—(Matt. xxv., 40.)–alluded very feelingly to the death of the deceased gentleman, and his numerous good works especially amongst the poor and needy, done without ostentation, and evidently in the spirit of the text, and exhorted all present to copy, however humble they might be, the lives of such of those who have in recent years been laid in the ancient churchyard, remarkable for the gift specified in the epistle for the day, the great gift of charity.

To return to the golfing party; the remainder gaze out unanswered. It is plain that the four to the left must be Sharrow Bay staff. The dapper chap on the landing may be the butler, the stockier, more assertive fellow, the gardener. There are two maids attending on the ice, and two younger men.

The main group is flanked by a gentleman and a lady. Given the family connections, it is tempting to wonder whether that might be some visiting representatives of the Twopeny family. Given the apparent ages; the gentleman in the top hat is perhaps in his forties, the lady a little younger, who might be the young men between them? Their positioning seems to suggest that they might be children of the flanking couple. The younger one seems to wear a Scottish bonnet, which might account for the interest in golf.

We might at last consider how this photograph came to find itself in the Twopeny portfolio. We have previously established that the direct connection between the Parkins and the Twopenys was Anthony Parkin’s niece, Caroline Elizabeth, who married Rev E Twopeny in 1857. It is striking from the list of floral tributes sent to Anthony Parkin’s funeral how respectful remained the relations between the Parkins and Twopenys.

Caroline Elizabeth was also a substantial beneficiary of Anthony Parkin’s will, being left £20,000 in trust to her and her children. Given her pivotal role, is it not possible that the occasion is a visit of Caroline and family to Sharrow Bay? The gentleman would thus be Revd Edward Twopeny. He would have been fifty-two at the date of the photograph. Caroline Elizabeth is at the right, then aged forty-four, and between them would be the younger son Charles Dynely, then aged eleven and the elder, Edward Maxwell, then aged nineteen.

That seems a splendid speculation with which to conclude this Twopeny tour. One day, perhaps, some document might turn up to confirm the Twopeny and Parkin identifications here. How valuable a coin might that be?

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