Canon Rawnsley

Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley


Canon Rawnsley

Hardwicke Rawnsley was born on 29 September 1851 near Henley, one of a family of 10 children. When he was young, he wanted to be an Arctic explorer.
He was influenced by the poems of Tennyson which were read in the family – Tennyson’s guardian was Hardwicke’s grandfather.
He went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was a keen athlete and oarsman. Here he met John Ruskin who was to remain a lifelong friend.

In December 1877 Hardwicke Rawnsley moved from East Anglia, where his father was a vicar, to become vicar of Wray Church near Ambleside, built at the same time as Wray Castle. In January 1878, he married Edith Fletcher of Ambleside, and a year later they had their only child, Noel.
He involved himself in local campaigns to protect the countryside, and formed the Lake District Defence Society (later to become The Friends of the Lake District), which had amongst its members Tennyson, Browning, Ruskin and the Duke of Westminster.
In 1882 when Beatrix Potter was 16 her parents brought her to Wray Castle for a holiday. Her parents entertained many eminent guests, including Hardwicke Rawnsley. His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding the holiday home. He was the first published author she met, and he took a great interest in her drawings, later encouraging her to publish her first book, ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, which eventually Frederick Warne published in 1902. A version of ‘Peter Rabbit’ with pictures by Beatrix Potter, and verse by Rawnsley, is available at ‘The Armitt’ in Ambleside.
In 1883 after five years at Wray, he was moved to St Kentigern’s Church, Crosthwaite, just outside Keswick. In 1884 he and his wife began classes for metalwork and wood carving, which resulted in their forming the School of Industrial Art in Keswick, which lasted until 1986. He helped form the Newton Rigg Farm School at Penrith, the Westmorland Nursing Association, and supported the founding of Keswick High School. In 1909 he bought Greta Hall, once home to Coleridge and Southey, which he then rented to Keswick School.
He became an Honorary Canon of Carlisle Cathedral in 1891, and Chaplain to the King in 1912. In 1896 he went to Moscow for the coronation of the Czar. Also in 1896 he erected a memorial to Wordsworth in Harris Park, Cockermouth, a fountain with a graceful bronze figure of a child.
He was a champion of the Lakes, always ready to battle or bully a committee, challenging and defying the builders of bungalows and railways. He crusaded hotly for the formation of a National Trust to buy and preserve places of natural beauty and historic interest for the nation – an ambition he achieved in 1895, together with Miss Octavia Hill, a social reformer, and Sir Robert Hunter, a lawyer. Beatrix Potter’s father Rupert was their first life member. For 26 years, until his death, he worked unceasingly as Honorary Secretary to the Trust. He was responsible for a campaign to raise money to buy Brandlehow Wood, the National Trust’s first purchase.
He was one of the most prolific writers of sonnets in the history of literature, some 30000, as well as writing many books on the Lake District. He wrote a biography of John Ruskin. He published his poems and sent them to newspapers, always regarding them as an agreeable way of saying whatever he wanted to say. He was a keen amateur naturalist, an antiquarian, an ardent traveller, and a campaigner against objectionable postcards.
In 1900 mainly due to the efforts of Canon Rawnsley, a memorial was erected to John Ruskin at Friars Crag, and in 1913 he and others bought Castlerigg Stone Circle, which is now owned by the National Trust.
After 34 years at Crosthwaite he retired in 1917 to Grasmere, where he had bought Allan Bank, in 1915, the house in which Wordsworth had lived for three years. He died there in 1920, and is buried at Crosthwaite. He left Allan Bank to the National Trust.
It was through the efforts of Canon Rawnsley, and his creation of the National Trust, that much of Borrowdale was preserved from development. On his death Friars Crag, together with Lords Island and Calf Close Bay were given to the National Trust as his memorial. A plaque to his memory is set into a wall beside the Friars Crag Path.
No-one has achieved more for the lake District in the last 200 years than Canon Rawnsley. A small booklet is available in Crosthwaite church giving more detail about the life of Rawnsley and the things he campaigned for.

Principle Places to Visit:

Allan Bank Grasmere
Armitt Museum and Library Ambleside
Wray Castle Ambleside
Friars Crag Keswick
St Kentigern’s Church Crosthwaite, Keswick

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