THE CUMBRIAN INSPIRATION FOR LILLIPUT?
THERE is a former inn that overlooks Whitehaven harbour
known by many as Jonathan Swift's house. But the reason for this
association with the creator of Gulliver's Travels is still the
subject of argument among historians.
There is no doubt however that the infant Jonathan Swift was brought
to Whitehaven and the view of the bustling town from the cliffs
above was likely to have lodged in the young child's mind.
Arnold, from Glenageary near Dublin, is the author of a Swift
March of 1999 he wrote: "I recently persuaded the National
Library of Ireland to purchase the rare early 18 century engraving
of Whitehaven, by Richard Parr, done from the Mathias Reid view
and based on one of his paintings.
"I regard Whitehaven as of crucial importance in Swift's
infancy, and the survival of the house at Bowling Green as immensley
important. Its preservation and restoration should be undertaken,
and I believe that, internationally, there are organisations and
possibly individuals who would help in this.'' "Swift was
born in Dublin in 1667. The members of his extended Swift family
were involved in the legal profesion, which then centered its
activities around Christ Church Cathedral. The Law Courts were
beside the cathedral.
The following background notes give some guidance...
Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745)
by Charles A. Read
Originally published in The Cabinet of Irish Literature,
"In the spring of 1667 Jonathan Swift, full cousin to the poet
Dryden, and steward to the Society of King's Inns, Dublin, died in
poor circumstances leaving a widow. Seven months later, on the
30th of November, in a little house in Hoey's Court the poor
widow gave birth to a son who was named Jonathan after his dead
father, and whose life, began thus miserably, was fated to be one
constant round of warfare and suffering, of defeat in victory and
of disappointment in success. Born with a spririt fitting him to
rule, the greatest satirist of England felt in the very first
years of his life the cold hand of poverty pressing him to the
earth and branding him a slave.
"From his earliest days there seemed to be something in Swift's
life different from other men. His father had been buried at the
expense of the society he served; his mother and himself were kept
in existence by the scanty, and we believe necessarily scanty,
bounty of his uncle Godwin. Still, it seems he had a nurse, and
this nurse like other women in after days became so attached to
him that when she was called away to England to the death-bed of
a relative she carried him with her clandestinely. After she was
found the mother refused to insist on taking the child from her,
fearing that because he was delicate he might not be able to stand
the fatigue of a voyage from Whitehaven to Ireland. So in
Whitehaven Swift remained three or four years, and there learned
to read the Bible with ease.
"When he was about five years of age his nurse carried him to
Ireland again, where alas! there was now no kind mother to
receive him, she having gone to live with a relative at Leicester
in England. The little waif was taken into the family of his
uncle Godwin, by whom he was sent to Kilkenny school when he
reached six years of age, and there he remained for about eight
years. According to Sir Walter Scott, his name, cut in school-
boy fashion upon his desk for form, is still shown to strangers.
There he learned to celebrate his birthdays by reading from Job
the fierce passage in which that patriarch curses the day in
which it was said in his father's house "that a man-child was
born," and there, no doubt he suffered many an indignity from
the poverty-stricken state in which he was maintained by an uncle
who seemed (but in reality was not), rich. "
Recently... The argument
over the future of "Jonathan Swift House" is continuing
as its owner is threatening demolition if badly needed repairs
are not undertaken. But Copeland Council says that the owner of
Jonathan Swift House has failed to present proposals invited in
February. Edward Caley-Knowles, who lives at the house in Prospect,
Kells, claims that flooding from council land has caused the damage
to his house for the past nine and a half years. And now, literary
editor of the Irish Independent and author of a Swift biography,
Bruce Arnold, has written to the council asking for action to
be taken to prevent further deterioration. It is reputed that
author of Gullivers Travels, Jonathan Swift, lived in the
house, between 1668 and 1671, when he was between the ages one
to four. But Mr Knowles even goes so far as to claim that because
of doubts surrounding the authors birthplace, that Jonathan
Swift was born in the house.
Indeed, Parsons and Whites 1829 Directory states that he
was born in Whitehaven. Mr Knowles said: A report by structural
engineers in 1985 stated that repairs to the building would cost
£15,000 and that was 14 years ago so it will cost a lot
more now. Brain White, head of development and environment
at Copeland, said: In February we invited Mr Knowles to
send us proposals for work to be done at the house, which we could
then process and look at gaining grant aid from the appropriate
bodies. He has never come up with a proposal. We are always
willing to hear from people who are having problems with their
property and are able to offer advice and help. There are various
ways in which funding may be obtainable, such as through historical
buildings grants or conservation grants, but we need a proposal
from Mr Knowles or Mr Arnold before we can do that. If he wishes
to make a grant application we will be happy to consider it. With
regards to the flooding, that is a civil matter and one that is
separate from the proposal for grant application. A legal
battle between Mr Knowles and Copeland was discontinued three
* Jonathan Swift House (See Illustration) is a Grade II listed house, formerly known
as Red Flag. It stands close to the candlestick chimney overlooking
Whitehaven Harbour, the Irish Sea and the Solway Firth.
Mr Edward Caley Knowles (An intelligent and Swiftian character himself) bought
the property in 1954. A Department of Environment survey as part of the building's
Listing states it is "Evident that this is one of the oldest surviving buildings
in Whitehaven and predates the main development of the town in the early C18.
It is certainly the same building clearly seen in the Matthias Reed drawing of
1738 and other contemporary pictures. It is not. however, very likely that it
is the house stayed in by the infant Jonathan Swift, who, it is claimed, lived
there 1668-1671. During the C18 it was an inn known as Bowling Green House (complete
with bowling green that would have given a dramatic seascape setting for a game)
and later Flagstaff House and Red Flag.'' Read
more about Mr Knowles.
* Swiftian footnote... Local historian Harry Fancy adds that: . In the
Beacon Centre Collection at Whitehaven there is a "wood" (i.e. bowling
ball) nicely inscribed - (going from memory) Whitehaven Bowling Club, 1796.
There can't be too many of that vintage anywhere, and this was probably used
at the Red Flag Bowling Green. Probably worth having a look!
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