More about the English Lakes
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.
Bruce Arnold, from Glenageary near Dublin, is the author of a Swift biography.
In 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, Dublin: 1880
"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. "
A 2016 booklet by Margaret Crosby "A Passion for Whitehaven" outlines the work of the Heritage Action Group, inclduing funding this 2013 mural showing the town's connection to Gulliver's Travels and Jnoathan Swift.
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 years ago.
* 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.
* Swiftian footnote... Local historian the late Harry Fancy once said
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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