Dr Kent Brooks recalls the life of the Reverend Thomas West and the birth of Lakeland tourism
IN July 1779, a remarkable man, Thomas West, died at Sizergh Castle and was reportedly buried in the Strickland Chapel in Kendal Parish Church.
He was a priest, Jesuit, antiquarian and topographer, who produced two notable works: ‘The Antiquities of Furnace’ and ‘A Guide to the Lakes’.
The latter went through 12 editions over 45 years, surviving its author by many years. This work, filled with beautiful engravings, was the first of the countless Lakeland guide books later produced and still pouring out in the present day.
Thomas West was born in Inverness but his early life is uncertain, due to the suppression of the Jesuits by Pope Clement XIV, which caused the loss of Jesuit records prior to the restoration of the Order in 1814.
In 1749 he went on the first of a number of trips to Flanders, studying in the English College of the Jesuits in Watten and Liege and being ordained a priest in 1757.
He then spent some time in Britain before returning to the continent until 1767.
During the time as a novice he was accepted into the Society of Antiquaries.
For the next 10 years he lived rent free at Tytup Hall, near Dalton, and later at Swarthmoor Hall and finally in Ulverston.
With only a small number of Catholics around – he mentions ‘a few poor Paddies from Cork, working in the iron mines’ – and living in a fine house, there was time for writing and research on various topics, as well as carrying on a voluminous correspondence (preserved in Lancashire Records Office).
Moreover, he enjoyed the income from three small farms in Furness and an annuity.
Lord George Cavendish encouraged the book on Furness, which was subscribed to by many illustrious names, including peers, members of Parliament, Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, Fellows of the Royal Society, Richard Gillow, the cabinet-maker, and many others. It was very well received.
His ‘Guide to the Lakes’ was his last work. It broke with previous depictions of the Lake District as being ‘barren and fearsome’ to a delight in picturesque and romantic views, for which he proposed appropriate ‘stations’, where the finest views could be enjoyed.
This book did much to encourage the ensuing tourist invasion.
He died at Sizergh two years later, having gathered material for a second edition.