Lady of Workington Hall

The Lady of Workington Hall

In her neat country kirtle and kerchief array'd,
A wild little maiden tripp'd through the green shade;
With her pitcher, just filled from the rill, at her side,
And a song on her lip of the Solway's rude tide;
When a rider came by, gallant, youthful, and gay—
"Pretty Maid, let me drink! and good luck to your lay!"

As he glanced o'er the brim, arch and sweet was her smile;
Then "Adieu!" passing on, he sang gaily the while—
"Who knows what may happen, or what may befall?
I may be——" something she could not recall:
For the tramp of his steed mingled in with the tone,
And the burden ceased, broken—the singer was gone.

There are words, notes, and whisperings, broken and few,
That from depths in the soul will oft start up anew,
Like a dream voice, unconsciously, early or late,
Mid all changes of circumstance, fortune, and fate,
Unappealed to, unsought for, unreck'd of, and brought
From afar to the tongue without effort or thought.

And 'twas thus the few notes which she caught of that strain
Often stirr'd on the lips of the Maiden again.
When a child at the school or a maid at the Hall—
"Who knows what may happen, or what may befall?
I may be—" lilted she low, as she sate
At her finger-work meekly, or stroll'd by the gate.

So it chanced as she robed on one morning her bloom
With a mantle of state, in her lost Lady's room;
While the mirror gave back to her sight all her charms;
Came that strain to her lip as she folded her arms—
"Who knows what may happen, or what may befall?
I may be—Lady of Workington Hall!"

Thus the wild-hearted Maid ended gaily the song.
Like a flash from the mirror it glanced from her tongue,
Void of meaning or thought of the future; but lo!
There's a witness beside her the glass does not show.
From a distance unseen are displayed to the eyes
Of her Lord all her pranks in that courtly disguise.

He charged the proud Butler, that evening to call
To high feast all the maidens and grooms of the Hall;
To send round the bowl, and when mirth flowing high
Brought the heart to the lip, the bright soul to the eye,
At the sound of his footstep to crown their good cheer
With a round to the toast he has breathed in his ear.

Bold and stern, on that evening arose mid the crowd
The bold Butler, and called for a bumper aloud:
Look'd around on the bevy of maidens and men:
Glanced his eye past the Beauty, and spoke out again—
"Who knows what may happen, or what may befall?
Let us drink to the Lady of Workington Hall."

How they stared at each other, how glanced at their Lord,
As he entered that moment and stood by the board,
How they trembled to witness his eye's flashing ray,
Was a sight to be seen that no art can portray.
But the one conscious Maid who could read it alone,
With a shriek, like a vanishing spirit was gone.

But in vain! What the fates have determined will come!
And in time, tired of clangour of trumpet, and drum,
Came the Heir to the Hall of his ancestry old;
Met the Maid of the pitcher once more as he stroll'd;
Woo'd and won her, in spite of whate'er might befall;
And made her the Lady of Workington Hall.

Notes to "the Lady of Workington Hall."

The ancient family of the Curwens of Workington can trace their descent to Ivo de Tailbois and Elgiva daughter of Ethelred, King of England. Ivo came to England with the Conqueror, was the first lord of the barony of Kendal, and brother of Fulk, Earl of Anjou and King of Jerusalem. Ketel, the grandson of Ivo, had two sons;—Gilbert, the father of William de Lancaster, from whom descended, in a direct line, the barons of Kendal; and Orme, from whom descended the Curwens. These took their surname by agreement from Culwen, a family of Galloway, whose heir they married. It is said, that Culwen, which is on the seacoast of Galloway, had its name from a neighbouring rock, which was thought to resemble a white monk; that being the meaning of the word in the Irish language. It is also said, that the family name was changed to Curwen, by a corruption, which first appeared in the public records in the reign of King Henry VI. Orme having espoused Gunilda, sister of Waldieve, first lord of Allerdale, received in marriage with her the manor of Seaton below Derwent, and took up his abode there. Their son, Gospatrick, received the manors of Workington and Lamplugh from William de Lancaster in exchange for Middleton, in Westmorland. He was succeeded by his son Thomas, who became lord of Culwen in Galloway, and died in 1152, and was buried in the Abbey of Shap, to which he had been a benefactor; his estates descending to his second son, Patric de Culwen, who removed his residence from Seaton to Workington, where his descendants have since remained.

Sir Thomas Curwen, the seventh in descent from Patric, died in the thirty fourth year of Henry VIII. In reference to this member of the family, Sandford in his M.S. History of Cumberland relates an instance of the pleasant manner in which conventual property at the dissolution was dealt with, and disposed of, among that monarch's favourites and friends. It is thus given:—"Sir Tho. Curwen Knight in Henry the Eight's time, an excellent archer at twelve score merks: And went up with his men to shoote with that reknowned King at the dissolution of abbeis: And the King says to him, Curwen, why doth thee begg none of thes Abbeis: I wold gratifie the some way: Quoth the other, thank yow, and afterward said he wold desire of him the Abbie of ffurness (nye unto him) for 20 ty one years: Sayes the King, take it for ever: Quoth the other, its long enough, for youle set them up againe in that time: But they not likely to be set up againe, this Sir Tho. Curwen sent Mr. Preston who had married his daughter to renew the lease for him; and he even renneued in his owne name; which when his father in law questioned, quoth Mr. Preston, yow shall have it as long as yow live: and I thinke I may as well have it with your daughter as another."[1]

There is probably some truth in the anecdote, related by Sandford. For it is said by West, that not long after the dissolution of Monasteries, Thomas Preston, of Preston-Patrick and Levens, purchased the site and immediate grounds of Furness Abbey from the trustees of the crown, with other considerable estates to the value of £3000 a year: after which he removed from Preston-Patrick, and resided at the Abbey, in a manor house built on the spot where the Abbot's apartments stood. Of his two sons, John the elder married the daughter of Curwen. His descendants were called Prestons of the Abbey, and of the Manor; and continued for four generations, when the two great grandsons of the purchaser died without issue. The family of Christopher, his second son, were known as the Prestons of Holker. Of these, Catharine, the fifth in the direct line from Christopher, was the mother of Sir Thomas Lowther, Baronet, of Yorkshire, to whom on the failure of the elder branch, the property of the Prestons in Furness was granted by George the First. This gentleman, by his marriage with the Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, had an only son and heir, Sir William Lowther, Baronet, the last descendant of the Prestons of Preston-Patrick, who died unmarried in 1756, bequeathing all his estates in Furness and Cartmel to his cousin Lord George Augustus Cavendish, through whom they passed by inheritance to the present Duke of Devonshire.

In a report to the government of Queen Elizabeth, of the date of 1588, inserted among the Burghley Papers, the son and heir of this sharp-handed son-in-law of Curwen is mentioned in somewhat detractory terms, in a passage which describes "the Pylle of Folder," or Pile of Fouldrey. "The same Pylle is an old decayed castell of 'the dowchie of Lancaster, in Furness Felles, where one Thomas Preestone (a Papyshe Atheiste) is depute steward, and comaunders the menrede and lands ther, which were sometime members appertayninge to the Abbeye of Furnes.'"

Workington Hall, the seat of the Curwens, is a large quadrangular building, with battlemented parapets, situated on a woody acclivity over looking the river Derwent, at the east end of the town. It has been almost entirely rebuilt within the present century. The old mansion was castellated pursuant to the royal license granted by Richard II., in 1379, to Sir Gilbert de Culwen. It is remarkable for having been the first prison-house of the unfortunate Mary of Scotland, after she had landed within the dominions of her rival. Having left the Scottish shore in a small fishing boat, she landed with about twenty attendants near the Hall on Sunday, May 16th, 1568; and was received by Sir Henry Curwen as became her rank and misfortunes, and hospitably entertained by him, till she removed to Cockermouth, on her route to Carlisle. The apartment in which the Queen had slept was long preserved, out of respect to her memory, as she had left it. But some recent alterations of the mansion having become necessary, it was found that these could not be effected without the destruction of that portion which had been so long distinguished as the Queen's Chamber.

Mr. Denton, who wrote about the year 1676, says, "I do not know any seat in all Britain so commodiously situated for beauty, plenty, and pleasure as this is." And Mr. Sandford, who wrote about the same time, has the following rapturous description, "And a very fair mansion-house and pallace-like; a court of above 60 yards long and 40 yards broad, built round about; garretted turret-wise, and toors in the corner; a gate house, and most wainscot and gallery roomes; and the brave prospect of seas and ships almost to the house, the tides flowing up. Brave orchards, gardens, dovecoats, and woods and grounds in the bank about, and brave corn fields and meadows below, as like as Chelsay fields. And now the habitation of a brave young Sq. his father Monsir Edward Curwen, and his mother the grandchild of Sir Michael Wharton o' th' Wolds in Yorkshire."

Even Mr. Gilpin, a century later, was struck with "its hanging woods and sloping lawns," and speaks of its situation as "one of the grandest and most beautiful in the country."

The anecdote upon which the poem is founded was related by a person who about fifty years ago was much acquainted with what was current in some of the principal families in the West of Cumberland. She stated that it was commonly repeated among the servants of the different houses, and was quite credited by them: and that she herself had not any doubt as to the truth of the story, but could not give the period to which the circumstances refer.

One of the domestics of the Hall was said to have been surprised by her master in the manner described, and to have been overheard by him, uttering the words,—

"Who knows what may happen, or what may befall?
I may be Lady of Workington Hall!"

The butler was instructed to repeat the words publicly in the presence of the Maid, who fled from the mansion, overwhelmed with confusion. She subsequently formed a matrimonial alliance with a principal member of the family; and thus in a manner her prediction was verified.

Such was the story, and such the narrator. It may be added, that the published notices of the family are devoid of anything to give confirmation to the story; but as it was related in the neighbourhood in the spirit alluded to, a place has been given to it among the traditions of Cumberland.


[1]"John Preston of the Manor in Furness, Esquire, married Margaret daughter of Sir Thos. Curwen, of Workington, and had issue, tempore Henry VIII."