In 1799 Richard noted down the cost (‘five shillings in board’) and title of a new book he wanted to buy: “A Guide to the Lakes in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire”. The book was written by Thomas West, who lived between 1720 and 1779.
Map from West’s book
In some ways it was an odd choice – Richard was a southerner through-and-through and there is no record that he ever travelled North, or that he would have found the scenery anything other than terrifying in its bleak remoteness. But West’s book was in many ways the very first tourist guide to the Lakeland area. He was a Scot by birth and had at one stage been a Catholic priest. He became interested in the English Lakes and wanted to encourage artists to come and view the scenery from ‘stations’ which he had selected for them.
The book was published in 1778 and was a major success.Seven re-prints followed by the end of the 18th Century. The book marked the start of true tourism in the area – West maintained that the Grand Tour should rightfully include the English Lakes on the basis that they were every bit as picturesque as The Alps and other European mountain areas.
Many lampooned West for his style and for his enthusiasm, as here with Thomas Rowlandson’s cartoon entitled ‘Dr Syntax sketching the Lake’, published in 1812.
The idea that painters needed to be told where to stop and what to paint may seem ridiculous today, but in his day West did every bit as much to make the Lakes accessible to the general public as Alfred Wainwright’s Lakeland Guides have done for his army of followers in the 21st Century.
Thomas West died on 10th July 1779 at Sizergh Castle in Westmoreland and is buried in Kendal Church. A brief commentary about West appeared in the edition which came out immediately after his death:
“MR. WEST, late of Ulverston, author of this tract, and also of the Antiquities of Furness, is supposed to have had the chief part of his education on the Continent, where he afterwards presided as a professor in some of the branches of natural philosophy: whence it will appear, that, though upon some account or other, he had not acquired the habit of composing correctly in English, he must nevertheless have been a man of learning. He had seen many parts of Europe, and considered what was extraordinary in them with a curious, if not with judicious, and philosophic eye. Having in the latter part of his life much leasure time on his hands, he frequently accompanied genteel parties on the Tour of the Lakes; and after he had formed the design of drawing up his Guide, besides consulting the most esteemed writers on the subject (as Dr. Brown, Messrs. Gray, Young, Pennant, &c.), he took several journeys, on purpose to examine the lakes, and to collect such information concerning them, from the neighbouring gentlemen, as he thought necessary to complete the work, and make it truly deserving of its title.”
(Post script: For me I don’t think you can beat this gloomy but majestic picture which J M W Turner painted of Buttermere Lake in 1798. Fascinating.The original is in the Tate Collection).
(This post first appeared in a modified form on my Posterous site in 2011).