Joseph Livesey’s Lakeland Retreat

Joseph Livesey
Joseph Livesey — landed gentleman?

When the railway reached the Lake District in 1847, despite the nimbyish opposition of William Wordsworth, it brought with it Joseph Livesey and his family. Livesey built himself a second home in Bowness overlooking Windermere, which he called Green Bank, and established himself in the village, carrying out such good works as providing a temperance hall and, when Bowness Bay was developed, erecting an ornate fountain by the pier to provide a free source of water to keep visitors and residents away from the Demon Drink.

See also:
Joseph Livesey’s Autobiography
Joseph Livesey — gentleman farmer
A Livesey family suicide

Wordsworth’s fears were realised soon after the arrival of the railway with land speculators swiftly acquiring parcels of land and putting up new housing. The 1851 census record for the area around Livesey’s new house contains references such as ‘Five new Houses Building’ and ‘Seven Houses Building’. Livesey joined in, building another house on his Green Bank estate and a terrace of four houses close by, which he describes as possessing ‘mahogany window frames and plate-glass bay windows’.

Livesey was clearly pleased with his purchase, as he recounts in Chapter 11 of his autobiography:

About 20 years ago I bought a piece of land at Bowness, the chief village included in the district of Windermere. I built two houses, one of which has afforded us a nice change in the course of the summer. I also erected a small Temperance Hall and other buildings, and lastly, four good houses, allowed to be the best of the kind in the village, so I have had some experience of ‘bricks (or rather stones) and mortar.’ Many a time, when quite overdone with the turmoil and anxiety of unavoidable engagements in the town, have I run down there for a little quiet, and being fond of shrubs and flowers, this place, with solitude as a change, seemed for a short time almost a Paradise. The front grounds of these houses adjoin the public road. Cheap trips to Windermere, ‘the Queen of the English lakes,’ are numerous every summer, and from the walks I often converse with the people over the railings. Of course, I warn them against drinking …

Speaking of Green Bank in Chapter Five, he writes, ‘… there I have had the credit of good taste and a love of order in laying out the grounds with shrubs and flowers’. Another member of the family, Livesey’s son, Howard, also chose a country house in the district, in his case on the other side of Windermere at Sawrey. 1

Joseph and Jane Livesey were at Green Bank in 1869 when both were taken ill. Livesey slowly recovered from his illness but Jane died. In fact, one of the attractions of Bowness for Livesey was the presence there of a Dr Pasely who practised a form of healing known as hydropathy that involved the application of water both internally and externally. This was a therapy on which Livesey became fixated and which took him to various spas around the country and abroad, including a visit of nine weeks to Germany. When the Windermere Hydropathic Company was formed Livesey was one of the shareholders. His description in Chapter Seventeen of his autobiography of the establishment the company opened in Bowness in 1881 also reveals that he was no longer residing at Green Bank by that date. He writes of ‘… the extensive establishment opened this year (1881) by the Windermere Hydropathic Company. This is situate on the slope of Biskey Howe, overlooking lake Windermere, and also the lovely lake-side village of Bowness, and immediately above my former residence at that place’.

Newspaper cutting of the trial of a servant charged with stealing from a house belonging to Joseph Livesey in Bowness in 1864

It is unclear whether the above cutting from page five of the Westmorland Gazette for 9 April 1864 refers to Livesey’s house at Green Bank or the house on the estate that he rented out. Confusingly, both are listed as Green Bank in the 1851 census return below. Agnes Jackson was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

More information on Livesey’s property in Bowness can be found amongst the Livesey papers at Lancashire Archives:

Family papers show investments in property … an investment in the Hydropathic hotel at Bowness on Windermere, where Joseph had other properties and a country house. Livesey bequeathed his shares in the Hydro to his children; his own house at Windermere, Greenbank, was sold for £1,250. His other Bowness properties realised £4,500. 2

The census enumerator found Livesey at Green Bank in March 1851, along with a servant and a visitor who was described as a railway proprietor. Livesey was described as a retired publisher and cheese factor. The other property named Green Bank on the form below was presumably the one Livesey records building on his estate. Image from the Ancestry website:

Livesey record in the 1851 census

Livesey was at home at Green Bank again ten years later when the enumerator called in April 1861. Livesey is recorded as a retired newspaper proprietor, his neighbour is recorded as a retired major general. Image from the Ancestry website:

Livesey's record in the 1861 census

Livesey’s Green Bank Lakeland home, Biskey Lodge, the home of his neighbour, the artist and soldier John Brownrigg Bellasis, who had served in India and retired with the rank of major general, and the probable location of the second property that Livesey built on his estate can be seen on the six-inch Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1858 below (map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland):

The map suggests that Livesey occupied a more substantial property with more extensive grounds than his neighbour General Bellasis. It was certainly more substantial than his final home in Preston in Bank Parade or his previous home, the farm at Holme Slack. Later maps show Green Bank demolished and replaced by two large semi-detached houses.

The 1911 revision of the 25-inch Ordnance Survey map below (map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland) shows the location of Livesey’s drinking fountain across the road from Bowness Pier. I think the D.Fn opposite the pier is Livesey’s fountain.

Map showing the location of Joseph Livesey's drinking fountain in Bowness

The Illustrated London News carried an engraving of Livesey’s fountain in 1862 3:

Joseph Livesey's drinking fountain in Bowness

And the following description:

We present our readers with an Engraving of a peculiar drinking-fountain presented to the visitors and inhabitants of Bowness, Windermere, by Joseph Livesey, Esq., of Preston, who presented eight drinking fountains to the town of Preston. It is situated in the much-frequented and beautiful promenade in front of Windermere Lake, and forms, in addition to its utility as a drinking-fountain, an ornament of no inconsiderable attraction. This is, we believe, the first fountain with any mechanical arrangement for raising the water from a low level, which is accomplished by means of a rotary pump, worked by the handle and small ornamental flywheel seen in the right-hand side. This arrangement, we imagine, might be carried out in many places where a drinking-fountain would be acceptable, but thought impracticable for want of force or fall of water. The general design and arrangement are by James Livesey, Esq., engineer of London and Manchester.

The engineer named is Livesey’s youngest son, who ‘trained as an engineer, removed to London, and died in 1923 worth nearly £250,000. 4 Livesey’s eldest son William presented a drinking fountain to the town of Douglas on the Isle of Man. Livesey writes (Autobiography, Chapter Five):

At Bowness Bay, near the landing of the Windermere steamers, I erected a beautiful fountain which is supplied with excellent water from the grounds of Messrs. Crossley, of Halifax. There is a nice fountain on Douglas pier erected by my eldest son. I name these that others, possessing means, may be induced to do the same; and if temperance men were sufficiently alive to the advantages of water fountains there would not be a town or a village, or any public grounds or buildings without them.

1. Ian Levitt, ed., Joseph Livesey of Preston: Business, Temperance and Moral Reform (University of Central Lancashire, 1996), 24.
2. Levitt, Joseph Livesey of Preston, 16
3.The Illustrated London News (William Little, 1862), 318.
4. Levitt, Joseph Livesey of Preston, 24.

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