Truth, lies and the antiquarian print in 1860s Cumbria

As we’re in an antiquarian mood (see previous post), I present for your delectation some prints from my collection. None of them are dated but I am given to believe that they are all around the 1860s-1870s-mark.



However: take a look at this, my latest, print of Workington, land of my ancestors. The harbour’s there, and the artist has added a few discreet-yet-picturesque smoking chimneys… but what’s with the mountains? Did the artist travel to Workington overland and find the mountains he passed en route were more startling than the destination? Or was he so keen to get his thumbs back to his silken couch* that he forgot that the mountains – admittedly England’s highest – are fifteen miles away and not visible from this point?

Giant's Grave, Penrith

Giant’s Grave, Penrith

Another of my favourite prints is this one, a commonly-seen one, of Penrith’s Giant’s Grave. There are two issues with this one: firstly, the buildings alongside aren’t quite right, and secondly, the monument just isn’t that tall. It is true that the structure is a startling one in a sedate churchyard next to a Georgian church, but either the visitors are midgets or the anglian cross shafts on either end were 40% bigger 150 years ago.



This print of Castlerigg is just lovely, and I’d like to think that this is what it looked like before fiercely grazing livestock, tourism and The National Trust got hold of it, but given Workington’s giant mountains and Penrith enormous edifices, can we believe it? There is another print by Robert Sears, dated 1843, which seems to have different trees and some very odd things going on with some of the taller stones.

Castlerigg 1843

Castlerigg 1843

I suppose we should take the nostalgia and romance aspect into account. Do these pictures represent the spirit of the places, rather than the facts? The shipping town tucked behind the mountain range, the great surprise of the ancient monument, and the unknowableness of a stone circle, even now?

© Diane McIlmoyle 03.06.13

*See previous post


8 thoughts on “Truth, lies and the antiquarian print in 1860s Cumbria

  1. These are fabulous prints, Diane.

    At first I thought the Giant’s Grave was at the wrong angle in relation to the church, another example of artistic licence (like the oversized cross-shafts). But then I remembered…. the whole monument was moved to its present position when the church was rebuilt in the 1700s, which makes this old print a valuable record of the original setting.

    • Hi Tim – sadly, I don’t think this print is as old as that. The costumes are ‘nostalgia’ from the previous century. This would mean that unless the artist had an earlier drawing, the odds are that it’s artistic licence so he could show more of the long side of the grave.

      If I ever find out that the plates were engraved in the 18th century, I’ll update this with pleasure!

      The prints are nice, though, aren’t they? I’ve got a collection of them up and down my stairwell. (They aren’t valuable, in case there are any thieves out there!)

  2. The turn of the 19th century was a high point in the cult of the picturesque, was it not? In the days before photography really got going, such images showed landscapes ‘as they should be’, not as they were. Just be thankful that Capability Brown’s followers didn’t have JCBs to do their terraforming or those mountains would have been moved or at least recreated for Workington’s beautification.
    Love your contrasting Castlerigg prints.

    • Glad you like them! In this household, we’re saying that’s what Workington looked like before they moved the mountains to build the suburbs 😀

      The Castlerigg pictures are interesting, aren’t they? The mountains on the last one (which is not one from my collection) are not recognisable, and that’s significant because some of the stones in real life echo the shape of the mountains. And I don’t think the stones in the foreground have ever looked like that. They’re more like the ones you get in Scotland than ours. I guess the artist didn’t expect us to be checking up on him in centuries to come!

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