Many classical commentaries on the radical and revolutionary
changes in agrarian practice during the late 18th and 19th
centuries highlight the contributions of men such as Bakewell,
Townsend, Sinclair, and Coke. To these names that of William
Blamire of Thackwood may be properly added, not only as an
equal in his contribution to agrarian reform, but as a leader
in matters of selfless public service.
The Early years of 1790 -1831
Born at the Oaks Dalston in 1790 the young William first attended
school in Carlisle in 1799 under the tutorship of the Rev.
J Fawcett. In 1805 he progressed to Westminster School and
thence to Christ Church Oxford where he graduated with the
degree of BA in 1811. Whilst at Westminster he inherited Thackwood
from Mr Sanderson a relative from Plumpton.
Thackwood soon witnessed a growing number of visitors, a sign
of the popularity of the young William whose circle of friends
included the Broughams. His father a distinguished naval surgeon
having failed to persuade his son to follow a career in medicine
law or the church allowed him to take possession of Thackwood
in 1813 with his sister as housekeeper.
Yeoman Farming and Agricultural Improvements
It seems that William’s vocation to farm was fired by
the extraordinary changes taking place in an attempt to respond
to raised domestic food production. Britain had become a net
importer of temperate foods in the years just prior to the
Napoleonic Wards (1793-1815) creating a real political will
to encourage greater productivity from our own farms.
A further and perhaps decisive factor was that his mother
Jane Christian was a sister of John Christian Curwen whose
work in agriculture experimentation stands alongside the greatest
of the period in British Agriculture. The Workington Show
could rightly claim to have been the major focus in demonstration
and discussion of new farming ideas and techniques in the
early 19th century. William as a regular at John Christian
Curwen’s experimental farm at The Schoose contributed
in full measure to the discussions. Local figures included
Sir James Graham, Dr Saul of Green Row (a pioneer of agricultural
education) and Rigg of Abbey Holme. Those from a distance
included Coke of Holkham and Sir John Sinclair the first President
of the Board of Agriculture.
Experiments at Thackwood
Though his estate was small William possessed the heart to
spend freely and gained experience at a cost. He was the life
and soul of agricultural dinners where he put on record his
ideas in plain intelligible English. Although like others
of his type he was regarded as something of a “new fangled
theoretician” he had clearly been inspired by his uncle
John Christian Curwen. His enthusiasm for debate perhaps hinted
at things to come. He sought the opinions of others whilst
at the same time looking to establish new principles of farming
William’s own experiments included work with Shorthorn
and Highland cattle, which by their nature were costly. Using
the opportunities afforded by visits to London, he acquired
sheep from the southern counties and pigs from Sussex. Some
of his brood mares were taken to stallions in Yorkshire and
locally he took a keen interest in the improvements of sheep
dogs. His experiments were however subject to criticism on
the grounds that the techniques used and records kept lacked
the rigour required by a sceptical audience. Such matters
did not however dull his reputation as an improver among the
farming community. In 1932 he undertook the judging of the
“improved Shorthorns” at the Highland Show at
In an industry geared to primary production William recognised
the need to develop the skills of adding value and marketing.
In 1839 he established a monthly farmers club called the “Inglewood”.
As president he provided considerable stimulus for the members,
sending gifts of products from the South of England. These
included seeds, fruit, cheeses and bacon intended to demonstrate
the possibilities for producers.
Marketing local produce presented a difficult task. Newspapers
were poor, roads difficult and railways unknown until mid
century. Noting that shrewd buyers and butchers purchased
stock from outlying districts at “their own prices”
William sent his own men to purchase at honest prices, some
receiving a premium of 30-40%. This genuine concern for the
disadvantaged made him particularly popular in the fell districts.
From 1827 he supported the Carlisle and Liverpool Steam Packet
Co by shipping cattle from the Solway to Liverpool. His philanthropy
found interesting expression when he sent his ploughman to
St Bees School to express the potential which his master had
assessed. The man subsequently gained entry to Oxford and
became a Clergyman.
Being at all times accessible his house was likened to a hostelry.
Many of the visitors were local improvers looking for guidance
and encouragement. Markets and fairs throughout the North
of England and Scotland were a particular indulgence. He was
said to have regularly ridden home from Glasgow and Edinburgh
in a day on Cappy his horse, a veteran of Waterloo. Similarly
he would take tea in Kendal before riding home to Raughton
Head for a dinner party at Thackwood.
The growing esteem for Blamire found expression in 1828 on
his appointment as High Sheriff of Cumberland. On the morning
of the day when he was due to meet the judges, a guard of
honour comprising local yeoman accompanied him on horseback
As a child William was taken to Carlisle to see his Uncle
Curwen chaired following the elections. In 1831 the mood of
politics was heightened by the reform question. The Whigs
appealed for support of the Bill to modernise parliamentary
representation, including the disenfranchisement of the Rotten
Boroughs. In Cumberland the thrust of support lay in the move
to oust the Lowthers. Blamire threw his hat into the ring.
At that time the Cumberland representation comprised Sir James
Graham and Sir John Lowther. The proposal that Blamire stand
did not find favour entirely with Sir James Graham who commented
“what! am I to carry Blamire on my back?” One
of the supporters of the latter retorted. “Take care
Sir James that Blamire hasn’t to carry thee on his back.
“William Blamire caricatured as the “Dalston Black
Red” by his supporters was seen as “real game”
sure to beat the “Yellow plumed Capon” of Lowther.
three days of elections swelled the population of Cockermouth
fourfold with many echoing the cry “Bonny blue and Blamire
for ever”. As may be expected the Lowther camp responded
with vigour. Lord Lowther (Later the Earl of Lonsdale) brought
in colliers from Whitehaven, to hiss and hoot at the Blue
card, and when appropriate offered to fight and bruise the
Blue voters. Almost inevitably Graham and Blamire were the
peoples choice. Even before the end of the contest Lord Lowther
had conceded. For a farmer to beat a Lord, and that in the
Lord’s own stronghold was a marvellous success.
Blamire’ victory speech contained hints of what was
to come. The Tithe Question was a matter of National Importance
and deeply affected the Church of England. His hope he declared
was to see the Church of England held in the same esteem as
the Church of Scotland. He attributed the difference in their
standing to the clergy in one being paid by tithes and the
other not. He continued “I am a poor man, a mere farmer
like many of yourselves. I hope a reform in Parliament is
a prelude to a reform in the church. I believe tithes to be
the most improper, the most iniquitous mode of payment ever
devised by the ingenuity of men. In this speech Blamire effectively
underlined his personal manifesto and took his seat in the
house on June 20th 1831.
Tithe Question 1836-1862
Stirred by the mood of reform the tithe question continued
its discordant effects, though in the House both sides sought
a settlement, Lords Althorp and Russell on the ministerial
benches and Sir Robert Peel in opposition. By March 1836 little
if any progress was apparent. The breakthrough came from an
unexpected quarter; a member in his fifth year of parliamentary
life, neither a lawyer nor a tithe owner, nor one exalted
by ministerial patronage. The member was William Blamire member
for East Cumberland.
On Friday 25th of March he made his famous speech on the Tithe
Commutation Bill proposed by the Whig government. The house
listened with marked attention to his arguments and illustrations,
and it was acknowledged that this oration was “the speech”
on this national question. Sir Robert Peel complimented Blamire
on his “able and powerful speech, and the consummate
knowledge he had displayed on the subject before the House
and the perfect clearness with which he had explained his
views”. Such words from the Leader of the Opposition,
and a person so little liable to praise others sufficed to
place Blamire amongst the foremost members of the House.