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T D Whitaker and J M W Turner

Thomas Dunham Whitaker, eminent hiistorian and author of his time, was Rector of Heysham from 1813-1819. How he came to be Rector is another story. One of his books A History of Richmondshire Vol 2 covers Westmorland and Lonsdale and includes a description of Heysham.
It is remarked elsewhere on the website that he was an absentee rector though he did conduct services at St Peter’s on occasions. To conduct the majority of services at Heysham Whitaker appointed a curate and the name most frequently recorded is John Gathorne..
Whitaker was based mainly at his family home at Holme near Burnley and he was also vicar of Whalley. He had already written a   History of Whalley.

A very useful source on J M W Turner’s exploits in the north of England is the very well sourced book by David Hill
In Turner’s Footsteps through the Hills and Dales of Northern England.   It is probably no accident that he visited Heysham during the period of T D Whitkaker’s rectorship, on Thursday morning  of 8th August 1816. Whitaker’s History of Richmondshire contains 32 engravings by Turner. It often surmised that Turner would have partaken of an ale at Dobson’s Hotel since by then we was well known for such  habits on possibly a warm morning in August.


In modern terms a
c.1899 Tate no. 0458

Turner on tour

Turner toured regularly; his technique was to make sketches and notes and use them as a basis for paintings when he returned to London. He is reputed to have a remarkable memory for detail. The purpose of the 1816 tour was to gather sketches for a new 7 volume publication by T D Whitaker on Yorkshire. He had been commissioned by publishers Longmans for the huge sum of 3000 guineas. He left London by coach early on 12th July 1816. We presume the trip to Heysham from Lancaster was made by horse .


Map (1848)   © Ordnance Survey and Old Maps

He would have made his approach to Heysham along Overtown Lane (now Heysham Road), turn down Longland Lane  and down into the village via Crimewell Lane. (Red arrows in the 1848 map above.)  Knowlys Road and  Woborrow Road didn’t feature until very late in the 19th century..

In Heysham and Cumberland Mountains  the cart, bottom left being driven towards the gate, is clearly in Crimewell Lane; the lie of the land is more or less how it is today with the lane going down a ‘valley’ between high land on each side. So to make his sketch  (part of which is shown below) Turner would have been on  the higher ground to the south of  Longlands Lane, roughly in the position of the large ‘E’ on her map above.


Turner exercises a good deal of artistic llcence in how he portrays a landscape So to attempt to analyse the detail too carefully is a mistake. Later in the 19th cenury John Ruskin was a great champion of Turner’s work., This is his description (abridged) of  Heysham and Cumberland Mountains:   Modern Painters


This well known Turner silhouette was extensively used when HHA ran two ‘Turner weeks’ in the 1990s involving art exhibitions in St Peter’s school hall.

The subject is a simple north-country village, on the shore of Morecambe Bay; not in the common sense a picturesque village; there are no pretty bow-windows, or red roofs, or rocky steps of entrance to the rustic doors, or quaint gables; nothing but a single street of thatched and chiefly clay-built cottages, ranged in a somewhat monotonous line, the roofs so green with moss that at first we hardly discern the houses from the fields and trees The village street is closed at one end by a wooden gate, indication the little traffic there is on the road through it, and giving it something the look of a large farmstead, in which a right of way lies through the yard. The road which leads to this gate is full of ruts, and winds down a bad bit of hill between two broken banks of moor ground, succeeding immediately to the few enclosures which surround the village; they can hardly be called gardens, but a decayed fragment of fencing fill the gaps in the bank..... At the end of the village is a better house, with three chimneys and a dormer window in its roof, and the roof is of shingle instead of thatch, very rough. This house is no doubt the clergyman's; there is some smoke from one of its chimneys, none from any other in the village.... All noble composition of this kind can be reached only by instinct...