James Irving of Blackwell House – an unusual will

The will of James Irving (baptised 1835 Bowness-on-Solway, died 1877 Switzerland) suggests he was worthy of the description Cumbrian Character…

Elsewhere on this site, you can find a general info article on using wills as part of your family history research

The following will contains some standard elements. It was usual for a man to stipulate any legacy to his wife would only be hers for as long as she remained a widow. He wouldn’t want his estate to pass to another man, and potentially another man’s children at the expense of his own.

It’s also common to specify who is to get household and professional items – everything from bed linen to ploughs. Up to a point.

It is extremely common for a farmer’s will to itemise grain and other crops.

The following is the ONLY will I ever recall reading (and I have read a LOT!) that specifies (household) food.

It is also unique (in my experience) in the writer crossing out (and initialling, to make it legal) a term of endearment!

The will of James Irving

James Irving, sharebroker, Blackwell House, Carlisle. Written 2/6/1876.

The trustees and executors are solicitor Richard Bowman Brocklebank, of Currock House, Carlisle, and Edward Lawson Irving (James Irving’s younger brother).

“I appoint my dear (the word ‘dear’ is scratched out, with the initials JI after!!) wife, during her widowhood, guardian of my infant children.”

The trustees are to take over if she dies or remarries.

“I give my wife Barbara all the household effects (china, plate, all usual stuff)… wines and other consumable stores, including one horse, one cow, and a carriage, to be selected by her from those belonging to me.”

James Irving then recommends she divides it all up in trust for the children in her will.

He leaves £50 to Richard Bowman Brocklebank if he acts as trustee. 

He leaves the rest in trust to provide: £300 a year to my wife, until she dies/remarries. Thereafter to the children when they reach 21 or (daughters) marry.

The daughters are to get their share for their sole use, separate from husband’s control. (However), the daughters don’t control the trust, the trustees do.

He does at least trust his daughters to appoint who their share of the trust money will go to after they die. If they don’t specify, it goes to their children; if they don’t have any, it will be as if they had died intestate and a widow. (ie husbands don’t get it).

There is also a personal bequest: “I give to my eldest son my printed books.”

Thanks for that

James Irving died on March 19, 1877 at Davos Platz, Switzerland. The probate entry shows he was a wealthy man: ‘effects under £30,000’.

So, despite being worth a LOT of money, he felt it necessary to specify that his wife could have the food. 

He also left her (a share broker’s wife) a cow. 

He also changed his mind about describing her, crossing out the ‘dear’ and initialling the change.

His children were still young, so he had no way of knowing if his daughters would be any good with money, but while he wanted to be sure their husbands couldn’t get their hands on it, he didn’t want them taking any decisions.

He also took it on himself to advise his not-dear wife what she should put in her will.

Who was James Irving?

James Irving was the third child of ship owner and merchant Peter Irving and his wife Jane Simpson, who feature in my book (quick plug!!), Port Carlisle, a history built on hope.

Baptised at Bowness-on-Solway in 1835, James had left home by 1851, to be a druggist’s apprentice in Carlisle. However, he didn’t stick with it and by the early 1860s was advertising as a stock and share broker, of Post Office Court, Carlisle.

He married, in 1864, Barbara Bell, who was about a year younger than James and had been born at Beanlands, Irthington.

In 1871, they were living in Port Carlisle with a baby, Robert James. Their older children were staying (or living?) with Barbara’s 76-year-old mother at Beanlands. They were John Bell Irving, six; Maggie J Irving, four, and: Barbara A Irving, two. John and Barbara had been born at Port Carlisle, Maggie in Rickerby.

Why the three young children were with their grandmother (or for how long), can only be guessed at.

Did James Irving have TB?

I’m not sure how you go about obtaining Swiss BMD certicates. But the fact James Irving died at Davos is very suggestive. It may be famous these days for global economic conferences, but it first attracted visitors for a very different reason.

The whole story about Davos can be read here, but the short version is that when James Irving was there, its claim to fame was as a health spa. It attracted well-off people suffering from consumption (tuberculosis). I have written a post on consumption here.

James Irving was only 42 when he died, and had written the will nine months earlier, suggesting he was already ill then.  

The probate entry gives his main address as Blackwell House, near Carlisle. Blackwell House carries the distinction of having been used as a headquarters by both sides during the two sieges of Carlisle in 1745. Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) stayed here on November 10, 1745 and the Duke of Cumberland from December 21-31, 1745.

No mention of food

Barbara Irving’s will is dated November 1895. She was still of Blackwell House.

Barbara named sons John Bell Irving, of Blackwell House, and Robert James Irving, of South West Australia, and a solicitor, as her executors and trustees.

She left everything in trust, in equal shares to her children. ‘Effects £5,696 19s 6d’.

How she had felt, widowed with young children, when her late husband’s will was read, we can of course only imagine.

Any food James Irving kindly left her, she must surely have bought herself (albeit with his money), given he died in Switzerland.

What she thought of ‘dear’ being crossed out…


Family papers in Carlisle Archives say:

At the time of his marriage, James Irving lved in the house on the west side of the Solway Hotel. Later he lived in Carlisle and brought Blackhall House, at Blackwell, and Solway ?House, Port Carlisle.

He was 6ft 2in and known as ‘Long Jim’. Educated at Croft House School, Brampton, and then a ‘1st class school’.

He joined Hathaway’s chemist, Carlisle, but had to leave after bursting a blood vessel in his lungs. 

He joined his father as a partner, till shipping declined, then set up successfully as a stockbroker in Carlisle. 

He was also an insurance agent in a big way; carried through the formation of the Cumberland Union Bank, and was Consul for Norway and Sweden in the north of England.

He was a shy man, and did not follow his father in public life, but led the Conservatives in Bowness and was known for his dancing, flute plyaing, and field sports (shooting and coursing).


  • The photo is the gravestone of Peter Irving, of Port Carlisle, the father of James Irving.