Lancelot Pattinson the Patterdale cave man

The ‘case’ of Lancelot Pattinson of Patterdale is a useful one for any family historian tempted to excitement over what seems an unusual name – or indeed a good yarn!

The Matterdale puzzle

A Lancelot Pattinson, who died some 35 years ago at the patriarchial age of 94, was born at Swineside in Matterdale. With his long white hair and flowing beard, he was an object of interest to Lake visitors when he resided in a one-roomed, dry-walled cabin, which he had built for himself on some waste land near Goldrill Bridge, Patterdale.

So wrote the Rev Joseph Whiteside, vicar of Helsington, in 1900, in an article on Matterdale Church and School.

Joseph Whiteside disputed the idea that Matterdale Church was built in 1573 – a date taken from a strange inscription on the easternmost beam in the chapel, which bears that date and the intials LP, AL, WP and IW. He believed the church was built in 1686, as per another inscription, this time on stone. 

The ‘1573,’ if that’s what it was, was split over two lines:


MdXX                 L P    A L   W P    I W


Which only makes 1573 if you add up all the Xs. Mind you, Joseph Whiteside then surmised it was a mistake for MdCC and that would make it 1753. Which seems a bit of a leap, to be honest. It’s one thing hitting an ajacent key when typing. But carving the wrong letters into a wooden beam?

A further huge leap

From this presumption, Joseph Whiteside makes a huge leap and decides LP = Lancelot Pattinson, an ancestor of the one with the white beard. And WP is another Pattinson. 

Well possibly. It makes more sense than the contemporary theory of retired schoolteacher James Sagar that the ‘w’s stood for ‘warden’ and it was ‘LP; AL warden; PI warden’ on the beam.

Lots of Lancelots

A man with the name of an Arthurian knight and the appearance of an Arthurian wizard sounds like a Cumbrian Character.

‘Lancelot’ sounds great to family historians the first time they see one on their family tree. But while it is better when you are facing a common surname like Pattinson, Lancelot isn’t that rare in the twin counties of Cumberland and Westmorland. An 1879 article on the Kirkby Thore registers, for example, says that in 1693: “about that period the name Mary is never found, while Cicely and Lancelot are very common.”

It was down to the habit of families naming children after previous generations. There are as likely to be three Lancelot Surnames the same age running around as there are to be three Roberts.

Lancelot Pattinson

Certainly, there was a Lancelot Pattinson in Matterdale on the 1787 Westmorland ‘census’. He was the son of John and Ann Pattinson. John was a husbandman, two of their older sons were miners. Lancelot doesn’t have an occupation and being listed a son suggests he was too young to be working. 

The IGI has Lancelot Pattinson baptised Matterdale to parents John and Ann in 1772. Which fits ‘our’ bearded Lancelot Pattinson. And means the census entry surely has to be him, aged 15.

It all suggests his parents would have been children in 1753. But if Lancelot Pattinson was named for a paternal grandfather or great uncle, there isn’t one in the census. 

And the Patterdale census records are complete.

Don’t forget mum

There are, however, a Lancelot Winder and two Lancelot Harrison s in the Patterdale returns. 

While it could be there was a previous Lancelot Pattinson who’d died between 1753 and 1787, young Lancelot Pattinson could have be named after a maternal relative. 

And all following Lancelot Pattinson s after him.

Lancelot Pattinson – the ‘one-room cabin’

Lancelot Pattinson married Anne Greenhow in November 1794, at Patterdale. He was clearly widowed before 1841 when aged 72, Lancelot Pattinson and a Joseph Pattinson, 75, were sharing some form of accommodation in Patterdale. Lancelot’s occupation was ‘ag lab’. 

The 1861 census for Patterdale below How shows the ‘patriarchial’ Lancelot aged 92, living with other Pattinsons in 2 Township Cottages. They were headed by John Pattinson, 64, lead miner, almost surely Lancelot Pattinson’s son. John was a farm labourer in 1851 and had called one son, then aged nine, Lancelot. 

So 1841, not clear. Although the previous entry is ‘Bridge End,’ Lancelot’s address is just a squiggle. 1861, taken in by family. However, in 1851, Lancelot Pattinson, then aged 82, was living at Goldrill Hill, Patterdale, occupation labourer, with son Isaac 42, a waller, and a grandson John, 26, labourer.

Goldrill Hill fits ‘near Goldrill Bridge’. If three of them were sharing a one-room cabin, it must have been a ‘cosy’ one for sure!

 Or was it a cave?

Lancelot Pattinson, Cumbrian Characters

If you search online, you will quickly find reference to Lancelot Pattinson as having reputedly lived for a time in a cave near Goldrill Bridge. Recent sources say he was still living there when he died – but the 1861 census suggests otherwise.

Rewind. While Joseph Whiteside was speculating about Matterdale Church in 1900, the then rector of Patterdale, Rev W P Morris, was compiling a book called The Records of Patterdale. 

In it, he writes about Lancelot Pattinson, ‘commonly called Lanty Patty, or Lantie Pattie’. 

This Lancelot, after his wife died,  lived in a cave near Goldrill Bridge, which was named “Lanty’s Castle,” and the hill close by is known to this day as “Lanty Hill.

He brought up some of his family in this cave, and when any visitor called to see him all was in darkness and full of smoke. He lived to the good old age of 96 years, and in possession of all his faculties. He was buried on August 8th, 1865.