Wicked Jimmy’s ghost : James Lowther, the first Earl of Lonsdale, was feared and hated in life. And like all heavy-duty villains, those feelings didn’t end when he died, aged 66, in 1802.
His name lives on as a byword for political corruption. He was also renowned as a merciless bully.
And there have always been folk who feared he didn’t take death lying down!
A little background
Wicked Jimmy Lowther has made a couple of appearances already on Cumbrian Characters. Firstly in this post on the Westmorland Militia.
And secondly, in this post on how he tried to steal the lands of Inglewood Forest (between Penrith and Carlisle) in an outrageous land grab from the Duke of Portland
The British Museum owns a number of contemporary cartoons by satirists that feature Wicked Jimmy Lowther. For instance, this one is about him creating 1,400 tame voters to win a seat in Carlisle in the 1786 election. This became known as the mushroom election (because the number of voters mushroomed). Hence the ‘Earl of Toadstool’ caption.
A gruesome legend
And then there is the weird story of (one of) his mistress(es). Wicked Jimmy Lowther had married the Earl of Bute’s daughter, Mary Crichton-Stuart, in 1761. But he was far from monogamous. The story goes that he fell in love with the daughter of one of his tenants and made her his mistress. She died young, but he couldn’t bear to lose her. So he kept her body, lying in bed, until the smell became unbearable. He than had her placed in a glass coffin, which he kept some weeks further, before she was finally given a decent burial.
Whether this story is true or not is anyone’s guess. For sure, there was no shortage of people happy to make up bad stories about him if not. And this one seems to have stuck.
Wicked Jimmy’s ghost
One legend has it that Wicked Jimmy’s ghost can be seen at Lowther Castle whenever a full moon coincides with the anniversary of his death, May 24. In life, he loved driving a carriage at break-neck speed – a pleasure he is said to repeat with a ghost carriage and horses.
But that is perhaps a relatively recent story.
For in 1857 – when some folk would have had first-hand experience/memories of Wicked Jimmy – a slightly different one was told.
Jeremiah Sullivan, in his book Cumberland and Westmorland, Ancient and Modern, includes the topic of ‘boggles’. Boggles are more than ‘just ghosts’ – the word covers all sorts of apparitions.
Westmorland never produced a more famous boggle—infamous as a man, famous as a boggle—than Jemmy Lowther, well known, for want of a more appropriate name, as the “bad Lord Lonsdale.”
In modern times, when the personality of the boggles is known, it appears that most of them are, like Jemmy Lowther, individuals who enjoyed an unenviable notoriety while living, and for whom there is no sympathy after death.
No peace from the wicked
Sullivan, understandably relishing a good yarn (who doesn’t?!) continues:
(He) became a still greater terror to the country after death, than he had even been during his life. He was with difficulty buried; and whilst the clergyman was praying over him, he very nearly knocked the reverend gentleman from his desk.
When placed in the grave, the power of creating alarm was not interred with his bones. There were disturbances in the (Lowther) Hall, noises in the stables ; neither men nor animals were suffered to rest.
Jemmy’s ” coach and six” is still remembered and spoken of, from which we are probably to understand that he produced a noise, as boggles frequently do, like an equipage of this description. There is nothing said of his shape, or whether he ever appeared at all ; but it is certain he made himself audible.
And Jeremiah Sullivan records that Wicked Jimmy’s ghost was, after a ‘long siege,’ dealt with by an un-named Catholic priest:
the priest read on until he fully overpowered the tyrant, and laid him under a large rock called Wallow Crag, and laid him for ever.
So either Wicked Jimmy’s ghost never rode through the Lowther estate. Or if it did, it was heard not seen. And the priest dealt with it once and for all… Assuming Wicked Jimmy’s ghost wasn’t just pretending to have been defeated!
- The main picture is a model of James Lowther which stands in a corridor at the county archives, in Carlisle
- Wicked Jimmy may well crop up in future posts, as well as the two older ones mentioned in this one. Use the magnifying glass above this article to check.