Seathwaite riot

Seathwaite is a small hamlet in Borrowdale valley, in the Lake District (1991 population 152 people). It’s hard to imagine anywhere less likely to be a hotbed of violence, but Seathwaite has two dubious claims to fame.

One it that it is the wettest place in England (2009):

This wasn’t an original claim – it was disputed in 1937.

The second is that in July 1904, it was the scene of a riot, which left one of the ringleaders dead.

The Seathwaite riot postcard

As a journalist, working on regional newspapers, I know that photographers are often absent when something dramatic happens. These days, you get Google Earth screen grabs of ‘the street where X happened’. In the pre-Google days, we’d end up with captions like ‘X street, back to normal after last night’s drama’.

The Seathwaite riot postcard is in the same vein: James Atkinson and Co, of 6 King Street, Ulverston, saw a chance to make a little money with a card to mark the event. But as (unsurprisingly!) there had been no one in Seathwaite with a camera that eventful day, they made to with a caption under a peaceful view of the church and vicarage – no sign of any damage!

The Seathwaite reservoir

The riot was a case of ‘what you get when you have an influx of workmen into an isolated area, with nothing to do in their spare time but drink’.

For the rioters were only there as part of the construction of a reservoir, to supply water to the growing town of Barrow.

‘THE VALLEY.—Messrs Kennedy. of Partick. Glasgow, the contractors for the Seathwaite Tarn reservoir, have erected a hut capable of accommodating 40 workmen at Beckhouse, Seathwaite, and contemplate a similar building at Parkgate on the Newfield Estate.

‘Large numbers of workmen continue to pour into the valley. An enterprising grocer from Dalton pitched his tent in Seathwaite, but possibly not finding it the “Eldorado” anticipated, has ‘struck his camp.’

Soulby’s Ulverston Advertiser and General Intelligencer. June 30, 1904

The Seathwaite riot

RIOTOUS NAVVIES. Public-house Raided. At Barrow waterworks, Seathwaite, yesterday, a riot took place. Mr. Dawson. of the Newfield Hotel, stopped serving the navvies, and later on, whilst the inmates were in the hayfield, 50 navvies raided the hotel. They also damaged the church and vicarage. Mr. Dawson was powerless, and to defend himself took down his gun and shot three men named Foy, Kinsella, and Cavanagh, not, however, seriously. The ringleaders decamped, and the police are searching for them. A large draft of police is keeping order. 

Manchester Evening News, Tuesday, July 26, 1904

Actually, very seriously

The three rioters shot were Owen Kavanagh, James Foy and Garrett Kinsella.

They were among a bunch of around seven-ten workmen who’d been drinking in the Newfield Hotel since 10am. At stop tap (2pm), James Foy had demanded another beer from landlord Thomas Dawson. 

Thomas Dawson told him to leave and there was an argument outside, in which Foy roughly  grabbed daughter Mary Dawson by the shoulders, tearing her blouse, and his friends kicked off.

Stones were thrown through the hotel windows, while inside, furniture and fittings were trashed, bottles were smashed and spirits and cigarettes stolen.

The mob then left, but not peacefully: they went on to smash windows at the church, vicarage and even the school.

The Seathwaite riot continues

Not satisfied with this, they returned to the Newfield and threatened those inside the now-closed pub they would kill them if they didn’t let them in. Those inside included Mrs Elizabeth Dawson, Mary Dawson, ‘and a servant girl’.

Barman J Greenhow shot Garrett Kinsella, through the window. 

Henry Knox Todd, an assistant waterworks engineer from Glasgow, shot Owen Kavanagh.

And Thomas Dawson, who was outside, couldn’t persuade the mob to leave and ultimately shot James Foy, who had a large piece of wood in his hand at the time.

In all, 144 windows were broken, and 87 stones picked up inside the four damaged buildings.

Some 20 police officers eventually got there, by which time the rest of the mob had fled. However a couple of Millom men were later arrested, but discharged.

One report into the Seathwaite riot says the three injured men were carried into the hotel, where Mrs Dawson ‘did everything she could for them’.

Kinsella recovered, Foy lost a leg. But Kavanagh, who was 25, died the following day.

The court case

Thomas Dawson and J Greenhow were each charged with unlawful wounding. Henry Knox Todd was charged with causing the death of Owen Kavanagh.

The defence case of each was basically that they feared for their own and the women’s lives. 

One report describes Thomas Dawson as ‘a grey-bearded man of the farming type’. Barman J Greenhow (John in some stories, James or Joseph in others) was ‘a medium-built fellow’. And Henry Knox Dodd ‘another young fellow’.

After hearing the evidence in the case on August 10, all three defendants were dismissed, the charges against them either withdrawn or dismissed. And a week later, a coroner’s jury issued a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ in the case of Owen Kavanagh.

The sight-seers

The Ulverston Advertiser (etc!) reported on August 4 that ‘a large number of people’ had visited Broughton and its neighbourhood on the Bank Holiday

‘many of whom wended their way to Seathwaite to view the Newfield Inn and Seathwaite Church’

The rioters

Owen Kavanagh was described by the Lancashire Evening Post as ‘a young Millomite’. The other rioters were also described as ‘Millom roughs’.

There is a short-service military record for Owen Cavanagh, of Millom. He joined the Loyal North Lancashires at Ulverston in 1899, aged 21. His next of kin was father John Cavanagh, of 2 Castle Street, Millom. He received a kick in the head, off duty, ‘playing about’ in Malta in April 1900, and discharged unfit soon after. This for sure was Owen Kavanagh. He was in a military hospital in Hampshire on the 1901 census.

Garrett Kinsella, 23, was charged with larceny, rioting and damage, and committed for trial. He pleaded guilty, at Lancaster Assizes, and was jailed for nine months, with hard labour.

Kinsella was back in court in 1909, for being drunk and disorderly. By 1911, he was married, with a step-daughter, and living in Whitehaven. 

In January 1905, after 22 weeks in hospital James Foy, 33, appeard in court and pleaded guilty to rioting and damage. He was on crutches, having had the lower part of his left leg amputated. The judge at Lancaster Assizes decided this was punishment enough, and sentenced him to one day’s imprisonment, and ordered him back to hospital.

Foy was back in court, in Whitehaven, in 1906, charged with begging. He was allowed to return to Millom, after promising to get a pedlar’s certificate there.