George Miller Ridehalgh (1835-1892)
Life and family
George Ridehalgh, an only child, was born on 24th February 1835 in Prestwich and christened on 1st May 1835 in St Mary’s Church, Manchester. His father, George Lewis Ridehalgh, was born in Colne, Lancashire on 24th September 1792 and was one of a family of mill and property owners and merchants. He married Sarah Taylor of Salford on 1st May 1834 in Manchester Cathedral when he was described as ‘Gentleman’. On the 1841 Census, however, he designated himself ‘Industrialist’. George Lewis Ridehalgh died in April 1849 in Windsor but was buried on 2nd May 1849 in Eccles. On his father’s death, George Ridehalgh, at the age of fourteen, inherited, inter alia, Winkfield House, Ascot, Berkshire and the lands of the Manor of Urmston, Manchester and the title of Lord of the Manor of Urmston. He retained the interest in Urmston, donating land for St Clement’s Church in 1869.
George Ridehalgh went to school at Eton but then, as a young man, was educated as a mechanical engineer. A cache of letters discovered in an ornate rosewood writing slope in 2006 shows that, from the age of nineteen, he was exchanging discretely amorous love letters with Frances Rosa Reade (known as Fanny Rosa) born in 1834, the daughter of a Cheshire solicitor, George Reade. They were married in the summer of 1856 at St Peter’s Church, Astbury, near Congleton. It was said that the air of Berkshire did not suit Fanny Rosa so George Ridehalgh, in 1850, purchased Fell Foot, a large plain villa of about 1780, at Newby Bridge, Lancashire. Fanny Rosa died on 2nd May 1879 without having had children. She was buried at St Mary’s Church, Staveley-in-Cartmel.
George Ridehalgh then married his cousin, Elizabeth Ridehalgh, on 6th September 1880 in Flixton, Manchester. She was the daughter of Robert Ridehalgh, a farmer, of Colne, George Lewis Ridehalgh’s brother and had two brothers, George and James, and a sister, Marcy. This marriage was also childless. Elizabeth outlived her husband dying on 26th September 1904.
In 1890, George Ridehalgh was badly injured in an accident with a runaway cab in Manchester. He became increasingly ill and died on 16th October 1892 leaving £44,376. Despite his second marriage, George Ridehalgh’s greatest love was Fanny Rosa. He was buried with her in the vault at St Mary’s, Staveley-in-Cartmel. Whilst he left his household effects to his wife, Elizabeth, she only received an interest in the main house, Fell Foot, during her widowhood. The property then passed to George Ridehalgh, the eldest son of her brother, George.
Engineering, improvements and innovation
George Ridehalgh became an Associate of the Institute of Engineers in 1882. A sectional brass model of a beam engine which he made is still in the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. He had a lifelong love of engineering, improvement and innovation and used his wealth to indulge his interests. The greatest manifestations of his interest in engineering were his two steam yachts, Fairy Queen and Britannia. On his arrival in Westmorland, George Ridehalgh started improvements to Fell Foot.
George Ridehalgh and Fanny Rosa redecorated the expansive rooms in the ornate style of the day. The rooms included a Trophy Room with heads of stags. In 1865, he had a coal gas generation plant built in the grounds of Fell Foot together with a gas holder to light the entire house and the estate. Remains of some of the outside gas lights can still be seen. Fanny Rosa and George planted an arboretum of specimen deciduous trees and exotic conifers and well as laying out shrubberies of specie rhododendrons. They also extended the kitchen garden.
In 1869, George Ridehalgh constructed a miniature dockyard in gothic style. This consisted of three piers and five boathouses. In addition, it had slips for drawing out of steamers for repair, forges and workshops. There were sailing yachts and a large variety of other boats in the boat houses. One large room at the dockyard had models of steamers and yachts arranged around the walls.
In 1859, George Ridehalgh had a steam yacht, Fairy Queen, built by S B Seath & Sons of Rutherglen, Glasgow. The yacht was sailed from the Clyde to Parkhead, near Holker, and then towed overland to Windermere by a team of 25 horses. Fairy Queen’s maiden voyage took place on 18th April 1860 when the yacht steamed the entire distance from Fell Foot to Ambleside in 1 hour 15 minutes despite a rough and angry swell. Fairy Queen was a very elegant yacht and served as timekeeper, umpire and spectator boat during yacht regattas.
His interest in innovations in engineering can be seen from the fact that Fairy Queen was reputed to have been the first ship to have been illuminated by gas manufactured on board. The gas was manufactured by passing a current of air through a small box containing a chemical compound.
Twenty years later, George Ridehalgh had a second steam yacht, Britannia, built by T B Seath & Co at a reputed cost of £12,500. Britannia was built in sections at Rutherglen on the Clyde and the sections were then transported to Lakeside where they were put together under the eye of George Ridehalgh. The yacht was launched on 24th June 1879. The English Lakes Visitor of 22nd May 1880 reported that George Ridehalgh’s technical knowledge was conspicuous in the minutest details of Britannia’s superior equipment and elegant fittings.
Britannia’s maiden voyage took place on Thursday 13th May 1880 and everyone was greatly impressed by both the detail and luxury of the fittings and her speed – Britannia completed the journey from Bowness to Ambleside in sixteen minutes notwithstanding a stiff head wind. Particularly impressive was the novel apparatus for making gas which worked from the engines. Within three minutes from the time of turning on the taps, the whole of the lamps could be lit. Britannia served as the Commodore’s boat and spectator boat at yachting regattas and was the scene of many celebrated parties. The yacht also provided the platform for several cannonades during the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. A great interest of George Ridehalgh was keeping Britannia in the most perfect order.
Contributions to Westmorland life
As may be expected of a man of his position, George Ridehalgh was a Justice of the Peace. He was appointed in 1869 and was on the bench for both Westmorland and Lancashire. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not take any prominent part in politics. George Ridehalgh’s other great interest was sport, in particular, yachting and hunting. His main contribution in Westmorland was as an officer of the Rifle Volunteers.
The Crimean War showed how limited Britain’s military resources were. Following tension with France, in 1858, the Secretary of State for War issued a letter to Lords Lieutenants of Counties authorising them to raise Rifle Volunteer Corps for local defence. The 4th Westmorland Rifle Volunteer Corps was formed in Windermere in 1865. The original Captain resigned over a dispute as to choice of uniform. The members of the company, with a general feeling of unanimity, approached George Ridehalgh who became their Captain in 1869; a decision the members never regretted. He was most zealous in his duties to the company under his command and expected the same zeal to be displayed by his men. He was said to have enforced the most perfect discipline in a kind and genial manner such that he secured not only obedience but also the universal respect and esteem of all the officers and men. In 1860, George Ridehalgh was promoted to Major and then, in 1881, to Lieutenant Colonel. He retired in 1890 and was awarded the honorary rank of Colonel in the Border Regiment. He was actively involved with the Rifle Volunteers for over 30 years, attending his last battalion drill at Calgarth Park on 12th May 1890. All was not, however, drilling and standing on cold rifle ranges. He was equally attentive to the social side of the Rifle Volunteers attending the annual ball and supper for the Company at the Royal Hotel, Bowness. On the occasion of his promotion to the rank of Major, he gave a banquet at the Old England Hotel, Bowness.
George Ridehalgh took an active interest in yachting as soon as he moved to Fell Foot. He took over the yacht, Bird, from the previous owner of Fell Foot and then went to own a number of yachts including Wave Crest, Saxon and Victoria. His yachts were sailed in Regattas on the lake by Tom Brown of Morecambe and in 1872 he won every prize in the Regatta. He was one of the founding members, in 1860, of the Windermere Yacht Club and was elected to the first Sailing Committee. He was Commodore on seven occasions between 1862 and 1890 and a very liberal supporter of the Yacht Club presenting a number of prizes to the Club including the Challenge Cup, value 50 guineas.
George Ridehalgh had an ardent love of hunting. He was Master of the Windermere harriers. The meetings of the harriers at which it was known that George Ridehalgh would be present were always well attended. He was welcomed with the heartiest goodwill by both sportsmen and farmers. This was because of his most stringent orders that the hounds were never to be allowed to interfere with the fox hunters’ perquisites and that the least possible damage should be done to fences and crops. The hounds were, on occasions, transferred across the lake on Fairy Queen. Such was his popularity among the hunting fraternity that a subscription was raised in 1879 for a testimonial. This resulted in the production of a large oil painting of George Ridehalgh with the huntsman and the hounds. He was also presented with a pure gold hunting horn, a silver pocket flask and a richly illuminated address.
George Ridehalgh was in many ways the antithesis of the Victorian nouveaux riches gentleman. In the words of the obituary in the Kendal Mercury and Times on 21st October 1892, George Ridehalgh ‘whilst endowed with all that could be wished for in the way of worldly means he was entirely devoid of the qualities which are too frequently found in persons placed in such a station in life.’ He was a successful officer in the Volunteer Rifles because he was universally respected and esteemed as he was as a yachtsman and hunter. His manner was equally appreciated in his private life. The female servants at Fell Foot made a beautiful and intricate patchwork quilt, now in the Quilt Museum and Gallery in York, which they presented to George Ridehalgh and his wife.
Whilst George Ridehalgh may have been serious and determined about the particular activities he undertook, he retained a sense of humour and a lack of pomposity. Visitors to Fell Foot were greeted by a stuffed kangaroo in the hall which held a tray for their cards.
- Select births and christenings 1538-1975
- England and Wales Census, 1841, 1861, 1871
- England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index 1837-1915
- England and Wales Civil Registration Death Index 1837-1915
- National Probate Calendar, Index of Wills and Administrations
- Manchester Church of England Marriage & Banns 1754-1930
- Kendal Mercury and Times, 21st October 1892
- Illustrated London News 20th May 1893
- English Lakes Visitor and Keswick Guardian 22nd May 1880
- Westmorland Gazette 21st April 1860, 13th March 1864, 11th February 1865
- Lakes Chronicle and Reporter 21st October 1892
- Ulverston Mirror and Furness Reflector 30th March 1861
- R S Boumphrey, C Roy Huddleston, J Hughes, An Armorial for Westmorland and Lonsdale (1975), 248
- Ian Jones, Windermere Yacht Club Celebrates 150 Years 1860-2012 (2010), 175, 176
- M Hyde and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Cumbria (2010), 552
- www.gracesguide.co.uk/George John Miller Ridehalgh
- George H Pattinson, The Great Age of Steam on Windermere (1981) 49, 59,62
- W B Forwood (ed), Windermere and the Royal Windermere Yacht Club (1905)
- Jeremy Rowan Robinson et al, ‘Great Grandad’s Army: Rifle Ranges in the Lake District’, (2017) Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 3rd Series Vol 17, 189, 202-3
- Photograph, National Trust Collection, reproduced in Ian Jones, The Royal Windermere Yacht Club, 175
- Portrait, George Ridehalgh as a Boy in Plaid, English School circa 1845, National Trust Collection
- Portrait, George Ridehalgh, English School, circa 1860, National Trust Collection.
- Oil painting, Hunting Scene of Windermere Harriers with George Ridehalgh as Master, John William Bottomley, 1880, displayed at Windermere Jetty Museum on loan from relations of George Ridehalgh.