John Garnett (1825-1896)

Written by Christopher Donaldson

Occupations: Printer and Publisher

John Garnett was a Windermere printer and publisher, stationer and station master, postmaster and prolific seller of postcards, guidebooks and prints. Garnett was a fixture of the Windermere community from the town’s inception, and he played an active role in promoting Lake District tourism, not least on account of his relationship with Harriet Martineau (1802-1876; ODNB).

He published Martineau’s Guide to Windermere (1854) and her Complete Guide to the Lakes (1855) and there are related letters at the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Institute. In the years that followed, Garnett published the guidebooks of other notable Victorian writers, including Herbert Ludolph Prior (1818-1903) and the novelist and editor James Payn (1830-1898; ODNB).

Garnett was a Kendalian by birth and may be identical with the John Garnett baptised there on 24 April 1825, the son of William and Isabella Garnett. The Garnett family had lived at Orton Old Hall for several generations from 1601, but had departed thence before John’s birth. The circumstances of his move to Windermere are unclear, but it coincided with the coming of the railway to Windermere in 1847 and, thus, with the birth of the town itself. Windermere was a small hamlet known as Birthwaite before the railway arrived. The details are patchy, but Garnett is said to have first lodged at Alice Howe Farm, on the Kendal Road. He later moved to Church Street, where by 1851 he was recorded as residing with his wife Elizabeth and their four children Frederick William, Alice Jane, Frank James and Herbert Max.  His fifth child Kate was born after this date.

Writing in 1928, Launcelot Steele recalled that Garnett had his home built on Church Street and that this was where he ‘had his printing rooms, shop and office’ (Steele, 10). In 1891, Garnett was still residing on Church Street with Elizabeth and his two maiden daughters Alice and Kate. He served as Windermere’s postmaster for at least forty years, claiming by 1891 to be ‘the oldest postmaster in the kingdom’ (Garnett, 303). Garnett died in 1896, and advertisements indicate that his professional property was auctioned in December 1896:

DEROME & SON Respectfully announce the receipt of Instructions from the Representatives of the late Mr. John Garnett, the well-known Printer and Publisher, of Windermere, to Catalogue and SELL BY AUCTION AT THE CAXTON HOUSE PRINTING WORKS, WINDERMERE, on, WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2 and 3, 1896, commencing each day at 12 o’clock at Noon, precisely, the whole of his valuable PRINTING PLANT & MACHINERY AND STOCK-IN-TRADE AS A PUBLISHER AND BOOKSELLER.

Notably, this sale saw Garnett’s copyright purchased by none other than MJR Baddeley (1843-1906; ODNB) whose Thorough Guide to the English Lake District became the preeminent guidebook of the late 19th century (Westmorland Gazette)

In addition to serving as Windermere’s first station master, Garnett also regularly served as a member of the town council and was a churchwarden. He also provided printing and stationary services to St. Mary’s Church from 1856 until his death. 

Garnett engaged in a variety of projects, including a series of Occasional Papers (published in 1858) which included a description of the Indian Mutiny in 1857.  He also ran a lending library and operated as a chemist. Kelly’s directory of 1858 lists Garnett as a ‘printer, bookseller & stationer & postmaster, Church St’ and mentions one George Garnett as postmaster, which is likely errant. An advertisement in the 4th edition of Martineau’s Guide (1871) also refers to Garnett being a house agent and that he supplied artists’ materials. In 1873, Kelly’s directory describes him as a ‘printer, publisher, bookseller, chemist & postmaster, Church street’. The same volume also lists John Garnett as postmaster. In 1894, Kelly’s lists him as a ‘bookseller, publisher, printer & chemist, Post office, Church Street’. Bulmer’s directory of 1885 provides similar information. Therein, we read: ‘Post, Money Order, and Telegraph Office, and Savings Bank, at John Garnett’s, Church Street’. Bulmer’s also lists Garnett in the trade directory as a chemist.

Garnett was still active in his role as postmaster in 1895. He was present that year at a meeting of the Provincial Head Postmasters Association, where he was elected co-vice-president of the Association, along with one Mr. Railton of Scarborough (Morning Post ).

Garnett made his will on 26 October 1892, and he altered it by two codicils: one dated 1895; the other dated 1896. In his will, he specified his daughters, Alice Jane and Kate, as his principle beneficiaries. They received ‘in equal share’ his possessions and his estate. The only other named beneficiary was Garnett’s sister in law, Mary Dawson, who was given her choice of any ‘timepiece’ from his property. As executors and trustees, Garnett listed ‘John Dawson of the Cragg, Troutbeck in the said County of Westmorland, a Colonel in her Majesty’s Army’ and ‘Edward Garnett of Kendal in the said County of Westmorland, Bank Manager’. Edward was presumably a relative (brother), and the colonel, was presumably a brother in law.

The 1895 codicil to the will replaced Edward and John with ‘Anthony Barnes Taylor of Windermere, Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages’ and ‘George Gatey of Ambleside, in the said County of Westmorland’. In 1896, the second codicil replaced Gatey with ‘Mary Dawson of the Cragg, Troutbeck, Windermere, Spinster’.  John Garnett died on 27 June 1896 at 15 St James’ Terrace, Buxton, Derbyshire, leaving an estate of £2,360.


  • Fred Brooksbank Garnett, ‘Orton Old Hall or Petty Hall, Orton’, CW1, 11, 300-304
  • Launcelot Steele, Windermere: Its Growth and History, 1928
  • Bulmer’s directory, 1885, 630
  • Kelly’s directory, 1868, 66
  • Kelly’s directory, 1873, 937-8
  • Kelly’s directory, 1894, 140
  • Morning Post, ‘Meeting of Postmasters’, 5 July 1895, 2
  • Letters from 1855-1870, in the Martineau Papers, Cadbury Institute, Birmingham University: XHM 318-341
  • John Garnett, Will and Probate, Carlisle Record Office: PROB/1896/WCOD419
  • Westmorland Gazette, 6 March 1897, 2