John Mortimer Sladen (1868-1943)

Written by Jean Warburton

Occupation: Philanthropist
Location: Windermere

Life and family

John Mortimer Sladen was born in Stalybridge on 23rd July 1868 and christened at Englefield Green, Surrey on 29th January 1869. He had an older brother, Alfred Reyner, born in 1866. Their father, Charles Henry Sladen (1837-1883), was the son of John Sladen (1806-1869), a corn merchant who was describing himself as Gentleman by the time of his son’s marriage to Ellen Reyner (1837-1879), on 9th May 1864 in Manchester Cathedral. On that occasion, Charles Henry was stated to be a Commission Agent although on the 1871 census he was said to have no occupation. Alfred Reyner (1800-1871), Ellen’s father was a cotton spinner and manufacturer whose firm, Thomas Reyner & Sons, had Cockbrook Mill, Stalybridge Road, Ashton under Lyne with 31,000 spindles and a warehouse at 24 Brook Street Manchester. When he died he left £450,000.

John Sladen had something of a peripatetic life as a child. In 1871, in the year of both their deaths, he was living at his maternal grandparents’ house, Sunnyside House, Currier Lane, Ashton under Lyne, together with his parents and brother.  His parents then went to live in London where his mother died in 1879 at 2 Great Cumberland Place, Hyde Park.  After the death of his wife, Charles Henry remained, on his own, in London and sent his two sons to live with his wife’s sister, Jane Cheetham, at Hazeldale, College Road, Windermere. John Sladen then went to school at Harrow and continued his education at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. The two brothers inherited their maternal grandfather’s estate on becoming 21 years old and bought Cleeve Howe in 1887, a Gothic style mansion to the north of Elleray, Windermere with gardens designed by Thomas Mawson. They remained there for the rest of their lives.

John Sladen never married or pursued any profession but lived on his inheritance. He died on 22nd February 1943, leaving £297,677, and was buried on 5th March that year in Windermere Cemetery. His brother survived him for only 18 months, dying on 25th August 1944.


John Sladen was a good all-round sportsman of the late Victorian era and sport was his major interest for the first part of his life. He showed early prowess by gaining a blue whilst at Cambridge and rowed for Cambridge in the 1890 Boat Race against Oxford when he weighed 11st. 4 lbs. Once established at Cleeve Howe, he immediately joined the Royal Windermere Yacht Club serving for many years on the Sailing Committee and holding the position of Commodore in 1900. Although he was said to be slightly in the shadow of his brother as far as sailing was concerned, he still managed to win 13 Challenge Cups. He sailed Spray, Kiwi, Cherub, Cockatoo, Lotus, Penguin, Penguin II, Toucan and Toucan ll all 20 Foot Class yachts acquired from his brother who was a talented and noted yacht designer.

In addition to his yachts, John Sladen had two or three sea going vessels. His brother designed Otto, a high-powered steam launch, for him in 1896. He also owned the launch Beaver which was used to take the Chief Scout and Lady Baden Powell on a cruise on Windermere in 1915. Beaver was again in service in July 1927 to sail the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor) down the lake from Waterhead to Bowness when he visited the area.

John Sladen had wider sporting interests both as participant and funder. He was a foundation member and Captain of Windermere Golf Club and provided prizes at the Club. He was among the earliest motorists in Windermere and possessed motor cars before the first Act of Parliament controlling them was passed, often driving at well over 60 mph. This led to him being fined £5 and costs at Towyn Petty Sessions in North Wales in November 1908 for being in breach of the Motor Car Act. The local cricket, football and other clubs were among those he supported financially with his name regularly being on subscription lists.


John Sladen’s major concern was scouting which linked his interest in matters mechanical and electrical and his philosophical approach, particularly in relation to young people. He was originally approached, in 1910 or 1911, to assist the local scout troop by Rev. Frederick W Dwelly (1881-1957), then curate of St Mary’s Windermere and later first Dean of Liverpool, with the intention that he would to teach the troop a few points of mechanics and electricity. There is a rumour, however, unsupported by evidence, that General Baden-Powell stayed with John Sladen in Windermere in 1901 to recuperate from the stress of war and discussed his ideas about scouting but John Sladen gave no hint before 1910 that he knew anything about scouting. He became involved with the troop and helped to put it on a sound basis without denominationalism becoming President in 1911. Subsequently, he was County Commissioner from 1914 to 1937.

Visiting troops to the camps he organised at Fell Foot included one from Norway who summed up their view of John Sladen by singing, ‘Sladen, he can do everything’. He also started a patrol of Sea Scouts on Windermere. By 1914, had raised £2,000 for the Sea Scouts and then wrote the book, ‘Sea Scout Principles’. He was said to have known his scout craft from A to Z and to have inspired his scouts by the sincerity and aptness of his talks on the aims and ideals of scouting. John Sladen was awarded the Silver Wolf – the blue ribbon of scout decorations – by the Chief Scout, Lord Baden Powell. The strength of feeling from those in the scout movement towards him can be seen from the two separate services – one in Windermere and one in Liverpool – which were organised by Rovers at the time of his funeral.

Matters mechanical and electrical

John Sladen was intensely practical and an inventor with clever hands who benefited many organisations both in Westmorland and further afield. He was associated with the electrical engineering work at the Starnthwaite Home for Epileptic Boys which had been founded in 1902 as a school and farm colony for ‘epileptic boys capable of education’ and was run by the Christian Service Union. The whole of the installation was due to his generosity. He did not just provide the finances; if a problem arose out of a day’s work he would occupy himself into the small hours of the night until he had solved it to his own satisfaction.

John Sladen’s inventiveness and adaptabilities had ample scope at the Westmorland Sanatorium at Meathop which was established in 1900 for those suffering from tuberculosis. He bore the cost of electric light and supervised the work in progress. He devised the ‘Meathop machine’ which sterilised and cleaned sputum flasks. In 1911, he designed a new outdoor shelter for tuberculosis patients named ‘The Pagoda’ the design of which was taken up by the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis who had models made to send throughout the world. He also designed a patented electrical apparatus for connecting the shelters to the doctor’s residence. His work at Meathop was said to have helped to make enormous strides towards the cure of tuberculosis.

Philosophy and philanthropy

John Sladen heard Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940) talk in Windermere about his work in Labrador to improve the plight of coastal inhabitants and fisherman, in particular by providing medical facilities. He was greatly impressed by Grenfell and the immediate result was a philanthropic one with John Sladen building and endowing a hospital ship at great expense which he presented to the Royal Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, of which he was a member of Council. He then visited Labrador at the invitation of the Mission to report on the conditions, spending a summer there. The more lasting result was in forming his approach to life and combining that with his earlier interests and his capacity for philanthropy.

In an appreciation of John Sladen’s life, forming part of the obituary in the Westmorland Gazette on 6th March 1943, Dean Dwelly wrote that he was said ‘to have delighted in gathering potential good wherever it was to be found, understanding it, enabling it to wake to new life on its own account and taking care that no external organisation should cramp creative men and their world of creation’. He quoted John Sladen’s own words: ‘Fellow-feeling impels adaptability and this is one of the marks of the creative spirit’. An important concept to him was ‘wholeness’ which led him to concentrate not only on physical but also mental health. Dean Dwelly further stated that John Sladen was regarded as one of the pioneers of the individual social service and that he had left a great mark on the development of the British sense of social responsibility.

The Royal Albert Institution in Lancaster, which was an institution for the care and education of children with learning problems, was supported by John Sladen. Whilst on the Committee there, he probed some of the problems of the youths’ mental disturbances and saw the need for experiments to be made in homes for youths. He was convinced that the techniques of the Scout movement provided a pattern with which to work and he applied his knowledge and experience of the movement. The Starnthwaite Home for Epileptic Boys provided an opportunity for him to use the scout movement to advance his views. He established a scout troop there and the Superintendent of the Home reported that the boys benefitted both mentally and physically from the Scout training.

John Sladen supported many local institutions in addition to the Starnthwaite home and the Meathop Sanatorium. The Nurses Cottage in Windermere was built and given by him to the Windermere Nursing Association and he was Chairman of the Governors of Windermere Grammar School.


John Sladen was one of those rare men who was both intensely practical and an idealist. He was self-effacing and disliked patronage and organisation for its own sake, He recognised the limitations which age brought and the importance of making room for others which he did.

Primary sources

  • England and Wales Civil Registration Births Index 1837-1915
  • Surrey Church of England Baptisms 1813-1912
  • England and Wales Census 1871, 1881, 1901, 1911
  • National Probate Calendar. Index of Wills and Administrations.
  • Manchester Marriage Banns 1754-1930
  • Westmorland Gazette 27th February 1943, 6th March 1943
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 5th July 1944
  • Lakes Chronicle and Reporter 19th October 1894
  • Cambrian News 20th November 1908
  • Falkirk Herald 25th February 1914
  • Newspaper extract undated, Windermere Jetty Museum, T0095.9

Secondary sources

  • Ian Jones, The Royal Windermere Yacht Club Celebrates 150 Years 1860-2010 (2010) 30, 45,161, 169, 184
  • Matthew Hyde and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England Cumbria (2010) 691
  • C Dodd, The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (1983)
  • George H Pattinson, The Great Age of Steam on Windermere (1981) 71
  • Roy McNamara, 100 Years of Scouting in Cumbria (2007) 10, 33, 34, 85, 164
  • Barbara Copeland, ‘The Westmorland Sanatorium at Meathop’, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeology Society Transactions (1997) Vol 97, 239


  • Photograph, Westmorland Gazette 6th March 1943
  • Photograph reproduced in Ian Jones, The Royal Windermere Yacht Club Celebrates 150 Years 1860-2010 (2010), 184