Major Thomas Atkinson Argles (1859-1923)

Major Thomas Atkinson Argles

Written by Kevin Grice

Location: Kendal

Early Life and Family

Thomas Atkinson Argles was born in Kendal on 20th January 1859 and there he was baptised on 8th March that year. His family links to South Westmorland indeed went back several generations, particularly through the maternal Atkinson line. Thomas’s paternal grandparents were George Argles (1767-1831), a man of Kent who became a Captain in the Royal Navy, and his wife Jane Atkinson (1778-1868), the daughter of Thomas Atkinson (1758-1837), a successful businessman who was Mayor of Kendal in 1814. George and Jane were married by licence by her brother the Reverend John Archambo Atkinson at St Mary Abchurch in London in 1813. Captain Argles had served as a Midshipman (1788), a Lieutenant (1798), being injured in an action capturing a French privateer that year, and a Post-Captain (1802) before promotion to full Captain in 1806 and he retired from the Royal Navy in 1825. The couple lived in Ireland, Surrey, Sussex and Kent during Captain Argles’ service but upon his retirement went to live in Southampton where he died six years later. Her husband’s will had left Jane Argles with substantial annuity income and so she returned to Westmorland to live at Kidside in Preston Richard near Milnthorpe with various members of her extended family and several servants. There she died at the age of 90 on New Year’s Eve 1868. She is buried in Heversham Church, like her son and grandson.

George and Jane Argles’ younger son Francis (known as Frank) Atkinson Argles (1816-1885) was born in Streatham in Surrey, trained as a solicitor in London (1841) and he was still practising there in 1850/1851 at 56, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Sometime thereafter however he also came to Westmorland, perhaps to be nearer to his ageing mother, and in 1858/9 he had built for himself an Italianate mansion known as Eversley (House) in Heversham near Milnthorpe, which remained the main Argles’ family home well into the twentieth century. It was designed by H P Horner of Liverpool (fl. 1840), remodelled in the 1920’s after the Argles family sold it and was converted into several separate dwellings in the 1950’s. Frank Argles was thereafter described simply as landed proprietor. As well as Eversley, he also owned extensive lands throughout South Westmorland, Holbeck near Sedbergh (then in the West Riding of Yorkshire), Haregate Hall in Ball Haye Green near Leek in Staffordshire and commercial property in London, such as the Britannia Tavern in Haringey. He became a JP, Chairman of Quarter Sessions, a Deputy Lieutenant for Westmorland, was President of Westmorland and Kendal District Agricultural Society in 1870 and a trustee of Heversham Endowed School in 1871. He was High Sheriff of the county in 1872 and his training as a solicitor combined with his status as a member of the landed gentry may well have led to his appointment as a trustee of the extensive estate of George Wilson of Dallam Hall near Milnthorpe who died in 1871.

Frank Argles financed the rebuilding of Crosthwaite Church in the Lyth Valley in 1877-8 with the assistance of parishioners and of his older brother, the Very Reverend Marsham Argles (1814-1892), Dean of Peterborough Cathedral who had retired by then there. In 1885 after Frank’s death the church tower was also rebuilt at his expense and the bells therein were re-cast. Internally a reredos was in time erected in memory of his widow Susannah. Frank’s nephew the Reverend George Marsham Argles (1841-1920) followed his father into the Church and became Rector of St Clement’s in York and a Canon of York Minster. He also retired to Heversham, living at a house named Hawbarrow (which he had built for himself in 1899) until his death, after which his widow Mary Ann Argles (1850-1938) continued living there until she also passed away. The Westmorland church munificence of the family did not however stop there. Hubert Davys Argles (1879-1968), George and Mary Ann’s son, and his wife Sibell (1892-1968) have a lych gate dedicated to them in Crosthwaite Church. Frank Argles himself died after a prolonged illness at Eversley on 6th February 1885, aged 68, and was buried at Heversham Church three days later. He left an estate of £41,164 net.

In April 1858 Frank Argles married Susannah Atkinson (1825-1895) the daughter of Tobias Atkinson of Kendal (and a grand-niece of her mother-in-law) who was before then living on her annuity income with three servants in the family home in Highgate in her home town. Their only child, Thomas Atkinson Argles was born the following year at that Kendal house, the family only moving into Eversley a few months later upon its completion. There the family lived in style with five or six servants, two coachmen and two gardeners in both 1861 and 1871. Thomas was educated at Christ Church, Oxford where he matriculated in May 1877, was awarded a BA in 1881 and an MA in 1884. He then trained as a barrister, being called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in 1883. He had Chambers at 3, Pump Court in the Temple and practised on the Oxford Circuit, living in rented accommodation in London then Buckinghamshire. His legal career was however cut short by the death of his father and Thomas returned to live at Eversley. He was only 26 years of age and had inherited substantial wealth, particularly as a landowner in South Westmorland and beyond. Thomas further added to the family estates by acquiring land in Lancashire over the Sands, particularly around Broughton-in-Furness and in the Arnside and Silverdale area. He continued the same lifestyle as his father alongside his mother until her death ten years later, five domestic servants still being employed in 1891 and 1901 alongside two coachmen and a number of gardeners.

Public Service

Thomas Argles was a JP for Westmorland from January 1884 until his death, a period of service of nearly 40 years, becoming Chairman of the Milnthorpe Bench in 1910. He was a County Councillor from 1889, a prominent member of the County’s Education Committee and a County Alderman from 1917. In August 1890 he was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for Westmorland and in 1891 he followed his father by becoming High Sheriff. The year of his office was marked by great pageantry for which he himself paid. In July 1891, a procession to mark his shrievalty started at Eversley with ‘thirty mounted tenants, javelin men by the side of the Sheriff’s coach and various carriages containing friends, justices and the local gentry. There were triumphal arches on route and upon arrival into Kendal, there was much bunting and the bells of the Parish Church were all pealed.’ Thomas Argles also served on the Grand Jury which in February 1890 sent John Metcalfe for trial at Carlisle Assizes on a charge of murdering his stepmother Rosamond, an offence for which he was subsequently convicted and hanged. The case is known as ‘The Longmarton Tragedy’ and to this day some contend that the correct charge should have been manslaughter and the death penalty avoided. It is recorded that a minority of the Grand Jury agreed but it is unknown if Thomas Argles was in that minority; his philanthropic character suggests that he may have been.

Thomas Argles always retained an interest in the military of the county and he became Captain of ‘G’ Company of the 2nd (Westmorland) Volunteer Battalion of the Border Regiment in 1892. In 1907 the somewhat lackadaisical Volunteers had been subsumed into the Territorial Army and Thomas Argles then became Captain of the 4th Cumberland & Westmorland Battalion of the Territorial Force of the Border Regiment, finally retiring with the rank of Major in 1912. He also became a member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Joint Committee of the Territorial Force Association and chairman of its Land and Buildings Committee. His elaborations of the minutes of his committee when he submitted them in the quarterly meetings ‘were always of a most informative nature’. He and his wife continued their connections with the local military even after his retirement as in August 1914 Major and Mrs Argles drew up in their motor car on New Road in Kendal to take the salute of the first local volunteer force to depart from Kendal for the continent and who were ‘…hailed as if they alone were about to deliver gallant little Belgium’.

Thomas Argles joined the Union Lodge in Kendal in 1885, the Windermere Lodge in 1887, the Sedbergh Lodge in 1919 and he helped found a new Eversley Lodge in 1920. He became Deputy Provincial Grand Master for the Cumberland and Westmorland Province, sometimes stood in for the Grand Master at ceremonies and was highly regarded in Masonic circles.

Indeed there was hardly any branch of county public and philanthropic life in which Thomas Argles did not take an active and prominent part and in which he was universally held other than in the highest respect. In addition to the positions set out above, he was Chairman then President of the South Westmorland Conservative and Unionist Association then of the Westmorland Association following merger in 1911, Chairman of the Governors of Heversham School, Secretary of Milnthorpe and District Art and Industrial Exhibition (1891-2) and he became Treasurer of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society in 1908, having been a member since 1879, three years after his father was made a Vice-President. He was a confirmed and hardworking churchman with a lively interest in church work, a Diocesan Lay Reader and he served on the Carlisle Diocesan Board of Finance and the Diocesan Missionary Council. He was rarely absent from meetings where his broad outlook and wide experience of men and affairs were greatly appreciated by his fellows. His chairmanship of such committees was marked by an infectious geniality which sat well with those serving him, although he was a keen fighter where fighting was necessary. His philanthropy extended to both acting as benefactor to and manager of numerous local schools, hospitals and other similar public institutions. He was also a lifelong member of the Oxford and Cambridge Club.

These achievements in public service were noted further afield when Thomas Argles was admitted into the Freedom of the City of London on 11th March 1913 ‘by Redemption in the Company of Feltmakers’.

Private Life

Thomas Argles loved horse riding and it nearly brought his life to a premature end. In January 1890, he went for a quiet ride on his favourite horse but on Milnthorpe Hill something spooked the animal and it galloped off at furious speed. On reaching the open gates of Eversley, the horse made a sudden turn, colliding with the coping which it caused to collapse. The horse fell and Thomas Argles was thrown violently down from it. When the horse got to its feet, one of its hooves struck him forcefully on the head and neck and he suffered very serious injuries. A local doctor was summoned and may have saved Thomas’ life although he spent some time in hospital in Kendal. The contemporaneous newspaper account records him as a large landowner in the district and ‘a very popular young gentleman’. Happily in time he made a full recovery.

On 24th January 1893 at Crosscrake Church, Thomas Argles married Agnes Wakefield (1866-1923), the youngest daughter of William Henry Wakefield (1828-1889) of Sedgewick House in Sedgewick. The Wakefields were a long-established and very wealthy family in the area with business interests including banking, commerce and gunpowder manufacture at their Sedgewick Works. The social breadth of the match was exemplified by Mary Curwen, a direct descendant of the Curwens of Belle Isle and the sister of John Flavel Curwen (1860-1932), being a witness to the ceremony, which was conducted by Thomas’s nephew. A charming photograph of the wedding party at Sedgewick House shows the family love of high Victorian fashion. Agnes’ elder sister was Mary Wakefield (1853-1910) and together they ran the Mary Wakefield Music Festival for many years. It had begun in 1885 as a formation of a Choral Union comprising existing societies in Levens, Leasgill, Milnthorpe and Beetham (later also including Eversley) and still continues today, making it the oldest competitive music festival in the country. The first competition was held on the tennis court at Sedgewick House and it moved indoors as it grew in size and musical scope with Mary as President and Agnes as Secretary. Henry Wood (1869-1944) was the principal conductor until 1911 and Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) held the baton for several years in the 1930’s. Agnes herself was very well known and much appreciated as a talented singer and musician. Both sisters were also much interested in musical education.

Thomas and Agnes lived throughout their married life at Eversley and became a leading part of the social scene in and around South Westmorland for the following 30 years but in 1923 tragedy struck. Agnes (on 9th May) and then Thomas (on 21st July) both died, aged 56 and 64 respectively. Meetings of the Council Education Committee in Carlisle and Speech Day at Heversham School were cancelled in his honour. Probate was granted out of the Carlisle Registry on 15th December 1923 with a net estate of £60,488. After his death the memory of Thomas Atkinson Argles was enshrined in churches in both Westmorland and Staffordshire. There is a memorial west window to him in St Peter’s Church in Heversham and in 1936 a crystal lamp in Leek Parish Church was dedicated to him. Thomas Argles was a man of many parts and was sorely missed by his wide circle of friends and associates. He made a significant contribution to the civic and social life of South Westmorland in particular but to the wider community as well.


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