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Rev. Wilson Stewart

Rev. Wilson Stewart. 1873 to 1934   -  Late of Souterstead
        by John Dawson

Although, like his father. Wilson Stewart was a Methodist Minister, the fact that his mother was a Wilson from Dalton-in-Furness gave his life a coherence and a fixed centre not usual for itinerant ministers in those days.  Mrs. Wilson was unusual inasmuch as her family owned Souterstead.  It was an early example of a holiday house, and she spent as much time there as she possibly could,as did the rest of her family.

The young Wilson Stewart was certainly there sufficiently often for the Rev. Thomas Ellwood to give him coaching in Latin.  That he took his work seriously is shown by the fact that he became successively through the 1890’s, B.A., B.Sc., and an advanced student at St. John’s College, Cambridge.  A future portent from these years was his investigation of the effects of alcohol on the human body.  Meanwhile, he had undertaken a course of training for the Wesleyan Ministry.  Small wonder perhaps that after he had begun Circuit work in the Methodist Church in 1901, it gradually became apparent that he was not ideally cut out for this activity.

Indeed, it was alcohol that began to take over his life.  This is not the place to recount his toils and adventures in the cause of total abstinence.  His father retired to Torver, bringing his sister Mary, (Mamie), as housekeeper.  Young Wilson did not resign from the normal work of a Methodist Minister until the 1920’s, but by then Souterstead had become his home base.  He travelled widely in his crusade for Temperance, - the Isle of Man, where he had bruising encounters with the natives and the police, and in the U.S.A. to study the working of Prohibition there.  He became deeply involved with the municipal brewery of Carlisle, and conducted lecture tours.  A favourite visual was to distil the alcohol from a bottle of Guiness (or stout), then set fire to it!

In the midst of this busy life Stuart became a well known and well liked member of the Torver scene.  He spent as much time as he could spare in the garden at Souterstead.  He built a rustic bridge over the beck in the front garden, grew lilies which his mother had loved, and cultivated vegetables in a corner of the field.  He was not niggardly with his garden produce; in a letter to a friends he said, “We were so happy you found the green gooseberries useful, and we hope Miss H. likes the strawberries”.  Sometimes he would go out to Coniston to conduct services for the handful of worshippers in the little Chapel.  He was one of the first persons in Torver to own wireless reception equipment, and if anything he considered significant cropped up he would jot the information down and take it across to pin it on the village notice board.

A personal letter of 1930 seems to bring us closer to the man.  “I had a glorious time in the garden on Friday morning, and got my peas sticked and a row of runner beans sowed and some necessary hoeing done.  Torver is looking glorious and we were both (W.S. and his sister Mamie) very sorry to come away”.  Or again to the same friend, Mrs. Elvidge, in 1932, “…we now have a little home in the west with some degree of convenience and comfort in it, and when we finish our scheme, I think it will be rather unique as a compact little place in a style harmonious in its setting of garden and mountains…”

Sadly, by this time the heart condition that was to carry him off was beginning to make itself felt.  During his last months, the community rallied round.  The Youngs, who had long farmed the land, Rev. R. Standfast the Methodist Minister and the Rev. R. S. Heaton the Rector of Torver came to visit, Mrs. Minnie Smith came to sit with him, and Mrs. Challinor brought him flowers.  From one of his last letters to the faithful, Mrs. Elvidge, we may read, “The field opposite the house is down to sweet hay and the Youngs work from 4am cutting etc.”  After his death many of his former neighbours brought flowers and hung them on, or near to, the gate at Souterstead.

The author acknowledges his debt to the late Mr. Dickinson for his personal communications and for the loan of  “Wilson Stuart: a Memoir”, by Joseph Malins.

The picture of Wilson Stewart came to us thanks to Barbara Lee who lived at Souterstead until she died in 2009.  Upon being shown a copy of John Dawson’s article (written for the Nobbut Torver magazine) she told us that when she first moved into the house 35 years ago, Maurice Young asked her to allow a framed photograph of the good Reverend to remain in the upstairs room which W.S. used as his study and where he wrote his sermons. Barbara did not recall the name of the gentleman and there is no authenticating evidence on the back of the photograph, but some intensive Internet research eventually turned up a picture of Rev. Stewart that confirmed his identity.

The original photograph (shown on the right) is in a bad state due to its great age (around 1910) and water damage.  Our thanks to Kai for digitally repairing it for publication.