Gilgarran and Yard Band Pits
William Walker Esq, a merchant from Whitehaven who acquired his fortune during the Napoleonic wars, bought the old Garrengill House and land from Lord Longsdale in 1798. The house was situated at the west side of Garrengill, and he lived there with his sister Anne.
William then bought the land to the South of the hamlet from Lord Lonsdale and between 1806 and 1809 he built the new mansion on this land “Gilgarran Park”
At this time the hamlet consisted of the mansion house, stables, servants quarters, a school/chapel all the houses had its own water supply, there was also a public toilet for Ladies and Gentlemen!
The estate had its own water powered mill on Distington Beck, in the woods south of Colin Gate Farm and this mill worked until the 1950s.
Both William and Anne had a keen interest in botany, and fine arts and travelled the world in search of such unique pieces. William and Anne were travelling to Italy on the Brunswick when it came under attack from a Spanish corvette called Pronte in 1819, William was fatally wounded, and although badly damaged the Brunswick did make it to Italy. Anne now her brother’s heiress was brought home aboard a Royal Navy Frigate commanded by Captain James Robertson R.N.
Captain James Robertson married Anne Walker at St Nicholas’s church in Whitehaven and he assumed the additional surname of Walker, he became High Sherrif in 1841 and on 16th of October 1845 he performed the foundation stone ceremony at Christchurch Whitehaven.
When Anne died, James inherited the Gilgarran estate, he soon remarried his cousin Catherine a woman some 37 years younger than he.
Captain James Robertson Walker died at the age of 85, on 26th October 1858 and was interred at the family vault at Distington Church of the Holy Spirit. His widow Catherine inherited the estate and upon her death the estate transferred to James Robertson nephew of Captain James Robertson Walker. The nephew also assumed the additional surname Walker, and when he died on March 21st 1927 he was the last of the line to be interred in the family tomb.
During the time of building the new Gilgarran Mansion, William Walker worked the Gunnerdale Colliery in 1805, the pit was 19 fathoms to the Yard Band, this was as part of what came under the listing of “Old Gunnerdine Colliery” which ran from old Gunnerdine level at Prospect, via Stubbs Gill, Glaister Moss and Mar Yat to Castlerigg or Rugards.
In 1830 Captain James Robertson Walker sank 3 pits to the Yard Band at depths varying from 10 to 20 fathoms, he also had 6 cinder ovens (coke ovens).
No 1 pit was situated 200yards north of Home Farm. Reputed to have been filled with household rubbish in recent years.
No 2 pit was a further 200 yards north of No 1 down the valley behind Struthers Wood, this pit having a six quarters seam at 126 feet and a four foot seam at 432 feet. Between No 2 Pit and Struthers Wood on the west side was the six coke ovens.
No 3 was a further 180 yards north of No 2 Pit near the bottom of the valley
In 1832 Captain Robertson Walker had also worked the Main Band at Whinbank Gilgarran. This pit was later mined by Mr Ralph Tate from 1843 to 1853 when work ceased due to lack of finance. Mr Tate also mined at Commonside Colliery in 1859 and had a lease on Hayescastle Colliery from 1863 to 1872, following which Mr Tate disappeared from the mining landscape.
1872 Messr. Mackenzie and Main were the next company to mine in Gilgarran, re opening the old Yard Band Pits, finally abandoning operations in 1875. The Mackenzie’s of Prospect House were cousins of Captain James Robertson Walker
Furthermore a company formed by Captain James Robertson Walker in 1860 to mine iron ore at Crossfield in Cleator Moor. The company called The Crossfield Iron Ore Company consisted of Captain James, Munro Mackenzie of Distington and John Munro Mackenzie of Tobermoray, the latter two were cousins and brother in law to Captain James.
This company sank a total of 17 pits at Crossfield with the lease expiring on 24th June 1893, at this time there were only the Mackenzie’s with J.Main as their manager, and it was these who worked the Gilgarran colliery in 1872.
The developments at Crossfield brought about the end of mining in Gilgarran.
When the estate of Gilgarran was wound up in 1951, Captain James Robertson Walker Esq uniform was dispatched to The Royal Maritime Museum, where it was displayed until 1972. It now remains in storage.
In the grounds of Gilgarran house there were two monuments, one an urn with grapes dedicated by Anne Walker to her brother who died on the “Brunswick”. The second was dedicated to Captain James Robinson Walker, by his second wife Katherine. Both are now in the grounds of Distington Crematorium.