Finsthwaite Princess-Page 2

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The Finsthwaite Princess - Page 2

Copywrite - Janet D Martin & Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society - 2001

Our Story takes place during the reign of King George III (b. 1738 - d. 1820) photo of painting of King George IIIThe earliest written account seems to be that by Richard Pedder (1801-91) of Finsthwaite House, in a notebook of about 1870, which he entitled "Notes made by Richard Pedder Esq. pf Finsthwaite House of the Taylor Family and the Finsthwaite Princess & other Matters of interest found in old papers".11 On page 15 he wrote: "Clementina Johannes Sobiesky Douglas lodged at Waterside house for some time. She was ‘quite a grand lady' according to report. Who she was or where she came from nothing was ever known and was very intimate with the Backhouse's with whom she lodged - She died in 1771 & was buried in the Chapel Garth. On the death of Miss Backhouse in the year (blank in MS) old Ned Fell told me he took her up, & reinterred her in Miss Backhouse's Grave".
 
With this we have two or three consistent themes in the story - the "grand lady",12 intimacy with the Backhouse's of Jolliver Tree (though Richard Pedder does not specifically mention that house), and reburial, which later assumes the form of the discovery in the grave of some fair hair and/or a knot of blue ribbon. Ned Fell, Richard Pedder's informant, was Edward Fell (1792 - 1873), a labouring man who was also for some years the parish clerk, as were before him his father William Fell 1st (1746 - 1841) a collier/husbandman, and his elder brother William Fell 2nd (1777 - 1856), a basket-maker.

William Fell 1st was in his mid twenties when Clementina Douglas died and if anyone began to pass down stories of the strange woman with the mysterious names it must have been he.13 And he had a connection with Jolliver Tree, where he was living when his first child was bourn in 1772. Only hearsay connects the Princess with Jolliver Tree, but the local tradition is very persistent. One writer to the "Barrow News" in 1968 recalled that a friend of his "who only died in the last few years at the age of 104, told me of her great grandfather being given charge of the young princess when he was at Jolliver Tree farm".14 This could well have been William Fell 1st, some of whose great grandchildren were born in the 1860's. William Fell's two sons would have been familiar with what their father said and were perhaps not above enlarging upon it.
 
The identity of Miss Backhouse in whose grave Clementina Douglas was said to have been reburied presents a problem. The Backhouses lived at Jolliver tree between 1728, when James Backhouse (1695-1762) married its widowed owner Mary Gurnell, and 1762 when he died. Richard Pedder was not specific as to which of them knew the Princess but others maintain that she was at Jolliver Tree until the death of James.15 And who was Miss Backhouse? Her title implies some kind of gentility. James backhouse had tow daughters but they both died in infancy. His nephew and heir John had three, Mary bourn in 1756 who died a year later, and two others who both married, one of whom was born well after the Princess died. Richard Pedder seems to imply that Clementina was reburied in Miss Backhouse's grave for some sentimental reason.
 
Only two unmarried Backhouse daughters were buried in the period after Ned Fell grew up, Ann in 1842 and Agnes in 1844. Both were twenty, both either in service or living at home. Neither could have known Clementina Douglas. And why rebury her anywhere? The latest twist in the burial saga comes in a note dated 18th March 1959 by the Revd R W Pedder of Finsthwaite House, then the vicar of Finsthwaite: "Eleanor Hunter (Plum Green) (told me that) Joseph Charles Hunter dug up the grave of the Princess when the old church was being demolished to make room for the new one. That his father also Joseph Charles pointed out to him where the Princess's grave was traditionally supposed to be. It was Joseph Charles Hunter junior who actually found the fair golden hair & reburied it with the other remains (but no blue ribbon) under the present cross set up by Canon C G Townley at a much later date but when Joseph Charles Hunter was still living".16 The "fair golden hair" had appeared earlier.

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