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Ullswater Breakfast Review 1st June 2019

Who do you think you are - John Sharpe

The speaker at the June 2019 meeting of Ullswater Breakfast Group was group member John Sharpe. A Cumbrian by birth and a resident of Clifton near Penrith, John has lived in the Penrith area since the 1960s. His main interest is Biography, especially prominent Cumbrians whose life stories – benevolent or otherwise - hitherto have not been well known.


John’s many Cumbrian biographical subjects have included a tyrannical Earl of Lonsdale, a flamboyant old-Etonian rake, two stop-at-nothing Wild West pioneers, a ruthless entrepreneur, an ill-fated master mariner and a Penrith-born lawyer who won fame in California as “Mr Los Angeles”. The general theme is “obscurity to fame” or “rags to riches.”


The UBG talk on 1 June was very different, featuring an unfortunate “nonentity” with an illustrious family background - a jobless electrician who died alone at his Cumbrian home in 2018, having just lost his wife of thirty-three years and seemingly given up hope. But it turned out that he shared a remarkable Irish ancestry with four doctors and a vet plus three priests and a nun. Like most of us probably, he would have known nothing about his forebears beyond the name of his paternal grandfather.


This man’s great-great-grandfather had been a revered chairman of the Town Commissioners of Cashel in Tipperary at the time of Ireland’s Great Famine and the 1848 Uprising, and his great-grandfather was an eminent Yorkshire doctor with twin brothers who were high-profile Catholic priests and two sons who were decorated by foreign royalty.


His grandfather was a young doctor who was still suffering from the sudden loss of both his parents and his home in 1907 when he married a much older lady whose childhood had been blighted by life-defining tragedy. He was Catholic and she was Anglican, the daughter of a Church of England clergyman, and Edwardian tongues would really have wagged when their first child was born just two months after the marriage.


The young doctor and his wife were obliged to move from the bustling sectarian city of Liverpool to the obscurity of rural Cumberland, where the eventful lives of their two sons took them in very different directions. One son became a popular doctor who “married well” and the other was perhaps rather less successful as a draughtsman, eventually being the father of the ill-fated subject of this “Who do you think you are?” story.

Ullswater Breakfast talks take place on the first Saturday of every month at 8am at The Royal Hotel, Dockray

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