Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Unfortunate Railtons (NY994135)

From the Bowes parish register:

Roger Wrightson, junior, and Martha Railton, both of Bowes, buried in one grave. He died of a fever, and upon hearing his passing bell, she cry'd out "My heart is broke," and in a few hours expired, purely (or supposed) [interlined in a different hand] thro' love. March 15, 1714–15, aged about 20 years each.

A lamentable tale indeed; and a short piece of primary source material upon which both a ballad (Bowes Tragedy; or, A Pattern of True Love) and a poem (Edwin and Emma) were later penned.

It seems that the demise of the two young lovers had quite a backstory. In short, the Wrightsons were a cut above the Railtons socially, being landowners – the latter being mere innkeepers. Roger and Martha kept their brief affair secret, but when the former fell ill with a fever Martha was as good as barred from maintaining any sort of meaningful contact with her lover. When the young man died, the young lass was distraught beyond reason and died of a broken heart within hours. The two were, however, buried in the same grave in Bowes graveyard.

In 1717, the local grammar school master compiled his Bowes Tragedy ballad – which was utilised to great financial gain by Martha’s sister, Tamar, who would sing it to travellers passing through the village. Then, in 1760, came poet David Mallet’s Edwin and Emma, which, he acknowledged, was inspired by the Bowes affair.

The curious story of the Railton siblings doesn’t end there. The brother of Martha and Tamar, John, inherited the landlordship of the village pub, The George Inn (now The Ancient Unicorn). Bowes being situated where it is, the establishment’s main source of income was from thirsty travellers crossing Stainmore. John had a thing about investing in road improvements and repairs (he was a Quaker with, therefore, a heightened sense of public duty). He is known to have dabbled (somewhat vaguely and unreliably) in the Carlisle-Newcastle Military Road project of the 1750s; and, closer to home, sought to try his hand in similar affairs in an attempt to improve trade at his pub…

… He is supposed to have ruined himself by improving the road over Stanmore [sic, road now the A66]. . . . The result, however, disappointed him; as formerly, travellers whose horses were exhausted by the bad state of the roads were glad to stop at The George, the first inn after crossing Stanmore, but when the road was improved they preferred going on to Greta Bridge.

Despite his hardships and failed enterprise, John Railton seems to have been held in generally high regard. From The Life of John Buncle, Esq, by Thomas Amory (1756):

... I gave the horses another feed of corn at Bows [sic], at The George, kept by Railton, the Quaker; an excellent inn, and the master of it an instructive and entertaining orator. I mention these things for your benefit, reader, that you may know where to stop to advantage, if you should ever ride over the same ground I went that day.

John Railton sold The George in 1760. He later spent some time in Newcastle where he eventually died and was buried. Despite its hard times, the pub survived – by 1810 it was called The Unicorn, and is now The Ancient Unicorn.