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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: November 2014

Prologue: Becoming Poor


To William Banke & his son Abraham, 11s 10d.

Accounts of the Overseers of the Poor of Hawkshead Quarter (1709/10)

A story lies behind every entry in an account book. The story behind the series of doles given to William Bank and his son Abraham by the township of Hawkshead, however, is mostly obscure. William had been baptized in Hawkshead in 1639, his father an apparently well-off farmer who – when he composed his will in 1681 – styled himself a yeoman. The family farm, Esthwaite Waterside, was a good one, and still stands today at the northern end of Esthwaite Water: an unremarkable but attractive whitewashed homestead, very much in the local style. We know from the parish register that William lived at Waterside for the first thirteen years of his marriage, having wed one Agnes Wilson in 1660, the year of the Restoration. He had seven children by Agnes in the 1660s and early 1670s, and at least four of these survived their infancy.

However, between the birth of their last children (the twins Matthew and Lucy) in 1673, and William's death in 1717, the family suffered a dramatic collapse in fortune. Sometime between 1673 and 1676, William and Agnes moved across the parish, to Low Wray on the north-western banks of Lake Windermere. Here, in February 1674, they took up a freehold of arable and wood called Wadbarrow, but in 1676 Agnes died and was buried that September.