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Hollow Oak - The Strickland Gwillym's

By 1871 when John Penny Machell had moved to Penny Bridge Hall the house was let to in "Independent lady" Mrs Sarah Strickland Gwillym who was the widow of Richard Gwillym (1802-67) the late vicar of Ulverston, who had been responsible for an energetic restoration of the church there which was completed in 1866.
Sarah was the sister of Agnes Strickland who wrote a popular "Lives of the Queens of England". Mrs Gwillym had a visitor, Ellen Werge, born in Bombay, and four servants.
With the advent of the next tenant, John Edward Henry Clarke, the house began a new stage in its history.

The Clarke's circa 1880-1923

Harry Clarke was 33 years of age when he was recorded at Hollow Oak in the Census of 1881, and Iron Merchant and already a JP, born in Carnforth. He was the youngest son of James Addision Clarke, later of Summerhill, Egton, and after going to Oriel College, Oxford, he went into partnership in Barrow with his wifes' youngest brother, George Kerr Hannay in the firm of Hannay & Clarke iron and steel merchants. G K Hannay was the son of Robert Hannay, the Scots partner of H A Schneider, who played such an important part in the development of the iron industry in Barrow and in the growth of that town in the years after he first arrived there in 1839.

photo of Hollow Oak Nursing Home Haverthwaite 2005

In 1873 Harry Clarke married Sarah Anne Hannay and for the first five years of their marriage they lived at Birkdault across the river Leven where their only child, Harry Noel, was born on Christmas Eve in 1875. In 1878 they moved to Hollow Oak where they lived for the next 46 years taking the place of the Machells as benefactors to the church and school. The east window of St Anne's Haverthwaite, the Communion plate and the altar cross were gifts from the Clarke's and their granddaughter remembers that Harry Clarke used to give little bags of sweets to the schoolchildren. In September 1912 to celebrate their sons marriage there was a huge celebration party to which all the children from Haverthwaite and Brow Edge schools were invited "to spend a pleasant afternoon and partake of tea in the field adjoining Hollow Oak. The Backbarrow Brass Band headed a procession through the village and although it was a dull day 170 children and 300 adults enjoyed games and tea. Afterwards there were presents of sweets for the children and in the evening a dance at the Anglers' Arms – the band again provided the music.

photo of Hollow Oak from the roadHarry Clarke was a man of immense energy and so bore the long illness which eventually ended his life with impatience. His wife was supported through this period by two particularly precious servants, James and Fanny Askew. James Askew, who was born at Arrad Foot, began a lifetime's service with the family at the age of 12, in the household of Harry Clarke's father at Summerhill, moving to be coachman at Hollow Oak in 1905. There he met and married fanny Bannister, a Huntingdonshire girl who appears in the 1881 Census as Harry Noel Clarke's nanny and who stayed on as Mrs Clarke's maid and housekeeper. After their marriage the Askew's lived at first across the road in the cottage at Gateside, but moved into house itself after Harry Clarke fell ill, occupying the room over the front door. James drove the carriage until it was replaced by a car about 1914 when he became chauffeur, a transition with which he was always uneasy and also acted as butler, nurse and manservant to Harry Clarke. Fanny seems to have been more of a companion than a servant to Sarah Anne. There were other servants too; the 1891 Census records a Scots cook, a "waitress", presumably the parlour-maid and a house maid also Scots.

Clarke's granddaughter Rosemary remembers the house as very dark – the panelling was then unpainted. When she and her brother were children they came to Hollow Oak for three months in the summer, but had to sleep in the village, at Malton Cottage, lest their noise should disturb their ailing grandfather. When they were older they stayed in the house itself and Rosemary lay in bed at night listening to the rats rustling in the thickness of the walls. The house was still lit with lamps and candles and there was an earth closet, concealed behind a bookcase in the room to the right of the hall, then the morning room. But there were birthday parties, croquet and tennis at Greenodd until Harry Clarke died in March 1923 and his widow left Hollow Oak for a new house at Field Broughton.
The next tenant was also in iron.

The While's circa 1923-1953

Augustus While (1882-1936) leased Hollow Oak from 1923 and brought his wife and their three children to live there. He was managing director of Barrow Haematite and Iron Company and about 1920 he bought the ironworks at Backbarrow, then the last surviving charcoal ironworks in the country. It was converted to coke in 1922 and was finally closed down in 1964. Mr While's first act was to install electricity in the house, bringing it from the ironworks by cables strung from poles along the railway, an arrangement which could raise official eyebrows today. The While's also made a swimming pool, excavating and lining the natural pool at the back of the coach-house and there were three tennis courts. This family was the last family to occupy Hollow Oak as a family home. They were evidently very happy there even after Mr While's early death, his widow remained there until she died in 1952.
With that event the long story of Hollow Oak and its connection with the Furness Iron Industry came to an end. The house was made into a nursing home in 1953. Externally it remained unchanged until 1992 when an extension was built out onto part of the terrace. Inside the constraints of its present use have caused necessary changes, especially upstairs, but the panelling in the hall and the fine fireplaces remain as reminders that the house at Hollow Oak was, for at least five centuries a family house.


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