Date: Saturday 4th August 2001

ROBIN Acland, retired principal inspector-adviser for Cumbria education authority, was the speaker at the meeting of the Cumbrian Literary Group.

His lecture focused on the lives and work of two Cumbrian poetesses, Susanna Blamire, of Raughton Head (1747-1794), and Mary Powley, of Langwathby (1811-1882).

Susanna, “The Muse of Cumberland,” wrote in standard English and in both Cumbrian and Scottish dialect. It may well be that she influenced Robert Burns.

This “bonny and varra lish young lass” came from a fairly well-to-do family. Prolonged illness failed to staunch either her poetic flow or her social life. She spent her winters in Carlisle where “her numerous and agreeable qualities of head and heart procured her a ready admittance into every family circle”.

Her collected works, published in 1842, reveal a writer of talent, with a gift for lyrical expression. Her poems and songs embrace joy and sadness, homely detail and local topics ranging from her village of Stockdalewath to the Carlisle Hunt.


Mary Powley is something of an enigma. She appears to have spent the whole of her life in Langwathby and when she died the value of her estate was a formidable £5,000.

She wrote learned contributions for the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (then a strict male preserve) and in her collected works, Echoes of Old Cumberland (1875), she devotes around 70 pages to translations from Danish. The question was asked: “How and why did a young lady in a remote Cumbrian village become proficient in Danish?”

Mary’s rather bland and typically Victorian poems are conventional and verge on the sentimental but they are the work of a craftswoman and a shrewd observer. Among them are several with a local flavour an address to Cross Fell, Brough Hill before the railway, Easter in Cumbrian churches and Penrith Beacon.

Robin Acland’s enthusiasm and appreciation brought to life a presentation built on considerable research. He was thanked for introducing his audience to two literary personalities whose work deserves to be more widely known.