A woman who was the last surviving adult to live and work at an isolated former shepherds’ and gamekeeper’s lodge in the remote Northern Lake District fells has died aged 91.
The newly-wed Louise Bell (nee Brough) moved to Skiddaw House, which stands three miles from the nearest road, in 1951, after marrying David Bell, who was the resident shepherd there for two years.
They moved in during the May and stayed there until July 1953.
Their first child, Heather, born at Brampton Cottage Hospital in September 1951, spent her first two years at the house which is as cut off today as it was then, being off-grid and out of reach of a mobile signal.
Heather was so named after her father brought her mother some sprigs of the moorland plant as a gift when he first went to see his child following her birth.
It had taken two days for the news to reach Mr Bell, the bearer of the first telegram having baulked on the track to the house.
One anecdote that has gone down in the history of the house took place when Mrs Bell was scrubbing the floor in the passageway, between the front door and the “scullery,” when some of the Blencathra foxhounds took a short-cut through the family home knocking over her bucket in passing.
Back then, water was piped into the house, which was on Lord Leconfield’s Skiddaw Forest estate, from a hole on the hillside.
There was no electricity, gas or telephone and access to the property was via a rough track accessed from Peter House Farm, near Bassenthwaite.
Mr Bell would cut peat for the fire and would periodically receive, courtesy of the estate, a cartload of coal that was hauled up the track by horse.
The extensive peat diggings can still be seen on the south side of the track between the house and the Caldew fording.
Paraffin lanterns would provide lighting and initially Mrs Bell would use an iron heated on the peat fire to press clothes.
hat was until Calor gas was installed and she then used a pressurised paraffin fired iron.
The couple had an ex-Army “jeep” but the road in winter was not always passable. The transportation of people up to the house was always interesting and the steep and rocky section alongside Dash falls was always tricky when coated with frozen spray.
Mrs Bell had to learn to make bread and in summer they had a cow that wintered at Peter House.
Post and wages came via Peter House.
Food rationing was a problem. They had permission to stockpile tinned milk and extra food.
They had chickens and a pig to be fattened and killed.
Lord Leconfield made an allowance of tea and sugar to provide for the visitors and walkers.
The house was also occupied most of the time by travelling shepherd Pearson Dalton, of Fellside, Caldbeck, and one of his jobs was to move the sheep off the fell to Peter House and Thistlebottom Farms during lambing time and bring them back up again afterwards.
Living next door – the six bedroomed house was split into two – was the gamekeeper who job it was to control vermin and predators.
Shooting parties would visit and Mrs Bell would make tea while her husband got in beer for the beaters.
Mr Bell had an excellent reputation as a shepherd and was headhunted by a farmer in Dorset and the family moved south.
When Mr Bell retired in 1983 the family was looking to return to Cumbria and move to Wigton but unfortunately he became sick and died in November of that year.
Mrs Bell, who went on to have another three daughters, remained in the Poole area until her death from pneumonia on January 18th.
John Martin, who wrote a book about the history of Skiddaw House, titled The Loneliest House in England, was in touch with Mrs Bell until her death.
He described her as being a very active person and has in his possession a photograph of Mrs Bell walking with her daughter, Heather, by Dash Falls, on their way to visit the house in the 1980s.
In 1969 the last shepherd moved out and Skiddaw House and it was never again a working agricultural residence.
In 1991, after years of neglect, the house became a hikers’ hostel and remains so to this day.