Just as visitors today are increasingly choosy about the quality of accommodation provided in Lakeland, their landlords and landladies were equally particular and observant about the type of visitors they had staying in their homes some seventy years ago or so.
With fewer visitors thronging the streets then, local curiosity ran high, and nothing was of such an intense interest as the pedigree or background of the tourists. Up until after the First World War, most visitors were well-to-do, even titled, and many spent a month or more in hotels or rented accommodation.Even the earliest rock climbers were the gentleman undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge Universities who came on study visits and discovered the crags.
It was not unheard of for a family to bring their own carriage and groom for the duration of the holiday, and although the train brought day trippers to Windermere, most people who stayed, even in simple farmhouse accommodation, were monied and well educated. The working classes went to Blackpool instead.
What a shock, then, when the first charabanc arrived in Langdale:
"We'd never met buses before! Charabancs! You see there was none came to Eskdale. But they came to New Dungeon Ghyll and we hated them. These people came, they used to drink, and never looked at the fells. They looked at nothing. They got back on their buses - so we stopped them. The lady before us had them, and thought it was grand to have, but we couldn't bear them, so we stopped all the buses and never took any 'bus trade'."
Before the arrival of the family saloon and the charabanc, hotels jealously guarded their visitors books, and the roll of honour recorded within their pages:
"You see in those days, there were Bishops...they were a better class of people altogether, between you and I. We used to have titled people and all sorts, people who came for a month maybe. But you know the price they paid at our hotel? It was about fourteen shillings a day and they got breakfast, packed lunch, tea and dinner for that."
Even when local country people became the object of study and fascination by the visiting aristocracy, they felt proud rather than patronised. The French Consul and his family came every year to stay on an Ambleside Farm:
"Mrs Bennett at Roundhill Farm, it was a big house was that, and she used to take visitors in. And once over I had to go there, summer holiday time, and do you know what I had to go for? She said to me, 'Alfie, I want you to come on here. There's some visitors there', and do you know, the visitors they had there was a French Consul and they would have me go with them. Well, I couldn't understand sometimes and what they wanted to me to go for was so that they could learn English and what the French Concul wanted was the dialect, the Westmorland dialect they liked, and I went on there and I used to talk to him and I had to make signs if they couldn't understand sometimes, but they got so that they could understand a bit, yes."
Even the quite well-to-do enjoyed the experience of staying in simple, country accommodation - it was quite the done thing in the early 1900s:
"We had very nice people, very nice families, more or less all the year round...we did have titled people as well and they were just as happy in a cottage as their own mansions, I suppose, in fact they used to say, 'Why do you call it a cottage because we think it should be called a house!'"
Second home owners at that time accounted for the very wealthiest of visitors, many of them cotton magnates from the Northern industrial towns, and they would often arrive with an entire household of staff and servants during the summer months only:
"People used to come and they used to stay, people really got to know them because it wasn't like it is now, come-a-day, go-a-day. I mean people used to come and stay for about a month at a time.And then of course we had what you might call a summer resident population, a lot of these people simply had the houses that they came to in summer but they weren't here in winter. They arrived in Spring and used to leave again in Autumn...it applied to most of the bigger houses. They left perhaps somebody just in charge...but they brought all their staff with them lock, stock and barrel."
One family brought the second-best family silver along with all the servants and the carriage and horses by train from the North East just for the summer, while Grasmere employees only had to work six weeks' each year:
"At that place they had a carriage and pair with a coachman and a groom, a carriage groom, he used to ride on the box with a top hat with a plume on the side, and they used to work six weeks each year - that carriage and pair was kept specially for an old lady who used to come up for holiday six weeks in the year, and she abhored cars, she wouldn't set foot in a car, so this carriage was kept there with two men and two horses,they were kept there all year for six weeks' holiday just to take her out for drives and to take her to Church. For the rest of the year they did nothing, the groom would take one horse out in the morning for exercise, put it in the light trap and go call on his farmer friends all round the neighbourhood, and in the afternoon the other one would take the other horse and do the same. That was their job for the year - couldn't do it now, you know, prices as they are."
Gullible tourists are always a target for sharp locals and it would be hard to say how many delighted Americans returned home bearing walking sticks made from Wordsworth's yew during the 1920s:
"The hall porter at The Rothay Hotel attracted many American visitors and Frank used to sell them walking sticks which he said were made from Wordsworth's yew; now Frank was at The Rothay for many years and he must have sold hundreds of those walking sticks to these Americans and I'm afraid if they'd all been from Wordsworth's yew the poor old tree would be non-existent!"