Charles Gough

by Catherine Anderson

Charles Gough Memorial Stone, courtesy of Old Cumbria Gazeteer

Charles Gough (1784 – April 1805) was an artist of the early English Romantic Movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the beginning of the 19th century, hill walking and mountaineering for pleasure were new pursuits. Gough was visiting the Lake District from Manchester in April 1805. On 17th April he set off on a fishing trip to Grasmere with his dog Foxie, taking a shorter route over Helvellyn, via Striding Edge. Gough had no specialist clothing or equipment. He had been due to use a local militia man as a guide, but he was training that day (this was during the Napoleonic Wars) so he set out alone, except for his dog. He never made it to Grasmere and nobody seems to have gone looking for him.

On 22nd July 1805, a shepherd heard barking near Red Tarn where he discovered Foxie beside the body of her master. He found the skeletal remains and some of Gough's belongings, which included fishing tackle. He ran for help and a crowd came up the mountain and helped to return Gough to the valley below. His hat had been split in two so it was surmised that he had fallen from the precarious ridge of Striding Edge and died from his head injuries. Foxie had somehow survived and had also had a puppy, although this did not make it. A Carlisle newspaper ran the story; “The bitch had pupped in a furze near the body of her master, and, shocking to relate, had torn the cloaths from his body and eaten him to a perfect skeleton.” However, this story was not contemplated by others who saw the dog as a hero who refused to leave her master’s side.

Gough was renowned for being adventurous to the point of taking dangerous risks. Thomas Clarkson reported afterwards that Gough was a "venturesome person" with a headstrong nature. The mystery of Gough's death, in search of the romantic ideal and subsequently guarded by his dog, inspired both poets and artists to interpret the scene and so elevate Gough to that of a martyr to the romantic vision. Such interpretations stressed man's bond with nature, as represented by the faithful dog, contrasted with the wildness and savagery of the landscape that caused his death. Francis Danby and Edwin Landseer painted the scene which William Wordsworth described in a poem entitled ‘Fidelity’.

The story of Gough had already been told in verse by the more commercial Walter Scott: “I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn” and it was this poem which inspired Edwin Landseer to paint ‘Attachment’ in 1829.

Wordsworth lived in the lakes, and had brought both Walter Scott and Humphry Davy to see where Gough's body was found.

Gough's body is buried in the Quaker graveyard at the front of Quaker cottage in Tirril. A memorial stone was erected on Helvellyn in 1890 which still stands today.

Charles Gough Memorial Stone, courtesy of Old Cumbria Gazeteer


Guardian newspaper 2003

David Gate/Terry Phillips, Sockbridge and Tirril Community Led Plan members

by Catherine Anderson

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