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William Wilson

We do not know exactly when Broad How was built, but it seems likely that it was soon after Wordsworth sold it in 1834. Although Mary Mooreman’s book, quoted in the section on Wordsworth, reports that he sold it to the innkeeper in Patterdale, this might not be quite accurate. In July 1834 it seems to have belonged to Edward William Hasell from Dalemain (the stately home on the road to Penrith), because an enfranchisement Deed was drawn up between Hasell and William Wilson, which was signed on 8th July. William Wilson (no relation to the current owners of Broad How), was at that time the innkeeper of The King’s Arms at Patterdale, which is now the Patterdale Hotel. So Mary Mooreman is correct in saying that the innkeeper bought Broad How, but it looks as though he didn’t actually buy it directly from Wordsworth.

William Wilson is an interesting character. He is mentioned in ‘Blackwood’s Edinburgh Review Vol 35’ published in 1834, in a chapter about angling: ‘What a day for angling! You are breakfasting – and are standing – three of you – in front of the inn – conversing with the landlord - William Wilson – once champion of Westmorland – and in the ring at Keswick, second to the celebrated Wightman, whom, but for that fatal inner lock of the stalwart Cumbrian, he had that day most assuredly thrown - a mild and modest man -and, under his auspices, the inn at Patterdale, always good, in old people’s time, and in that of their unmarried daughters, is still better now, for William took to wife the flower of the family, and hung up his hat on a peg in her hereditary hall.’ (p789) The History Directory and Gazetteer of Cumberland and Westmorland, Parson and White 1829 lists Mary Dobson as the Victualler of the Kings Arms and living in Nell House. She had a son and three daughters, one of whom, Elizabeth, was the ‘flower of the family’ mentioned in the passage above, who married William. It seems likely that William and Elizabeth were the people responsible for building the house. More information about William Wilson’s life and wrestling career can be found on the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association website, where he is featured in one of a collection of biographical sketches of ‘celebrated athletes in the northern ring’ taken from ‘North Country Sports and Pastimes’ published in 1893. The sketch is entitled ‘William Wilson of Ambleside’, but it explains that he was born and brought up in High Wray, a village on the shores of Windemere.



‘William Wilson grew up a tall "lathy fellow," standing, when full grown, quite six feet four inches high, straight as a willow-wand and as lithe, and gradually grew until at twenty-two he weighed from fourteen to fifteen stones, with a good reach of arm, and a finely developed muscular frame. As a hyper, or "inside striker," as Litt calls him, he displayed superb form. For three or four years, he stood unmatched and irresistible in this particular stroke, and since his day no man has appeared worth calling a rival to him, except William Jackson of Kinniside.’



There is quite a lot of detail about William Wilson’s wrestling career on the same website. It also says a bit about his life after he retired due to problems with asthma:


‘So far as we have been able to ascertain, the year 1822 was the last one in which Wilson figured in the ring. If this be correct, his wrestling career will be limited to four or five years duration, at the utmost. No doubt, the complaint under which he laboured was the principal cause of his early retirement. Although Wilson loved athletic exercises much, it must be understood, however, that he viewed them more as a means of recreation and pastime, than in any other sense; a thrifty ambition inducing him to look zealously to the main point of making both ends meet at home. We have heard it asserted that when he and his first wife were married in 1820, they could only raise ten pounds of loose money between them. With this small sum to the fore, however, they ventured to take an inn at Ambleside, called the Golden Rule, which they rented for seven years, during which time they managed to save £700. They then took a larger inn, which was afterwards known as the Commercial. Some time elapsed, and they removed to the King's Arms, in Patterdale, at that period the only inn at the head of Ullswater. While he was an innkeeper at Patterdale, George Brunskill, the life guardsman, about the height of Wilson, and two stones heavier, was very anxious to try his skill with him. After much pressing, a friendly bout was consented to, on condition that Brunskill would be satisfied with one fall. The result was that Wilson "dud whack him ;" the soldier being carried clean off "befooar he reetly kent whoar he was." William Wilson, whose brief, but distinguished career has helped to confer an enduring lustre on the northern wrestling ring, died at Patterdale, in 1836, about forty years old, and was buried in Ambleside churchyard.’



It appears from this account that William moved to Patterdale with his first wife. There is more about William’s wrestling career in a book called ‘Wrestlemania’ (page 122 onwards) which has been digitalised and can be read on line at




Parish records of St Patrick’s Church Patterdale show the wedding of William Wilson to Elizabeth Dobson, which took place on 21st May 1831. They also show that Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas and Mary Dobson and was baptised on 21st June 1788, making her about eight years older than William, who was born in about 1796. Elizabeth had an older brother, Benjamin (baptised in 1786), and twin younger sisters, Jane and Maria (baptised in 1792).


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