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WALTER MORRISON (1836 -1921)

Walter Morrison was born in London 21st May 1836, the son of, James Morrison a Liberal MP for Ipswich and self-made man, who had scaled the social heights. James had been born in 1789 in Wiltshire and made his fortune in haberdashery, before moving into banking. His business style entailed achieving small profits on a quick turnaround, such as cornering the market in black crepe just before the death of Queen Caroline in 1821. He owned several large country houses and lived at Basildon Park, Buckinghamshire. He was a keen supporter of the Arts who was instrumental in the setting up of the National Gallery. He bought the Malham Tarn estates when they were sold in 1852 by Lord Ribblesdale, having been held by the Lister family of Gisburn Park since at least 1760, when they had built the first phase of the present house about 1780 to replace an earlier hunting lodge.

Walter was the fifth of seven sons, his eldest brother, Charles inherited half his father’s £4 million+ fortune and the Basildon Park estate when James Morrison died in 1857. Charles was an astute businessman, supporter of the Arts and had extensive financial interests in the Argentine, primarily the Mercantile Bank of the River Plate and later the River Plate Trust, Loan & Agency Company.

Part of Walter’s inheritance was the Malham Tarn Estate and it became his favourite home. He remained a bachelor but had many interests, and was also a successful businessman with interests in the Argentine railways -"the king of frozen Argentine meat transport". He had been a shareholder in the Central Argentine Railway from at least 1873, and chairman of the company from 1887 to 1909. He was also chairman of the Central Argentine Land Company, reorganised in 1888 as the Argentine Land & Investment Company, and sometimes traveled to Argentina. A town and station on the former Central Argentine Railway originally named Zuviría, in the Province of Cordoba, was re-named Morrison in memory of Walter in 1907. He was a very generous benefactor both to the local community and in support of his interests in archaeology and education. Like his brothers Charles and Albert,Walter was also a keen supporter of the arts and Malham Tarn House hosted guests such as Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin and Judge Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. When Charles Kingsley visited he was so taken with the Malhamdale scenery and trout fishing on the Tarn, which he described as "the best on the whole earth", and it appears in his book "The Water Babies" along with his host, cast as the red-faced squire, John Hartover.

Walter went to Oxford and gained an MA and became an MP, first for Plymouth in 1861-74 and then an Liberal Unionist MP for Skipton 1886-92 and 1895-1900. Whilst in office he was active supporter of Women's Suffrage and the Co-operative movements, and in 1872, Walter Morrison introduced the first Proportional Representation Bill, which of course was successfully opposed and defeated.
In October 1900 the Craven Herald carried a special supplement on the General Election which included:


Unionist candidate Walter Morrison was battling it out with Fredrick Whitley-Thompson, representing the Radicals. The pair had spent much of the week touring villages of Craven and speaking to the electorate. Mr Whitley-Thompson had received a luke-warm reception in many places, including Airton, where he was heckled for so-called "scandalous and misleading statements" in his election leaflets.

Walter Morrison was a staunch supporter of both the Church and education in Malhamdale, restoring the Church End House in 1866 for use as the vicarage, allowing it's occupation by the current incumbent for a nominal rent. He provided the premises and set up the Malham Moor Subscription School in 1872 and was a governor of Kirkby Malham School. In 1874 he built the Kirkby-in-Malhamdale United School and master's house, sited midway between Malham and Kirkby Malham villages to replace their inadequate educational facilities, at a personal cost of £2,925. He remained on the governing committee of the United School until his death in 1921. A regular member of the Kirkby Malham congregation, he was at various times churchwarden and sidesman and when the church was restored in 1879-80 at a cost of £3,049 Walter Morrison contributed almost £1,700 to the fund. Again when a new organ was required in 1884 he contributed all but £1 of the £696 required to carry out the work.

He was an Honorary Colonel of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the West Riding Regiment from 1871, a West Riding JP and made Sheriff of the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1883. In 1905 he became the Chairman of the Craven Bank.

He maintained a house in London as well as Malham Moor, and was a member of the Reform and United University Clubs. At the time of the 1881 census he was staying at his London home, 77 Cromwell Road, Kensington, SW London and he is described as a landed proprietor and farmer of 25 acres employing 2 men. James Redmayne (17) was his footman and George Jessey (39) his butler.

In 1897 the foundation stone was aid for the new chapel at Giggleswick School, paid for by Walter who was Vice Chairman of the Governors.

Giggleswick, School Chapel 1903.  (Neg. 50146)   Copyright The Francis Frith Collection 2006.
Giggleswick School Chapel © Copyright Humphrey Bolton

An article in the Craven Herald in February 1902 explained how the Skipton Conservative Association president was recuperating at Hastings due to an illness caused by the fatigue and exposure to severe weather during his many trips between London and his home at Malham Moor.

"His many admirers will be pleased to hear he is determined to have more consideration for his health," the columnist continued. "No man has realised more fully the responsibilities of his position as a Member of Parliament, a landed proprietor and a business magnate than Mr Morrison. He has ever been at the beck and call of his late constituents and no journey was too long or troublesome for him if he could further the interests of the district he represented in Parliament so worthily for something like a dozen years."

When his brother Charles died in 1909 he left Walter another £1.9 million to add to his own, not inconsiderable fortune.

One of his last acts of generosity was to pay for the publishing and free distribution of the book Craven's Part in the Great War External Website logo, a roll of honour which was presented to all the soldiers or their families who had enlisted in the Skipton Parliamentary Division.

He died in 1921 leaving an estate worth over £2 million and was buried in the churchyard of St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham which had done so much to support, on the 23rd Dec 1921.

Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times who was himself born in Skipton, wrote a very comprehensive obituary about Walter Morrison, which was published in the February 1922 edition of the National Review which we have transcribed here.

The first edition of the much loved Dalesman magazine appeared in 1939 and carried an anecdotal article about Walter Morrison by Norman Thornber:

THE YORKSHIRE DALESMAN, Vol. 1 No. 1 April 1939


Stories of Craven's “Grand Old Man" by NORMAN THORNBER

A stiffly built man walked through Settle, head bent, his grey beard sweeping his chest. Behind him he clasped his hands as he climbed the narrow hill street which led to the fields beyond the town. The square shaped grey felt hat was of the style of a previous generation. People who met him touched their hats and the old gentleman invariably replied, for he, Walter Morrison was home again.

Malham Tarn and Walter Morrison were synonymous, but Morrison had just as great an interest in Craven itself. He was Craven's own gentleman, delighting in its wild life, revelling in its history, steeped in its traditions. Although not of Yorkshire birth he was often taken for a Yorkshireman and it is doubtful if anything pleased him more.

Morrison stories are legendary, Around Malham they were stories of the squire, "the grand old man". Further afield they are stories of a figure of bygone days, now almost forgotten.

Walter Morrison delighted to escape from London to the clean air of Malham Tarn, his mountain home. It was as though the water of the Tarn, and the streams of the moors washed the air, making it purer than anywhere else. In fact he often used to walk the six miles to Tarn House from Settle. His landeau, in the charge of Robert Battersby, would meet the train and then this millionaire would leave all mundane affairs and walk over his beloved moors arriving home in time for dinner.

His way took him up the long Henside (locally known as "Hensit") Lane, past Capon Hall. It was at this point Morrison delighted to point out to any guests that they were standing on the watershed of England. Water on the Settle side flowed into the Ribble which poured into the Irish Sea at Preston, Malham Tarn, that mountain gem, and the waters flowing out of it, formed the source of the dirty and mighty Aire. One guest walking from the Dalehead moors one wet day, drily added to the great man, he could quite believe it, "far more water was shed there" than anywhere else he knew.

At Malham Tarn, Walter Morrison had his estate and household affairs managed by the various officials and he never interfered between them and their subordinates unless he was called upon. Mr John Winskill was his agent, Mr William Skirrow, his butler, Mr, Robert Battersby, his coachman and horseman and Miss Lodge his housekeeper. All the estate and household accounts went through his hands however. It it said he argued that when a sheep died his accounts must be debited with a sheep and credited with the fleece of the dead sheep.

He was a kindly employer and expected those in charge of his workpeople to look after their interests. Some of the maids used to come from Cromwell Road his London house. Once on their way north, Mr Skirrow promised the girls an hour or so in Settle, where they could have tea with him. They arrived at three o'clock and Robert Battersby was there with the landeau to take them home. He demurred at the delay, pointing out the work he had to do on his return to Malham Tarn. "You go home then Robert," Mr.Skirrow said, "And how will you get home?" Robert asked, "Oh, we will hire a conveyance, "Who will pay for“ Robert enquired; "Mr Morrison will pay when we explain," Mr Skirrow added. The old coachman waited, not daring to explain to his employer this extra charge.

Next to Mr Morrison, William Skirrow and John Winskill were the two best known figures at the Tarn. It was the latter who brought most of the farm buildings up to date and who installed the fish hatchery at Tennant Gill.

Of William Skirrow one can only say he was kindness personified. He would shield anyone, as is exemplified in the story of the postman. In those days the mail to Malham Tarn was delivered by a postman from Kirkby Malham. One Christmas he arrived at the Tarn much the worse for drink. Mr Skirrow tried to sober him up and kept the postman out of Mr Morrison's way while" postie" had the dinner always given him at the Tarn. In the afternoon Mr, Morrison decided to take a short ride in his horse and carriage. Sat on the driving seat with Battersby, Mr Skirrow saw the postman laid asleep just off the road. He urged the driver to whip up the horse and tried to draw Mr Morrison's attention to the other side. It was of no avail, and the carriage had to stop while the butler went to see what was the matter with the postman. Skirrow told him to sober up, sit with the driver and say as little as possible to Mr Morrison, to whom Skirrow said the postman had been taken ill. The "grand old man" averred he had too arduous a round and wrote to Whitehall of the incident.

Another typical Morrison touch took place before the War when some postal supervisors paid a visit to Malham. While the postman delivered the letters on foot they rode round his journey and timed him. On arrival at Malham Tarn they were given lunch and asked by Morrison if they would take a letter from him to Mr Illingworth, the then Postmaster General. Illingworth was a friend of Morrison and with visions of currying favour the two supervisors assented. Imagine their surprise when they were"told off" by letter by Morrison for accepting a letter not stamped and further suggesting that future supervisors should carry the same weight as the postman and walk round with him.

Although the Malham Tarn moors were among the best known in Yorkshire, Walter Morrison did not love grouse shooting as much as his nearer neighbours. At first he would only permit each member of his shoot to carry one gun and load himself. Later he allowed a loader in each butt, but was bitterly opposed to two guns and a loader. Such he averred was slaughter and did not make for good shooting. He himself preferred to walk, and later ride along the road with a gun. Any stray birds which came over often fell to him when he would delightedly tell his guests about the birds he had met. Anyone who joined his grouse shooting parties was expected to shoot. Their host had been known to lock up the billiard balls when some of the guests preferred the dry comfort of the house to a wet day on the moors. Himself an old volunteer and a keen marksman it was only natural that he expected his shooters to shoot and give the driven birds every chance.

Walter Morrison was the first Volunteer officer to pass through the Hythe School of Musketry. It was he who paid for the book on Craven's part in the war, a copy of which was given to every returning soldier and the relatives of those who did not return. He also urged the late Thomas Brayshaw to write the history of the Settle district from the scrap book and old papers in his possession. He once even suggested he would make a grant towards the cost of such a book. He built Giggleswick School Chapel and gave away huge sums to his alma mater, Oxford. And yet on the other side, once turned the dining room, of a hotel at Settle upside down because he had lost a half-sovereign.

Morrison too, found and made the late Lord Kitchener. He selected Kitchener, then a young lieutenant to accompany the Palestine Exploration Committee. Morrison had always been interested in the East and his greatest experiment was his present to Giggleswick to mark the Queen's Jubilee. He succesfully combined an Eastern dome and Gothic building. He had business interests in the Argentine. He was chairman of the Argentine railway, said to be gained by buying shares when everyone else was selling. In fact it has been said that his butler was given a cheque book, all the cheques signed, to buy shares from people who alarmed at the slump in the shares, came to Cromwell Road to ask Morrison's advice. This chairmanship also caused legal trouble with the editor of a local paper. A correspondent who signed himself "Ribblehead" and stated he was a tenant of Morrison's pointed out that the chairman of the Argentine railway was going against the interests of his tenants. Morrison brought an action to justify his name, as also he did when a paper commented on the fact that being defeated in a Skipton parliamentary election he withdrew the ten per cent allowance off the rent he had previously made to his farming tenants.

Walter Morrison never aspired to national fame, although it was within his reach if he had accepted any of the glittering prizes offered him. He lived and died plain Walter Morrison. It was in local affairs he took the greatest interest, in such things as the local Agricultural Society at Settle, the restoration of Kirkby Malham Church, where he is buried, and above all his beloved Malhamdale. In 1898 he was president of the Yorkshire GeologicalAssociation and took part in the survey of Malham underground waters. In 1910 he entertained Yorkshire Journalists and on the lawn in front of his house, lectured them on the history and geology of his beloved hills, farms, and village. The Haworth Ramblers paid a visit to Malham Tarn in 1919 but there was no Walter Morrison to greet them. He had written from Ventnor in the Isle of Wight regretting his absence, Morrison had come to the last stages of his long life, sixty years of which had been spent as owner of Malham Tarn. That fine brain had now turned back to his boyhood days. At one of his public appearances he asked conundrums. With a flash of his former self he added, "As a boy I was fond of conundrums, I am now returning to my childhood days." Similarly on one of his visits to his bank at Settle he enquired the state of his account. Across the counter was pushed a piece of paper with some figures written on it, "Is this debit or credit?" the great man asked.

One last story must be told of how Morrison almost met his death. Rushing to catch a train at Settle he hurried into a tobacconist's shop and took from a shelf a jar of tobacco. He asked someone waiting in the shop to tell the tobacconist he had taken his customary brand from its usual place. It was not until sometime later that the tobacconist realised his wealthy customer had not taken ordinary brand, but a drug latakia, used in minute portion in blending. The railway company were asked to get in touch with their passenger and get the jar from him. This they did, according to legend only just in time, for he was filling his pipe for a quiet smoke.

Walter is commemorated by the oak paneling around the sanctuary of St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham, and the Latin inscription on the paneling reads:

The walls of this sanctuary, restored by him when in a ruinous condition, have been paneled in affectionate memory of Walter Morrison, of Malham Tarn, Master of Arts and Doctor of Civil Law of Oxford, a man of the greatest generosity of heart and hand. He represented in Parliament for 24 years the borough of Plymouth, and the Skipton Division of Yorkshire. He was educated at Eton and Baliol, where he took honours. He afterwards showed himself a keen supporter of learning. He presented a splendid chapel to Giggleswick School. In the University of Oxford beside other benefactions he added munificently to the endowment of the Bodleian Library.
After having been resident in this parish for 64 years, he deceased on December 18th, 1921, in the 85th year of his age, deeply lamented by many friends, dependant's and neighbours.

Walter Morrison
Walter Morrison by H. W. Salmon and Sons(1900)

Excerpt from the catalogue to the T. E. Lawrence Centenary Exhibition held at the National Portrait GalleryExternal Website logo, London, 1988-9


Walter Morrison (1836-1921) was a successful businessman, noted philanthropist, and MP. After gaining First Class Honours at Oxford he traveled in the Middle East and America. He inherited a very considerable fortune which he increased substantially through his own business activities, yet his personal tastes were extremely simple. He spent much of his time on a moorland estate at Malham Tarn in Yorkshire, where he took an active part in local affairs. It was during a visit to Malham by Charles Kingsley that the idea of The Water Babies was conceived, in which the Squire was based on Morrison.
The full extent of Morrison's philanthropy cannot be assessed because his gifts were generally anonymous. It is known that he contributed large sums to northern universities, and that he built and furnished the remarkable chapel at Giggleswick School. His immense gifts to the University of Oxford included £30,000 for a readership in Egyptology and other projects, and £50,000 to the Bodleian Library (in real terms on the largest gift the Library has ever received). A few of his benefactions were eccentric: he disliked the Victorian chapel at Balliol College, Oxford (where he had been an undergraduate), and once offered money to rebuild it in the style of the original. The offer was declined.
One of his passions was archaeology. He financed the Society of Biblical Archaeology and was the founding benefactor of the Palestine Exploration Fund. It was he who contributed the anonymous donations which financed the British Museum’s Carchemish excavations, £5,000 in 1911 and a further £10,000 in 1914.


Further reading:

"Walter Morrison: A Millionaire at Malham Tarn" by WR Mitchell, published 1990 by Casleberg, Settle (ISBN 1-87-1064-09-0)

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