G.G. Mounsey in 1841. Photo courtesy of Tullie House Museum.
"Gillesland" is a book which shows many signs of having been hastily published. It is poorly organised, with few chapters and no index; the title page carries only a dedication to the Earl of Carlisle, does not give a date of publication or author's name, and is labelled "part 1", although, as far as I can tell, no part 2 ever appeared in print. The book appears to have remained almost completely unknown and uncited, being freely plagiarised by Revd. Bird in his otherwise excellent "Guide to Gilsland", but largely disregarded by other authors on the village, except in so far as they have plagiarised Bird. It was probably published privately, on a small scale, and handed out to friends or sold locally. Copies may be read today at Carlisle Library and the Public Records Office, Carlisle. Some of the material collected for the book, and perhaps for part 2, can be seen among the Mounsey family papers at the Records Office.
These apparent drawbacks are, however, largely irrelevant to any student of Gilsland's history in view of the wealth of historical detail in the book. Mounsey collected historic documents and had access to various archives, of which he made full, if somewhat imaginative use. He owned the Shaws (Spa) Hotel and its estate and took a keen interest in the history of this site and the Barony of Gilsland (or "Gillesland" as he preferred to spell it). He was also deeply interested in the ecclesiastical history of the area, and had strong views on the necessity for a strong christian presence to prevent recusancy and moral decline among the local population. These views are entertainingly set out in the final section of the book, giving a clear insight into Mounsey's own, typically Victorian morality (circumscribed by his Liberal politics and a hankering for the good old days of a (small c) catholic church) and his clearly-stated reasons for building Gilsland and Nether Denton churches.
The book has been assigned a date of 1860 by Carlisle Library, but I suspect it may be some years later than this. The Shaws Hotel burned down in 1859, but Mounsey writes of it having "been since rebuilt" and describes some of the entertainments for visitors in the new building. As a very large hotel is unlikely to have been built, fitted out and be receiving visitors in one year, I would suggest 1865 at the earliest. Such a date would also take us further into his old age, when increasing health problems may have prompted a review of his historical projects.
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