POWLEY’S ASSEMBLY ROOMS
Eden Visitor Centre, Market Street
When Mr. John
Powley died on 14th March 1830, aged 76 years, the Westmorland Gazette reported
that he had been ‘for upwards of half a century, the much-respected
landlord of the Kings Arms Inn’. This takes us back to approximately 1780.
1780 and before 1817,
Mr. Powley built his Assembly Rooms, opposite the Kings Arms Inn, where he could
hold larger occasions. If you look
below the gratings in front of the Kings Arms (now Hotel) you will see cellar
entrance doors. These doors lead
into tunnels that link to the Upper Eden Visitor Centre cellar, allowing Powley
to easily transport barrels of beer and spirits.
The outside staircase is common on local older buildings, allowing access
to the upper storey without taking up room in the interior.
After 1817 and
before his death in 1830,
Mr. Powley also renovated the Kings Arms – from his ‘Old House’ into the
Kings Arms with an additional storey, central bay windows and portico much as it
is today. Rear stabling and
accommodation rooms served the coaching trade particularly after the Turnpike
Roads to Sedbergh and Brough were built.
The Powley name
was respected throughout the Eden Valley. Poet
John Close says ‘the Pedigree of the Powleys
can be traced far, far back into the Dark Ages, when Monks and Ancient Fathers
were only Scribes and could handle the Pen of the read Writer, but was carefully
preserved in their Illuminated Manuscripts. And
recorded in glowing language the most flowery and sublime, the heroic deeds of
those Mighty champions and bold Barons who shook England to her centre, and the
Monarch trembling on his throne, and who were the Founders of the Powley
there does not appear to be any association with King John and the Magna Carta,
Powley is said to be an old Welsh name derived from ap-Hoel or ap-Howell.
Here in Kirkby
Stephen there was a John Powley alive in 1665, accused of ‘dealing in raw
hides on the open market contrary to the law of James I, which laid down that
the “mysteries” of tanning were to be carried out only by guild members.’
The names of other Powleys
and indeed other John Powleys crop up in records through the centuries,
including a John Powley of Eden Hall in 1803.
The John Powley of this plaque, owner and landlord of the Kings Arms Inn and Assembly Rooms, seems to have been a very colourful character as the following two reports illustrate.
Leap. - Last week, a fine blood hunter, the property of Mr JOHN POWLEY, of Kirby
Stephen in Westmoreland, whilst in chase of a hare, cleared the wall of
Ravenstonedale Park, which is six-foot high and four feet thick, with Mr Powley
on his back.’
Leading out of
the street of Mellbecks, and entering the main street about twenty yards south
of the King’s Arms Hotel, is a narrow lane, about four feet wide, called
Little Wynd, which about a century ago was selected for a foot race.
The then landlord of the King’s Arms was a jolly old gentleman, as far
famed for his wit and humour as the Inn itself for its “good cheer”. Amongst
his customers was one who continually boasted of his “speed of foot”, and as
such men are apt to do when they well know there is no one present likely to
contend with them, time after time challenged all and sundry to the contest.
Mr. P who was tall and broad and strong, as became a man who weighed
twenty-seven stones, accepted the boaster’s challenge and offered to run him a
race of a hundred yards provided he might choose his own ground, and have ten
The terms were
accepted, the competitors and company adjourned to the street, the starting
point was near the entrance to the stable yard, ten yards was measured, the
competitors placed and, the signal given. The
boaster rushed off confident of victory, Mr. P made a few steps forward coolly,
turned into the Little Wynd before his opponent could come up with him, and as
the portly landlord was by no means in training for a fast race, he walked
leisurely until he had covered the distance; his height, width, strength, and
the swing of his powerful arms effectually preventing his more agile opponent
getting either over him, or under, or past him, and thus easily winning the
We may be sure
that it was long before “the swift footed” boaster heard the last of his
hundred yards race, and the old men at Kirkby Stephen have not ceased to talk
about the victory of the well-known and popular landlord, Mr. Powley, or
forgotten the “merry twinkle” of his eye, as he told some strange customer
how he had once run a foot-race of a hundred yards, with ten yards start,
against a well-known runner, and won easily.’
Rooms fell out of use and at some time a Ballroom was made at the rear of the
Kings Arms when the stabling was no longer required.
The former Assembly Rooms were used as Westmorland Rural Council Offices
(with Public Toilets below) before the Tourist Information Centre was opened,
originally upstairs, in 1984. The later downstairs conversion was made after the
toilets moved to a new building in Stoneshot.
In its heyday
there were regular newspaper reports of the splendid occasions enjoyed:
On Wednesday last, Mr. Barwick, had his Ball at Mr. Powley’s large assembly
room. In Kirkby Stephen, where a display of several new and fashionable dances
secured considerable credit to the teacher; and the pupils gave infinite
gratification to a numerous and respectable company.’
SWAILES Anne & Alec, 1985. Kirkby Stephen, Titus Wilson & Son
Ltd., Kendal, page 139-140, Thomas Fawcett drawing dated 1817 showing the
Assembly Rooms and an early Mr. Powley’s ‘Old House’, the Kings Arms.
CLOSE J, (1816-1891), “The Westmorland Poet.” Tales and Legends of
Westmorland, Life, Manners. And Customs of the “Olden Time;” Cerberus
Printing, Selected by Ann Sandell 2015.
GOWLING Margaret M.Phil., 2003. Kirkby Stephen in 1605, A Westmorland
village in the 17th century.
Will of George SEWELL of Kirkby Thore, Gentleman (buried 16 Jun 1804 at
Kirkby Thore, aged 40 years Householder). Will written 9 May 1804; proved 14
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 7 Mar 1816
PARKINSON J. and Son, 1909/1926. Parkinson’s
guide and history of Kirkby Stephen and district.
Links to other Kirkby Stephen Blue Plaques