The manor of Farlam is written about as far back as 1428 but one of the first mentions of a “manorial house” in the area is in 1579. However the house that you see today is the work of a family called Thompson who did most of the alterations around 1824 and 1860. They created a house for their family and friends in an era of extreme wealth and privilege. Several generations would be in residence at any one time and treats for all the family were common. We have been told by one of the grandchildren that if the weather was bad on a birthday that one of the gardeners would bring Phoebe the donkey into the house for rides around the billiards table.
The Thompson family owned many farms as well as the industries that had been built up in Kirkhouse to support the local coal mines. In 1820 James Thompson was appointed Agent for Lord Carlisle’s coal mines and from then due to his hard work and expertise their fortunes really took off. There were hundreds of men working for them at Kirkhouse. There are no bills to give us the dates that the hall was constructed or altered as everything from the materials to the labour came from their own estate. Everything had to work for the estate and even the ornamental pond in the gardens at Farlam was originally built as a reservoir to supply power to the line shafts for various works in Kirkhouse. These included a foundry, blacksmiths, forger, saddler and a saw mill to name a few- the say you could get everything there from a suit to a steam engine.
The Thompson’s family friends included George Stephenson who helped with the design of the local railway both for the coal and then for the Carlisle to Newcastle track which was started in 1829. When it was finished it was the longest railway track in England at 60 miles long.
The Stephenson’s Rocket was completed in 1829. In October that year The Rocket won the Rainhill Speed Trial with a first prize of £500.00. There are old railways drawings showing an experimental track for the rocket in the garden of Farlam down near the entrance gate – what an amazing sight that must have been.
On May 10th 1838 James Thompson took over the coal and limestone leases from Lord Carlisle and once again the family fortunes improved. In April 1837 James purchased The Rocket for £300.00. She was coming to the end of her working life but they fully overhauled her and she worked locally until 1849 when she was put in a siding and left to rust. 1n 1851 she went back to the Stephenson’s Works for restoration and was returned to Kirkhouse for the next 11 years. The Thompson family then presented her to the Patents Office Museum, now the Science Museum in South Kensington where she is today.
On Friday August 9th 1889 Charles Lacy Thompson married Caroline Forbes at Farlam Church. 1600 guests were invited including the entire workforce. All the pits and works were closed for the event and only around two dozen men on essential safety work were not able to attend.
A 200ft by 60ft marquee was erected at West Flat Field in Kirkhouse. It had a boarded floor, was supported by 8 poles and decorated with evergreens, flowers, red and white roses and bunting. The guests were brought in by special trains and it took over an hour to seat all the guests while the Ames Strings of Newcastle played in the background. Later on after the speeches the Kirkhouse Brass Band played with the two bands providing the dance music. At the end of the night Charles Lacy and Caroline returned to the Hall in a fine coach pulled by two white horses to be greeted by their staff.
In 1908 there was a pit disaster at Roachburn where 300 men worked. On Tuesday 28th January the roof caved in caused by water seeping in from a tarn on the surface and liquid mud and water rushed through the pit. Work went on for hours and into the next day in incredibly cold, dark and dangerous conditions to locate three missing men but to no avail. Thousands of sightseers from all over the country came to the place ”Where it had Happened”. Charles Lacy was lowered on a plank with a safety line to view the ruin of his mine for himself. After a lengthy inquiry it was decided that no one was to blame it was just a freak of nature that could not have been prevented. However hundreds of men had lost their jobs and many had moved away to other pits but some never went back underground. It has been estimated that the financial cost of the disaster would today have cost millions of pounds. Even though he was cleared of any blame Charles Lacy’s health started to deteriorate from then on and he died in 1920 aged 63 leaving his widow Caroline to live at Farlam Hall for the next 42 years.
She was a much loved and respected leader of the local community helping in every way. She was a supporter of any church, a governor of the school and even bought Hallbankgate Village Hall for £1,250.00 and gave it to the village so that they could enjoy it for free. During her life at Farlam the house gained the reputation of being the coldest house in Cumberland. This was because she disliked being too warm. She had been known to return downstairs after retiring for the night to check on the fire and on one occasion even to throw a jug of water on the fire exclaiming it was far too hot. The doctor can remember treating her with snow across the foot of the bed by an open window and locals who came to visit wore as many clothes as they could wear and still sit down! As the family fortune was founded on coal this was certainly a choice and not a necessity.
Farlam Hall has always been a mix of relaxed country living and formality – something that has hardly changed. We still have and use the original silver safe but sadly our silver is not valuable enough to need locking up. We still have local ladies who look after the house and the kitchen had a reputation for using only the finest food as possible with as much from the local area as they could and also making everything they possibly could on the premises – which is exactly what happens today.
When Caroline died in 1962 the three children had moved away and none of the family wanted to live in the house or the area. The house and contents were sold off and a family bought it to run as a hotel. This they did really successfully for some years but then decided they had had enough and put the house back up for sale. We purchased it in 1975 and so the story of Farlam Hall carries on.