Jacobites set for battle over Cumbria housing plan

The Rebel Tree or Hanging Tree , in the village of Clifton , near Penrith in Cumbria''''The Rebel Tree or Hanging Tree, in the village of Clifton near Penrith. Picture: Contributed
The Rebel Tree or Hanging Tree , in the village of Clifton , near Penrith in Cumbria''''The Rebel Tree or Hanging Tree, in the village of Clifton near Penrith. Picture: Contributed
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GRAVES of those who fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie and whose deaths were immortalised in the Scottish song The Bonnie Banks Of Loch Lomond could end up stranded in the middle of a roundabout on a housing development, campaigners have claimed.

The Scottish Jacobite Party (SJP) has argued that building a roundabout on the land where 12 Jacobite soldiers are buried would amount to the desecration of war graves.

Landowner Jim Lowther, son of the late Earl of Lonsdale and brother of the 8th Earl of Londsale, is holding a public consultation on plans to develop the area at Clifton in Cumbria. A map of how the pastoral land where the graves are would look with houses, roads and a roundabout has been produced.

The Battle of Clifton on 18 December 1745 – the last Jacobite battle on English soil – saw Charles Edward Stuart the Young Pretender’s supporters fight the Duke of Cumberland’s men following their retreat from Derby.

But after their defeat at Clifton, around a dozen Jacobites were hanged on the infamous Rebels’ Tree and buried underneath it.

The song Loch Lomond written in 1746 refers to the hanging of Jacobites after the battle, suggesting the spirit of a Jacobite buried under the oak tree will make the journey back to Scotland by “the low road” faster than his companions retreating by “the high road”.

The SJP, which campaigns for Scottish independence, regards the burial site as a war grave.

John Black, leader of the SJP, said he discovered the proposals by chance.

“These are war graves and if this project is allowed to go ahead it is nothing short of desecration,” he said. “I had gone down with a piper on 20 July to lay a wreath. The piper attracted a couple of local people who showed us notice of a meeting which had a map of the development on the back.

“Looking at the map, the tree which is now fairly isolated and surrounded by pastures will be in the middle of a roundabout. It is a disgrace, these are war graves with 12 Jacobites there.

“There was considerable controversy over plans to build housing at Culloden and this is no different.”

Chris Merchant, who runs The Rebels Hide bed and breakfast in Clifton, which is situated about 200 metres from the graves, said: “I’m very passionate about the history and people make pilgrimages to the site. It is very worrying because the planning laws in England are quite diluted and it can be very difficult to fight them.

“As far as I’m concerned this is pure capitalist speculation and greed. That family has more money than the majority of us could spend in ten generations.”

Eden District Council confirmed the Lowther estate held a pre-application public exhibition in June regarding possible future plans. No planning application has been submitted to date.

North Associates (Cumbria) Ltd, agent for the Lowther Estate, said they would be willing to meet SJP representatives to resolve the issue.

The statement read: “North Associates have been instructed to prepare and submit an outline planning application for residential development of the land referred to.

“From the very start of our investigations, we and our client recognised the sensitivity of the land, and commissioned a series of detailed archaeological and arboricultural investigations that have been partially completed.

“This work has confirmed the site as the location of the last battle on English soil, and that there are various anecdotal accounts of activities that have happened at or near the oak tree known as the Rebels’ Tree.

“However, we will be doing everything we can to ensure that the location is dealt with in a sensitive manner appropriate to its history and importance to the Scottish Jacobite Party and the village of Clifton.

“Once we have the results of this latest survey, we would welcome the opportunity to work with the Scottish Jacobite Party to discuss the nature of the protection measures and incorporate an agreed statement in our planning application.”