School Friends: Bell & Ismay


George Joseph Bell was born at Esk St. Andrews, north of Longtown very close to the English / Scottish border, on 9th August 1835. The family moved to The Nook near Irthington, which stands by the river Irthing, near the Roman wall, and being 3 miles from Brampton when he was young. When he was twelve years old he started at Croft House School in Brampton.

Joseph Coulthard established Croft House School in about 1840. It quickly became a well-respected boarding school offering a progressive curriculum to the sons of gentlemen. The school curriculum was English, Classics, Modern Language, Deportment, Mathematics, Philosophy included Astronomy, Geology, Botany, Chemistry & Physiology Deportment included Dancing, Drill, and Gentlemanly Bearing. Pupils came from across the north of England, Scotland and even Ireland. Mr Coulthard ran the school until 1872 when he died. One of the existing masters took over and it continued for at least another ten years. The school taught about a hundred boys.


George Joseph Bell completed his education at the school when aged 16, and under the guidance of his uncle Robert Bell learnt surveying and land management. He became the district surveyor to Brampton Highways Board, sometime during 1867 to 1870. After gaining experience in Lincolnshire George Joseph returned to Cumberland as county surveyor and bridge builder, where he died age 75.

While he was living at his uncles farm, the Nook in Irthington he met and married Jane Moses of Lanercost. Jane had a twin sister called Margaret. She married Joseph Bell of Farlam and they were uncle and aunt to Joseph Bell, Chief Engineer on the Titanic.

George and Jane’s children, Robert, Hannah and Annie, were close friends of Joseph and his siblings. Living in Brampton they were easy to visit. Robert was apprenticed to Robert Stephenson’s engine works in Newcastle. He was working in the factory when Joseph started his apprenticeship, and married a local girl. Much later while Joseph was visiting them in Harrogate, Robert witnessed Joseph’s will.

Shortly after George had started at Croft House school another new boy started. He was a couple of months younger and came over from Maryport. Thomas Ismay was born on the 3 February 1836 and spent four years at Brampton. He was a studious child and slightly different to the other boys. During his childhood next to the sea in Maryport he learnt the habit of chewing tobacco from the sailors and was given the nickname of ‘Baccy’ Ismay. While at school the love of ships grew as he enjoyed building accurate model ships and sailing them on the pond in Irthington.

The two men discussed above were both influential in Joseph Bell’s life. Was this pure coincidence?

A third person who visited Brampton and the Thompson mines at Kirkhouse was Robert Stevenson. Although he had died before Joseph was born, Stevenson may have known his father. John Bell was a local Yeoman farmer and was part of the committee involved in raising money to build a new church with the support of the Thompsons. Stephenson made a donation to the fund. The closeness of the family farm to all the new steam powered technology and Victorian innovation may well have influenced a young Joseph Bell in choosing engineering over farming.

This fascinating research was done by Ann Freer for the site.


2 Responses to “School Friends: Bell & Ismay”

  1. Helen Says:

    Fascinating! I had long suspect that my great great grandfather, George Joseph Bell (1835 – 1911) was related to Joseph Bell the Chief Engineer on the Titanic through his wife, Jane
    i would be most interested in sharing with Ann Freer some interesting photos and primary sources I have acquired re George Joseph.
    Helen – Sydney Australia

    • castlehead Says:

      Hello Helen. Thank you very much for responding to our piece about the ‘Bell Ismay’ connection. Ann Freer who researched the piece, lives in what was Joseph Bells family home in Farlam. Ann is also my co author of the biography of Joseph Bell titled ‘Tarn to Titanic’ the e-book version is available for free on the site for your info. I am Barrie Bell Hodgson, and discovered as a consequence of my family research that my Bells, were nearby neighbours but not directly related Joseph of the Titanic. I have sent Ann your info, and feel sure that she will want to respond to it. Do keep going with research, as it does as I know continue to come up with small gems of info that constantly add to the wider picture.
      Best wishes, Barrie

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