Small Beer, Smaller World

Our story starts and finishes in 1977.

For it was in that year that My Dad and I went for a drink to a pub called the Lowther Arms at Scilly Banks, near Whitehaven, Cumbria. Nothing unusual about that; especially in this part of the world, where every second pub seemed to be called the Lowther Arms, after the Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale.

No, what was unusual about this was it was the smallest pub I’d ever been in, and although only seventeen I’d been in a few. The Lowther Arms was basically a ‘two up, two down’ miner’s cottage very typical of this formerly industrialised area of the West Lakes. Small towns built to house the Iron industry’s workforce like Frizington, Arlecdon, Rowrah – (some of them no more than villages or hamlets really) often consist of a single row of terraced cottages, almost defiantly ‘staring out’ the bleak mountains of this less fashionable part of the Lake District.

Formerly the Lowther Arms (with the red door)

In our tiny public house the beer was served directly from the kitchen, where the pints were pulled and placed onto a rudimentary bar. There was a till. The bar also created a partition between the kitchen and the hall. The front room, to give you some idea of scale, was roughly the size of a front room and served as ‘Public Bar’. It was furnished with bench seats which ran round almost all of the wall space and a couple of tables each with two pairs of chairs. After that, there wasn’t space for much else – apart from the drinkers. And it was packed. Fifteen people. You can imagine the noise.

If you didn’t like the ale or gin and tonic then you were out of luck, because there wasn’t much else. Otherwise, your drinks were brought to you at your seats by the lovely, but painfully slow septuagenarian hostess. Parched and dry, you sat patiently, eagerly willing the aged barmaid, hip joints creaking and groaning, to make it in one piece; while your pint glasses slid drunkenly from one end of the tray to the other as she negotiated her way past sleeping dogs, coal scuttles, logs of wood and other drinkers.

It was a fascinating place, made all the more so by a couple of old ‘gadgies’ Bill and Ted, we got chatting to. Typically, my Dad initiated conversation so smoothly that I assumed he had met them before. He is a master at this. He hadn’t. Met them I mean. The two men, I guess in their mid 70’s, were local born and bred and had accents you could cut with a knife. I needed all my concentration to unpick and figure out what they were saying. Anyway, it turned out that the pair: Bill born in Arlecdon, six or so miles east as the crow flies, and Ted in Pica, about three and a half miles more or less north west, had met in the early ‘30s working at the Crowgarth mine in Cleator Moor, some four miles or so from the pub.

Arlecdon and beyond to Ennerdale

Amazing to think that such heavy industrialisation, was just a stone’s throw away from some of the most spectacular natural landscapes, hillwalking and climbing in the world. Take Ennerdale for example – less than ten miles away! My Dad began waxing lyrical about his beloved Lake District.

Ennerdale Water from above Pillar

He has walked, climbed and camped on every inch of it since he was a boy and knows The Lakes like the back of his hand

My Dad taking a break from waxing lyrical abot the Lakes

My Dad taking a break from waxing lyrical abot the Lakes

He doesn’t need to look at a map. He knows where he’s going. His passion is genuine. As a kid I would (as I would now) follow him to the ends of the earth and never once feel the need to look up to check we were going in the right direction.

Ted, rouses us from our reveries of cool, sweet-tasting mountain streams, hillsides thick with bracken, the colour of the heather, and the comforting smell of woodsmoke at day’s end.

‘Ahhh.. I dunno what all the fuss is about’ he says and in a comment which echoes in my ears still,  continued ‘People are always going on and on about Ennerdale. I dunno what all the fuss is about. I was born in Pica – lived all my life there. I’ve never even been to Ennerdale. Why should I? It’s only a bit of water and some hills.’

My eyes were beginning to glaze over.

Yes! But what water what hills!

Andy Daly

 

Irony

In the early years of the nineteenth century, extensive deposits of Irony were found all over Cumberland and Westmoreland (present day Cumbria) Within a few years, the large scale production of irony was in full swing and continued  throughout the course of the 1800s. It is something we tend to forget when we gaze over beautifully rugged landscapes of the English Lake District – the fact that hundreds of years ago some of these mountains and valleys were heavily industrialised. After the total decline of  irony mining  during the 1870s /80s, which, when it came, was the result of the gradual depletion of the bigger, older workings and was hastened by the availablity of cheap irony on the world market, the Cumbrian landscape went through further change, as populations shifted, works and dwellings were demolished. It is against this backdrop that our story starts and finishes in 1977.

For it was in that year that My Dad and I went for a drink to a pub called the Lowther Arms at Scilly Banks, near Whitehaven, Cumbria. Nothing unusual about that; especially in this part of the world, where every second pub seemed to be called the Lowther Arms, after the Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale.

No, what was unusual about this was it was the smallest pub I’d ever been in, and although only seventeen I’d been in a few. The Lowther Arms was basically a ‘two up, two down’ miner’s cottage very typical of this formerly industrialised area of the West Lakes. Small towns built to house the Irony industry’s workforce like Frizington, Arlecdon, Rowrah – (some of them no more than villages or hamlets really)  often consist of  a single row of terraced cottages – no ‘other side of the street’ to look out on. Instead, they stand, almost defiantly ‘staring out’ the bleak mountains of this less fashionable part of the Lake District.

Formerly the Lowther Arms (with the red door)

In our tiny public house (now, incidentally run as a holiday cottage) the beer was served directly from the kitchen, where the pints were pulled and placed onto a rudimentary bar. There was a till. The bar also created a partition between the kitchen and the hall. The front room, to give you some idea of scale, was roughly the size of a front room and served as ‘Public  Bar’. It was furnished with bench seats which ran round almost all of the wall space and a couple of tables each with two pairs of chairs. After that, there wasn’t space for much else – apart from the drinkers. And it was packed. Fifteen people. You can imagine the noise.

You collected your drinks from the bar/kitchen. Being such a small establishment, there wasn’t a lot of choice. If you didn’t like the ale or gin and tonic then you were out of luck, because there wasn’t much else. Otherwise, your drinks were brought to you at your seats by the lovely, but painfully slow septuagenarian hostess. Parched and dry, you sat patiently, eagerly willing the aged barmaid, hip joints creaking and groaning, to make it in one piece; while your pint glasses slid drunkenly from one end of the tray to the other as she negotiated her way: past sleeping dogs, coal scuttles, logs of wood and other drinkers.

It was a fascinating place, made all the more so by a couple of old ‘gadgies’* Bill and Ted, we got chatting to. Typically, my Dad initiated conversation so smoothly that I assumed he had met them before. He is a master at this. He hadn’t. Met them I mean. The two men, I guess in their mid70’s, were local born and bred and had accents you could cut with a knife. I listened hard. I didn’t contribute much – if at all, for I needed all my concentration to unpick the accent and figure out what the more unusual dialect might mean (a lot of it I simply couldn’t get) Anyway, basically it turned out that the pair: Bill born in Arlecdon, six or so miles east as the crow flies, and Ted in Pica, about three and a half miles more or less north, (That will more or less do, particularly if your crow happens to have Sat Nav)  had met in the late ‘20s working at the Crowgarth mine in Cleator Moor, some four miles or so from the pub. They told us the true story of when irony ruled supreme.

Arlecdon and beyond to Ennerdale

Rowrah, towards Arlecdon and the North Sea

Crowgarth was an early starter in the great ‘Irony Boom’ It was opened in 1753 with capital raised by Whitehaven merchants in the Virginian tobacco trade. Of the principal bodies, which constituted just over about half the irony deposits in Cumbria, and typified most of those worked at Crowgarth, the majority occurred in large flats and although subject to earth moving and faulting generally meant easily worked, profitable sites, which were just as easily exhausted.

 

Montreal Mine, Cleator Moor before closure 1934                                   

    Coronation Pit

  

The characteristics  typical of the highest grade Cumbrian deposits were their Socratic seams and  richness  in verbal irony;  a result of their slow evolution over a long period of time and exposure to a variety of influences:  most importantly, Celtic, Norman and above all, Norse. You only have to listen to the Cumbrian accent and dialect to know that. In fact, during the Second World War a certain Harold Manning, a Flookburgh man was posted to Iceland (Is  it just me, or wasn’t almost everybody else being sent in the opposite direction? to France, Italy, the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia etc ?) Anyway, old Harold found that as well as having unlimited access to Black Forest Gateaux, mini Raspberry Pavlovas and Petit Fours, his Cumbrian accent,dialect and claims to have come ‘without any money [pennies]’ (félaus um peninga ) were understood by the Icelanders without any problem. Indeed,the Icelandic Sagas, which date from the twelfth century and recount tales of the tenth and eleventh reveal a strong connection in their terse style, yet well developed sense of irony and humour.

Illustrated manuscript of an Icelandic Saga: (‘Eat or you shall be put to the sword’ ‘No! No more chicken Goujons!’)

 As competition in the industry reached fever pitch towards the second half of the nineteenth century, there came the discovery of quite considerable irregular deposits at Crowgarth as at a number of other sites of a baser, harsh  irony often difficult to extract. This was thick with mockery, sarcasm, incongruity. Situational: not subtle at all. The local folk didn’t know what to do with it: had no use for it. Quite unsuitable for home consumption. As a result, the burgeoning Cumbrian mining companies  began to look further afield.  And sure enough they found that indeed, an eager market awaited ….  in the United States. And so, hewn from the mountains and hillsides of the West Lakes, the Irony made its way from the mines such as Crowgarth, Montreal, Crossfield, Jacktrees and Todholes by rail to the ports of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. From where it crossed the Atlantic: thousands of tons at a time to fuel what was to become the nascent great American popular culture and entertainment machine.

 In fact, some of it is still in use today. Tune in to ‘Family Guy’ ‘South Park’ or ‘American Dad’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Family Guy (Yeah, I hate  you too, Stewie)

Ironically (there we go…) By the time our two companions in the Lowther Arms met each other at Crowgarth the ‘Irony Boom’ was well and truly over. The Cumbrian Klondike was nought but a mere memory. The irony got harder and harder to extract, became more and more uneconomical such that by the Second World War, Crowgarth was on its last legs and by 1948 it was abandoned.

Amazing to think that such heavy industrialisation, was just a stone’s throw away from some of the most spectacular natural landscapes, hillwalking and climbing in the world. Take Ennerdale for example – less than ten miles away! My Dad had begun waxing lyrical about his beloved Lake District

  Ennerdale Water from above Pillar

He has walked, climbed and camped on every inch of it since he was a boy and knows it like the back of his hand, (or should that be sole of his foot?) He is not a ‘Crag-rat’ (the locals’ derogatory term for the weekend hiker) – you know the type: ludicrously over-prepared for the outing: layers of fleeces and waterproofs, each pocket stuffed with Kendal Mintcake, OS map in one hand; copy of Wainwright in the other: ‘Now it says here … Yes, …  let me see, … that if  you cross the stile here … Looks like that’s the one, then go immediately right along the dry stone wall, you can have a dump without being seen from the footpath. Look! He’s even done a little drawing. Cool!’

Ennerdale

Or his recklessly under-prepared cousin, with cap-sleeved T shirt (vest if it’s cold) pair of tight fitting jeans  and  flourescent rubber beach sandals. Map engraved into the silver paper from a ciggie packet, two Snickers bars in his back pocket and a rucksack full of tins of beer.

No, my Dad is an expert: he doesn’t need to look at a map. He knows where he’s going. Treat the Lakes with respect and they will do likewise – and they do, because they know his passion is genuine. As a kid I would – as I would now – follow him to the ends of the earth and never once feel the need to look up to check we were going in the right direction.

‘Ehhhhhh?…’ pipes up Ted, rousing us from our reveries of cool, sweet-tasting mountain streams, hillsides thick with bracken, the colour of the heather, and the comforting smell of woodsmoke at day’s end …. ‘Ehhhhhh?…’he repeats. His mood has changed; it’s as if what my Dad has just said has revealed us as imposters.

‘Ahhh.. I dunno what all the fuss is about’ he continues, and in a comment which echoes in my ears still, made as it was without the slightest trace of  irony in his voice, he says: ‘People are always going on and on about Ennerdale. I dunno what all the fuss is about. I was born in Pica – lived all my life there. I’ve never even been to Ennerdale. Why should I? It’s only a bit of water and some hills. Too many trippers too, and ‘Crag Rats’,  roads are a bloody nightmare in the summer ….’

My eyes were begining to glaze over now. I wondered did the poorly paid, exploited people who faced the brutal conditions that they did to extract raw irony all those years ago, really understand importance of what they were doing? Or appreciate the potency of the fruit of their labours, its potential, had they realised it, to improve their lives imeasureably and the importance of its role in the development of  British culture, national identity and humour in the twentieth Century?

There again, if they were like Ted, and in 70 – odd years not even bother to drag their arses less than a dozen miles or so to ‘See what all the fuss is about’ they probably weren’t all that bothered about irony. ‘S’pose it went to all those posh folk in Manchester, London and abroad’ volunteered, Bill. After which, signs of natural curiosity began to falter. And who am I to criticise?

Check the map to see the sort of distances we’re talking about

*Gadgies – Old Men

Pic Credits: 3, 4, 11: Simon ledingham 10, Roger Savage

© Andy Daly  2010

A rough crossing without a guide

Climbers on the Napes Needles including women in long skirts: About the turn of 20thcentury. Photo: Abrahams Brothers/ FRCC

Firstly, some background. My Dad, Bernard was born in Lancaster. His parents both died quite young. I never knew his Dad, like him called Bernard. His Dad, also Bernard, was killed at Ypres in 1915, just a few months before his kid brother. Their father, Bernard (You’re begining to spot a trend here…) a Shankhill Catholic had retired to Belfast after a distinguished career in the army. As my Dad has pointed out, the Dalys may have been brave professional soldiers, but they were pretty unimaginative with their childrens’ names.

 Anyway, my Dad’s Dad served in Africa during the Second World War. Back here in Blighty he drove the family Bakery van, and was then a conductor on Ribble buses.He’s a bit of a mysterious character to me – he never really seems to ‘fit’ in to the family. My Dad’s Mum was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and then Hodgkinson’s Disease. I was born about 2 years before she died, but of course, have no memory of her. I am told she doted on me and loved the colour of my eyes.

 The point is, my Dad and his parents lived with his Mum’s parents in their big old house in Bowerham, Lancaster. In fact, the house wasn’t their’s at all. It was bequeathed to them by an old school mistress to whom they had been in service,  for the term of their natural lives – something my Dad didn’t know about until after his Grandmother, who outlived her husband, had died…. and the house had been emptied and most of its contents, including family possessions had been auctioned off.

It is of this house that I have some of my earliest memories.

Ethel (or ‘Tompt’) as she was known, was my great grandmother, and as I remember her, dressed in black bodice and big skirt, her hat held with pins, was the genuine article: a Victorian Woman She could be stern at times, and certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly.  (She seemed – to me at least – to berate her long-suffering husband at every possibility) But she had a heart of gold and though very ‘prim and proper’ would occasionally silence a room with her coarse sayings and bawdy jokes – ‘straight out of a Millom iron ore works!’ as my Dad remembers.

 That long-suffering husband was Thomas, after whom I take my middle name. He was from Walney Island off the coast at Barrow. A pattern maker at Waring and Gillow, he was a kind, gentle if sometimes grumpy man (Well, let’s face it, he had some reason). Also known as ‘Nandy’ due to the fact that as a child, this is what my Dad, unable to say ‘Grandad’ called him. He almost always wore a flat hat, starched collar, braces, pin-striped jacket and had a bushy moustache. I was his favourite! He used to come down early in the morning to light the fires. I was the only soul allowed down. I helped/hindered him clearing out the grate, then intricately folding sheets of newspaper to make long-burning, almost ‘double helix’ shaped firelighters. He would always make two mugs of tea. One for him one for me. After stirring, he would drink his with the spoon still in – and so that’s how I drank my tea.

 So many legends seemed to hang in the heavy air of their house in Lonsdale Place (Like the story of the mysterious ‘Mediterranean Blood’ in the family. This, on investigation has proved to be no more than a muddling of my Great great great Grandad’s wedding, which took place when he was stationed in Gibraltar, and the birth of his first child, this time when stationed in Barbados) One of the most oft-repeated yarns was the great story of the perilous Lake District crossing in atrocious weather from Eskdale, Skirting Scafell Pike down to the Wasdale Head Hotel in the summer of 1904. A cautionary tale, it was  felt to be sound advice from ‘Those that Knew’ to get the listener to look before they leapt.

Apparently, in the July of that year, my Great grandmother, Thomas (who was courting her) along with her parents, two sisters, Molly and Annie: possibly also with escorts and a ‘mystery man’ from Kent had decided to take a trip over the fell from Eskdale down into the adjacent valley (admittedly with some quite rough terrain and steep drops for the unwary or those unwilling/unable to read a map) As was the case in those days, a guide was appointed to see them over. For some reason, on the morning in question, he did not appear, but the party decided, perhaps unwisely, to go ahead anyway.

For no sooner had they begun than the weather began to close in. It got cold, wet, rocks began to get slippery. Visibility was reduced. Suddenly every now and then, the impenetrable mist would swirl violently and clear to reveal some yawning chasm or steep drop below or equally without warning, damp rock walls would loom up at them from the depths, blocking their path. It must have been quite hair raising at the time, but they were made of strong stuff. They arrived safe, if cold, wet and not a little shaken; my Great grandmother extremely vexed (as she used to say) with those who persuaded her (one suspects the suitors )  against her better judgement to take part in what she referred to everafter as “That Rough Crossing Without A Guide”

 Well, it comes about that one Easter – 29th April 1983, to be exact, I find myself with my Dad and my brothers at the annexe to the Wasdale Head Hotel. And why there and not propping up the bar?  Well, it just so happens that, my Dad, and brothers are still keen climbers and, as such hold membership of the British Fell and Rock Club; who it transpires have organised an exhibition of climbing photography and videos to commemorate the centenary of the first ascent of the ‘Napes Needle’, a particularly spectacular climb in Wasdale.  Members had been asked to give up their time to provide invigilation for the exhibition on a rota basis. As I was home from University and kicking my heels, I decided to join them.

On arrival, I had a good look round at the exhibits. There were great large format ‘box camera’ photographs, some by the famous Abraham brothers which were simply stunning. Crystal clear, tonal tours de force. Then there was Bonnington and Whillans – ‘I say, Don, have you got that crab?’ ‘Yer-what?’ (Climbing joke)  filmed on Dovedale Groove; but the one thing that caught my eye was the open visitors book dated 1902 – 4 from the Wasdale Head Hotel. Open, because it contained the signatures of a group of famous pioneer climbers, the Slingsby family and friends. Of much more interest to me, however was what was written on the opposite page, dated July17th 1904 in a confident, though slightly shaky hand:

” J C Dawson, J J Dawson, E Dawson (my Great Grandmother) P Dawson, A Dawson, M Dawson (and their place of birth/residence: all of Millom) T Townson, Walney (My Great Grandfather) P Priest,  Liverpool, M Wall, Millom, M Borrow, Dover.

 A rough crossing without a guide!” 

 

This is a copy of a scan my father did recently of the ‘Dawson’ page after being given permission to record the document by the hotel’s owners. Sadly, it had been allowed to deteriorate significantly since 1983; so much so that it was almost unrecognisable as the same image.

© Andy Daly  2010