THE ALLENS AT 'SEABANK'
This is not Maggie Allen's first work on her life at Braystones- she has also written an autobiographical book "You Complete Me" (a tiny extract can be seen in the Portfolio: Creative Copywriting: Me section of her business website). What follows is all in her own words, unchanged by me except for some paragraph divisions and [a couple of comments].
I was born in March 1950 and my mam, dad and older sister lived with my grandmother and my dad's sister and brother in Egremont. When I was a few months old we moved to live in one of the "bungalows" on Braystones Beach. It was the 6th from the railway station, going south, and I'm sure it was called Seabank. We were the only people to actually live there all year round, and we were the Allen family. My dad, Steve, mam Edith (or Edie), sister Anne and me - Margaret.
We rented our humble home from the lady owner - I have no idea who she was, but I think the rent was 10 shillings a week. Dad had no job since being demobbed out of the navy after WW2, and life was very basic. We lived on the fish dad caught from the sea, rabbits he snared in the fields on the other side of the railway embankment, and the potatoes and few other vegetables he stole in the dark of night from the local farm fields!
Food was cooked and heat supplied by the brick stove, light came from Tilley lamps filled with Esso Blue so everything smelled of paraffin. The toilet was a chemical one in a separate shed, sort of like a narrow vertical garden shed, but in the bad weather you couldn't brave going outside so there were potties under each bed. Water came from the rain barrel outside, so had to be boiled on the stove before we could use it. There was a spring that ran out from the railway embankment, just below the stile gate leading to the railway station - I remember taking glass lemonade bottles and filling them with the crystal clear, sparkling water. The tumbling water made a little stream that ran down the stones and into the sand. I can see now that little wooden shop, selling Robin starch, shiny brown teapots of steaming tea, bottles of Dent's lemonade, Cream Soda and Dandelion & Burdock. And the ever-present Esso Blue!
First thing each morning at low tide, once I could walk, I would go with dad beach-combing along the seaweed-strewn lines of foam and shells on the wet sand. The sea was often kind to us, and there would be a crate of oranges or bananas, once a huge tin of red Mansion polish that, for many years after, was rubbed frantically into the stone steps wherever we lived. Dad and I used to collect seaweed - firstly, a select strand or two to pop inside a lemonade bottle with a bit of sea water, to take to grandma's in Egremont on our next visit, for her to bathe her feet in. Then we filled sacks and dad hauled these to the station, where the trains took them to make medicine. Dad got paid for them, but I'm clueless as to how much.
One morning, dad shouted to me to go back to the house (we called it that, even though it was little more than a shack) as he had come across a little girl's body lying on the stones. A boating accident some days before, I think. Farmer Spedding's tractor came down and they took her away - that was probably the first time I ever saw a policeman!
Dad would set his line to catch fish when the tide was out, and I'd help him dig for lug-worms to hang on the ugly metal hooks. Sometimes a man would come with a tiny boat, and dad would go with him to fish for crab and lobster, dropping the wicker basket pots into the sea, so far out I could barely see them any more. We spent hours picking what we called cuvvins (no idea how that would be spelled! [covins? DJB]) which I believe are periwinkles, then mam would boil them and we would pick out the black circular thing and discard that, then pull out the squiggly wiggly thing that was utterly delicious back then. I think I'd pass on such a delicacy nowadays!
I used to be terrified of the pond where the big house stood all alone [Tarn Bank, by Braystones Tarn: DJB]. Dad told me it was bottomless - to make sure I stayed clear of it, I suppose! but the masses of water lily flowers fascinated me and one day I slipped in at the edge. Very cold and muddy! and dad scolded me for that. The Nagles lived in the big house and to me they were the richest people in the world!
When we walked to Egremont on a visit (and presumably to eat whatever food was on offer!) we would pick rosehips and blackberries in season (blackites, we called them then), and the rosehips were packed up and sent off by train to make even more medicine! The blackites were turned into pies that tasted ever so good, and a welcome change from the fish and rabbit diet.
We walked to Beckermet a lot, and I loved the bridge where the road goes over the beck by the church. The water was very shallow and friendly, not like the evil pond! The White Mare pub was so pretty with all its flowers and trees - I visited a few years back and Beckermet didn't seem to have been destroyed by the years, which pleased me.
On a bright summer day, the Isle of Man was very clear to see, even without binoculars, and we could make out the coastline farther north, heading up the Solway. I used to play on the Sellafield waste pipe! and pretend I was a tight-rope walker with my arms outstretched, until the black metal disappeared into the sand. I had a swing to play on - probably my only plaything at that time! - that dad built from two railway sleepers, an iron bar and some rope! I used to swing so high, facing the railway line, and when the trains went by, they always tooted the whistle to me, and the fireman would wave his flag. I used to really love that - imagine, contact with other human beings!!
The most exciting time for me was November, when dad would pile up the black rubber tyres he'd been collecting, and throw driftwood and rubbish into the middle, then set fire to it. That was our bonfire - just me and dad, faces stinging with the cold and wet, but laughing at the brilliant display, even though there were no fireworks.
I never understood why we were the only people there until the sun was shining every day and then the place would swarm with all these people. As the summer faded, they came less and less, until we were alone again, to face the onslaught of the winter weather. Sometimes I would stand in my cot and just look out of the window at the sea, lashing and churning, deafening, terrifying... and suddenly dad would be scooping me up, Anne would be crying, mum would be ashen-faced, but dad always took control and somehow he would get us all out on to the embankment, where we'd scramble, clutching at the seagrass, up to the railway line. Everyone hanging on to each other, me clinging to dad, bent against the storm, we'd seek shelter in the little stone railway station until the worst of the storm had subsided. It amazes me that our home was never totally uprooted, and it often swayed in the heaviest winds.
The Daniels family had a bungalow - possibly next to us or next-but-one - and they came in summer for weekends, like most other owners. They had a plumbing and hardware shop on North Road, Egremont, Mrs Daniels was a teacher I think, and they had a daughter, also called Margaret. When we moved to Egremont in 1954, mum went to clean for them and help in the shop. They were very kind to us.
My sister went to St. Bees school, and when we couldn't afford the train fare for her to go, the schools inspector would come to see mam and dad. He would give them the money so Anne could go to school!
I remember jellyfish I remember cutting my feet badly on the barnacled rocks once when I had been playing too far out on the sand and the tide came in and caught me out so I had no choice but to walk across the sharp, slippery stones until I cried - partly with pain, partly fear. I remember the seagulls, who were my friends, and the cows who would often suddenly appear all around the shack - presumably the seagrass closer to the beach was more tasty than in the back fields! I remember those round green glass fishing floats that would wash up and we'd hang them at the front of the house on the wooden balustrade I remember dad up on the roof nailing down Hippo felt I remember the rabbits
and the gorse bushes
the big black trains with their friendly whistle
and I remember the smells - cloying damp, salt, and that omnipresent paraffin!!
I made a special journey to Braystones a few years ago, and I was heart-broken to see only a rectangular blackened patch of ground where once stood my valiant little shack, my childhood home.