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THE GRAHAM-OUSBY REMINISCENCES


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Here's a large selection of random thoughts about the beach from Peter and Susan Graham [see here and here], and their neighbour Jimmy Ousby (who likes Penguin biscuits- he's been getting through half-a-dozen every day for a good 30 years), recorded in Autumn 2006. I've arranged most of the information in a rough north-to-south order, but with frequent digressions.

Susan remembered that her uncle Bob had a tent near the ramp at Nethertown one summer in the early 1970s, shortly before the family sold their bungalow to Jimmy. She went to the Tow Bar Inn, with a friend, to meet Peter, leaving her day shoes in the tent, but it was such a lovely night that he decided to walk her back to the beach, which gave her the choice of wearing dancing shoes or wellingtons. The catch for Peter was that there was no way Susan's mum would allow him to spend the night in the bungalow, so he huddled up under a sheet of tarpaulin, and started walking, with his friend Ian, back up to Nethertown at dawn. There they encountered George Crossley (later well known for his garden centre at Mirehouse) who had a motorbike with a special sidecar that he filled with coal collected along the shore. Still wearing their suits, they accepted a lift- Peter was lucky enough to get the pillion, while Ian "hung on for dear life" on the seatless, coal-black sidecar.

Peter remembers other youthful trips to the Tow Bar Inn- taxi for those who wanted to impress, bus for those who didn't mind slumming it. he remembers a neat trick whereby one person would pay to get in, then open a window in the restaurant to let in his friends. As luck would have it, Peter and Susan acquired the famous windows when the Tow Bar was demolished, and had them renovated for installation in the bungalow.

Just on the right of the road from Nethertown to Braystones is a field under which are buried the materials from some of the old Nethertown Camp buildings, including the NAAFI, demolished in 1948.

Jimmy thinks the reason for the large number of bungalow-owners who used to come from central Lancashire (Blackburn, Darwen etc.) was that during the war, one or two people from there who already had bungalows encouraged their friends to acquire others as a potential refuge if bombing became too severe. Miss Berry from Darwen used to have 'Heaton' in the 1970s; one day many years ago, when bulk carriers used to use Whitehaven harbour, one came so close to Braystones shore that Jimmy thought it would run aground, then it gave a short blast on its hooter and turned out to sea again. It later emerged that Miss Berry's nephew (an uncle or second cousin of the Grahams' friend Yvonne, wife of Simon) had been one of the ship's officers.

Right at the north end of the Braystones row, Jimmy was pleased one November to see a family at 'Tresco', normally boarded up over the winter by its owner Tommy Thompson. They stayed for about six weeks, right through Christmas, complete with decorations and tree, and next time he saw Tommy, Jimmy remarked how good it was that he had managed to let the place for the winter. Tommy was most surprised- the family turned out to be squatters. The end of Tresco, some time later, began with a fire and was completed by the tide.

A couple of bungalows near the north end of the row were owned by Mr Atkinson of the Beckermet building firm. He only came down to the beach when he was desperate to get away from it all, so they stayed boarded up most of the time, for around 20 years. Another resident at the north end of the Braystones row was Mr Rumney, an excellent joiner who maintained his bungalow beautifully, though he was around 90, and going blind (he used to stay on the beach right through each summer, and was related to the Gibson family).

Where 'Seagull Lodge' is, there used to be a caravan, standing by itself.

'Westward Ho!'... Jimmy remembers Billy Crosby (who used to work at the Bus Station) taking action after it was undermined by the sea. He bought some big kerb-stones from the Council for 50p each and built a tough sea-wall before rebuilding the bungalow. In all, the work took him about 4 or 5 years. Then, not long after it was finished, he dropped down dead.

The next bungalow, 'Isle View', used to belong to the Cowards, chemists from Barrow. Among other eccentricities, they used to bring a boat with them, and store it up on the roof. For some years after them, it had a fairly colourful history. For example, one owner, Tommy Coulthard, had access to diggers, quarry waste etc. (some connection with Marchon) and wanted to lay a track along the beach to his bungalow- but other residents, such as Mr & Mrs Price- "Pixie and Dixie"- who did not want a track past their bungalows simply lay down on the ground in front of his machines (some of them were in their 70s at the time).

On the other hand, Peter remembers that before there was a track, when cars had to be left at the road end, Jimmy once had to carry a 50kg bag of cement along the beach on his shoulders. He rested it on the wire fence while he took a rest- and the wire cut into the bag, scattering cement everywhere. Other bulky items such as cookers would come in by similar energetic efforts.

Susan remembers that her maternal grandmother ("Nana Herdman") and Jimmy's mother used to play cards together- bridge etc.- and Jimmy did the catering for the groups of ladies who assembled at the bungalow for these games. Jimmy particularly remembers Mrs McGuiness, a heavy smoker. For want of an ashtray, he let her use an old plate- which got slightly singed in the process. She died a few weeks after this incident, and when Mrs Coulthard of Isle View, also a smoker, came for a game of dominoes a little while later, Jimmy gave her the same plate for an ashtray, with the warning that the last person to use it died shortly afterwards...

Next-door to 'Waverley' were Mr & Mrs Price: "priceless" according to Jimmy. They used to come up for the season from Neath in Wales; Jimmy used to feel sorry for them, as they didn't seem to have much money- didn't use the Calor Gas heating, etc. Only later did he find that they were multimillionaires- Mr Price was a boss at one of the major insurance firms, possibly Pearl or Prudential. Jimmy remembers him creosoting the veranda each year- it was already rotten before he started, but he wouldn't invest in proper repairs.

In the 1970s, a big barge came aground on this bit of beach. Mr Price hoped to claim salvage rights, but quite quickly a Scotsman with a large crane came trundling over the beach, and told him in graphic terms what he thought of that idea. The barge was eventually refloated and reunited with its tug. A fair number of fishing boats have also run aground on this stretch of coast, usually because most of the crew were drunk. One got stuck on the rocks about 2004, and the lifeboat had to be called out.

Memories of shipwrecks- the grounding of a small trawler, mentioned elsewhere on this site, and also of a cabin cruiser, not far north of 'Waverley', which seems to have been deliberate, with a view to collecting on the insurance. Susan recalled a bell in the old family bungalow that her mum used to call everybody in for lunch, which she thought had come from a grounded ship, but Jimmy, who still has it, says it was for air-raid warnings. Jimmy also bought Susan's grandad's boat, and was given personal advice on the best places and times to fish, on condition that he didn't pass the information on to "that guy up there" (Jack Henson). The best day for fishing, apparently was Sunday: "What you do, son, is you get up, you get in your car, you go to Egremont, you get all the Sunday papers, then you come back down, and you see all them ships..." (there were probably over 30 commercial fishing vessels working the Solway Firth back in the 1970s) "...you go out and you give them all Sunday papers- and when you come back in, you'll be chock-a with fish."

In 2005, the Coastguard were alerted following the observation of red flares out at sea. The lifeboat was called out, but the watchers on the shore, communicating by phone with the Coastguard office in Liverpool, saw its lights go right past the flare site without stopping. Only after various frustrated enquiries was it established that the flares were the product of an unusual variety of tracer ammunition being fired from the gunnery range at Eskmeals!

The last big storm doing very serious damage to the bungalows was back in 2002- wind and high tide combined to devastating effect (Jimmy reckons that in any storm it's the last 5-10 minutes that do the real damage). Some people think that they'll be safe unless there's an 8.5 metre tide combined with a force 10 wind, or that the danger will pass once the tide turns- but if the wind's a westerly, it doesn't have to be that powerful to cause problems, and there's quite a long period after high tide when the water is not retreating to any significant extent. Oddly enough, the old 1920s bungalows seemed to survive the storms better than the more recent ones- possibly because the timber then was properly aged and dried before being used. Peter remembers when he was demolishing the old Waverley that the timber he was pulling down (pitch pine etc.) was of better quality than what was going into the replacement. He used some of it to make furniture.

There haven't been any really severe storms over the past 3-4 years, but on some previous occasions, it would take two or three weeks just to get all the pebbles off the grass in the bungalow garden- following which the process would be repeated next door at Mrs Battrick's, and so on. Jimmy says they used to reckon on a bad storm every ten years or so; he also remembers that back in the late 1950s or early 1960s there was a grass bank in front of 'Lobster Pot' (which Susan also remembers), and another in front of 'Isle View'.

Peter recalled that the previous owners of the "old" 'Waverley', the Ellises, who were there for nearly eight years, had been another family from Darwen. They had, in best beach-dwelling fashion, "inherited" most of the furniture from the previous owners, the Bowes'. Sue noted at this point that they still have a dressing table from the old Waverley in one of the bedrooms.

Years ago, Jimmy used to come down on the train from Whitehaven with his dog, then walk all the way back, dreaming of the day he'd own a bungalow himself. The chance came in 1973, when he was about 27 years old, thanks to Nana Herdman and those bridge games (incidentally, Susan's grandmother on her father's side was Maud Labourne, sister-in-law to Mrs Millie Casson, mentioned in Connie Irving's memories). She explained that her own children (Susan's parents etc.) weren't interested in maintaining the family bungalow, 'Mona View', and it was going to wrack and ruin. So Jimmy came to acquire a beach bungalow, complete (as was traditional) with its furnishings, including, as Susan recalls, two bunk-beds. Any furniture a bungalow-owner does not want will usually find a home elsewhere on the beach; you don't keep much of value in a house that could drift off to the Isle of Man overnight.

At Copeland, next to Jimmy's, was Mrs Graham of seaweed-collecting fame.

Old Mr Herdman, Sue's grandad, used to recall how he once nearly drowned on the way to school, about 1926. Walking along the beach from 'Spray Garth', he was overwhelmed by the water, but was lucky to be found and pulled out (Jimmy thinks by his brother). Sue's grandmother, from Ely in Cambridgeshire, had a brother, Alf, who came up for a family holiday in one of the bungalows. As for Peter, he first started coming for holidays on the beach at the age of 10. His aunt and uncle used to come up from Bolton, he thinks to Sunnyside (which Sue remembers as unusual because it had skylights), before eventually getting themselves a caravan at St. Bees.

At one change of ownership for 'Spray Garth', the incomers found the space beneath crammed with discarded gin bottles.

'Lyndhurst', formerly home to the other seaweed lady, Mrs Campbell, was subsequently occupied by Frank & Karen, "a couple of hippies"- nice people who made leather goods. Unfortunately, they drew too much water from the spring behind the cottage, so it dried up. Eventually they emigrated to America (abandoning their little 3-wheeler car at the quayside) and tried to make a living in the antique business, but that swiftly failed, so Frank took up interior design, much more successfully.

Peter remembers the fire which destroyed 'The Mount'. It started early in the morning, and he heard about it on the local radio news- about the same time as a gas cylinder exploded.

Susan's Uncle Bob used to stay in 'Seacote', and she remembers that Janet [Jennet] used to be reckoned to be a witch. This was probably connected with Janet's distress at having to leave the bungalow when it was rented out and live in a little caravan- then she would spend long periods just watching her beloved home from the sea's edge. When Jimmy had a double mattress he wanted to get rid of, he offered it to Janet, and she gladly accepted- but he was surprised to notice, a short time later, that she had cut a quarter of it off, and stitched up the remainder to fit her bed. She used to get the dregs of paint from lots of paint tins and mix it all together with some turpentine for undercoat; also she would heat old batteries over the fire, to get the last bit of energy from them. He also remembers the ultimate version of her habit of feeding wood gradually into the fire- most of a tree, stretching right across the room. Jimmy also used to give her rhubarb, and she would get him firewood off the beach in return. She was paranoid about her beachcombing finds, and made sure to saw long planks short enough to get safe indoors as quickly as possible.

Jimmy is very friendly with Margaret Hawkes, who continued the Davidson line at 'Plas Isa'- like many others, he remembers the pies, bread etc. the Davidsons used to bake there.

'Fairfield', next to 'Plas Isa', has now been demolished, only the chimney remaining (it formerly belonged to Mr Campbell, a window cleaner).

Sue's grandad used to stay in 'Walkmill' (later Joan McCracken's), many years ago.

At one time, a millionaire, connected to the Sekers textile firm, used to rent 'Beechwood' for a month every other year (with holidays in Switzerland the alternate years).

Jimmy and Susan both remember one bungalow, 'Braeside' (second north from the station ramp, belonging to the Nagles), which, about 30-40 years ago, suffered a fate straight out of "The Wizard of Oz"- picked up by a blast of wind and hurled away. Mr Moorhouse, who owned a small hut next door, offered the owner 100 for the newly-vacated plot, and got it. In the same storm, Jimmy kicked in the doors of two or three bungalows, including 'Seacroft', and one belonging to Mr Downs from Moor Row, to equalise the water levels inside and outside, and stop them from floating away. Around 1974, the southernmost bungalow in the Braystones row suffered in a storm. Two high tides picked it up and put it down again, almost but not quite where it was supposed to be.

One or two bungalows had wind-turbine electricity generators many decades ago, but at least one later owner made himself unpopular by using a very noisy internal combustion generator. The story of the first mains electricity on the beach has been told by Jack Henson, but apparently 'Belmont' got a free connection when its owner, a Sellafield worker, volunteered to have an air sampler installed as part of the plant's environmental monitoring programme. 'Belmont' and Station House were both supplied with water from a spring higher up the bank.

Susan also reckons there must be a fortune in small coins along the beach, lost over the decades by children on the way to the shop below Braystones Station. Jimmy remembers the teachers who kept the shop for a while- and the notorious French exchange story. Going further back to the 1950s, Mrs Nagle was a lovely person but somewhat unconventional- if you wanted to buy a quarter-ounce of tea, she would weigh it out; or if you asked for half a tomato, she would cheerfully cut one in two for you. The replacement shop built following its destruction in a bonfire accident got washed away in a storm. Peter remembers the other shop, run by Joan McCracken in a little caravan- "there wasn't anything you couldn't get in there", including souvenir "I Love Braystones" mugs etc. (see the photo montage; mostly from Jimmy's collection, although the pipe- actually a match holder- was bought at the shop below the station, probably in the 1960s). Any necessities she didn't have, she would get in for the next day. Like many other structures along the beach, it was eventually burned down, most probably by vandals.

Souvenirs from Braystones

Up to about the 1970s, when they were beset by various misfortunes, the bungalows south of Braystones station were considered far superior to those on the north. 'Vandura' was owned by Wilson the butcher (but one year, about Bonfire Night, it burned down), next to that was a sea captain.

'Ocean Edge' has a somewhat awkward history- for two decades it even stood empty. One former owner's horticultural experiments were a little unorthodox, even by beach standards, and got him into serious trouble.

Rather less serious was the fate of a local teacher who went skinny-dipping: Jack Henson chased him away. A lady who sunbathed nude in what she thought was the privacy of 'Westcliffe's garden was most surprised when a man from 'Latona' took a short-cut along the railway embankment above...

'Kinharvia' was formerly occupied (in the days when Jimmy used to stay at 'Sunnymede') by Mrs Hill, another all-year-round resident old lady.

Beyond that at 'Swalea' was Kevin "a likeable con-man" who looked after Mrs Hill. Eventually he and his wife moved to Manchester, and took Mrs Hill with them. Another owner of Swalea, a man from the Blackburn area, blamed Alzheimer's Disease for his continuing failure to pay the ground rent to British Railways. Their response was to sell the plot, with his bungalow still on it, to somebody from Edinburgh- following which, allegedly, the man's nephew came up, lit a candle in a suitably inconvenient place, and was back in Blackburn by the time the bungalow caught fire.

'Ingraban' (which is almost an anagram for "bargain") used to belong to the Speddings- the late Mr Spedding taught Jimmy how to catch shrimps.

During the War, three old ladies from Frizington had 'Boolierath'. On the other side of the arch, Hartleys had a hut to sell their ice-cream- but it never seemed to be open. Beyond that was Vernons' bungalow, which was wrecked in the 1977 accident- by the very last wagon that remained attached to the locomotive. Jimmy reckons it took nearly 10 years before the insurance paid up. Also smashed was 'The Cabin'. Jimmy was sunbathing at the time of the 1977 incident, and recalls that the train seemed to be travelling at "a hell of a rate". Legend has it that some of the bogie wheels from the wrecked wagons are still buried deep within the railway embankment, despite various railway staff being paid overtime to look for them.

Jimmy thinks another train accident occurred 7 or 8 years before that, demolishing 'The Retreat' (owned by a surgeon)- the bungalow to the south of 'Ocean Edge' (Dingle's)- which was rebuilt with a new technique, using a shell of cardboard and chicken-wire, plastered over. Before that incident another bungalow nearby, 'Northolme', was destroyed by fire (in the late 1960s).

Long before Jimmy bought 'Mona View', his family had stayed at 'Sunnymede' for a fortnight in 1956, sparking his love for the beach. Though not yet ten years old, he immediately went to Border Engineers and bought himself a caravan; then he returned to the family shop and reported this to his mother, who hastened round as soon as she had closed at 6pm. As it turned out, the deal went through, and for 150 the family became owners of a former single-decker bus, built small to cope with the mountain passes, which they installed at Palling's site- only the second caravan there (in the three years they had it there, no more permanent vans arrived, ensuring a magical tranquility).

There used to be caravans in one of the fields north of the Station (first on the left) in addition to the site which survives today. Site owner Mr Lockhart had contacts at Egremont Police Station, who would tip him off whenever the police got too interested in the goings-on at his social club. The club was "bouncing" in its heyday. It used to attract big names like Frank Carson, and the acts due to perform at the weekends (Friday & Saturday nights) would do a warm-up gig on Friday afternoons, so many Sellafield workers would leave work early to come and see them and the place was often "chock-a-block" on those afternoons.

A childhood memory from the 1950s: an old man called Dan (who never smiled) [apparently, this was actually a man named John Tyson], who used to drive Pallings' tractor across the fields bringing coal and other commodities for sale to the bungalow dwellers. However, he can't have been very old in reality, for he was not much over 80 when he died, decades later. This also prompted memories of Palling's ingenious packing practices for the coal and other bagged items such as tomatoes, and of the fierce rivalry between the Pallings and other local farmers, the Lockharts and the Sharpes. One of Lockhart's niftier ideas, according to Peter, was to use many tons of shingle from the beach to help provide a firm base for his caravan site.

On the subject of coal- Peter and Jimmy both agree that it's best to get a good stock of coal for heating in October, in case the autumn storms wreck the beach track.

According to Jimmy, a roadway was laid south from the station in 1963 for work on a sewage pipeline; it survived until about 1970 then was washed out by the sea. He says the site of long-abandoned 'Belvedere' is still privately owned- the bungalow was there up to a few years ago.



A PLEA FROM THE BEACH DWELLERS- if you are consigning the ashes of a loved one to the sea, don't just chuck the urn into the water. Messages in a bottle washed up on shore are one thing, but...

The beach dweller's creed, according to Jimmy's mum: "Just a hut- but a nice hut!"