GENERATIONS ON THE BEACH
by Connie Irving (née Thompson)
Connie Irving's parents, the Thompsons, rented beach bungalows for a number of years, before buying 'The Crest' around 1938. About 20 years later her husband, Fred Irving, led a consortium of three joiners to build a row of three bungalows below the bluff at Nethertown. The text which follows mixes Connie's written recollections with some notes from my meeting with her (indented and coloured purple). Interruptions by the webmaster are in italics [in square brackets]. See here for more pictures from the Irvings' collection, including several of 'The Crest'.
I would only be very young when I first started going to Braystones every year for two weeks' holiday. We used to travel in a single-decker bus belonging to a Mr H. Crosthwaite; it used to take us and all our luggage to Braystones, calling at Dent's at Wath Brow on the way to collect bottles of lemonade and bottles of beer. In those days you never passed any cars on those narrow roads- occasionally you had to stop to let a farmer pass by with his horse and cart, usually piled up with hay. When we got to Braystones, the farmer (called Thompson) waited for us at the beginning of the lonning used now to go to the caravan site, and likewise on the return journey the farmer brought all our luggage back to the village to await the bus
The first bungalow we stayed in, for 10 years, was 'Sunnymede', belonging to a Mrs Labourne from Frizington. I can remember the sitting room was an original railway coach, with the window in the door opening out to the kitchen- the window still opened with the original door strap. A large black iron stove in the kitchen, with an oven, and operated by coal, was used for cooking; also a paraffin stove kept in a hut outside was often used for cooking. All the bungalows had water barrels along the side, to collect rainwater, which we used to wash with. All drinking water was obtained from the pipe below the station. My father, Mr H. Thompson, bought The Crest bungalow.
- Connie recalls that the farmer would not get to the beach via the lonning, but "just went straight across the fields"; also that there would often be a good deal more luggage on the way home, thanks to beach-combing activities- driftwood in particular had many uses, such as repairing the family chicken-run. One year when her father had to go home early from holiday to resume work (their holidays usually had to fit in the traditional local holiday fortnight, last week of July and first of August) her mother and sister cleaned up the bungalow, and Connie was put in charge of beachcombing for wood; she gathered enough for a whole year of fence repairs.
Beachcombing had in fact been the first real job Connie was ever asked to do- one day she was sent out with her little bucket to collect covins for dinner (though she's not sure she would eat covins today, Connie still remembers the lovely smell of them cooking). Later, her mother made her a big strong bag so that she could collect driftwood and sticks to help fuel the stove- plus the occasional lovely glass ball that had drifted ashore from a damaged fishing net. Incidentally, one of the above-mentioned Dent family once remarked to Connie that people who visited the beach regularly tended to live to a ripe old age...
In those days, Harry Crosthwaite used to run trips to Nethertown in his single-decker bus. I can remember a lovely large bungalow built on the shore in front of the bungalows which we built at Nethertown. A lady called Mrs Casson owned it (we referred to her as Millie Labourne- her mother had the bakery at Frizington) and used to make teas, and provide teapots of hot water. Gradually the sea took all that land away.
- The sequence of events was that in the mid-1930s, the owner of 'Sunnymede' decided to sell it. Connie's father asked their friend Edgar from Rowrah, another joiner, to come and inspect the bungalow with him, and warned him not to buy it because of woodworm- yet it remains standing nearly 70 years later. Shortly afterwards, however, 'The Crest', north of the station came up for sale (it had been built for Mrs Mary Whalley when she was Miss Spowart, a servant at St. Bees School; her eventual husband Mark Whalley was one of the groundsmen there) and this time Mr Thompson decided to ignore the risk of woodworm. 'Sunnymede' actually changed hands a couple of times in the 1930s, and it may have been about this time that the Thompsons spent a few holidays in the adjoining bungalow, 'Swalea'. The owner (Mr Auld, town clerk at Scunthorpe) had a bell installed at the end of the dining table, so he could call his servant. Also about this time, the kids learned how to get into Mrs Spedding's little-used bungalow between 'Swalea' and the railway arch, through a window- where they found that the rabbits had beaten them to it!
Miss Davidson from 'Plas Isa' did all the baking for the beach, all done by hand; her mother used to wipe over all the cooked bread with a buttered piece of paper to make all the bread shine. The iced buns she made were a treat; also she made large trays of ginger bread and plate cakes. All bread etc. had to be ordered the previous day- everything cooked in a large oven fed by coal and wood. In the early days of Braystones the lady (Mrs Moore I think) in 'Isle View' bungalow made afternoon teas; people used to walk from Egremont and call there for tea. On the station platform there were two chocolate machines, one for 1d [1 old penny] and the other for 2d bars. The Post-lady was Ada Harrington, who cycled from Beckermet to Braystones and literally ran along the beach delivering post. She was very sunburned with being out in the sun so much.
- Connie remembers that Cumberland Motor Services eventually bought out Mr Crosthwaite, who ran a couple of buses from a garage standing in what is now an open spacee next to Frizington Post Office, and made him manager at the Cleator Moor bus depot, after which the special buses from Frizington to Braystones ceased. As for the the tearoom bungalow, that existed long before the Irvings' bungalow at Nethertown; Connie remembers that when her brother and his friends went camping on Nethertown beach at about the age of 14 (mid 1930s), the lady at the cafe made jellies for them, and taught them how to make a "hunter's stew" from corned beef, potatoes etc.
The wooden beach shop was owned by a man from Cleator, I think he was called Mr Short [i.e. Shortridge] then a lady from Whitehaven bought it [the Rate Book has Miss Irdale]- she travelled by train every day and used to bring pies and a large can of gravy.
- Connie believes that Ada lived in Thornhill or Egremont. She also remembers that the people who provided the bed-linen would take it to the railway station, where the Station Master Harry Williams was an agent for Whitehaven Laundry. He despatched it to the laundry via Corkickle station, clean & dirty sets going back and forth on a weekly cycle. Although the Station House had a mains water supply, Mr Williams always preferred to get drinking water from the beach spring (Connie agrees with the general opinion that the spring water was really good). The Station Master also used to unlock and open the crossing gates- though the wage for this service was paid to his wife. Also, when the family were staying on the beach, Connie's father would have a daily paper sent by train from Whitehaven (probably W.H. Smith) for collection from Braystones station. Another unexpected service provided by the railway was the delivery of coal- the family got to know a locomotive fireman, who would throw lumps of coal out of the cab as he passed the bungalow where they were staying. The first supplier of Calor Gas to the beach was Mr Herd of Egremont, who used to bring the cylinders along the beach using a horse & cart. The Irvings also bought the cooker for their Nethertown bungalow from Herd's, on credit.
There was great competition between the two village farmers, Thompsons and Cranstons, both wanting to sell their milk and vegetables; both came round morning and evening. In the morning a lady from Thompson's farm called Bella (I think she came from Egremont) would call with a large milk churn and measuring can. A butcher from Egremont called Mossop used to go along the beach; he had a high-shaped meat van pulled by a horse. Someone used to come round with a flat cart pulled by a horse, selling fruit; also, you often got a man coming on the train from Whitehaven with a box of kippers under his arm, knocking on the bungalows. I can remember the farmer going all along the beach with his horse and cart collecting seaweed- the cart was piled high. What lovely potatoes he sold- they looked so clean, as if they had all been washed.
- Later shopkeepers Connie remembers include possibly a Miss Higgins; Mrs Nagle of Tarnside House and her daughter Anne, then Mrs Magill [webmaster's spelling, based on electoral register] who had a bungalow on the beach, probably directly followed by Jack Mason, a retired policeman from Frizington. Jack kept a caravan beside the shop in the early 1960s; ironically his son Cliff Mason bought a shop in Nethertown and converted it to a bungalow. Also rather ironically, on one occasion Jack and the Irvings, ex-policeman and undertakers respectively, were among the first people to see a corpse which had washed up on the beach, but all they could do was wait for the somewhat slow arrival of the police. After Jack, the shop was taken over by some people Connie describes as "hippies"; then after it got burned down during a firework party, a replacement opened in the former station waiting room. At one time there was also a caravan shop run by Joan McCracken, who had taken over a beach bungalow from her mother, Mrs Annie Scott.
Meageen, the manager of the Bus Company had a large bungalow with dog kennels for his pets. A man called Mr Hill lived in Kinharvia bungalow; he liked to organise golf matches in front of the Green. Eventually Meageen gave an old single-decker bus to be put in a field (the field through the railway arch) and golf was played there.
- Connie thinks the farmers only collected for their fertiliser the loose seaweed which had been washed up, rather than harevsting it directly from the rocks; also she mentions a claim that Channel Islands potatoes have lost their distinctive flavour since commercial fertiliser started replacing seaweed there.
Sometimes, probably about the end of the 1920s, milk was brought from Thompson's farm by a young man, who also had a basket slung on his chest, containing trout he had caught the night before; Connie's father would always buy one. The family made friends with the Warbricks who took over a farm in the village; Jenny, the farmer's mother, would dip the ladle just into the top layer of the milk when she was filling their can, so it was lovely and creamy. For a while, the children were friends with a young lad named Iredale Edgar (who later started a business at Rowrah) who was staying with his grandparents at their smallholding in Braystones village, where they kept two or three cows and some poultry. He would come down to the bungalow in the mornings, between 7 and 8, to wait for the Thompson children to come out to play, and his grandmother urged them to bring a can up to the smallholding for her to fill with fresh milk. She would also give them a couple of eggs- but to reduce the risk of breakages, she would put them into the milk-can. Connie's mother was rather nervous about the hygiene aspects of this ingenious system, so she kept the eggs but quietly threw the milk away.
When the family had the Nethertown bungalow, Wilsons' the Egremont butchers used to come down about twice weekly in their van, and Hartleys of Egremont would come every Sunday afternoon to sell ice-cream. None of the bungalows had fridges or freezers at this time, just a wooden box with a wire mesh door, most commonly at the cooler end of the veranda, which served as a meat-safe (Connie does not recall ever suffering food-poisoning, nor having to boil the milk to stop it from going sour).
Mr & Mrs Halfpenny had a bungalow next to The Crest, but Mrs Halfpenny and one of her sons got into difficulties and nearly drowned- they didn't stay at Braystones any more.
- [Mr Meagean, who owned 'Vandura' and provided the golf club-house bus, always gave his address as the head office of Cumberland Motor Services in Whitehaven]. Connie remembers 'Vandura', (later burned down by vandals) as a "lovely big bungalow" with "lovely big posh dog-kennels" to house Mr Meagean's two or three dogs. She recalls that Mr & Mrs Hill were permanent residents, also that he got very proprietorial about "his" territory, for example when children sat on the bank overlooking the golf course, so they were not fond of him, thinking him "an old devil" (the fact that he was always sunburned from spending so much time in the open air might have contributed to this impression). Also somewhat annoyed by intruders were the pair of swans who lived on the tarn next to the golf-course; they would chase anybody who came too near, "wings flapping like mad".
For a few years, railway holiday coaches were placed in a siding at the end of the station platform. In those days a lot of retired clergymen used to own beach bungalows and on Sundays they used to come round inviting people to a Sunday evening service held on the bank next to Pebble Cove bungalow. I have a photograph of myself and sister with my auntie attending it; I would be about 8 years old [the trio can be seen at left, Connie hatless; the photographer was her uncle].
- The Connie recalls that the Halfpennys lived in a big double-fronted house at Hensingham- Mr Halfpenny used to work for Marchon. Although it took considerable effort to revive the victims of the accident [the date of which I have not yet found- probably 1950s] Mrs Halfpenny only died around 2004.
I have been told that Belvedere bungalow was originally a large wooden hut which was put there for the use of men working on the sewage pipe [by coincidence, the day after meeting Connie, I found a newspaper article about the digging of a tunnel under the railway for the sewage pipes in 1961, so unless they were replacements for older pipes, it seems more likely that they were associated with the abandonment of Belvedere than its beginning!]. When I was about 16 I also stayed in that bungalow twice; it was nice and peaceful there. Occasionally people from Egremont and Beckermet used to picnic at that part of the beach, walking across the fields and over the swinging bridge across the river. Mrs Graham from Copeland bungalow used to collect a special seaweed off the rocks. She used a bicycle to carry the bag on, and used to leave the full bag lying in the stream at the water pipe below the station so that it kept its weight and didn't dry out. It was sent by train to Wales.
- Mrs Graham's seaweed, a slimy, pale-green variety which grew on the rocks, was used to make traditional Welsh laver bread. The next bungalow north of 'Belvedere' (owned in 1977 by the Vernons of Bransty, and flattened in the famous train crash) had its own well in the garden. Even further south than 'Belvedere' was 'Starling Castle', a little cottage between the railway and the River Ehen. A couple lived there for some years, until the husband's sudden death; he used to drive his wife on a tractor along the beach to Braystones station, to catch the train to work. Connie remembers the protests to the Whitehaven News when it was announced that this charming little place was to be demolished by the nuclear power people at Sellafield (and incidentally, also remembers when nobody thought anything of walking over the outlet pipeline from the Sellafield works, now heavily protected).
Some other beach people and bungalows:
- two sisters who would come to their bungalow on the train bringing a canary in a cage. Though they were not frequent visitors, they never seemed to air their beds.
- Maxie Martin used to keep a very impressive garden at 'Latona' around the 1970s, growing things like celery and lettuce. He also had a generator, which Malcolm Irving now has for emergencies. Previous owners of 'Latona' included Jenny Towers and Mrs Gainford.
- the second bungalow north of Braystones station (very small, and dark-painted) was just called "the nurses' bungalow" because for years it belonged to two nurses from Egremont.
- in Miss McGill's bungalow, next to the archway south of Braystones station, where Connie once stayed, one bedroom wasn't big enough for a bed, so an arch was cut through to the next room.
- the bungalow at the north end of the Green at Nethertown was owned by a family called Johnson
- the next bungalow north of the ones built by Fred Irving and his friends at Nethertown belonged to a Mr Hodgson, who ran a pub at Egremont; next beyond that was Mrs Bethwaite from Kells (who had a daughter named Doreen); beyond that was not a bungalow but a gipsy-style caravan belonging to a Mrs Davy from Moor Row, who was most upset that the new bungalows interfered with her view down the beach.
- going south, there was a bungalow belonging to a lady doctor from Preston- until one end was washed away in a storm, and the rest soon followed. Beyond that was Coyd's, then Mr Burroughs' and Mr Toole's.
- The three joiners who developed the trio of bungalows at Nethertown bought the plot from farmer Tony Steele, of Nethertown. They drew lots for who should have which; Connie wanted the southern one, but ended up with the middle (at least it was the warmest of the three). Fred Irving had some experience of working on beach bungalows, having converted two rooms into a large living-room at 'The Crest' for his parents-in-law. The family usually only used it themselves for a month or so over the summer, when their son Keith was off school, letting it out for the rest of the season- and sometimes over the winter, at reduced rates, to people working at the Sellafield complex, though the cost of repairs and refurbishment after these long lets often made them scarcely worthwhile. When Fred, Connie and Keith visited the beach, their dog and cat came too. The cat used to wander up the railway embankment and catch small creatures such as newts, which it would bring back as presents to the bungalow [above is a front view about 1959, below are the front and back, taken in the early 1960s after a glassed-in veranda had been added].
- The next generation of Irvings, represented at the meeting by Connie's daughter-in-law Marjorie, were more associated with the nearby caravan site than with the bungalows. Among the first users of the Tarnside park, they had an A-line caravan at the far side of the site. The developer, Bob Lockhart started with about six caravans- then had to sell one to raise the funds to build a toilet block. Later, Fred Irving did joinery work for Bob when he developed the Tarnside Club. Marjorie's son Malcolm, a keen fisherman, has returned to the bungalows, working wonders with two at the north end of the Braystones line. As Connie demonstrated with a photo taken on New Year's Day 2006, they're worth having just for the gorgeous Solway sunsets.
Two very random memories and one final thought from Connie:
- Walking back along the beach with her father from the spring near the station, and suddenly catching the lovely scent of bacon being cooked, wafting from Mr Meagean's bungalow.
- Riding on a cart across a field filled with poppies.
- "People didn't go abroad in those days; they were happy with Braystones. They were happy."