Glimpses of Village & Family Life by Margaret Bremner


These memories have been related to me by one present inhabitant and one former inhabitant of the village.

THE MAN : was born here as were his father and his grandparents who lived in Beech Tree Yard  — going back to the late 19th century — and he has certainly lived in Blennerhasset the longest of all our 2013 village dwellers.  His father drove waggons on local trips and his mother, who was  born in Harrington, went into service at a big house in the Border country. She didn’t stay there long as she found the food too rich — venison and pheasants from the shooting parties there. She then worked at a farm at Leegate. It’s not sure how she and her future husband met. Most young people at that time met at a dance but she didn’t dance!

After their marriage they moved into one of the two-bedroomed terraced houses of Cross Cottages probably in the late 1930s but not into the house as it is today. At that time, these cottages were each two separate houses. This couple who had 5 children (3 boys and 2 girls but, sadly, the older girl died at the age of 2) lived in the back part with their entrance at the back. The other family, the Chapmans lived in the front part, followed by the Lowrie family who later moved to Red Row.

All the children of the family went to Blennerhasset School, some until leaving age but one went to Wigton NT and one to Beacon Hill.

During the war, the father of our family, who, for health reasons, was not called up, worked in forestry and also drove wagons on short trips and then drove for Moota Quarry.

However Mr Chapman was called up and his wife and three small daughters continued to live in the house but disaster struck! Mrs C became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, clearly not her husband’s but, most likely, the milkman’s. It was arranged that the baby whom she couldn’t possibly keep, would be adopted and Mrs Chapman, accompanied by the mother of our family, went by train to a Liverpool convent with the tiny baby. They arrived, went inside and were told to sit on a bench facing a doorway. Eventually this door opened and a nun came out, took the baby and went back through the door. Nothing was said. That was that! However a few years ago two women came to the village and “our man” happened to see them. It turned out to be one of the daughters of the Chapmans and her daughter. Mrs Chapman when she was ill and dying told this daughter about another baby, a boy, so the these two women had come a long distance to try to track down the house and, hopefully, more about the lost baby. It was a stroke of luck that the first person they questioned lived in this very house but all he could tell them was about the Liverpool convent — he had been a baby himself at that time. — the early 1940s.

These 6 houses on the Green, Cross Cottages, four of which housed two families,  then had wash-houses and coal-houses behind them and four toilets at the end of the garden for the six houses. A horse and cart used to come round regularly and clear out the “muck middens” from the toilets, and ashes and household rubbish.  The houses were lit by oil-lamps before electricity. Some time in the late 50s, this shared house was made into one, but extra rent had to be paid.

The village had a gas lamp and the base is on the Green near the school — the gas came from Mechi Farm.

Most of the terraced houses and many cottages round the Green  were then owned by the Lawson family (the “lords of the manor”) of the Brayton Estate — including Cross Cottages, Manse Row, Red Row and East & West Court and East Terrace.

In 1926 Joseph Blacklock, who ran the village shop which earlier had been stocked mainly with produce from Mechi Farm, wanted to buy it but, of course, it belonged to the Brayton Estate and, in fact, until very recently, had a sign, now removed by the owners, above the door saying ” This business was founded in 1867 by William Lawson of Brayton, gentleman philanthropist, 4th son of Sir Wilfrid  Wybergh Lawson of Brayton, Baronet”. The Brayton Estate agreed to sell him the shop but only if he bought the whole row of houses and the Reading Room, now the end bungalow. —  which he did and the rents of Cross Cottages had then to be paid to Blacklock.   Brayton Estate rent collectors continued to call round at the houses of the other tenants for the rent.  The tenant farmers, however, paid theirs at a big house in Baggrow, now Harrison’s Farm.

Later, in the 1950s, the Brayton Estate sold off all its houses in Blennerhasset. West Court houses and many others including Red Row, West Terrace and the White House were bought by the builder brother-in-law of my next “interviewee”. Houses with sitting tenants were sold for £150-£250 ! All five of Cross Cottages were sold to Creightons of Keswick for approximately £11,000.

Then around 1980 Creightons offered to sell the houses in Cross Cottages to their sitting tenants — at first at rather a high price. Eventually all these houses were sold and our man, resident there since birth, bought his for £3000.

Even now, the family — brothers and sister, nephews and nieces — all live in Cumbria : Aspatria, Westnewton, Plumbland. Baggrow — and Carlisle.

Memory snippets:

  • WW2 — the plane crash : at Brayton, just past Gowrie, there was an air base in the war years. A plane going there crashed in Blennerhasset, in the field on the left of the High Rd and the two occupants were killed. Now there is a WW2 memorial to Brayton  Airfield (on the path to the former Brayton Hall, first turn left after Gowrie). This airfield was active 1942-1946 and the inscription on the monument states that it is in memory of the Units and Personnel who worked there.
  • Snow : our man remembers being snowed in for days several times when he was young in the 1940s,  in particular when the snow was level with the tops of hedges and his mother had to carry him to school, as did the mothers of other small children
  • Floods : many times over the years, there was heavy flooding — some even worse than  the flash flood in May 2013. In the early fifties, the water flowed like a river, rushing in front of Cross Cottages but only caused flooding further down at Red Row and West Terrace
  • Sawmill :  the waterwheel generated power for the sawmill but when the setting of the sluice gate was altered, the electricity was used at Mechi Farm for the milking machines
  • Pigeons :  pigeon racing was, and still is,  popular in this area and in the North East too. There was a club at Aspatria and our man raced his pigeons. The big risk was when the pigeons were taken to France to be released to fly home as the French were lined up with their guns to get the ingredients for pigeon pie! Fewer came home than when the race had a British starting point.
  • Evacuees: some came to the village in WW2 – mainly from Newcastle and, later, some from London.
  • Council Houses: probably in the 1940s six council houses were built on the High Road: two for villagers and four for agricultural workers. Now most have been bought by the occupiers.
  • Rock & Roll and the Twist :  in the village Hall in the 60s — 6d ! There was also a youth club in the Congregational Hall, where the bungalows now are on the east side.

Sporting heroes in the village:

  •  BOB HANVEY (1899-1989) whose father had the cobbler’s shop on the Green, east side, and who lived, until his marriage, with his parents in Beech House, was an International Rugby Union Player and later became a referee. One of the great moments in his life was in 1971 at the RU Centenary Congress at Cambridge University when he gave an enthralling address on the theme “What the game meant to me ” to representatives from 49 countries
  •  JOHN BELL who was born in Blennerhasset (High Road),  played Bowls for England. for 21 years  (outdoors 1978-1998, indoors 1983-96) and for Cumbria for nearly 40 years. He won 4 World Gold medals and  2 Bronze and has achieved many honours including being Manager of the England men’s outdoor bowls team at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games. He is still very active in the bowling worlds and writes regularly for magazines.  In 2007 he published a book on bowling skills and techniques.


THE WOMAN: was born in Carlisle and, later, spent her married life in Blennerhasset and then 46 years later, after her husband’s death, she went to live again in Carlisle — in  a very attractive small house.

She had met some members of her future husband’s family in Carlisle when she was a child and, years later, when she was working in York and Leeds, came to stay with his brother and his family in Watch Hill for her holidays — she would then be about 18. On one of these trips to Cumbria she met the only member of the family she hadn’t met before — as he’d been in the Forces during WW2 — for a lot of the time in India. Then two years later he asked her if she would like to go on the Workington Town Band annual August Bank Holiday day trip to the Isle of Man — and the rest is history !!

A year later they were married and repeated the Isle of Man trip a few times with friends from the village.

Her husband was born in Red Row (the same house later lived in by the Lowrie family who had earlier lived in Cross Cottages)  and lived in Blennerhasset all his life.  At 3-weeks old he and his parents moved to Manse Row.

After their marriage they lived with her husband’s mother.  The mother sadly died six months after their marriage. The young couple continued living in Manse Row  — for 45 years — and their son was born there. He “emigrated”  to Prospect when he married and his son,  the fourth generation of the family now lives in the Manse Row house with his partner; they are both nurses in Carlisle.

This house was rented from the Brayton Estate and they bought it for £220 in 1955 when their son was two years old. Another of his brothers lived next door in Manse Row with his family. An odd aspect she remembers about these two houses was a door (no longer there) in their house to an office in the brother’s house next door — an office that belonged to the Brayton Estate staff, perhaps in connection with rent collection ?

On the other side of their house was the Manse, still at that time occupied by the Congregationalist minister.

Memory snippets:

  • Bonfires: each year for 5 November the village bonfire was on the Green but, after some years, it was felt that it was potentially dangerous and so it was moved to the edge of the beck — probably in the1960s.
  •  Goats:  for a few years a man in the village kept 2 goats on the Green, tethered to stakes. The stink was terrible  — the complaints were many so the goats were moved !
  • Buses:  there used to be a regular bus service to  and from Aspatria and also there was the Larma factory (near the Sealey factory) bus which people in the village could use.
  • the Coop network:  there used to be a network of small Coops in this area (and perhaps all over the county/country), including Baggrow (where the end house of Greenbank now is), Prospect, Fletchertown, Harriston and one near Aspatria station.
  • Carnivals: these used to be annual events and a lot of work went into preparations for this day in the summer. The floats would be taken to Mechi Farm where they would be decorated and the “passengers” / “queens” chosen — see the photos.. Great excitement! Our woman “interviewee” remembers both taking part on the floats and also baking for days beforehand as they would have many visitors. But then it became too expensive to hold the carnivals so, sadly, the tradition came to an end, as it did in many other villages.
  • Barn Dances:  early 20C — these used to be held in a barn at Mechi Farm which was cleaned up for these events


— and a few memories of my own after 20 years in Blennerhasset:

Village Hall events:

  • 1995 : an extremely interesting and moving exhibition celebrating 50 years after the end of WW2  — photos of men and women still in the village, young and  in uniform  — in Britain and abroad. There were also posters and interviews with those who had taken part in the war effort — including the husband of Manse Row.
  • later 1990s : a wonderful exhibition of quilting from people living locally — some very beautiful items — great talent.
  • local talent in drama : “The Village Wedding” — a farce starring Pete Skillicorn !
  • Philo’s delicious curry evenings  in the 2000s with retro music by her son Sam’s group and their star singer — and also some traditional Cumbrian teas — brilliant!

and more:

  • Blennerhasset & Baggrow Over-60s :  this used to be a very active group doing fund-raising activities such as the Christmas Fairs in the village hall and the annual flower & veg competition [still in the Grey Goat]. These were to help finance a Christmas meal — in the village hall or Lakeside or the pub at Newton Arlosh or the Aspatria Masonic Hall — and also the annual summer coach trip to Chester, Leeds, Skipton, York, Harrogate — ..However, in 2002  William Briggs (Briggy) from Baggrow died and generously left £10,000 for the Over-60s.(and also a similar amount for the village children’s group). To commemorate his generosity, an attractive bench was made in Torpenhow and fixed on Blennerhasset village green, (east side)  with a plaque on it.
  • the village shop: when we came to live here in 1993, the shop and PO were the centre of the village where one could get newspapers, milk and basic food items and also chat to the very pleasant owners, Walter & Dorothy, and meet neighbours for a catch-up and also pin up notices for local events and hand in Tesco or Persil etc vouchers for the school. A very friendly place. When Walter & Dorothy retired, the new shop-owners had  very different ideas and gradually the shop deteriorated.  Some unknown person(s) smashed the shop windows — twice — and they remained smashed — for about 12 years —  until the Court compelled the owners to repair them. The front windows were then altered from a shop front to house windows. Before this the PO section had been shut down and then the shop itself was closed. A sad loss to the community.
  • Foot & Mouth 2001:  this was a terrible time for the whole country but worst hit were Cumbria and Cornwall. It was not only the shooting and burnings of the thousands of animals and the financial loss to farmers but also the powerful psychological effects on farmers and farmworkers and indeed the whole rural community. The fields were empty and all country paths were forbidden to walkers. Some farms were in quarantine. In this village the nearby farms all suffered. The most visually agonising days for most villagers were the killings at Mechi Farm. The shooting could be heard by everyone and in front of Cross Cottages were about five unmarked lorries for at least two days. The front one would depart towards Mechi to pick up the animal corpses.. The second moved into its place and another would arrive to make up the constant five — and so it would continue. Loss and desolation.
  • Flooding: For very many years after heavy rains the road leading from the A595 to Blennerhasset has flooded in parts — often so deeply that cars got stuck (and some were write-offs) and also over the bridge into Baggrow the River Ellen often flooded, usually near the Grey Goat preventing cars going through. Sometimes cars have been seen floating on the water there. The worst I have seen was in May this year [2013], when, after heavy rain overnight,  there was a flash flood immediately on the other side of the bridge. Water was everywhere. The Ellen had flooded its banks and even the fields. The tops of hedges stuck out of the water and some houses were seriously affected. It was like a huge lake. The next day all was back to normal — it was as though nothing had happened!  Amazing!