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  • Bampton and District Local History Society

    Burnbanks project

    Interview with Chris Holme

    4th December 2004

    MC:Would you like to tell me your name and date of birth?
    CH:My name is Chris Holme, I was born at Bampton, at Knipe View, in the Council Houses in them days. I was born in 1941. I went to Bampton School from the age of five, and went along with a lot of children that came from Burnbanks ? boys and girls. I should imagine that there were about 15 children that came from Burnbanks and they would always walk to school and walk back again, rain, hail or shine. They all seemed to be very well behaved children even though they?d come from a roughish area really, which was Burnbanks. The games we played were just very ordinary, always seemed to get on very well with them. Nobody had anything in them days. Nobody was ever jealous of anybody else because nobody had anything; we were all in the same boat really,
    MC:When the children came to school, how did they get there? You said they walked but did they always walk?
    CH:Well they would have bicycles, a lot of them, and they would bike down, but a lot of them did walk down. If you asked a child to walk down there today, they would think they were being sent on a marathon. As children we never seemed to spend any time up at Haweswater because of two reasons. Our parents forbid us to go up anywhere near the dam because it was such a dangerous place as they viewed it, so we more or less had our own friends down in Bampton, and they didn?t seem to come down to Bampton either from Burnbanks. And probably the other reason we didn?t go up there was because there was a policeman up there and we were always terrified of the policemen. I think it was Mr Townsend. Every now and again he would pay a visit down to Bampton, probably once a week, and always unexpected, to see what we were up to down here, and honestly just the appearance of the policeman coming down on his bicycle to see if we were behaving ourselves was enough to keep us all in line in them days. So we had great respect for the policeman really.
    MC:Did you visit up there at all? Did you ever go into anybody?s houses?
    CH:No, we didn?t really. Everybody seemed to keep themselves to themselves and we didn?t play up there at all really. So we didn?t have a lot of involvement with the other children up there even though we knew them and got on with them really well. That?s as far as it went.
    MC:What about the older children? Where did they go to school?
    CH:Well, I went to Bampton school till I was fourteen and then the secondary school at Shap would open for, I think, the last term of my school career, which was when I was about fourteen and a half when I went to Shap. Shap had a secondary school then and the Burnbanks children would go along with us, I suppose, at that particular time.
    MC:Would you go on a bus?
    CH:Oh yes, aye, we went on a bus. Before that we had woodwork on a Friday which was held at Shap, and the girls had Domestic Science. That was all done on a Friday. That was a full day. I have some fair memories of that. The woodwork teacher was always a very strict sort of chap and I can remember in one instance, it was winter time and the roads were more or less blocked with snow, and we all went off up to woodwork on a Friday morning. The bus got through but the woodwork teacher didn?t turn up. Anyhow we decided that we?d had enough so we all set off to walk back to Bampton. We got back down nearly to Shap Abbey and then we decided that we would go back again to school. By that time the woodwork teacher had turned up. He wasn?t at all amused, so he lined up about ten or a dozen of us and he caned us all. I think I still have the bruises on my hands to this day. That was just one of the lessons we had to learn the hard way.
    MC:Did the people coming to Burnbanks make the area more prosperous? There were a lot of shops in Bampton then, weren?t there?
    CH:Well, they had their own shop at Burnbanks, and they had a little Post Office up there. So it wouldn?t really make a lot of difference to the shop down here which was at Dawes House, where Mrs Roberts lives [Bampton Grange]. Mr Reed would have that in them days. That was where we used to go and then there was Mrs Newton next to the pub, St Patrick?s Well.
    MC:So the people of Burnbanks, they wouldn?t probably come down?
    CH:No, not really. Rarely I think.
    MC:What about the guys? Where would they drink? Did they have a pub up there?
    CH:Well, I?m not sure. There was a big clubhouse up there so they probably had the beer there as well, but I can?t remember them coming down here much at all really, I can?t.
    MC:What about the landscape around Burnbanks? Were you aware of it much? The woodland and things, did they change a lot with the advent of the dam?
    CH:No, I never saw a great change in it really. I suppose like any woodland, change comes gradually. I didn?t see a great change in it.
    MC:What about your parents? Did they have much to do with the people up at Burnbanks?
    CH:Yes, well Dad, being Harry Holme, would run a bus service from Haweswater to Penrith, and I think it would probably go on a Tuesday and a Saturday. Anybody that wanted to go to any dances on a Saturday night, Dad would go up there and put on his bus. I can remember one old lady once telling me, ?We used to go all over the spot with your Dad to dances, but the first time he got his bus, a brand new bus, we had to get out at the bottom of the Crears and push it up the Crears.? So the engines weren?t quite as powerful as what they are today. So dada had a lot of memories of being up there and obviously he did work up there and Granddad worked up there a bit.
    MC:What did he do?
    CH:Granddad, he was on contract work for the old Manchester Corporation with his horse and cart, and he got the job of carting the material up to the sighting blocks for the line of the tunnel that goes from the draw-off tower through to Longsleddale. If you look up on top of Lad Crag which is just at the back of Measand, there?s a big cairn there and that is a sighting block for the line of the tunnel. The next one is Sleddale Pike or something, right above Mosedale Cottage. There?s one on the top of there. Now that is the exact line of the tunnel that goes through. And he got the job of carting all the cement and materials required to build these cairns up there. He used to tell me that his old horses weren?t strong enough so he had to buy a big strong stallion horse to get the stuff up there. So he had some fond memories of carting stuff up there. He just did one trip a day and that was enough for the horse obviously.
    MC:Of course he would need a horse.
    CH:Yes, because there wasn?t any fancy track vehicles in them days. Nowadays they would have it up there with a helicopter, wouldn?t they?
    MC:That?s right. They?d blast it down.
    CH:That?s right, they would. Then he would spend a lot of time up there with his horse and cart doing little jobs as well, like. So it was a good source of income for him.
    MC:It was big employment for him?
    CH:That?s right.
    MC:And do you think it was big employment for a lot of people in this area, as well as the people that came into Burnbanks?
    CH:Well, I don?t know. I think that most of the spin offs would be for the people in Burnbanks. I?m sure it would be. Probably Dad, with this bus, would make a living out of it. It would have been one way of making part of his living would be using his bus to cart them off to Penrith when they wanted to go, but I don?t think the shops would benefit a lot by it. It was all sort of done within that small area up there at Burnbanks.
    MC:What about when you got older, how did you perceive Burnbanks then as presumably it was emptying?
    CH:Well after the dam was built there was a lot of people stayed on at Burnbanks but there never seemed to be that community thing after that. People would drift in and drift out again. They thought they?d come to a place of peace and tranquillity but you found after a year or two that they couldn?t settle and they seemed to move on. You got a lot of that. Just the odd one stayed. Some people stayed and they lived and died here, but most people seemed to drift in and drift out and the buildings - as people did sort of drift out and some died ? the buildings just fell into disrepair - they give over doing anything with them. It became an eyesore. But still it?s been a good home for a lot of people ? a lot of children been brought up there - and I suppose a lot of people would have happy memories of it, like ? they really would.
    MC:You worked for United Utilities ? North West Water then weren?t they ? and they owned all of that did they?
    CH:Yes the properties all belonged to them and I think the land would belong to Lowther that they were built on really ? but all the properties belonged to them. They did have several attempts to get planning permission to convert them for local people. They got turned down a few times, and then just lately the need for local housing was apparent, and they?ve got planning permission and hopefully it will become a vibrant community again.
    MC:Do you know where people came from who moved in in the first place when the dam was built?
    CH:A lot of people in the main time ? it would be in the thirties when work was really short and the depression would be on ? they would come from areas like West Cumberland. Quite a few people would come from West Cumberland and at the same time people were coming from the North East over this way. If they didn?t come to Haweswater they?d come to the granite works just to find work of some description ? any description ? they were so desperate in them days for work.
    MC:So you said your grandfather helped to build the tunnel?
    CH:The cairns to mark where the tunnel would go. The engineers would use the theodolites on them ? line them up ? and line the tunnel up with them as well. That way they could keep it straight and come out where they were supposed to come out (laughter).
    MC:So where did he get his materials from?
    CH:They would all be delivered on site. They would more than likely come to Shap and come into the sidings at Shap granite works by rail, I should imagine. A lot of stuff did come in by rail and then along the concrete road which was purpose built for the job. They were originally going to build a railway from Shap to Haweswater when they built the dam, but they settled for a siding at Shap and the road through to Haweswater after that. It would have been a mammoth task getting the railway across there really wouldn?t it?
    MC:Was it that road that now is in disuse really isn?t it? Was it really well used in those days?
    CH:Yes. It would be one of the main routes in ? well it was the main route in. Just as well they did build it because you can imagine what sort of mess these roads would have been in. Even in them days quite a lot of heavy stuff would come in, although they did have quarries of their own, where they quarried a lot of the stone, and crushers and everything else.
    MC:Where was the stone quarried?
    CH:Just ? what do they call it ? Walla Crag ? just below Walla Crag. There was a big quarry there. When the water?s up you can?t see it but when there?s low level you can see where the quarry is then in the reservoir. It would be crushed on site and used as the bigger aggregate for building the dam and then the walls up the sides I think there was big crushers on the sides of the road when they built the new road ? you know there wasn?t a road on the left hand side of the lake before it started. Jack Hutchinson ? people who?ve heard of Ada Preston ? her dad - would be in charge of all that lot. He was the foreman on that stretch up there and it?s built absolutely perfect is that wall all the way up there. It?s absolutely marvellous it really is. It?s a marvellous piece of engineering on its own without the dam.
    MC:Where did they bring the buildings for Burnbanks? Did they build them on site the houses?
    CH:Yes. They would come all in sections - about a metre square cast iron sections - and they would be bolted together on site. I think there were two firms did it. I can?t remember too much about it. Well I can?t remember anything about it. It?s just what I?ve been told. I think ? so other people have told me ? but I think it was probably about sixty?odd houses altogether and housing all sorts of people. Even I think there was people that inspected the houses. I think they went round them once a month to inspect everybody?s house to see if they were keeping them in good order. So I have been told.
    MC:It?s amazing that you could actually produce a village.
    CH:Yes that?s right.
    MC:Whereas everywhere else builds up over time doesn?t it?
    CH:Yes, of course, it does.
    MC:That was instant almost.
    CH:Yes it would be built more or less overnight sort of thing. Absolutely.
    MC:What about having more children in school because presumably it swelled the school community?
    CH:That?s right. Aye. Well I think that the wooden part of the school would be built by the old Manchester Corporation. I?m not 100% certain on that but I think that it was. To house the children that come from Burnbanks. That would be built before anything was done I should imagine because that was the typical age group - the young men that worked up there - they were bound to have children. So they would foresee that wouldn?t they?
    MC:Presumably it made a difference to having more football teams?
    CH:That?s right. The football teams were very vibrant in them days. They really were.
    MC:With the youngsters as well?
    CH:Yes. You know we played a lot of football at school. We certainly did and we were up there with the best of them. Burnbanks had a really good football team with the young men that worked up there. A force to be reckoned with I think.
    MC:Did you have one in Bampton as well?
    CH:No. No we didn?t. Nobody likely organised it you see.
    MC:So you wouldn?t remember things like the dances and things. Would your parents talk about it?
    CH:My parents talked about them. The only thing I can remember about them is that someone would come and baby-sit for us while mum and dad went off to dances.
    MC:Did they go ? your parents?
    CH:Yes, they went up there. Aye, yes, they did, and they always enjoyed it like. Really they did.
    MC:So did they have friends up there really or was it a group thing when they went?
    CH:Well dad being dad he had the buses, and the lorries, and one thing and another and he knew everybody that was up there.
    MC:Did he have lorries as well as buses?
    CH:Yes. He had a couple of little lorries. Yes he did. Aye.
    MC:So what did he use those for?
    CH:He would haul out of Shap granite works ? the aggregates, you know. One was a ? oh I can?t remember ? I think it was a Ford ? and it was a wagonette ? I think they call it a wagonette ? and they would take the body off it. It was a bus in the evenings with a coach body on it, and they would take that off it at night and make it into a lorry for the next day. So it was a thing you could convert. And then he had another one. I think Alf Mounsey would drive for him at one time ? Keith?s dad. I?m sure he did. I think Alf quite often used to drive the bus for him as well. I?ve got a lot of old postcards ? well not a lot but I?ve got a few. The girls? friendly school at Shap, which is the coal yard now. If you turn left over the railway bridge it?s on your right hand side. That used to be the girls? friendly school. The headmistress from there used to send postcards to dad and say we want the chara at Shap - she used to refer to it as the chara - we want it at Shap and to be at Haweswater for 10 o?clock on such and such a day. If it?s raining don?t bother to come (laughter). I?ll show you them postcards some time. But that was before the dam was being built you know.
    MC:You don?t know about any other bits of social life up there like plays, or pantomimes or anything like that that went on?
    CH:No I don?t. No.
    MC:I know the dances are what they talk about.
    CH:That?s right they do, aye. They must have been quite good dos really mustn?t they?
    MC:What about religion? Where did they go? Have you any idea? What about you? Did you go to Sunday school?
    CH:Oh aye. We were sent off to chapel there on a Sunday ? quite often twice. We used to go to church in the morning (laughter). I think it was to give mother a bit of peace. There was five of us at home you see, and I?m sure it was to give mother and father a bit of peace while we were away at Sunday school.
    MC:What about the children from Burnbanks, did they come to Sunday school?
    CH:No, just the odd one. They didn?t come down in any numbers really but in them days it was going very strongly was the chapel. There was a lot of nice people. The Dargues family ran the chapel. They had a big influence on me at a very early age really. They moved from Thornthwaite Hall, where Lightburns are now, and they came to the little farm up here at Mill Crags where Katherine and David Cook are now. I used to always help them just for a little bit of pocket money. They used to feed me, and whatever, and treat me like one of their own really. They were really nice people and as straight, as absolutely straight could be. They had a big influence on my early days. They really had. Very nice people. I think John, the lad, is about my age. He lives at Smardale Hall. He farms that place over there. I?ve never seen him for years, actually, but I?ve still got memories of them. But they seemed to be the mainstay of the chapel and I think old John died, the old grandfather. He would be instrumental in getting the chapel built.
    MC:You won?t really remember World War Two because you were only tiny?
    CH:No, but I can remember mother hiding us under the sofa a couple of times when the bombers were coming over.
    MC:Was work on the dam stopped then?
    CH:It did. That?s right. I just read about that. That?s all like. I didn?t experience it.
    MC:Presumably your dad?s work would have changed a bit during the war because he wouldn?t have been up there if there weren?t people up there?
    CH:That?s right. What he made do with then I?m not sure. Possibly a bit of all sorts.
    MC:Did he go to war?
    CH:No he didn?t. Dad didn?t because he?d suffered from TB when he was younger and he was never that well. I can remember dad in them days used to think only cure for TB was fresh air. They didn?t go to the sanatorium. They had a shed up back of the mill there. There?s a little hill up there called Pocket Money Hill they call it ? I don?t know how it gets that name ? and dad had a shed there and he lived in that shed for about six months An old tin shed and that was to try and get over his TB. So that?s how they used to treat it in them days (laughs).
    MC:After the dam was completed how old would you have been then?
    CH:I was born the same year as it was flooded in 1941. So the kids always used to? it was a new thing when I went to school from being five years old.. and they always used to talk ?what if the dam bursts? and things like that. We always used to get each other worked up about it, but as years went by I think everybody learned to live with it and realised it wasn?t going to burst.
    MC:There was a fear was there?
    CH:There was a genuine fear. Certainly among children ? ?It will wash Bampton out?? ?You?ll be floating down the river? (laughs).
    MC:When you were working ? you worked around that area?
    CH:I did.
    MC:Did you see it change much? Did you see it settle down?
    CH:The big changes came when it went private - when privatisation came in. North West Water it was in them days. The first thing they did was close their own building maintenance depot down, which was the main thing at Haweswater in them days. Probably, when I started in the seventies, there?d probably be between thirty and thirty five men working there on the water side and the building maintenance side. The first thing they did when privatisation came in was they wanted rid of all the non-core business. So they got rid of the building and maintenance people.
    MC:Would some of that maintenance have been on Burnbanks itself?
    CH:Yes, on the houses where people were still living. After that they were bringing contractors in from Blackpool and all over the place. By time they got here in the morning and did a couple of hour?s work, it was time for them going home again at night so that maintenance just wasn?t getting done. It definitely wasn?t and I think that sickened a lot of people and they moved out.
    MC:Do you think that was part of the decline?
    CH:Well it was. It was certainly another nail in the coffin because the houses were pretty cold and damp anyhow at the best of times and if anything was wrong they were unliveable. They wouldn?t allow them to live in such like places now anyway,
    MC:And the houses on the main road as it were ? they were sold off presumably because they would all have belonged would they?
    CH:The staff huts as they call them. They were all sold off.
    MC:Was that when privatisation took place?
    CH:It would be round about that time. They were built for the staff them houses. They were segregated - the staff and the workers ? very much so. They were only expected to have a lifespan of twenty years. They said they would be useless after twenty years but look at them ? they?re still there.
    MC:There?s been a lot done to them.
    CH:Yes there has. Exactly.

    I had a good working career at Haweswater. Make no mistake - the North West Water and the Manchester Corporation and now United Utilities; they were the best employers you could ever have really. They really were marvellous. Really good to work for.

    MC:So was that a lot of local employment? Did you feel that or did you feel people came a long way to work?
    CH:Mostly local people worked on United Utilities but the building maintenance staff people always seemed to be drifting in from various parts ? maybe Lancashire. They thought they could settle down here, but a couple of families would stay a couple of years, and then they moved on again, to better things where there was a bit more going on.
    MC:Do you think they found it quite isolated because the community had gone then?
    CH:I think they did. Even after the community had gone, fresh people kept coming in and living here for a while, but you would see after a while they would drift out again and disappear. No real roots - and if there isn?t a community to come to - you need that community thing. They used to come down to the pub them lads but they never seemed to mix in properly for some reason. And yet they were always made welcome. You always got the feeling that as soon as something better turned up they would be away and sure enough they were. Always. With the odd exception.
    MC:Is there anything else? What do you think about Burnbanks now?
    CH:It?s early days yet but unless they get the community spirit thing together, it?ll just be a place where people drift in and drift out. I think it?s very important that the community has got to be in place. Your main thing is your school, your pub and your church; it does hold the village together. And places like the memorial hall, it always helps. People go there and they mix. There?s a bit of local chit-chat and a bit of banter and it all helps a community doesn?t it? I think it does. Very much so.
    MC:Is there anything you feel we haven?t covered? Anything else you can think of which might be of interest?
    CH:Not really. You could go on about things forever I suppose. We used to patrol. One of my first jobs when I went up there in about ?78 ? somewhere in there ? we used to do a lot of patrolling. Looking after the catchment area. We used to walk round Haweswater. Once a month it had to be walked round. That was a marvellous job and you got paid for it as well (laughter). Any fisherman ? or anything like that ? licences had to be checked. I just used to go and have a chat with them, and make our presence known, and then carry on. One particular day there was a chap out on a boat so our two supervisors would go and investigate this chap on his boat. They seen him coming off the lake so they waited for him. Anyway he?d been having a picnic, him and his mate and they?d been shooting geese seemingly. They?d obviously had a few bottles with them and they?d drank them so they were half shot anyway (laughter). Our supervisors went down to approach them when they were pulling the boat in off the lake: ?What the hell do you think you?re doing?? ?We were just seeing if we could get a goose or two.? ?Well you?ve no right on here? and this, that and t?other. Anyway the chap got the gun out and said ?I?ll blow your bloody head off.? (laughs) So things turned nasty right away, they really did. Very nasty. That was one day when I was glad I didn?t approach somebody (laughs). And then he really lost it this guy. He threatened to burn the supervisor?s house down and he was going to shoot him. We?d got there by then to see what the problem was and he was going to shoot everybody. Anyhow the police had to be called and he was actually taken to Shap court and dealt with appropriately (laughs). It were a queer thing somebody pulling a twelve bore shotgun on you. I thought he only has to pull the trigger and the supervisor?s head would have gone. That was one little incident I never forgot (laughs). But it was a marvellous area to work. It stretched from the top of Shap Fell to the South and Ullswater here to the North and we used to have to look after the pumping stations and the dams and generally the whole of the catchment area. The old Manchester certainly knew what they were doing when they came up here after the water and they planned it very well. Absolutely, marvellously well.
    MC:Well, thank you very much. That?s really very, very interesting.
    CH:Will that do you? You?ll get a little bit of something out of it, Maureen.

    Interviewer: Maureen Cummings

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