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  • Bampton and District Local History Society

    Burnbanks project

    Interview with John Graham

    30 November 2004

    CG:Could you give me your name, date and place of birth?
    JG:Right, so, my name is John Graham and I live at Shap. I was actually born at Armathwaite, this side of Penrith, and moved to Rosgill in 1935. The reason I suppose was my father's employment, and I went to school at Rosgill and eventually left and started work at a private firm in Shap here Teasouth & Sons (?) who were general merchandisers, we supplied cattle foods and you name it we had it and if we hadn't it we would get it for you, the boss was like that. And, in those days we had a big travelling van, which I was with, not as a driver, but as a boy. And we went to Burnbanks at that particular time every Saturday morning. And when I first started going there, of course, the place was in its heyday, if that's how you might have put it, and quite a very happy and thriving congregation lived there. Congregation is hardly the right word but never mind. There would be a congregation because there was a mission hall there as well and a village hall, and what they termed as the canteen which was a club, licensed club, and there was a general store, a newsagent's and also the surgery which was attended I think about twice a week. And it was quite a cosmopolitan population there because of the nature of its work. Lot of Irish people that came there, and a fairly quick turnover of population, you know by the very nature of the job.
    CG:Do you think it was a good place to live? Did the people seem happy?
    JG:Oh yes, they definitely were because at that particular time there was a lot of unemployment all over the country, and people came to live there probably out of deprived areas. They came there with a modern bungalow and a job and fresh air and wide open spaces, I mean, they couldn't help but be happy there then and they were. The people I knew seemed quite happy there.
    CG:The environment round about Burnbanks, could you describe it? Was it fields, woodland??
    JG:Well, as it was before, yes, it was wide open spaces, and open moor land which was for sheep farming, sheep being the main industry there. And you know, everybody said it was before it was flooded, you know, peace and tranquillity, 'til the moguls of Manchester got their hands on it and changed all that.
    CG:When Burnbanks was first built then you must still have had some sort of idea of the open space, the valley?
    JG:Yes, when the village was first built, obviously the dam wasn't there. They built the village first before the dam you see and obviously as the dam grew the view of the valley would have been obscured. And when the village was first built it was wide open moor land, there wasn't? in recent years a lot of trees grew up all round it but that wasn't there. If you get pictures of the site before there was anything done to it, it was just an open fell, open fell land.
    CG:Who planted the trees? Are they more recent?
    JG:Well, I think there would be one or two planted, you know, but I think over the years, you know, a lot have been self-planted haven't they, nobody sort of knocked them down, they just let them grow, you know. It got a bit of a wildness at the end, but I think they've knocked a lot down now, haven't they while they demolished all these, yes aye, where they're going to re-build.
    CG:And the roads at that time, were they quite well maintained? Were they tarred?
    JG:Well, I don't think that the road up Mardale was tarred. It was a paved, not a tarmac road as we know it.
    CG:A gravel road?
    JG:More or less a gravel road which would get packed down in time. Because well a), there wasn't the amount of traffic on there. For example, in Mardale as far as I can recall, there would only be the Dun Bull with a vehicle. I mean eh, the rest was, you know, horse and traps and things.
    CG:So, Burnbanks would be similar then when you went there at first?
    CG:There would be no tarred roads presumably?
    JG:Yeah well I think the tarred road as we know it would finish at Burnbanks originally. And of course it was extended after that when they built the new road.
    CG:Did the road that goes into Burnbanks, did it go any further or did it stop there?
    JG:The road that goes into Burnbanks now, that was the original road and just carried straight on, down the opposite side of the valley of course to what the new one is now you see.
    CG:Were there any street lights?
    JG:Oh no, no, no.
    CG:There's not that many around today!
    JG:No, there was nothing of that nature, no. The church had two oil lamps outside in winter, but I mean that's about the extent of public lighting.
    CG:And in Burnbanks itself, did people own cars?
    JG:I don't think they would do, there would be the odd one probably, I wouldn't like to say but if the same situation was done again today well every house would have a car wouldn't it, at least. Whereas those days, there would be the odd motorbike as we see with this lady on the bike here. No, motorbikes - there would possibly be, there might have been the odd household with a car but I can't bring one to mind. I can't remember seeing cars parked outside anybody's house you know.
    CG:I guess people would walk more.
    JG: Ah well there was a bus service, quite a good bus service run by a local firm Colson's (?) of Penrith. I don't know how frequently it ran but it would suffice I suppose.
    CG:It would be more frequent than today's!
    CG:You originally went there with your shop but in terms of houses can you give me an idea of the number of houses?
    JG: Well, yes, I think there'd be somewhere in the region of 66, the original police station in Burnbanks village, that was number 66. That was the original police station, number 66. Now then, there were in addition, I don't know if they were in addition or part of it, I think there were 8 bigger lodging houses and each of those had 13 small bedrooms, 13 small cubicles for single men. And the people who looked after them you see, they had a house attached to the end. It was all one building, I got pictures of them, interior shots as well. So, what were we on about?
    CG:How many houses?
    JG:Ah, how many houses. (laughter)
    CG:And descriptions of the houses as well.
    JG:Well, as I say there was 8 of those. Now whether that 66 included them, which I think it would do. And the style of houses well they were, you know, prefabs weren't they. The forerunners of what we knew as prefabs. And I think there was 3 different sizes: 3, 2, and 1 bedroom ones depending, you know if you just had a married couple with no family well they'd just get a single one. But some of them had families of course, some of them with quite a few, big families you know, eight or nine in the families. And 'course they've all spread and gone to all parts of the globe by now. And they were all single storey and they all, the heating was all by stoves. They didn't have an open fireplace as you see them now, they were all stoves.
    CG:Was it wood burning or coal?
    JG:I would think they'd be coal burning, yes. I can't just remember that part but?
    CG:And did the houses have electrical light?
    JG:Yeah, now there's a thing. At that particular time there wasn't electricity up there, obviously not, but they did have their own, they built their own power station up at Burnbanks for, obviously for, in connection with the works as well and the houses as well. And also it supplies the - it's still there, it's still there that power station and it supplies also the hotel up there, it's now still on that scheme, because a few weeks ago it changed hands and we were up there and they were putting the electrics off 3 days in the week while they were doing maintenance work on the thing you see. So if they'd been on the main grid of course that wouldn't have applied but, you see, because they've a big pumping station there you see and that's all done by the electric pumps. And they've got their own power supply. I don't think there'll be any grid up there yet, I'm not quite sure on that point but originally that was how it was all done.
    CG:Did the houses have indoor bathrooms?
    JG:Oh yes, yes they were quite modern. I mean a lot of the people moving there wouldn't know what the hell had hit them, you know.
    CG:The same with clothes washing, did they have facilities in each of the houses for laundry?
    JG:Oh yes, you know, they were very modern by the standard in those days, decidedly. As a matter of fact some were demolished and re-erected around - there's 2 lots in Shap here that are still going strong. They were semi-detached you see, there was no individual ones, all semi-detached. Apart from the big ones I told you which housed the single men, they were individual massive great things.
    CG:Also, I think we've covered pretty much the description of the houses? During your time there, well going there obviously, it was over quite an extended period that you knew Burnbanks, did you see any improvements to the houses?
    JG: No I can't say that there was actually. Because as I've just said they were ahead of their time actually to start with. You know, hot and cold water, flush toilets, bathrooms. (Interruption to reattach mike) The interiors, as I've just said were ahead of their time, but exterior wise, yeah a number of them had nice gardens, but quite a few, how shall we say, didn't really bother about that because the simple reason that you had a constant turnover of population. I mean you get somebody that might just be there less than a year so they're not going to really both themselves about the exterior.
    CG:Did a lot of the people that stayed there, if they had gardens, did they grow vegetables and things in the garden?
    JG:There might have been the odd one but it certainly wasn't an ongoing thing that, no. They might just put a few flowers round the door.
    CG:But not too much?
    JG:As far as it goes because as I say people aren't going to have a nice garden if next thing you know you're on your way.
    CG:The work done by the people that lived in Burnbanks, can you describe anything about the jobs that they did, their hours, pay and conditions, that kind of thing. Did they ever go on strike?
    JG:Well, working conditions in those days were vastly different to what we have now. I mean, the pictures of the workmen working there, I mean they had hardly any protective clothing for a start off, no hard hats and all that kind of thing which goes hand in glove nowadays. And as far as strikes I don't think there was actually a strike as such - threatened because the rate of pay was just 11 1/2d an hour. And working knee deep in concrete was a very arduous job. And threatened a strike to get better working conditions, and they were eventually awarded 3d an hour. Which brought their pay up to something in the region of 1s 2 1/2d an hour or to bring it back to today's terms round about 2.15 for a 45 hour week. Which, you know, by today, I mean 2.15 I can't even get a pint of Guinness for that now, never mind a week's work. And therefore, at one period of time as well, I understand at the start of the project that workmen didn't get what they called wet pay, if they were rained off well that was it they just had lost their pay, but I think that was righted eventually as far as I understand.
    CG:Have you any idea how many hours they would work in a week?
    JG: As far as I know, for example we used to go up there on a Saturday morning and I think they had Saturday half day. I think they just worked a normal type of week. There would be overtime done at some time if it was necessary but I think on the whole they would just work a standard week.
    CG:You mentioned that they threatened to go on strike. Were there trades unions?
    JG:That's a good question, isn't it. Well if there were trades unions they obviously weren't very strong were they, I mean not like we know today of course. I never heard unions mentioned but you see I was just a young lad when I was going up there and wasn't involved in that kind of thing.
    CG:Obviously there were a lot of children who lived at Burnbanks. Do you know which schools they went to?
    JG:Well that's a question I've been asked over the years a number of times. See they built a village hall as I've just stated, complete with billiard tables and everything in it, a club, shops, surgery, newsagent, a mission hall but not a school. And you've seen from the photograph there were quite a number of children there obviously. But they built an addition onto Bampton School, the wooden, if you've seen the wooden structure? That was built to cope with the extra scholars who - I'm not quite sure how they got down to Bampton school. I've heard or seen somewhere that they used an old ambulance, for one thing, but possibly a lot of the kids would walk, I mean I walked a mile and a half to school when I started at 5 year old, I mean it was quite common place in them days I mean. But that's how, that's the education part of it and people have said well right, possibly these politically correct people nowadays say well right, they build a pub for the workmen but nothing for the kids which does seem, you know I mean, they went to all the expense and there was plenty of space and the type of buildings they were erecting, I mean, those big houses with the thirteen cubicles in were quite extensive. I'm sure one that size would have done for a school but no that's, there it is.
    CG:Did any of the older children go on to secondary school?
    JG:Well, in those days there wasn't a secondary school, was there, before the war type of thing. I mean, at your ordinary school you sat an exam when you were about 10 which if you passed you went to grammar school, open grammar school. They would have the same opportunities, I mean, the ones who went to Bampton School would get the same opportunities as anyone else.
    CG:Moving onto local services, which I think might be your forte. What was in Burnbanks? Could you tell me a bit about the shop that was there and obviously your own mobile shops? And other things like the post office, the surgery?
    JG:Aye well, there was a general store and also, I think there was a small drapery store as well. I can't say I was ever in them but as far as I'm concerned I mean, we had what you might call a mobile grocery shop. There was also a butcher's, baker's, fishmen, all kinds of vans on the roads in those days, bakeries. And nothing fresh would be there on a Saturday morning and probably another four or five vans would be there at the same time.
    CG:Did they all come from Shap or from all over?
    JG:Well we were from Shap, obviously, and there was a butcher from Shap in those days - Wrights. Possibly the rest would come from Penrith.
    CG:So your own mobile shop, what kind of goods did it sell?
    JG:What kind of?
    CG:What kind of things did it sell?
    JG:Ah well, latterly, when we got the big one, I mean, virtually a bit of everything. You tried to cope, you know, well you think you've got everything on but you know somebody will ask for something you hadn't got. But it was appreciated that kind of service and myself personally when you go week in week out, year in year out and you know these people and you know you're accepted as part of their family, they confide in you with their problems and all this kind of thing and it's, you know it's a nice environment to be working in that type of thing. The was always the odd one of course but ?
    CG:As well as obviously the mobile shops that went there and the other shop that was in the village, did the people that lived at Burnbanks often come up to Shap to shop, or did they go to Penrith?
    JG:Well no you see, as I've just just mentioned I don't think they'd have many cars about. And this local firm from Penrith, Colson's, ran, I think a fairly adequate service into Penrith daily. And I think Saturday afternoons especially, I've been on the coaches myself, have been pretty well packed with Burnbanks people. So I think you know, anything they wanted which they couldn't get at the door so to speak, would be done in Penrith. Yes.
    CG:So presumably that would be on a Saturday afternoon?
    JG:Yes, Saturday would be the main thing. The housewife of course, could tootle off during the week if she wanted. There would be families up there, there was families up there of course and I should say couples with no families so they weren't tied, you know they could go mid-week.
    CG:Can you tell me anything about the people that actually lived there, where had they come from originally?
    JG:Well, the ones I got to know quite well, came from, as I say - back in the nineteen, late 1920's, '29, '30 when the, you know when they were gathering the workforce together, a lot of men were on the dole at the time because of the depression and work was very scarce. And I think there was a system at that time that they were more or less high-jacked into it you know, they were given the opportunity of a job and, I think, if they refused it they could be struck off the dole list. I mean they were high-jacked more or less. So, that of course brought people in from all over, Ireland, Scotland, all over the place, yeah.
    CG:And from other parts of Cumbria?
    JG:Yes there would be. Yeah.
    CG: What kind of jobs did they do? Was it mostly the manual labour?
    JG:Yeah I mean it was manual labour you know. They didn't have the machinery. When you see photographs of the dam being built I mean, by today's standards it's very archaic indeed. I mean as I've just mentioned, men working knee deep in concrete with no protective clothing, you know and so, I would think, well I think 75% of the work would be all manual labour. The very state of the thing.
    CG:If people were coming from all over was there much of a community spirit?
    JG:There was a community spirit yes. You know, I mean, as I say, they built all these amenities for them which helped to get a community because in the hall you know they had dances and concerts and all this kind of thing. And the mission hall because of such a cosmopolitan population, you had all kinds of faiths there, Methodist church, Catholics, whatever. And the mission hall was used for them all.
    CG:Okay, multi faith?
    JG:Well yes, exactly yes, interdenominational I think's the word you use.
    CG:They all got on okay?
    JG:Yes, I can't recall, I mean as I say, I didn't actually live in the place but I can never remember anybody, you know, me going up there one Saturday morning, and saying 'look there was a terrible fight last night between matey and?' you know. I don't think that. There would be the odd - if you've got a lot of rough chaps working doing manual work, I mean and they get a pint or 2 of beer well there'd be odd arguments, no doubt about that but I don't think there was any racial or religious disputes you know. The village wasn't sort of halved between this, that and the other, you know.
    CG:With all this moving around, was there any evidence that there was a bit of culture shock if people were moving to a rural area from a town? Was there any evidence you saw of people being unhappy?
    JG:Well, not - I can't recall any incidents but... You see, as I said before, the people - there was chappies coming there for a job who probably hadn't had a job for four or five years, probably lived in poor conditions and they're suddenly transplanted into this environment there where everybody's working, everybody's happy and they've got a modern house and all that helped to make it a happy village. As I've just said there would be the odd dispute.
    CG:I think there always is?
    CG:And the Burnbanks people, did they get on OK with the people that lived in Bampton?
    JG:With the locals? I would think so as far as I know. I mean, you know, I can't recall any problems at all.
    CG:Moving onto social activities, which ties in with the people that lived there, obviously. You mentioned that there was the mission hall. Did they have dances or sports clubs and that?
    JG:Yes, they had this village hall which was quite a substantial one by the day's standards and in there they had dances practically every weekend, concerts and all this kind of thing and there was still full sized snooker tables at one end of it so, so yes you know the population mixed in and that helped a lot. I mean there wasn't, it wasn't a case of them and us, I mean they were a happy community.
    CG:Did people from Bampton, the local people, did they go to these dances as well?
    JG:Oh yes, yes, I've been myself to the dances, I was only a teenager probably but I can remember going then. I think it was sixpence to get in.
    CG:Did you enjoy it?
    JG:We would do, we'd go with our mates, I think we were about 16 or something. Of course drinking and things didn't come into it so much in those days you know. Oh yes, we thoroughly enjoyed it.
    CG:Do you remember any of the Burnbanks residents taking part in hunting, walking, fishing, outdoor pursuits??
    JG:Now then, that's a good question. I couldn't really say on that thing but as I say I don't think there was any animosity between locals and the Burnbanks people so I mean if they wanted to go and join in the hunt I'm sure they would have been quite welcome. Because the jollifications at Mardale hunt I'm sure they'd be quite welcome. I've never known anyone say otherwise.
    CG:So they were fairly integrated into the local community then weren't they?
    JG:Oh yes, well you know, they had their own football team for example you see. So therefore they were playing other villages in the locality and they were coming to Burnbanks to play matches up there and the Haweswater United as it was called was quite a useful team. I mean I think they beat Shap in a cup final, in a replay.
    JG:Nasty things weren't they! (laughter)
    CG:A local derby. OK we've covered a bit about religion. You've said that the mission hall sort of catered for everyone that was there.
    JG:Oh yes, the mission hall, as far as I understand wasn't built specifically for any one religion. I mean they all used it.
    CG:Did some of the locals, some of the Burnbanks residents go to Bampton to go to church there?
    JG:Now there's a question. I have records of some Burnbanks people being christened in Mardale Church. See Mardale Church was still open 'til August 1935. And even though Burnbanks village as you will know was in Bampton parish, the Church was actually in Shap parish. So you know, the division, well you know Burnbanks village itself, there's a river runs up and on one side is Bampton parish and Shap is on the other and the dividing line, well I'm seeing an imaginary line, drawn so far down the lake centre and then turns off just past the vicarage, where the vicarage used to be. So therefore even though Burnbanks village itself would be in Bampton parish, Mardale Church was in Shap parish. But I've records showing Burnbanks kids being christened in Mardale Church. As a matter of fact I think one of the last ones if not the last one was Ernest Crabtree, a well known Burnbanks family. And Raymond Holliday, who I've mentioned, he was christened. I think they would be about the last two to be christened at Mardale Church.
    CG:World War II. I realise that you we away for a bit of it.
    CG:But before you joined the RAF. When the war started did life change in Burnbanks?
    JG:I wouldn't think so, I mean, right, they were subject to blackout and the usual things and rationing whatever but I don't think that Burnbanks was different to anywhere else at the time.
    CG:Did people move away?
    JG:I don't think so, I think people just carried on you see because the dam itself wasn't completed 'til 1941 when the water was turned on for the first time but there was still a lot of renovation work to be done and a lot of workmen still stayed on and did that for a number of years.
    CG:So in the early part of the war, before the dam was finished, did work on the dam slow down or did it just carry on as usual?
    JG:Well when the actual construction was finished, as I say there was still a lot of tidying up to do and restoration work, walls to be built and all kinds of things to be done so it kept a fair workforce going for a while. Because the Manchester Corporation Waterworks as it was all known as then you see owned quite a bit of property as well in the area so they had a workforce doing maintenance, you know general maintenance work for a long time.
    CG:So when did you finish visiting Burnbanks?
    JG:Did I finish?
    JG: Well, I continued going up there 'til 1963. And by then I think we were down to about, 1963, I think there were only about 8 or 9 families left then. And they wouldn't all be employed by Manchester Corporation because I think some had been sold off privately and other such things as that. So by 1963, I mean, you know, it was only a shadow, it would be difficult if you'd taken someone up there in 1963 or even now, it's going to be difficult to get them to realise what a humming carry-on it was. You know, I mean, well the estimate I've seen somewhere, they estimated at one time I think the workforce was about 350. They wouldn't all be married of course but I mean, if you have 66 houses, I mean that generates quite a bit of activity on its own doesn't it. All the kids running around and all that kind of thing.
    CG:Did any of the single men that worked there meet local girls and marry and stay in the area?
    JG: Yes, yes there would be. I, off the top of my head I can't just think of any but I'm sure they would do, yes. For example Sylvia, she married a chap who was born and brought up in Burnbanks. And, I've mentioned Ray Holliday from Penruddock, he married a girl, I wouldn't know where from but his sister June Holliday she married a chap, Fred Nanson who lived at Motherby. So yes, there were?
    CG:A bit of romantic interest?
    CG:So after the dam was complete you mentioned that some people were employed to stay on and finish off work but did the majority leave?
    JG:Oh yes, yes, yes, yes. I mean, when the dam was completed I mean, I imagine a good 90% of the workforce of that time would be finished with, you see. And they'd all just leave and go their own way.
    CG:Yes, I'm sure it must have had a very large impact on the village.
    JG:Hmmm, yeah.
    CG:And the local area you would think.
    JG:Oh yeah, I mean, you know trades people for example. I mean you get a village of that size, 66 houses, I mean you know it's quite a size. If you compare how many houses you've got in Bampton and Bampton Grange.
    CG:Not that many I don't think!
    JG:So if you put Grange and Bampton together and sort of make it twice as big that's what you've suddenly got transplanted into Mardale. So it was bound to ?
    CG:It would be noticeably quieter.
    JG:Hmm, well they even had their own policeman there hadn't they (laughter) so, you know, it were big enough to run a police station and all these other amenities I mentioned so...
    CG:Going back to services like the police, fire service and things. Was the one at Shap the closest?
    JG: Yes, I mean they didn't have their own so I mean as far as things like police, well they had their own police as I've mentioned. Fire service, the fire service, ambulance and doctors and that I think they would just be part of the community, part of the area covered by this. They didn't - there was no special provision made by the fire service to cover Burnbanks, not specifically. They'd just have to take their luck with the rest of us you know.
    CG:They were just treated like part of the wider area?
    CG:Well I think that's us, covered all the topics, and I think that's about it really unless there's anything else you can think of that you want to add.
    JG:I don't know. I think we've been more or less - I think we've discussed mostly what I know of it anyways.
    CG:Well we'll stop it there just now but you can have a look at the transcription and add anything else.

    Interviewer: Christine Gillespie

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