Early Recollections of Grange

  > Some 70 or more years ago, when we were enquiring for a quiet summer resort, a friend recommended us to try Grange. Accordingly we took the Over Sands Coach from Lancaster, for in these days, and indeed for many years after, the railway was not even contemplated.

The coach started from a little inn in Lancaster, and there was a drive of three miles or thereabouts before the sands were reached, the crossing point being from Hest Bank to Kents Bank.

The journey seemed very strange to our unaccustomed ideas, and the dialect also was somewhat bewildering; for instance, when we heard the driver of the coach enquire of two men "Whilk on ye's t'lisher ?" thereby meaning "which of you is the most active ?"

The large coach swayed from side to side wending its way across the stretch of sands. Sometimes the horses plunged into the channel - a proceeding that appeared about to drift us away out to the distant line of sea; but after much whipping and splashing we were safe out of the water and landed on the sand again.

At a certain point the guide arrived to pioneer the coachman over the dangerous cuts and quicksands. He was a strange wild-looking figure, with masses of long unkempt hair, as rough as the sheepskin thrown across the old white horse. He rode immediately in front of the coachhorses and tested all the uncertain places first, warning back the driver if he found any of the quicksands had shifted or become unsafe since he marked out the course in the early morning, with little branches or bushes which he called "brobs." After seeing us over the dangerous parts, this queer uncouth figure suddenly appeared at the carriage window, thrust in an old cap, also made of sheepskin, and asked a recognition of his services; then he rode off again to meet and conduct other travellers. The crossing was only safe three hours before and three after high tide; but alas! as many as seven or eight bodies of drowned men have often been found on the fair days, they having lingered too long over their carousals and then attempted to cross too near the time of the incoming tide. When the sands had been unpassable for many weeks together owing to severe frosts, the guide might be seen leading a long line of travellers, some on horseback and some on foot, and as many as thirty or forty carriers' carts, looking like a caravan crossing the desert.

A strange post was that of "Guide over Sands." It was first instituted in the reign of King John, and from that time till quite recently there had never failed a descendant of the family and name of Carter to fill the post. A rarely difficult post it was: the emoluments were good, a salary of about 30 a year, a freehold farm, and all gifts from the passengers, but it was little enough for a service of such difficulty, requiring intimate knowledge of the treacherous shifting sands, added to great courage and cool judgement in many moments of peril.

Strange to say, there never was a guide lost, or one who refused help at any hour, save one. Two gentlemen came to Carter one very wild evening and asked to be guided across; he said it was madness to attempt the sands that night; that it could not he done, and he refused to go. The travellers however insisted, saying it was matter of life and death. "Naay, Sirs," said Carter, "there will loike to be more nor one death an ye try to cross t'noight;" but they held to their determination of venturing it, and when the guide saw them really start and already far out on the sands he said, "Well, anyhow, oi knows t'plaace better nor they does and oi must e'en go help." He mounted his horse, followed them and led them safely over, but alas ! when returning was overtaken himself by the tide. His horse came back alone, and was all that was ever seen of the one guide who was even "faithful onto death."

When half way across the way on that memorable first journey of ours, the most beautiful view broke upon our sight, the glimmering golden sands all round us, and as far as eye could see were fells and woods and hills terminating at length in the distant lake mountains. Nestling at the foot of the woods was the lovely little village of Grange, consisting then of only a few white cottages. The Grange from which it took its name was John Brough's farm, on the exact site of the present Police Office.

On "landing" from the coach at Kents Bank, the solitary car [carriage] of the neighbourhood awaited us, driven by our future landlord, Mr. Turner, the owner of a good part of Grange. We drove to the little cottage below what is known as Church Hill. It was most picturesque, covered with myrtles and roses of great beauty. Close to it was the old Grange and granary, the big farm of the place, where we got our milk and butter. The road passed on beyond it, under most beautiful walnut trees in Yewbarrow, now unhappily cut down; the sea lapped alongside the road, and was only divided from it by a low wall which made a delightful seat for the weary. Beyond this again were rocks and inlets, where, in those primitive days, we could bathe in the pure sea water, just a little beyond where the coalsheds of the Furness Railway Co. now mar the scene. Our bathing dresses were kept and ourselves attended by a woman named Fanny Wright, noted for her originality. She wore a wonderful poke bonnet, and underneath it a much befrilled night cap, the like of which one sees no more.

At spring or high tides the "head" or, as it was called, the Egor or "bore" washed up as far as where the water-trough now stands in Eggerslack Terrace, and well do we remember one memorable high tide when the water broke into the simple school-house, built near where Rigg's refreshment rooms now stand. It washed in by the front door and out by the back, carrying the school clock with it, thereby putting an end to time for that day, much to the joy of the little scholars.

After these high tides remarkable springs bubbled up, like small "geysers," some attaining two or more feet in height. They not only rose on the beach, but forced themselves up in the ground now occupied by the hotel garden, and even in the field above that.

Life was conducted on the simplest lines in those bygone times. Often there were many anxieties connected with the procuring of one's daily bread, or rather meat, as there was no butcher nearer than Cartmel. Peggy Keith, the carrier, brought most of the provisions in her cart from Kendal. She never forgot a commission and carried them all "in her head," as she said. She smoked a short black pipe and always wore a man's coat in preference to more womanly attire. She came to a sad end, poor body, for one dark night she fell off her cart and was killed.

Cockles were always to be had, and supplemented many a meal. The usual way of cooking them was frying them in rows on a gridiron till the shells opened, when they were done to perfection, and eaten with vinegar and pepper to the accompaniment of bread and butter. In later times we advanced to having them boiled and shelled and made into a large pt. Our dessert often consisted of bowls of delicious wild strawberries and raspberries, gathered in the woods by the school children and presented with little smiling faces.

A dinner party was a rare event in Grange and necessitated a journey over sands to Lancaster to procure same variety to the ordinary menu. A friend used to make this journey frequently for the benefit of himself and his friends, on his wonderfully clever old horse "Bob." He was so admirably trained that he could not only remove his own harness, but hang it up as well. Sometimes provisions ran very short, but when we seemed about to be reduced to meal and water, Peggy, or good fortune in some other shape, always turned up.

An old Betty Bell, who lived at the Draw Well, often came with her fish-creel. She made quite a picture with it well balanced on her head, arms akimbo, and a much befrilled cap and sun bonnet. She and her brother Jimmy sold beautiful fresh salmon then caught in the bay off Blawith Point, sparlings also. They were sold at the moderate charge of a shilling per lb. but fetched 2/6 per lb. in Manchester. Betty's fish was excellent, but her matrimonial ideas were peculiar and would hardly suffice now-a-days as valid reasons in the divorce courts. After the birth of two children she considered she had done her duty by posterity and said she would "hae na mair bairns," so bid farewell to her husband, resumed her maiden name and took up her abode with her old brother once more. Betty was famed for her "clap bread," and undertook to give us lessons in the mysteries thereof. So provided with aprons, new rolling pin and bakeboard of hardest yew, especially made for the occasion by Redman, the joiner, we proceeded to take the lessons, but neither board nor apron overcame the difficulty of rolling it out to the desired thinness, so our attempt ended in presenting Betty with our insignia of office, and contenting ourselves with eating the clap-bread she baked for us.

Household bread was not baked in ovens, but in a kind of pan covered over with peat.

One woman was so renowned for her good bread that, though she domineered over all her customers, on the strength of it, everyone submitted meekly because of the excellence of her loaves. But when "hot," as she called it, her blazing eyes made us quake in her presence.

Peat and wood were chiefly relied on for fuel, as there was no coal to be had save when an anxiously watched-for coal-boat floated up on the tide.

There was no water supply in Grange in these old days, except from wells; and the principal source was a remarkable spring in the sands still existing in the ornamental grounds. Over this well the tide ebbed and flowed daily, but shortly after it retreated the water was as sweet and pure again as though no salt had been near it. When the tide went out and the well had had time to clear, carriers went to and fro with buckets laying up a sufficient store to last till next tide. There was also a fine draw-well in the old orchard where Betty Bell and her brother lived, the water of which was famous for its purity.

The postal arrangements were somewhat different from those of modern times. An old man walked over from Lindale carrying the letters in the crown of his capacious hat. We frequently lay in wait for him, anxious to procure some news from the outside world, but on asking him if there were any letters for us he always replied "Naay, naay, ladies, oi can't tell, yo mun e'en choose for yourselbes;" off came the hat and we searched for our letters in this unique mailbag, much to the relief of the poor postman, whose inability to read or write absolved him, he felt, from any personal responsibility as to the sorting and delivering of the letters to their proper recipients.

One of our favourite amusements was wading out to Holme Island, really an island then. If tides and weather were unfavourable the residents of the island could not get to church on Sunday, and had often difficulty in procuring their weekly provisions. Their supply even of milk was precarious, for there was not sufficient grass to graze a cow. In still earlier times the island was merely a bare rock and a favourite haunt of numberless vipers, as were also the Eggerslack woods. There had long been a tradition that vipers swallowed their young on the approach of danger, and old Mr. John Wakefield, of Sedgwick and Eggerslack, offered a reward of a guinea to any person who could verify this. A woodsman called John Gregg, of Lindale, came suddenly on a large viper surrounded by its little ones, in a wood near Newby Bridge; but to his surprise it opened its mouth and one after another disappeared down its throat, whereupon John killed the creature and sent it to Mr. Wakefield, who on opening it found the tale quite true, and promptly sent the promised reward. Many were the unusual sights and sounds in those tranquil Eggerslack woods in by-gone days. In one of our evening walks we heard a terrible piercing cry, which we thought came from a child being fearfully hurt; but on making anxious enquiries we found the source of our alarm was merely a fox calling in her cubs.

We were so delighted with the success of our first visit to Grange that we determined to return the next summer. Instead of taking the coach, this time we sent for John Allen of Lindale, a man well used to the sands and the possessor of a yellow chaise and pair of good horses. It was thought rather airified to engage a conveyance for ourselves, and possibly it was due to this act of temerity on our part, that, when we finally came to settle permanently at Grange, the old residents called on us after a slight acquaintance of only three years, seven having hitherto been the earliest limit accepted as a guarantee of respectability !

John Allen's chaise had formerly belonged to one of the said gentry, and an air of the old gentility still clung about it even in its sad decent in the ranks of ownership.

On one of our journeys across the sands we were in great danger, even though we were pioneered by Carter, the guide. There had been much rain, and as the saying was, "the fresh was out" and made many quick-sands and little streams, added to this a thick driving mist and drizzling rain came on, so that we could hardly see before us. When many miles out we found an unfortunate man who had utterly lost his way, wading aimlessly about, shoes and stockings in hand, and with not an idea of his whereabouts. With what joy he hailed our advent can be imagined.

We had to skirt many miles out of our way to find a place where we could cross the channel; and to add to our peril this loss of time brought the incoming tide so near that Allen got more and more frightened, and at last, trusting more to the instinct of his horses than to himself or the guide, he plunged into the channel. The water washed into the chaise till we were obliged to lift our feet on to the opposite seat. When we eventually did arrive, we found our many friends had been anxiously watching our progress from the heights through telescopes and glasses, but of course quite unable to give any assistance. Poor John Allen was so overcome that he had to be supplied with whisky to restore the colour to his blanched cheeks. Never till the end of his long life did he forget this experience,

We again found Grange the veritable "Earthly Paradise," described by a young friend, so we took a furnished cottage on what is now known as Church Hill. A charming cottage it was with what the natives called a "terrible bonnie look out" over the wide bay and those wondrous sands, always filled with interest, now glowing in the sunlight, or hazy and mysterious in the gloaming, and the channel finding its shifting way, now here now there, till swallowed up in the great tide. How fascinating it was to watch the "bore " or "head " of the tide come rushing in, as fast, it was said, as a horse could gallop. The white crest raised on the bow-shaped wave, never breaking, but rushing on and on and spreading from side to side till all the vast expanse of sand was converted into a spreading sea.

So mild was the climate that our cottage garden was a continual succession of flowers. Neapolitan violets perfumed the air that floated in by the windows, myrtles flowered freely on the walls, and roses crimson and pink clambered together in sweet confusion. At Blawith (a charming property then, not divided up as now by Hotel, Refreshment Rooms, Hydropathic establishment and Convalescent Home), a magnificent bignonia adorned the verandah of the old house, the pride and delight of (its owner) old Mrs. Maude's heart. Fuchsias never died down, and flowered in great profusion, and magnolias and tulip trees flourished at Ellerhowe. But to return to our cottage, another interest attaching to it was a ghost ! never seen by us, but forcibly described by our little maid - who, with horror-stricken look and trembling tones, told us she had seen an old woman upstairs dressed in a white cap and black mutch [a close-fitting woman's cap], and she gave every detail of her quaint attire. With difficulty and after much reasoning she was at length calmed down, but all upset again the next day by seeing, when visiting one next door neighbour, this identical clothing of the ghostly old lady taken from an old chest which was being turned out. On hearing that it was the dress worn by an old lady who had formerly occupied the very room in our cottage where the apparition appeared, the girl at once wished to leave; but, happily, a lover turned up and so she then wished to stay !

There was no church at Grange at this period. Lindale was the nearest one, and on our first visit we almost passed it by as it lay nestling in a little hollow all but hidden from view. The tall trees (in which the rooks caw and build each spring), growing on the rising ground above, quite overtop even the tower of the little whitewashed church below. Some steep stone steps wind down to the church, through the peaceful little graveyard, where sleep the cherished ones of many a household, beneath the shelter of the spreading branches of the old yew trees. In the early springtime the graves of rich and poor alike are covered with the same white pall - a sheet of loveliest snowdrops, converting this little "God's acre" into an ideal resting-place for our hallowed dead.

Lindale church was then much smaller than it is now. The present chancel was added in recent times and an organ substituted for the village band, which consisted of a flute, violin and violoncello. The musicians were secreted in a green curtained pew, on the right as you entered the door, and great was the tuning and scraping and practising that went on before the service began. Often have we heard the leader remark in audible tones when one of his favourite tunes was attempted, "Friends, that's a cheerful air, we'll try it again." The clergymen was considered to have great leanings to high church doings, but as he did not even preach in a surplice nor favour the eastward position, it was difficult to detect much ritualism in the services.

The old parsonage in Lindale was a small cottage above the mill dam; it was afterwards occupied by an old Elizabeth Bell, and as the roof had at some former time needed repairing, the old wooden decalogue tables from the church had been put to this strange use. So when seated by her fireside she was well able to study the Commandments overhead !

On Sundays we frequently drove to Cartmel Church with Canon Sergeant and his family. We always arrived so long before service that, to pass the time, the young son made it a part of the day's duty to drag us up to the roof through a narrow passage in the great walls to admire the view from the leads. The amount of mortar and dust we picked up on the way was very disturbing to our feminine feelings, having due respect for our Sunday clothes. From the tower four streams can be seen, and according to tradition a monk was directed in a vision to have a church built wherever he found a place where four streams met. Passing over Hampsfell he came to Cartmel, and this was the origin of the Priory Church.

The church was so icy cold that even sturdy old farmers and hardy youths brought overcoats over their arms to put on and keep themselves warm during service. The sole attempt at heating was a little brazier in the middle of the centre aisle; its small flickering flame seemed only to accentuate the cold. There was a small barrel organ over the screen that groaned and strained and repeatedly left out notes, but the places where the lapses occurred were so familiar to the choir that they sang louder to cover the deficiencies; at times it stopped all together and could not be persuaded to make a sound, then the choir abandoned it and clumped noisily down the stairs from the little gallery in their heavy wooden clogs and took their place in a square pew below, especially reserved for them in these emergencies. A slate was suspended in front on which was written the numbers of the hymns.

There was a curious pew in the church belonging to the Bigland family. It was on wheels or large castors and could be moved about to any position selected by the family. It was entered by steps behind like an omnibus and had square openings as if for windows in the high front and sides; it was also roofed in, affording a beautiful seclusion and possibilities of undisturbed repose. Just outside the church gates were the stocks in a good state of preservation, though we never saw them in use.

Mrs. Maude begged us to try and get up a school for the Grange children and started it with a good subscription. She herself supported a school for little girls, the one into which the high tide swept on the memorable occasion mentioned. In time the children were provided with quaint and decidedly plain clothes - a sack-like garment tied in at the waist, a plain straw bonnet, strings were the only trimming permitted, and little white linen tippets made up the costume. But the little girls were taught nice manners as well as the three R's and their catechism, and the fine old lady made a point of hearing them repeat the collect [short prayer] every Sunday.

Our mixed school was not exactly up to the requirements of the modern schools. Ferns grow in the corners, and the earthen floor gave them every encouragement. Our first attempt at teaching was not altogether successful; one boy fell so fast asleep that all attempts to rouse him were in vain, so four others were told off to carry him out, and so ended his first day of education !

Mr. Wakefield, of Sedgwick and Eggerslack, hearing of our many dilemmas and struggles with the young ideas that would not "shoot," helped us to procure a proper teacher. The school progressed and the population too, till at last a larger one was required, and Mr. Wakefield's generosity again came to our aid; he provided the site for the present school-house which has been enlarged again and again to suit advancing requirements, and Grange has now a certificated teacher and a large mixed school of boys and girls.

In 1851, the number of the inhabitants of Grange having considerably increased, though there were still no villa houses, it was thought high time we should have a church. A Miss Clarke, who was staying with an old pupil during her holidays, was so shocked to find that none of the poor mothers of the village could ever spare time to get to Lindale or Cartmel, that she energetically set to work to collect funds for building a church, assisted by two other ladies and ourselves. Canon Sergeant undertook to collect for the endowment fund; the Earl of Burlington and Mr. Wakefield both contributed largely as well as others, and Miss Newby gave the site, and Grange church now stands in what was a portion of her garden.

Letters descriptive of the neighbourhood were published in the Kendal Mercury, and afterwards bound in a small volume called "Sketches of Grange" and sold, realizing a good sum for the fund.

Eventually the church was built, and consecrated by the Bishop of Chester, in whose diocese Grange then was, and the Rev. Mr. Rigg was appointed the first incumbent. One of the many dangers of the Bay befell the said Mr. Rigg before settling down to his new home in Grange House.

He returned to Manchester to make same final arrangements and sell a little property there, and succeeded in his object, but was all but lost in the Over-Sands coach when returning with his title deeds in his valise. The coach sank in a quick-sand and was rapidly settling down; the traces were cut, the horses taken out, and the passengers got safely off the sinking vehicle; when the coachman suddenly remembered there was one inside. The old gentleman was entirely oblivious to all that was going on, and being very delicate he had shut up all the windows, and muffled himself with so many rugs that he was only extricated with much difficulty through a window, the doors being fast in the sand. When placed on one of the horses new perils awaited him, for, not being much of a horseman, he slipped round by degrees till at last he was quits underneath the animal, and finally found himself in the waters of the channel, the horse kicking him so severely on the shins that he was disabled for the whole winter.

The coach, after many months' disappearance in the mud, was finally washed up opposite Holme Island, having been gradually sucked along four or five miles' distance. Mr. Rigg's valise was recovered with the deeds and parchments therein scarcely legible, still sufficiently so to prove his rights of ownership.

In the early days of the church the seats were so narrow that, although printed cards were placed in the pews by Mr. Rigg's orders, directing us to kneel down in a reverent manner, one of the congregation remarked that that was all very well, but, under the circumstances, was a feat that long-legged people could not possibly perform; the same cards requested us to respond "in a melodious voice," but when the young clerk was told to moderate his too audible tones he replied, "a'll do nawt o t'soort and a'll clerk nae mair," and he walked out. Altogether a church was a novel experience in Grange, and among others an amusing incident occurred when one Sunday the lesson was read in which Adam excuses his delinquencies by saying "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, etc., etc." A chivalrous old gentleman, fidgetted beyond endurance by his first parents unworthy imputations, could stand it no longer, and closing his bible with a loud bang he audibly exclaimed, "shabby dog, shabby dog !"

Blawith, Yewbarrow Lodge, Hardcrag, Woodhead, Grange House and Morecambe Bank (Mr. Sergeant's house), were the only residences of any note in those days. Eggerslack, Merlewood, and Nutwood were not built till many years afterwards. Holme Island was sometimes in one county and sometimes in another, according to the variations of the channel which divided the course of the boundary river, the Winster, and the tolls were levied therefore for Lancashire or Westmorland accordingly. This confusion existed till the railway embankment was made, and the river's course became a fixed one.

Close by on the Winster stands Castle Head, which was at one time the residence of Mr. Wilkinson, the famous ironmaster and so-called "Freethinker." His bad repute was perhaps partly due to his outraging popular feeling, by endeavouring to get work done at Castle Head on Sundays. As all the workmen in the neighbourhood stoutly refused to work, and he was equally determined to have it done, he brought over a large number of Irish labourers who were thankful for the work on any terms, and, anyhow, being Roman Catholics, probably regarded the restrictions of Sunday over after twelve o'clock mass. Large baskets of earth were carried to the top of the rock or head and emptied down, thus forming soil on which parsley was sown in profusion, making a foundation where other plants eventually took root.

In the rock he blasted out caverns with the intention of making burial places for himself and his family; he had also a number of iron coffins made and kept them there in readiness. He often showed them with much pride to his visitors, and was occasionally known to offer one as a gift to certain favourites.

It was foretold to him that he should he buried three times before his body could find rest. Strange to say, this was literally fulfilled; for, dying away from home, his body was brought in the heavy coffin especially prepared, and on crossing the sands, perhaps owing to its great weight, the hearse sank in a quicksand and had to be dug out. The second burial took place in the cave at Castle Head as he had directed, but the next owner of the place, not caring for such gruesome relics, had the remains removed at dead of night, and he was buried for the third time in Lindale churchyard.

After a time, needless to say, rumours that Castle Head was haunted were freely circulated in the neighbourhood, and the next owner, whether experiencing the truth of the stories, or merely disliking the gloom and loneliness of the place, went away, and it was left vacant for many years, getting more and more the look of the typical haunted house, the grounds overgrown with dark laurels and the balustrades round the house all moss grown and rusty. The old caretaker always slept with a gun at his bed-head as a protection from spiritual visitations. Many were the tales told of awful sounds, rattling chains, groans and hurried flying footsteps, with all the necessary accompaniments of blood-stains to make a properly thrilling ghost-story.

Mr. Wilkinson died in 1808; so time and more cheerful occupants have long laid the ghost, and these old-world tales are now things of the past.

Whatever Mr. Wilkinson's failings may have been, he was, at any rate, a very clever and enterprising man. It was by his muse that so much of the marsh has been converted into the fine arable land it now is.

He constructed the canal with a view to conveying the sea-sand to the peat moss; and for this purpose built the first iron boat ever made or thought of. It was a flat-bottomed open boat made entirely of iron. How strange, we think, of this being the forerunner of the great iron ships of the present day and of the mighty ironclads which have been recently launched at Barrow, not far from the birthplace, one might call it, of its humble prototype.

Time brings many changes. County Councils and Local Boards sweep away much, replacing green banks and hedges with stone walls and mortar and other so-called "improvements," which term is a questionable one in the minds of old fashioned folk* who dwell with regret on the changes, and love to think of the times that are gone, and the picturesque little Grange of their early days.

 

* I cannot on my own account and on that of several Grange residents allow that only "old-fashioned folk" regret, nay resent, the vulgarisation of Grange. Why do not those who like such "improvements" live where they exist ? There are plenty of such places on these betrippered coasts; but I plead for this one little spot of favoured ground to be left alone.

 

A.M. Wakefield, Cartmel Priory and Sketches of North Lonsdale, 1909

 

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Notes

There are a number of sketches and photographs, taken from this book, in the archive photograph section.


19 June 2015

Steve Bulman