After my well earned coffee and cake break at the Allonby Tea Rooms my quest continued round the corner on the main road where the Ship Hotel is situated. A Grade ll listed building, the Ship was originally a 17th century coaching inn with stabling for horses and was popular with those travelling on the old coaching route to London. In 1857 Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins stayed overnight at the Ship while touring northern Cumberland, and though Dickens didn’t think much of the village itself (describing it as ‘a dreary little place’) he did like the Ship and described it as ‘a capital little homely inn looking out upon the sea….a clean nice place in a rough wild country’.
A few yards along from the Ship a stone built bridge carries the road diagonally across Allonby Beck. In former times the beck was much wider and shallower than it is now and was crossed at road level by an old cast iron bridge which was unfortunately destroyed in 1904. A traction engine, hauling a steam-driven fairground ride, started to cross the bridge but never made it to the other side ; the bridge cracked under the weight and the whole lot ended up in the beck which was swollen after a period of heavy rain. Following that incident a new stone bridge was built in 1905 and it’s still in use today.
On a corner near the seaward end of the bridge and overlooking the play park is The Codfather fish and chip shop. It doesn’t feature on my list of properties to find and I don’t have a photo of it but I mention it because I find it a little odd. To find the next property in the brochure I had to look near the post office but search as I might I couldn’t find a post office anywhere ; eventually I asked a local and was told that the post office counter, such as it is, is only open on Thursdays between 10 and 11am and is actually in The Codfather – how bizarre! I know in these times of companies and businesses downsizing and making cutbacks a post office can often be found within a supermarket but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of one in a fish and chip shop!
Once I’d located the ‘post office’ it was easy enough to find the next two properties. The Grapes was one of two pubs situated only a few yards apart and a narrow lane running at the side of The Grapes once led to the fish yards owned by a local family. Now a private house with a modern front door and windows, structurally it still looks the same as it was many years ago although strangely there’s only a brief mention of it in the brochure. The 3-storey Solway Hotel stood on the corner of the block; there were two versions of it and in more recent times the second one was known for a while as The Ocean Liner. It was a highly successful establishment providing good food and entertainment, and Country & Western nights were popular with acts like Boxcar Willie bringing in the crowds. Following a fire in the 1990s it was demolished and a modern 2-storey house built in its place but with an identical roof line to that of the hotel.
Back on the main road, across from The Codfather and set back off the road itself, is Pig In The Bath antiques/junk shop in what was once Allonby Mill. The present mill building dates from the 19th century and stands on the site of a much earlier building which may have been a corn mill. Between Pig In The Bath and the road bridge a footbridge runs over the beck to a small square of cottages and the one on the left was once The Queen’s Head Inn which, in the mid 1800s, became Allonby’s first and only Temperance Hotel. Tucked away down a very narrow passage behind this property is tiny Cruck Cottage, named after the building method used in its construction ; a timber frame of oak ‘crucks’ or trunks provided the main foundation for the structure then it was in-filled with laths and a mixture of animal dung and straw. Cottages like these were known as ‘clay dabbin’ cottages.
Set back in the square, and at the beginning of Garden Lane, is Glen Cottage, a nicely renovated holiday let which still retains some of its original features including wood beams and an inglenook fireplace. It was once the home of well known Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly who lived there for ten years. The initials AK – PK – 1958 can still be seen engraved on the lintel in the bedroom, with AK being his first wife Audrey and 1958 being the year they moved in ; it was while living in Allonby that he produced some of his best watercolours of the region.
Percy moved out of Glen Cottage in 1968 after Audrey discovered that he was secretly cross-dressing ; she continued to live there and after they divorced he eventually remarried, moving to Kendal, then Wales, and finally Norfolk. His second wife left him in 1983 after twelve years together, and while taking HRT, convinced he was becoming a woman, Percy changed his name by deed poll to Roberta Penelope. After spending his life steadfastly refusing to sell much of his work he died in 1993 in obscurity and poverty, though his cottage was later to be found crammed with his work. More information about Glen Cottage and Percy Kelly can be found here on the cottage’s website.
Garden Lane was once part of the main thoroughfare through the village and continued further than it does now ; it’s cut off by the beck which runs through the back of the village but when the beck was wider it had a shallow ford and Garden Lane was linked to Brewery Lane. The present narrower channel was dug by POWs during WW2 and being deeper it effectively separated both lanes. One of the properties in Garden Lane had large ovens in the cellar which could be accessed from outside, and as many homes didn’t have ovens at the time villagers would take their tattie pots to be cooked at the house in Garden Lane, earning it the name of Tattie Pot Lonning (Lane). The garage at Rainford House in Garden Lane was originally a clay dabbin cottage though at some time it was extended upwards by adding a stone-built gable. In recent years the present owner has restored the clay structure with antique bricks but a piece of the original clay and gravel has been ‘framed’ on the garage’s side wall.
Back on the main road, heading south and next door to the Baywatch Hotel, is Twentyman’s ice cream shop and general store. Twentyman’s had originally been boat breakers but when that trade died out the family saw an opportunity to provide ice creams and refreshments to passing visitors. The business was founded in 1920 and over the years has become famous throughout north Cumbria for its ice cream, made on the premises from a secret family recipe, although the modern property of today bears little resemblance to that of 1920.
The penultimate building on my list, the church vicarage, was built in 1872 to replace a smaller vicarage which was situated in what is now the church graveyard. When Allonby parish merged with nearby Crosscanonby the vicarage was sold and in the 1950s it became a holiday home for children with disabilities, with actor and comedian Richard Hearne, famous for his ‘Mr Pastry’ character, being a fund raiser for the venture. Since then the building has been a hotel and a private home before becoming what it is now, West Winds Tea Rooms.
Christ Church is the last building on the main road through Allonby heading south. The original chapel was built in 1743 but a hundred years later it was deemed to be too small for the growing congregation ; it was rebuilt in 1845 then enlarged in 1849 and again in 1885. The low roofed part of the building on the north side was once a school for about 100 children, it was built in 1741 before the original chapel and eventually became the Church school.
With Christ Church being the last on my list I finally had everything in the brochure found, photographed and ticked off. It had been a long, varied and interesting (sometimes mildly frustrating) day and with the late afternoon sun turning into an early evening sun and casting shadows where I didn’t want them it was time to return to the van and head back to the camp site. I’d completed my quest and the three of us had walked and wandered far enough so a good couple of hours of chill out time was more than justified.
**A lot of the information on Allonby and the post title came from ‘Allonby – Past and Present’, a very interesting and informative booklet which gave me the inspiration to seek out all these places and find out more about them. It’s produced by the Allonby History Group, which meets at the village hall every last Wednesday of the month, and can be found in various outlets in the village and other places throughout the county.