Heysham village, just south of Morecambe, is somewhere I hadn’t been to for a number of years but seeing some recent photos of the place prompted me to pay a visit one Sunday in early September. Unfortunately the times of the buses to Heysham didn’t coincide too well with the time I got off the train in Morecambe ; knowing that the distance between the two isn’t really that far I decided I could get there on foot in the time I would spend waiting for a bus, so join me as I walk from Morecambe’s central promenade to Heysham village and back again.
Past the West End, away from the main road and with few people about the pedestrian promenade was very quiet ; weather-wise it was a beautifully clear day and I could see right across the bay to Grange-over-Sands and the coastline and hills of south Cumbria. Eventually the promenade split into two and I took the lower section close to the beach ; steps at the end took me up to join the path above, leading between a handful of cottages to the bottom end of the village where a short lane off the main street ended in a slipway down onto the beach.
Not far up the main street was St. Peter’s Church so I made that my first port of call. A Grade l listed building, with a churchyard sloping down a shallow cliff to the beach and rock pools beyond the wall, it’s believed to have been founded in the 7th or 8th century. The chancel was added on in the mid 14th century, the south aisle in the 15th century and the north aisle in the mid 19th century, with some of the fabric of the original church still remaining in the present church. As well as stained glass windows I wanted to find and photograph the carved Viking hogback tombstone which dates back to the 10th century ; it’s situated inside the church but unfortunately the place wasn’t open so I had to be happy with a wander round outside instead.
Just off the main path through the churchyard was Glebe Garden, a previously overgrown and neglected area transformed into a peaceful and pretty corner by local volunteer gardeners – and that’s where I found the hedgehog. It was curled up in the sunshine on the gravel path, a strange place and time of day for it to be out and at first I thought it was dead ; I couldn’t just leave it there so fastening the dogs to a nearby bench I went to move it, however it uncurled itself so it was very much alive. It seemed to have trouble moving though and when I looked it was dragging one of its back legs behind it – the poor little thing was obviously injured and couldn’t get a grip on the gravel.
A few yards from the path and in a corner of the garden was a compost heap so I suspected the hedgehog may have come from there but I didn’t want to put it back there as it would probably end up back on the path again and maybe at the mercy of someone’s dog. I thought the best thing to do was take it to a quiet corner of the churchyard where at least it would be better able to move about on the grass but just as I was about to pick it up two young women came down the path – and that’s where things got ever-so-slightly stupid.
They were foreigners, German I think though both spoke very good English, and when they saw the hedgehog one of them insisted that it needed professional attention there and then ; out came her phone and she proceeded to Google various options but with no vet in the village or anywhere nearby she eventually phoned the RSPCA, only to get a recorded message saying it would be fifty minutes before her call was answered. She did find an animal charity shop in Morecambe but somehow couldn’t comprehend the fact that (as I told her) it wouldn’t be open on a Sunday and even if it was they wouldn’t just take in an animal. She couldn’t (or wouldn’t) take it anywhere herself as she and her friend were on bikes but she spent so much time faffing about on her phone that eventually I lost patience, told her I would sort it myself, and scooped the hedgehog up in my tracksuit top and popped it into my bag.
At first I did think about keeping the little creature in my bag, aborting my day out and bringing it home to take to my own vet the following day but I wasn’t sure if it would survive the walk back to Morecambe and the journey home by train and bus so I did what I intended to do in the first place. Collecting Sophie and Poppie from the bench, and making sure I got out of sight of the two young women, I went to the furthest bottom corner of the churchyard and put it gently on the grass behind a large headstone – I felt guilty for leaving it but without my own transport or anything proper to carry it in there wasn’t much else I could do.
From the church gates a path led a short distance through a wooded area to the ruins of St. Patrick’s Chapel situated on a grassy knoll overlooking the cliffs and the bay. A Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade l listed building, the ruin dates back to the 8th or 9th century, with the 10th century barrow graves cut from the rock only a few yards away. Due to their size and shallow depth it’s thought they held bones rather than bodies, though these days they only hold sea and rain water.
Back on the main street I decided to walk to the far end of the village without stopping then take any photos as I worked my way back towards the church. At the end of the street the road opened out with a row of cottages and small shops on one side and on the other a large almost-circular ’roundabout’ where the buses would turn round. On the corner, and next door to each other, were the Curiosity Corner tea room and The Old Barn café ; by then it was time for coffee and cake so I fastened the dogs close to an outside table at the café (the tea room was full) and went in to order, however when I saw the very OTT price for a tiny square of cake I just asked for a coffee – and that wasn’t particularly brilliant either but it was passable.
Across the street from the café was one part of the Heritage Centre which is an unusual surviving example of a 17th century longhouse – a cottage and barn combined. Sometime in the 20th century the longhouse was converted into two separate lock-up shops with a cottage between the two ; in 1999 the Heritage Trust for the North West acquired the two shops and with grant aid from various organisations and individuals they were turned into a small Heritage Centre. The centre was opened in 2000 then in 2005 the Heritage Trust acquired the cottage in the middle. In 2010 work began to restore the cottage which had, at one time, been the living quarters for the occupants of the original longhouse ; a new floor was added to the Heritage Centre and it was reopened in 2011, with the cottage being leased on a short-term let.
On the wall of the right hand building was a large plaque, The Spirit of Heysham, carved by a Michael Edwards to depict the village’s historic legacies including St. Peter’s Church and St. Patrick’s Chapel with its hilltop barrow graves. Each year in mid July the village holds a 2-day Viking festival with battle re-enactments, food and craft stalls and a whole range of family activities ; above the Spirit of Heysham plaque, and on the balcony at the top of a fire escape, was a large Viking figure presumably left over from one of the festivals as a bit of an attraction.
With its whitewashed cottages and colourful flowers in tubs and hanging baskets the village’s main street was certainly very pretty. There was one thing I had to do though before I left all this behind and returned to Morecambe – the little hedgehog had been on my mind and I couldn’t leave without going back to the graveyard to see if it was okay. Although I wasn’t sure if I would actually find it I did, quite unexpectedly ; it was on the grass about twenty yards from where I’d left it so it seemed that even with its damaged leg it could still get about. Being out in the daylight wasn’t ideal but if it could find some food and somewhere safe to curl up then maybe it would have a chance – as I reluctantly walked away I really hoped so.
Heading out of the village I took the upper path above the promenade ; at the bottom of the slope was a large field with a handful of friendly ponies who all came to say hello and a sweet little foal who seemed to be quite shy. The ponies seemed to be looking for titbits but unfortunately I didn’t have anything to give them. Back at Morecambe’s West End I checked the time and found I only had an hour until the time of my train home so not wanting to stray too far from the vicinity of the station I only walked as far as the area near the Midland Hotel.
Morecambe itself is an odd place. The busy seaside resort I remember from my childhood and early teens fell into a decline in the late 1970s and the following years saw the loss of both piers and the eventual closure of the dolphin show (not a bad thing), the open air swimming pool, the Art Deco sea front Midland Hotel and the promenade fairground/theme park. Regeneration and investment, especially of the West End area, began about fifteen years ago ; after a major refurbishment the Midland Hotel reopened in 2008, the former promenade railway station building became an arts venue, there’s a Morrisons supermarket and retail park not far from the seafront and the promenade itself has had a makeover. Even so, the seafront is still shabby in places ; the land where the theme park once was is still derelict and surrounded by hoardings, there are several empty and shuttered-up shops and a few of the bed-and-breakfast places seem to need a bit of an external makeover. In spite of this though the areas along the promenade which have been done up do look really nice ; to be honest I do like Morecambe in spite of its shabbiness.
With one final shot of the promenade gardens I headed for the station, only to find when I got there that my train had been cancelled, however a replacement bus to Lancaster station had been laid on. Unfortunately, because of the one-way system round Lancaster town centre, the bus was on the last minute arriving at the station so I had to run to get my connecting train. I made it with a few seconds to spare though and the rest of the journey home passed quite well.
Although back in Morecambe the blue sky had clouded over somewhat it had been lovely while I was in Heysham and the sunshine had really shown the village off well. It had been my first visit there for many years, I’d really enjoyed my day and I’d got some lovely photos – maybe next time I won’t leave it so long before I return.
My Monday walk this week features a visit to Southport on a very warm and sunny day in July (before the theft of my van) and strangely enough exactly a year and one week since my day out there in 2018. Southport had once been the home of the legendary racehorse Red Rum and sometime in the months since my previous visit I’d found out (and I can’t remember where from) that there was a statue of him in one of the shopping arcades off Lord Street. Back in 1977 I’d had the privilege of meeting Red Rum when he was the star attraction at a local horse show just three months after winning his third Grand National ; I worked for a well-known national bookmaker’s at the time and interviewed Red Rum’s trainer, Ginger McCain, for the staff magazine. Rummie was a beautiful animal and had stood very patiently while I took several photos of him and chatted to his trainer, so having once met the horse in the flesh it would be interesting to see what the statue looked like.
Leaving the van in the car park overlooking Marine Lake I walked through the side streets from the promenade and emerged onto Lord Street just beyond the main stretch of shops, so I crossed the road with the intention of walking all the way along one side and back along the other. Not far along I came to a water feature where water bubbled up from a low fountain and overflowed down an area patterned with small stones before disappearing into a mesh-covered gully. It was actually hard to tell that there was any water there at all, but Sophie and Poppie enjoyed a paddle and a quick drink before we moved on to the gardens further along.
Reaching the end of the gardens I crossed the road again and walked back past all the shops. The first arcade I came to proved to be the wrong one ; the Red Rum statue was in the second arcade and I have to say that when I found it I was deeply underwhelmed and unimpressed. There’s a life-size statue at Aintree racecourse, an excellent likeness sculpted by Philip Blacker, a former jockey who knew Red Rum well, but I thought this Southport one was a very poor second best. Sculpted by Annette Yarrow (whoever she was) and presumably done from photographs, it was only half life-size and was completely out of proportion – the legs were too short and fat, the hooves were too thick, the body was all wrong and the head and facial features reminded me of a donkey. In short, it was ugly, and whichever members of Sefton council originally approved it should have gone to Specsavers.
Now while the Red Rum statue may have been ugly the arcade itself was lovely and I spent several minutes wandering round and taking photos. A Grade ll listed structure originally opened in 1898, the arcade is typically Victorian with a domed glass roof supported by ornamental ironwork, stained glass windows along the balcony and original mahogany shop fronts. Created by a Victorian entrepreneur who owned most of the shops on Lord Street it was first named the Leyland Arcade after a prominent Southport MP of the time. During the 1950s the arcade was renamed the Burton Arcade after it was purchased by Montague Burton tailor’s business, then in 1976 the head lease was purchased by an Anthony Pedlar who renamed it the Wayfarers Arcade. Over the years different parts of the arcade have gone through periods of restoration and refurbishment but these have always been in keeping with the original style of the building.
From the arcade I made my way round onto the promenade and took a stroll through Kings Gardens and along the lakeside. It was nice to see that in contrast to last summer, when the flower beds were mostly bare because of the hot dry weather, this time there was quite a lot of colour in them, and the lake itself was very busy with lots of people taking to the water in various types of craft.
From the far side of the lake I wandered through Princes Park to the sea front where I got a big surprise – the tide was in and the sea was lapping the sand within just a few yards of the concrete walkway running along by the sea wall. Throughout the whole of my life that’s the first time ever that I’ve actually seen the sea at Southport, it’s usually so far out beyond the end of the pier that it isn’t even visible ; I know someone who lives in Southport and even he has never known the sea to come right in. It was a photo opportunity not to be missed though and I took several shots before making my way back to the lake and under the bridge to the car park, where I sat in the van and had a pre-prepared light snack before setting off for home.
The drive back was very pleasant and when I got home and told Michael about the sea he was surprised too ; he’d been to Southport many times during the years of his marriage and he’d never seen the sea either. I’ve no idea why it was so far in on that particular day but it was certainly a nice surprise and in a way it made up for the disappointment of seeing that awful Red Rum statue in the arcade.
An August bank holiday with glorious weather but no van, however I wasn’t going to let being without my own transport stop me from going somewhere so I decided to ‘let the train take the strain’ as the adverts used to say and for my Monday walk this week I would visit Arnside, a village on the River Kent estuary at the north east corner of Morecambe bay.
Letting the train take the strain was an absolute joke for the first part of the journey though ; the cancellation of the previous train and the one going to Blackpool meant that the one I was getting was already full to bursting when it arrived, with hoards of other people fighting to get on, and I only just about managed it myself. As I approached one of the doors a woman standing just inside said “You can’t get in here!” so I replied “Can’t I? Watch me!” and I heaved the dogs in and squashed in after them with seconds to spare before the doors closed – having just had a two-mile walk from home to the station there was no way I was missing that train and waiting an hour for the next one! Fortunately I only had to go as far as Preston before changing trains and the second one was fine, with plenty of room and a seat to myself, so the journey to Arnside was completed in relative comfort.
Arnside village lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is situated on the West Coast main railway line. At one time it was actually a working port but building the viaduct across the Kent estuary in 1857 caused it to silt up, making the port no longer viable. The viaduct itself is 552 yards long with 50 piers ; it was rebuilt in 1915 and is a very prominent feature of the village, being more or less the first thing to be seen when coming into Arnside past the railway station.
At the far end of the promenade I came to the private grounds of Ashmeadow House, a listed building which dates from 1818. A narrow path ran uphill alongside the hedge and a notice said that visitors were welcome to walk round the woodland and wildflower meadow so I thought I may as well take a look. The patches of shade in the woodland provided a lovely coolness away from the sun’s heat, and though the wildflower meadow seemed to be devoid of any actual flowers there was a separate area at one end which had been divided into several beds with different flowers growing in each one, although some of the blooms seemed to be past their best.
Heading back downhill through the far end of the woodland I came to a slipway down onto the sand ; it briefly crossed my mind to head west and walk along to Silverdale but not knowing how far it was I decided against it and only walked a relatively short distance along before heading back to the village.
Along the promenade I saw a sign for Arnside Knott, a high up place which would give me some great views over the estuary but again there was no indication of distance, however I did see a side road named Church Hill. A road with a name like that just had to lead to a church – I was right, and five minutes later I came to St. James C of E church. It was open to the public too and with a conveniently shady spot to leave the dogs I went in for a quick look round. Built between 1864 and 1866 and extended in 1884, 1905 and again between 1912 and 1914 it was a lovely place with some beautiful stained glass windows to photograph, though the bright sunlight shining through some of them made it difficult to capture the details.
Back on the promenade I went in search of somewhere to treat myself to coffee and cake. Arnside has a couple of pubs, a few cafes and tea rooms and even a fish and chip shop but the tables and seats outside all of them were occupied ; at least there was a Londis shop which was open so I resorted to a bit of D-I-Y and got a can of Coke and a snack from there then found a partially shaded bench at the far side of the promenade gardens where I could sit for a while and watch the world go by. A short stroll later to the end of the pier and back then it was almost time for me to catch the train for home.
Not having been to Arnside for well over ten years I’d really enjoyed rediscovering it although it confirmed my opinion from all those years ago – there’s not much there. Saying that though, there’s just enough to make it interesting. It’s a very quaint and attractive little place so anything more than it has would spoil it – and anything it does lack is more than compensated for by the lovely location and wonderful views. Since getting back home I’ve found out that every so often there’s a tidal bore which travels right up the estuary and is apparently something worth seeing, so who knows – I may be making another visit to Arnside sometime in the future.
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.
Five miles north of Maryport in Cumbria the little village of Allonby lies strung out along the coast road, with a long, wide and very pleasant green running between the road and the beach. During my first visit there at Easter I’d been given a brochure about the history of the village and its various buildings and reading through it I realised that there was far more to the place than I’d first thought, so on a recent revisit I made it my mission to start at the north end of the village and work my way south, finding and photographing all the various buildings shown in the brochure.
Allonby originally started life centuries ago as a tiny community scattered around four farms but over many years it grew into a small fishing port, with the main catch being herring which were either salted or smoked to preserve them for transport to market. In 1703 the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, converted a cottage in the village into a Meeting House and the Quakers became a large and influential section of the local community. At the extreme north of the village a Quaker burial ground was established, a simple space of grass and low headstones with the entrance being a deceptive door in a stone wall bordering the road, and it was from there that my quest began.
Next to the burial ground is North Lodge, built in 1824 by Thomas Richardson, a noted banker and leading member of the Quakers. The building is symmetrical and the central pavilion provided a holiday home for Richardson and his family while the adjoining four cottages and two houses were let to needy Quaker spinsters or families. Richardson was also very instrumental in adding significantly to the funds raised for the building of Allonby School, which is still in existence, and North Lodge is still in use today as low-cost housing.
After being established in 1703 the Quaker Meeting House was used continually for over 250 years but by the 1980s it was beginning to show its age, with windows which were jammed shut, rotten floors and much damp. The members secured a grant and raised another £3,000 for repairs but when work began more structural problems came to light. Eventually the funds ran out and the Meeting House officially closed in July 1991 ; five years later the building was sold and converted into a private house, which it still is today.
On a nearby corner is the Congregational Chapel which was built in 1844 and used for about 120 years. In the 1980s it was converted to a private house after having closed for worship about twenty five years before. Between the chapel and the old Meeting House is what was the Sunshine Home, built in 1934 as a children’s holiday home by Margaret Harrison in memory of her husband who had been a director of a Clydeside ship builders. Open each year from Easter to October it provided a fortnight’s holiday for under-privileged children from all over the country for almost sixty years.
In 1990 the home received £3,300 from the BBC’s Children In Need appeal to install an all-weather surface in the playground but in that same year an unpleasant incident occurred when the mother of two boys staying there complained that a member of staff had ill-treated one of them. The police and Social Services became involved and the home was immediately closed ; although there was no evidence to support the allegations the damage was done, and coupled with the increasing difficulty of finding suitable staff the original owner’s granddaughter who had inherited the home decided that it should remain closed. The building was eventually sold and converted to become the private house it is today.
Allonby Village Hall was converted in 1911 from a barn into a church hall to bring the Anglican presence into the heart of the village, and what can be seen today is more or less how the building was back then. Activities are held there regularly and include table top sales, dance classes, Pilates, Bridge, quizzes and musical entertainment. Across the road from the village hall, and on the edge of the green, is the Reading Room built on what had been the site of a factory school with a large weaving room and tithe barn. Designed by a Quaker architect from Manchester and opened in 1862 the reading rooms and a library originally stood over an open Italian-style piazza where people could shelter from bad weather ; eventually though the open colonnade was bricked in and the space converted into a billiard and games room.
The reading rooms served the people of Allonby for more than a hundred years and at one point became home to a collection of natural history specimens. During WW2 they were used by the WVS (Womens Voluntary Services) for the preparation of camouflage netting for the armed forces, and during the 1951 Festival of Britain they served as the venue for a ‘Festival of Antiques’. Unfortunately usage had declined by the early 1970s and maintenance was a problem so the building was sold, with the proceeds being used to upgrade the village hall. The new owner was a local businessman who proposed to turn the building into a motorbike museum but his plans were turned down by the local authority and the place stood empty for thirty years. Gradually the building began to deteriorate and after a severe storm part of the roof collapsed, bringing the gable end down with it. Finally, in 2005 the local council agreed to a partial demolition and conversion to residential use, and after the work was hampered by delays and ever-increasing costs the new owners eventually took up residence in 2013.
Not far from the Reading Rooms, and just across Allonby Beck on the seaward side of the green, is a short row of cottages known as The Hill, and although the land is now mainly level it was, at one time, just as its name suggests. Here were once thriving boat building and fish curing industries, with fishing boats being launched into the sea from the Hill and a smokehouse at the end of the row, also regular fish sales were held there after each catch was brought in. During the 1930s the Jackson family brought horses to the village and opened a very successful riding school which was based at the end of The Hill next to where there is now a modern play park. For obvious reasons I couldn’t take any photos of the play park but where it’s situated was once the site of the Smiddy On The Hill owned by blacksmith Dick Saunderson.
Across the road, and set sideways on to the road itself, is an odd little detached cottage with a flat-roofed side extension on what was once the front of the building and its front door on what used to be the side, meaning it now bears no resemblance to the small double-fronted steep-roofed building it once was – this was known as The Bazaar, and at various times in the past it’s been a fancy goods shop, a Co-op shop, and a chip shop.
Behind The Bazaar is part of The Square, which isn’t just one Square but a long straggle of cobbled lanes and smaller squares extending in two parts through the back of the village and converging on what was once the Market Place, where the old bath house is situated. Commissioned in 1834, built during 1835 and early 1836 The Baths opened in July that year ; they had warm, cold, sulphur and vapour baths fitted out in marble and using water piped from the sea by a small steam engine, whose furnace also heated the water. At the rear of the building a long ‘Promenade Room’ with an iron balustrade overlooked the sea and there was also a smaller reading room.
By 1856 however, Allonby Baths faced competition in the form of the new seaside resort of Silloth just eight miles away. With a fine selection of modern hotels and boarding houses the town also had an attractive set of sea water baths, and with people preferring to go to Silloth Allonby Baths gradually lost their popularity. In August 1862 a notice appeared in the local papers announcing the intention to liquidate any debts, wind up the business and consider accepting an offer for the land and building. That offer was made by an MP who had also financed the Reading Rooms ; the building was converted into a boarding house and by the turn of the century had become a private residence, which it has remained ever since. It’s also a Grade ll listed building.
Across from the front of The Baths is Allonby Grange, a property built in the Colonial style. It was once home to Anne Satterthwaite who had inherited the building as part of her family’s estate ; after her only son died her daughter-in-law Sarah became Mrs Satterthwaite-Clark when she remarried in 1882, her groom being James Clark, founder of Clark’s shoe empire. After her mother-in-law’s death Sarah continued to live in the house and during the course of her years there she gifted a fine hand-drawn hearse to the people of the village ; in her old age she regularly held lavish garden parties in the beautiful garden at the rear of the property.
Set back on the left beyond the far end of the Market Place is a small modern housing development known as Costins, which takes its name from the original building which was once a Georgian bow-windowed multi-shop run by the local family of the same name. The Square continues from the Market Place as a narrow cobbled lane lined by pretty cottages, one of which is Swan Cottage, formerly the Swan Inn. It could once have been more than one dwelling as at one time there were two separate sets of stairs leading to different parts of the property. The front of the building dates from the mid 18th century while the back is more likely to be Victorian, which would go some way to explaining the two different staircases.
By the time I’d ticked Swan Cottage off my list, and having foregone my late lunch, it was time for a brew and a snack. The Allonby Tea Rooms were close by, set back off the main road, and there was a vacant table outside so I gave myself and the dogs a well-earned break before the next part of the ‘treasure hunt’.
To be continued….
My Monday walk this week features a second visit to Sunderland Point, undertaken one day last week only nine days after my first visit there. It had been low tide on the first occasion and with glorious weather I got some lovely photos but I wanted to get some shots at high tide, also since my first visit I’d found some information on a few of the buildings in the village which I wanted to check out. High tide on May 21st worked out just right, it was soon after mid-day and with more lovely sunny weather it was an opportunity not to be missed. Of course the high tide also meant that the causeway to Sunderland Point was cut off, so instead of going through Overton village I had to drive round the country lanes to Middleton sands and park in a designated spot above the high water line at a place known as Potts Corner, then walk the mile or so to Sunderland village.
The car park at Potts Corner was certainly in a fairly remote spot with nothing but wet sands stretching northwards, and to the south a vast expanse of salt marsh where a large herd of cattle grazed, although there was a static caravan site close by. A wide roughly-gravelled and pot-holed track led some distance from the car park to a farm up on my left then a rough path took me along the edge of the salt marsh. Not only was this place very remote it was also very windy and annoyingly my hair kept blowing across my face ; I needed something to tie it back, and just as the thought crossed my mind I found the very thing – a length of bright pink bailer twine tied round a chunk of tree trunk lying on the ground. The twine was clean so I untied it, doubled it up and used it to fasten my hair into a pony tail – sorted!
The path along the edge of the marsh eventually led to a gate and the recently constructed path to Sambo’s grave, and though it was supposedly over a mile from the car park to there it seemed no time at all before the hideous stone-built camera obscura dome had come into view. Completely unimpressed with it on my previous visit I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and went inside but all I could see was an extremely pale circle of light on one wall, so pale it was hardly there, so yet again I left with the feeling that the time and money spent on this monstrosity could have been better used elsewhere. Having only recently been to Sambo’s grave I didn’t feel the need to go again so soon so I left the dome behind and continued on to the village.
Sunderland village was developed by Robert Lawson, a Quaker, in the early 18th century as an out port for Lancaster a few miles inland, and it’s believed that stonework from the ruined Cockersand Abbey across the river was used in the construction of the quay and various buildings. Following the narrow path between the hawthorn hedges to the top end of The Lane I came to the first house I was looking for. Summer House at one time had, on its steep apex roof, a weather vane which was fixed to a compass rose on the ceiling underneath although neither of these now exist, but back in the 18th century it was where merchants and boat pilots met and looked out for shipping.
At the bottom end of The Lane was Upsteps Cottage, named because its front door is set high up in the wall with stone steps leading up to it. In the past it had been a bath house but perhaps more significantly it had also been the brew house of the nearby Ship Inn and was the lodging where Sambo died. Round the corner from The Lane, and on First Terrace, was No. 11 which had originally been the Ship Inn itself – in fairly recent times it was used as a pub in the 2006 filming of Ruby In The Smoke by the BBC. Further along First Terrace and set on its own was No. 2 which had been the Anchor Smithy and Ropewalk, and set quite a way back from the quayside was No. 3a which had been the Customs House.
On this side of the peninsula and away from the open expanse of salt marsh the wind had dropped to just a light breeze, making it very pleasant to wander along in the warm sunshine. Just beyond No. 2 was the shingle parking area where I’d left the van on my first visit, except this time there was hardly any parking area left as most of it was covered by water. Obviously I’d been aware that the causeway to Sunderland was impassable at high tide but I was still surprised by just how far in the tide had come. The causeway had completely disappeared, the warning sign at the beginning of it, which was several feet above the ground, had its bottom edge in water and the boats which I’d seen beached on grass nine days before were completely surrounded – compared to my previous visit it was certainly a different sight to see.
The next thing I wanted to find was the Cotton Tree which information had told me was on Second Terrace, and when I did find it I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it on my previous visit as I must have walked close by it. According to popular belief the Cotton Tree grew from a seed imported from America in a bale of cotton and though it may very well have come from the USA, probably brought here by a returning sea captain, it was actually a female black poplar which is very uncommon in England.
Appearing to grow from the foot of a building the Cotton Tree was a well-known and much-loved feature of Sunderland Point, familiar to generations of villagers and visitors. The victim of old age and the fierce gales which had hit the area on Christmas Eve 1997 it finally toppled over a week later at 8.15pm on New Year’s Day 1998 ; it was estimated to have been between 200 and 250 years old when it fell. The stump of the tree is now decayed but is still part of the wall which surrounds it, and the tree itself lives on in the form of two young trees which have sprung from its roots a few yards either side of the stump.
A greater part of Second Terrace would originally have been warehouses, though some of the buildings have also been used as an inn and a farm, all of which are now private residences. One rather quirky feature is the narrow cottage named Multum in Parvo (meaning Much in Little) which is thought to have been built at some time to fill a gap between two rows of properties. In a nod to more modern times there’s a Royal Mail post box set in a wall and outside the Reading Room is a card-operated BT phone box (which also contains items of fresh produce for sale) and an emergency defibrillator, other than that the Terrace looks much the same as it did all those years ago.
Set back off the path and in its own pretty garden was Sunderland Hall, built by Robert and Elizabeth Pearson and with the inscription REP 1683 on one of its walls. The Hall and its two adjoining houses are now the last properties on Second Terrace, although it’s thought that in the past there may have been two or three small cottages in the adjacent field which reaches to the end of the peninsula.
Although I could probably have walked all the way round the peninsula I didn’t know how far the tide would be in round the end so I decided not to try it and instead walked back along the sea wall path and up The Lane. Stopping to photograph a carved wooden owl on top of a gatepost I saw something which made me smile ; on the side wall of the house was a hand painted board and though I couldn’t get close enough to see properly I assumed there was a bowl of water on the ground just down below it.
Walking back past the salt marshes a movement in the grass some distance away caught my attention ; it was a bird scurrying along and though I couldn’t immediately tell what it was I zoomed in with the camera, and with its long bright orange beak I assumed it was a young oyster catcher. Further along I saw that the herd of cows which had been peacefully grazing some distance away earlier on had made their way inland and were congregating close to the path.
Now in spite of having read various stories of people being trampled by marauding cattle I’m not scared of cows and under normal circumstances I would have walked right past them, but there were some youngsters in among this lot so as I had the dogs with me I decided not to risk it and made a short detour over the grass instead. Back at the van the three of us had a welcome cool drink then with one last shot I set off for home.
Driving back down the M6 I thought about my time spent at Sunderland Point. It was a very attractive place with a lot of history behind it, and though I hadn’t yet managed to paint my stone to put on Sambo’s grave the uniqueness of the village and the photo opportunities it offers almost certainly guarantees a third visit before too long.