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Chapter Two: House and home
(For an outstanding account of housing developments in the area see R.W. Brunskill’s Traditional Buildings of Cumbria: The county of the Lakes. Brunskill describes the Cumbrian house’s development from ‘vernacular’ architecture (a style in which houses ‘are the products of local craftsmen meeting simple functional requirements according to traditional plans and procedures with the aid of local building materials and construction methods’, (p 16) to ‘polite’ (professionally designed and built with advanced construction techniques and materials). The earliest housing in Ireleth (Marsh Grange, or the former farm buildings on Saves Lane) is seventeenth century polite. The last recorded vernacular architecture in the Lakes was the charcoal burners’ huts; given that wood for charcoal had been almost entirely stripped hundreds of years ago in Furness, it’s unlikely that this style survived locally at all.)
Date stones on the older houses in Ireleth indicate that housing development followed Saves Lane, the main road as it then was, which zig-zagged down Ireleth hill. Few carts or carriages would have had sufficient braking or horse power to tackle the straight descent and ascent of modern Ireleth Road. A rough copy of the Parish of Dalton Tithe Commutation map of 1842 (below) shows the layout of the major farmhouses and buildings of Ireleth at the time, the majority of which are on what is now Saves Lane. Low Lane, which is now barely more than a footpath, was at least as well frequented as the lower end of Saves Lane itself.
Date stones are sometimes inaccurate as a means of placing exact dates on buildings, as they can refer to dates of restoration or other activities (some have been known to have been taken from older buildings and used as a feature in newer ones), but the architectural styles of most of the dated houses on Saves Lane appear to fit with their date stones. Most record the period from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, a time of gradually increasing prosperity and the development of architectural features which are commonly associated with modern housing. Among these features are private rooms, with doors leading into corridors, rather than the simple open-plan design of ancient houses. Another architectural feature of this period is the high semi-circular headed stair window of Brook Lea.
Right: A copy made by Melville and Hobbs of the tithe map for Ireleth. Saves Lane is the main thoroughfare, with the majority of houses clustered between the junctions of Saves Lane with Ireleth Road at the south and Low Lane at the north. The original, its accompanying book and Melville & Hobbs's copy are all held in the Cumbria Records Office, Barrow.
Most of the buildings up until the end of the eighteenth century were farm houses and their associated buildings, but from this time on more permanent domestic dwellings, service buildings (such as the old mill behind the Bay Horse Inn) and shops appear. Arthur Evans estimated that the mill dated from ‘the [Napoleonic] Wars with France about 1795’ when there was a heavy demand for locally grown and milled flour. Ordnance Survey maps from the 1850s onwards give some idea of how housing has developed in the village; a series of copies of these were reproduced at the start of the printed version of this history. (Open, save or print the pdf versions of the book at the history page.) These give an approximate idea of when the row of terraced housing on Hollowgate Road appeared, and the gradual movement of housing west along Ireleth Road, which by this time had become the main thoroughfare to the bustling new town of Askam.
Askam’s housing development is, of course, radically different to that of Ireleth. Unlike the old stone-built housing in Ireleth, the majority of Askam’s older housing is brick-built and terraced, created for the influx of iron workers, and dates from the 1860s to the late nineteenth century. The mine owners and operators didn’t live in Askam itself, but built their grand residences on the surrounding hills at Greenscoe and along the Broughton Road, with commanding views of their mines, steel works and the Duddon estuary (examples of this include Bankfield and Greenscoe House). (NB: In an earlier edition of this book and site, I erroneously cited Beulah House as being a typical mine-owner's house. Paul Dean, who bought Beulah from the Kendall family in November 2006, informed me that Beulah was in fact built in 1875 for one Peter Spencer, the Water Works Manager. Thank you, Paul.)
The census return for 1851 shows that there were already numerous houses scattered around the outskirts of Ireleth, most of which were farms, but many of which were occupied by iron workers. Although the Park deposit had yet to be discovered, enough ore was being worked to provide a living for a small but thriving community of iron workers. The population was approximately 200 people in Ireleth, with a further 100 in the outlying areas. With the discovery of the ore at Park, things changed rapidly and dramatically. Rather than ship ore for processing, as had happened in the past (see chapter four), a steelworks was built on site on an area just to the south of the present day Furness Tavern. Accommodation was needed quickly for the miners and support workers, and building of miners’ cottages began as early as 1865. The Barrow Herald optimistically reported that Ireleth Marsh (as that area of land was known at the time) would soon become a ‘flourishing place’. By July 1866, a Heraldcorrespondent reported ‘beautiful houses and streets’ on the Marsh, and estimated the buildings under construction there already outnumbered those in Ireleth.
As Askam grew, more organised development took place, and within a very few years ambitious plans were laid out for a large town. This planned development took place in the Lots area, which explains both the regularity of the Lots’ layout, as well as its half-finished appearance (all development ceased when the ore ran out).
The Ireleth Marsh/Askam/Lots area (at this time its name hadn’t been decided, and all three were in use) was originally planned to have ‘a church, a school, a market hall, an imposing square and, to complete the town, a public park facing the Duddon estuary’. This land was owned by a Mr E.T. Wakefield, and he and his partners — Mr Harris and Mr Shapter — were to be honoured in street names in the new township. Although Wakefield and Harris were duly honoured, Askam’s ore ran out before Shapter’s street was built.
Land was obviously at a premium on Ireleth Marsh/Askam, and as early as the summer of 1865 notices appeared in the Barrow Herald offering land for sale on the northern side of the works. It seems that Ireleth land owners were more than happy to see the area developed, and held no sentimental views about the environment. In true Victorian pro-development style, one writer in the Herald described Ireleth as being ‘on the side of a vast and barren valley’, with the coastal strip itself considered to be a ‘barren waste’.
In spite of the grand plans, development of the new town proceeded in a more piecemeal fashion north of the iron works around two important sites: the proposed Duddon railway viaduct (see chapter three for more on this) and the Ireleth Railway Station. The station was opened in 1868, but although the viaduct was ‘confidently expected’ to go ahead at the time it never eventuated. Regardless of this, the proposed creation of the viaduct was used as a selling point for land in the area. The result of this was to create two distinct areas of Askam: a southern half, including the ironworks and the laid out terraced streets (the Lots); and a smaller group of buildings clustered around the railway station forming a link between the Lots and Ireleth. The two parts of Askam were joined by the thoroughfare known variously as Drain Road, Sandy Lane and, finally after improvements, Duke Street.
The development of the northern half of Askam was strongly influenced by the earlier rural landscape and old ownership patterns. The fields in the Dalton tithe map show blocks of ownership side by side, running parallel with the old cross-sands route to Salthouse (Millom). The new east/west-running streets of northern Askam (Steel, Sharp, Beach etc) were only developed as these blocks were sold off, and so these streets follow this older pattern of field ownership. Thus the older terraced houses are at the southern end of town (Sharp and Steel streets), getting bigger and newer as one moves northward towards Duddon Road.
In spite of the optimistic reports mentioned above, housing conditions in the new boom town were often terrible. The Barrow, Furness & North-Western Daily Times of 21 July 1871 reported that ‘Many houses are fearfully overcrowded and one yard connected with three houses has to serve for thirty-five people’. Although conditions improved throughout the 1870s, sanitary conditions in parts of Askam were rudimentary at best. There were no sewering facilites, with house drains discharging into the open parts of the marsh. When sewers were laid in 1872 they were easily choked by sand, and the very shallow gradient to the shore resulted in further blockages. Only now did the developers come to realise why Ireleth was where it was; on a good slope, out of the flood zone and away from the sand. Sand became a way of life for those early Askamites. As well as blocking the sewers it clogged the domestic water supply, which for most people came from stand pipes in the street. Drifts from the shore often covered the roads, and dunes as high as three and four feet formed in the main streets. As the ore and the optimism began to run low, the unfinished, partly developed look of the place drew adverse comments, such as those from a writer in the Ulverston Mirror in 1873: ‘Askam presents the usual appearance of a new place . . . recently erected houses, unfinished streets, and so on. Paving and flagging are luxuries which have not yet been introduced’. The writer decided that Askam was ‘not at first sight a very desirable spot to live in’. Even as late as 1894 Askam was described as ‘little better than a penal settlement, dreaded by everybody, and hated by its inhabitants if only because of the sand nuisance’.
Right: ‘Duke Street, Askam, in the early years of the present [i.e. twentieth] century. The photograph, which was probably taken in 1903, shows the principal shopping centre of Askam and part of the ironworks.’ Harris, p.392.
Unfortunately for those early Askam pioneers most of the major improvements coincided with the demise of the steel industry, and ironically living conditions improved as the work ran out. There was to be no grand market hall or park for the Lots, although some fine shops were built along Duke Street, particularly at the station end. This was the end of major building activity in the area until the immediate post-WWII period, when High Duddon Close was built. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries private developers built along the strips of Ireleth Road, Dalton Road, Duddon Road and Duke Street. Apart from individual houses, Ireleth Court Road was developed in the early 1960s, and Foxfield, Kirkby and Broughton closes in the 1970s.
In a case of 'back to the future', Askam's biggest planned development took place on the Lots — the area originally designated for the village's growth. The Parklands Estate was originally planned in 1982 for 250 houses, with huge tree plantings to create the ‘park’ atmosphere (though the name Park is actually a reference to the older monastic uses of the area.) Parklands has continued to grow, it’s ease of access to the redeveloped A595 via the (now heavily overburdened) White Bridge attracting many people who work in Barrow and Ulverston. While many Askamites and Irelethites moved to Parklands, the estate’s arrival has significantly changed the demographics and geographic focus of both villages.
Above: ‘Two street scenes in Askam, c. 1908. The left-hand scene shows Dalton Road facing the Furness Railway line. Occupants of the road at the time included William Charles Walker, miner and property owner, at No. 31 and William Longstaff, the joiner, at No. 13. The right-hand picture shows the junction of Duke Street and Duddon Road, where William Stelfox Jervis ran his grocers shop in 1910.’ Garbutt & Marsh, p154.
Early in 1981, Barrow Borough Council’s attempt to make part of Ireleth a conservation zone was opposed by County Planning Officer Windsor Biggs. Mr Biggs did not consider Ireleth to be worthy of conservation status, saying: Although the older part of the village has long been established it comprises only a loose collection of buildings with little sense of unity. Neither the way the buildings are grouped together nor the way they are related to the landscape gives the village any special character, while the individual value of most of the buildings in the village has been reduced by the poor standard of recent conversions.
This is essentially true. Ireleth has no focal point, such as Lindal’s green or Urswick’s tarn. Askam’s growth resulted in Ireleth Road cutting a line down the hill, and many of the older buildings which huddled the old road were demolished as the road’s expansion and then private strip development took place. (This is graphically illustrated in the painting of Ireleth - from Brow Foot, painted around 1951, right - which accompanied the news article.) The growth of Ireleth Road as the main thoroughfare has, however, allowed parts of Saves Lane to remain intact.
Hannah Ashburner senior was the daughter of Captain Porter of Ireleth Old Hall, which was said to be ‘originally surrounded by tall and beautiful trees, and adorned in the interior with excellent woodwork’. The Hall passed to Hannah’s son, Robert William (Hannah junior’s brother); and, when he parted with it, the new owner sold the lead from the roof for £200. According to T.E. Casson, who originally transcribed Margaret’s diary, village tradition states that the door of the cellar was of spacious size, to admit the captain’s kegs of rum. Most of the entries in Margaret’s diary are very brief (a short extract is reproduced below to give the reader some idea), but added together they provide a picture of what it was like to be a curate’s daughter in Ireleth almost two hundred years ago.
As can be seen from this short extract, Margaret’s diary life focused on four main areas: what she ate; what she did; where she and her family went; and who they met with. Rather than list more of the entries (which are available in Casson’s article in Barrow Library) I have condensed some of the information into the four groups mentioned above in order to provide some insight into Ireleth home life.
The first category is food. It’s worth remembering that, in spite of improved agricultural methods and the introduction of foods from the New World, most people’s diet was still very plain by modern standards. Added to this is the fact that Margaret was writing during and at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. During this time Napoleon effected a blockade of the European ports, causing great hardship and food shortages for many Britons. Self-sufficiency, a way of life for most people in rural Britain, became an absolute necessity at this time.
I’ve been cautious and avoided making general statements, for many reasons. For example, the diary entries are incomplete and so the entries made might reflect seasonal trends, rather than true annual consumption patterns of the different foods. Also, what Margaret chose to mention might actually be untypical of what she normally ate. Did she write ‘milk to dinner’ because times were hard and that was all there was (and if so, what was the rest of Ireleth eating?), or because it was a treat to have milk with a meal, which perhaps consisted mainly of vegetables? (Vegetables — apart from the potato — rarely get mentioned, which could mean they were so commonplace they didn’t deserve a mention, or exactly the opposite — because they featured rarely in her diet.) Some foods were a mystery to me, though readers of this site have been extremely helpful in providing information I didn't know at the time of writing the book. For example, lobescouse is ‘a sailor’s stew, consisting of meat, potatoes, hardtack etc. [origin unknown]’.[14b] Hardtack, by the way, is ‘a mixture of flour and water without salt baked hard and used formerly on ships as a substitute for bread’. Podash is actually porridge, not taty hash as I'd originally assumed. Wm Barrow Kendall’s Furness Word Book (begun at Salthouse in the year 1867) records poddish as the local word for porridge. Fegg Sue (or 'sewe') is a dish made of figs, treacle bread and spices cooked in ale, and was a Cumbrian Easter tradition, eaten on Good Friday. [14c] Cumbrian food expert Ivan Day provided information on "crrow pye" and "batty pye", both of which feature in Margaret's diet. The word "batty", says Ivan, is probably a corruption of "battalia", and refers to "little tidbits of offal, like sweetbreads, testicles, coxcombs and other internal organs". These pies often had baby pigeons and rabbits in them too. Batty pie started out as an aristocratic food, but the version Margaret ate was probably made with squab pigeons and young rabbits. Crow pie, or rook pie, is apparently still eaten in some Cumbrian villages, such as Lessonhall near Wigton. It's made from young birds that have been culled, and are eaten on special occasions. For anyone interested in historic food, I strongly recommend a scroll through Ivan Day's web site.
Right: ‘Ireleth mill with part of the steeply sloping beck diverted along a race to the overshot wheel, on a card posted in 1906. The miller, covered in flour, is standing by the door.’ The mill was probably built during the Napoleonic Wars. Garbutt & Marsh, p.155.]
The most commonly mentioned protein meal is beef, either cold or roasted (mentioned 36 times). I found this surprising given the importance of sheep in the area, and had expected more mutton and estuary fish (such as fluke and, in season, salmon). However, mutton was mentioned only six times, fluke four times and salmon eight times. Possibly the beef was salted or preserved beef brought along the turnpike road from Kendal, as the most common fish dish was herring, another food which may have been bought preserved. Potatoes, either roasted or in different forms such as podish, pies and puddings, were mentioned 56 times, making it by far the most common type of food. Few other vegetables were mentioned, the only others being ‘greens’, cabbage and turnips.
The overall picture which emerges is of a plain diet, possibly not well balanced by modern standards (unless vegetables which were being consumed weren’t mentioned). The mainstay was potatoes and beef, spiced by the occasional herring, bacon, salmon and veal. Food preservation was limited, and so those foods which were eaten once tended to be eaten for the next two or three days until everything was finished. Food was seasonal. Some foods were brought from outside the village, probably on her father’s trips to Ulverston (though Margaret herself records a trip to Pennington for eggs). An appendix in the original printed history listed all the foods mentioned in the diary, with frequency of mention.
The second category, tasks, shows a quiet life, punctuated by moments of excitement. The most common tasks, in order of frequency of mention, were cleaning, washing, mending, house affairs, knitting, baking, making clothing, gardening, sewing and mangling and starching. Other activities mentioned included getting the rent (perhaps tithe rent due the parish), going nutting, brewing and (believe it or not) cleaning the parrot! Articles of clothing made include an apron, four shifts, three sets of stockings, a plaited bonnet for her mother, a bedgown and a nightcape. Her gardening activities aren’t closely described, but it sounds as though the house was self-sufficient in some vegetables (she mentions sowing potatoes) and hives were kept for honey.
The third category is places. I recorded all the places mentioned, though not all of them were places which Margaret herself went to. She tended to record her father’s visits to Ulverston (by far the most commonly visited place) and Urswick, most likely on church business, and her parents’ trips to relatives at Moorside for tea. The most commonly visited place which Margaret mentions is the chapel, which she went to every Sunday. She also mentions visits to Ulverston, Dalton, Lancaster, Marton, Pennington, Marsh Grange, Roanhead and ‘the sea shore’ — probably Askam shore, which was then known as Ireleth Marsh. Other places are mentioned which I’m not sure about, these include: Wana (Walney?), Greensea (Greenscoe? not much there then), Pertree and Ouldpark (this could be Old Park Farm, Near or Far). Her sister Hannah also went to Park, which is probably Park farm at Askam. Other more social events include two recorded trips to Dalton, for balls and Easter celebrations, for which she and Hannah stayed overnight with relatives. This must have been a huge event in Margaret’s life! She also records visits to five funerals, and two visits to the Dalton Assembly. Her brother Robert was lucky enough to go to dance school at Dalton in February 1819, and in January of that same year Margaret herself went to a dance at John Postlet’s (Postlethwaite’s?) house on the day prior to a christening. She also records a visit to ‘Mr Lishman’s Publik day’, whatever that was.
In the fourth and final category, people, a large number of different people are recorded. Many appear to have been travellers stopping over en route elsewhere (remember that in spite of the turnpike road it still took four days to get from Cumberland to Lancaster). Other visitors include what amounted to the local gentry, or that level of the local gentry who mingled with the curate. Another group of visistors were those with injuries, as it appears that the Rev Ashburner (or some members the household) administered medical aid to the local population.
As an interesting aside, the Ashburners appear among the last Ireleth people to have been buried at St Cuthbert's, Kirkby, before the graveyard at St Peter's, Ireleth, was sanctified. The Revd Robert (Margaret's father) was buried at St Cuthbert's in 1840, aged 86, and Hannah senior was buried there in 1852, aged 78. I'm not entirely sure why the Ashburner's were buried at St Cuthbert's; I would have thought that Ireleth's administrative connection with Dalton, Ulverston and Pennington would have resulted in their burials there. However, as stated above, there is a marital connection with the Todds of Kirkby, and perhaps this connection with the area went back further still.