Horse and cart brought daily milk to the doorstep

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OUR rural communities rarely hit the headlines but the passing decades throw up a wide range of fascinating stories and local characters whose memory should be preserved for future generations to read about.

The new book From Highways to ‘Byways’ by the Rev Canon David Dixon presents a picture of growing up in the village of Thwaites, near Millom, in the 1930s.

Mr Dixon was born in Enfield, Middlesex, and a childhood move north came as something of a culture shock.

He notes: “In Hallthwaites there was neither gas nor electricity; illumination was via oil lamps and all cooking was carried out over an open range – even to the making of a cup of tea.

“We did however have a tap, just one tap but it provided the family with fresh, cold water.

“This water was sourced from a location near Black Beck, some two or three fields behind the woollen mill.

“It would be several years before Hallthwaites received its water supply from Baystone bank reservoir.”

Mr Dixon’s father was a Millom blacksmith by trade and had been wounded in the First World War.

Weekend leave from his north London convalescence nursing home took him to Hastings where he met his wife-to-be.

The couple, by then with six boys, set up home in at Byways, Hallthwaites, at the start of 1932.

There was not much by way of luxury but the boys seemed to enjoy themselves just the same.

He notes: “As a family, we played cards together on long winter evenings and told stories by the light of the fire.

“On Sundays we always enjoyed a roast, eating the remainder of the meat cold on Monday.

“Other meals consisted of fish, sausages and some quite mouth-watering products of my mother’s delicious home baking.”

In those days Thwaites still had the last remnants of an industry – the making of woollen rugs and blankets.

He notes: “This was carried out in a stone built shed, located near to where, until recently, the public telephone box once stood.

“This valiant last stand, of an all but deceased cottage industry, was the work of Jack Moore, who eventually moved the loom into an outbuilding behind the manor house.”

It is understood the end came in 1935 after the best part of three centuries of uninterrupted manufacturing.

Thwaites was a great place to grow up. An era before fears about strangers and traffic.

He notes: “We fully explored the surrounding countryside; were chased by the occasional irate farmer, for trespass; kicked the odd football around the hamlet or played a game of cricket.

“We certainly lit campfires, as all good cowboys did, and acted out scores of mini-dramas, whilst pretending to be our very own favourite film star.

Christmas in the 1930s was a special time.

He notes: “We boys were always up at the crack of dawn, diving excitedly into our stockings and duly making ourselves ill.

“Many years later my father told me that, one particular Christmas, all six of us had been sick by eight o’clock on Christmas morning.

“It may surprise the younger reader to learn that there was always a postal delivery on Christmas day.

“Our postmen were Timmy Tomlinson and Bob Lowry and they cycled to Thwaites from Millom every single day.”

Today, most people shop by car or even have a superstore van deliver their groceries.

In the rural communities of the 1930s it was rather different.

He notes: “Many of the items necessary for everyday living were delivered to one’s home.

“Fresh milk was brought, daily, by horse and cart from New Arnaby Farm; then owned by the Dawsons.

“It was not bottled of course but came in a large churn and subsequently ladled out, with a calibrated measuring scoop, into a vessel of the purchaser’s choice.

“As with the present, coal was also delivered along with paraffin oil and yeast for baking.”

Formal education for most of the Dixon boys came at Thwaite School, since rebuilt and enlarged.

The head teacher was Jas Adams helped by sisters Jenny and Ada Jackson who cycled in every day.

Punishment was swift and came by means of swishy stick.

One of the brothers holds the dubious record of being the very last name to entered in the school punishment book – six strokes of the cane for insolence.

Many of the local characters could be seen on Sundays at church, including local scoutmaster and squire’s wife Mrs Nichol.

He notes: “A keen horsewoman, she always came to church on horseback, complete with riding coat, jodhpurs and crop.

“She would dismount at the mounting stone, which can still be seen near the school and leave her steed in the church stables, now an annexe to the school and known as St Anne’s Room.

The church raised a little extra income by renting pews to some of the better-heeled families in the district – including those from Duddon Hall and Dunningwell hall.

Copies of From Highways to ‘Byways’ are available at £3.99 from Wharton’s Garage, Greetings, in Lapstone Road and from Scurrah’s and McPhillips in Wellington Street.

It is also available by post from Mr Dixon at Rheda, The Green, Millom LA18 5JA (add £1 for postage and packing).

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