Monday, 23 December 2013

Snow on the Home Front, the Winter of 1940.

Winter 1940 and snow falls across the Furness Peninsula. The snow keeps falling, heavily, creating large snow drifts, blocking up doors and windows, preventing the use of roads and freezing ponds, rivers and even the sea! This was some of the worst snow the area had seen in recent memory.

"A perfectly unbelievable day! My husband could not open the garage door on the side of the house, and had to get out the dining-room window and dig four feet of snow from the back door - which opens outwards. Poor old Mr. Murphy* took a leap onto the garden and disappeared - and instead of keeping still, started to tunnel his way madly under the snow. Talk about 'lost in a fog'!- Nella Last, 1940; Nella Last's War. *Mr. Murphy was a cat.

Whilst War began across Europe the people back home in Furness were up against a different kind of battle, one against the elements!

It was the first year of World War 2, rationing had just been introduced across the country and the worst snow fall of the recent times had fallen. As can be seen in the picture above and to the right the snow grew to large heights covering over doors preventing them from being opened. The picture above shows a dug out shelter in Barrow Park and right shows Dalton Road with the snow piled up at either side of the road. The snow at this time was hardly reported in newspapers for fear of letting the Germans know that the country was at a near standstill.

"All that is talked about is that the snow has brought most of the industry in the North and Midlands to a stop. Road transport is at a virtual standstill. The railway lines and tunnels are so blocked up they have to dig them out." Says Lilian Ryan who wrote her memories of the war in a book called 'Cos That's The Way It Was: A Child's Eye View of Wartime Barrow'. She also states that "Some people in villages near us are getting short of food and their pipes are so frozen up they have to boil snow to cook with."

Coast Road bus Snowed in at Aldingham
There was a wild blizzard on January 28th which caused roads and railways to be blocked. This made communication to other towns difficult. It also made it difficult for food to get through to shops. This, with rationing on bacon, sugar and butter, made life in the area, and across the country, pretty difficult. But as always through out the War people soldiered on and made do. 

"All of Morecambe Bay stretched a frozen waste and, far across, Morecambe itself looked as if it might be able to be reached on foot. The water had not frozen flat like water but, as it dashed on to any stone, had frozen in a smother like spun of sugar." States Nella Last in her War Time Diaries. It is not often that the sea fully freezes over but in 1940 the cold was so bad that it did and stayed frozen for quite some time. With all the roads blocked for transport many people, including Nella Last, would have to walk great distances through the snow to get to where they needed to be. Nella describes in her diaries how she walked all the way to Spark Bridge from Barrow to deliver her Aunts shopping for fear "she would be short on things". It's a true testament to the kindness and generosity of humanity that people would risk their own safety and well being to help others. It is something that was very apparent during the Second World War, as well as the First.

It is difficult to imagine exactly what everyone must have gone through at this time. What must it have been like to have no water due to frozen pipes and have to boil up snow? How hard must it have been to get around when the roads and railways were blocked? We are lucky in this day and age to have not suffered though such terrible weather. Granted we have had our fair share of cold and snowy winters but nothing seems to compare with what happened in 1940, especially with a War going on at the time! Life must have been very difficult. Thankfully weather like this was not seen again during the Second World War in Furness but other struggles would have to be over come...

Sunny Bank in 1940
The Main Road from Ulverston to Barrow blocked with
snow in 1940.

Above two picture Courtesy of M Tyson/North West Evening Mail.
Vickers Works at Devonshire Dock,
Winter 1940
Holker Street Stadium, Barrow.
January 1940
Duke Street, Barrow.
January 1940 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Ruined Walls of a Medieval Fortification, Gleaston Castle

On the road out of Gleaston, having past the water mill, a castle expands out from a farm yard into an adjoining field. This is Gleaston Castle, a structure erected sometime around the 13th Century.

The Castle is generally believed to have been started in the mid 13th century by John De Harrington I, who was a descendant of Michael Le Fleming the first Norman to settle in the area. He constructed the south west tower and part of the west wall. It was not until 1325, 28 years later that he or his son, John De Harrington II, continued construction at the Castle. This work was completed around 1340 and the De Harrington family took residence here for 118 years. It is in 1457 that William de Harrington, the last lord of Aldingham and Muchland, died and the castle was passed on. Eventually, by marriage, the castle passed to Thomas Grey, great grandfather of Lady Jane Grey, future Queen of England. In his ownership the castle fell into a state of decay and was a ruin by 1540. At a later date when the castle was in the ownership of the Preston's one of the South towers was made habitable for the family to live in until the early 1600s. Following this the Castle had many varying owners until being bought by a local farming family, the Websters, in 1926. The family still owns the Castle today and their farm sits right next to the ruins.

The Castle is set out with four tower buildings at the corners of four curtain walls. It, in a lot of ways, is much like your typical children's play set castle, if not quite as extensive. Gleaston Castle was never fully completed which may suggest its need as a fortification became obsolete. It is suggested that the Castle was built in reaction to the Scottish wars that were taking place at the time. Many castles were erected across Furness and Cumbria during this period including Dalton, Piel, Broughton, Millom and Sizergh Castles. Gleaston was probably built to replace an earlier castle that had been overwhelmed by the Scots. It is entirely possible that the Castle was built to replace the mote and bailey castle at Aldingham (which we will look at in a future post) that would have been of wooden construction. A new stone castle would have been a lot stronger and more able to withstand a Scottish attack. Also the positioning at Gleaston may have been more defendable than at Aldighman. Obviously this is purely conjecture on our part but it is reasonable to believe. With the Scottish Wars and raids not lasting particularly long the castle may have become redundant before even being finished, thus being left incomplete. As stated above the Castle was made fit for habitation in certain areas by later owners but as a working fortification it was unfinished.

Earlier we mentioned Thomas Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey, being in ownership of Gleaston Castle. Well it is thought that Lady Jane Grey herself visited the Castle not long before becoming Queen of England! The circumstances of her visit and if she really did are unclear but it is certainly nice to think that she may have. In the present day the Castle is in a very ruinous state with most of its curtain walls missing and it's towers being empty shells. It is hard to imagine the Castle today as it would have looked when it was fresh. The southern towers are the best preserved but the north western tower is slowly crumbling away and the north eastern has completely disappeared. Even being in such a dilapidated state the Castle certainly has a romantic and aesthetically pleasing look to it. The ruined walls with the ivy growing up them makes for some lovely photographs, even if the ivy won't be helping the structure in the long run. Although  it may be holding it together for now.

Gleaston Castle is unfortunately not open to the public as it is on private land but you can see it well from the road leading past it. You can easily find the Castle by foot or by car, head to Gleaston then head north past the water mill towards Scales and you will find it as you go. The Castle is a wonderful relic of a time gone by and is quite lovely to see. If you get the chance to venture past it take a moment to stop and look, think of its past and the people who once lived and visited here!

The next instalment of Furness Hidden Heritage will be released earlier than usual on Monday 23rd December. The blog will then go on a break over Christmas and will return on Tuesday 7th January.

Engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck 1727.