John Elliott – (CSWIG4)
CUMBRIA SPEAKS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
13 WEST STREET
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
© 2018 Cumbria Speaks Oral History Project
Respondent Code: CSWig4
Respondent: Frederick John Elliott
Date of birth: 30/04/1940
Date of Interview: 17/05/2017
Interviewer: Trevor Grahamslaw
Interview conducted at Johnny Elliott’s home.
TG Where were you born?
JE I was born in Stanwix Carlisle in a semidetached Laing built house at Knowe Park Avenue in Stanwix.
TG Do you have any brothers and sisters?
JE Yes I have an elder brother Daniel Christy Elliot who is also an architect. And…..
Wait a minute I’ve got a sister as well, my sister is Rosemary Jean Elliot and she trained as a school teacher but she is now retired and she lives in Whitley Bay.
TG What did your mother and father do for work?
JE My father worked for the greater part of his life at Cowan Sheldon’s in Carlisle but his background, my father was born right in the north of Ireland in Port Rush, and he came down to Belfast I would think in his late teens and he worked in a number of jobs the most prominent of which was to work for workman Clarke which was a ship building firm in Belfast not a s big as Hammond and Wolf but nevertheless they were known as the wee yard because it was smaller than Hammond and Wolf and they eventually went bust in 1935 and my father was on the sort of technical side and accountancy side and he moved over to, because when he was first married he and my mother married fairly late you know in the mid 30’s both of them, and he spent some time in port Glasgow. These shipbuilding firms had satellite work in all the big ports in Liverpool and Glasgow and he went over there to close a foundry down then after that he was redundant. But he worked for a number of firms in Belfast then one day one of the works engineers I think it was in Gallagher’s tobacco factory who took technical magazines, “Fred” he said this job would suit you down to the ground on the mainland in Carlisle as Cowan Sheldon’s assistant company secretary so my father applied for the job got an interview came over very early in the morning in the night and had his interview and had the rest of the day to put in at Carlisle he took a bus from the town hall to every terminus and he liked what he saw of course went back to Belfast that night.
And he got the job best move he ever made!
And my mother was very pleased because she had spent some time, she was born in Belfast also more formally educated than my father but she had spent time in England and of course came from a Yorkshire family, my grandfather taught at the Royal Belfast academic institute as a teacher, so she was quite familiar with England and was overjoyed when we decided to move and they both lived in this little house in Stanwix. My brother was born in 1937 I was born of course in 1940 and my sister in late 1942 so my mother was quite elderly really to have her children, but she never taught afterward her whole life after that was just bringing us up.
It wasn’t uncommon in those days, but Mr Shaw was headmaster at Stanwix school and if a teacher was ill he would send down for my mother and my mother would go and take a class you know and that sort of thing, I don’t think she was ever paid but it kept her in touch and that sort of thing.
TG What age group was she teaching?
JE She was teaching youngsters probably anything from 5 to 10. Just getting back to your father you mentioned earlier that he was self-taught? Very much so he went to night school, he had a lot of friends who were seriously minded and quite sort of keen at advancing you know, they went to night schools and took correspondence courses and one thing led to another then he eventually signed up to the Queens university at Belfast. And he got a degree about the time he was being made redundant really at the Queens university.
But wasn’t this quite unusual to go to…… oh it was yes. It certainly wasn’t a conventional means of education but that’s what was available to him and he took advantage of what was on offer. Very commendable and he was awarded with an offer a MBE? Oh eventually at Cowan Sheldon’s yes it wasn’t actually, Cowan Sheldon’s was sold off about 2 or 3 years before dad retired and they were amalgamated with a firm from William Rodley from Leeds and Clyde Crain they all amalgamated all these firms small firms weren’t able to compete and father was a director of that new firm for a couple of years until he retired in 65 ye.
TG So you attended Stanwix School?
JE Went to Stanwix school yes which in itself changed because when we 3 kids went to Stanwix school Mr Shaw was the headmaster and he was really a relic of before the Second World War and the school was very much run as it had been run before the second world war and Tom Armstrong probably came in the late 40’s and he was a real renaissance because he was a young fella he had been in the forces during the war and he had trained as a teacher, he brought new ideas and all these into the school curriculum.
What sort of things did he change? Very much the educational thing fitted the criteria of the time so that didn’t change too much because that would be directed from government and the director of education Cumberland. He brought in things like, he reintroduced the football team and he had dancing classes for the girls and that sort of thing and he encouraged people to play sport he was very good that way and he also introduced things like music you know and they entered Carlisle Music Festival, the school blossomed really.
And what was Stanwix like itself as a small boy?
Stanwix was er, it changed quite a bit because people still referred to it as, the top side of it as the village which was near the church and kells place around there and most of the people living in the village so to speak had worked for Little and Ballantyne’s on the big estate which Laing bought up in the 30’s and built where I was born. You know suddenly that all became built up, Knowe Road, Etterby-lea, that was all developed and previous to that it had been a big market garden, so it had changed very much so.
So later on you went to Carlisle Grammar School? Eventually in the 1950’s yes I went to Carlisle Grammar School.
What was your impression of Carlisle Grammar School? Well it was erm, one it was having to travel you suddenly moved out of the little closed Stanwix set up and you had to go into town either by walking into town, or bus more rarely only if it was wet, or we used to go on your bike so we used to trundle down across Eden bridges and across George Street to Carlisle Grammar School.
My brother of course had been there, he was in the 3rd year when I was in the first year, and that had ramifications in as afar as you know er, he taught me what to expect so I was completely green going there you know the initiation ceremonies when the big lads scragged you a wee bit and he taught me what to expect to some degree overlooked and protected me really.
Right were you showing promise at sport then? I’ll come to this later you were always keen, oh I was always keen at sport ironically my sister was probably the best athlete as a girl she was very, very quick you know she was erm, she could beat all the boys at running I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t the fastest I was keen on all games and of course embraced the games on offer at the Grammar School the rugby, football, running and athletics.
And you were also academically good at the Art’s when did you get an interest in being an architect?
Well I have a cousin who is still alive who is a qualified architect in Belfast and on one of our trips after the war, his mother my grand….erm my great aunt I suppose yes she showed me some of his drawing so I was ….. I was taken with that you know I was quite young at the time and there after I always said I was going to be an architect without knowing what it was really, and I still didn’t know what it was when I was at the Grammar school.
And yet you decided not to go onto sixth form, and to go on to Art College?
Yes well my brother had done that, you see there were three options you could stay on at sixth form without any advice what so ever but you had to plough your own furrow.
There was also the erm several lads had gone to the Art College, left school at 16 and taken a design course for 2 years and gone on to usually the AA school which was in London it was very well known, or gone on to Newcastle. And my brother had went before me so he had already decided to take that tack albeit he did a year in 6th form first, and then probably because of my interest he became interested and decided he would be an architect.
And took that sort of conduit to Queen’s at Newcastle. And the third option which was very old fashioned was that your parents paid a premium to say, a firm in Carlisle and you went as a student and you did all your testaments of study at night well you were actually paying for the privilege of working you know.
And the Art College would open you up to more Art’s?
Oh very much so yes and other people, and at the Art college you met, well Brian Campbell came the year after me along with Conrad Atkinson they are the most celebrated of my contemporise there.
I was the only one, well there was one other guy who latterly done the same course and then he dropped out, he went to kings and dropped out after a year but I was the only one going that way you know.
And you were in the cricket team? Oh yes mind none of us were in whites ha ha we were a motley lot but we enjoyed it you know yes it was good fun.
So leaving the Art College which was at Stanwix of course, oh course it was, it was very handy for me you went to Kings College at Newcastle? Yes Newcastle and Durham? Yes well it was part of Durham University at the time. Newcastle was probably better known for the engineering courses because they were heavily subscribed from the big heavy engineering firms existent on Tyneside.
So they had very strong mechanical and civil engineering schools and they had a big medical school of course but they had mining, and nautical marine’s engineering as well, they were the big departments. There was an agricultural department and fine arts and several smaller departments like law and economics even. They were very much junior to the engineering departments mechanical engineering that sort of thing.
And what was Newcastle like at that time? Just leisure or you know?
Well then as now it was very much sport wise with Newcastle United who were still basking in the glory of their cup wins in the 1950’s but the ground hadn’t changed, since I would guess the first world war.
And it had that aura of altitude it was pretty primeval to be going to St James’s Park those days but it was fairly close to the university of course so we used to trot along there. I also used to follow the rugby lads and of course I played a lot of badminton at university so…I was involved in that, I didn’t play much cricket because the summer term was very short and we had exams every summer term. So you didn’t have much time to spend a day playing cricket for instance, there were no fallow years where you could afford to play cricket for 6 weeks, so I never used to play I used to come home I had almost packed up playing cricket by that stage, but Cowen Sheldon’s had a team when I came back in the vax the university vax I played for them you know I was persuaded to play for them and I got my interest back for the game.
But you were also a very, very good badminton player and you were the captain?
I was top of Durham University and Kings College probably because I was always in the team but never the star guy, but I was there for 5 years so there was always a continuity I suppose.
And you were awarded a….. Well a platnet which was your colours, they had colours for Newcastle and for Durham.
So when you qualified for Newcastle University you told me the situation was like Newcastle was like one big club?, definitely yes, oh yes because most of the guys operating in offices in Newcastle at been trained at Newcastle so there was always this continuity spanning a number of years you know, so you tended to know people in all the big offices and some in smaller offices of course so if you got peed off with one job you could pick the telephone up and fix up an interview, and there was no formality about it, you just went along with a whole load of drawing and talked to the people and if they liked you they offered you the job!
It was quite simple in that respect.
Which was the first firm worked for?
I worked for Williamson’s they were known then as Williamson-Faulkner Brown’s. These names have changed but they were quite a new firm but quite innovative the trouble was that they were a big firm expanding all the time and they only had big projects, so you didn’t get the sort of experience that you really needed to get your hands dirty so to speak, running small jobs. They weren’t small jobs you were part of a team doing a big job, which was a wee bit frustrating because when you like most professions you had, when you came to sit your professional exams, your finals you had to show broad experience right across the board which was difficult in a big firm it carried the cash but a very respectable vergening firm with a good reputation but you only got one sort of training, which you were very much aware, well I was aware that you were lacking in experience on site and running jobs and making mistakes perhaps? Whatever, but learning the hard way.
So 2 years after qualifying at Durham or Newcastle so sat your finals for Royal institute and so at that time I had changed, once I had got my RIBA I changed to what would be the professor of an architects firm there was about 5 partners and they again had a good reputation very.. erm a big firm and I worked down on the quayside opposite the… right where the swing bridge comes up and I worked there for 5 years and again it was getting stereotyped because I was getting the experience I needed on site but the way I looked at it if I stayed with that firm that was all I was ever going to do!
So I changed again to another firm Rider and Yates another big firm who won many design prizes who were sited up at Killingworth in a purpose built building there I worked there for 2 years, and by that time I had met Isabel and the prospect of Isabel getting as good a job as she had over in the factory over in Newcastle were probably less than me getting a decent job in Carlisle.
So I came back to Cumbria in about 1971 early 70’s anyway. I worked for Johnstone and Right’s for 3 years, where I got good experience you know I enjoyed it there, the trouble was it bottomed out in so far as salaries as Carlisle was not a big wage earning area, so unless you were a partner you weren’t going to make a good lot of money which wasn’t the primary function for me but never the less it was important.
And we were building this spot, you know we were building our lives up really so anyway Isabel particularly persuaded me to apply for a job at Carlisle City which was the first time I had really made a formal application, and I went to Carlisle City in 1975 and there was an immediate hike of £1000 which was a lot of money in those days on the salary and I stayed there for 22 years.
Taking a step back there you moved to Cumbria and you met Isabel, how did you meet Isabel. Well because I was still keen to play badminton I came back at weekends and met Isabel at what they called the corporation Badminton club, and she and I partnered up and started courting and eventually got married in 1972.
We honeymooned, we had a little cottage which we rented near Wheyrigg and we honeymooned… we had been up to the Commonwealth games in 1970 up in Edinburgh and enjoyed that thoroughly and we thought right we better get married where should we go for a honey moon ? we will go to the Olympics, and of course you signed up for the Olympics and you put money down without knowing where you were going at all, you got your tickets which was fine but our accommodation was miles away! It was almost on the Austrian border this was Munich Olympics the equivalent journey I worked out was, going by train going down to Wigton station then going on the local train and going to the rail head shall we say, getting off at Newcastle, and getting on to another train and going to Sunderland every day! There and back which was quite tiring really. We were staying in a little spot called Ruhpoldling which was an idyllic almost little outlying town Austrian, well not Austrian but a Bavarian town, very picturesque and we were going into Munich by train across Munich to the Olympic park which was the other side of Munich and back again and most of athletic things were in the afternoon but of course Isabel being a great swimmer wanted to see the swimming and we had great seats for the swimmers but we had to leave early you know so we only saw half of the swimming but we did see Mark Spitz who won many Gold medals, so that pleased Isabel. But half way through the Munich Olympics of course was this tragedy of Israel’s team being attacked in their quarters and erm, there was quite some doubt as to whether the games would continue. It eventually continued after a couple of days but it was quite eerie going into the Olympic Park because here you were with the sort of music and festival air, and here and there was all these armoured personnel carriers sort of guys bristling with guns so it was a bit sort of odd.
But in effect it didn’t affect us too much, we were nowhere near where the atrocity occurred, but it did put a different air on it, it was interesting, put it that way.
And when you came to Wigton and bought the house we are sitting in now, what was it originally?
Well it was merely, it was West End Farm which was a very small farm, the farm house was occupied by people who worked for Hopes, Hopes owned it, Hopes Auction. The buildings here were used for storage no more than that but we were friends of Stuart Robinson who was the assistant managing director, through a badminton connection really and he said erm, we were disappointed really because we were going for a bungalow which went eventually to a director of Hopes Auction and always was going to a Hopes Auction, so whether he was a bit sheepish about that I don’t know.
But anyway he said “well what’s Johnny interested in “? And I said “anything, a site or building to convert or, another property “oh he’s said “Well we’ve got these properties in west end Farm” which were redundant as far as the Auction company was concerned, so I came and had a look at these and saw the possibilities, so we bought these, and to be very fair Hopes were very reasonable with us, and sold us the properties, and we began converting.
I was lucky because the difficulty was the road West Street was still a trunk road and through badminton we knew there was going to be difficulties getting out on to the road because it certainly wasn’t going to be ideal, one of the chaps who played badminton at Carlisle he was not much of a player but, it’s quite selfish in badminton clubs, because there’s only a limited amount of court space so all the poorer players you know always ended up picking sets and things like that and some of the better players and not particularly keen on playing the poorer players, but I played with this guy he was a very nice fella. And it turned out it helped me because he said he would have a word and he had a word and we got planning permission, which was very important of course.
And we set too and I had one chap helping me well I helped him basically I laboured for him and over 3 years we converted the first part of this property, whilst living out at Wheyrigg where we were quite happy. But anyway we moved here in 1975 on a lovely day in October and have been here ever since. And we’ve been very happy here, eventually in… Isabel’s father died in 1982 and we thought well, Isabell’s mum was renting a bungalow on Croft Court and we thought well whatever she was paying for the rent it would go to extending our mortgage and we would put on a granny flat which we are sitting in really and we built this granny flat and Isabell’s mum came to live with us for about 20 years happiest days of her life she said, so it all worked out extremely well.
What was Wigton like in 1972 when you moved here?
Well it hadn’t changed a huge amount the new estates had made a difference I feel erm all the pubs were open and that was a significant sort of thing. There were many pubs which have since reduced drastically in size which you never have thought would have happened in any town never mind Wigton so that was a fundamental change. I think the influence of people coming to live in Wigton changed things a bit because prior to that I would guess it would be pretty insular, you know Melvyn Bragg’s and Isabel’s school days it would have been a very different sort of place than it is now but the core things still shone through the school particularly which happily improved in status and that sort of thing over the years, there’s a reduction in school sports which I find a bit disturbing you know there was no real organised school sports with other schools had been the case in my day at school, but the heart of the place I don’t think has changed very much at all there’s still surprising , people come to the fall and achieve things that you might not expect in a small town. Unfortunately as it’s the case in most small towns they may have to move to achieve these things. But nevertheless I feel the sort of lad that does well coming from even the most humble of backgrounds never loses touch with the town which is not the case everywhere. I think if a lot of people achieve great things want to forget where they’ve come from, whereas the tendency I feel with guys from Wigton they still have a soft spot for the place and come back, and they come back on Wigton’s terms whatever you have done, and I’m sure Melvyn Bragg recognises this, that erm you come back on Wigton’s terms whatever you have done. You still…. Oh here’s Melvyn or whatever, you know not Lord Bragg and I think that’s healthy that’s good.
Because you came in 1972 and married a Wigton girl? “Oh very much so yes” but an outsider form Carlisle, “Ye a castor oiler” But easily accepted? Yes because I didn’t come up with any pretentions that I was better than anybody else or I had been in the big city or anything like that, I recognised what Wigton was and erm you know and it kept….. Not that I had pretentions to being anything other than I am erm it does help to keep your feet on the ground. You know when people erm oh yes aye people just take you for what you are, “Yes” not for what you think you are.
And of course once again heavily involved in the sport and the cricket club? “Yes” “Yes” well im sure if I’d stayed in Carlisle, I had played cricket in Carlisle I wouldn’t be involved at all but I played, I suppose into my early 50’s you know I was no more than a bloomin journey man really but erm I was always keen and did my best I had my odd moments, I played with some good guys, and thoroughly enjoyed it and when my playing career was coming to an end I became treasurer and been treasurer for over 30 years that’s not a job that’s easy to get rid of but anyways it keeps me involved.
Taking a step back because you worked with, was it the chief architect at Carlisle City Council? I was what they called a principal architect but that’s… “You were involved in a lot of heritage work”? Yes old building is what I remember most.
“Can you remember any that you distinctly you worked on“? Oh yes and the first one I worked on was the Guild Hall at Carlisle which taught me one heck of a lot I learnt an awful lot, there was Lawson’s the joiners I remember it being bought up by John Cubby eventually but I worked with 3 particular guys on the Guild Hall which was kind of 14th Century late 13… no 14th century early 14th century. One of the few timber framed buildings in Carlisle to have survived, and that was a one year sort of contract working very closely principally with 3 joiners, one who’d just retired, one foreman who was I supposed well experienced and active you know, and one just out of his apprenticeship.
They were the 3 principal guys albeit the workshops would produce the work you know produce things to be erected and things. And I learnt an awful lot from them I used to walk up every day just to see what was going on just have a chat and walk back again, very, very nice very interesting contract.
Did this give you an interest in older buildings? “Oh certainly yes because it erm it really struck home to me just erm architects in general have a reputation can be pretty arrogant sort of people you know with big ego’s and that sort of business and here we were working on a very old building which was you know had been there for many hundreds of years beforehand and hopefully was going to be there as part of Carlisle’s heritage, and you were with the privilege of working upon it you know.
And not only that but learning the things, that fella’s went about things, materials and, very basic stuff but quite, very rewarding but erm, you had to subject yourself as far as interest as to what was the most important thing you couldn’t particularly put your personal stamp on it. And yet you had to give it your all to make sure it was done properly.
“Were you involved in newer builds in the..?” A bit of housing I mean the principal function of the architects department there was to build council houses and that was the reason for attracting and building the staff up but over the years that became less and less, and in fact petered out all together so you’re importance as a guy on the hierarchy, politically you were no longer important you know as my time there went on. So it was a good time to get out after 20 odd years.
And really I suppose fairly selfishly I just sort of concentrated personally I liked, it would have benefitted me to become more interested in management rather than the job and I was more interested in building and that sort of thing and I don’t regret that one bit, it did put erm, it stopped you going higher because oh if you were anything to do with the architectural work that’s not the case erm and I don’t regret that at all, it suited me, it suited whatever talents I’ve got.
And certainly meant that I kept up my skills on the drawing board that sort of thing, which you would lose very quickly if you went into management. And that helped when I left Carlisle I was, 57 I had this illness, which, I had never been ill before, and I had this abscess on my appendix and I was quite seriously ill for quite a time you know and erm, I was off work for a bit and that really made me think about things you know for the first time, my boyhood had finished and I was mortal and that erm didn’t really concentrate on my mind. But that all, within a couple of years the interest of the job there almost ceased because there was no volume or interest of work and no prospect of any interesting work coming up. And erm, so I got out while I had the opportunity.
And yet it gave you a taste for heritage because of your work with the churches?
Oh certainly yes well I had always built up my….and I had always had a wee bit of a practise and at home and erm, and built up this…. Well I never made a huge amount of money, it was useful money and not only that I could take on the jobs that I wanted to do. And not have to do the jobs whether I wanted to do it or not. And it coupled with my interest in sort of erm, ancient buildings I did a number of what we call quinquennial inspections on churches which is a 5 yearly inspection which they have to have and I did mostly little churches in the countryside, many of which were listed buildings. So that was a particularly interesting tine for me and I became very fond of quite a number of them you know.
Which unfortunately are now like the pubs, “They are closing yes” another one St Leonards at Warwick Bridge that closed and at least one in Maryport closed that’s the way of it!
Getting back to Wigton now, how do you fill your life now?
Well when I was a small boy my father used to say to me, he would say “Johnny if I could draw like you I would draw every day” and I used to say to dad, “Dad if you had drawn as much as me you wouldn’t”!
So I’ve started drawing in my own little way, how can I say it? I keep saying very cynically to Isabel, she will say “oh that’s wonderful” when I do a wee free hand drawing usually of buildings or something like that and I’ll say “it aint”! You now it’s all right but she thinks it’s very, very good.
And other people think they’re not bad as well, my mother would have liked them probably because of my training at the Art College I know the limitations, but nevertheless that’s what I do, I do drawings usually on tracing paper I’ve got a technique and then erm, colour printing.
“And these drawing are of the town”? Yes of the town and I try to get interesting, not sort of erm, the conventional views of Wigton but views from erm, usually try to get an elevated position because it’s something that you don’t have just walking round but it’s always interesting for me that slightly elevated position it’s just something slightly different and yet its erm try and put the buildings in context of its surroundings in the town. I suppose you could say that most of the building you could probably tell that most had drawn by an architect because you look for the detail there, it’s just second nature you know. But I enjoy doing that and I do it in my, I feel the kind of urge to do a drawing I would erm, I would start you know I could probably start tomorrow, but ive got one or two little things to do you know round about that sort of thing but erm, anyways I just take to it when I feel like it, and I do a few drawings.
The drawings are very valuable because they are a different perspective, oh yes, from a different outlook, “Yes” and architects of the town, and they are brilliant for that and erm.
Right I would just like to get back to what Wigton is like now? And how you feel about the place, and when you come out of your front door walk down that little cobbled lane into West Street, what do you feel about Wigton?
Well you know it’s obviously very, very familiar it looks physically, I mean if you were being critical it does look tired erm, the empty shops and that sort of business and the absence of any activity above the shops very often which could lead to a further deterioration of the fabric, but for all that it’s the people really, you know you keep bumping into people that you are pleased to see and they have time to have a bit of a craic with you, from all different aspects and different experiences and different jobs a lot of my pals now are retired of course and have time to have a bit craic.
And you would walk along, and particularly on the first run along high street on my regular walk around Cuddy Lonning I would expect to see 2 or 3 people of whom I know well enough to stop and have a bit craic so I enjoy that.
“You enjoy the characters there still are characters in Wigton and occasionally I go shopping, one time Isabel was unwell and I was sent out shopping and I had a technique of going into shops looking helpless, and some matronly soul would come up and help you and that’s the technique I used.
And one type of shopping which I have not given back to Isabel’s responsibility is the WI market on a Tuesday, and I go first thing on a Tuesday morning and get loaded up with the cakes and things, mind I’m a diabetic so I can’t eat a lot of these things but the scones and things like that I can eat, that’s my stock up every Tuesday morning.
It’s like a piece of old Wigton that market! “Absolutely great”! They’ve all got new jumpers by the way Mattox provided them with new jumpers this week.
Very, very good, it’s their 50th anniversary, “yes it is yes” “Grand lasses”
Yes and I’ve noticed you walking down the street and you seem to barely make a few yards, (And I meet somebody else) and saying hello to everybody.
“And is there any particular characters you keep bumping in to”? Well Rocky Wallace an ex fitter at the factory I see him maybe twice a week he’s waiting for me, he’s a more serious walker than I am, so I don’t see him every day but I expect to see him every other day and we will walk round together and get the local craic you know so, what’s going on and I can tell him what I’ve learnt and that sort of business so I look forward to seeing Rocky and we walk round and chew the cud.
And of course you also stand close to Rocky at the rugby? “At the rugby yes” which you rarely miss a home game, “that’s right yes” and that group that stands at the far end of the pitch? “Well we go down there largely because, here’s me and my monotonous traits coming out and we can use a bit of bad language without offending anybody, hopefully, and we go down there because there’s less, less females about and those females that do venture down there accept what happens. So were quite happy with that.
“Yes it seems to be a man’s club”? Oh well a little man’s club without being totally so you know we do behave ourselves if there is a foreign body or two about, “Yes erm the rugby club it is an integrated part of the Wigton society”? “Oh well it is indeed, ye, ye, ye.
And other characters you mentioned Jimmy Blair? Jimmy Blair yes he’s one of my pals he’s 90 year old and he’s a big pigeon man and he’s not as mobile as he was erm and he has to go down there on his scooter. I don’t see Jimmy every week but I’m always pleased to see him when I do. And when he was a little bit fitter he used to ride about on his bike all the time, and I would see him and he would maybe be on the other side of the street and he would shout, it would be a command it wasn’t a request “Johnny” and I would say Hiya Jimmy what the craic”? 2and he would say hers 6 banty eggs for ya “and he used to reach in his pocket and take out these banty eggs and I had to walk round cuddy lonning with 6 banty eggs in my pocket hoping I never met anyone that said “Oh its Johnny Elliot” bang! Anyway when I got home Isabel could always tell I had met Jimmy because I had a big smile on my face.
He once said why do you bother having a bit craic with me you know you’re an educated fella? I said Jimmy you’ve had life experiences that I have never had I’ve always been interested in that you know and what other people have done, I mean he after all he had been in the army and been shot at by some nasty German’s I said that in itself is quite an experience you know, which again thankfully I have never have had. So Jimmy is a typical, he’s spent all of his life, or just about all his life in Wigton. And can tell you things about Wigton when he was a boy which again I find very interesting it’s an entirely different erm. I think Wigton has changed again since I come to Wigton but has changed probably as radically at a time Mike and his wife, Melvyn and Isabel when they were kids, the town has changed since then you know it’s grown in size of course physically and you know people are more mobile as they don’t spend necessarily their whole life in Wigton. They tend to think the world’s their oyster and quite a number of lads were in China you know, making a career out there.
“Of course the factory…….” The factory of course is big, “Big” yes a big international firm and erm and has given very good living to a broad spectrum of people from managers down to workers.
It’s been a great thing for the town and long may it last!
And I think finally as you were an architect you mentioned about the corn market, I think physically the re-organisation of the corn market and the removal of the cars there. For heaven’s sake I know we need car parking all over the place, it was very convenient but, it has produced a decent sort of urban area in front of the church which is very welcoming. A lot of people just want to sit or whatever you know and I think it’s a big, big improvement.
Do you think there’s been any similar improvements in the town over the years? Well little bits and bobs little bits of landscaping. My big bug bare is the Auction Mart site. I mean we are getting the planning authorities out, this is one of my beefs! Spend a huge amount of time talking about things like replacement of timber sash windows with UPVC and yet say absolutely nothing or very little about the biggest sort of physical stain on the town hard by what is supposed to be a conservation area namely the old auction mart site. Which physically I think is a danger and one might think it’s an adventure playground and it could easily be an accident waiting to happen. And if one area of the town needs to be developed for the benefit of the towns people both as an ideal site for houses or some sort of mixed development, but ideally for housing which if it was decently designed you know would be a huge contribution to the centre of town and you know would make it, increase the vitality and everything and physically be a wonderful thing.
“Because the town like other towns is building on the edges”? “Yes” and why? We’ve got a site there that’s ideal for development, to me if it’s all sort of, key sort of erm, aims if you like, and yet its lying there and nobody is sort of saying look let’s get pushing on.
“What do you feel about the 500 plus houses that are going to be built in the town minimum in the next few years”?
Well I’m not totally convinced that its particularly necessary to me Cumbria, North Cumbria is erm, economy in general is fairly flat, flat lined. There’s no obvious things of anything in the pipeline that’s gonna bring a huge number of people to the area and yet their talking about these astronomical bloomin numbers, an di doubt also that the infrastructure is there to do it satisfactorily and that’s you know sort of earning a living sort of designing houses as well erm, I’m not a hypocrite it is needed people should be decently housed er, but I’m not totally convinced about the numbers.
“Certainly very interesting there from your point of view and any future historians and finally again I have a feeling you are extremely fond of Wigton”? Oh Yeah I don’t want to live anywhere else! If I won an awful lot of money which is extremely unlikely erm, I wouldn’t live anywhere else, we complain about the climate and that sort of thing but Wigton suits me! Its grand because I like the people, in fact when Rocky and I are walking round and we pass somebody and they don’t speak you think well he’s not local and whatever, it sort of identifies as a foreign strain really, I like that you know, and people talk to you for what you are, you know. And erm I’m quite happy with that. “That’s great” I’ve no hang ups at all.
Just to go back one little bit, about my interest in Wigton local history was erm was Tommy Miller. He brought, carried bits of sand and materials for me and then he carted or wanted doing he would come with erm, he emptied houses and he would come up with an old photograph and things like that and erm he had quite a number of, nothing catalogued or anything like that you know but a few old photographs and erm, which in themselves were of interest and objects that he brought “do you think this is of any value “? You know, and there was one occasion when he brought… he brought some medallions and he had cleaned them up slightly and erm, there was things defined upon them and he said “what do you know about these? And erm I was working at Carlisle then so I went to see the guys at Tullie house and they said oh well you know they said they’re not coins at all, but they were medallions produced at the time of Frederick the great and this great protestant moved across Northern Europe and he fought battles and things like that and was very popular in England because they were a similar sort of strain of anti-Catholics, but erm, and they had produced these medallions and Tommy thought that they were gonna make his fortune, well I took some brass rubbings and I sent them down to the… I am a member of the archaeological society Cumberland Westmorland and I noticed in one of the notes in that particular year’s transactions that a guy had joined from the British Museum and he was a coin expert, so in for a penny in for a pound so I wrote to him you see at the British Museum he wrote back saying his interest was in Roman coins but these were well know medallions produced at a certain time to commemorate Frederick the Great’s defence of Proticism and they were religious but of no value, but Tommy used to come up with little things you know which I found, you know I take on because I was interested myself and interested to see how far they would go. And again he had lots of old photographs of some of the mines at Aspatria and things like that and things of interest and some of those photographs of the old Wigton shows and various sort of people on them erm you know from way, way back , floats and things like that.
Another life but the same one as well! “Absolutely”