The Way It Was - by Donald Angus

As one gets older it’s nice to sit in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night and think of days gone by.  My thoughts often turn to my home village of Threlkeld and its connection with mining and quarrying in the area.

My first recollections was at a very early age when I went with my father to Woodend Mine above the village to look at the junk that was for sale after its closure.  To me as a small child it seemed to be nothing but rubbish; bundles of tin sheeting and timber, tied together with old rope and displaying a lot number.

At that time my father was working at Greenside mines.  I remember him coming home with his miner’s helmet and wearing his clogs.  He was a cobbler by trade, but during the war it was difficult to make a living so he went into the mines and made clogs in his spare time.

I recollect some of the stories he would tell as I sat on his knee in front of the coal fire with a paraffin lamp for light.  One story that sticks in my mind is about the Italian Prisoners of War who were sent to work at Greenside.  They said it was against the Geneva Convention to mine for lead to make bullets to shoot their own people.  He said the first words they learned in English were…Me do no drillex, sit on arse all day”.

Many people from Threlkeld worked at Greenside; their transport was in an old red and cream Leyland bus driven by Joe Hewer.  The small number working night shift would be taken in Ernie Hind’s taxi.  It was not only Greenside that employed people from Threlkeld. The mines at Force Crag and the Caldbeck fells employed a fair number of men during the middle of the last century.  In addition many limestone quarries in the Penrith area used labour from the village.  Transport to work was in the back of a lorry with a wooden frame covered with a canvas sheet.  The lorry didn’t stop on the return journey; the men would just step off the ladder at the back of the lorry on to the road; a skill that needed a little practice to perform correctly!

Threlkeld was a thriving village. It had four grocers’ shops one butchers, two cobblers, a blacksmith, a Post Office, a joiner’s shop, one tailor, three pubs and a chip shop.  The Public Room was a hive of activity with dances every Saturday night and film shows two nights a week.  The billiard room was very busy; men would book in on their way home from work.

In 1947 work commenced on the re opening of Threlkeld Quarry.  This took workers away from some of the quarries in the Penrith area, but most of the miners stayed in mining; it was in their blood! 

Mining carried on in the Caldbeck area until the 1960s many Threlkeld men worked at Potts Gill.  They would travel with Bill Shaw in his old Land Rover. 

In the late 1960s mining for barytes ended in the Caldbeck fells.  This was the end for many men who had spent their working lives in a subterranean world often shortening their lives through hard work, dust and bad air.

In the late 1970s the price of tungsten was high; so after many years of closure the Carrock wolfram mine re opened.  This brought work for many young fit men.  Some of the old miners who had worked at Greenside and Potts Gill returned to show them the ropes.

Now all this has gone.  The days of a stable community of hard working men has gone.  No longer does the clatter of miners’ clogs echo down our streets.  Today tourism is our main industry - but the village is still alive with many newcomers adding their contribution; bringing new ideas for work and play.

If you wish to know more about mining visit one of our mining museums at Threlkeld Quarry or Otley Rd Keswick.

Donald Angus (The Old Man of the Mountains)

If you have any memories, stories or tales to tell about Lakeland life please write into the editor beneathblencathra@hotmail.co.uk.