Life and times growing up in Burton-in-Lonsdale

In the second part of his remembrances, William James Skeats (Jimmy) 1895-1982 looks back on the North Yorkshire village close to Lancashire border in the early years of the 20th century – as recalled in the early 1970s

By The Newsroom
Friday, 6th September 2019, 3:36 pm
Stone Bower in Burton-in-Lonsdale as it is today. Picture: Google Street View.
Stone Bower in Burton-in-Lonsdale as it is today. Picture: Google Street View.

Stone Bower, a large Georgian-style house adjoining the village green near to All Saints Church in Burton-in-Lonsdale, belonged to Frank Mason and was a ‘thorn in the side’ of the Rhodes family, owing to its filthy and verminous state.

He himself was in the same condition, though he was quite mobile and not decrepit.

We children were provided with quite a bit of entertainment and excitement some evenings when we were supposed to be sound asleep, as we watched old Frank, clad in his nightshirt and nightcap, hunting for fleas with candlestick in one hand as he turned over the sheets and indulged in ‘good hunting’, whilst we were enthusiastically making a running commentary, inaudible to him, of the great progress he was making, and the number of ‘kills’ and ‘misses’ he made.

High Street, Burton-in-Lonsdale, circa 1914. The village was locally called Black Burton, probably due to the smoke from its many potteries giving the village a dirty appearance.

He was a very quiet and inoffensive old bachelor. Kindly, but quite unwashed, and we kids used to ‘go to see him’ and were admitted into his living room.

We saw him knead his dough, and then bake it in the frying pan in round cakes, which he then cooled, put into a sideboard drawer till required.

The open fire on which he did his baking and frying, was of sticks and firewood which he gathered regularly, and kept quite a large stock in hand, nice and dry and very handy for use just through in the parlour.

He gave us stools to sit on, and talked to us in quite an interesting way.

Harry Dodgson's joiner's workshop, Hornby 1959. Jimmy Skeats (right) and Harry Dodgson's son, Raymond (left), are pictured outside the joiner's workshop. Jimmy Skeats made hundreds of poultry cabins during the inter war years. When the resurgence of poultry keeping came in the early 1950s, Jimmy was able to pass on his vast knowledge to a younger generations of joiners. When Harry Dodgson retired circa 1967, his workshop was demolished and the area turned into a car park.

Sometimes he played on his violin, rather an unmelodious scrape of bow on strings.

He was quite hospitable to we kids, was well spoken, kindly, sane and sober.

We always came out with more than we took in, as was evidenced by the ‘livestock’ mother found on us and in our beds afterwards, and her fight for days following to be quite rid (until our next infestation).

Mother told us that as a child she used to go to school there, and was taught by Fanny Mason, old Frank’s mother, and paid 2d a week for her tuition.

Burton-in-Lonsdale circa 1908. To the left of Burton Bridge stands Greta Bank pottery, owned by William Bateson. It was one of the last surviving potteries in the village. The photograph shows the top of the kiln, surrounded by a hovel, this protected the workers whiilst they shovelled coal into the fire mouths or unpacked the fired pottery. On the hill stands the church of All Saints with its lofty octagonal spire, a visible landmark for miles around.

Frank Mason left a nice sum of money to the charities at Burton-in-Lonsdale.

I hope he also remembered his daughter who had the final care of him, at her home in ‘Lairgill’ Bentham for several years, after he sold his house to the Rhodes.

The ‘new end’ which was added to Stone Bower on the site of Frank Mason’s house, had the original coach-house, stable and harness room re-erected on the bottom storey, with two living storeys above.

The Cumberland brothers, Joseph and Stephen, builders and contractors of Bentham executed the job (Also around the same time, built the new Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School on the site of two or three old cottages adjoining the chapel). Mrs Rhodes died around 1909-10, and was buried near to the eastern walk of the church.

The Reverend Charles Rhodes, shortly after his wife’s death, packed up and left the district to live near Chelmsford.

Edmond Thornton was a brother of Mrs Bond and Mrs Rhodes, and had, many years previously emigrated to Australia (Brisbane I think), where he married and had a family of three sons and three daughters.

One cold winter, the peace and quiet, which reigned in country villages in those days, was shattered some time around ten o’clock, by a great commotion.

The clatter of horses hooves, carriage wheels, and loud enquiring Australian voices, seeking the whereabouts of Stone Bower.

They got a shock when they found the place uninhabited, cold and dark and unwelcoming, and no sign of Reverend Charles.

However, with the help of neighbours, the caretaker, Simon Horner, was located in bed in Chapel Lane, awakened and brought round to Stone Bower with keys to let them in, where they must have spend a cold cheerless night.

Next day, most of the family found accommodation at the Punch Bowl Hotel in Low Street.

The family were: the widow of Edmond Thornton (Mrs Thornton), Her eldest son Thomas, a bachelor, second son Jim and his wife, youngest son Harry, a bachelor, eldest daughter Mrs Douglas, husband and baby son, Henry, and a baby daughter Margaret, second daughter Mrs Rose, husband and son, ‘Boy Rose’ and the youngest daughter about eighteen-years-old, Grace.

I think her second name was Hetherington.

Some of the family resided for the rest of their prolonged stay at the Punch Bowl, while others lived at Stone Bower and fed at the Punch Bowl.

Mr and Mrs Thornton had a daughter born to them at the Punch Bowl.

My mother attended her whilst she was in bed.

Mr and Mrs Douglas resided the whole time at Stone Bower, and engaged my sister Lucy as nursemaid to their children, Henry and baby Margaret. She became extremely attached to them, and they were installed in the ‘new end’. The large room being used as the nursery.

She and the children used to accompany Mr and Mrs Douglas on their journeys up to Aberfeldy on the Tay in Perthshire, northern Scotland. Also on their visits to relatives of Mr Douglas.

He was said to be the next heir to an earldom there, at Aberfeldy.

However, we have heard no confirmation of that over the sixty or so years which have elapsed since.

My sister’s charge of the children was very successful, they became very attached to her, and she to them.

When the time came for their return to Australia they wanted Lucy to return with them, but could not get my parents consent.

So they offered to take us, the whole family, out there, and find work for us all.

That kind offer was rejected too.

After the return of the Australians back home to Brisbane, nobody lived in the Bower for some time,, until 1914 and the commencement of the Great War, when Belgium was over-run and large number of refugees fled over to this country.

A large family of Belgians from Leir, near Antwerp, were sent to Burton and installed in Stone Bower.

All the villages around too, got their quota of refugees.

They were housed, fed and comforted by a committee in each district, formed for that sole purpose.

Until they, in due course, found work and became self-supporting. The family who were in Stone Bower were the Mariems from Leir.

The parents, Felix and Elizabeth between forty and fifty years of age.

Their eldest son was in the Belgian army in France, and their second son, a prisoner of war in Germany.

Their only daughter Anna, her husband Josef-van-Weert and infant son Francois. A daughter was later born to them, Marie. The five sons were Gomarus (16), Theofil (15), Florent (14) Constant (12) and Arthur (10).

Quite a fine family, who responded well to a little friendship and became ever so happy in the circumstances.

They soon found work at the local potteries, joiners, sawmills and masons and became self-supporting.

In a couple of years or so they found employment in London, and moved down there.

Gomarus reached military age and joined the Belgian army when he was called up.

After the war, they all went back home to Leir.

In 1918 Mr and Mrs Appleyard came to residet at Stone Bower, along with their son Stanley, who was a shell-shocked nervous wreck and ex-soldier. Their other son died in the war. His name is on the war memorial on the village green,

The village green was always called ‘The Cross’ long before there was a memorial cross there. The postal address of our house too was ‘The Cross’. Mr Appleyard was an electrical engineer, and extremely interested in the (then) new radio broadcasting and reception, and considered Stone Bower to be ideal for receiving, by radio, music from London and other big cities, quite a thrill in those days.

He tried to get permission from the Church authorities to fix a receiving aerial on the church, but was refused.

So, he approached the Parish Council for a permit to fix to the flagpole on the village green, but was again unsuccessful.

He felt he had been unjustly thwarted and was very hurt and had to make do by fixing to the Stone Bower chimneys, where, I’m sure, he had ample scope.

The Bateson family of Waterside Potteries acquired Stone Bower in the early 1920s and spent many years there. During the Second World War, Stone Bower was bought by Quakers and staffed by several very genuine conscientious objectors.

They took in, tended, and nursed many old and infirm people who were removed from northern cities and towns, away from the German bombing.

They continued their very fine and commendable work at a very tiny salary throughout the war.

Several of them were men of high education and with brilliant prospects set aside because of conscience.

Named the Stone Bower Fellowship, they later found a more suitable building at Silverdale, where the good work still continues.

Honouring their previous home, by using its name, Stone Bower.

There have been several changes in the old place in latter years, but I have not been in touch with them.

The ‘new end’ as we always called it, after it replaced Frank Mason’s old cottage, was bought by John Fisher.

He has altered it just a little, I believe, to his own fancy and requirements.

I have an ides, perhaps unfounded, that the Thornton family originally took their name from, or lent theirs to, the parent parish of Thornton-in-Lonsdale.

Note: Thomas Thornton ran short of money, and finished the north end of the church with tiles instead of slate, but he endowed the church with £1,000.

Richard, his uncle, endowed the school with £1,000.

The Thornton family had a large house in about 30 acres of ground at Merton Park and the Innes family lived close by.

They also built the school at Merton Park and the architecture is similar to that of Burton school, and the name, Thomas Thornton 1870, is over the porch.