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Motorway Memories: Hilary Wilson

Friday 12 February, 2021, by Karen Griffiths

The building of the M6 motorway along the edge of the A Way Through project area was a remarkable feat of modern engineering as we’ve already discussed in a previous blogpost The M6 and the Lune Gorge.

While working on the Lune Gorge section of the M6, motorway construction workers were housed in a temporary caravan ‘village’ at Low Borrowbridge Farm owned at the time by the Wilsons. Hilary Wilson has kindly recorded her memories of the time for us and also sent along a treasure trove of contemporary photos and documents some of which are featured below:

Motorway construction memories
I was married on 21st October 1967 and came to live at High Carlingill near Tebay. My husband’s parents Jim and Mary Wilson moved to the farm next door called Low Borrowbridge which had been an old Inn. In fact the farm just beyond that was also called Low Borrowbridge as that was the name of the area itself but my husband’s parents had moved into the one which had been where the manorial court was held at one time. At the top of the hill along Grayrigg Combs, where to road from Firbank joined the Kendal road was a milestone with the initials BB on it.

With the coming of the railway and the building of the station and railway workers’ houses, Tebay became the place which took over in importance. Given that the parish boundary was the river Lune, Borrowbridge Inn and farm is in the parish of Grayrigg and the farm called Borrowbridge beyond it is in the parish of Tebay. The importance of the Inn’s status is shown by the fact it was the first building to have electricity. It was provided by a windmill, and the batteries were housed in a low building in the yard. It was not until 1962 that mains electricity arrived to all the farms in the area except Low Borrowdale.

Low Borrowbridge before the building of the M6, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Low Borrowbridge before the building of the M6, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


Inside the house was a set of stairs in the kitchen behind some panelling at the far side form the fire which led up to two rooms so the family could be separate from the residents.


The inn had a field outside called the fair field where a sale of cattle brought down from Scotland by the drovers was held. It was in fact the site of a Roman fort which had guarded the north south route. The main official interest was in the fort field but when we were putting up a new building we hit Roman foundations and a rescue dig was done by a Mr John Ansty. In more recent times an archaeological dig of the vegetable garden revealed a hypocaust of a bath house which was thought to be part of a mansio which was the equivalent of a Roman hotel and the aqueduct in the hills was traced and was still bringing water until cut off by the motorway construction. I can remember the construction was stopped for several days but it was not because of worries about the history it was because they were wondering what to do with the water.


The family who had stayed in the property before the motorway was being planned were called Fink. Mr Chris Fink’s job was to survey the route of the proposed new motorway. He and his wife Maggie, son Hugh, daughter Rebecca came and another son Adam was born whilst they lived there. Mr Fink was in fact an Anglo Indian and only recently when hearing his story at his funeral did we understand what a remarkable life he had led and appreciate his full achievements.

Box camera photograph of Low Borrowbridge before the building of the M6, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Box camera photograph of Low Borrowbridge before the building of the M6, c1967. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


The original plan for the motorway was for it to come through the fields on the east of the river. This had been abandoned because the hills on that side were thought to be unstable and one can still see a landslide in the field near the heart-shaped wood. It came down as a result of an intense downpour. A letter owned by the Moser family who owned High Carlingill from the 1600’s (originally under the name Branthwaite), recorded the water came in the front door and out the back at Borrowbridge. My husband John remembers pegs in the meadows to mark the route at High Carlingill when they moved there in the 1950’s.

Heart Wood (Brokengill Plantation), unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


The road from Borrowbridge to Howgill was Roman road and the valley had also seen major construction before when the railway was built in the 19th century. This had cut off the old Inn from its land in the valley of Borrowdale and the hills above the road to Kendal. There is still a cattle creep or bridge to allow the sheep and cattle to be taken from the farms up to the land at the top of the hill.

Cattle creep under railway near Low Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Cattle creep under railway near Low Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


The road from Kendal came to the bottom on the hill and the railway workers built a bridge over it where it turned at right angles to go along the edge of the fort. Looking up one sees beautiful construction. The stones set at an angle slanting across the underside of the bridge.

Taking sheep out of Borrowdale, underneath the railway viaduct at Low Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Taking sheep out of Borrowdale, underneath the railway viaduct at Low Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson

The road then went between the Inn and the farm yard and right angles again round to the front the house to join the road from Howgill. The Inn has low buildings at the back where beer was supplied to the railway workers. The one nearest to the house had stone binks (shelves) for the barrels and there was a hole roughly a foot square so the drinks could be handed through to the navvies. They came into a building which had wooden seats like low shelves round the walls. At the time of the motorway, the vicar of Tebay church Rev Brierly started some bible classes for the children on the caravan site and a large blackboard was left there until we left.

Railway and road traffic before the construction of the M6 through the Lune Gorge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Railway and road traffic before the construction of the M6 through the Lune Gorge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


There were roughly 50 caravans most of which were put in a field at the back of the farm on the other side of the road from the fort. It was wet land so a lot of stone had to be put in. Some of the caravans were at the edge of the fort field at the front of the farm. Unlike the days of the railway workers the caravan owners were respectable people who kept the vans tidy and often grew flowers nearby. Many were just young people trying to make a start in life.

Caravan site for M6 construction workers at Low Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


There was no interest in the history of the site and no archaeological excavations done before the construction work in spite of the fact the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian society had found the remains of the bath house under the farm garden at their first dig in the late 19th century. The 20th century excavation of the bathhouse in the farm garden, found a plastic water pipe going straight through it.


There was no telephone for the residents and they went to the farm to use the phone to call the doctor. There was no play area or facilities for the children. A bus was provided once a week to take the women to Kendal to shop and take cases clothes to the laundry to get them washed. They loaded the bus with cases of clothes. Given all the traffic our cows stayed at High Carlingill and we sold milk to the residents. After milking the cows we poured the milk into bottles and put the caps on and took the bottles round.

Photograph of a page from the Wilson's milk sales cash book, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Photograph of a page from the Wilson’s milk sales cash book, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


The first part of the construction was the haulage road and it crossed the road to Tebay just above the farm beyond the inn. There were no traffic lights one just took one’s chance and as there was a dip in the road one could be taken aback to see a huge earth carrying truck raising up as if out of the ground like a prehistoric monster as one crossed the road. On occasions tempers were frayed.

Newspaper clipping showing a view of the construction of the motorway, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Newspaper clipping showing a view of the construction of the motorway, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Aerial photograph of the motorway construction in the Lune Gorge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Aerial photograph of the motorway construction in the Lune Gorge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


There was little communication between the farming population and the motorway workers. The rock face had to be blasted out and no warning was given so our menfolk were showered with rock on one occasion and to add to that a large stone fell through a caravan and broke the sink.


On one occasion we walked the sheep up the road as we normally did , to the top of the hill and held up the traffic. This caused a big upset as they dumper trucks were running to time one after another.

Driving sheep under the new motorway bridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Driving sheep under the new motorway bridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


We got to know the families in the caravans and a ladies discussion group was set up which I went attended. I also visited some families whilst nursing. Several visited the farm and sent Christmas cards for many years afterwards.

View across the construction workers' caravans towards the motorway site, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
View across the construction workers’ caravans towards the motorway site, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson


In 1971 the M6 was opened and the caravans began to leave and the field was put back to agriculture and the old road by the side removed.


The drovers stopped coming when the railway started as the cattle could be carried by rail and the inn became just a farm. We did not have any records to give us the age but there may be some with the Lowther family who once owned it. The farm further along the lane where I lived, High Carlingill was said to have a board on an inside wall which said 1645. I was told it fell off broke and was burned when the Burtons were there. The man who told me was Peter Parker who had come a young man as a result of a war time scheme to bring young men from the industrial areas of Britain to work on the farms. He married and stayed in the area. But remembered the farm as it was in the past. The house also had a secret room. There was a false wall at the back of the main bedroom and the entrance to the room was a trapdoor in the dairy below. People searching for door do not often look upwards and if they did see it and tried to get in they were vulnerable to attack by anyone sheltering there. In fact it may just have been for valuables

The panelling in an old bedroom was second hand as there was the pattern of a mullioned window, from its previous home faded by sunlight on it.
In the field next to the fell at the top of the farm road was a Celtic settlement. This has only recently been excavated by the Lunesdale Archaeology group. We knew about it from a survey done in earlier times and I always used to think of the inhabitants who would have looked out and worried about the winter the weather and livestock just as we did. Another celtic site above the farm known as Brockholes was excavated several years ago by a Mr John Ansty and part of a quern stone was found.


The valley has been the route through for Celtic people, Romans , Drovers and on to Railway and Motorway travellers. It also has an industrial pipeline taking chemicals through it and is a route for low flying aircraft. Drovers held a fair or sale and in more recent times the Tebay sheep sale was held on land near the bottom of Borrowdale near the bridge over Borrowdale Beck. The land in lower Borrowdale has always had trees on it including the valuable alder. There are charcoal burning sites and the charcoal went for gunpowder.


My favourite memory of the view representing the valley routes was the sight of the mail train in the dark at roughly 10pm with the lights all along the side. This was in the days of stream and the glow from the funnel of the engine showed brightly in the night sky.


Hilary


NOTE: Branthwaites were the big landowners at one time I think I read one was a secretary to Queen Elizabeth 1st. Jane Branthwaite married Roger Moser hence the name change. This Moser family is the same as the solicitors Milne and Moser, Kendal. We bought the farm in 1982 from a later Roger Moser when his father Edward Moser died.

< Previous ‘A Way Through’ blogpost Roman soldiers and their roads in Westmorland

Next ‘A Way Through’ blogpost Motorway Memories: J M Wilson >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Website: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

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