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Motorway Memories: J M Wilson

Monday 15 February, 2021, by Karen Griffiths

Along with her own M6 Motorway Memories, Hilary Wilson sent us a handwritten manuscript from her brother-in-law J M (Michael) Wilson, who also lived at Low Borrowbridge when the M6 was being built through the Lune Gorge. Here is a transcript of his notes:

“Before the start of the construction of the actual motorway, the land was surveyed by a firm called Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick to check the geology along the route. Pits were dug and a drilling machine was used to take rock cores .This was when we first saw the Hymac digging machines. We pulled the drilling rig from site to site for the contractor with an old tractor and went down some dangerously steep slopes. Today this would probably not have been allowed under Health and Safety rules. The rock cores were stored in the unused shippon [cow house] at Low Borrowbridge Our cows were being milked at our other farm at High Carlingill.

Cumberland and Westmorland Gazette article about the imminent arrival of the M6 construction phase in the Lune Gorge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Cumberland and Westmorland Gazette article about the imminent arrival of the M6 construction phase in the Lune Gorge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson

To begin the work a few huts were erected and bulldozers made access roads for bridge works and culverts .The council laid 4-6 inches of tarmac on the A685 Kendal to Tebay road ,to take the works traffic. The main site was at Lowgill with a concrete batching plant at Lune’s bridge and one at Dillicar further south. A haulage road was built along the length of the works with rock taken from an old quarry site at the top of Grayrigg Hause so that construction traffic and materials could be transported to wherever they were needed. Temporary Bailey bridges were put in place over the river Lune and Borrowdale beck.

A caravan site for workers many of whom had families was built at Low Borrowbridge, next to the old Inn and farm where I and my parents lived. Surprisingly there was no thought of a play area for the children and not a sand pit. It was like suddenly having a village on the doorstep but we got to know the parents well so the situation was generally manageable. The local doctor came almost daily to a hut provided on the caravan site.

Caravan site on the left and M6 construction works, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Caravan site on the left and M6 construction works, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson

It was thought water for the site could be taken from the river and filtered and pumped into a tank but it proved too muddy to drink and so it had to be brought daily from the mains supply. We also got our water in the same way as our supply was cut off as it came from the far side of the motorway. Things did not always go smoothly. One windy night some caravans blew over. A low loader carrying a bulldozer turned too quickly as it tried to manoeuvre to get round the corner of Low Borrowbridge farm house. It caught the house end and brought pulled some of the stonework down.

Water tank being lowered onto a scaffold tower at Low Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson

Bulldozers and dumper trucks worked thought the night taking off the top of the rock. Following that the rock was drilled so that blasting could be carried out to cut a rock face so the motorway would be level. Most times care was [taken] with blasting but on one occasion pieces of rock fell over the caravans going through some of them and through our garage and over into our fields. We had to complain to make sure procedures were followed correctly. The railway also runs through the valley and they had to have staff present at the times of blasting to ensure co-ordination with train times to prevent an accident.

During the first summer the top soil was removed along the route of the motorway and bridges and culverts were built. A plant to crush rock was built in a small field between the A685 road and the new motorway near the end of the valley of Borrowdale.

On the second year there was large scale moving of soil and rock and more bridge building. The A685 was re routed and this was opened. Access to the A685 from Howgill road and Borrowbridge farm was difficult. There were no traffic lights and the crossing point was a the top of a hill so one could not see if anything was coming even if it was a huge dumper truck. One just had to take a chance to cross. It did not help that it was a year of either puddle or dust.

Moving sheep under  the new M6 concrete viaduct at Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Moving sheep under the new M6 concrete viaduct at Borrowbridge, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson

By the third year they were putting tarmac on the M6 and launching concrete beams into place between bridge supports. After this they put top soil on the banks and tidied up before the ceremonial opening in October. Our new water supply was put in through fields to the bottom of Borrowdale, across the A685, under the M6 and railway bridges and through the Roman fort area. There was no consideration of the archaeology then or at any time during the construction process.

Although today Borrowdale appears to start west of the A685 access was originally through a wooden gate to the east of the railway viaduct and it was connected to and very much part of Low Borrowbridge farm. Once through the gate one was in a word of old alder woodland and nature.

It was a difficult three years especially moving livestock from one side of the valley to the other across the works. Tolerance and patience was a necessity

The construction claimed three lives and there were many accidents including dumper trucks overturning on the haulage road. Sometimes they were simply bulldozed to the side so work could continue. However we made many friends amongst the ordinary workers who have kept in touch over the years. For many it was a memorable period in their lives.”

Moving sheep among the construction traffic, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson
Moving sheep among the construction traffic, unknown date. Courtesy of Hilary Wilson

< Previous ‘A Way Through’ blogpost Motorway Memories: Hilary Wilson

Next ‘A Way Through’ blogpost Motorway Memories: Raymond Robertson >

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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