CAMPS of NORTH SCALE - Walney Island

(aka: The Squatters Huts)

The following words have kindly been produced and offered for use on this site by a 'once' resident of the Mill Lane site, and after reading I believe that I couldn't do them any justice by extracting information and putting them into my own words. Therefore I have reproduced them as they were originally intended to be read. I hope that you can get as much satisfaction and enjoyment in reading them as I have myself... Pictures to follow.

 

THE CAMPS OF NORTH SCALE

By

PETER JEVONS

P. Jevons - Barrow-in-Furness 2002

 

BACKGROUND

Shortly after the start of World War 2, the North End of Walney Island was requisitioned by the War Ministry, to be used as a training area for the RAF. Camps to house and train the personnel were erected at several locations in and around north of Mill Lane, but when peace was declared in 1945, these camps were abandoned.

The air-raids on Hindpool had left many families homeless. In those days large families were commonplace. This plus the fact that the immediate post-war years saw a baby-boom, meant that many houses were overcrowded. The author's parents were in such a situation. Having spent most of the years working in Liverpool, they plus new baby returned, staying temporarily at my mother's parents' house in Hastings Street, where another daughter, husband and baby, likewise were staying. The latter moved to the Egerton Buildings on Barrow-Island.

After the war, Barrow Corporation embarked on a programme of new housing estates. The first would be Ormsgill, followed by Newbarns, Greengate, Risedale, etc. Later to be followed by the Walney estates: Tummer Hill, Margate Street, and ultimately Rainey Park. However it would be some years before all the needs could be fulfilled.

In the meantime it was little wonder then that the abandonment of the camps provided a ready made opportunity for people, many of whom had little money, to have a roof over their heads. And so, in 1946, what became known as "The Squatters Huts", (a misnomer since all tenants paid a rent to the Town Hall), came into being. These sites provided a stop-gap between the end of the war and the early 1950's

The decision to build a huge estate in the area between Central Drive and Earnse Bay signaled the end of the 'Huts'. The bulldozers began leveling the earth in the area south of Mill Lane, Where Tyne Road and Trent Vale now lie, and gradually the tenants were relocated. By 1956, all had gone.

 The foundations of the 'SITE-1' huts are still to be seen, and some of those of 'SITE-4' can be found among the brambles. Those for the buildings of 'SITE-6' in Mill Lane were still visible about 1985, before being broken up by the farmer in whose field they were located.

 

LOCATIONS

'SITE-1 (& Airfield)' - Off Red Ley Lane to the right of, and just before the gate to the airfield. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-2' - Off Red Ley Lane where Haverigg Gardens now are situated. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-3' - In Cows Tarn Lane on both sides, but mainly to the north. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-4' - Lower North Scale behind where there is now a wildlife area next to Gilliland's Farm. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-5' - Mill Lane where the row of shops is now located. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-6' - Mill Lane between a point opposite the Periscope Hotel and to where the Fire Station is now located. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-7' - Alongside West Shore Road on the east side in the area where the road goes uphill towards Earnse Bay, between Weaver Green and the road. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'SITE-8' - Mill Lane where Avon Nurseries are now, up as far as Vickerstown School playing field. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

'WAAF-SITE' - Walney Promenade between Mill Lane and North Scale. Recently, the end nearest to Mill Lane has become the site of a new sewage pumping station. (To visit the site as it looks today click here)

 

 

THE HUTS

When my parents first arrived at Mill Lane, their first abode was a 'NISSEN HUT'. These were so named, after the American who developed them. Comprising two brick gable ends supporting curved corrugated steel sheets, they had served as store rooms alongside the accommodation huts, and as such had few facilities. The aim was to move up market to a hut.

A Typical Nissen Hut

 

Our first one, I think, had been a bunkhouse for aircraftmen. It had a kitchen at one end, but the remainder was one large room. The kitchen had a single coke stove and a sink. The main room, where all the bunks would have been situated, had a single coke stove in the middle. Our three piece suite surrounded this, with the dining table behind. My bed was in one corner with a curtain around it, as was the case with my parents' bed.

Later we were to move to an even posher one, with separate rooms, across the road, vacated by the Vickers family who had moved to Newbarns. This I think was the female officers' accommodation, judging by the wallpaper borders and just the general decor, definitely having the mark of a woman's touch.

                                                                A Typical Ex-Officers Hut

 

At one end was a communal mess room, having a large sink with cold tap (no hot water!) and a large cast iron stove which had four removable plates in whose place pans were placed for cooking, and with a large oven to one side. Fuel was coke. This served as our living room / kitchen dining room. From this room, a narrow passage ran along the side. Off this were four rooms - Three bedrooms and another with a coke stove in the centre. The latter would have been a wardroom and functioned as our lounge where we would spend the evenings. There were no toilets in the huts themselves. These were located in communal bocks spread around the site, each serving about four huts.

 

THE PONDS

In the middle of every site, there was a pond. The ponds, originally used for firefighting, over the years had attracted all forms of wildlife, principally amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts. Additionally, numerous insect species could be observed both in the water, and skimming the surface. These ponds acted as a magnet for children who came from all over Walney, carrying jam jars and fishing nets. In the early part of the summer, the sides of the ponds would be littered with mating frogs and toads, and soon the water would be thick with spawn and later again, black tadpoles.

A large hedgerow ran from West Shore Road up the hill toward the FORT. This hedgerow consisted of the usual earth dyke topped with Hawthorn bushes. Approximately two thirds of the way up, approximately where Conway Gardens are now, there was a break in the dyke, in which there was a pond some thirty-feet across, the habitat of moorhens. Completely overhung by the trees, this pond was totally invisible from the outside world.

Eventually in the mid fifties, as the sites were progressively cleared in preparation for the building of what is now the Rainey Park Estate, these ponds were filled in by the bulldozers. In those austere post-war days, nature conservation as we have named it, was not a consideration. Thus a unique part of Walney, was lost forever.

Recently, a nature area was opened next to home farm at the bottom of North Scale. In fact, originally, 'SITE-4' was located at this spot with a pond situated just behind the farm house.

One of the only ponds to survive, now little more than a swamp, having contracted within itself, lies in the field behind the Fire-Station in mill Lane. In the fifties it was 120 feet across and provided a recreation facility for the local kids. At one time they had obtained an old galvansied horse trough, which served ideally as a canoe and provided countless hours of fun in the long summer holidays. Another still exists in the field, formerly 'SITE-1'.

 

SUMMER CAMPS

At what is now the West Shore Holiday Park, following the war it was used for several years as a summer camp for army cadets and also for territorial army units from throughout the country. Normally, there would be several units there at the same time. On a Sunday morning they would march along West Shore Road, down Mill Lane and along the Promenade to Saint Mary's Church, led by a large band formed from all the units. Their stirring sound could be heard over in Barrow.

In those post-war years, as with the boy-scouts, this would be the nearest most of those youths, especially those from the big towns and cities, would get to a holiday.

 

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Summers were spent mainly playing around the ponds. There was keen competition as to who could make the best 'boat', usually a log or plank. In those days, Mill Lane form it's junction with West Shore Road, up to the Vickerstown Cricket Ground, was a narrow lane with high hedges on either side. SITE-5 lay on the right.

In the late summer, this together with the gulley, which ran from Mill Lane along the left hand side of West Shore Road, abound with Blackberry bushes, visited by hoards of people. Also in profusion were wild rose bushes. The rose hips were keenly collected and taken t the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) in Rawlinson Street, for which the bearer was paid three-pence per pound weight. That constituted big bucks to a kid.

Bonfire night was the highlight of the year. September and October were spent collecting material, some of which came from the hedgerows. The air-raid shelters provide an ideal dry storage area before the material was brought out on the weekend prior to November 5th. On many occasions, 'bommie raiding parties' would come from other parts of Vickerstown, which led to several skirmishes.

My recollection is of having spent countless hours playing in or around the air-raid shelters. Our imaginations could make them into castles, forts or ships according to what we wished to re-enact from the films we had just seen, since Saturday afternoon at the Walney Cinema was a must. Trips across the footbridge from North Scale, then intact, were a regular thing. Thinking back, we didn't realise then, just how dangerous this pass-time was. Pillboxes provided shelter on rainy Sunday afternoons, where candles were the order of the day. In late summer, bluebell collecting trips to 'The Whins' south of Biggar Village, seemed to be a major expedition.

A Typical Air-Raid Shelter

 

If supplies of coke ran out before the next visit of the coal-man, we kids were sent to get coke from the gasworks in Hindpool Road. Transport was usually in the form of an old pram, which had probably seen better days. The pavement along the Low Road was not as smooth then as it is now and such trips took a considerable time and were not without mishaps, the contents often ending up all over the road.

Winter snow provided the opportunity to go sledging after school, just a short walk away, on the 'cow-field' near Central Drive, together with just about all the kids on Walney. Vickerstown Primary School playing field in Mill Lane was the venue for hours of five-a-side, 'Workington' and ' heading-in'. The close proximity of Earnse Bay led trips to ready made trips to the sand hills almost a daily event in the summer, even to camping behind the wall where the 'mini' golf course now is...

 

THE DELIVERY MEN

THE COALMAN - Mr. Joe Hackett: Since all the stoves on the sites burned coke, delivery of this fuel was essential. A slightly built man, he managed to carry the hundredweight bags of coke on his back with ease. Of jovial manner, Joe was popular all over Walney.

THE PAPER MAN - Mr. Roberts: An elderly gentleman, Mr. Roberts lived in Rand Villas on Red Ley Lane. his newsagents shop was in Paxton Street, a few doors down from the Bull Hotel approximately where the rear entrance to the indoor market opposite Harrison Street now is. He rode from his shop in town and back every morning to deliver the morning paper. Then he returned again at tea-time to deliver the Evening Mail, after which he would ride back to his house. Presumably, each morning he must have ridden his bike, which had a huge rack on the front similar to those used by postmen today, over to his shop. Friday was awaited with eager anticipation since that was 'Eagle' day. Braving the rain and as often as not, the Walney wind, he was a splendid site in sou'wester, cape and leggings. how many would be so determined today I wonder?

THE MILKMAN - Mr. Bob Jackson: Using a shire horse and a large cart, Mr. Jackson operated from a barn in the gardens at the top of Douglas Street. On Saturday morning, he provided a special treat in the form of Rita Sharpe who accompanied him. Her brother Dennis provides photographs for the Evening Mail.

THE GROCERY MAN - Mr. Tom Hornby: Returning to Barrow, having spent some years in Canada, Tom Hornby bought a large grocery store in Douglas Street, the second shop down from Powerful Street. His pride and joy was a huge grey American Pontiac, which he acquired soon after his return. since there weren't exactly many of those in Barrow, it attracted a lot of attention. Since nobody in the huts owned a car, and since he was in competition with the Co-op in Powerful Street, he seized the opportunity to get customers, by delivering orders weekly in cardboard boxes to many of the residents.

THE BREAD MAN - Mr. Norman Haynes: In the main, people bought their bread and confectionery from Joe I' Anson in Douglas Street. however, Norman Haynes, himself a resident of SITE-6, worked for the Co-op. He delivered fresh bread in those days long before freezers became household necessities.

 

THE CHARACTERS

To the regular patrons of the pub singing rooms, BILLY W* was a favourite. His party piece was to take off Al Jolson, complete with blacked face, unthinkable in to-day's politically correct society. People passing the Ferry Hotel on a Saturday night, could hear his distinct Irish voice, blasting out.

Cars were a rarity in Mill Lane, but in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday, they could be heard, and the flash of headlights seen on the ceilings, as taxi's came and went from a particular home on SITE-6. Many of the 'visitors' where foreign seamen. The port of Barrow was busy in those days, with the pubs in the town centre, many of which the home's owner was a patron, doing a roaring trade.

Long before Bookmaker's shops came into being, TOMMY W* was a 'bookies-runner'. Eldest son Harold had a pigeon loft in the garden. Devout Catholics, LARRY & LILLY H*, later became mine hosts at the Waterloo Hotel in Greengate Street, would trek across the cow-field with their children every Sunday morning to Saint Columbas Church, then part of the school before the 'new' church was built.

Mr. B*, who lived on the WAAF-SITE, just above the wall at the Promenade end of Mill Lane, was a 'big' rag-n-bone man, whose small horse pulled his cart with him on it, all over Barrow. I had an old three-wheeler trike, which after loosing a wheel, was reduced to a two-wheeler bike, which I rode around the hut, much to the annoyance of my mother, who threatened to "Give it to the rag-n-bone man". One day, while my mother was at work in the laundry, I decided to get into her good books, and sold the bike to Mr. B* for six-pence. When I gave her this great news she was down to his house like a rocket, returning half an hour later with the bike and the six-pence. He never came near again.

The G*'s lived opposite to where the garden centre now stands. BILL G* was a keen gardener and had a vegetable garden between their hut and the pavement. He also kept a flock of geese. These were allowed to wonder freely around SITE-6, creating fear to those who got in their way. At about the middle of December they would mysteriously disappear, only to be re-incarnated during the spring.

 

FINALLY

Whenever I see groups of kids hanging around the off-licence and street corners, bored out of their minds because there is nothing to do, I think back to those childhood days. Playing in wide open spaces, with no responsibilities, and not appreciating then just how lucky we were, life seemed so carefree.

My memories of those far off days are as crystal clear as though it were only yesterday, not fifty or more years ago. I often ask myself whether, if the clock could be turned back, would I have been happier in a proper house, in proper surroundings, in a proper street? For it has to be said that, in general the 'squatters' were looked down on by most people?... If the reader has reached this point in this my account, s/he will already have figured out the answer to that question.

 

 

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