LEISURE - Part Four

For the past three weeks, The Way We Were has been recalling some of the things people used to do for enjoyment. Entertainment was home made, there were whist drives or small gatherings in village reading rooms any night of the week; and most towns could boast anything from a social evening with a band, to a full dress ball several times each year. There were plays and operas, concerts and tableaux. In fact, there were few evenings in the week without some form or organised entertainment.

"There's nothing of that now, nothing at all for the young ones, no wonder they stand about on streets, there's nothing for them, is there?"

This week, we look at dance bands, cinemas, an outing, and small shows like the Ragtime Cowboy Joe Show:

"Old Joe King was a grand one for getting things up - well, he got up The Ragtime Cowboy Joe Show, it was marvellous, the stage was covered with Indians and that, really wonderful, and we always called him Ragtime Cowboy Joe."

Mr King also organised pantomimes, and it was about this time that children first encountered the silver screen:

"We had what was Scotts Cinematograph in those days used to come, there was no picture house then, they used to come with this travelling cinema, they used to get a full house then, it used to be Marianne Dressler and all those old ones. It was lovely, I do miss it now."

The pianist who played for the silent films in Ambleside was much admired for his skills, and greatly mourned when he was killed in a freak accident at a garage:

"There was a chap called Wedgewood Turner used to play the piano for the silent films, all this incidental music; the wild West stuff and running upstairs, he was very clever at improvising and he was wonderful, we thought. It never seemed the same after the talkies, we missed him, he was something of a wonder star to us kids and we missed him when the talkies came."

The first talkie, "The Desert Song" arrived in the town about 1930, and Mr Turner was killed by an exploding compressed air pump while putting some air in his motorbike tyres around 1934; his music was never forgotten.

Music for the numerous dances in the district was provided by dozens of small dance bands who made little profit, but played for the sheer enjoyment of it. Winter being the most active time socially, the bands often travelled miles through the snow to reach small villages. One of the most famous was Major Rothwell's Dandy Coons, a troupe of thirty black and white minstrels:

"There used to be sidesmen and bowmen and they used to sing all the negro spiritual songs. They corked up their faces and they had uniforms, red lapels and black buttons. They were chiefly men, and they were got up by Major Rothwell of Broomleas, Esthwaite Water. You could hire them, but they used to come and I don't know if they made any profit but I think they did it more for pleasure really. I remember going to see them at Hawkshead, at the Town Hall, and thinking how wonderful it was. It was a big night out for us then."

A day trip to Morecambe once a year was the farthest most lads from Langdale could expect to travel on the valley's annual outing. But whatever the discomforts of travelling, the time it took to get there or bad weather, it was still the greatest day of the year for some:

"It was the day of the year for the old fellows - they put roses in their buttonholes and got decked up and they were coming down past the forge at five o'clock ready for about half past seven here at Colwith. You know it was such a great day out, you could have taken Little Langdale by storm that day, there was only about three left out of the valley. But the buses had canvas tops and nay sides in. Why, once we set off from here and conked out at Eltermere. We only got a mile and a half and we conked out!"

For one little lad, the excitement of getting to Morecambe was so great, he started to look out for it as early as Ecclerigg Level, near Brockhole. Seven buses collected almost the entire population of the valley from Colwith and the journey took from half past seven until midday to get there:

"In that time, each bus would have broken down two or three times. Once one set on fire, and when I first went to Morecambe around 1926, they were breaking up ships, you could go and have a look round."

But although the far-off beach at Morecambe was only reached once a year for swimming , lake swimming was equally popular. In the absence of a heated indoor pool,there were far more swimmers to be seen braving the cold Lake currents than are ever seen today, particularly Windermere, where crowds of lads every fine summer evening would play in the water, teaching each other to swim, and coming out to dry themselves on old sacks because many were too poor to have a towel. One of the most popular watering spots was at Waterhead, Ambleside, just near the Galava Roman fort where the Council even built bathing huts for people to change in:

"The bathing huts faced Waterhead and there were three compartments; the attendant's compartment, there was a ladies and a gents, and then there were posts round the back where people could change free of charge - but if they wanted to go in the huts, they'd to pay a little bit. They had a full time attendant for the season."

The huts, built before the First World War, have disappeared without trace; and yet in its day, the Galava beach, with its little pier and springboard on the end, were immensely popular. Everyone went there:

"It was the thing to go for the day. They hadn't such facilities as they have now, and people had to accept what there was."

But eventually the bathing spot lost its popularity. The waters of Windermere were very cold, and every summer at least one swimmer was drowned, often a visitor failing to realise the coldness of the water away from the shore. Gradually, the waters silted up, and discarded tin cans on the bottom became a dangerous menace and at last the old huts were pulled down.