Transport, one could say, has been on the move relentlessly during the past century. Some of the oldest people alive today, some well into their eighties or even nineties, have witnessed an extraordinary chapter in history which started with the horse and cart and ends now with the very latest in jet warfare flying low overhead. This month "The Way We Were" traces these changes from a world of horse-drawn vehicles, when the bicycle was almost an object of science fiction, through the arrival of the horseless carriage, the first public bus services, and the first family cars, while water transport was progressing from oar and sail, through steam,to diesel.
The ease with which ordinary people can get around the area where they live is very important to the prosperity of a community; the settlements that thrived best were route centres where goods could be traded and markets flourish. This was especially significant in the Lake District and Westmorland where the fells made travelling difficult and rough-going, but the abundance of wool ensured a steady traffic by packhorse through the area and along the well-worn routes to and from the important ports on the West coast.
Then along came the railway from Kendal to Windermere in the middle of the last century, and with it the arrival of mass-tourism and the first day trippers.But this had little effect on local transport, which remained dependent on muscle power and the horse. People thought nothing of having to walk quite long distances for ordinary everyday things, for example from Langdale to Ambleside:
"Everybody walked, they walked everywhere. We walked in to Ambleside if we wanted to get a tooth out."
They walked back, too, and children sometimes walked three miles to school and three miles home. But for those large families fortunate enough to have private transport, some with more than one carriage,this was the 1910 equivalent of the BMW or the Volvo Estate:
"At Briery Close there were three coaches, two would be the covered kind. probably one would be permanently covered and the other would have a collapsible hood over and I think there'd be a phaeton as well. Then there would probably be a little sort of tub coach, the governess coach, the governess would probably run the children round with a pony and such like."
The district's abundance of steep hills ensured plenty of business for small boys with the "slipper":
"It was a piece of metal shaped like a slipper and you pushed it at the back of the coach under the wheel, and then it held that one wheel and the horses could manage then, otherwise it would overruun the horses. The coach sort of skidded down, that wheel never turned....all the lads, if they wanted to earn a penny or two they would go to the bottoms or the tops of hills and put the slippers on and then people got out and walked, perhaps the very old stayed on, but the majority of them got out and walked up and down."
Skill was needed by these small boys in removing the slipper:
" Some coaches used to keep the slipper on right down the main road. But others used to keep it on to about Briery front gate and then the kids used to be there to take it off. But you had a very special thing, nearly like a boat hook, because you knew the blooming thing was red hot you know, dragging. They used to back the coach off it and then you had to pick it up with this thing and then you had to hang it up under the coach, because it had a chain attached and a special hook for it. The lads had to be frightfully careful because if it touched you it would burn you, you know."
The steep hills could also prove hazardous, and accidents were not uncommon:
"On one occasion, just before they got to the last corner coming down Cringlemire, the horses were scared and they struck gallop and right on that corner the coach tipped up, and I can remember the noise yet. A terrific noise. I can't remember if it was a four-in-hand or a two-in-hand, with the coach on its side, the horses came galloping down there and my father and one or two of the grooms realised something was happening and they rushed out into the road and they managed to stop the horses before it got too far down. But the coach was on its side and it was smashed to bits and there was one or two people rather badly injured."
Donkeys and ponies were often used to transport tourists; in Ambleside a donkey service took tourists up Stock Ghyll Lane to the Falls, while in Grasmere ponies laden with American visitors trekked up Helvellyn. Regular coach services operated both long distance and on "rounds" of the district for visitors, and few visitors arrived with their own transport to use during their stay.
Some of the old coach drivers in Ambleside were rarely sober and delighted in shocking their apprehensive passengers:
"They used to stand at The Unicorn at six o'clock in the morning for beer, to get a drink. In olden days there wasn't much tea, it was all home-brewed ale, tea wasn't a national drink long before my time. And these old chaps used to come, their coaches were driven up on the front for them and they were that drunk they could hardly get on top of them!"
One old driver had the perfect trick to scare the nervous passenger and would use his big four-in-hand whip to tickle the horses under the belly:
"The horse would rise up like that, it really frightened the people on the coach. But they could drive better when they were drunk than when they were sober, those old chaps!