For over 200 years, visitors have been flocking to the Lake District to discover its hills and dales, and the grandeur of its landscapes.Tourists are still arriving today to find those same natural treasures which attracted travellers generations ago; but although the magnificent scenery may have changed in outline very little, in just eighty years the timeshare has replaced the Tilley lamp, while the plumbing arrangements of the whirlpool bath are infinitely more sophisticated than the two seater earth closet of years gone by.
This month, as a million or more visitors from all over the globe prepare for a summer visit to the Lakes, we look back at tourism seventy years ago, and at the sort of holidays our visitors enjoyed, and the accommodation we offered them then.
For those hoping to find a genuine Lakeland experience, staying in a farmhouse never disappointed:
"Farmhouses had Tudor lamps downstairs and candles, and you took your candle when you went to bed. And basically you had a hot water bottle, stone hot water bottle...there were straw mattresses and they were hard, and blankets and things just the same as usual but the sheets were rather rough and the mattresses were hard and if you were restless or anything you heard the straw creaking. But they did have feather beds which mother thought very unhygienic."
The visitors would go out and buy their own food, which the hostess would cook for them:
"Mother had to buy in the food and the farmer's wife cooked it for us, and we were always the only family in the farm and we had usually a sitting room and had our meals in there."
The farm kitchen welcomed other nocturnal visitors too:
"They were all flag floors and they used to have stoves, not at all like ours, great big things that had to be black leaded and the fire was kept burning all night and oh - cockroaches all over the floor! When I think about it now, this was quite a usual thing and we were always told that we should never go anywhere without our slippers on - quite rightly!"
There was no bathroom or holiday bathing, just cold water, a basin and a ewer in the bedroom for morning, and a jug of hot water from the kitchen for a good wash at night. A visit to the toilet meant a stroll down the garden - and even a bit of company for the sociable:
"We naturally had a bathroom and a water closet at home but I think you just took this in your stride - it probably didn't seem odd to them, they were used to it and nothing was made of it. It was usually in a little outhouse somewhere just behind the farm, usually one-holers but I do remember two-holers, yes. We never were allowed to go two at once!"
Some earth closets were strategically built over running water astride the stream; but not all accommodation was quite so basic, and many small guest houses had indoor bathrooms and toilets by the 1900s, though out in the country it was decades later before electricity arrived, and only the bigger establishments could generate their own. This was how one guest house in Langdale was run in the 1920s:
"It used to be full board at 8/6d., and you had meals, it was like a feast every meal. Lunches or packed lunches and then afternoon teas, and then at quarter past seven there was a dinner. We had nine or ten visitors and we were always busy, never ever had to advertise at all, people used to book from one year to another. In fact we could have been full up every bit of the year."
Even the weeks spent closed were busy, particularly before electricity introduced labour saving gadgets:
"We used to have a fortnight's holiday in the autumn and then we used to do so much spring cleaning before Christmas, we didn't have guests for Christmas but we did for New Year and then it went on for weeks after that - then we didn't have people to stay from the end of January until March again to get all the cleaning done. Of course it was very hard work then because there was no electricity up here until 1954. We got electric, we used to have our own plant, generate our own, this was very good, it was a great improvement from oil lamps because Auntie always used to fill the lamps with parrafin oil every morning, clean the glasses and it used to take an hour. You had lamps in the sitting rooms and bedroom and on the landing and hall."
Fruit cakes to last the entire summer were baked in spring and stored in tins; and providing packed lunches involved kneading stones of dough daily for bread before the first Mother's Pride van delivered the miraculous cut loaf to every farm and hotel.
Motor transport brought regular collection and delivery services creeping up the valleys; but before the laundry van called twice weekly, washing the visitors's sheets was sheer drudgery:
"It was all done at home with dolly tubs and mangles - we had a wash house and a copper in it, with a stove to put flat irons round, and a huge table in the window, we were very well off, a big table that we could iron on. There were sheets and sheets..."
Before the 1920s, groceries were delivered by horse and cart once a month to most country hotels, but many also had their own supply of milk, cream, butter and cheese, eggs and poultry, mutton, bacon and pork. Even when some houses bought generators to supply their own power, it was only enough to provide electric light. There were no fridges, and the cellar was the coolest place for food storage; all cleaning was done by brush, broom and duster without vacuums, and water heated for washing up by Calor gas. Despite a small profit margin and a great deal of labour-intensive housework, gradually accommodation became more plentiful throughout the 1920s. Most farms that were self sufficient in food were simply capitalising on what was already freely and cheaply available to them and more and more local families were willing to cater for visitors, either by providing accommodation or teas. One lady began in her family home by taking the overflow from her parents' hotel:
"People did start taking more visitors, perhaps not some of the very old ones because they'd be too set in their ways; oh, they wouldn't have anything to disturb their own home, old folks you know. There would be so many would take visitors, not in Eskdale but Brotherilkeld they made teas. They'd make very little money really, 1/6d. for tea and you got tea, bread and butter, scones, cakes, rum butter, jam... for 1/6d! And if you had ham and eggs, half a crown!...you see, you had to be self-supporting. You'd hens in the farmyard, and your butter and your milk and you could kill a sheep when they wanted."