Parish Council History - Austerity and Progress
Chapter 4 – Austerity and Progress
The jubilation of victory soon gave way to the grey reality of the Austerity Years. The war had to be paid for by a bankrupt Britain. There were frequent power cuts to conserve coal, and street lights were reduced to 40 watts, dimmer than the gas days. Indeed, for a while in 1947, street lighting was totally cut off. To brighten the gloom, commercial cinemas leased Hodgett’s Club from the Council to bring the glitter of Hollywood to Finkle Street. The “Hippodrome” of Workington, and later the “Ritz” of Millom showed films on general release until by 1948 the lure of Whitehaven cinemas seems to have killed the enterprise.
The Festival of Britain passed the Village by, but the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was an opportunity to shake off some of the gloom. The Parish Council decided to take a leading role in organising the celebrations.
Dr & Mrs Harris judging the annual fete on the recreation ground. This fete was an annual event started by the coronation celebrations of 1953.
A special Coronation Committee was formed with a lot of young blood on it, and plans were laid for a bumper celebration. There would be a fancy dress parade starting from the memorial Field, and races, maypole dancing, a band and stalls on the Recreation Ground. Mugs were to be presented to village school children and in the evening a dance was planned in the Seacote. A dance band was hired, and the Committee examined the dance floor and reported that it needed more polish. On the day the weather was good, and Mrs. Mawson of Victoria Terrace, the Village’s oldest inhabitant, cut the tape to open the event.
The Coronation festivities were so successful that the Committee continued for a number of years, and organised an Annual Sports with hound trailing and a dance.
The 1950s saw great changes on the shore. A contractor had for many years extracted shingle off the beach for building material. However, the cliffs were starting to erode at an alarming rate, and it was obvious to everyone that there was some connection. The District Council was powerless to stop the removal, but villagers and the Parish Council were becoming increasingly vociferous about the long-term damage. Matters came to a head when the contractor asked for increased extraction powers, whilst at the same time the District Council was considering a coastal protection scheme.
The problem was solved in 1956 when Ennerdale Rural District Council bought the Seacote foreshore from the Lowther estate and shingle removal ceased. The coastal protection could now go ahead and the present concrete “prom” was started in 1959. The area known as “The Green” disappeared, and a large (and mostly empty) car park was built. The shanty town of old buses and sheds which had sprung up on the field behind the foreshore was removed and a caravan site created. Whilst this was going on the village’s first housing estate was taking shape behind the Richmond Crescent. This was to be the start of two decades of unprecedented growth for the community.
Yet another crowded hot day on the beach in the 1950’s – the concrete promenade has not been built.
The opening in 1966 of the Caravan Club as St. Bees’ first night club was indicative of the new prosperity. But as prosperity increased, so did car ownership, at the expense of the railway. The 1963 Beeching cuts hit hard. The goods yard, complete with crane and cattle pens was closed. Coal deliveries by rail ceased, and the staff of five was whittled down to two signalmen. Paradoxically, the increasing chemical traffic to Marchon prompted a plan to build a new line which would have descended from the Works to join the main line in the valley below Stanley Farm. An Act of Parliament was drawn up, but work was never started. After 1965, the rebuilding of the Coach Road bridge meant that buses could travel to the beach rather than squeeze their way round Abbey Corner. However, the village was becoming increasingly congested by parked cars, and by 1963 the Main Street was often blocked by parking on both sides. The inevitable happened in 1972 when the first double yellow lines appeared on the Main Street and Cross Hill, and these soon spread like a rash around the village.
The Beeching cuts of the 1960’s reduced St. Bees station staff to two signalmen. This shows the staff in 1947 in LMS days. L to R: George Cowan and Jack Middleton; Signalmen. Fred Corban; Station master, Roland Nicholson; Booking office clerk, & John Sim; Porter.
In 1964 Walter Wearing resigned after 12 years as Chairman of the Parish Council, and Leslie Brownrigg took the chair. Probably the best-dressed Chairman – always seen with a bow-tie -Walter owned the gent’s outfitters at 22, Lowther Street, Whitehaven. Advertised as a “A tailor of taste”, it was a well-known shop front in the town. He served in two World Wars; first with the RFC in World War I, then with the RAF in Canada in World War II. A chorister at the Priory for 60 years, he was a pillar of village amateur drama and music, and was a founder-member and past Chairman of the St. Bees British Legion. He died in January 1969 aged 71.
With the coming of television and the Beatles, there was no longer any demand for a Village Institute with a billiard table and a reading room, so in 1960 the British Legion took over the running of Hodgett’s Club from the Parish Council. The complicated question of ownership was cleared up at this time. The Parish Council ceased to have direct involvement, and a board of trustees known as the “Pagan Trust” was set up who owned the Building. But by 1967 the Legion too was finding it difficult to manage, and the trustees considered disposing of the building for renovation as flats. Fortunately the offers the trustees received from developers were derisory, and before they became serious, the newly-founded Over-60s Club and the St. Bees Freemasons became the new tenants. Hodgetts was saved for the village. They soon refurbished the building and converted the two bottom rooms into one hall to avoid the use of the stairs.
Hodgett’s Club in Finkle Street – now known as the Village Hall – is the large imposing sandstone building in the centre.
Probably the Council’s biggest contribution to the Swinging Sixties was the installation of play equipment on the Village School field in 1967. Because it is owned by the parish it hasn’t suffered the fate of many play areas which have been closed by the District Council when they have been looking for cost-savings. The playground’s future was assured in the 1990s when it was brought up to the latest standards for safe surfaces.
Rottington, with a population of less than 70 in 1894, did not have the required 200 inhabitants to have a parish council. However, they were still obliged to collect the various rates on behalf of the District Council and the Poor Law Guardians. To do this they were given what was known as a “Parish Meeting”, which could appoint the overseers who collected the rates.
The first Parish Meeting was on December 4th 1894, and was chaired by John Carter of Rottington. The only business was the appointment of Overseers. This was the pattern for the following years, and by 1903 there had been only two other items of business discussed. Nationally these Parish Meetings were not a success as they couldn’t employ anyone other than the overseers and didn’t have the powers of parish councils.
The 1933 Local Government Act, which abolished the old Whitehaven Rural District Council, also gave smaller communities such as Rottington, which had struggled on with the toothless parish meetings, the power to form parish councils.
The inaugural Parish Council meeting for Rottington was held under the guidance of William Atkinson of St. Bees. The first Chairman was Issac Mossop, who had been chairman of the old Parish Meeting since 1924, and Mr. H. Hickson was appointed Clerk. Business immediately increased, and the Council met quarterly. The Council discussed street lighting, provision of telephones, transport for school children, pollution, postal services, footpaths, stiles and common land. During the War Rottington had its own ARP and fire fighting organisation.
The second Chairman, Billy Cottam of Rottington Hall Farm, was appointed in 1954, and held the post until amalgamation in 1973. He is still a member of the St. Bees Council, and the longest serving of either Council. In 1955 William Temple was appointed the Rottington Clerk, a post he also held until the amalgamation.
By a quirk of the old boundaries, the new estate of Abbey Vale was in Rottington, as the residents found out when they went to the St. Bees Council with complaints about the estate roads. With the coming of Abbey Vale, Rottington had more than doubled its population at a stroke, and new councillors joined the Council representing the Estate. Business increased dramatically and meetings were held in St. Bees to accommodate Abbey Vale residents.
The parish of St. Bees follows a variety of ancient boundaries, and even part of Moor Row is in the civil parish. In 1973 the parish of Rottington amalgamated with St. Bees. Rottington covered the area to the west of the blue line.
The Parishes Amalgamate
Following the Local Government Act of 1972, the Government advised that parishes having less than 1200 voters could cease to exist. The St. Bees and Rottington communities had always been very close, so their Parish Councils unanimously agreed to join in order to bring the total population above this threshold.
A public hearing was held in Hodgett’s Club, at which there were no objections to amalgamation. But when the scheme was taken to Whitehall for the necessary legal changes, the civil servants backed off. They had made loud noises about small parishes not being viable, but they didn’t want the administrative load of amalgamation. But the two parishes indignantly stuck it out, and the Secretary of State finally agreed.
Rottington Parish Council had its last meeting in the New College Hall on March 27th 1973, and for a short period all the councillors of both parishes served as a joint council. After the election in April 1973, the Rottington Council ceased to exist, and the new Council was increased to 14 Councillors.