My Family History
by W.L.Selkirk, May, 1984
In the week before he died, my father began to write his memoirs. Unfortunately he did not get very far – if only he had lived a week or fortnight longer! But this is a fascinating glimpse of the family history as seen by the previous generation. – AS
I am writing these few notes about what sketchy history of my family I can remember, I hope for your interest, as even I know so little about my grandparents. So, here goes!
Starting with my Mother. She was born Isobel Calderwood. Her father was Robert Calderwood. He came from Ayr – or near to. I understood his family were Mill owners – at Parcluan Mill, near Ayr. Now on our honeymoon – a 3 week camping holiday, we couldn’t afford anything more, & were quite pioneers in that field – we got near to Ayr and camped north of the town. I asked the farmer if he knew of the Calderwoods of Percluan Mill. He said yes, but they lived south of the town. The head of the family was head of the local yeomanry, and fancied himself prancing about on a horse. it then dawned on me that the ‘mill’ was not where they grind corn, but in those days Ayrshire blankets were as well-known in the north country as Whitney blankets were in the south (as we were heading for the highlands, we did not turn back to call on our 2nd(?) cousins.)
To go back to my Grandfather, he was a superintendent in the Ordnance Survey – the government, not a military establishment. He said he knew Oxford better than any other person because he was in charge of the first large scale (32”?) map of the city. My mother was born at Standlake, a village a few miles from Oxford. I know this because we moved into a new house in Yardley when I was very young, and they called it Standlake. He subsequently became head of the Carlisle Office. On his retirement he came to live with us at Standlake – I can vaguely remember it was quite a large house, but the partnership cannot have been a success as I can really remember living quite close to each other in Stetchford. My Grandfather was a tall man of 6ft or more with a full Victorian beard. My grandmother was tall too – say 5’ 10”. I don’t even know her Christian name.
She was a Cameron (this may be fact or fiction on my part) and came from near Stirling. I also think that the name Logan was in turn her mother’s maiden name. Grandma suffered torture with her cancer and she was under morphine so often. An insight into a possible ‘cure’ was tea made with violet leaves. Grandfather’s greenhouse was carpeted with the plants (for the winter) and a large area outside too The taste of the tea was revolting!!
My Mother only had one brother (no sister) Robert Duncan Logan. he married late in life and had no children. He, too, worked in the Ordnance Survey, first in Carlisle, and then, pre-1914 I think, in Southampton. I don’t think he ever got to supervisor, but somewhere, is a medal he got for his work in map making during the 1914 war.
I know very little about my Mother’s early life, except she met my Father in Carlisle. They were both interested in wood carving and in the local opera company (hence the Gilbert and Sullivan scores which I believe Andrew now has). I am almost certain they were married in Carlisle.
That is about all – except that Grandpa and Grandma were buried in Yardley cemetery (headstone) and Mother was cremated in Birmingham crematorium. She too died of cancer.
Coming now to my father’s side. My grandmother, Betty (Gunson) died before I was born, and I can only vaguely remember my Grandfather. I believe he was quite short (5’6”) and in his youth he was a keen wrestler (Cumberland style) – in those days a definitely amateur sport The prizes, of which he won several, were leather belts, 5 or 6” wide, with a large brass buckle. I never found out how they were worn, but if put over the shoulder, the other end would dangle down to your hipbone. This was possibly the inspiration of the present ‘Lonsdale belt’. He was bald, as they say was his father, and that passed on to all his sons too. My hair (such as it now is) must have come from my Mother’s side!
My grandfather apparently had a flock of sheep which lived in summer on one of the nearer fells (with a shepherd) and in winter was brought down to the valley of the Ehen. Then he bred beef short-horn cattle The E.P. tea set Frank now has was his prize (amongst others) he won at Carlisle show with these animals. He was beet known as a bacon and ham man. He used to go over to Ireland to buy pigs and have them shipped to Whitehaven. Remember that in those days, Whitehaven was a major port in the North West My father told me he could remember the Mill Lane, at the Beckermet end of which was Coneygarth Farm, being filled with horses and carts laded with pigs. At the farm, in what was called the bacon house, these pigs were turned into bacon and ham. If any of the family would have taken on this business, the firm would have become as household a name as Harris’s Wiltshire bacon was in my time. You may remember this, but they seem to be defunct today.
My own grandfather had the rather dubious distinction of reading his own obituary in the Whitehaven news! It happened in this way. The river Ehen between Braystones and where it flows into the sea, flows through a narrow valley (on the sea side, the land rises to quite a hill). The valley was fertile grazing ground, and was called “The Boggles”. Now the amount the river can rise in flood has to be seen to be believed. If you ever go to Braystones. as you approach, there is an isolated castellated tower (with archaeological specimens inside – key from the big house nearby). This is the Jubilee Tower – Queen Victoria’s. At either side of the river is quite a steep ramp. When I was a boy, these ramps were joined by an iron bridge, but one flood swept the bridge clean away. As a result, the present concrete bridge was built – up to this time vehicles had to ford the river. I myself have seen the river completely blocking the Beckermet – Braystones road, and the water cascading over the dykes at either side at least half a mile from the river bed. This is all a preamble to my story.
Grandfather used to winter some of his sheep down in The Boggles. One winter’s evening about twilight, news came that the river was rising fact, so one and all at the farm (Father was there, so this probably was before he was in his mid 20s) set out to rescue the sheep – Grandfather riding his horse. By the time they got to the field, it was practically dark. They rescued the sheep, but at least a couple were missing. Grandfather said he would ride around the field. He found the missing sheep on top of a dyke that was just above water level. He got off his horse onto the dyke (presumably to tie a rope round the sheep and tow them to safety) when his horse decided he had had enough and left grandfather stranded with the two sheep! When the horse got back to the gate without a rider, everyone concluded he had been swept away. The local ‘News’ reporter heard of the tragedy and wrote a hasty obituary and cycled all the way to Whitehaven to be in time for the weekly ‘News’ which would be on sale the following day. Naturally, at first light the next day they were down at the field again. There they found grandfather quite safe – somewhat damp but alive! First, the flood had risen very little more and left a tiny island of the dyke dry. So he lay down and dragged a sheep down at either side of him and they kept him warm enough to stay alive!
One final thought about my grandfather. He also owned the watermill that was just off Mill Lane. It was defunct even I believe in my young days, but cousin Dora showed me the ledger she had, showing that they did grind corn there.
The railways were I suppose responsible for the break up of those close-knit communities. In Beckermet my cousin lived in the big house half way up the hill on the Egremont road, another on the second corner of the Mill Lane almost opposite to Coneygarth Farm. Another was at the other end of the village – the grounds of which are now occupied with caravans for sale. Then at Sellafield, there were the Atkinsons, of High Sellafield, a more distant relative at Sella Park, and then the Walkers of Low Sellafield. This last is of interest, because the farmer died without issue circa 1912-15. The farm was put up for sale and bought by the Government. Zeppelins were starting to bomb England and the powers that he were looking for a site in which to make explosives, which would be inaccessible to the German airships. The factory was set up and used till the end of the war when it was put on a care and maintenance basis for very many years. Then during the time we had holidays at Braystones – presumably at the end of the last war they started what was then the Winscale project. They started by laying a pipe line to take water from the Ehen (close by the Beckerment-Braystones road) and ending up by laying that outlet pipe which extends some miles out into the sea.
Now to come to my own time. I can say little about my Mother, just a competent housewife, who enjoyed cooking and embroidery and knitting and who played quite a good hand at bridge. She died comparatively young from cancer of the gall bladder.
My earliest recollection of my father was him playing cricket. The club he used to play for was very close to us in Yardley on the (Stetchford) station road. Some years ago – recently – I looked at a map of Birmingham and saw that the ground was still there. Then he turned to golf. He went to Castle Bromwich Golf Club by bicycle – fixed wheel -with his golf clubs on his back. The golf bag itself was small with an opening diameter of between 5″ and 6″. The contents probably were: driver, “spoon” (a wooden club with more loft than a ‘brassie’) and the irons were a cleak, mid iron, mashie, niblick and putter – Two or three balls and a sponge (to wipe the dirty ball) completed the outfit.
Then he would wear a Norfolk jacket and breeks (see pictures of G.B.S.) and golfing boots. In those days I would say up to the 1930s, it simply wasn’t done not to wear a jacket of some sort whilst on the golf course. At home he was always a keen gardener, and like Mother played bridge. Come to that, both Irene and myself learned at an early ages, and we four, as a family played a lot of bridge together. It was somewhat of a disappointment to me when I discovered that your Mother didn’t like the game (nor for that matter did we go to many dances, simply because she was too short for me).
Before I go any further, I have just remembered two interesting bits. First, Uncle William brought home a whole stalk (I suppose you call it) of bananas (no refrigerated ships) which he gave to his father. He in turn hung them in the ‘Bacon House’ and as they ripened, he would offer one to a costomer, one of this newfangled fruit. Finally, when he was just about down to the last one, he realised that he ought to try one himself. Result: he was so mad that he had given all the rest away as he so thoroughly enjoyed it! My second thought is that my father was offered his first tomato (in his 20s) on top of Helvellyn, where he had been hill walking with a friend. One tends to think that both fruits have been with us for – ages?!
After my mother’s death, Father and Irene lived on in Trafalgar Road (I was away) till shortly before my wedding, when I got a job in Birmingham. Then, after my marriage we split the house in two flats. A year or so later, I got a job in Luton. They lived on in the house until Irene joined the WRENS, ending up as 2nd Officer i.c. the women at an R.N. air station – somewhere in Lancashire – I forget where. At that point, father sold the house and spent the rest of the war in an hotel in Southport. There he met the woman he subsequently married and went to live with her in Newcastle.
Now to your Mother’s family. We gather that they came from the Pershore area, but Frank Broomhall’s father farmed chiefly by breeding riding horses – indeed it was said of the Broomhall boys that they were always better mounted than the Coventrys – Lord Coventry owned the land. Frank himself became a farmer, and in your Mother’s young days, farmed at Brockworth, Gloucestershire. He had one 100 acre field which on occasion he would hire out to airmen who took passengers up for 10 minute flights at about £1 a head. These aerial circuses used to tour the country regularly.
Farming in the 1920s and 1930s was at rock bottom – the retail price of milk was about 2d a pint. However, Frank was a man of ideas – you would call him an entrepreneur these days, I suppose. I never had the exact story, but it went something like this. Frank knew as much about cattle as his son did. Eastman’s (Butchers) advertised for a buyer. Frank gave up his farm when Eastman’s offered him the job. Between markets he would go to their various shops to get their requirements, and before long the management of their shop with the slaughterhouse fell vacant. Frank got the job. Before long, he scraped up enough money to buy a run down shop and slaughter house at Eastington, which soon turned into a comfortable living. On Joe’s marriage
(I discovered this text in a letter that Brin sent to me c 1998. It was well typed out – I have scanned it in – but it ends in mid-sentence – ARLS 9.1.2000)