Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Old Mardale by Neil Honeyman. Stenlake. £9
Old photographs have their own ghosts. The moment captured by those heavy cameras, the man in tweeds beneath a heavy cloth, the frozen moment. The movement, the colour, the life is drained, and then, in muted, fading shades of grey a sort of life is preserved for a brief eternity. The moment lingers.
It is so much more the case with old postcards. The Georgian gentleman, straight-backed, bowler hat, leather gaiters, sitting for ever about to flick the reins and set the pony and the trap on their journey, and the lad, flat-capped, switch in hand, who lounges against the open gate, and the woman who stands in the porch in her dark, heavy dress: all are ghosts.
And so is the Dun Bull Hotel with its “Ales, Wines and Spirits” and its promise of the best hospitality.
And so is the man who wrote the card, the man who was “going fishing in ten minutes” and had “tons of mountains to climb” and “a boat on the lake”.
And so too is the pair of little girls in their white pinafore dresses and their straw boaters posing before the high stone wall in front of the small church dwarfed by the ancient yew trees – reduced to stumps that can still be seen when the summer is dry and the waters have shrunk to uncover the ghosts.
The timbers of the church, the box pews, the wooden gallery and the carved pulpit, the oil and paraffin lamps, the congregation of fifty people who came to the church from the outlying farms in this secluded village, from Flakehow and Chapel Howe and Riggindale, from Grove Brae and Goosemire, all are long, long gone.
And the men have gone. They stood outside the Dun Bull in their flat caps, or knelt, or sat cross-legged, a cheery twinkle in their eyes as they were caught by the camera. They’d come down from the fells, from High Street, from the Shepherds Meet where the flocks had been gathered and the strays returned to their owners, and where they’d raced and wrestled and held hound trails and sheepdog trials and at the end of the day they’d come down to the Dun Bull, “for a feast, a smoking concert and a drink or two”. They all stood for their photograph, crowded together, a hundred men or more and a flock of sheep cluttered in front of them.
They are all ghosts.
And so too is Mardale.
A ghostly village that lies beneath Haweswater, a village that died so Manchester could drink.
There is a postcard of the church, printed in 1937, fenced about with barbed wire, with one brilliant white gravestone and a message, typed in white, breaking the emulsion, saying: “Mardale Church, to be submerged 95 ½ ft. on the raising of the Hawes Water Lake Level by the Manchester Corporation.”
The hills remain. High Street and Kidsty Pike and the mountain tarns, Blea Water and Smallwater.
And the dam remains. In 1941 it was as though you were “standing at the foot of the Pyramids of Egypt in the course of construction”.
Neil Honeyman, who is from Barrow, has collected over two hundred photographs of the old Mardale. There are about seventy of them in this well-presented book. They came from local photographers such as Reed’s of Penrith, Abrahams’ and Pettitt’s of Keswick, Lowe of Patterdale, Simcoe and Atkinson & Pollitt of Kendal.
All that remains is the ghostly light which filtered through their lenses so long ago.
Mardale is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com.