Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Old Workington by Keith Wallace. Stenlake Publishing. £19.
Workington was always a working town. There’s a photograph of a gang of “Workington grafters” from 1910. They stand or sit, proud but hard-faced and dour. They all wear flat caps. Their bare arms are folded. They stare boldly at the camera. One of them, the youngest, holds a birch switch. Another, with his cap pushed back, displays a massive shovel carrying the legend “Solway Dreadnoughts”. They look a formidable body of men.
Similarly formidable are the men of the Walkmill Engineering Dept. in the Chapel Banks Works, who were persuaded to pose for a group photograph in 1913. One continues to smoke a pipe. Another raises a hammer. They all wear flat-caps and waistcoats and their shirt-sleeves are rolled up ready for action.
The Monkhouse Ship Chandlers adopt a more informal pose around the propeller of the latest ship to be built at Williamson’s shipyard. The heavy, solid metal work is bolted together with strong rivets. The same rivets and iron was employed by the Workington Bridge and Boiler Company who were responsible for building the bus station and the Prince of Wales Dock.
Such power and strength could not be relied on at all times. In 1910, as it must have been for many years, the Moss Bay Steelworks were shrouded in steam and dust. Three years later, one of the massive metal chimneys collapsed. The workmen stand aside, powerless, looking at the fractured metal in the piles of rubble. Two men in suits and trilbies are inspecting the damage, deciding on the work that must be done.
There was other work to be done in Workington. Mr J. H. Fisher, a fruit and potato salesman stands in front of his horse and his flat-bed wagon. He is smartly dressed in a long jacket and starched collar and he sports a straw boater.
The bearded Mr Carruthers stands in the doorway of his chemist and druggist premises, He is wearing a bowler hat. He holds his daughter’s hand as his wife stands in the shadows. The windows are full of bottles of drugs and elixirs of all shapes and sizes.
The windows of Wilson’s Workington Fruit Stores are crowded with large sweet jars and bundled with piles of assorted fruit. The windows at Todd’s is full of straw hats and garments and materials, but Todd’s sells “Fancies, Trimmings, Laces and Ribbons”.
Two other men, proud of their horses and carts, stand in front of Brothwell and Mills, Imperial Mineral Water Works on Fletcher Street. Their wagons are loaded with crates of mineral waters ready for the morning’s deliveries.
In the Co-op at Clifton, two cleanly-turned out men wrap parcels ready for purchase, as they stand at a mahogany counter in front of well-stocked shelves of goods ready for purchase.
But all was not work in Workington. On a summer evening the young men would strip down to their drawers and plunge into the River Derwent at the Yearl, while others, clad in their best suits, would watch their antics sedately from the narrow footpath.
They might go for a drink at The Royal Oak Inn, The Ship Inn or The Black Lion or The Golden Lion or they might choose to enter beneath the fortressed facade of the Lowther Arms at the corner of Washington Street and Ramsay Brow.
The more talented gentlemen might have chosen to be members of the Duke Street Gospel Mission Band. They were happy to pose behind a fantastical pile of musical ironmongery. The wearing of a nicely-groomed moustache seems to have been essential to the mellifluous playing of a brass instrument in 1910.
Keith Wallace has assembled a superb collection of photographs which displays the historic character of a fine and proud old town. This is Old Workington.