Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Allonby: A Short History and Guide by Peter Ostle. P3 publications. £4
"By the mid-1800's. Allonby had seven pubs, two wine and spirit merchants and its own brewery and maltings." It was a small fishing village which received tourists in the summer, but it was something special.
The large, handsome Reading Rooms dominated the front. They were built in 1862, designed by Alfred Waterhouse. He later went on to build the magnificent Manchester Town Hall, Kensington's Natural History Museum and Strangeways Prison. The Reading Rooms were a response to the pubs. The Temperance Movement fought the "evils of drink". Jabez Tunnicliff formed The Band of Hope in 1847 and in Allonby, young people who signed the pledge were treated to "talks, sing-songs and occasional magic-lantern shows" and a trip - "149 people, 13 carts" going to Heathfield for a picnic in 1886.
And the Reading Rooms were to be "a rival to the ale-house". The original construction featured an Italian style piazza with the beautifully lit reading room on the first floor. The colonnade, which provided shelter from inclement weather, was bricked-in to create a billiards and games room. Later there was a natural history collection, and then the rooms were used to make camouflage netting during the war, The building was sold in 1970, but a plan to create a motor cycle museum was rejected and the building fell into dereliction. Today, transformed into a house, the owners enjoy "one of the most beautifully situated homes in England!"
Joseph Pease, a Quaker industrialist, financed The Reading Rooms, and he bought the Baths in the same year, 1862. That ambitious building, which had been created to "provide a lounge for visitors . . . in our variable climate" was a financial failure. The Baths were fitted out in marble "with water drawn from the sea in pipes by a small steam engine".
It was another Quaker, Pease's cousin, Thomas Richardson, who built the North Lodge. The main lodge served as a holiday home - Richardson had married an Allonby girl, Martha Beeby, in 1799 - and the two wings offered rent-free accommodation to six local widows and spinsters.
Across the front from The Reading Rooms, was The Hill. Here the herring caught by the Beeby family were salted or kippered by the Costain family. In the smoke house a wood-burning open hearth provided the smoke for the kippers which hung in the two floors above. "Right up to the war years, cod, skate lobsters and prawns were landed at Allonby."
There was an old iron bridge carrying the main road across the river. In November, 1905, when the beck was swollen after heavy rain, the bridge cracked under the weight of a traction engine, which was hauling a steam-driven fairground ride from Maryport. A misty old photograph shows the broken bridge, the forlorn engine and the assembled workmen, officials and onlookers.
Two years earlier, another disaster, proved more fortunate for Allonby. A barque, the Hougoumont, carrying a cargo of unlabelled tins of salmon, peaches and pears, ran aground. The villagers mounted "a salvage operation" and "a few good meals were had by all".
This is an all-too-brief booklet on Allonby. It is a place with a rich and idiosyncratic history. Peter Ostle crams in as much as he can from the Roman milefort at Swarthy Hill to The John Robinson-Harrison Memorial Fresh-Air Fortnight Home, and he manages to include a walking tour of the village. David Lush has drawn the maps and sketches and there is a wealth of old photographs.
Allonby is a very special place.