Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Longtown Memories of Yesteryear by Gordon L. Routledge. P3 Publications. £10
Robert Hodgeon was born in Longtown in 1914. On 11th November, 2018, he turned 104. If any man knows Longtown, if any man has Longtown in his blood, it is Robert Hodgeon. Gordon Routledge has interviewed Robert, talked with him at great length about the Longtown of former years, the Longtown of the twentieth century. The result is the fine piece of social history, the reflections of an ordinary man on his life and times.
Robert, or Bobby as he is know by everyone, was born in 8 Bank Street. His father died when he was four. John Hodgeon had been an air mechanic, sported a superb handlebar moustache, but he died from pneumonia, in Calais, in the last six months before the end of the war.
Even as a young lad, with his mother struggling to bring up three kids and doing what work she could in her parents’ shop, Bobby was left to his own resources. He took messages and got to know the ins and outs of the place and the people really well.
He went to Longtown School till he was fifteen and then it was a succession of jobs around the place, “doing the best I could for myself”. He worked at the peat works and in the bobbin mill, at the brick works and with John Laings and for his cousin, Bob Storey, doing anything that came to hand.
Then he joined the army, signed up for the Royal Engineers. It was war time. He found himself in the Middle East, making parachute jumps over the desert. Then it was Sicily and Italy and he was one of the men who parachuted into the battle at Arnhem.
In 1952, Bobby became a postman, cycling twenty-five miles a day, knowing all the houses and most of the people in the Longtown area.
Bobby remembers the circuses coming to town. There was no water at the recreation ground, so the animals, including the elephants, had to be taken down Esk Street twice a day to drink in the river. “The people in Esk Street and down towards the bottom of the street weren’t happy about the mess they made.” He remembers Biddall’s Ghost Show, and the Beezer and a melodrama called “A Collier’s Dying Child” and the Wild West Shows, Cody’s and the like.
And he remembers some of the old characters in the town. There was an old soldier. Everyone knew him as Scadgel. He stood at the Cross with his arm out as if he was directing the traffic. Bobby cleared out the house after Old Fanny Atkey died.
Bobby’s got a photo of the Batchelors’ Club. They used to meet in Netherby Street. Among the lads in the photo, there’s Harry Mouncey, Willy Wannop, John Kilgour, Bill Graham and Richard Barnfather.
He remembers Andrew Coulson, who was the town crier, and Bob Ferguson, who acquired something of a reputation as a wrestler.
There’s some fine old photographs of nearly everyone in the book and ones of the old streets and the houses.
Bobby’s stories take in all the regular life of Longtown. There were the hard winters of 1947 and 1963, all the tales of the Auction Markets and the Horse Sales and the Old Poachers and the entertainment they used to make in the town.
And there’s also those little byways of local history that Bobby got to know about over the years, about Justicetown and Peers Pele, the Market Cross, the well sinkers, the Edgars of Moat and the Old Cross at Arthuret and even the Romans.
Not that even Bobby’s memory goes back as far as the Romans.
But Bobby Hodgeon has got some fine old memories of a way of life that has long gone. Thanks to Gordon Routledge they are here in this book, and they are to be savoured and treasured.