Tatham and Wennington in 1956
Wennington, with its cluster of old cottages, its spacious village green and its one shop, is what the majority of people like to regard as a typical English village. It is the sort of place residents will tell you 'nothing ever happens'.
Mostly they are right. This outpost of Lancashire, almost within a stone's throw of Yorkshire, is a quiet little spot, and its life nowadays is peaceful and uneventful.
Here is a purely agricultural community and perhaps its greatest claim to recognition is that it has a railway station. Even that meant much more in the past. Yet Wennington and its sister parish of Tatham, a scattered township of farmsteads and cottages, have had a part to play in history and have known stirring times. They are closely linked by tradition and for practical and social and administrative purposes. It was natural we should couple them together for a rural visit.
Naturally in such an ancient village there are legends and folklore. Catherine Parr a historical figure who achieved fame by managing to outlive her husband King Henry VIII, is said to have spent part of her youth at Robert Hall.
Neither village can boast public buildings of outstanding character but in Tatham are two buildings which still intrigue and puzzle historians. Robert Hall and Blands are mysteries. No-one can even be certain how they came by their names, and there can be only conjecture as to the functions they fulfilled when they were built long centuries ago.
They are joined, it is claimed, by tunnels, and a third tunnel from Blands is supposed to travel to Bentham church.
The latter is much less likely than the former. A narrow lane leads from Robert Hall, now a farm house hard up to the Yorkshire border, to Blands about a mile away, and there is no doubt that the two were closely associated.
Robert Hall, which for years now has been a farm, was obviously a religious house, and probably a convent. What is now a barn was formerly a chapel, and where there was a priest's hole and a large open fireplace there is now a modern range. There is still, however, the 'Queen's bedroom', an oak-panelled room in the corner of which is a closet which could have been a confessional chamber.
Wennington is a very pleasant spot, but small and with a small population. It has its village hotel but has neither church nor chapel, and there is no school.
Its one shop however has to serve Tatham as well, but Tatham can point to a lovely old church with a Saxon altar and windows and a late Norman doorway. Tatham also has its own school and there is quite a story in the school itself. There are possibly schools in more remote parts of the country but I have never seen them. Tatham school is set in the midst of fields and fells and there is little sign of habitation about. It is now possible to reach it up the steep lane from the main road just below the Tatham Bridge Inn by car, but mostly the children walk over the fields and cart tracks.
There are only about a dozen children but what a happy little school it is. We talked with the acting headmistress, Mrs. W. Grunwell, who lives in Wennington and who had taught as a supply teacher in country schools in the area for the past 10 years.
As she pointed out, the site was probably chosen as a central position among the scattered farms, and the existence of a former and smaller school within a few yards of the present larger building indicates that there has been an educational foundation here for many years. It was probably easier of access for teachers and possibly pupils in the days when horseback was the recognised mode of travel.
There is not much scope for a wide range of community life in Wennington and Tatham. Even together there is insufficient population to support a variety of activities. Yet what community life there was – and there was plenty for an area of its limited number of people – seems to have been shrinking. For instance, there was insufficient support this winter for the women's evening classes which have always been an important feature of winter activities.
There are weekly whist drives however, and other social functions in the well-equipped village institute at Wennington, although there is not the same active interest shown in billiards and other activities. There are, however, people like Mr. John William Fryer and his wife Ada*, who are keenly interested in village life and determined that it should be fostered and encouraged.
Brisk cheerful Mrs. Fryer - who incidentally is rather proud that she, at the age of 54, became one of the youngest great-grandmothers in the country - talked with us about the ambitions which people of the district have for their future. To cater for the youngest end there is to be a badminton club, and efforts are being made to use to the full the Institute, of which Mr. Fryer has been secretary for some years.
TThe hardworking couple share the offices of chairman and secretary of the Tatham Schools Sports Committee, which organises an annual field day in the fields surrounding Tatham School, and while Mr. Fryer is secretary of the Institute, Mrs. Fryer is actively involved in the Women's Institute and both are connected with Tatham Church. Among other things, Mr. Fryer is a school manager.
One or the other, and usually both, are identified with nearly everything that goes on in the area and it is not unusual for a whist drive in aid of some cause or other to be staged at the Fryer's house. In fact, Mrs. Fryer has been a collector for the NSPCC and has gathered hundreds of pounds for that charity.
The Fryers are in Tatham, although within a stone's throw of Wennington, and a near neighbour, also in Tatham, is Mr. Cuthbert Jennings of the Tatham Bridge Inn.
Mr. Jennings came to Wennington as a railwayman in 1899 under the old Midland, and had completed nearly 50 years when he retired in 1948. He then took over the licence of the hotel from his daughter and son-in-law Mr. and Mrs. W. Whaley, who both live with him there.
A keen fisherman who still gets a great deal of pleasure fishing in the river not far from his home, Mr. Jennings is also an excellent rifle shot. 'But there is nothing to shoot now' was his complaint.
He has a lot of consolation though in his garden, and proudly showed us trophies which his skill as an horticulturist has brought. Three years ago, at the age of 70, Mr. Jennings flew to America, and after several weeks' stay returned by ship, having completed a tour of over 8000 miles in visiting various towns and cities in the United States and Canada.
Mr. and Mrs. Whaley are also well-known in the district, and last year Mr. Whaley was president of the Rotary Club of Morecambe, and Mrs. Whaley was president of the Morecambe Inner Wheel.
One of the old families in Wennington is the Middletons, and in Wennington's only shop Mr. Robert Middleton, who is postmaster, newsagent, grocer, provision dealer and general storekeeper, chatted with us about Wennington, in between serving his customers. We were joined by his mother Mrs. Edith Middleton.
The shop has been in the family for probably at least a century and succeeded his aunt, Miss Margaret Middleton, about 18 years ago. Miss Middleton still lives in the village only a few doors away from the shop where she was for many years. Mrs. Middleton takes quite an active part in the village affairs and is manager of Tatham School.
Mr. Middleton contrives to merge the offices of a church organist and bellringer at Tatham Church. He rings the bell to call people to worship and then quickly gets to the organ to play a voluntary as the congregation is assembling.
There is actually no church of any denomination in Wennington itself, but that has not deterred Mr. Nicholas Newby and his wife Mrs. Nina Newby from being actively associated with the Methodist Church. They are a grand old couple, well thought of in Wennington, and they know a great deal about the village and district. Mr. Newby spoke to me of the changes since he first came to the village in 1889 when he was three years of age. He left as a young man and spent some time in North Queensland, Australia, before returning after the first world war to Wennington to take over his father's business as the village joiner and wheelwright. His wife, whom he married 45 years ago, is a native of Roeburndale.
Preacher 50 years
Mr. Newby, who had been on the Lancaster Sulyard Street Methodist local preacher plan for half a century, is a trustee of Wray Methodist Church, which he and his wife attend. He has also been for many years a trustee for the village institute but is another of those old people who regret that the younger people do not evince the same interest in the village and village affairs as they did in his younger days.
It was a lovely day of autumn sunshine when we were at Wennington but there was a cold nip in the air and we were glad to sit for a while round the hospitable fireside at Marshes farm, where I took the opportunity of renewing a friendship with Mr. George Carter, his wife Dora, and son William. Since I was last at the farm electricity had been installed and as a hard working farmer's wife Mrs. Carter is appreciative of the boon it has been.
William, who works on the farm, is, as I remembered, something of a poultry expert, and since the age of 11 has bred and exhibited with success pedigree bantams. He has not found the same time this year to devote to his hobby, but it is not every schoolboy who can claim to have featured in a boys' annual dealing with his hobbies. It is his treasured possession.
Licensee 41 years
At Wennington's only hotel, the Foster's Arms, we were greeted by genial Mr. Jim Sedgwick, who has been licensee there for 41 years. He is one of the old type of hotel keepers who is also a farmer, and he still farms 53 acres of land, although he is 78 years of age. He is full of reminiscence and has a droll way of recalling incidents from the past.
HHe has vivid memories of when Wennington was a much livelier place than it is now, and when the railway brought many people to the village.
He told me of the time when special trains brought hundreds of people from Leeds, Bradford and other Yorkshire towns to Wennington early on Sunday.
'We used to serve hundreds of ham and egg breakfasts', he said, 'before the people were picked up by chars-a-banc to have a tour of the Lake district. Then they either rejoined the train at Wennington or went through to Morecambe to catch the train from there'.
Put on map
These excursions into Wennington certainly put the village on the map and we found that many of the older people regretted that they had fallen from favour.
A typical countryman, Mr. Sedgwick shares the complaint of his fellow licensee, Mr. Jennings, that there is very little to shoot at in the Wennington district since the rabbits which used to abound have disappeared.
SSome years ago, his fame as a clay pigeon expert was known throughout the country and he was several times an international. 'We shall have to bring clay pigeons back', he told me, 'that is all there seems to be left'.
One of North Lancashire's stately buildings, Wennington Hall, is now used as a special school. Standing in beautiful woodlands it was rebuilt from a Tudor mansion by Mr. W.A.F. Saunders in 1885. A director of the Lune Steamship Company, which built ships at Lancaster, this well-known figure took a great interest in Wennington and started a family tradition. Mr. W.M. Saunders, who still lives in the village, was for many years a valued member of the Lunesdale Rural District Council, and his son now serves Wennington on that body.
* The Fryers
John William Fryer b. Oakworth near Keighley 1896 and m. Ada Holmes in late 1917. Died 1969.
His father was John Thomas Fryer (b. Linton) who was farming at Aikengill in 1911, and later at Moorhead (when?). His mother was b. Horton in Ribblesdale. In 1901 his parents had been farming at Clough Hey, Oakworth.
Ada Holmes b. Lancaster district in late 1899. Died 1982.
Ada would seem to have been daughter of Michael W. Holmes (b. Low Bentham) and was living at Dunkirk, Low Bentham in 1901. Michael W. Holmes m. Jane Isabella Robinson (b. High Bentham) and was a stationary engine driver. By 1911 he was farmer at Greenside, with two daughters, but on the night of the census Ada was living with grandparents Richard and Christina Robinson, farmers at Green, Low Bentham. Ada's grandfather Holmes was a farmer, shoemaker, and employer.
1921 rate book: John Thomas Fryer
still at Aikengill, but John W. living at Sea View.