The Foolish Things Which Men Do

ike all honest men, Eric admits to having done one or two foolish, or perhaps just foolhardy, things in his life. He also tells of the foolhardy adventures of others, because of course they were all together in this weren’t they?

Like the day when they were loading lorries with spoil for the barytes and fluorspar to be recovered. Working with them was a 73 years young man called “Old Smed”, and Smed would work harder than any other man around. When he was digging in a tip he could produce a mountain in a very short time, throwing the earth and stones out to one side at the same time, never looking up for breath or straightening his back..

One day, another of Eric’s old mates, called Willis, backed his lorry in to be loaded, and the rear wheels settled into the great pile of earth and stones which had been left by Smed. He was a greedy fellow, this man Willis and so he tried to load as much as possible on his lorry. By the time they had finished shoveling Eric reckons there must have been seven tons on board and as Willis jumped into his cab Eric advised him to give it all the welly he could, because who knows what was under the soft earth on which he was parked.

Sure enough, as the lorry moved forward it started to slide into the old mine shaft, which had been completely hidden by Smed’s shoveling. Willis gave the engine all she had, and it was only good luck and the stone edge to the old shaft which saved a disaster.

After that little escapade all they could do was to cover in the shaft and abandon work in that area, but Willis lived to tell the tale.

A Trip to Yorkshire

Fifty years ago it was considered unusual to have a lorry in good working order. To have good brakes was unknown and most of the lorries on the road were ex-army or air force surplus, not usually suited to the jobs for which they were used.

On the occasion about which we speak Eric was responsible for an old Canadian Ford fitted with four wheel drive and previously used by the army for pulling tanks out of difficult situations. A chap he worked for, called Fairey announced one day that he was going to Swalesdale in Yorkshire to collect mine spoil and he wanted Eric to go with him. It was an adventure, so Eric of course said, “yes”.

Fairey drove a huge, long Austin lorry which had been used by the air force to collect wrecked aeroplanes. It was a 6-8 wheeler and had been fitted with a Perkins diesel engine. So our intrepid pair drove to Winster common at 3-o’-clock in the morning and loaded Eric’s Canadian Ford on top of the Austin, setting off for Manchester, which they reached at about 10:30. All’s well so far.

Later in the day saw them driving up a very poor track in remotest Swalesdale where, 20 miles later, at 3:30pm they found the place for which they were looking, old Roman mine workings where the spoil heaps were being excavated.

Both lorries were loaded, and this time Eric had about eight tons on his Ford, which was about as much as he could carry. Fairey set off back home, closely followed by Eric, and all was going well until, just after passing through Wetherby he felt the lorry starting to shudder. “Oh no,” thought Eric to himself, “A flipping puncture!”

Slowing down and pulling to the side of the road, Eric was slightly bemused to see a wheel zoom past him, closely followed by another, and as he came to a halt and the lorry slumped over he realised that two of his rear wheels had shorn off.

The events which followed might sound amusing when recounted here, but this route was a bit like the M1 in those days and was quite crowded. One wheel quickly came to a halt by the side of the road, but the other decided to have some fun and headed for a passing car. As Eric describes it, it was just as if the wheel had a magnet in it, and whatever the poor (woman) car driver did to avoid it the wheel followed her.

Luckily, at the last minute the errant wheel took off to the left, hit the kerb and vanished over the wall and down into the valley below. Eric by the this time had run to the wall and saw the wheel spinning off into the distance. The Flying Scotsman was also just passing in the valley and it was quite lucky that there was not a more serious accident.

The question then was, “what to do?” Fortunately, lorry drivers then, as now, were a closely knit community and it was not long before a fellow driver had spotted Eric’s plight and picked him up. They managed to catch up with Fairey, who was quite surprised by Eric’s story.

It took them quite a while to find a scrap merchant who just happened to have, for the princely sum of three pounds (for which he took a cheque - trusting lads in the old days) all the tools and parts which were needed to repair the lorry. The biggest problems were to find the wheel down in the valley and to get it back to the road, which Eric, turning it over and over managed to do eventually. He says that finding it was no problem - he simply followed the trail of damage, through broken fences and hedges and into the valley.

His lorry re-assembled, Eric and his partner set off once again for home, but this time it had begun to snow. It was already very cold in the cab, because both vehicles had last been used in desert operations and had only thin pieces of plastic where the windows should be.

The final straw in a very eventful day was when Fairey ran out of fuel near Bakewell. A walk into town at 10:30pm and a lift back finally got them home at 11:30pm. Some day eh, for a ton or two of mine spoil?

Winster - The Beauty and The Changes

Although Winster as a village was always changing, Eric believes that the most dramatic changes took place during the 20th century. They started with the construction of a modern sewage works in the 1920’s. Built by volunteers, the works was ahead of its time, with large diameter pipes a man could crawl through and inspection shafts with access ladders. There was never any trouble with the sewage supply after that and it was maintained by one man - usually a retired chap or a farmer.

Winster also had an excellent water supply, fed from wells in the limestone, pumped to the village reservoir on Galley Moor and from there down into the two village reservoirs. With the excellent sewage disposal and water facilities Winster was well placed, but Eric speaks with great feeling and resentment about developments which followed.

“The sewage works and water supply were taken away from the people of Winster by the Rural Council,” he says. “We were forced to take our water from Bamford Dams and to pay high rates to Trent Water - a private concern - for a worse service and worse water than we had before,” he adds. “The same water which we used to drink is now being bottled and sold for drinking water all over the world. The people doing it are making a fortune, and the people of Winster have never received a halfpenny in compensation!”

“We went to sleep and let the Rural Council take everything from us,” says Eric, and he is deeply critical of people in local councils who historically in his experience have cared more for themselves than for improving the lives of the people they are supposed to serve.

Another landmark in the development of the village was the building of twelve council houses, which were finished in 1950. With a starting rent of twelve shillings a week these new properties had three bedrooms and inside bathrooms and toilets. Although overcrowding in the village was severe it was some time before the houses were occupied, because people were used to only paying between two shillings and six shillings a week rent. Eventually, some in severely overcrowded homes were forced to move, and the houses have been occupied ever since.

Inside lavs and baths were quite a luxury for a people who had traditionally used outside earth toilets - called by a variety of pet names, including some double and triple headers for all the family to sit together. Over a two year period all the earth lavatories were replaced by water based ones, so everyone could have the same as them folks in ‘t council houses.

“And then we lost the railways,” mourns Eric, sadly. “There was a time when you could walk 3 miles from the village and get on a train which would take you anywhere in Europe,” he says. “It was the cheapest way of travelling, we were leaders of the world in steam engineering, and I feel it is the greatest tragedy of all time that the railways have gone. It ruined the country and left us at the mercy of the motor car and motorways.”

Eric’s biggest worry was the gradual destruction of the countryside. “The countryside is dying,” he says. “It’s not safe to be out any more with cars speeding past on village roads and all kinds of laws being broken daily.” “We’ve also lost so many birds through poisoning and with all the hedgerows being chopped down.”

“The countryside is dying, I tell you, and we have to do something about it!"

The beauty of the village of Winster is subtle - it creeps up on you quietly, and it can take quite a long time before you realise it. This is what happened to Eric, during the more than 56 years he has lived in Winster - because he says that he has only begun to realise how beautiful it is during the last 30 years!

To see Winster at her best you need to approach from the west, which allows you to look down into the village and across the beautiful valley in which Winster is situated. From the top of the Bank you can see for 40 miles on a clear day, and it is also interesting to see the old ore house, where the miners would bring their lead samples to be weighed. The ore house has been refurbished in recent times, but it is a prominent reminder of the intensive mining which went on in and around the village until quite recent times.

The Romans brought lead mining to the area, and it is fascinating to be able to reflect, in hindsight, how that same lead, used for the manufacture of cooking utensils, water pipes and the like, was responsible for poisoning the brains and bodies of the Romans and must eventually have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Eric says that there are something in the region of 700 mines, and the whole area is networked with them.

As you descend West Bank into the village the ancient cottages embrace you with their friendly warmth and character. Turning right you are immediately struck by the wide Main Street stretching away before you and the ancient Market House dominating the far end of the village. Since the 14th century, Winster has been a market town and the wide street accomodated both the market stalls and the cattle which were tethered there. Bulls were once tethered to a big block of stone with a ring in it and hired out to “service” cows at perhaps a shilling a time. If a calf resulted then the bull owner might expect a little more.

Market House dates from the 11th or 12th century and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is a particularly beautiful building and has always featured as the focal point of market life. Just opposite was one of the many inns, pubs and ale houses of the village, The Angel. The Angel was what is known as a road house, taking in residents and stabling horses. The local transport coach would stop here and change horses.

At the back of Market House is another inn, the Bowling Green, and across from the Bowling Green was the Bull’s Head. Miners drank a lot - hence the large number of pubs and ale houses, but some were preferred over others. The Bowling Green was less popular because the landlord was also the village butcher and tended to conduct his business from the bar. The Crown however, out in Main Street was more popular because it was owned and run by the postman, who finished work by late morning. He was therefore able to devote more of his time to being a publican and the whole atmosphere of the place was more jovial and enjoyable.

One of the funniest stories Eric tells about the Crown is the “explosive” one on the front page. But another amusing incident happened one night after the Winster Morris Men had been practicing there while waiting for the horse drey to Buxton. The local who played the witch - a chap by the name of Frank (surely not the same Frank who plays the witch today!) took a bet that he could climb to the top of the chimney, so they took off the cowl and up he went, only to become firmly wedged half way up.

The regulars had to dismantle the fireplace to get him out and he was provided with half a gallon of beer to wash down the soot. He caught the drey, but there was no time to wash, and Frank goes down as one of the great characters, of which Eric feels there are few left today.

Built on the valley side, Winster is riddled with “gennels” or footpaths which connect one part of the village with another and which date back to the time when the locals were less property conscious than those of today. Folks would wander where they chose and if one happened to step out of line then he was soon put back in his place.

Wandering around the village today can very easily take you back to those times, and many properties still bear the signs of previous use over their doors. A very pleasant, and not too difficult walk takes you up East Bank past the Bowling Green, and then out into the fields in the direction of Bonsall, up the grassy slopes and between the trees towards the Limestone Way.

Stop at this point and look back, and you will see the village quietly snuggling in to the hillside, with not too much to be seen or heard from here. A little higher and you reach the major footpath (the Limestone Way) where you turn right and follow the path all the way to the road near the Miners Standard. Past the pub the Limestone Way drops down to the corner of a field where a footpath turns right through a field.

Follow this path across the fields and again cross the road heading for the Church. You pass Oddo House on your left and then enter the churchyard. Take time to stop and look inside the church, with its fascinating architecture and also at the names on the gravestones in the church yard. A lot of the history of the village lies here. Finally, exit the church yard and re-enter Main Street at the bottom of West Bank - which is almost where we began.

Actually, if you want to know what Winster is really like just sit on the seat outside the splendid Winster Hall (which has had many uses through its history but is now a private house) and watch village life go by. See how many people say hello to you, see how many stop for a chat or simply pass a friendly greeting. Then you will really begin to know the character of the village and the people who live there.