Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - our local historian was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 26: Sheddding Light on Nenthead

Nenthead Chapel with a Wrights Bus

On 2nd January 1920, members of the Nenthead Ward met to consider, “the adoption of the Lighting and Watching Act 1833 and any other business arising therefrom”.

The Chairman, Councillor R.C. Bell, gave particulars of the Act and how the cost was to be met. After some discussion a committee was appointed, “to inquire into the cost of lighting the village either by Oil Lamps, Gas or Electricity. After this the meeting was adjourned.
The new committee approached the Vieille Montagne Zinc Co. to ask if they would “be inclined” to grant a connection from their internal electric lighting system to at least three points in the village. The Company replied that they would indeed be willing and the three points chosen were The Stone Bridge, The Rails (to Overwater), and Nenthead Street.
The Company’s terms were that: The Company was to provide and erect the lamps at its own cost. The Company was not to be held responsible for any interruption in the lighting provision. They reserved the right to withdraw the lights at any time. That any light wilfully damaged would not be replaced. The charge to be paid to the Company was 1/- (5p) per lamp per year.
At the March Ward Meeting acceptance of this offer was, understandably, carried unanimously. In view of this the Ward Committee decided not to adopt the Lighting and Watching Act of 1833. The Chairman and Secretary were appointed to collect the nominal 3/- per year for the lights and Rev. W. Taylor proposed that, “notices be painted on the lamp standards warning persons against doing wilful damage to the installation”.

At the Annual Meeting of 1920 the princely sum of 3/8 was collected. 3/- went to the V.M. and the extra 8d was retained for postages.
At the 1921 Meeting it was remarked that the Nenthead folk so appreciated the lights that in fact no wilful damage had been done to them. This year 5/- was collected, with the extra 2/- being offered to the caretaker of the school where the meetings were held. Gratitude to the V.M. was to be expressed via the press.
In 1922 6s.10d was collected. There was no mention in 1923, but in 1924 5/6 was raised.
In May 1925, the committee was asked to thank the V.M. for the provision of lights and (by the way) would the Company consider granting the favour of another light at the school entrance? 7s.5d. was collected. Later that month the chairman reported that he had passed on the request but there had been no response as yet.
By 1926 the additional lamp had been agreed to. Mr. Treloar, the manager of the V.M., was thanked not only for the new lamp but for continuing to provide the others at a nominal cost. (It would seem that the new lamp, although agreed, was not erected). However in spite of this expression of gratitude, only 4s.2d. was collected at the meeting, but there had been a low attendance, “only 9 (men) present”.

The following year saw a storm of protest! At the Annual Ward Meeting in March 1927 it was resolved that a letter be sent to the Alston Rural District Council, “against the expenditure of rates upon an Alston Electric Lighting Scheme”. A letter commenced as follows:-
“We offer a respectful protest against even sharing the cost of the preliminary technical and legal advice already undertaken by the council respecting the above on the following grounds”:- Nenthead residents had not been consulted; the scheme was for Alston only, Nenthead residents would not receive any benefit; Nenthead already possessed street lights without rate aid, yet it was expected to pay rates towards the Alston proposal, which residents considered ‘an injustice’”. After the meeting, 6/- was collected; 3/- for the caretaker of the school and 3/- towards the Nenthead lights.
In 1928 7/- was collected. No mention was made in 1929, but in 1930 it was noted that no rent had been paid for 2 years. The chairman said that he had paid the previous year’s 3/- out of his own pocket. He was thanked and 7/- was raised. The chairman was repaid.
In 1931 8s.6d was raised with 6/- for lights. In1932 note of thanks was sent to the V.M. and 6/- raised.
1933 saw a request to the V.M. for an extra light near the Rechabite Hall in Overwater. 5s.4½d was raised. At a Special Meeting in November, 3/- was collected, 1s.6d. for lights and 1s.6d. for the caretaker.
There was no mention of lights in 1934 and at the Annual Ward Meeting of March 1935 the request was repeated for a light at the Rechabite Hall. The collection raised 5s.2½d.
About this time it must have become apparent that the lighting situation needed review. At a Special Meeting on 14th May it was acknowledged that the old donation of 3/- was grossly inadequate and a resolution for a new donation of 15/- per lamp was passed by 20 votes to 11. If this was to prove unacceptable to the V.M. Co., the committee was to ask the Company for a flat rate per annum.
At another Special Meeting on the 27th May, the V.M.’s offer to supply the three lights for £2.5s was accepted with a special committee from the ward appointed to raise the money. (There is no mention of a light at the Rech., the request must have been refused.)
In 1936 there was 6/6 in hand after payment for lights, then in 1937 it was moved that envelopes be sent out for subscribers to the lighting scheme.
By 1938 electricity on the national grid had come to Alston Moor. In Nenthead a new Lighting Committee was elected. The collection at the Ward Meeting amounted to 3s.10½d, with 2s.6d. for the caretaker.
During 1939, £3.4s.2d. was raised by the Committee. Expenditure had been £2.9s.0d. for additional lamps and £1.3s.0d. for renewals. At the meeting 4s.8d. was collected, 2s.6d. for the caretaker and 2s.2d. for the lights committee.
The Second World War does not feature largely in the Ward Meeting Minute Book, administrative matters proceeded as usual, but in 1940 there was a minor revolution, 3/- was raised, 1s.6d. went to the caretaker and 1s.6d. to the seats fund!
There is an intriguing entry for 1941. A letter regarding the lights from the “Co.” (Council or Company?) was read out but it was decided that the matter (whatever it was) should be left until after the war.
1942 saw a poor attendance at the meeting. 2s.7½d was collected and it was given to the caretaker. This was the procedure for collections from now on.
In March 1945 the committee was resolved to write to the (Rural District) council as more lights were “very badly needed” in Nenthead.
However, this tolerant tone of the minutes was to change, drastically. The wartime Churchillian spirit was very much in evidence next year in 1946, when it was resolved: “That we must fight without slacking until we get some system of street lighting in the district and that a strong body of Nenthead Representatives should attend the parish meeting at Alston to fight for our rights in this instance also to ask Garrigill representatives to be there to support us with trying to break down the old Lighting Act of 1826”. (!) Sixteen representatives were elected, with the power to co-opt (presumably in case 16 weren’t enough).
What the upshot was in Alston is not recorded, but in 1947 the minutes reported that the matter was not in abeyance and that the delay was because of the shortage of “supply of materials and when this was available the work would be done”.
This was not enough! In 1948 dissatisfaction in Nenthead “was rife” as several places in the village were “stated as Constituting a Danger to the Public”, because of the lack of street lights.
However by 1949, authorisation had been given for twelve new street lights to be installed before the autumn when they would be needed. Four more lights were installed in 1953 and another two in 1958. Then in December 1960 a new transformer was brought in to boost the voltage to between 230 and 240 volts.

After this, things become more routine. But next time you see a street lit up at night, pause for thought. We take it all so much for granted.

Note: Information for this article came from the Minute Book of the Nenthead Ward 1894 - 1986, lodged with the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives.
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Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
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