The Memories of Phyllis Swainbank

(1917 – 2004)

Early life

I was born at Moor End Cottage in Old Tebay, which was on the right hand side of the road on the way to Orton. Our next door neighbour, Mrs Brunskill helped to deliver me, and she became my Godmother. I don’t have any memories of Old Tebay as we moved to No 2 Woodend Terrace when I was very young and it was from here that I first went to school when I was 5 years old.

I went to the Infants School, or the “bottom school” as it was known in those days. It was where the school is today, but of course it has been modernised since my time there. The head mistress was Miss Phillips. She had red hair, and a temper to match! I also remember a Miss Harbuckle. (Harbottle?). There was no playground or canteen at the time. We played on the grass around the school, or if it was wet, in a covered play area. At the back of the school were 10-12 allotments which were let out to villagers – my Dad had one. We had an easy time when I first started school. We had straw mats to rest or sleep on, and the girls had a rag doll to play with. The school was divided into 2 classrooms by a partition in which there were windows and we sat at little desks.

When we were 7years old we moved to the “top” or endowed school, which was a Church of England School (where the Tearoom is now). We received a good education and the head teachers were Danny and Mrs Robinson. Other teachers were a Miss Line (Lyon?)and a Miss Ratcliffe. Miss Ratcliffe taught the younger children in the “little” room, while the older children had their lessons in the “big” room with Miss Line. We were taught under the “Dalton Plan” and received a very good education. The teachers were strict but kind. There were old fashioned stoves in the classrooms to provide heat, and these needed to be black leaded – a task  which was carried out by the school cleaners. When we had progressed to the “big” room we had houseswifery classes and practised our skills in the head teachers’ house which was next door to the school. There was a lot of white paint to be kept clean! We also had cooking lessons there. (presumably these classes were for the girls only). Some of the pupils sat the examination for entry to Penrith Grammar School when they were 11 years old, but I don’t remember taking it. I left school when I was 14 years old.

On the way home from school we played in the road as there were very few cars then. We skipped and played hide and seek and played on an old cannon that used to be opposite the school – I don’t know where it went to.


I “larked about” when I first left school, and it was a while before I got a job, but I did clean one of the school teacher’s houses, at the end of the street. My first real job was as a trainee hairdresser in Kendal. Mother paid a premium for me to go there, but I hated it – I didn’t have the patience. I stuck it for a while, but Mother allowed me to leave when she knew how much I disliked it. I then became a shop assistant at various shops in Kendal. When I was 16 I started at Hunters Tea Store in Kendal opposite Marks and Spencer, and I remained there until I married at 24. It was a grocers and general store and I loved it there – I loved meeting people. I was the only girl amongst many men, so I got a lot of my own way! The shop hours were 8.30 am to 6 pm, during the week, but it stayed open until 8 pm on Saturdays. They were long hours, but I loved it as I knew nothing else.

To get to work, I left home on Woodend Terrace to walk to the station to catch the 7.30 am train to Kendal. Many of the young people in the village did the same. We often got soaked walking to the station in the rain, but soon dried out on the train. I returned on the 7.40 pm train in the evening, except on a Saturday when it was later.

I spent a lot of time waiting for trains on Oxenholme Station. I used to take my needle work, to pass the time, and embroidered table cloths etc for when I was married.


When I arrived home from work I had no time for an evening meal before I went out to enjoy myself! I would have a wash and get changed and would then go dancing, or attend practice for the village Concert Party of which I was a member. We also just wandered about the streets. There were no street lights in those days, and very few cars, but there were always railway men about either going to or coming from work and we were never frightened.

Dances were held in the Market Hall which was often beautifully decorated. The Hunt Ball was very special. We had supper first at the Junction Hotel followed by dancing. Tickets were 4/6d (22 1/2p) each – quite a lot of money in those days, but it deterred any undesirables! If we heard about a dance in Orton, or any other place we could get to we were soon off!

I wore lovely long gowns to the dances and as I loved anything that sparkled I once bought a black velvet belt to wear with them from a stall in the market hall. I got a slap when I got it home, and the glittery decoration on it soon tarnished and went green as did the cheap rings that I used to buy from Woolworths in Kendal. To stop me keep getting a green finger, mum and dad bought me a good signet ring for my 15th birthday.

If we were going to a dance outside the village we would get a taxi to take us.

Reg Capstick’s father, George, was the first person in Tebay I remember to own a car which he used to run as a taxi.

While I was still at school – I would be 12 or 13, I would go to the GFS – The Girls’ Friendly Society.

I had piano lessons as a child, from a Mrs Crane who lived in the middle house in Woodend Villas. After my lesson she would write in a notebook that I had to take home to mum and dad. It nearly always said “Phyllis must practice more”! I never did master playing with my left hand, and had to “vamp”. However, my limited skills came in useful when we had sing songs around the piano at home. There would be 10 or 12 of us. Dad’s favourite was “The Old Rugged Cross” which we sang over and over again. I sometimes played at dances, filling in until the band turned up. I used to vamp the old songs such as “Let me call you sweetheart”, “I’m in love with you” and “It’s a sin to tell a lie”

There were many activities in the Church Institute, such as the Mothers’ Union and the WI. I joined everything that was going on in the village, I was never at home. After I was married, I still went out a lot. My husband, Harry worked bad shifts and was usually too tired to come with me, but he never minded me going on my own. He used to say “ I don’t want to go, get yourself away”

Church (St James')

On a typical Sunday I would attend Sunday School at 9.30 am, followed by a church service at 10.30. At 2 pm I was back for Sunday School again. This time we had a Collect from the Prayer book to learn and recite. We were back at church again for the 6.30 pm service. This was often followed by a long walk – we thought nothing of walking around Orton and Gaisgill (around the Church ways, as we called it), before we headed back home.

I sang in the church choir, and went to choir practice on Thursday evenings.


When I was a child we always had an annual holiday. I don’t know how my parents afforded it. Every year we went to Blackpool – we thought that there was no other place like it. We set off on the 9.30 am train and took our own food with us – chicken, tinned food and jam in a box. We always stayed with a Mrs Hedges in Palatine Road. We stored our food, which was labelled with our name, in a cupboard in the dining room, and then Mrs Hedges used to cook it for us. My first job on arriving in Blackpool was to go to the corner shop to buy bread – it was the sort that was in the shape of a roll and was marked with rings around it – I had never seen bread like that before.

We used to queue for hours to see the circus. There was a special children’s show in the afternoon. It was wonderful. We also went to Fairy Land time after time – we had such lovely, happy times. Once I got lost on Blackpool sands. There were several lots of steps leading down to the beach. Mother said that they would be sitting on one of the steps but I must have gone to the wrong ones! I cried my eyes out ‘til I was found!

When I was older I went to dances at the Tower Ballroom and danced for hours. We also went to shows at the Opera House and on the Pier. After I was married we had free travel passes as Harry worked on the railway.


Every Christmas Day morning Tebay Brass Band played around the village. By the time they had been to all parts they were well “kettled up” as everyone gave them a festive drink! It was a lovely band and they used to entertain the crowds at the Greenholme Show in the Summer.

We used to go carol singing around the village and as far as Gaisgill in one direction, and Carlingill Farm in the other. We nearly always had snow at Christmas.

We used to go for Communion at 8 am and then went visiting friends, where we were plied with mince pies and glasses of wine.

There was always a Christmas Tree outside The Cross Keys. When I lived at home, we didn’t have a Christmas Tree. Instead Mother covered 2 wooden hoops with paper, fitted them together, and hung them with decorations. She made sure that our presents were well hidden, but as we always had the same presents each year, it wasn’t really necessary! We always had a 5 shilling (25p) Annual and a 5 shilling Selection Box as well as a stocking with an apple, an orange and a sugar pig in it.

Romance and Marriage

My future husband, Harry Swainbank and I had known each other all our lives as Harry was a Tebay boy. I got to know him better when he built a radio for my father (his first). He spent a lot of time at our house putting it together. I can see it now – it was round and had a wooden front, and stood on a shelf in the living room. It required an aerial, which was fixed to a tall wooden pole in the field behind the house. Harry loved making things. He was so looking forward to retiring so that he could make things for the house, but it wasn’t to be as he died not long before he left work (Harry worked as a signalman on the railway and died suddenly in the signal box at Culgaith when he was about 63).

We got married during the war in 1940 when I was 24 years old. We got married at St James’s at 11 am and the reception was at the Junction Hotel (now the Lune Valley Apartments near The Barnaby Rudge). We went to Morecambe for our honeymoon, not Blackpool. We caught the 3 pm train and the whole village turned out to give us a good send off. In those days, if anyone got married who worked on the railway their work mates would sound the fog horn, it used to frighten the life out of you! My boss from Hunter’s also travelled on the train, and we discovered later that he had filled my umbrella with confetti! We stayed in a private hotel on the front near the Town Hall. It was called The Ashley, and I believe it is still there.

I didn’t move far, after we were married, as we set up home at 5 Woodend Terrace, only 3 doors away from where I grew up. In the sitting room I had a 3 piece suite covered in Rexine, another chair, a square table in the middle of the room and a sideboard at the back of the room, plus the piano – I don’t know how we got it all in, but we loved it. We didn’t have carpets in those days, just oil cloth on the floors, which had to be kept clean and polished.

We didn’t get electricity until about 1954 I think. Prior to that we had oil lamps, which were lowered on a chain in order to fill them with paraffin. These were replaced by Aladdin Lamps which gave out a better light.

We had very harsh, snowy winters in 1947 and 1963. My father died in 1947 and my mother in 1963, and on both occasions the snow made things very difficult. There were drifts which covered the doors and reached as high as the upstairs windows. We had to dig out the yard to reach the outside toilet. (Phyllis only had an outside toilet and no bathroom up to the time she moved from Woodend Terrace in the late 1990’s)

The War Years

Harry was in the Home Guard. A bomb landed on the Fell, but it didn’t do any damage. I had an evacuee from Barrow which was badly bombed. His name was David and he was a grand lad. Quite a lot of evacuees came to Tebay. When they arrived they stood in the yard at the “bottom” school with their gas masks waiting to be taken to their appointed family. David was meant to go to the Vicarage, but for some reason they couldn’t take him so I said that I would have him. He was about 9 years old, and was a grand lad with a bonny face. I thought a lot of him, and he got rather spoilt as we hadn’t any children of our own. He’s dead now, but over the years we kept in touch and we went to his wedding – that was the first time been to Barrow. When I had to go into hospital, he went back home to his family as he refused to go and stay with anyone else. He was with us for about 2 years.

Shops and Shopping

My sister, Ella and I always went to Liverpool to buy our clothes. We had to have everything matching – shoes handbags, gloves etc and a hat for church on Sundays. We did most of our shopping at C & A Modes.

We had many shops in Tebay, not like now. These are some of them : -

A co-op store, which is now The Barnaby Rudge Pub

Another co-op in Mount Pleasant

A Barbers shop and Post Office run by “Miley” Bell

Tommy Hackeson who was a cobbler, but who also mended bikes and farm implements and sold shoes and slippers. Harry always wanted that shop as he said it was a “little treasure trove” .Dougie Major took it over from Tommy and it was then known as Dougie’s Shop.

There was a general store near to the old Methodist Chapel where the Trotters live and further along the road, a Tailors.

On the corner of Mount Pleasant and Church Street there was a drapers. This was to become a café, and then Slacks the butchers before it was converted into flats, in the 1990’s, I think

In Mount Pleasant, where Bernard Thornborrow now lives, was a sweet shop and opposite was a fancy shop run by a Miss Ball.

What is now the Post Office (in 2000. More recently a B&B, High Bank) was a Fish and Chip shop. Myself and Phoebe Thornborrow used to play in the wooden hut behind the shop. Here was a machine that was used to clean the potatoes for making the chips. We had the job of removing any eyes from the potatoes. They were the best fish and chips I have ever tasted.

Opposite the fish and chip shop was a hut built by Jack Thornborrow that was originally a barbers shop. Before it became empty, it was a news agents (now demolished).

The Barnaby Rudge Pub has had many landlords, but in the early days it was run by a young chap whose name I think was Hunter. It was very popular and was always packed out. He made all the tables in the pub, converting them from old treadle sewing machine tables (they are still in use to this day).

The coming of the motorway

No one ever believed that the motorway would actually come, but there was no real opposition to it when it was built. The navvies lived in a camp behind the school and fitted in very well. I was asked if I would work at the café on the corner of Church Street and Mount Pleasant. Mrs Morgan needed someone to help her run the café after 5.30 pm as that was when there was a rush as the navvies finished work for the day. I wasn’t too sure, as I didn’t think that I would be able to understand what they said as they were Irish. It was a lifeline for them. Harry had died by then and I loved every minute that I worked there. There was no cheek from the men, but they bought in a lot of mud on their boots, but as they say – where there is muck there is money and the café did very well.

These are just some of the memories that Phyllis kindly allowed me to record on audio tape in September 2000.

By this time she had moved from Woodend Terrace to a bungalow on Highfield.

In late 2003 she moved to Stobars Hall Residential Home, Kirkby Stephen and in March 2004 she passed away peacefully aged 87years.

Hilary Shotton

(A neighbour and friend of Phyllis’s for 22 years.)