Tuesday , October 22 2019
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Bob’s jottings bring a bygone St Bees to life

NO matter how much or how little we have, taking a sense of pride in it is something to be admired, as so well demonstrated by the shiny windows, polished knockers and whitened steps of the modest abodes of our grandmothers’ day.

In modern times the description of a woman as “just a housewife” has swung from being perceived, by some, as a disparaging term implying lowly status, to the representation of a highly valuable role in society in which women care for family and manage all household affairs, the emotional importance and economic benefit of which cannot be quantified or underestimated in a world where a home is more than just four walls and a place to eat and sleep.

Not that long ago, whitening your steps and black-leading the kitchen range were among the housewife’s regular tasks. A chore, but one to execute well and take pride in. In wartime St Bees the ‘reddening man’ would come round, selling pieces of iron ore to the local women who, once their front steps were scrubbed clean would rub them over with the ore, which, when buffed, would exhibit “a lovely glowing red”.

Some front steps on the village’s main street protruded onto the pavement, so in times of wartime blackout with no street lamps shining down to show the way, they would present a major tripping hazard to the unwary pedestrian. So it was ordered that lampposts, kerbs and some doorsteps be painted white – but one doughty lady, so proud of her gleaming reddened steps, refused to comply.

Visits from the village policeman and ARP wardens to persuade her that red must become white were unsuccessful and even the threat of putting her on a charge before the local magistrate failed to shake her resolution.

She was not for turning… Adolf in Germany couldn’t make her do it, much less any “jumped up little Hitler” in St Bees!

But the might of the law was against her and she was summonsed to court. She prepared herself on the day of the hearing, fully resolved to fight her case but on opening the front door to leave home suddenly saw there was no longer any case to fight – her gleaming red doorstep had been painted white during the night. Who carried out the deed was never known… though the ARP wardens were chief suspects!

My thanks for this story go to 89-year-old Bob Jopling of St Bees whose tales of village life and its characters can be enjoyed in a newly-published book from the St Bees History Group entitled Bob’s Jottings.

Some years ago retired teacher Bob was asked to write some local interest articles for inclusion in St Bees church magazine. He felt he could possibly manage one or two. Many years later, and with nigh on 80 articles behind him, Bob is delighted that a collection of his writings on the village’s past have now been brought together in this new booklet, which was recently launched at St Bees Priory. The idea for such a publication came from St Bees Local History Group whose secretary Ian McAndrew has done most of the editing and lay-out work towards bringing it to print.

In the early years Bob was surprised to discover just how many people were actually reading his stories… and were hungry for more. His sources were many and varied and he includes a poignant section on men from the village who lost their lives in the two world wars.

Bob hails from Cambridge but has lived in St Bees for the past 25 years, arriving in the village on his retirement to be nearer family. His career began in the army, then he spent 20 years working with the Pye electronics company in Cambridge following which he returned to education and studied English at Cambridge University. Afterwards he taught for 17 years at Longstanton primary school and since moving to St Bees has regularly given his time voluntarily, helping pupils at the village school.

He says: “We always liked this part of the world and moving to St Bees was the best thing we ever did, it is a lovely place.”

His grateful gift is this very readable collection recording memories of village life, capturing fascinating minutae that would otherwise be lost. Even those who think they know everything about this historic village’s past will find something to interest them.

Bob’s Jottings is available from St Bees Priory, £7.