An exhibition of West Cumbria’s greatest industrial achievements
Last updated at 20:00, Thursday, 26 July 2012
Don't miss this great attraction! These words headed the many large adverts placed in all the local newspapers in early August 1948.
The attraction, held in Salterbeck, Workington, from August 23 to 28, was the West Cumberland Industrial Exhibition.
It was described in the ads as “a record of a great achievement” – promising members of the public that there was “so much to see and learn about how West Cumberland has out-fought depression – 40,000 square feet of exhibits” and that it was their “duty to see them” – and to “go and go again!”
The organisers confidently expected that over 30,000 people would turn up, from all over the county, to see the exhibition.
Not for free, of course. Admission cost a shilling – “children in conducted parties, 6d.” So, as a child or an adult, can you remember going?
You might even have attended the grand opening of the exhibition on the Monday morning – by Harold Wilson. He was then, to give him his full title, The Rt Hon J Harold Wilson, OBE, MP, – and president of the Board of Trade.
The great and the good were all assembled there. I don’t know how many of them were on the platform at the time.
It had been made of pipe scaffolding – to bear the weight of six people. Unfortunately – shades of Gerald Hoffnung – there were about 18 people on the platform – and it collapsed.
This caused a bit of a delay. It’s a great pity no press photographer was present – it would have made a great picture. And it would have let us see who took a tumble – if, indeed, anyone took a tumble.
The papers of the day, for whatever reason, weren’t telling.
It’s well nigh impossible for most of us to understand what life must have been like in the hungry 1930s.
We can read the books and watch documentaries on the TV – but we, and I was born in the early 1940s, can never really understand what life was like back then.
Wilson harked back to those days, comparing the promise of industrial prosperity in 1948 with the grim reality of life back in 1935. Incidentally, 1935 was the year in which the West Cumberland Industrial Development Company, one of the organisers of the exhibition, was formed.
Wilson reminded his audience that it had been an area which “suffered more severe unemployment than any of the other distressed areas of Great Britain.” It was also a time when people quit the area to see what they could find elsewhere – at home or abroad. At that time, it’s quite likely that the major exports from West Cumbria were West Cumbrians.
But that was the past. Thanks to the efforts of the development company, the Government and other interested organisations, a number of factories had been built and industries brought into the area. However, Wilson insisted that “he did not believe that this great achievement could have been carried through if they had not taken the step of restricting industrial development in London, in the South, in the Midlands, and in other overcrowded industrial areas.”
After his address, Wilson was presented with a leather brief case and Mary, his wife, received a leather handbag – both manufactured at the Millom Tannery.
What did surprise some visitors was the wide range of products manufactured in the area – shoes, fabrics, fashionable clothing and other luxury goods. It is to the credit of both the men and women in the local workforce that they readily adapted to the new demands made of them.
It wasn’t, reportedly, a dry as dust exhibition, as many of the stands featured practical demonstrations. It was a success – everybody said so.
Interestingly, the one stand which merited a special mention in the press was the “stand of the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation – the Remploy factory of Cleator Moor.
The list of exhibitors makes for depressing reading for us in 2012. So many have disappeared and a good many, especially the minor and short-lived ones, seem to have completely disappeared without trace.
When I came to Workington in 1968, the whole area was booming. We can all remember the major employers of the day. And we can now all recite a list of firms that are no longer with us: British Steel, High Duty Alloys, British Bata Shoe Company, Workington Brewery, Edgard & Sons, Hornflowa Ltd, British Leyland – to name but a few.
Could any organisation put on a similar industrial exhibition – featuring over 60 exhibitors – in the Workington of 2012?
First published at 19:25, Thursday, 26 July 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
- Crash blocks busy Cumbrian road junction
- Car ends up on its side as crash blocks West Cumbrian road junction
- Go-ahead for superfast broadband roll-out across Cumbria (19 comments)
- Thousands welcome Duke of Lancaster's troops to Whitehaven (5 comments)
- Benefits fraud woman sentenced by Cumbrian court