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Wednesday, 01 July 2015

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Tracking down details of town’s old toy factory isn’t exactly child’s play

I WANT to pick your brains again this week.

Now I can almost hear some of you muttering into your morning coffee, wondering why I don’t just dig out what I’m looking for – from old books, libraries, archives, museums, or wherever.

Even the internet will be mentioned. Couldn’t I just Google my queries, as the information I’m seeking is bound to be on the internet?

The answer to that one, as many of you will know, is no – it all too often isn’t, especially when it comes to local history.

This, I must confess, can be extremely frustrating. But nowhere near as frustrating as looking for an organisation’s website which I’ve used before – only to find that, for whatever reason, it is no more.

Countless websites disappear every year, many of them containing information of historical interest.

I understand – and I only half heard it on an early morning radio programme when I was munching my Rice Crispies – that some academics are seeking to create some form of archive of “dead” websites.

I only wish I could tell you more about this initiative, but it was very early in the morning and, as I hadn’t supped my morning coffee, I was only half awake at the time.

I’m not knocking the internet, but it does have its limitations.

Having said that, don’t I just wish it had been around some 40 years ago.

It would have made a local history researcher’s life so much easier.

When it comes to local history, people often forget that they can often be the key – and often the only – sources of information on various topics.

And history doesn’t have to be something that happened in the dim, distant past.

History can, quite literally, be only yesterday – and if whatever took place hasn’t been recorded, in some form or other, it can be lost forever.

Often the only record of past events is in people’s memories and, unless these are recorded, they too can vanish into oblivion.

You must have experienced this on a personal level. Just how many times have you wished that, when you were much younger, you’d listened to what your parents or grandparents were trying to tell you about the way life was? And now it’s too late.

So, does anyone know anything about the Workington Toy Factory? Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

My only information comes from a press cutting from March 1919.

It was opened by the Carlisle-based firm, Hudson, Scott & Sons in premises in Havelock Street which were used in the Great War as a shell factory. It was then known as the Workington National Shell Factory.

One of the forewomen at the Shell factory, a Miss James, was appointed as manageress of the Toy Factory, which was to produce mechanical toys.

So have you got an old Workington mechanical toy stowed away somewhere?

Do you know of anyone who worked at the factory? What sort of toys did the factory produce? Do you know anything about this factory? If so, please get in touch.

I was asking, in the issue of February 24 this year, if anyone knew anything about a photograph of a “Bachelor’s Society”, taken before 1918.

Albert Feenan, who was born in Workington, is said to be on the photo. So who were they? Where was the photo taken and when? If you’re interested, you can access this photo on the Times & Star website.

Back in the hungry 1930s, a number of miners, many from outside the area, were working drift mines on Curwen Moor, also at Crosby, Maryport and many other sites in the area.

In 1933 the Curwen Moor site was being worked by two brothers and two brothers-in-law, Thomas and Andrew Williamson, John Smith and Thomas MacFarlane, who all came from Lanarkshire. They were, at the time, staying in Stainburn.

In March 1933, they were mining almost three tons of good quality household coal a day and were looking to improve on this.

How long did they stay? Was anyone else engaged in the same line of work? Did they eventually go back to Lanarkshire?

Do you know anything about local drift mining activities in the 1930s or 1920s?

Just a few queries you could help me with, and anyone else who is researching the history of our area.

I want to end with a piece of advice from the Whitehaven Advertiser of November 1893.

I quote: “When you fight with a burglar, be sure to have a good firearm, have it loaded, and make the first shot. Met by these preparations, burglars would be scarce or essentially scared.”


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