60 years is not long in historical terms, but 1957 was nevertheless very different in the Eden Valley. Nationally, 1957 was the year in which Harold McMillan said, “we have never had it so good”; 34% of homes had a washing machine; many had outside toilets; it was not unusual to bathe in a tub; and central heating was uncommon.
According to research at Warwick University, 1957 was also Britain’s happiest year. This conclusion reflected an analysis of eight million books that were used to track contentment from 1776 to 2009, based on positive words such as ’enjoyment’, ‘peaceful’, and ‘happiness’, in contrast to negative words such as ‘unhappy and ‘stress’. This is attributed to more realistic expectations about a happy life, despite a six-day working week and lack of foreign holidays. After living through two world wars, it is believed people had learned to count their blessings.
Locally, 1957 was the year during which the people of Penrith petitioned James 7th Earl of Lonsdale not to demolish Lowther Castle. In the end, he compromised on his preference to raze the building to the ground and removed only the roof. A children’s roundabout is still in use on the edge of the playing field at Grisedale Bridge that, in 1957, was dedicated to Tom Atkinson, who had been Head Gardener at Patterdale Hall.
Until 1971 and completion of the M6 between Carlisle and Penrith, north-south traffic used the A6. In March 1957 William Whitelaw MP asked the Minister of Transport how many accidents had occurred on this stretch of road. The answer: 10 fatalities, 58 non-fatal injuries and 92 incidents of damage to property only. At that time there were 4 million vehicles on Britain’s roads, in contrast to 37 million today.
The screech of airbrakes and grinding gears were common sounds on Scotland Road in Townhead because, until the seven mile Penrith by-pass opened in 1968, all heavy traffic came through the town. In June 1958, possibly the longest load passed through Penrith, en route from Stockton-on-Tees to Glasgow. This involved the movement of a 130 foot steel tube through the Narrows and stretched from the Monument to Arnisons. Sometimes wide vehicles used Brunswick Road and Castlegate to avoid the Narrows (at 11’6” the narrowest point on the A6). The loss of the Penrith-Teesside railway in 1962 made matters worse on the roads.
1957 was also the year during which one of the last Cumbrians was hanged, when Penrith-born John Vickers was found guilty of the murder in Carlisle of shopkeeper Jane Duckett, originally from Appleby.
After the Second World War plans were developed to construct new homes, as there was a shortage of council houses and affordable homes. The Earl of Lonsdale owned and sold for much less than it was worth, the large tract of grassland above Folly Lane (known as The Flatt Field) to Penrith Urban District Council for only £10, which was a generous gesture to the town. By 1957 the Scaws estate was happily occupied and along Folly Lane the houses stand proud with wonderful views. There were also fine panoramas from the top of Penrith’s Beacon Hill. Sadly, these have now been lost, due to lack of tree management.
1954 saw the end of post-war rationing and in 1957 33% of homes were owned. During the 1950s spending on household durables, such as fridges and TVs doubled. Many people bought their first TV to watch the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 – seen by an estimated 20 million TV audience. By 1957 66% of households had a television, 15% had a fridge and 24% had a car. Tupperware became all the rage, new washing powders were launched – Tide (1950), Daz (1953) and Fairy Snow (1957) – and in 1957 the typical family owned a cooker, vacuum cleaner and plug-in radio.
Finally the editor of Penrith Today was also born in 1957.