I’ve written a couple of posts on Beautiful Railway Bridge about Rigg Beck, the purple house in the Newlands Valley, where I lived from 1985 to 1988. The first, in 2009, was a reminiscence about life there after hearing it had burned down in 2008. The second, a year later, was a request for stories and photos to celebrate Rigg beck in its glory days.
It’s impossible to separate Rigg Beck from its owner, Varya Vee, who was a friend as well as a landlady. So I was delighted to receive an email from Liam Merlyn, Varya’s grandson, who agreed to write something about his memories of his grandmother and Rigg Beck. Here he talks about helping Varya move to a nursing home in Kendal. Thanks, Liam, for sharing this.
Words of a Grandson
The biggest memory of Rigg Beck that I have is from when I was around eleven to twelve years-old. Me and my father went up to help my grandmother clean out the larder. When we walked through the huge wooden door, I was welcomed by that ever famous smell of mould, damp, and age. There were boxes lining the corridor, all ready to be shipped off to Kendal where my grandmother was moving to. By this time the house was broken beyond repair, walls were cracking, leaving deposits of dirt and dust along the floorboards. We made our way down the stairs, down into the basement where she had taken up permanent residence, barely going to the upper floors. On reaching the basement, the first thing I noticed was that the stuffed red fox in the glass case had gone. I asked where it was, and was told that people had broken in and stolen it. We walked into the sitting room to the right. It was dank, wet and fairly unpleasant, the ivy had grown up the windows, blocking most of the sunlight. By this time the cupboards had been emptied and things packed away. After leaving my grandmother to do her own thing, me and my father had gone to the larder to get it cleared out, although I spent most of the time in the library or exploring the house. In the larder, there were shelves lined with bottles and packets of food. There was also a basket on the floor, half-filled with grass straw, with a half-dozen egg shells in it. They were perfectly shaped and in fine condition, never having been used – they must have been there for a number of years. As we packed things up I found a lot of items with “best before” dates that ended during World War II! Cigarette packets, wine and whiskey bottles, food packets and rations. This interested me a lot, I hadn’t even known these items still existed today.
Bag by bag, we moved everything up into the corridor, filling it till we could barely move through. Considering how small the larder was, there was an unbelievable number of items to come out of there. Doing just this took up around three or four hours, and by the time we were finished we were hungry. My grandmother made us some jacket potatoes in the Aga – needless to say these came out like rocks so we had a sandwich instead. I spent the rest of the day roaming the house and garden, or perhaps forest is a better term as that’s what it was, a vast area filled with huge trees and bushes. I spent some time down by the beck, skipping stones and jumping from one rock to the other before going back up to the house.
Back in the library, I browsed the many shelves filled with books before settling for one by Oscar Wilde, at the time not knowing who he was. I went room-to-room, each time finding something new to pique my curiosity. I spent quite a lot of time imagining the house as it was, back in the day when the family was living there as children, mentally seeing them sat around in the dining room on the ground floor, or my father in his bedroom on the top floor.
I haven’t been inside Rigg Beck since that day.
As a child, I hadn’t been interested in knowing about my grandmother’s life, where she was from, what she did twenty, thirty, forty years ago. That is one of my regrets. As with my grandfather, I’d have loved to have asked them about their stories of the war, and what their lives were like before that. Had I have been older, I’d have understood them better, instead of seeing them as just another person – my grandparents, war veterans, artists, and part of the working class of 1950.