Ambleside - the bustling Lakeland town that hasn't forgotten its past
PUBLISHED: 00:15 19 August 2013 | UPDATED: 19:49 23 March 2016
For almost 40 years a pioneering group from this Lakeland town has been collecting memories from times past, as Paul Mackenzie reports
Almost 40 years ago a project was launched to record the history and memories of some of the oldest residents of the Ambleside. What began with half a dozen people and a primitive cassette recorder is now one of the most comprehensive archives of local history anywhere in Britain.
Librarian Jane Renouf, a founder member of the Ambleside Oral History Group and the current chair, said: ‘The group was the idea of another librarian, Cynthia Thompson, who brought about half a dozen people together in the fast-changing world of the 1970s.
‘She realised that much of the traditional way of life was coming to an end and would be lost if no-one spoke to the oldest members of the community about how they lived and worked and recorded their memories.’
The group’s first interviewee was a 99-year-old woman who grew up in Ambleside and had clear memories of school and growing up in the 1870s and 80s and of servant life in the 1890s.
‘Her memory was so sharp and I was captivated,’ Jane added. ‘I went back and interviewed her again, the last time was when she was 101, shortly before she died.
‘We had no idea at that time of the eventual value of the archive. It has become one of the most comprehensive oral histories of any small rural community in Britain. We have a treasure trove of memories, including many from World War One and with centenary coming up next year they will become even more poignant.
‘We have first hand accounts on life in the trenches and extraordinary accounts of women who served. One woman who volunteered and was at Etaples in northern France on Whit Sunday in 1918.She gave a wonderful eye witness account of an attack which left 500 dead and 500 injured.’
The archive, at Ambleside library, is regularly updated with new interviews with the people of today. Climate change is one topic the oral history group is focusing on and the provision of housing and second homes in and around the town.
‘The archive tracks social changes and shows the issues at the time the interviews were carried out,’ Jane added. ‘It includes interviews with squires, poachers, people in the depression, the war years, people who saw the tremendous growth in tourism in the 1950s, right up to he present day and the large eastern European community here.
‘One lady told us of her grandfather who lived at Esthwaite in the 1890s and had an electric car which used water power and dynamos. Beatrix Potter was apparently very suspicious of electricity and would come and talk to him and ask what he was going to do next, would he cook with electricity?’
The Ambleside Oral History Group receive about 100 requests a year to access the archive, many of them from people researching their family history. For more information go online to www.aohg.org.uk
Where it is: The town centre stands a mile or so north of the tip of Windermere, although the sign welcoming you to Ambleside is beside the water. Approaching by road from Lancashire , take junction 36 of the M6 and follow the A590 and 591. The roads into Ambleside can be very busy.
Where to park: There are large pay and display car parks at each end of the town centre and beside the lake.
Where to stay: People have been coming to stay in Ambleside since tourism began and there is no shortage of places to stay – in parts of town almost every building seems to be a guest house or b&b and there are some large hotels too. Three of biggest in the town centre: The Queens Hotel, The Ambleside Salutation, The White Lion. And three near the lake: Rothay Manor, The Wateredge Inn, The Regent Hotel.
More information: Ambleside Tourist Information office shares a building with the Post Office in the town centre. Call them on 015394 32582.