Hairy Biker Dave Myers on growing up on the back streets of Barrow-in-Furness
PUBLISHED: 16:34 14 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:02 20 February 2013
Meet some of the locals flying the flag for their home town of Barrow-in-Furness, including Hairy Biker Dave Myers. Emma Mayoh reports Photography by John Cocks
I grew up in the back street behind our two-up-two-down, said Barrow lad and Hairy Biker, Dave Myers. It was the most amazing place. The back door opened right out onto the street and all the children would meet there.
It was like our own little world in this great little community. We got up to a fair bit of mischief, of course. Then I got a bike and that meant absolute freedom. I could go off and explore. By the time I was 12, I was cycling to Ulverston.
Some might say Dave had a challenging childhood. He was only eight when he was diagnosed with alopecia, leaving him bald. Oddly, it grew back when he was older after an operation on his brain to remove a cyst. His mum, Margaret, also fell ill and his father, Jim, was left to run the house. But he said his childhood couldnt have been happier.
I just used to have these tufts of hair ukso in the end I shaved it off, said Dave. It was just my luck that when it eventually grew back I was receding anyway. It never really bothered me though.
My dad took over the cooking which meant Smash, mince and peas because it was all we could make together. When he retired we used to spend time together cooking. It was great. It was my dad who got me into motorbikes. We would go on a ride, just me and him. It was time for me and him to enjoy together.
Today, Dave has not lost any of the fondness or passion for his home town and just over six months ago he moved back to Barrow from nearby Roa Island with wife, Lil.
It seems he has a love of interesting buildings. His island home was in the former school canteen and his current home also has an intriguing history.
He said: It used to be a hotel and weve still got the old bar downstairs. We still use it for house parties, its great. But apparently before that, the house was supposed to be a brothel.
Im not quite sure how true it is, I suspect it was more of a party house where people got drunk and then did whatever. But they do say it was a whore house.
Seedy history aside, Dave and Lil, who is originally from Romania, champion Barrow at every opportunity. Dave has brought the Hairy Bikers live show to Forum 28, a theatre and arts venue in the town, as well as supporting events and talking about Barrow to as many people as possible. He also used to do appearances on Abbey FM, now closed down, and he enlisted the help a local Thai food expert, Tuk, who has a stall on Barrow Market, to do the food for his wedding party last year. Lil, as well as being a member of the local Rotary club, works as an interpreter for the local police, is an officer at Cumbria Multi-Cultural Centre in the town. In between, she organises charity events.
The 54-year-old and his Hairy Biker friend, Si King, have travelled the world and spend most of the year filming new programmes, devising cook books and now have their own range of ready meals. They are now working on several new series, including a diet programme. But there is nothing the former Barrow Grammar pupil loves more than coming home.
He said: There is so much going on. Theres serious infrastructure, employment and a great community. Places like Forum 28 are used by big name comedians like Jimmy Carr and Lee Evans who test their new sets on the audience here. Theres also a great pub scene and lots of art and culture and a great music festival
Its also a place that has been fantastic to Lil and my step daughter, Iza, who is 17 now. Lots of people are coming back to Barrow too. Barrovians arent good at singing their own praises but they need to learn to because they are fantastic.
We have a great town but for some reason its always shot down. The Secret Millionaire was filmed here and didnt do us any favours. It was also in a book which supposedly named the 20 worst towns in Britain. Enough is enough. Its just not true and its unfair.
I get frustrated when people ask me if I still live in Barrow, why shouldnt I? Its a fantastic place! Its time for people to start thinking differently about Barrow.
One man in total agreement is the towns mayor, Councillor John Murphy. The 63-year-old, who has lived on Walney Island for most of his life, is equally dedicated and proud of his home town. As well as carrying out the duties most people would expect from their mayor, he has made it his mission to get Barrow back on its feet.
He said: Barrow has been a little down on its luck for the past few years with the gradual decline of the engineering industry and the uncertainly of whether the new submarine, Successor, will be built here. Our confidence has taken a bit of a dive.
But there is a lot of good happening here and its time for Barrow to fight back.
Barrow was once a town booming with industry due to the discovery of hematite iron ore and it was once home to the largest steelworks in the world and was a renowned shipbuilding area. It was also an important site during
the Second World War as barrage balloons were built in Barrow. Industry still plays a big part of life with BAE Systems and engineering firms making up a big portion of the towns employment.
But jobs have gradually dwindled over the past couple of decades and Councillor Murphy now wants to reinvent the town to spark new industry as well as encouraging more tourists into the area. Plans to do this include getting the confirmation that the next submarine will be built in the town, encouraging people to invest in the town.
Barrow is an ideal place to live and work as well as to visit. People also dont realise we have several natures reserves, a site of Special Scientific Interest and amazing beaches. With the loss of industry we have to look at self employment and using these traditional, highly-skilled engineers. These are the skills that Barrow is world famous for.
Councillor Murphy also wants to attract more tourists into the area. One way of doing that is by appealing to tourists from Japan by promoting the towns links with a the warship, The Mikasa, which was built in Barrow.
It was built in Barrow in 1902 and used in the Russo-Japanese War, said Councillor Murphy, who also established Barrow Walking Festival and stages historical walks and talks in the area. The idea is to get Japanese tourists off Beatrix Potter and on to The Mikasa which to them is like our HMS Victory. Its a big challenge but we like challenges in Barrow.
We have an industrial image, which we are proud of, but we also seem to have a stigma that is totally wrong. We are out on a limb, were isolated and theres only one way in and one way out. But we are a traditional Victorian town too that has lots of things going for it and plenty of places to appeal to visitors, including our fantastic Dock Museum. We have had our hard years but it is now time for change. There are exciting times ahead.
Inside St James Church, the largest church in Barrow, is an organ that was originally installed in the Chapel Royal at St James Palace in London. The organ was donated to the town by Queen Victoria. The organ was used at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840.
Barrow is a town with heart. As part of Councillor John Murphys mayoral year he is supporting the charity, British Heart Foundation. Barrow, which has one of the highest rates of cardiac arrest in the country, is introducing a pilot scheme to raise money for defibrillators to be places in houses and public buildings. A huge 20,000 has already been raised and members of the local community are and will be trained how to use them.
We wouldnt have the Hairy Bikers if it wasnt for Catherine Cookson. Dave and Si met while working as crew and a make-up artist on a BBC adaptation. Dave is also an art and antiques enthusiast who financed his studies at Goldsmiths in London by working as a furnaceman in a steelworks.
Vickerstown in Barrow was built by Sheffield steel firm, Vickers which took over Barrow Shipbuilding Company in 1897. It was modelled on George Cadburys Bournville and was built to house its employees. This area of Barrow also gave the inspiration for Reverend W Awdrys childrens books, The Railway Series. These were eventually developed into the television programme, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, which features the area of Vicarstown.
Sir James Ramsden was the founder of modern day Barrow-in-Furness. The civil engineer and industrialist, also managing director of Furness Railway Company, was a major contributor to the development of the new town and served five successive terms as mayor.