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Guest Blog: Wendy Keegan Remember’s The Farmer’s Arms (Part 2 of 2)

27th Nov. 2020


Picking up where she left off last week, local luminary Wendy Keegan takes us on another walk down The Farmer's Arms memory lane:   

As the 1950s finally gave up the ghost, and the ‘60s came roaring in, there seemed a general acceptance that this was much more than a fresh decade - there was a feeling that things were never going to be the same again.For us youngsters, we could - almost - (and did) drink alcohol legally. Not, I hasten to say, the exotic gin cocktails so popular today, but at least a lager and lime or a few halves of bitter added a bit more class than orange juice or lemonade, and a glass of tonic with a slice of lemon could look reasonably like a G & T, unless you sniffed it!A bit further afield, Dreadnought, Britain’s first nuclear Sub, was being built at Barrow. You might wonder why this is relevant to this piece, but suffice it to say that Peter Sambourne, the Commanding Officer, and most of the Senior Officers were renting cottages in the area, and using the Farmers as their base, forging a link which was to last for the next 20 years or more. 

By the early 60s, Clem and Mrs Sutcliffe had finally retired back to Yorkshire, and the pub was being managed by local lad, Bob Jones who ran a coal business with his dad, and his wife Kath. Being young, they were quite go-ahead, and soon they had a wider age-ranged clientele than previously. More people had transport, and country pubs, especially those with ‘character’ seemed to be the fashionable places to be seen. Bob and Kath had numerous ideas for promoting the pub, but most successful by far were the weekend Supper Dances. This was the first time that the lounge bar was used as well as the public bar, and dancing was in the room off the lounge bar. It was compact, but well used, and the delicious supper spread, in front of the huge black dresser, was both extensive and delicious. Music was trendy, often a real band, dancing was ‘now’ and it was difficult to get a ticket if you didn’t move fast enough. By the mid 60s, Bob and Kath felt they had achieved all they’d set out to do at the Farmers, and were itching to move to bigger challenges. 

Cue the summer of 1966, and fresh from The Gale at Rochdale, arrived Philip and Dorothy, together with the redoubtable Nanna Broadley. From the outset they proved a popular couple, as the customers old and new filled the bars. Shortly after their arrival, the Burns Nights started. (Being a Scottish & Newcastle pub, the Brewery used to send haggis to its pubs, and ours took full advantage). This kind of night proved very popular, and became more frequent. It was as a result of a rather boozy late-evening discussion, that The Crake Valley Benevolent Fund was born, a mad idea which continued for several years, causing endless amounts of fun. 

A dance would be held, with only one proviso - strictly fancy dress only! Everyone said it wouldn’t work, but after one or two people (including the Police Superintendent, whose idea was to wear a policeman’s helmet) were firmly refused entry, everyone entered into the spirit, and many exciting nights resulted. There was always a tombola, and, as several of the organisers were Rotarians, there were some fantastic prizes. For weeks, much planning took place, and much whispering in dark corners, so that the costumes could be kept secret till the last moment. One event in particular is still remembered with a smile. The second ‘do’ with the theme of Horrific Halloween. One guest (who for obvious reasons, must remain anonymous) arrived bandaged from head to foot, with only eye, nose and mouth holes, as The Mummy. The costume was fantastic, and all went well for some time, except it’s owner had drunk several pints. When the inevitable happened, on a visit to the gents, the shortcomings of the costume soon became apparent, and emergency clothes had to be found to spare his blushes! 

The money raised was secondary to the main aim of enjoying ourselves, but during that time, we presented television sets to all the local schools, in addition to a number of other one-off projects. Like all good things, they finally came to an end when fancy dress became optional, so much of the fun was lost. Other ‘dos’ soon replaced them - comedy evenings with Jim Bowen (who was at the height of his popularity at the time), and ‘Blaster’ Bates, a very entertaining speaker, whose career appeared to involve blowing sewers and septic tanks up!! There were others, whose names escape me at present, but I’m confident some of you reading this will be able to fill the blanks. 

Of course, there were the usual pub-type events, particularly around Christmas - the Dominoes, Darts and Don competitions, to mention just a few. I remember my dad signing me up for everything one year. I was soon knocked out of the Dom’s and darts (I struggled to even hit the dart board!), but by some miracle I got to the final of the Don competition, despite dad having to actually teach me how to play, having signed me up). We were, in fact, winning by quite a margin, when someone noticed that the marker had somehow managed to go the wrong way down the scoreboard - so we had to start again. Needless to say, we weren’t quite so lucky second time round, and lost!! 

The pub’s fifteen minutes of fame might come as a bit of a surprise to most people. It was, I think, in 1986, when the pub was taken over for several days by movie-makers, cameramen - and Sir Ben Kingsley, and was immortalised for several seconds in the Sherlock Holmes spoof ‘Without a Clue’. If you watch very carefully, you will see Ben Kingsley, as Dr Watson, use his cane to take his frustration out of the bush down the old front steps. It had been hoped that the stable bar would also be used, but unfortunately filming was behind schedule, so the bar was well photographed and reproduced in the studios. 

Sadly, Philip and Dorothy decided to move on in 1986, and took over the running of the Tower Bank Arms at Sawrey. Since then there have been several changes of landlords, and the pub has seen mixed fortunes. There have been more ‘fun’ times, when the place has bustled with customers, and some quiet times. It’s been my neighbour for the last seventy five years, and it is my hope that it will again welcome thirsty travellers for many more years to come. 

Copyright © Wendy Keegan 2019


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