800 years of village History

Date: Saturday 4th October 1997

THE first thing which strikes you about the new history of the village of Milburn is the attractive cover — a fetching shot, in colour, of the green, complete with maypole.

The second is that so much information can be accumulated about so small a community, even though it is first mentioned in available records as far back as 1200 when King John granted the Forest of Milburn to William de Stuteville, of Cottingham, near Hull.

Little of significance that has happened at Milburn in the ensuing 800 years has escaped a diligent villager, David Butterworth, formerly involved in the organisation which makes Mars Bars, who has made the research and writing of the book a retirement interest over the past 21⁄2 years.

To say that the book is comprehensive is scarcely adequate. The 217 pages are packed with facts, family details, photographs and long lists (all the books in the village library, for instance).

Can any other village of the size boast such a detailed history book?

Milburn’s design follows a pattern made essential to deter the Scottish invaders. Dwellings surround a large green which gave ample space for cattle and sheep to be held in safety if distant beacons were lit to warn that raiders might be on their way.

Old families

People like to read about people, and one of the strengths of Milburn: A history is that the book tells us so much about local folk, notably the members of the oldest-established families, the Atkinsons, Craigs and Robinsons.

There is evidence of Atkinsons residing at Milburn as far back as the 1600s — and we are told about most of them.

One of the most go-ahead was James who, over a century ago, was a builder and brewer, owning the New Brewery and the Coach and Horses in Penrith, and the Crown and Cushion in Appleby. A keen Liberal, he once climbed Cross Fell and hoisted a blue flag on the summit.

One of the most colourful members of the family in more recent times was George Cannon Atkinson who was a bank manager in nearby Appleby from 1922 until 1945. He rode to the office on a horse which was stabled at the Tufton Arms, in the town.

It was said that George ignored overdraft letters from head office when local farmers went “into the red”, as he was knowledgeable of the agricultural scene and knew that impending sales of stock and produce would top up their accounts.

The Craigs arrived in Milburn in 1817. Athleticism runs in the family, for J. Craig won three races at Milburn gala in 1896 and John Craig, of a later generation, was a successful runner at the Lakeland meetings in the 50s and 60s.

Researching the Robinsons was more complex because there were two families of that name. The family resident at Crossfell House included six Johns, the last of them being chairman of the parish council for a record 26 years and holding many other offices in local government and agriculture before leaving Milburn on retirement to reside at Cliburn.

Education in Milburn is interestingly covered — not only the village school but the Rev. Philip Threlkeld’s Milbourne Academy, a boarding school established in 1829 and aimed at the young sons of prosperous farmers and merchants.

Three of the pupils rejoiced in the names of Valentino, Antonio and Augustino, all members of an Italian family living at nearby Long Marton.

Special holidays

At the village school routine holidays were boosted because the premises were closed on the occasion of local events, such as Milburn gala, Knock dog-running, the shows at Appleby, Dufton and Ousby and Brough Hill fair.

For good measure, the boys were allowed time off school to help with the sheep shearing.

Clipping day used to be a great event. The clippers worked up a considerable thirst and there was a demand for “botanic beer”, believed to be similar to dandelion and burdock.

One of the “main men” on clipping day was Harry Fenton who, despite the handicap of having lost an arm and a leg in the Boer War, was expert in marking the sheared sheep and gathering up the fleeces.

Another character was a local cowkeeper who, in the 1930s, never washed, shaved or cut his toenails. The nails curved up inside his boots until another villager took his shears to them!

Maypole tradition

There is no tradition of dancing on the village green but a maypole has long been a feature. Over the years since 1870 — and probably before — poles have rotted away or been blown down by the Helm wind, but tradition has demanded their replacement.

One of the many illustrations is a reproduction of the rules of the village library, showing that the administrators came down heavily on members who failed to return books. Fines mounted from sixpence to two shillings, for successive lapses, and if a fifth offence was committed, the guilty party was banned.

A list of the books suggests that some of them were “heavy reading” — five volumes of D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation, for instance, or 12 of Alison’s History of Europe!

Only a limited number of Milburn: A history have been printed. Priced at £14.95, collected, or £16.75 delivered, they are available from D. J. E. Butterworth, Bay Cottage, Milburn (tel. 017683 62001).