Don’t worry I am not poorly but undertaking another excursion as part of my Women of Cumbria quest. This time me and buddy J were off by X6 bus and then train from Barrow In Furness along the west coast of Cumbria to the port of Whitehaven.
One of the bonuses of this quest is travelling to lesser known areas of this wonderful county and by using public transport taking in fabulous scenery and history to boot. Arriving at Whitehaven I can do no better than quote from Hyde and Pevsner’s description of this safe harbour:
“Noble breakwaters of interlocking pinkish stones, worn by the fretful seas…”
If you have exceptionally good eyesight you may be able to make out the very hazy outline of the Scottish coast on the horizon opposite the harbour entrance. No? It is there….honest.
There is definitely something fishy about Whitehaven and we had fun spotting the marine connections along the Millennium Promenade:
Until we got to our destination, the Beacon Museum.
This fabulous museum was quite rightly described by one member of the very friendly and helpful staff as ‘like a Tardis’. It is huge. We only had time to look around two floors!
Starting with the viewing gallery we gained an overview of the town and coast. We spotted important landmarks and buildings, and even saw Scotland (it is there I tell you).
We moved on to an exhibition by a Japanese photographer of the towns in Japan left empty after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 11 March 2011. The artist overlaid his photographs with drawings of monsters lurking transparent against the uninhabited buildings. Images of a lingering fearfulness made more pertinent by the proximity of the nuclear plant at Sellafield only a few miles away – we passed it on the train…
Perhaps it really is time to visit the doctor. Edith Brown: Medicine Woman here we come.
Well with waiting times going up you have to grab the opportunity when you can…!
Born in 1864 Doctor Brown started her career in different times. Luckily Edith, the daughter of a Whitehaven banker, was determined. She was one of the first women to study at Cambridge. Cambridge only began to admit women in 1869 and did not allow them to sit exams until 1881, even then when Edith passed her exams she was not given a degree because Cambridge (I thought they were clever folk there?!) did not award degrees to women until 1948 (1948!!!! Hope someone’s report card read ‘Could do better’).
As I said Doctor Brown was determined and after studying at Edinburgh, Brussels and London she qualified to practice. Driven by a childhood ambition Dr Brown travelled as a missionary to India to open a hospital for women. Realising that she could not do this alone she set about training new Indian female doctors.
I am personally uncomfortable with other countries, communities and faiths being patronised by early 20th century missionaries however there is no denying Edith had a huge effect on healthcare and brought opportunities for other women to train as doctors. She was one tough cookie. Especially when this was the sort of medicine cabinet she had to work with:
I spared you the amputation kit.
Time for some fun. J and I moved on to the ‘Changing Times’ gallery to explore thousands of years of the region’s past. I was able to indulge my love of all things Roman and Viking and even reconstructed a replica of the Norse Gosforth Cross. A lot easier than I have made it sound. But it was on board the ‘Maria Lowther’ a replica 3D ship from 1838 that we got really silly,
Struggling to steer the ship on the very effectively swaying deck and running about as giddy aunts pretending to be ship’s crew we had a hilarious time. You are never too old…
Leaving the museum there was one place we felt we needed to visit before boarding our train back to Barrow. Edith Brown’s house. Walking around Whitehaven in search of her home at 10a Coates Lane we got a feel of Whitehaven’s grid street layout. Much remains of the original Georgian housing and I understand it has a flavour of 18th century east coast America. Very quaint.
Lo and behold we found Edith’s house amongst the Georgian buildings:
Today’s mission complete.
With it’s wonderful history – including being the site of an American attempt at ‘invasion’ led by John Paul Jones in 1778 during the War of Independence – this one time major port is a gem tucked away on a sleepy section of England’s north west coast. A great day out.
Retracing our steps along the Millennium Promenade we took in the whale-tail benches with their histories and tragedies from Whitehaven’s industrial past.
And a collection of knot sculptures one of which is close to my heart, the Granny Knot.
Ironically the Granny Knot, also known as the lubber’s or booby knot, apparently has only one practical purpose…as a surgeon’s knot! Hope Edith knew how to tie one.
Until next we meet,