Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 9th October 2018

THE pen was silver and many of the articles he wrote were threaded with gold.

Last week’s Herald carried, in its 100 years ago recollection, some words written by Tom Sarginson, the man known to decades of readers simply as Silverpen, lamenting the absence of clog repairers in Penrith and district.

All the young boot and clog repairers had been drafted into the Army, leaving the agricultural community to face “living in a land where clogs have ceased to clatter”.

Tom Sarginson was editor of the Herald from 1913 until his death in 1951 at the age of 81. “A man of influence and fine words, a journalist of humanity and humour” to quote one of his successors as editor, John Hurst.

For some years he penned the keynote feature “Notes and Comments” which was a chatty column on the news of the week, and which was “honed with care and pride” and turned into the editorial once he acquired the editor’s role.

John Hurst once told me about the day he went along to the Herald for a job interview and how Tom looked down on him as he occupied a low sofa-like chair in his office. Silverpen was already a local legend and Hurst recalled: “This was the nearest thing I have known to being in the presence of God.”

Well, he got the job at £1 a week, starting in 1945, having convinced the great man that he could handle the reporting of a fire, the brief details of which were dictated to him.

Like all things, memories fade and while some senior readers will remember the Silverpen pseudonym, it’s unlikely that the once widely-read articles by Tom Sarginson mean anything to the modern generation.

Two years after his death a bus shelter, inscribed in his memory, was donated and erected in Sandgate. It was demolished when the area was converted into a car park. Whether the associated plaque was saved I don’t know, but it seems Penrith has never quite paid sufficient tribute to arguably its most distinguished journalist.

Speaking at the time, a councillor hoped that Penrith would never forget “the cultured journalist through whose genius the town has been instrumental in producing the best weekly newspaper published in Cumberland and Westmorland”.

As an offcomer, from Keswick, I would not presume to interfere in the current debate surrounding the Penrith masterplan although I’m sure, were he here today, Silverpen would have made his thoughts plainly known through his column.

And that prompts me to proffer a suggestion to the Herald. Why not dig out some of Tom Sarginson’s descriptive and erudite contributions and reproduce them as a regular feature which would open many a window into the past and, who knows, guide those whose present-day task is to protect the best qualities of a lovely little town.

At the coronation of George VI in 1937 Tom Sarginson was one of five weekly newspapermen invited to represent the provincial press. It was widely acknowledged that his account of the scene in Westminster Abbey was one of the finest pieces of descriptive writing about the historic occasion.

Sadly I never got to meet Silverpen, being only four years old and not yet quite set on a life in journalism by the time he had died. I suspect, like John Hurst at his interview, I would have been overawed. I confess I have only read snatches of Silverpen’s work and seen the picture of him at his desk, stiff collar, pipe in hand, studying a copy of the paper. To read more would surely be a delight.

HERE FOR THE BEER

KESWICK Brewery has no reason to feel sheepish when it comes to reducing its environmental impact. The craft brewery, which was set up in 2006 and is appropriately located in Brewery Lane, has been praised in the new edition of the Good Beer Guide for its use of sheep wool to insulate brewing vessels.

While Keswick beer comes environmentally friendly, one brewer in Oxford is offering courses to people serving prison sentences. Tom Stainer, a spokesman for Camra — the Campaign for Real Ale — said brewing “is becoming much more collaborative and socially minded, with a new emphasis on giving back to local communities and creating beers suitable to tall tastes and preferences”.

The nation is now home to 2,500 breweries, 1,750 of which produce real ale. Smaller breweries are becoming increasingly environmentally aware by reducing their carbon footprint and responding to customer calls for more information on ingredients.

Keswick Brewery, believed to be on the site of the oldest brewery known to have been in the town, supplies local pubs, shops and restaurants, hosts tours and has expansion plans.

Their original beer was Thirst Run, and thereby hangs a tale. Originally it was to have been called First Run, but owing to a misunderstanding with the graphic designer over the phone, it came up as Thirst Run.

There’s no doubt that, amid changing drinking habits, craft beers are more than holding their own. Beer festivals — Keswick Brewery launched its first beer at the town’s event in 2006 — are hugely popular. And I’m feeling thirsty all of a sudden.

LOYALTY TAKES COURAGE

WE had slunk round the back and were chatting to her husband, Michael Williams, while he smoked a quick ciggie. Out front one of our great classical actresses, complete with safety helmet and hi-vis jacket, had just hopped up on board a huge earth-moving machine, and was posing for photographs on the site of Keswick’s new Theatre by the Lake. What a sport, what a good egg, I thought.

Dame Judi Dench has been widely criticised for defending her friend, the actor Kevin Spacey, who has been all but exiled from the film and theatre industries after multiple allegations of sexual assault, which he has denied.

She says Spacey was of “inestimable comfort” following the death of her husband in 2001. She has never defended the acts of which he stands accused, but her loyalty to someone who showed her great kindness stands out like a beacon in an industry where so-called friends are dropped overnight, their reputations ruined, often without proof.

I only met Dame Judi briefly that once when she came to support the theatre and put on a show to raise money. But she seems the sort of person who would be a loyal friend, no matter how much courage was needed to sustain that friendship in the face of the fashionable trend to “out” all our favourite celebrities over alleged past misdeeds. Salute a genuine good egg.

RURAL LIFE UNDER THREAT

THE minister wears a little badge that says “Northern Powerhouse”. As much to remind him, as to remind us, of his role. He was in West Cumbria last week visiting businesses and talking to workers.

Jake Berry’s visit came in the week when it was revealed that the Government had spent £40,000 trying to conceal just how rarely his predecessor was seen in the North. A question to the Department for Communities and Local Government asked how often James Wharton left London.

It failed to elicit a reply until four months had elapsed when the application was denied. Eventually a judge ruled that the department must hand over Mr Wharton’s diary, and 26 months later it was revealed that, between January and April, 2016, he rarely left London as part of his ministerial role.

While Mr Berry’s interest in industry on the west coast is welcome, there seems to be an almost total disregard for rural communities like those predominating in Cumbria. Public Health England’s recent conference was told, in no uncertain terms, that rural communities are in danger of dying out unless they get more help coping with an ageing population and shrinking local workforce.

For some rural communities, where housing is subsumed into holiday cottages and where it pays not to get old or sick, where young people are leaving to find work and where traditional family names are disappearing, it’s not so much a case of hoping to be part of a powerhouse, as just keeping the lights burning. Whether the politicians care enough is a moot point.