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Longtown High Street

High Street c1955, Longtown
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My great-great grandfather was George 'Dood' McKie and he lived in a house about six doors beyond the Graham Arms Hotel which is shown in the Francis Frith photo number L203002.  He was one of those Longtown characters who are now almost gone.

For many years he was a roadman, which meant he would go along the road to where piles of stones had been left and by 'knapping' them, i.e. breaking them up with a hammer, he created a rough form of gravel which was used to full up any potholes. Eventually he went blind and the cause was blamed on having repeatedly been hit on the eye by small pieces of flying stone. Faced with the workhouse, he decided to saw logs for a living. He would have a cartload of timber delivered 'in the round' and would carry it to his outhouse where he had a saw-horse built. He could put the timber on the sawhorse in his blind state and he measured a log by a single span of his hand. With a forefinger at the end of the log, he began sawing at his thumbnail.

Longtown, in those days, was a pretty hard-up place and there was never very much money around.  However Dood noticed that his stockpile of logs was diminishing very rapidly - someone was stealing them but he was blind and he couldn't see a thing. He worked on the solution for over a week. Time passed but no solution seemed to happen. Then one day when Dood was talking to some other old men at Longtown Cross near the Graham Arms, there was an almighty bang and a woman named Maggie came flying down the street screaming that there had been an explosion. She had been sitting on the settle in front of the kitchen range and the explosion had lifted the range and blown it over her head, onto the sideboard behnd her.

"Aye" said Dood. "Then stop stealing my logs, because I filled yan o them wi' gunpowder. You deserve everything that's happened to you".  Everyone seemed to agree that this was ample justice for a thief.

What Dood did was to saw an inch off the end of a log and then hollowed out what remained of the log. When he achieved a large enough cavity he filled it with gunpowder and nailed the end back on to the log. The cottage where the explosion happened was one of those on the west side of Bridge Street, very near the bridge, and a chimney pot was alleged to have landed on the roof of the Graham Arms.

Written by Chester Forster. To send Chester Forster a private message, click here.

A memory of Longtown in Cumbria shared on Tuesday, 7th April 2009.

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