People sometimes ask me, “Why do you write about history so much?”
Before I get to that, I should mention that this isn’t the editorial I’d originally written for this week’s paper. However, the fire at Ashcroft Manor—specifically, at the former radio/weather/forestry site beside it, which I’ve always known as the Beam Station—has knocked that original column out of this spot, as my thoughts turn to a piece of our history which has, quite literally, gone up in flames.
Ever since I began coming up to Ashcroft in 1971, the distinctive white houses of the Beam Station were a landmark. I always wondered about them for even then, 43 years ago, they looked out of place and rather lost, without any obvious function. As the decades passed that lost air only increased, for the buildings were clearly neither used nor maintained, and with each passing year they grew a little more shabby, a little more decrepit.
The storm of September 2012 uprooted a huge tree beside one of the houses, which must have missed the building by inches. I was up there taking some pictures not long after, and remember thinking, when I saw the tree and how close it had come to demolishing the house, “That was a near miss; thank goodness it didn’t damage the building.” But looking at the state the houses were in—paint peeling, windowpanes broken, roof tiles warped and stained—I wondered if it might not have been a mercy killing, had the tree come down a few inches to the left.
For although I love old buildings, and the history that goes with them, it is indescribably sad when those buildings are left to ugly themselves away, unkempt and unattended, serving no purpose other than to act as a reminder of the passing of time and the uncaring elements. An old building that is looked after is a delight to the eye, but the houses of the Beam Station did not enjoy that fate. There was, one must think, the potential for it to be otherwise, for the buildings to have been maintained. People could have lived there, as people did in the past; a swing hanging from a tree outside one of the houses showed that children played there, once upon a time. Or the buildings could have been a spot for visitors to tour, learning a piece of our history.
Well, that milk has spilt. The buildings are gone; their chimneys remained defiantly upright for a few hours, then they too collapsed. It could have been much worse. My son Tim, who was one of the firefighters battling the blaze, said, “At least we saved the Manor and the Garbage Gobbler.” He’s right; they did, and for that I am profoundly grateful. But there was nothing they could do to save the Beam Station, about which I’ve been planning to write. And I will, one day; because although the buildings are no longer there, the story of their past remains, to be written down and preserved for those people who never had a chance to see the Beam Station.
And that is why I write about history so much. So we can all remember.