Lancashire Steam Rollers

Philippa James take a look at the traditional transport of 'living vans'

I arrived one morning at my cookery school to see what I thought was a rather magnificent shepherd's hut. I was later advised by my friend Andrew Mawdsley, one of the owners of both the site and the vehicle, that it was, in fact, a 'living van'.

Andrew confessed to a life-long love of all things steam-driven and he told me he had just purchased a 1911, ten ton steam roller which he intends to renovate, so he can pull the living van to steam shows and events.

Andrew found the frame for the van behind a barn, completely covered in weeds, as so many of these huts are. Many, as they became redundant, were pushed into woodlands to become a storage facility for game-keepers.

During World War Two farmers could be given additional aid, from prisoner-of-war camps, where two inmates were allotted to each farm and the vans became the men's living quarters.

Steam rollers would haul the living vans across the country, as new roads were being laid and the navigators of these roads, or navvies, had vast appetites, toiling long, calorie-burning hours, feeding both the needs of the vast engines and their own, sweat-streaming bodies.

It is thought the navvies would employ young people in the villages they travelled through to cook them an evening meal in exchange for a small wage. I would imagine that the repast would consist of snared rabbits, or the likes of pigeons, formed into a stew; nothing as exotic as the Greek Souvlaki I cooked for Andrew recently.

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The vans carried all the men needed on their travels, usually two bunks at the end, a large stove for heat and to cook upon, a cupboard, drop-down table, durable clothing, and all their tools. There would often be a separate compartment in the rear fitted with two shelves and shutter-boards, used for loose coal.

Such is Andrew's passion for relics from the world of all things steam-driven, he wanted a type of accommodation that was in keeping with this way of life, as he and the family tour around rallies. I suspect it won't be long before that old steam roller will be restored to its former glory too.

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