Times & Star, Cumbria, England

Obituary - Robert Graves

Published on 21/12/2007

THE MAN who brought bingo to Cumbria has died at the age of 91.

Robert Graves, known to everyone as Mr Bob, was part of the business dynasty Graves Cumberland and was chairman until he died.

Mr Graves was born in Workington August 2, 1916 and attended St. Bees School, leaving at the age of 16 to join the family business.

War interrupted, and he volunteered for and joined the Royal Ordinance Corps, serving in Egypt.

On his return, he married Workington girl Brenda Harrison whose father was a pharmacist on Oxford Street.

The Graves family business had been founded by his grandfather, who opened shops, and grew into a large concern with general stores in Workington, Whitehaven, Carlisle and Maryport.

The family also owned several cinemas including The Ritz, the Oxford and the Opera House in Workington, and picture theatres in Maryport and Whitehaven and, now, the Plaza at Dunmail Park, Workington.

In 1958, long before others could really see cinemas declining, Mr Graves made a decision to turn Workington's Opera House into a bingo hall.

"The family was not sure. They didn't think bingo would last. Dad had such foresight," said daughter Carolyn.

He was also obsessed with his work as well as being a family man. He found a way to combine the two by taking his wife, Brenda, and their two children Carolyn and Charles, on holiday to the privately-owned Armathwaite Hall Hotel on Lake Bassenthwaite.

"That way we could have a holiday and he could still go to work," Carolyn said.

Everyone loved the family holidays, so when there was a rumour that the hotel was going to be bought by a hotel chain, Mr. Graves took Brenda to dinner at the hotel and asked the owners outright. It turned out that they were not selling to the chain but they did sell to Mr. Graves, so the holiday hotel became home.

"That was in 1976. Dad put everything into this hotel. He loved it."

The business has now grown to include five other hotels - the Lodore Falls in Keswick, Inn on the Lake at Ullswater, the Skiddaw and King's Arms in Keswick and the George Hotel in Penrith.

As well as being chairman of the Graves company's board of directors, Mr. Graves kept a keen eye on the hotels.

Carolyn, who runs Armathwaite Hall, said: "He was sitting with me at my desk until quite recently and it is not long since he was unplugging sinks and getting his hands dirty.

"He started to deteriorate physically some months ago but I was still reporting to him. He still wanted to know what was going on here and at the other hotels."

She said Armathwaite Hall had meant a great deal to him and its view over Bassenthwaite was his favourite.

When Brenda and Mr. Graves took over the hotel it was not always as commercial as now.

One year, they decided the staff should have Christmas off.

"I can still see mum on washing up duty in her evening gown," Carolyn added.

This consideration for staff is something that was important to Mr Graves and something that staff appreciated.

When the funeral cortege left his home on the grounds of Armathwaite Hall last month, staff, in full uniform, formed a guard of honour. Many had come in despite it being their day off.

They have also clubbed together to buy a bench which looks out on Bassenthwaite and has a plaque attached which reads: "Mr Bob from your extended family."

Carolyn said her father managed to be a devoted family man and still run his businesses with skill and acumen.

"If I can achieve half of what he did I would be happy," she added.

Mr Graves is survived by wife Brenda, his daughter and son-in-law, Carolyn and Kevin Dowling, his son and daughter-in-law, Charles and Kit, and his granddaughter Daniella.