People who don’t know me look with unabashed incredulity when, in answer to their question, ‘Where are you from?’ referring of course to my accent which I like to consider ‘mid-Atlantic’ to borrow Mark Twain’s description, I tell them that after 32 years in the U.S I have decided to move back to England. Their eyes tend to pop out of their sockets even more when I mention that for most of those years I lived in California, for the last 14 years within 5 minutes walk of the Pacific Ocean.
But for those I know better, or wish to, I explain that in England I find connections which make me feel part of the country, part of the landscape, and townscape.
Take today for example.
It all started off a couple of weeks ago when I saw a flier entitled Literary Calderdale, listing books about and by local authors. I decided that borrowing some of these from the library might make an interesting project, so I began to read Millstone Grit, written in 1975, by a local lad, Glyn Hughes. Todmorden, Sowerby Bridge, Millbank, Hebden Bridge, all places that I am now familiar with and frequent weekly feature prominently. Hughes makes reference to a ‘character’ by the name of Billy Holt, who, with his pony, Trigger travelled extensively in Europe. He wrote about this travels and there were photos of Billy lying under Trigger, reading a book! Three days later I discovered that Billy Holt lived at Hawdon Hall, just above Hardcastle Crags, a place that one of my ancestors had lived in. In April I’d been invited to visit the place because the music director of the Little Theater choir, of which I am now the accompanist, lives there with Freda, a writer of note, having worked for many years on How We Used to Live, and wrote scripts for a long running local series, Heartbeat. When I mentioned to Freda that I was reading the Glyn Hughes book she asked me if I knew of Billy Holt, and within a matter of days his autobiography appeared as a birthday present. I’ve only read part of it, nothing relating to Hawdon Hall yet, but I have found a passage in which he visits his grandparents at 10 Der Street, Todmorden. Now, I have ancestors who lived at 9 Back Der Street and a couple of weeks ago I went to take photos of their house!
Back to Glyn Hughes’s Millstone Grit. He quotes a passage from Elizabeth Gaskell’s book, Mary Barton. I’ve had a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s book about the Life of Charlotte Bronte for a while but I just couldn’t get into it. It’s still on my bookshelf. But last year I had discovered that Gaskell’s house in Manchester has been restored and in 2014 it reopened, decorated as much as possible as it would have been when Elizabeth lived there, 1848-1865. Charlotte Bronte visited her there several times, and so it had been on my list of what to do on a rainy day. Today was the day! I found that her home was close to the Manchester Museum where I’d been to visit Samuel Gibson’s fossil and flora collection and so I thought I’d pop in there for a coffee b before heading off to the Gaskell house. As I entered the museum I thought I’d gate crashed a children’s party. The noise of lots of school children echoed through the halls – for this is half tear. The place was packed with babies, push chairs, toddlers, grandparents. The rooms containing the animals exhibits were packed. Over children were holding clipboards and doing treasure hunts. A room housing an exhibition about the Amritsar Massacre, however, was peaceful in decibels, but heart-wrenching in content, but since I’ve been to Amritsar I thought I’d take a look. Gandhi’s teaching of non-violence brought back memories my mum seeing him at Bolton railway station, and his teaching of Satyagraha had me seeing visions of Philip Glass’s opera of the same name.
India’s leader Mahatma Gandhi was on a secret visit to the North-west and the nervous young journalist was dispatched to Bolton’s Trinity Street railway station with orders from his editor to interview The Great Man.
It was September 25, 1931, and years later, Frank Singleton recalled his late-night rendezvous with The Father of India on the deserted, rain-soaked platform.
Earlier, he “bribed” the station porter with the currency of the day – a cigarette – to determine the timetable for a visit surrounded by the utmost security, given Gandhi’s continuing conflict with the British Government over independence for his homeland.
The train arrived at a desolate, windswept station right on time and Singleton, writing in the Bolton Evening News in 1961, described how, as he stood alone in anticipation, he “beheld history in the making”.
“Gandhi, from his corner window seat, blinked at me through his iron-rimmed spectacles and smiled. My excitement mounted when he turned down the window. This, of course, was the moment that was to be vital in my career – whatever it was in his.
“‘Sir’, I said resolutely, notebook at the ready, pencil poised, heart beating . . . ‘have you any message for the people of Bolton?”‘
As the train slowly chugged away, with Singleton in pursuit, Gandhi leaned out of the window, smiled, blinked again and, through a cloud of choking black smoke, replied: “No.” Singleton’s “brief encounter” at Trinity Street station nearly 75 years ago was the prelude to Gandhi’s very secretive arrival in the nearby village of Edgworth, where he met northern mill owners at the Victorian mansion Greenthorne, off Broadhead Road, the home of Miss Annie Barlow.
Miss Barlow was a member of the philanthropic Barlow family whose head, her older brother, Sir Thomas Barlow, was physician to Queen Victoria, and was one of the siblings responsible for establishing the present Barlow Memorial Institute in the village. My mum and dad held their wedding reception in the Barlow’s institute and I’ve been there with my own daughters over the last few years.
Then on to Elizabeth Gaskell’s house. It’s an imposing place and when she and her minister husband rented it it took half his salary. Here she entertained Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, John Ruskin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (whose home I’ve been to in Massachusetts). I sat at the table in the dining room where she wrote. Actually Mary Barton was written two years before she moved here, but I purchased a copy so that I can scrawl all over it and return my current copy to the library. I have to say that I found the docents some of the most knowledgeable and approachable volunteers that I’ve ever encountered in such a place. I spent well over two hours there and was even allowed to play the piano. It is a John Broadwood salon grand. When the last of Elizabeth’s children died there in 1913 much of the furniture was put up for auction, the piano being included. Apparently the current piano is on ‘permanent loan.’ I left my card with one of the docents who is going to find out if there is a record of the serial number of the piano at the auction. I have visions of the story of ‘Mr Langshaw’s Square Piano,’ a non-fiction book I reviewed for the state magazine of the Music Teachers’ Association of California, in which a square piano, which had been turned into a chicken coop was purchased in Preston, Lancashire, and when the author eventually traced the serial number it turned out that the piano had belonged to non other than Charles Wesley, composer of hymns and brother to Methodist founder Charles Wesley.
Mr Langshaw’s Square piano: Review published in the California Music Teacher magazine.
By Heather J Morris
Madeline Goold. First publ by Corvo 2008 in England. 2009 publ BlueBridge, 2009
Two chance encounters: my taking a short cut from the parking lot to Pacific Avenue. through Logos, a used book store in Santa Cruz and halfway across the world a woman’s search for a used harpsichord that took her to an auction where she purchased a square piano that had been abandoned long ago and subsequently used as a chicken coop. The story of this square piano and its restoration just happened to unfold less then twenty miles away from my hometown in northern England and the timing just happened to coincide with the beginnings of my own search for the first piano to reach California. Once purchased and installed in a barn on her property Goold becomes intent on her mission: restoring the piano. Finding a number engraved in copperplate numerals two centimeters high she was confident that she now had the serial number that would be a key to this very instrument’s history. With this in hand, and the nameboard ‘Broadwood and Sons, Piano makers to Her Majesty and the Princess, Great Putney Street, Golden Square, London 1807’ she finds a restorer, David Winston, who is willing to take on the project ‘if no one else had had a go at it.’ (p 23).John Broadwood’s son had visited Beethoven in Vienna and a year later he presented the composer with a six-octave grand piano (which is now in the Beethoven house in Bonn). With a tenacity worthy of Sherlock Holmes Goold digs out the dispatch record showing the date that this piano began its journey by boat and wagon from Broadwood’s yard in Great Putney Street to a Mr J. Langshaw, Organist, Lancaster. Langshaw was a man of means in what was then a major port – Lancaster in the northern county of Lancashire. Born in London he had studied with Charles and Samuel Wesley. Charles was the brother of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, and Charles today is remembered primarily for the over 6000 hymns he wrote. Goold took herself of to Lancaster, met up with a descendent of Langshaw.
The book is both an entertaining and easily accessible study of the social structure of England at the turn of the nineteenth century, focusing on the Langshaw family, and a scholarly dissertation on keyboard makers of that period, a time when new inventions were being incorporated into the very fabric /structure of the piano. Great little place for a cake, coffee and a catch up. Lovely that it is a little bit tucked away, meaning you lose some of the hustle and bustle sometimes associated with Lancaster on a sunny day.The music room is now a self catering place owned and renovated by the Landtrust.
One of the Gaskell’s neighbors was Charles Halle and he came to the house to give piano lesson to the children, at one guinea per lesson, and outrageously high price for that date.
One photo in the house drew my particular attention. It shows Mr Gaskell with a very young Beatrix Potter. Now my first holiday I ever took was with my mum to the Lake District and we stayed at Youth Hostels. We visited Beatrix Potter’s house in Hawkshead. Somewhere, I think I have the drawing I did of her cottage. And I distinctly remember my mum saying that as a 20 something, at the height of her Youth Hostelling years she had visited the cottage and Beatrix Potter was there in her garden!
As I left the building, once known as the Pink House, but now restored to its original warm stone color, I sat in the garden and ate my picnic, watching as groups of school children excitedly entered the house, perhaps from a day care centre, this being half term. In the original servants’ quarters a groups of elementary children were dressed as servants and were being given tasks to do. What a wonderful learning experience.
I can trace the Barraclough side of my family with a fair degree of certainty to Abraham Barraclough who was born in 1640. He was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. Someone in Calgary Canada has done extensive research on the Barracloughs of West Yorkshire and it’s published online as ‘A Family Orchard.’ Abraham was 63 at the time of his death and he’s buried at St. Peter’s churchyard, Sowerby. However, there’s no record of that grave on Find a Grave. When I first learned of my connection with the Barracloughs of Sowerby, when I visited in the summer of 2016 I was eager to go to the village and see the church. I found, online, a book about growing up in Sowerby by one Jean Illingworth. I arranged to meet with her. She gave me a wonderful guided tour of this tiny hilltop village overlooking the Calder Valley. She’d arranged with the church warden to be there and open the church for us. Outside it’s a rather unusual building and it reminded me of a prison! Inside the ornate plasterwork is some of the finest examples of that craft outside London. I have yet to find Abraham Barraclough’s gave.
Abraham’s great great grandson was David Barraclough, born in 1767, and baptized at St. Peter’s Sowerby on December 18, 1767- son of John. The next time he pops up is on his marriage to Mary Hirst on July 24, 1792 in Halifax minster at the age of 25. According to Malcolm Bull Mary came from Sowerby. They had 5 children: Jemima 1796-1855, Joseph, b. 1798, David, born 1800, Elizabeth born 1801 and James b 1802. His father died two years later and his mother the following year. In 1838 there’s a possible marriage, according to Malcolm Bull, but it seems unlikely. He’s 78, a wool sorter and a bachelor at the time of this marriage. According to Malcolm Bull Sarah came from Leeds, they had two children Eliza, born 1805,m and Susan, bornt 1806 who married James Satchwell. The family lived at Croft House, Stainland.’I walked straight past it yesterday without knowing that! However, by the 1841 census he is 78, a minister, living with Sarah Barraclough , 55 and Eliza Barraclough, 35. Unfortunately the 1841 does not list the relationships of people living together. Living with the Barracloughs at this time are James Satchwell, 25,tailor, Susan Stachwell, 30 and Eliza Satchwell, 3. This set up would suggest that Susan Satchwell is David or Sarah’s daughter. SURE ENOUGH I FIND A MARRIAGE OF JAMES SATCHWELL (tailor) TO SUSEY BARRACLOUGH AT HALIFAX MINSTER ON JULY 1, 1836.
Now according to Find a Grave’s reliable website David was a ‘prominent clergyman of the Wesleyan methodist faith in both England and Ireland. Pastor at Stainland old independent chapel.’ According to the Malcolm Bull website: ‘This chapel was built in 1814 by a group who had left Stainland Independent church after there had been a disagreement over the reading of prayers. Another site says that in 1792 he was a preacher in the parish of Charlmont, Armargh, Ireland. The chapel in Wade Street, Halifax, was built for him. He left the Methodists at South Parade chapel and became minister at St Andrew’s, Stainland in 1806.’ HOWEVER, according to the genuki.org.uk in The Stainland Congregational church history up to 1868 ‘a chapel was erected here about the year 1755, and a congregation was formed comprehending christians of different denomination, principally wesleyans and Independents. The first minister known was Rev S Lowell who left Stainland for Brighouse in 1782. The next was Rev John Bates who removed to Mixenden in 1793. To him succeeded Rev Samuel Barraclough who afterwards joined the new connection.(oh oh! A different Barraclough).( Malcolm Bull has ‘Samuel Barraclough 1756-???, son of John. 1726-1794) who was son of Abraham who married Martha Wrigley.)
‘He was a pioneer Methodist preacher who marrried Mary Crossley on Feb 20, 1776. Rev Mr Hanson followed. He removed to Shelley in 1812.’ From the Appendix to Congregationalism in Yorkshire by James C. Miall, 1868.
So, back to the chapel at Wade Street. It was built as an independent chapel for a group of people who had formerly been Wesleyan Methodists, with David Barraclough as their leader. They left and set up shop in Stainland.
The church there, which is now St Andrew’s, was built as an independent chapel in 1755, a simple rectangular building with 4 plain bays with rounded arched long windows. The pulpit would have been on the South side of the church. A fireplace was in the north corner. The church was enlarged, the chancel added, and a tower added to the designs of Charles Child in 1840, when the church was taken over by the Church of England. The present vicar described the tower as an ‘animal made up by a variety of people, like an elephant.’They also covered the lower part of the windows because the long windows reeked of methodism. There is a balcony on the west end. It’s a grade 2 listed building.
Fr Rodney Chapman brought out photos for me to see what the church would have looked like before it became C of E. It’s a perpetual curacy which means that the church cannot close while Fr Rodney is the incumbant. However, as he told me, when he retires . A lady approached the organ and I chatted with her. She’d been the organist at the church for many years but had resigned six years ago.She’s now practicing for her organ diploma.
I had chosen to visit the church on Community Cafe day, a monthly activity where ‘full breakfasts, light bites and home bakes’ could be enjoyed. The welcoming smell of bacon was wafting through the doorway as I approached and I when I saw others tucking in I couldn’t resist. It was the best bacon I’ve had in ages! It was nice to see many mums and toddlers at the breakfast. A play area had been set up for the kiddies and one little boy is going to be a great percussion player when he gets older!
One of the ladies I chatted to now lives in the old vicarage. Fr Rodney then brought out a mace with George lll’s coat of arms (king 1760-1820)— and a matching truncheon – a policeman’s? He sportingly allowed me to take his photo wielding both!
The morning’s church activities drew to a close at 11.30 and I set off to explore the area. This is an area I don’t know at all. I’ve only driven through Stainland a couple of times on the way to my clarinet choir, and on the 901 bus to Huddersfield which goes over the hilltops from Hebden Bridge. It’s 3 1/2 miles from Halifax and 5 from Huddersfield. Apparently Stainland’s beginning is very much like that of Heptonstall and Sowerby: a hilltop town, primarily handloom weaving and farming, which dwindled in size during the industrial revolution when the mill was built in the valley, powered by water. In 1848 there were 2 mills for making pasteboard used in woollen manufacture.There were 3 coal mines in the area and some extensive stone quarries. Stainland was built on a pack horse route and its name means stoney ground. The name appears in the Domesday book as Stanland. It’s essentially a linear village, all of the principal buildings facing the road which forms a central spine. Just across from the church is an ancient medieval cross but its age and original function are lost in the aeons of time. Perhaps it was a preaching post. Or it could have been a boundary marker.
I intended folllowing a printed walker’s map given to me by a colleague and I set off along a path bordered with clouds of cow parsley which led past allotments. The next valley, Black Brook Valley, soon opened up beyond me and before I headed down the steep side I paused to look at the outcrop of rocks, Eaves Top quarry. The path led across Halifax Golf course on which a few golfers could be seen in action. I checked to make sure no stray balls were hurtling towards me before heading across one of the greens towards a small wood. Here the path became increasingly steep. It was almost one of the ‘sit down’ scrambles that I’m famous for! However, I managed to keep upright, just, before coming to an open field. I couldn’t see a path anywhere across it so I followed some tractor tire marks to a wall, but there was no way over the wall, so I followed the wall until I came to a gate. This was obviously a gate into a private garden of a large house, but I reckoned that there’d be an exit to the garden on the other side where a could see a paved pathway. No sooner had I entered the garden but an “Oi, you!” came wafting across the garden from the garage. A man appeared, “Good job the dogs didn’t go fer yer, luv!” “I’m lost.” “Ee, I can see thee are.” I drew out my map and pointed out that I couldn’t find the footpath across the field so I’d followed the tire tracks. “What yer doin’ on yer own out ‘ere?” “Walking,” I suggested. “Ee thee’s a gam lass an all!” He pointed me in the right direction and off I went. Just at the bottom of the field was Gateshead mill, now undergoing major reconstruction. Believe it or not it was at this mill that the first transatlantic cable was manufactured!
My intended walk followed Black Brook for a little while before climbing steep back into Stainland via Beestonely, but, number one, the riverside path was full of cows, and two, I didn’t fancy climbing back up that hill. That would definitely have been a ‘hand and knees’ job. Why, oh why, don’t descriptions of walks around here give some idea of the steepness of the terrain? This pamphlet had been produced by the Friends of Calderdale’s Countryside. Instead, I followed a path up the other side of the valley and waited half and hour for a bus into Halifax. It took me through some lovely countryside with sweeping vistas over the valley – definitely worth another ride sometime.
As I waited for the bus back to Hebden Bridge I took a closer look at Halifax bus station. After all, it was built in the shell of my gt gt gt gt uncle’s church. It was built as an independent chapel for a group of people who had formerly been Wesleyan Methodists, with David Barraclough as their leader. Sion Congregational Chapel was an Independent chapel built in 1819, with seats for over 1000 and a schoolroom in the basement. New school buildings were added in 1846 and 1866. David Livingstone gave a sermon and a lecture here in 1857. In 1959, the chapel and the school closed. The building was dismantled in 1984 and rebuilt with the facade included in the new Halifax Bus Station!!
Walter Crabtree was the husband of my 3rd cousin twice removed! OK. He’s quite a distant ancestor. BUT he lived here:
At the moment I’m not sure how long he lived in Stansfield Hall, Todmorden, but he died there in July 1956, the year after I was born. So this cloudy Saturday morning I decided to go and check out the place. I knew that it had been added to and altered many times since it was built in 1610 for James Stansfield. A large extension was added in 1862 in the Gothic Revival style by John Gibson( oh, no, not ANOTHER GIBSON!) For Member of Parliament, Joshua Fielding. Of the original 17th century house only a cross-wing survives.
I’d never been to this area of Todmorden before and the approach across a small footbridge over the railway was rather – colorful. I climbed up the steep hillside and soon came to Stansfield Hall Road. The entire right hand side of the road was bordered by an impressive stone wall, too high for me to peek over but I could see the tops of trees of what was obviously an extensive and well cared for garden. I’d seen online the impressive gateposts leading into the curving driveway and, knowing that the building was now used as apartments I had anticipated that there might be a security gate that I wouldn’t be bale to negotiate.
But, no security gate so I ended the gardens, up the drive and the Hall came into sight, but I was seeing the rear of the building. To my right spacious manicured lawns, flower beds and treed areas were occasionally dotted with tables and chairs, and the odd child’s toy.
I felt awkward at imposing on the residents’ Saturday morning and taking photos from the lawn but my attention was drawn to the sound of a a leaf blower, and turning the corner I saw its owner. I approached and he switched off the noisy contraption. I explained my quest and he pointed out for me the oldest part of the building – the cross-wing of the original 1610 house. He had heard of the Crabtree family. I asked his permission to go onto the lawn and take photos. He said that would be fine. Because of its elevated position and sloping grounds there were several stairs and hidden paths through the trees.
The man pointed out what had once been a snooker room, connected to the main building by a covered gantry. Once at the front of the house I could take in its vast expanse. There was also a nearby cottage, perhaps for servants? I think there had also been a gatehouse at one time but that has been demolished. The gardens were immaculate, and as I left I mentioned this to the man and asked if he was responsible for the entire grounds. “No, just outside my bit of the building,” he replied. Ah, he lives here, whoops! As I left I heard a train pass by just below the garden. At one time there was a station at Stansfield, named appropriately enough Stansfield Hall railway station which opened in 1869. ‘ A train drew up there, unwontedly – it was late June’ – from Adelstrop, by Edward Thomas, one of the poems I remember from my childhood.
So who was this man who lived here? Born in 1875, and baptized at Cross Stone church high above Todmorden, he was living with his parents Charles and Ellen at 1 Cross Street, Todmorden, aged 6 on the 1881 census. His father’s occupation is given as Cotton Spinner and Manufacturer, employing ?114 hands (though it’s difficult to read). His older sister, Betsy, is a pupil teacher, aged 15. Walter had 5 siblings. I can’t locate Cross Street. He was still there in 1891. He was 15 but he is a ‘scholar.’ This is significant since children were working long before their 15th birthday. For example, in the next street, Myrtle, which is in the centre of Todmorden, Willie Brocock, aged 11, is a throstle spinner. On the day the census was taken in 1901 Walter is a noted as a visitor at the home, North Road, Ripon, Yorkshire, of Dr Arthur C. A. Ludgrove, a physician and surgeon from Sevenoaks in Kent. Walter Crabtree is now listed as a physician and surgeon himself. He was educated at Owens College, Manchester and took his MB ChB in 1899. He was a house physician at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and later an honorary radiologist at Reedyford Hospital, Nelson. 5 years later he married Edith Wrigley, my 3rd cousin, twice removed, at Cross Lanes chapel, on the way up the hill from Hebden Bridge to Heptonstall. The chapel has long gone but I’ve wandered around the cemetery which has a spectacular view over Hebden Bridge. Several Wrigleys are buried there. At the time of their marriage Walter was living at 125 Netherfield Road, Nelson, in Lancashire, a surgeon. He was 31. Rather late for a marriage at that time. Edith, a spinster, was 28, living at 9 Halifax Road, Todmorden, daughter of Thomas Henry Wrigley, house painter. In 1911 he was living with his wife, and a live-in servant, Jane Halliday, 19 years old. In 1939 he was living at 87 Barkerhouse Road, Nelson. When he died at Stansfield Hall he left over 8000 pounds to his widow. Quite a fortune at that time.
I’d set up a meeting with David Gelsthorpe, curator of The Earth Science Collection at the Manchester Museum, to view Samuel Gibson’s collection of fossils and flora. I’d been looking forward to this opportunity for a couple of years – ever since I’d first discovered online that one of my ancestors was a famous collector of fossils. I remembered my own first foray into that interest: my mum had taken me Youth Hostelling for the first time, to Slaidburn Youth Hostel, and we’d taken a walk around Stocks reservoir, where I’d found fossils corals, showing me, at first hand, so to speak, that at one time this part of Lancashire was a tropical seabed. That blew my mind. I think I was 11 at the time. I seriously considered becoming a paleontologist but my understanding of science was poor and by the time I came to do my ‘O’ levels I’d dropped the idea altogether and taken up music as my life’s work. When I left the U.S 18 months ago I placed a lot of my fossil collection in the garden, but I think some it it still remains in the storage unit in California. Some pieces I took to the Bolton Museum and was told they were fossil ferns in the shale/coal deposits. On a trip to the south of England with my mum and dad when I was 14, I was responsible for the planning and so a trip to Lyme Regis was high on the list of ‘must sees’ and I came home with many ammonites. Aust Cliff, under the Severn Bridge, also reaped rewards. Two books which remained on the bookshelf above my bed at Affetside were Fossils and Geology. I may still have the Fossils book.
I was at Hebden Bridge station in plenty of time. For the first time this ‘summer’ I was wearing sandals and only had a cardigan, no jacket. Under a totally blue sky sporting plane vapor trails galore, the train arrived. I boarded. So did a dog and its owner. We sat down. The train didn’t move. The dog whimpered loudly. The dog began to bark – very loudly. Still the train didn’t move. The dog’s minder apologized: we’re only going to the next stop. Eventually after 20 minutes the guard told us that Northern Rail apologized, but he couldn’t tell us what was holding us up. i thought that perhaps there was a problem with the rails to our West, but incoming trains proved otherwise. After 35 minutes, during which the dog just about deafened me, we were told to get off the train, it wasn’t going anywhere, and the next train to Manchester would be along in 15 minutes. Fortunately from then on everything went according to plan. The barking, whimpering dog, did, indeed get off, thankfully (for it and me!) In Todmorden and the ride into Manchester was uneventful. I. Now had only 10 minutes to get to the Museum for my appointment. I checked the buses, ones you pay on, free ones, Uber rides in the locality, and eventually had to plump for a taxi which delivered me to the museum only 5 minutes b behind schedule. The building is a grand affair – Victorian architecture at its finest. It’s connected to Owen’s college somehow – where Anna spent a year when she was a student at Manchester uni.
The girl on the front desk called David and soon I was following him behind the scenes into the depths of the museum. On a table Samuel Gibson’s fossil collection was laid out, all ready for me to view. I was impressed. My experience of people’s organizational skills in my area hit rock bottom yesterday when, on my visit to a prison, the leader of our group had forgotten to email one of our volunteers of details of the day. She’d even taken the day off work in oder to volunteer! So to see the boxes of fossils all laid out ready for my attention was wonderful. Many of the exhibits were ammonite-like creatures called goniatites, precursors of ammonites with less defined whirls on them. Some of them were no bigger than a pin head. I was fascinated by how Samuel had even seen these tiny fossils. Many were labelled in his own handwriting and included the location from where he’d collection them The shales of Todmorden were mentioned frequently, and to my amazement so was Slaidburn!
To think that these tiny fossils had possibly been on display in Sam’s pub/museum in Mytholmroyd between 1842 and 1849. I can’t really imagine that they would have attracted customers to his pub. To serious collectors they would have been very important. One goniatites is named after him Goniatites Gibsonii but it’s tiny, no larger than a 5pence piece. Some fossils were housed in tiny cardboard cylinders, less than an inch in diameter, that perhaps Samuel made himself. As I chatted with David about this collection I learned that he, too, lives in Hebden Bridge!
After taking photos and getting to hold some of the fossils myself David took me to meet Lindsay who is the curator of the Flora collection. We walked along corridors filled with deep green boxes which contain 650,000 specimens. Apart from Kew gardens and the British Museum in London Manchester’s collection ranks with those of Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge in the size of the collection. I spent the next hour in the company of Samuel’s collection of plants as Lindsey Loughtman, Curatorial assistant, Botany, and her PhD student gave me their undivided attention.
Lindsey had sent me an email: We have several thousand Samuel Gibson specimens, possibly more as we’re still cataloguing the collection. Around 2000 microscope slides of seeds, and 160 lichen, with fewer British wild flowers and ferns. There are three algae exsiccatae too.
We were in a lovely sunny room and at the long table a few volunteers were working on preserving some plant collections – herbariums. I had thought that a herbarium was a place – like a conservatory – but it means a collection of plants, either pressed on paper and catalogued in books, or pressed between glass to make glass slides. I was told the amazing story of how, in 2016, a large red corrugated box was discovered in the the midst of the 650,000 specimens and Lindsay asked her assistant to clean all the slides (8 boxes each containing 150 slides) and catalogue them. This took her from September til December. Along with the slides there are small glass boxes in which there are seeds which can move around in the box. Then, already set out on the long tables, ready for my perusal were Samuel Gibson’s books of pressed mosses and lichens. Each was labelled in his own hand, and again, like the fossils, one was named after him! The museum had obtained at least some of the collection from the Royal Museum and Library at Peel Park in Salford, so I need to find out more about that. It was wonderful to hold the slides with his tiny handwriting identifying the specimens. It reminded me of the juvenile Bronte books written in the tiniest of lettering. Many of the names of the specimens were printed and Lindsay suggested that these labels had been cut from books and/or magazines. I wondered how Sam’s dates filled in with those of Mary Anning, the fossil collector from Lyme Regis whose discoveries turned the idea of God creating the world and all living creatures in 6 days on its head. I had noticed that at the end of the two papers that Sam had appended too the Heptonstall Slack typhus epidemic that he makes reference to God’s world, demonstrating his faith.
After lots more photos I was taken to meet Dave Earl, one of the volunteers, who recently discovered a previously unnamed raspberry bramble. He’s had its DNA tested by someone in the Czech republic and lo and behold Dave had named it in honor of my ancestor – Gibsonii. I suggested it might be appropriate to plant it on Samuel’s grave if we can find it under the years of leaves and brambles at Butts Green Chapel. Wouldn’t it be amazing if that particular bramble was actually already growing in that cemetery? Dave travels all over this area in search of specimens and so he’ll be heading out to Warley sometime soon!
For the past 3 weeks I’ve been on the trail of the Gibsons, specifically Samuel Gibson, collector of flora and fossils. I’d spent Tuesday in the company of this eminent self-taught ancestor as I viewed his herbarium and fossil collection at Manchester Museum. The Gibsons married into the Wrigleys. The Wrigleys had moved from Rochdale to Hebden Bridge and on one of my summer trips July 2017 I had visited St Chad’s in Rochdale where some of these Wrigleys were baptized, married and buried. During that visit I’d had a beer in a strangely named pub, The Baum, on Toad Lane, home of the Cooperative movement. I’d spent an hour in the museum there, opposite a large imposing church situated on a small piece of high ground. This turned out to be St Mary’s in the Baum. According to records online there were two grave stones bearing inscriptions to my Wrigley ancestors.
Knowing that most churches are kept locked I did my usual search for times when the church would be open – for a coffee morning, perhaps. I discovered that the church is a big venue for music and a series of lunchtime concerts was posted. This Wednesday was the turn of the Rochdale Retirement choir, conducted by ‘well known soprano Freda Farnworth.’ I did a double take. A Freda Farnworth was in my class, 3K, at Bolton School in my first year. She had an excellent voice and I remembered that she left school early to attend Chetham’s music School in Manchester. Could this be her? I tried to find her on social media, and through the chorus, but no bio or photo was forthcoming. Well, I guess I have to go to the concert. I decided to take the long route, going by bus just so that I could she what the route had to offer in the way of scenery. Nothing spectacular but you do see more traveling by bus rather than train because it’s so much slower.
When I arrived at the church and had paid my £5 I was really disappointed to see that Freda would not be conducting today due to a family bereavement. So I paid my 50p for tea and cake and joined about 20 more people at tables in the church. I overheard the ladies on the adjacent table talking about Freda so I explained my connection, and they thought that she had trained at Chetham’s. They would pass my business card on to Freda. Perhaps the choir would even perform my songs sometime! They pointed me in the direction of someone who could help me find the Wrigley gravestones but the information she gave me was again disappointing. This church only dated from 1866 and in 1966 the graves had been moved to another venue, Rochdale cemetery. Only a few flat gravestones had been kept at St Mary’s and they now formed a pathway around one side of the church. “But they all belong to previous ministers of this church,” she said.
The choir sang for an hour, conducted by a last minute replacement, an aging vicar who kept things rolling merrily, not to mention beginning the wrong songs, and the audience of around 30 souls obviously enjoyed it. “Well, where else can you get pie and peas, a piece of cake, a cup of tea and a concert for £5,” I overheard.
Concert done, the church soon emptied and I went to look at the pathway made of gravestones. As the lady had said, most of them were former ministers of this church or yeomen or manufacturers – obviously people of importance in the community. But I kept looking, somehow knowing I would find it. And there it was! The gravestone of my great great great great great grandmother, Mary Wrigley (nee Wilkinson) who died in 1805. Her 5 year old son, John, died in 1789 and 2 year old daughter, Martha, 1792. However, Mary’s husband Arthur is not named on the gravestone. But it certainly looks as if a space has been left for his name.
When I got home I tried to find his burial place and it would seem to be St Chad’s, St Mary’s sister church. ‘The Church of St Mary’s-in’the-Baum, Rochdale, originated in 1738 when a subscription deed outlined the need for a ‘chapel of relief’ in Rochdale due to the growing number of parishioners. The resulting chapel and associated churchyard was largely gifted by Samuel Chetham of Castleton Hall, who supplied the land and £500. The chapel opened for worship in 1742. It was a modest, brick-built, rectangular building of six bays with round-headed windows.
By 1905 the church was suffering from cracks and a sinking apse. The decision was made to build a new church, though the C18 building was well-loved by the parishioners and there was a clear desire to retain some of its character in the new design. A challenging design brief was drawn up including improved ventilation and light within the mill-ridden neighbourhood, greater interior decoration, greater capacity (682 persons was specified in one document), and also the retention of the character of the original chapel. The architect was Ninian Comper whose design for the new church sensitively addressed the brief.’
I finished my adventure my calling in at The Baum. I ordered a veggie chili and rice and was happy to see that they had Leffe on tap, something I haven’t seen before. I’d finished my half by the time my food arrived . . .45 minutes after ordering it. But it’s a nice pub and I had a good book with me, Millstone Grit by Glyn Hughes. I’d discovered it mentioned in a ‘Literary Calderdale’ flier, had ordered it from the library and picked it up from there before I had set off to Rochdale. It’s a fascinating glimpse of life in Calderdale in the mid 1970’s and one chapter is about the self-taught scientists of the Calder Valley. Sam Gibson doesn’t get mentioned by name but the milieu in which he gained his knowledge is written about very well.
Guided Tour of Manchester’s northern Quarter and Annie Augusta Denton
My great great aunt, Annie Augusta denton was born on August 40, 1874. I wonder if that’s why she was given the middle name of Augusta – a rather unusual name and not one that I’ve found previously in the Denton family tree. Her parents were Samuel Denton, the organist and professor of music, and Johanna Nash Denton. They lived in Stroud Gloucestershire until sometime between 1877 and 1880 when the family moved to the Manchester area and settled in Broughton, Salford. When the 1901 census was taken on April 1 Annie was living at 3 Hyde Road, south Manchester who h was a residence for shop girls who worked at Affleck and Brown and large department store, housed in an imposing building in the Northern quarter of Manchester.
A couple of days ago I saw that a guided tour of the Northern quarter was being run by Jonathan Schofield, THE guide to Manchester, who has been a tour guide in the city since 1996. The tour included a back-stage tour of Affleck and Brown building which is now an emporium of private shops, and we would be able able to down into the bowels of the store by way of the haunted staircase! And see what had once been the flat on the top floor.
About 20 people showed ups for the tour and we wandered round the northern quarter – the artsy district of the city. Vimto was invented here by a man trying to keep people from the demon alcohol. It gets its name from a corruption of Gin and Tonic – and it’s also an anagram of vomit! We began the tour in Stevenson square which acted as speakers’ corner in the early days and Mrs Pankhurst spoke there. There are still a few weavers’ cottages in the area, recognizable by the narrow windows on the upper story but most of them were pulled down during the industrial revolution when the area saw the building of many warehouses for the cotton industry. It was also the venue of many markets. The imposing facade of the fish market remains and after the tour I visited the current craft market. A few Georgian houses remain, with their imposing porticos, and they are now used as designer studios and professional offices. I also learned that Forsyth’s Music store is the oldest family owned shop in the city, and Wayne Rooney’s wife purchased a grand piano there for 90,000 pounds because, every though she doesn’t play, she thought it would look nice in a corner of the house.
Then to Affleck and Brown. That company bought out Lomas and in fact it was the Lomas building which gave us the behind the scenes tour. Hilary Mantel, whose autobiography I recently read, describes the building in ‘Flud.’ When I told one of the guides in the building about my connection to it he wanted details of how to find the census online so that he can have it printed and mounted for display. The place is huge. Three storeys and a veritable warren. Brightly colored stone stairwells lead to shops varying from tattoo parlors to vintage clothing stores. Lady Gaga purchased a dress from one of the stores when she was in town to give a concert. Many of the interior walls are adorned with painting which appear to be a cross between frescoes and graffiti. There was even an American snack shop where I saw for the first time in England Arizona ice tea for sale. It was a pity it’s too heavy to carry home. After the tour I had a bagel in the top floor cafe with spectacular views over the city. As I came out a group of guys asked me to take photos of them outside the. building. It was a stag party. It had turned into a lovely sunny day, even though rain had been forecast, and for a while I toyed with the idea of taking a ride on a canal boat, but couldn’t find a suitable one that didn’t need to be booked in advance, so I headed off back to Hebden Bridge where it started to rain just as I got off the train – and it bucketed down for an hour, then cleared into a lovely sunny evening.
The weekend had been hot. In fact, for Northern England, specifically Calderdale, it had been a scorcher. Crowds of scantily clad people had descended on Hebden Bridge. Everyone wanted to sit in the sun, so unused are they to seeing this flaming ball high in the sky. Men tore off their shirts. Their skin, used to its normal coating of worsted and waterproofs, rebelled and assumed the colour of boiled lobster.
And STILL they sat in outside, in the full sun, outside the pubs in the town square. The womenfolk, chameleon-like, have shed their epidermis of boots, jeans, jumpers, jackets and beanies, where the only flesh visible is the tip of the proboscis, and now strut about like a tank -topped Barbie in cotton mini and heels. And what heels! Negotiating the cobbles, the stone steps, the pavements ‘under construction’ in these stilts is an art in itself – an art form that many have not yet conquered in the limited amount of sun-time available. Motorcyclists revved their engines at the traffic lights on Bridgegate. Convertibles raced down Crown Street, like cows let out to pasture for the first time after a winter in the barn, only to be halted in their progress by giant purple hippopotamuses, otherwise known as buses, slowly and pedantically negotiating their way around the line of people queuing at the Royd’s ices van, and spilling onto the road like melted 99s.
Faced with this scene from my favourite perch in my new apartment I opted for a weekend out of town. No, not a weekend mini break to some equally packed city but a chance to spend time on the moors above Calderdale. But I decided to spend part of Easter Monday on a trip to Todmorden, 20 minutes by bus, and hunt for houses my ancestors had lived in. I now have over 8000 people in my family tree but Ancestry.com doesn’t provide a way to search your tree by place, so I’ve started to make my own list based on places rather than names. I’d found 8 addresses in Todmorden where my relatives had lived so this seemed a good day for Ancestor Hunting.
My first address was on Pitt Street, a street running at right angles to Burnley Road, on the East side of the town centre. Number 17 had been, in 1891 and 1901, the home of my great great great aunt, Sarah Duckworth, nee Wrigley, and her husband George, a labourer in a cotton mill. They had married in 1873 at Heptonstall church, on April the 12th. I wondered, idly, if it had been such a warm day as today for their wedding. George had been born in Rawtenstall in Lancashire, one of my mum’s favourite place for a ‘run out’ in the car and I’d been there with Rachel on our famous, or should I say, infamous, Irwell valley sculpture trail! The stone terrace was typical of the mill workers’ houses. Part of the terrace has been demolished, number 17 having gone, but as I paused to take a photo of the street sign a man came out of the first house. I told him my story and he related to me the story of a young child who, in 1963, disappeared from outside her home, number 1, and was found much later beneath the ice in the frozen canal. The canal is close to Pitt Street but she couldn’t have walked so far by herself. Perhaps I can find the story in a local newspaper.
A couple of streets away was Derby Street where the Duckworths were living in 1881 prior to their move to Pitt Street. The houses were identical but I did notice that from their back yards there was a good view of Stoodley Pike. Derby Street led to Russell Street which has been completely rebuilt. In 1881 Eliza Wrigley, my first cousin 4 times removed was a cotton weaver. She’d been born in Hebden Bridge and baptized in Heptonstall. Now, at the age of 33 she was living with her cousin, John Bowden, a warehouse man, and his wife, Mary, a sticker of pieces.
The next street was Back Der Street where Eliza had moved to and was living in 1891, 1901, with her cousin Mary. Probably John had died. Mary is now a charwoman, a drop in status, but at 60 she’d probably had enough of mill work. I’d presumed at Back Der Street would have been a back-to-back house with Der Street, but no, the houses on both streets have both front and back doors. Derlane Mill was at the bottom of the street. 1911 sees Eliza, still single, living alone at 9 Der Street and her occupation is a cotton hank winder. She died two years later.
Derdale Mill, built in 1861, was another attempt at co-operative manufacturing under the management of the Todmorden (Derdale) Cotton and Commercial Company. The rearing party was held in April 1862, but by November 1869, the Company was bankrupt. The shareholders held an extraordinary general meeting in Sobriety Hall where it was resolved to wind up the concern. This was probably as a direct result of the Cotton Panic caused by the American Civil War, resulting in a severe downturn in trade for all cotton manufacturing businesses. On 9th February 1870, Caleb Hoyle and Henry Maden of Rockcliffe House, Bacup, purchased the mill for £9,120. The mill was safe, and continued in the production of textiles until about 1996.
The next place on my list was (number deleted for privacy) Thorn Place. I had to cross the Rochdale Canal to get to Kilnhirst Road.
I’d never been to this part of Todmorden before, under Stoodley Pike. It’s quite lovely – away from the busy Burnley Road, and very green and leafy. I was in search of the home of Ethel feel, nee Wrigley, who lived there from 1930 until her death in 1963. At first I couldn’t find the street. A street sign seemed to be quite misleading, taking me to the back door, but two helpful window cleaners came to my rescue. I told them my story and they asked if I was looking for a part in a play. ??? Apparently a ‘high up man at the Todmorden Hippodrome” lives in Thorn Place. They encouraged me to knock on the door on number 1 telling me that they knew which numbers had ‘nice people’ behind them – and which didn’t! The lowest house on the steep slope was built by the builder of the rest of the terrace, after he had completed his street. I eventually located the front of the street all of which had large front garden, unlike the mill workers’ cottages on Pitt and Derby street. This was obviously a step up. The garden looked lovely on this sunny day, and the front door was slightly ajar. I was grateful for the advice the window cleaners had given me asI called “Hello” and knocked on the door. A lady appeared and on telling my story she immediately invited me in. The interior decor felt as if it was something from a stage set. It was a lovely period piece with all the trimmings of the fireplace, the bay window, anaglypta, cornices and picture rail. She told me that the house had been built around 1910 and she’d lived in it for 20 years. Coming from the streets around Pitt and Der it had indeed been a step up. Her mother, who had lived next door may have known Ethel Seel, and she’d contact me if so. Ethel, my 3rd cousin, 2x removed, had been born in 1898 in Hebden Bridge. Her mother, who died when Ethel was 6, had been buried at Crosslanes Chapel. Aged 24 she married Gilbert Riley Steel, a bank clerk, at Cross Lanes chapel. I have other Wrigley ancestors buried there. They had one daughter, Elinor M. and Ethel was buried at Christ Church, Todmorden Jan 3, 1964.
Heading towards the town I passed Myrtle Street, Dale Street, Brook Street and Roomfield Lane where other ancestors lived but where the actual terraces have been demolished. Returning to Hebden Bridge the annual duck race had just finished – a fundraiser where you pay for a plastic duck and then all the ducks are thrown into Hebden Water and the first duck to reach the finish line wins the lucky owner a trip to somewhere or other! Crowds of people were heading to find the nearest pint after all that excitement in the sun. I headed back to my place and viewed it all from my eyrie while sipping a nice cup of Darjeeling.
Update: I did, in fact, find newspaper references to the the little girl who went missing:
Snow Hampers Hunt
Todmorden Times Feb15, 1969
Police mounted a massive house-to-house check in Todmorden to-day in an effort to trace three-year old Dawn Fielder missing from her Derby Street home since Thursday afternoon. More than 100 men and women from the West Yorkshire police reported to Todmorden police station early to-day. Scores of civilians from a wide area around Todmorden were calling at the Burnley Road station to day to offer their services. More than five inches of snow fell during the night and the whole area is now covered with a thick blanket of snow. “The snow has made things difficult.” said a senior police officer to-day. ” But we shall continue to use parties of volunteers to go over the whole area again.” Throughout yesterday and last night the control centre at Todmorden was kept busy dealing with reports that Dawn had been seen. But checks have failed to confirm any reports Dawn was last seen in Pitt Street, just 40 yards from her home, at 4 o’clock on Thursday by her grandfather, Mr. Fred Harcourt.
Dawn The search for three years-old Dawn Louis Fielder, who has bees missing since Thursday from her home In Russel Street, Todmorden, was resumed to-day. More than 100 strong volunteers and police—set off early to-day to mane the search. Some will concentrate on house -to – house inquiries, while others check the banks of the hale-long canal which runs through the centre of Todmorden. A police spokesman at Todmorden said to-day: “The searcher are keen and we are still hoping the girl will be found alive.” The spokesman said they were unable to use police skin-divers to search the canal because of a four-inch thick layer of ice.
MISSING GIRL, 3, DEAD IN CANAL Three – year – old Dawn Fielder, who has been missing since February 13, was found dead yesterday in a canal 200 yards from her home at Todmorden, Yorks. Police said last night that crime is not suspected.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with this weekend. It ‘s the anniversary of my mum’s death, nine years ago, and I had planned to participate in an alumni weekend at Sheffield University. I’d gone last year and had thoroughly enjoyed the Music department’s alumni get together of rehearsals, meals and good conversation culminating in my participation in a wonderful concert in Firth Hall, scene of my graduation ceremony. But a couple of weeks ago I got word that the weekend’s events had been cancelled – so what to do?
Last year on April 6th I had surprised myself by setting out from my apartment to go to the Coop in town to buy some pasta, and had somehow found myself climbing up to Stoodley Pike. 8 miles later I did, in fact, call in at the Coop for some pasta. I had decided on that rather strenuous hike that I would celebrate my mum’s life each year by going on a hike.
Now my mum loved taffies, as she affectionately called the, and she was never prouder than when her daffies in her font garden in Tottington came in to flower, so I decided it would be very appropriate to go a ‘Daffy Hike.’ Fortunately it was a glorious sunny day and I decided to re-travel my steps through the Colden Valley, a walk I’d first done last Autumn when the fall colors were at their height. I had ancestors that lived at Hudson Mill so I took the bus to New Delight and retraced my steps in search of some daffodils. I certainly wasn’t disappointed and found lots of flowers seemingly planted at random along the old pack horse trail or scattered like yellow stars in the woods lining the track. High above Jack bridge I stopped to watch a couple of hikers crossing the narrow slab bridge and thought that next time it would be fun to be on the far side of the Colden Beck. The path was lined by trees and stumped that were covered in a feathery almost neon green moss that was so long it gently wafter in the little breeze. It reminded me of something from a Tolkien story, As I grew close to the two chimneys of Lumb Mill I decided to go and have a closer look. I was able to get right up to the base of the towering chimneys and even reach out to touch them. There’s a lot of building work being done there. It looks like a sizable house is under construction in the remains of the former mill. There were several picturesque bridges and fantastically shaped trees, and even a large spider’s web that was half concealed under a bridge.
Reaching Mytholm I took a wander around St James’s churchyard, where many of the graves were bedecked in lots of daffodils in pots and jam jars.
Sunday dawned dull and dreary and although I had planned to possibly go on a guided walk about transportation in Sowerby Bridge the overcast morning didn’t inspire me to get up and go. So I settled for a while, engrossed in Enduring Love by Ian McEwan which I’d begun yesterday, and found was a real page turner. However, by 1 o’clock the sun was shining and I had itchy feet to be out and about. I got the bus to Blackshaw Head and headed along Davy Lane, a new path for me, so one I would mark on my OS map in pink when I got home. Blackshaw Head, as its name suggests is perched on t’tops and so I had extensive view in all directions. I could see Pry Farm and Scammerton Farm where some of my ancestors had lived and one, Giles Sunderland, had left the farm in during World War 1, never to return.
I passed by lots of newborn lambs. It’s usual for sheep here to give birth to twins, but occasionally triplets will be born. Next into view across the valley was a field of alpacas – yes, alpacas. You can take an alpaca trail – that might be fun!
Next came Great Rock – hmm, that’s its name. It’s a huge single boulder of granite. On bonfire night I came to Great Rock farm from where I could see other bonfires across the valley, but it was totally dark and I didn’t quite know where Great rock itself stood, but now I found it. Of course it’s covered in graffiti because it’s close to the road, but at least it’s antique etched graffiti rather than spray painted. I was enjoying being on t’tops so rather than take the track down to Eastwood I continued along the top road. I one point it dropped down sharply to cross a stream, then climbed up again. I could just see the top of Cross Stones church where I have ancestors buried. I’d only been on this moor once before (apart from bonfire night) and the views are fantastic, right across to Stoodley Pike. I could clearly pick out the trail that we’d used when my daughters came to see me last May.
Eventually I came to Martin’s Lane, marked on the map as a Public Bridleway and it was very well maintained as it led down towards the Calder Valley. I was most surprised when I came to the back of a large building with three arched doorways, now closed with iron doors but it looked very much like a church. Sure enough as I rounded the corner and the front of the building came into view I could see the house name was Chapel House. A man was gardening and I asked him about the building. apparently the first chapel on the site was built,t in 1707 but this one dates from the 1890’s. At various times it’s been both a Quaker and a Methodist chapel. But who attended? I was halfway up a hillside with no – I mean no – buildings around. Hmmmm. Something for a rainy day’s research!
The bridleway petered out at the chapel but the man assured me that the narrow track in front of me continued down into the valley. Oh, but my. it was soooo steep. I edged my way very slowly being careful not to slip on the loose stones. At one point there was a small memorial garden just off the path with several Bury Football Club scarves wrapped around the overhanging tree. Just below the site was the railway line and the path regained the main road by way of a tunnel underneath the track. I had planned to get the bus back to Hebden but I was so enjoying my adventure that I decided to walk back to Hebden Bridge by way of the canal towpath. It took me a little while to figure out an access point for for a little while I was on the far side of the canal but I was able to cross a bridge in Eastwood and returned to Hebden along the towpath. It was so warm that I had to take off my jacket for the remainder of the walk home, around 3 miles. When I reached the Coop where I’d planned on buying something for dinner greeter at the door informed me that they were closing in line one minute – at 5 o’clock.
5 miles yesterday, 6 miles today.
The idea of this trip came from a few ladies in a Meetup group that I’d joined last year. We decided we’d like to travel together for a few days, somewhere within easy reach. We all put forward a list of choices and we decided upon Amsterdam. Unlike the others I’d never been to Holland. When I’d lived in England before moving to the U.S we’d always spent vacations in far away, exotic places, knowing that we’d be more comfortable travelling to places closer to England when we were older . . . little did we know that I’d end up living in the U.S for 32 years . . . but now that I’ve moved back to England here’s a wonderful opportunity to visit those places closer to home.
And just how close is Amsterdam from where I live now? Well, I had breakfast at home in Hebden Bridge, and elevenses in Holland! We flew together from Leeds/Bradford airport, a 45 minute drive from home, and the flight was 50 minutes. It was a lovely sunny day as we left but I didn’t get much of a view from my aisle seat on the plane either going or coming back home.
Our hotel was in Zaandam, a 20 minute train journey from the airport and only 12 minutes by train from the centre of Amsterdam. I knew that Zaandam was famous for some crazy architecture but that was about the extent of my knowledge. My trip to the U.S and moving apartments a few days after I’d returned had taken up my time and I’d done zero preparation for the Holland adventure.
We checked into Easy hotel which is on the floors above Primark! My room was on the 10th floor and I could see a large portion of Zaandam below me. It’s population is around 76,000 and the amazing thing is that apart from one elevated road in the distance I couldn’t see a single car! But almost every street had its own canal. We went to explore the city with its narrow buildings, all different and brightly colored, though I was surprised by the lack of blooming flowers in the city. I’d seen far more daffodils driving from Hebden Bridge to the airport than I could see in Zaandam. The same comment was to be made in Amsterdam too. We found the town square and parked ourselves in a bar there to people watch but it was rather chilly to sit outside. A large statue of a ship builder dominated the square and I was surprised to see that the name below was written in Russian. I needed to find out why – and who this person was. We found the main sluice gate to the main canal with its ornate stone columns and date stones and a new rusty iron sculpture of a sinking bridge has been added. I even found a Mozartstrasse. What’s Mozart got to do with Zaandam? We had dinner in an Italian restaurant where large black and white portraits of old Italian movie stars decorated the walls. By 9 o’clock we were ready to turn in for the night.
A day in Amsterdam.
We found a little coffee/pancake shop opposite the hotel to have breakfast it it became ‘our’ breakfast place each morning of the trip. It had rained during the night but there was lots of blue sky as we crossed the canal to get our morning tea – but it was decidedly chilly. Nowhere in Holland did we find pots of tea, and since our hotel, though excellent in many other ways, didn’t have a kettle in the room, we were constantly on the look-out for tea as we wandered around all day.
We spent the day in Amsterdam, traveling there by train in 12 minutes from Zaandam. I was excited to step foot in the city but I soon realized that my idea of Amsterdam in my imagination was nothing like the vibrant modern city that I was seeing. It seems primarily a city made up of people in their 20’s but perhaps that can be said of most capital cities, and probably reflects more my age than anything else. Fast moving bicycles were a devil to negotiate, making me realize just how much I rely on my hearing to cross roads normally. Here silent bikes charge towards you, suddenly appearing from around corners at crazy speeds. Dodging between the trams outside the train station also took some skill. Canals were everywhere, not just the four main canals but a veritable fabric of interwoven watery threads bordered by immaculate four story houses painted in beautiful colors but often perched at crazy angles as though they are falling over – and that comment was made before I’d had my first beer at lunch time! Who built them? When? Why? My head was filled with questions. But then, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy traveling to new places.
Leaving the station, where the mirrors on the ceiling had the interesting effect of portraying everyone upside down, taking our life in our hands we crossed the tram tracks, moved swiftly to avoid bicycles and jumped on the free ferry across to the A’Dam centre. It was very, very windy and the water was choppy on the ferry. There seemed to be just as many bicycles as people! The A’Dam tower is a high rise building housing clubs, restaurants, a music school, a lookout tower and a crazy swing that swings you over the edge of the top of the building. Rising 100 meters in 22 seconds, complete with light show, we found ourselves in a bar with spectacular views, but even better was the outdoor platform where the booming sound of the wind was amazing. Several times we were almost blown over, and I couldn’t imagine how the swing was still allowed to operate in such windy conditions.
Heading past 100s, probably 1000s of bikes on racks at the station I found myself wondering how people remember where they’ve parked their bikes. I mean, who hasn’t forgotten which floor they parked their car on in a multi story car park? There are around 880,000 bikes in Amsterdam and on average between 12,000 and 15,000 are pulled out of the canals each year. Amsterdam also has 4 full time divers who are on 24 hour standby to pull out occupants of the cars which fall into the canals – about one per week! The three main canals were built in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age when the Dutch were exploring and colonizing many places around the world and were becoming one of the most important trading nations. Even the Tzar of Russia came to learn the tricks of the trade from the Dutch . . . no, not from the famous Red Light district but from their ship building experts. But more of that later.
Even Primark had gotten into the spirit of the scenery!
We had lunch in a loverly little cafe bar and continued exploring the large square with their imposing buildings. Most of the paths and squares are surfaced in brick tiles, sometimes in intricate patterns. Apparently because the ground surface is so marshy macadam roads would disintegrate but the brick absorbs the water and makes the paths quiet stable. The same can’t really be said of the oldest houses in the cities. The oldest I saw dated from 1590 but many proudly sported date stones in the 1600’s. To find stable ground to form the foundation of a building wooden poles had to be sunk to find the stable sand and these formed the footings of the buildings. Because stable, dry land was at such a premium buildings tended to haver a space footprint and so extended upwards rather than outwards. Merchants built their warehouse adjacent to their home. Overhanging winches were used to get the wares into the warehouses and apparently these winches are often updated and still used to enable large piece of furniture to be taken up onto the 3rd and 4th floor apartments.
The Prince’s canal was began in 1612 and during the 50 years it took to complete the population of Amsterdam had grown from 50,000 to 200,000 making it the 3rd biggest city in the world after London and Paris. Built in 1630 the Westerkerk has the highest spire in Amsterdam and Rembrandt is buried somewhere in the church although the exact location has been lost.Very close to the church is the Anne Frank house and the spire with its clock face was visible from the attic and Anne described in her diary the chiming of its carillon as a source of comfort. There is a photo in Anne’s house of the Nazi troupes driving right past the church.
We’d booked our tickets to Anne Frank’s house before we left England and we had been lucky to get tickets at such short notice. We’d got the final time slot of the day, yet even so it was packed. I’ve never read her diary, but Anna had visited the house a few years ago so I knew it was worth going to. I think the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the silence. Yes, everyone was given a listening commentary and so everyone was intent on listening to the commentary so no-one was chattering to their friends and family. The journals Anne kept reminded me so much of my journals which I wrote at around the same age – and still have – filled with little sketches. The posters that her father had put on her wall I found very poignant. Only Anne’s father Otto, survived out of the 8 people who were in the house, and I found his interview much later in his life very hard to watch.
We’d planned on having dinner in the Grand cafe at Amsterdam’s grand central station situated in the former 1881 waiting room with impressive Art Nouveau decor. We hadn’t made reservations and we were fortunate to get a table, but it was very busy and when I asked our waiter to take a photo of us enjoying our meal he told is flatly that no, he was too busy. We had already noted and commented on the rather brusque service we’d had in several cafes and bars and I read an interesting interpretation of this characteristic. Holland is flat. The landscape is bare, open. There’s nowhere to hide. Perhaps this accounts for the forthright demeanor of the Dutch: they say it like it is. No gratuitous smile masking the real feeling that is so often the order of the day in other countries. Maybe there’s something in that. One of the more bizarre residents of this restaurant is a white cockatoo by the name of Elvis!
The next morning we were to go exploring rural Holland and we began our day by going to Zaanse Schans where restored and reconstructed windmills still operate, but now primarily for tourists. Our journey didn’t quite work out as we expected since we got off at the wrong station but not to worry. We figured it out. There’s a comfort in being with a group, even when we all get it wrong! Eventually we back tracked on a bus and found a student who was going our way and was happy to walk with us to the village. We had to wait to cross a draw bridge which was just being raised to let a couple of boats through, and then it got stuck going down, but eventually we were able to cross and soon found ourselves confronted by several picturesque windmills. It dawned on me that this is what I’d been expecting in Amsterdam! Yes, crazy, I know, but in my imagination Holland is Monet and Van Gogh’s paintings of the country – pre-industrial revolution. It’s this ubiquitous tulip strewn landscape, dotted with windmills and clog wearing millers that Holland promotes to tourists, and I had fallen for it hook, line and sinker – ha! But now we were firmly in tourist land and I set off to explore by myself arranging to meet the others for lunch later.
I set off along the canal bank to the farthest windmill, stopping to take lots of photos, and ultimately decided on visiting the saw mill that was hard at work. An interesting movie showed the rebuilding of this windmill. So many moving parts – amazingly intricate. The sound of the sawing was interesting too and I stopped to watch the sawdust piling into clear bags in layers. Another of the mills grinds spices and another grinds pigments for paint. One had a date stone of 1667. I was surprised to see that the body of some of the mills were thatched. At the height of its power around 1720 there were 600 mills in this area. Traditionally, the wood processing and food industries have been the most important industries in the Zaan region. In the 17th and 18th centuries, along the banks of the Zaan there were weaving mills, forges and various other processing industries (tobacco, cocoa, paper, paint, candles), but also shipbuilding and maritime shipping were well represented. Almost every village in the Zaan region participated in whaling. In 1697 almost 80 Greenland sailors sailed on the Zaan at the same time, with no fewer than 40,000 barrels of whale bacon!
A cheese shop showed the cheese making process (something that I’d seen for the first time in Sicily last year) and the servers were dressed in traditional costume. We explored some of the local merchants’ houses, very pretty 17th to 19th century, with swans gliding along the small canals and then we had lunch in D’Swarte Walvis. 20 years ago it lost its Michelin star but at least that means it’s now within my price range. we had a lovely window seat and were occupied by watching workers preparing the gardens and courtyard for the upcoming summer season – power washing everything.
As we returned to the station we could smell chocolate coming from a large cocoa factory, another tradition of this region.
The gardens of Keukenhof were next on our itinerary. It had been overcast in Zaanse Schans but here at Keukenhof it was decidedly chilly too, and it felt a little weird to be wandering around these lovely gardens in such weather. In fact the gardens only opened a couple of days ago for the season so they probably weren’t looking quite their best. What I found quite lovely however, were the 6 or so buildings featuring amazing floral displays. Around 7 million bulbs are planted annually. It opened in 1950 in the grounds of a former castle dating back to the 15th century. The theme of this year’s displays is Flower Power and the displays were inventive, colorful and amusing at times. I particularly enjoyed the orchid building, and reading the names of the tulips. I tried to find names of people I know: I found a Marie Jo and a Danny – and Oracle! There was even a Pleyel piano bedecked with flower pots.
We headed back to Zaandam after a full day of beautiful colors and experiences, not to mention 8 miles of walking! We had dinner in a bar in Zaandam and were alarmed to find shards of glass on the table. We moved tables and were even more alarmed to find shards of glass on that table too! Walking back I noticed Tulip Vodka for sale – hmmm.
Haarlem was our destination this morning. The railway station had the most beautiful gift shop which, if my understanding of the Dutch sign above the entrance served me correctly, used to be the first class waiting room. But I was anxious to get my first glimpse of the city and we spent a lovely three and a half hours wandering the streets and taking in the sights. It seemed a more more approachable place than Amsterdam. Most of the bikes here were more like people carriers with carriages for children attached at the front. The window displays in the shops were incredible, and I thought of Paul McCartney whose goal in life was to be a window dresser! A bakery caught my eye, where the window was filled with suspended bread rolls. The entrance to a cannabis shop was guarded by a fierce, good looking policeman who posed with me for a photo! A boutique with brightly colored dresses invited more exploration and I found a dress that Sarah would have loved – every color! For myself I couldn’t resist buying a lacey pale blue shirt. it will look good with my newly purchased tulip socks and windmill earrings!!! The coffee shop that George Clooney advertises looked like no coffee shop I’ve ever seen before. I even found a variety called Arpeggio. Street art graffiti was tasteful, and reminded me of the colorful walls in Reykjavik. The town square is dominated by the Grote Kerk. The church is dedicated to St Bavo who died in 653AD. After fires damaged the original church the current church was built between 1370 and 1538. The organ was built by Christian Muller between 1735 and 1738 and underwent extensive renovation in the early 1960’s. It is a stunning piece of craftsmanship consisting of over 5000 pipes, 68 registers and is almost 30 meters high, but I wasn’t able to see the three manual organ console. Mozart played this organ when he was 10 years old and Handel played it too. There was quite a lot of modern art too, stained glass, sculpture, painting, reminding me of Blackburn cathedral, but here it complements the ancient artwork too.
For once it was warm enough to have lunch at cafe overlooking the square. I had a lovely Thai chicken skewer and a Belgian beer – delightful. Town squares and streets in general are set with bricks rather than macadam so that they don’t buckle with the dampness of the underlying soil. A line of espalier trees provided resting places for birds but I’m glad our table wasn’t directly beneath!
Next we were off to the seaside – or Overveen – Amsterdam’s beach. It didn’t take long to get there by bus and we were lucky that the weather was so good. Beautiful blue sky and a long almost deserted beach to explore. Thousands of razor shells were washed up and walking on them made a wonderful scrunchy sound. We could see high rise buildings of Zandvoort in the distance through the sea mist.
Back in Amsterdam we were bound for an hour and a half’s cruise on the canal. I was anxious that we too late in the day for good light for taking photographs but it was fine. Occasionally we passed by a gap in the rows of merchants’ houses and the low sunlight was able to skim the canal surface – very pretty. I elected not to listen to the running commentary on the headset and just soak in the picture in front of me – beautiful. We passed the dock where the Viking river boat cruise liners dock. They are huge! In the Amstel district we saw the row of houses called the Dancing Ladies because they are now situated at rather weird angles as they sink into the wet soil. Yet all these picturesque houses are immaculately maintained. Apparently there’s a city ordinance requiring this.Also in the Amstel district is the modern opera and ballet hall, built onto the canal, its location and architecture again reminding me of Reykjavik.
It was getting dark by the time our cruise was complete and we headed to the Red Light district which was busy with people my age eager to see what the fuss is all about. The sex toy shops were doing a roaring business. I expected seeing scantily clad girls beckoning guys into the blue movie houses or girls posing seductively in red lighted windows as was the case in Brussels. Perhaps it was just too early in the evening.
Back in Zaandam we tried to ‘go Thai’ but the restaurant didn’t look particularly inviting (lighting makes such a big difference to the ambiance of a place) so we ended up at the nice Italian place for a second night, hungry after another full day of sight seeing and walking 8 miles.
We had planned to spend the morning exploring more of Zaandam before our mid afternoon flight home. I began the day by trying to find postage stamps for the postcards I’d written. This was easier said than done. The first concierge I spoke to didn’t know where I could buy stamps. The second suggested I try the supermarket. No luck there, but a helpful assistant suggested I should try the bookstore. Hmmm. So I set off in search of the book store. Success. Then I asked where I could post my postcards sporting their new stamps. “Ah,” she said, “You need to go to another book store.” This time her instructions of how to locate the bookstore with the mail box was less than accurate, but at least I was having a good time exploring the streets of Zaandam. Having given up and retraced my steps I found the bookstore and, hey presto, there was even a mail box for my postcards!
Next was a visit to Tzar Peter’s house, one of the oldest buildings in Holland. This is the building in which Tzar peter de Grote stayed in 1697. he came to Zaandam in order to learn the trade of ship building. At the time Russia was a country that was way behind the Netherlands in its industry, exploration of the world, and transportation and so Tzar Peter came, incognito, to learn the shipwright’s trade. Incognito was difficult for him because he was 6’8″. The Russian tzars and Dutch monarchs realised that the house needed protection from the elements and in the 19th century a building was built around the wooden house to protect it.
A death mask of Tzar Peter is on display. The windows are completely covered in scratched signature spanning several centuries, and the subsidence causes everything to learn at a precarious angle. it was a great place to take photos and since there were only another couple of people touring the site I was able to take lots of pictures. The were even bottles of Russian Imperial stout for sale, named, of course, Czar Peter.
Back in the town centre I had half an hour to wait for the rest of the group so I indulged myself at a lovely cafe, which was named an ‘American’ cafe. the deserts looked amazing , and I was disappointed that this was the wrong time of day for such extravagance! Still, the place provided me with the best cup of tea on the trip.
Our next port of call was the Monet Atelier located in a house right above the canal. Monet lived for 4 months in Zaandam in 1871 and painted 25 works. He was just in time to capture the old Zaandam, the one that I’d pictured in my mind. The Industrial Revolution, which had taken hold throughout most of Europe, and the advent of the steam engine, would within a few years irrevocably change the characteristic landscape of the Zaandam area, dotted with windmills, as Monet saw it. The small building contains replicas of all 25 paintings and its wonderful to see these all gathered in one small room, when, in actual fact, they are scattered around the world in museums and private collections.
It was time to set off on our journey home and our flight was delayed an hour but Schiphol airport is not a bad place to spend a little extra time. The flight was only 45 minutes and we landed in a lovely sunlit Yorkshire. I took the bus to the centre of Leeds passing Kirkstall Abbey. Perhaps it warrants a day out now that I know it’s quite reachable by public transport. From Leeds a train took me back to Hebden Bridge where I called in at the Chinese to take home some dinner.