4:50. I’m sitting at a picnic table outside The Wellington, sipping a bitter shandy and listening to the drip, drip on the umbrella above me. “Bloody hell! It’s sunshine,” comments the man on the next table as a few stray rays light up the froth on my drink. “Boris Johnson? You must be fuckin’ jokin’. ‘Ee’s a pathological liar, ‘ee iz!” The conversation continues.
I’ve just spent the most amazing two hours in St Mary’s church, Elland. I almost didn’t come here. Well, Elland is not a tourist destination by any stretch of the imagination, but then I’m not a tourist.There seemed to be no redeeming features of this town half an hour’s bus ride south east of Halifax, except that my great, great, great grandparents were married here on January 30, 1837, Sarah Booth and Joseph Haigh. The vicar had told me that if the church wasn’t open there would be a sign on the door as to who would have the key. I didn’t expect that the sign would say that I could obtain the key from the sweet factory across the street, the very same Dobson’s sweet shop that Gary and mentioned when he learned of my trip to Elland.
After an initial panic that the factory seems all closed up I saw someone move inside and I found a buzzer next to the door. “I’ve come for a key to the church.” “Riiiight, luv,” and it was handed to me, just like that. No questions, no signing of name. At the church it was dark, very dark inside and I found myself somewhat comforted by the Beatles music
blasting from the west tower where I eventually made out a ghost rising into the air – no, a man dressed entirely in white, on a ladder painting the walls. At least there was someone else besides me alive and kicking amidst the tombstones and memorial plaques. I read about the medieval stained glass (very rare), the 14th century arch (similar to the ones in Kirkstall Abbey dating from 11 something), the font, the misericords, and came to realize that of all the churches I’ve been to on this ancestry lark, this one has retained most of the features that my ancestors would have been familiar with.
After half an hour or so the painter noticed me and introduced himself as Glen Littlewood, the church warden. I explained my mission and as an afterthought asked who had the key to the organ and could I play it. It turns out that his father-in-law is the organist and he took over that role from his father in 1980. His father had held that position for 68 years. Their last name was Haigh – the same surname as my great, great, great grandfather Joseph who married Sarah Booth in 1837. Glen phoned his father-in-law and in ten minutes the octogenarian arrived happy to give me my own personal recital, beginning, of course, with Bach’s Prelude in d minor. I could see that this man could really play well, and he was very knowledgeable about the stops. The console was built in 1949 and there’s currently a fund-raising project in progress, but it sounded really wonderful to me. Then it was my turn and fortunately I found a copy of Bach’s 6 Little preludes that I can actually play in a book of music with his father’s name on it. He told me that he had met his wife when he was subbing during one summer at Ely Cathedral. His wife was a violinist who had studied at the Royal College of Music. Glen’s grandad had played trombone in the Brighouse and Rastick brass band and I shall look out for his name on my mom’s old brass band records that I still play. Glen brought out the church records and we found the marriage of Sarah and Joseph (the shoemaker) but neither of them were buried there.
Leaving Elland I went upstairs on the bus since I knew that I didn’t have to get off until the bus station. There’s a low bridge on the road where the bus has to pull into the center of the road to avoid hitting the bridge!
It’s 6:15 now and I’ve just managed to negotiate the ordering system at Wetherspoons. I’ve landed on Curry Nite and the place is buzzing. I think I just got the last free table. It must be a favorite after work hang out. It’s primarily filled with small groups of guys standing ignoring the TV where Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to resign. Large pipes clad in silver foil adorn the ceiling and lights suspended from a spider’s web of cables makes this one of Halifax’s trendiest night spots. For 6 pounds 50 I get chicken tikka masala, naan, 2 poppadums, pilau rice and a pint of cider. That’s a good deal! I can see T shirts, full on suits with ties, leather jackets, short sleeved shirts (because, remember, folks, this is the SUMMER), back packs, laptops cases, school uniforms and even a twin set with pearls. Lots of table sport bottles of wine in ice buckets, and I see a couple of guys alone but they’re playing the slot machines that line one wall. There are no, absolutely no women alone. Neither are there an Indians in here. That’s a bad reflection on the food, but there’s a large Indian restaurant right across the street. A period poster advertises Quality Street toffee, Rollos and Weekend, all made here in Halifax. In fact the factory is about 500 yards away from my table. I never knew that. “Is that chair spare?” Ok, so now I stop looking like a looser whose date hasn’t shown up. Now I just look like a looser with no date! I stand to leave Wetherspoons. That’s interesting . . . I can feel the effects of the pint of cider I’ve jus consumed. I have a whole tow minutes walk ahead of me now to get to Halifax Minster, scene of the next highlight of Heather’s day.
Anyway it’s time I made my way over to Halifax Minster for the brass part of the day. For me, one of the highlights of last year’s trip to England was seeing the Black Dyke Mills Band perform in their original home – the Queensbury Mill. Tonight I have the opportunity to see the most recorded band in the world perform in a church where so many of my ancestors were married. CDs were available on a table and I half jokingly asked if it were possible to get one signed.’My name is Heather, and I’ve come all the way from California!’ ‘I’ll see what I can do” was the response. I found a seat in the fourth row of pews from the front, just behind the mayor and mayoress and settled back for the two hour concert of hymns and lighter music such as I only have eyes for you, and Mack the Knife. The soloists came to stand at the front of the band and conductor Nicholas Childs connected with his audience well with little quips here and there. Imagine my surprise when he announced, ‘We have a special guest with us tonight who has come all the way from California – so we know she’s a rich lady! Where are you?’ I had no alternative but to slowly raise my hand! Some of the musicians are still in college and the baritone soloist was making her first solo performance at the age of 18, since the leader of her section was participating in a concert at the Royal Northern School of Music. I had been concerned that the concert might sell out, but I guess going to a brass band concert is no big deal in this part of the world, even when it’s one of the most famous in the world, but there were tons of empty seats. At the end of the performance I picked up my personally signed CD.
Getting back home was a doddle. A five minute walk took me back to the bus station and the bus for Hebden Bridge was in. It’s the first time I’ve been out in the semi darkness and it was nice to see the lights of the isolated houses lit up on the hillsides. It reminded me of growing up at Affetside. I passed the Wainhouse Tower, too, with its floodlights.