I’d made no plans for my birthday, zero, zilch, nada. I opened the curtains. Heavy rain was streaming down the windows and low water-laden clouds obscured the hills above me. “What did you do for your birthday?” Ironing,? Vacuuming? Grocery shopping? Hmmm . . . think . . .. think . . . And then I recalled that I’d been thinking about going to Blackpool. A friend had recently gone for a day trip to that seaside town, and I’d been meaning to go there for the last 4 years. It’s easy since it’s just one through train. I looked up the weather forecast for Blackpool. Lo and behold: A full day of sun. A no brainer. And off I ran through the pouring rain to the station for the next train to Blackpool.
It takes an hour and 20 minutes and goes through the lovely countryside of the Cliviger valley, the brilliant green of the hills dotted with lambs. By the time we had reached Preston it had a least stopped raining. Preston station reminded me of trips to see my mother-in-law who had lived in Preston when I knew her. By the time I reached Blackpool at 11 a.m. the sun was shining brightly and a predominantly blue sky had the occasional fluffy white cloud scudding across its vast expanse.
I arrived at Blackpool North and within 10 minutes I’d found my way to the sea front and the North Pier.
There was not a single person on the beach, or in the wind shelters on the promenade. I didn’t see one piece of litter on ‘the front’ though the streets inland have seen better days with many shops shut down between the rows of bed and breakfast houses.
The last time I’d been to Manchester was in 1996 on a trip from the U.S. I looked up my holiday journal. We’d driven over to Blackpool from Preston on our first evening after flying out from San Francisco.
Since I was just by the north pier I decided to walk its length, the longest of the three coastal piers seeing lovely examples of Victorian wrought ironwork. A placard on the pier told of its history and construction. It was constructed in the 1860s and the architect was . . . .Claude Debussy!!! What? The photograph on the sign was of Debussy, the French composer. The name of the architect was Eugenius Birch! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’d done my undergraduate dissertation on Debussy and the Impressionist movement and I knew this photo of Debussy well. I would follow up this when I got home.
It was windy but still beautifully sunny. There were very few people walking on the pier, a few cafes and tourist gift shops were open.
Seeing the tower reminded me of visiting the Temple Bar and Grill under the tower. My dad’s mum used to take us there occasionally for a special treat. I remember going down a little alleyway to a brick building in which was a small restaurant. Eating out was a complete rarity so that’s why it sticks in my mind. I don’t recall how we got there because my dad didn’t get a car until I was about 10 years old. I called in at the tourist information centre on the front to ask about it. The man had heard of it but believed it had been an Irish bar, named after Temple Bar in Dublin, a district that I’d visited a couple of years ago. That didn’t seem to fit my memory so I set off to see if I could find it.
I found Temple Street behind the tower. A narrow alley, just as I’d remembered it. It now just has a tapas place on the corner and further down, where I though the grill should be is an electricity substation. But what this? A plaque on the wall.
This plaque would explain why how the grill got its name so I’m pretty sure that this was the location of my family’s meals – and had nothing to do with Dublin!
How about a ride to the top of the tower? I had seen the lift going up and down from the pier and since this was my birthday that would be a memorable way to celebrate.
The tower has 7 floors of venues, restaurants, bars, gift shops. I found the sign posting sadly lacking. I mean, just trying to find my way to the toilet was a major undertaking. However, having refreshed with a coffee in one of the cafes with wonderful views overlooking the sea, I found my way to the lift and up we went with a real person operating it!
The glass viewing platform extended beyond the tower itself and though other people seemed quite happy to stand on it and pose for photos I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It reminded me on the big shopping centre in Paris where Anna was quite happy to walk onto the platform but I just couldn’t. But the views today were wonderful, both out to the sea and inland to the town itself.
The man in the tourist information centre had mentioned the market at Fleetwood so I decided to take the tram along the waterfront to Fleetwood. My dad used to go on fishing trips to Fleetwood and Heysham when I was a little girl – sleeping in the car. It was fun to go for a tram ride. It took 45 minutes and it was STILL sunny when I reached my destination. A large hotel dominated this stretch of coast and in the adjacent garden was an imposing statue. He appeared to be holding a lighthouse. The man was Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood. Fleetwood acquired its modern character in the 1830s, when he, the High Sheriff and MP, conceived an ambitious plan to re-develop the town to make it a busy seaport and railway spur. He commissioned the distinguished Victorian architect Decimus Burton to design a number of substantial civic buildings, including two lighthouses. Hesketh-Fleetwood’s transport terminus schemes failed to materialise. The town expanded greatly in the first half of the 20th century with the growth of the fishing industry, and passenger ferries to the Isle of Mann to become a deep-sea fishing port. Wow! I never knew that the town of Fleetwood was named after a person.
The beach was fenced off with Danger signs warning of dangerous tides, but there was lots of colour in the grasses and flowers.
After battling with the wind for half an hour on the beach I headed off towards the market to find some lunch.
Although market rights were granted to Fleetwood Market in 1725, it wasn’t until 1840 when Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood started using those rights that the Victorian Market was built. The building has stayed true to its Victorian heritage and has changed very little. However, in 1990 the market was extended, and as a result is one of the largest markets in North West of England. It has over 150 stalls within three indoor heated halls and a selection of outdoor stalls. I think I’ll come back to spend more time at the market. I came home with a long white cardigan – a birthday present to myself.
As I headed to find the tram back to Blackpool I saw an interesting shop front on the Esplanade. Not far away was an old tram stop. I wondered if it would stop at this preserved tram stop but I found one looking more up – to-date.
Back on the tram we passed a vey grand looking building which turned out to be the Rossall School which educates girls and boys aged 0-18 as both a day school and a boarding school. Amazingly it boasts that it’s an All Steinway school and has its own piano academy. Fee are up to 12,000 per term for a boarder and to belong to the piano academy is just a further 4,800 per year! The main building looks very much Bolton School, my old secondary school. One of the school’s most famous alumni was Sir Thomas Beecham who founded the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras. He was also closely associated with the Liverpool Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras. From the early 20th century until his death, Beecham was a major influence on the musical life of Britain and, according to the BBC, was Britain’s first international conductor. Ah, that’s why there’s a music academy at Rossall. Rossall is a school steeped in history, and is, according to the school’s website often referred to as ‘The Eton of the North’.
The school was founded in 1844 by Rev. St Vincent Beechey as a sister school to Marlborough College which had been founded the previous year. Its establishment was ‘to provide, at a moderate cost, for the sons of Clergymen and others, a classical, mathematical and general education of the highest class.’
Beechey set about finding the funds required to set up such a school and received support from many including The Earl of Derby, the Duke of Devonshire and the Bishop of Chester. Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood agreed to lease his ancestral home of Rossall Hall to the school on a 21 year lease with the option to purchase for £7000 in the first ten years. The Northern Church of England Boarding School, renamed Rossall College under the reign of its first Headmaster Dr John Woolley, opened on 22 August 1844 with 70 boys enrolled. By the following March 120 pupils were in residence. Rossall was part of a flurry of expansion in education during the early Victorian period and the School was granted a Royal Charter on 21 October 1890. Rossall was widely considered to be in the top 30 public schools in the UK and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign its academic results were among the best in the country and enjoyed a reputation as ‘The Eton of the North’. Girls first joined the school in the 1970’s and currently represent half of the student body.
Arriving back in Blackpool there was a long queue of people outside the railway station. I though they were waiting for taxis but I was soon informed that an accident had occurred on the train line in Blackpool and no trains could use the station. I joined the queue, waiting for half an hour for the replacement bus service that took us back to Preston station, taking an hour in the heavy rush hour traffic but at least I saw some new scenery. Luckily the train back to Hebden arrived a few minutes after I did and I arrived home at 7, just in time to guzzle down some dinner whilst chatting to my daughters before my weekly zoomed pub quiz.
After the quiz I looked up the Blackpool Debussy connection. Sure enough I’m correct. Not only is the photograph of North pier’s architect really Debussy but whoever designed the placard about the architect has used the Wikipedia photo of Debussy. So far I have left three messages with the company that operate the North pier but they haven’t returned my calls!
Yesterday I met up with 4 people, who, like me, are descendants of Stansfield Gibson. They and their spouses had lunch, chatted, shared books of photographs and family tree charts and generally had an amazing time, all in the Moorcock pub that had been operated by Stansfield’s son Herbert in 1901. Before lunch I had been invited to visit Fielden farm close to the hilltop pub where Herbert had lived as a farmer after giving up the pub until his death in 1932. It’s an isolated farm and today, like every day on Blackstone Edge moor it was blowing a gale. Ominous clouds scudded across the sky but managed to hold onto their contents until I reached home!
One name that takes
up more newspaper columns than anyone else in my Calder Valley
family. It that of Stansfield Gibson. He was a butcher and innkeeper
like his father, and like his father he took his own life. But in
that life he married five times, fathered seven children, was
accused of child molestation, purchased a chapel and owned a prize
It can’t have been an easy start in life for Stansfield, the 8th out of 9 children. His mother, Sally, whose maiden name he was name after, died when he was fifteen and his father, Joshua, hanged himself three years later. Just six months after this tragedy on November 2, 1858 Stansfield, then aged 19, married Harriet Walker at St James’s church in Hebden Bridge. I sometimes provided the music there for services and I often think about the significant events that took place in the building as I’m seated at the organ.
Harriet was not from the Calder Valley but from Liversedge, a full 13 miles away. It was quite a rarity in my family for people to marry someone from outside the Upper Calder Valley at this time. She was the daughter of a wire drawer, someone who pulled hot metal through different size template holes to produce wire of varying thicknesses, a dirty and highly dangerous job. By the time she was 13 Harriet was a live in servant for a cardmaker (someone who made combs for carding wool) in Hartshead, the village where Patrick Bronte had met his wife Maria Branwell in 1811, when he was parson of the church there. The Bronte’s two eldest daughters Maria and Elizabeth were born there but today there’s little focus on its Bronte connection, Haworth being the main focus of Bronte mania. Indeed, today Hartshead is primarily known for the Hartshead Moor Service Station on the M62. It seemed, however, as if Harriet Walker was following in the steps of the Bronte family because when Harriet married Stansfield Gibson at St James’s church in Hebden Bridge, the marriage was performed by Sutcliffe Sowden. Rev Sutcliffe Sowden had been a friend of Arthur Bell Nichols, Charlotte Bronte’s husband, and had presided at their marriage and at Charlotte’s funeral less than a year later. Rev Sutcliffe Sowden had baptized Stansfield, then aged 17 and his brother Richard aged 15 on the same day June 24, 1855 at St James’s, less than three months after he had conducted Charlotte’s funeral service.
Stansfield was to
follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps being first a
butcher and later a butcher-cum-innkeeper, a common dual occupation
providing a ready source of food for guests at the inn. This
necessitated a slaughter house being situated close to the inn, and
in Joshua’s case his tragic demise. In Stansfield’s case it was
the presence of the slaughter house that was to caused conflict with
several of his neighbours.
After their marriage Stansfield and Harriet continued living on Bridge Lanes where he had grown up. Its main street was known as High Street because of its elevation, not for its commercial prominence. When the entire development was demolished in the 1960s the foundations of those buildings were just left in place leaving an ugly scar at the west entrance to the town but through voluntary community efforts a landscaping project was undertaken and I can now stroll through this place along a reasonable footpath bordered by wildflowers. In fact, I saw my first bluebell of 2020 in this shaded spot.
By 1870 the family had moved to Meadow Bottom, close to the railway in Todmorden and it was here that Harriet died of tuberculosis on July 28, 1870 aged just 33 years of age. She was buried at Heptonstall church. With the death of his wife Stansfield became the sole parent of six daughters, the eldest being Louisa Ann who was just eleven years old. On the census of 1871 the word scholar after her name has been crossed out and next to it is written and ‘half time Fustian Operator,’ meaning Louisa went to school part time, and worked in the fustian factory part time.
No wonder so many children fell asleep at work and were injured by machinery. It was imperative that Stansfield find a new wife and stepmother for the girls and so just 9 months after Harriet died he married a widow, Susannah Greenwood, whose maiden name was also Stansfield, just to confuse matters!
The couple were married at St Paul’s church, Cross Stone, in the township of Stansfield (!) on April 17, 1871. The church had been rebuilt in 1833, with money from the so-called Million pound act. With the increase in population during the industrial revolution two acts of parliament in 1818 and 1824 had funded the building of churches.
The rebuilding of Cross Stone church was testament to the growth and success of Todmorden’s textile industry in the first half of the nineteenth century. But there had been a church on the site since 1450 when it was erected as a chapel of ease for Heptonstall church. As such it provided a church more readily accessible for parishoners living a long distance from the church. But this ‘chapel of ease’ like its mother church lies atop a very steep hill standing 300 ft above the valley floor. Today a road leading towards it is name Phoenix street which I’ve always thought as amusing, especially since that street peters out as if it’s found the climb up to the church so steep that it can’t make itself rise from the ashes. How on earth coffins or grieving mourners, many of them elderly, reached the cemetery on snowy days in winter, I can’t imagine.
I decided that the church would be a good starting point for my day with Stansfield but I decided to approach it from above walking first along the hilltops from the bus terminus at Blackshaw Head. It’s a wonderful walk – in fine weather that is – with amazing views over the Calder valley. Many days when the sky above the valley is dull, pewter-bellied clouds seem to hang suspended barely above my head, pushing me down, lowering my spirits. If I can persuade myself to venture out I climb out of the valley, by foot or bus and suddenly I’m above those clouds, in a world of ever-changing light, with glorious vistas spread out before me, making me feel like as if I’m getting my own private viewing of the beauty stretched out before me. As I have become more familiar with the area I can now pick out many more districts and buildings associated with my family.
The wonderfully named villages of Lumbutts and Mankinholes are perched on the shelf on the opposite side of the valley. On my journey I’d passed the picturesque Hippins Farm, scene of Ezra Butterworth’s ‘Death by Chamber Pot,’ – a story told in another chapter. So steep is the hillside here at Cross Stone that the roof of the church is on a level with the road. It’s an unlikely spot for another Bronte connection but there is one. In 1829, a certain John Fennel was vicar here but before he got the Cross Stone appointment, he was the first head teacher in 1812, at Woodhouse Grove Wesleyan School from where he was dismissed for spending too much time arranging picnics for his niece Maria Branwell, who was to become Mrs. Patrick Bronte. When Charlotte visited her uncle John Fennel in 1829 at Cross Stone he was living in the old parsonage house in the chapel grounds. She wrote to her “dear papa” that the house was “nearly in ruins.” Six years before her stay Fennel had collected subscriptions amounting to over £200 in order to repair the parsonage. Either the repairs were not carried out or they were not successful if Charlotte’s letter reflected the situation correctly1.
Ten years after Stansfield and Susannah were married at Cross Stone the church itself closed for repairs, but then in 1894 dry rot set in and although it continued to function for some time it has now closed permanently and converted into a house. As I approached it a large For Sale sign dominated the site but on closer observation I realized that it was the adjacent building, not the church, that was for sale.
This large two storey building which also has a roof level with the roadway has its own interesting history. Built as a school in the early 1800s it provided free schooling for six poor children in the town and the teacher’s income was provided by the parents of the 30-40 students who paid for tuition in reading and writing. A William Greenwood says that he held school on Sunday mornings and up to twenty children attended. They were charged one penny a week. Quills cost half a penny, copy books two pennies, a reading easy was sixpence and “rithmetic” was one shilling and eight pence. 2 While the far right hand side of the house was the home of the schoolmaster the bottom storey served as the jail, a daily reminder of the fate awaiting unruly behavior if ever there was one. Today wrought iron railings preventing the unwary pedestrian from falling into the house’s yard had been freshly painted judging by the drip mats beneath them, and were proudly sporting their new shiny black paintwork.
I left the site of
Stansfield and Harriet’s wedding and walked down the steep hill
into Todmorden town centre to see if I could visit other places
connected with Stansfield’s story.
He moved his new family to Roomfield Lane, now the main Halifax Road in the centre of Todmorden town where he pursued his occupation of butcher. An article in the local paper on June 26, 1874 gives a momentary glimpse into everyday life for the people of Todmorden. “On Saturday forenoon last, as Marshall Sutcliffe was driving a galloway at Pavement, Todmorden, in a small butcher’s cart belonging to Stansfield Gibson, the galloway began to kick. There were in the trap two females, whose safety, with that of the driver, was a matter of concern to numerous spectators. The galloway, still kicking and plunging, got its head against Mr. W. Uttley ‘s butcher’s shop. It was then laid hold of by one or more persons, but continued kicking and plunging. The trap was upset, one of the young women slid off the side of the conveyance, and the other was taken from it by bystanders. After a sharp tussle with the pony to bring it to a standstill, it was finally subdued. The body of the trap kicked off, and the harness rent in various parts. 3
Lane is the impressive structure of Todmorden market hall built in
only eight months in 1879 and situated close to Stansfield’s shop.
It’s one of my favourite markets but sadly today in the lockdown
the marketplace was as empty as a ghost town. But lovely as the
Victorian market was the living conditions of the surrounding
residents were appalling as was borne out by the report of the
sanitary committee on August 11, 1876:
“If the following
complaints are not rectified the ‘inspector of nuisances’ will
take legal proceedings against the following parties: I would remind
you that Miss Sutcliffe has a drain made up on her property in
Roomfield Lane, and the house slops and refuse water are flowing on
the street. At the same place, Stansfield Gibson, butcher, has a very
offensive midden on the side of the street leading up to the back
houses, and he is also in the habit of slaughtering sheep and lambs
in a place behind his house, which has not been registered as a
What a shambles! In
fact the term shambles originally
referred to a street or area in a city where the butchers lived, and
has come to mean chaos or mess from the highly unsanitary conditions
of waste disposal used there.
Judging by several
reports in the local newspaper reports Stansfield was not an easy man
to get along with, both in his professional life and also in his
private life. As a butcher Stansfield would have
raised the animals that he sold as meat in the shop and he farmed his
own sheep and poultry. In January 1878 Stansfield was taken to
court by the farmer of an adjacent field who claimed that
Stansfield’s sheep had damaged his land. Two
years later Stansfield encountered more problems caused by his
business. In a column in the local newspaper entitled ‘Rival
Poultry Keepers’ the reporter described an incident in which
Stansfield and his 18 year old daughter Sarah Ann were summoned on a
charge of aggravated defamation against a neighbour, one James
Crowther. In court Crowther said that “about three months since he
bought some poultry, and since that time he had had nothing but
bother with the defendant, who had been continually buying fresh
cocks to kill his. Stansfield said he would have another cock;
Crowther replied, Thou can get as many cocks as thou likes, but keep
that cayenne pepper off.” Sarah Ann reportedly called James’s
wife “a nasty b___” and added that she was continually abused by
the whole family and on one occasion sent their cousin Oliver
Stansfield to abuse her. She was almost afraid to stay in the house
by herself. One day Mrs Crowther was standing at the shop door
serving the hens. Stansfield’s cock came and began to eat along
with the hens. She shooed it off and Stansfield said “Throw a stone
at it and I’ll take you to Todmorden”- meaning the court which
was held in the town hall mere stone’s throw from the scene of the
altercation. When Mr Crowther appeared on the scene Stansfield
challenged him to come out and he would give him a good hiding. Sarah
Ann and Stansfield were fined 5 pounds, bound over to keep the peace
for 6 months and ordered to pay the costs.5
did not keep the peace as instructed or maybe the neighbours had had
enough of the Gibson family for his landlady gave him notice to
vacate the shop and house. Only two years later in the Spring of 1882
Stansfield along with three other butchers from Todmorden was fined
under the cattle diseases act 10s for moving bullocks without a
license. Animal identification and traceability
was and still is important for disease control and public confidence
in farm produce and a license is still required in Calderdale
if you want to move even just one animal.
But it wasn’t just
issues in his business ventures that made newspaper headlines. There
were family problems too. In 1883 Stansfield’s daughter, Sarah
Jane, then aged 21 charged Bentley Fielden with the paternity of her
daughter, born on Christmas day, 1882. Bentley denied being the
father of the child and said that he had stopped seeing Sarah Jane
because she had asked him to marry her. However the court ruled that
Bentley should pay 3 shillings weekly for the upkeep of the child and
ten shillings for the cost of the midwife who had attended baby
Harriet’s birth. An interesting follow up to the story is that two
years later Sarah Jane gave birth to another daughter, Alberta, and
three years after that Sarah Jane married , yes, Bentley Fielden at
Heptonstall church! But a happy marriage it was not. In 1897 Bentley
was convicted of aggravated assault on his wife and a separation
order was issued. Sarah Jane and Harriet moved in with her father,
Stansfield, having received not one penny in support from Bentley
during that time. After an incident when Bentley showed up at
Stansfield’s house just as Stansfield had arrived bringing in a
duck for their Sunday dinner Bentley seized Stansfield, hit him
several times about the face and neck with both fists. Sarah Jane and
her aunt, who was acting as Stansfield’s housekeeper managed to
restrain Bentley while Stansfield ran off to find a policeman. In
court Bentley accused Stansfield of having taken Sarah Jane to those
dens of iniquity, Blackpool and Scarborough and slept with a child
thirteen years of age. Stansfield denied this and no further action
against Stansfield was taken. Bentley, on the other hand, was
sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour.
In the spring of 1885 Stansfield decided to follow in his family’s footsteps and became landlord of the New Inn just across the main road from his butcher’s shop.
Stansfield’s children Emily and Herbert assisted with work in the pub and it was from his work there that Herbert learned the job of being a landlord, a profession he was ultimately to take up himself. But soon after the family moved to the New Inn Herbert was involved in a serious accident when “sustained severe injuries by being thrown from a horse. He appears to have struck the wall heavily with his head, and was so stunned as not to recover consciousness until next morning.6
I felt concerned for the young lad and I checked the newspapers for any update, worried that I might find a dreadful ending to the story. What I found surprised me, happily. Following his marriage to Elizabeth Lumb, herself the daughter of an inn keeper, the couple took over the Moorcock Inn on Blackstone Edge, that ancient paved road connecting Lancashire and Yorkshire, thereby becoming a third generation innkeeper. I’d ventured to the inn several times to sit it the beer garden high above Littleborough. The views into Lancashire are unrivalled and on clear days the high rise buildings in central Manchester are visible.
The New Inn that Stansfield had taken over in 1885 in a busy part of Todmorden was a 3 storey property almost next door to two more inns, the Rope and Anchor and the York Hotel but the area was full of mills and foundries, all with workforces that needed a pint after work. Indeed, within 250 yards more than one hundred houses had been erected during the previous ten years, and there were at least 500 people living there. This was a time when the word ‘inn’ actually meant that it had rooms for rent and under a previous landlord by the wonderful name of Robert Crook the business prospered and he had around twenty lodgers living there. An added bonus for both residents and visitors was the presence of a resident pianist, an Irish girl named Dina who provided music for the nightly sing songs. The site of the New Inn is now the car park at Todmorden health centre and as I stood there 136 years to the day that Stansfield took over the pub I imagined the faint sound of a piano being played – Dina was on top form. Long after Dina’s music had faded into the mists of time on Friday the 13th October 1972, the building collapsed and fell down.
I’m sure the New Inn would have done a roaring trade on the day of the 1889 annual Todmorden Floral and Horticultural Show and Athletic Festival, a show still in existence. With prizes awarded for everything from ‘Two cauliflowers and 2 cabbages’, to ‘12 white gooseberries’ and ‘2 cock chickens’ the festival was a big attraction. For the 2 mile race for ponies six competitors turned up. Luke Greenwood’s pony led for the first mile, but was then passed by R. Cropper’s “Daisy” and Stansfield Gibson’s “Polly.” Gibson’s Polly got behind but at the mile and a half had regained second place. Stansfield took home with him a gentleman’s travelling bag worth £ 1/ 6 shillings as runner up. 7 I wonder if Polly had been the pony who had thrown Herbert from her back just three years before.
wife Susannah died a couple of days after Christmas in 1894 the
newspaper carried this memorial to her:
‘She is gone, she
is gone to the region of light
She was with us
today, she’s in heaven tonight
Though to part with
our mother was a trial severe
Yet it is better
that she should be yonder than here.’
She was buried on New Year’s Eve high above Todmorden at Cross Stone church, the scene of her wedding to Stansfield. I wonder what the weather was like for the cortege to make its way up the steep hill. Less than a year later, in the summer of 1895 Stansfield married another widow, Fanny Walters, 18 years younger than himself who had been widowed the previous year. They were married at Heptonstall church 1895 and later that year Stansfield took over the license of the Railway Hotel in Littleborough, a town on the West of the Pennines that had grown up around the industry enabled by the building of the Rochdale canal and the trans Pennine railway. Stansfield’s pub still overlooks the canal but it is now known as The Waterside, an upscale restaurant and bar.
Six years later
Stansfield was widowed for the third time and soon after a notice in
the local newspaper on February 8th 1901 instructed that
all Stansfield’s household possessions were to be sold at auction
because he was leaving the district. I find it fascinating to see
Stansfield’s wordly possessions itemized and feel they need to be
listed in their entireity since it gives an insight into both his
standard of living and also gives us a snapshot of his day to day
existence. I wonder if he could play the piano himself or if it was
an instrument that others would play in the pub. I had to smile at
the commode disguised as a small chest of drawers.
“Dining room suite upholstered in saddle bag style including Couch, 2 easy and 6 single chairs, a noble 5ft walnut sideboard, with carved back having 3 bevelled plate-glass mirrors drawers, and cellaret complete; a brilliant toned cottage pianoforte, in walnut case, with panelled front and candelabra by Schuppinser and sons, London, oval walnut centre table; Milners’s patent fireproof safe, 26in. by 20 in by 20 in., brass curb, with fixed dogs: set of fire brasses: brass ash pan; pollard oak and brass-mounted coal vase, bamboo occasional table, tapestry bordered carpet square. 12ft. by 10ft., Axminster hearth rug, oil paintings: spirit decanters in E.P. Frame, F.P. Cruet, case of cutlery, flower vases and plaques, Chinese idol and stand; quantity of small Chinese figures and ornaments, Opera glass, glass dishes, wines and tumblers. Handsome walnut bedroom suite including 4 ft wardrobe, with centre mirrors, dressing table, with bevel plate glass mirror, washstand, with towel airer, marble top and back; and 3 upholstered chairs; stained dressing table, with mirror affixed; stained washstand, with tiled back, brass and iron Parisian bedstead, with tapestry hangings, woven wire, wool, and straw mattresses, feather beds, bolsters, and pillows, tapestry carpet square, 13ft. 4in. by 21ft 9in, toilet services, capital mahogany night commode to imitate small chest of drawers. KITCHEN: Polished birch longsettle and cushions, stained square table, with deal top, Pembroke table, 3 bentwood chairs, wringing machine, wash tubs, clothes horses and dolly, dinner service, 2 copper kettles, fender and fire irons together with the usual kitchen and culinary requisites. Also a capital wicker work bath chair with cushions, etc., complete, nearly new. But why was he selling all his possessions? Less than a year after Fanny’s death he was getting married for a fourth time, to a widow named Maria Ann Winfindale. Her husband had been the landlord of The Falcon Inn in Scarborough on the coast in East Yorkshire and around 100 miles from Littleborough and so he was selling up and moving East.
In July 2022 I headed out to Scarborough for a few days to escape the record temperatures expected throughout England. It seemed that Scarborough would be about 20F cooler than Hebden Bridge so off I went. As I was wandering around the town I suddenly caught sight of The Falcon Inn in quite a prominent place in the town, at the back of a town square filled with coffee drinkers from the local cafe. And I suddenly recalled that this place was connected to Stansfield. At first glance it appeared to be closed up. The front door was securely closed but a sign read ‘Please ring the bell. Don’t knock.’ I did as I was bid but to no avail. Some of the windows on the upper floors were open so perhaps it’s not closed permanently. But this chance encounter led me to do some research into Maria Ann who seemed to make a habit of marrying beer merchants and brewers.
Only four years after his marriage to Maria Ann (whose second marriage it was) Stansfield was widowed again.
The call of the Calder Valley appears to have stretched the entire width of Yorkshire because Stansfield moved back and I find Stansfield mentioned in the newspaper in perhaps the most unexpected of all his appearances. In June 1908 Stansfield bought a chapel! “A fairly good company assembled at the Dusty Miller Inn on the occasion of the premises formerly used as a chapel and school by the Primitive Methodists being offered by public auction. After some spirited bidding £151 was reached. And Mr John Greenwood was the purchaser. Yesterday John Greenwood resold the property to Stansfield Gibson at a nice profit.’ Now whether he bought it merely as a financial investment I have been unable to ascertain and it took many hours of research both online and wandering around the streets of Mytholmroyd before I located the building – or rather, the site of the building for it no longer exists.
A chapel and school had been built at Sunny Bank by the primitive Methodists in 1837 but when the congregation grew larger a New Chapel, Mount Zion, was built, which opened in 1888. This second chapel was an enormous building almost at the bottom of Midgley Road and overshadowed the houses around it. The poet laureate Ted Hughes was brought up in one of those homes
But it was the earlier, former chapel that Stansfield purchased and at the end of Sunny Bank terrace there is an area of unkept grass. I clambered over a wall onto the grass and above me I could discern the outline of a roof on the gable end of the existing terrace of cottages which would have been the chapel or school roof. I was standing inside Stansfield’s chapel. From the lack of further references to the building or Stansfield’s connection with it I presume that he purchased it as a financial investment.
The following year, 1909-1910 Stansfield was living in a rented house 14 Brook Street in the centre of Todmorden. From the site of the New Inn it was only a minute’s walk to Brook Street. No houses remain on that road now just a post office , a discount store and a charity shop. But by 1911 Stansfield, now 73, was living at 1 Anchor Street, just a couple of minutes walk away.
The census firmly states that he is living apart from his wife but with a housekeeper, Mary Dearden, ‘a widowed servant’ aged 69. 1 Anchor street is the middle section of a three storey building, the front of which, facing the main road now houses Buttylicious snack bar which must have been Stansfield’s butcher’s shop, so I called in for a cup of tea to takeaway with me as I went to take vintage sepia photographs of the various back streets less then 8 feet wide housing a confusion of wheelie bins and recycling baskets.
In 1914 while living at Halifax road he was entitle to vote in the elections of Mytholmroyd the description of his qualifying property being Mount Zion! Five years later Stansfield decides to shut up shop for the last time and on 18 Aug 1916 the following advertisement appears in the local paper:
‘To let or sell –
Butcher’s shop and house #139 Halifax Road, Todmorden; suitable for
any business. Apply S. Gibson, King Street, Hebden Bridge.’
The following year Stansfield was making headlines in the newspaper again, and again for a disturbing reason. He was living at 40 Cameron Street, Burnley, with his son-in-law, a home close to the canal and in the middle of one of the long rows of terraced stone houses that characterise the town. The newspaper article on 17 November, 1917 makes sad reading: ”Old Man’s Attempted Suicide. Old man, named Stansfield Gibson was charged with attempting commit suicide by cutting his throat with a table knife about 2-30 a.m. on Saturday, November 6th, 40, Cameron-street, where he lived with his son-in-law.
At the time the occurrence the son-in-law heard a noise downstairs. Going down found the prisoner crouched the bottom. He asked him what was the matter, and prisoner said: ” I have cut my throat,” The son-in-law picked him up, put, him chair, and sent for the police. The police rendered first-aid and took the man straight away to the hospital, where he had been until that morning when was discharged. Supt. Hillier said that the prisoner had become depressed through failing the eyesight, and his home had been broken up at Todmorden about three months ago. The case was dismissed on the prisoner promising not to attempt anything of the kind again. Three weeks later, however, Stansfield passed away, perhaps from his injuries. In August 2021 I went into Burnley to find 40 Cameron Street. It’s in an area of densely packed terrace houses. The paint around the door was peeling off and the stonework has been painted cream. A black taxi cab was parked outside, perhaps the driver lives at number 40. I took a stroll around the back street and immediately stepped back in time at least 50 years. The street is close to the ruins of a mill, possibly Cameron Street mill and the Leeds Liverpool canal lies at the end of the street.
He died at 112 Bridge Lanes in Hebden Bridge, near the bluebell and he’s buried at Todmorden Christ church – a very sad end to a man who lived a ‘thrilling’ active lived life to the full etc.
Note: 11 Ap 1891 On the 11th inst at the Parish church Heptonstall by the Rev E P Powell vicar, Mr Stansfield Gibson of Mt Pleasant Todmorden to Miss Annie Howarth of Bank bottom Todmorden. Died 1894.
The Grimshaw Family by F. Baker – Halifax Antiquarian Society
transactions, 1945, p.55
Last week on my journey to Sheffield the train had stopped at New Mills Central station, a town bordering Derbyshire and Cheshire. As we’d slowed down approaching the station a deep gorge was visible adjacent to the station, and a walkway appeared to run the length of the river. Ruined mills lined the gorge walls. I did some online research and it beckoned for more exploration. So yesterday, with low clouds showering me with intermittent sprinkles, I found myself alighting from the train and immediately found a steep path, no doubt once cobbled but now tarred, taking me deep into the bottom of the gorge to river level.
The noise of the town’s traffic was completely drowned out by the cascades of water as it rushed along the river bed, interrupted by weirs from time to time. The sound echoed off the tall stone cliffs and massively impressive viaduct arches. A facade of a disused mill towered above a modern looking walkway clinging precariously to a massive stone wall reminiscent of the Great wall of Todmorden. The walkway is Torrs Millenium walkway and was completed in 1999 and a plaque close by is in memory of its chief engineer who was killed in the London bombing in 2015 while on his way to a Derbyshire County Council conference.
The vast edifice of Torr Vale Mill, just across the river there, started as a water-powered cotton mill in the 1780s. It was converted first to steam, then to electricity and spun its last yarn in 2000.
At one point a mill chimney had been built directly onto the cliff wall. The cliff attracts rock climbers. As I walked along the gorge was closed by several bridges both a lover levels just above the stream and at the highest level on top of the cliffs. I found myself wondering why, if the river had carved out this gorge, the cliffs showed no signs of being eroded by the water. Eventually when I got back home I found my answer on the discovering Britain website:
‘It is hard to believe today but the River Goyt once took an entirely different course. Where we stand now would have been nothing but solid sandstone. The change came 2.5 million years ago when the Earth went through a series of Ice Ages. The planet’s temperature dropped and vast areas were covered in huge ice sheets.Here at The Torrs, the titanic movement of an ice sheet swept along a huge quantity of boulder clay. Clay is impervious to water. This effectively dammed the previous course of the river. When the ice finally started to melt around 10,000 years ago, the newly resurgent Goyt was forced to find another route down towards the Mersey. It found it through a line of weakness in the Woodhead Hill Rock. The easily-worked sandstone was just as easily eroded by the fast-flowing Goyt and Sett rivers, fed by all that melting ice. The result was this swiftly cut, deep and narrow gorge.’ The water smoothed stone was quarried to provide the stone for the building of the mills in the gorge.
The other question I had was about the origin of the name of the town – New Mills. I presumed that one of the early mills had been destroyed by fire and then rebuilt as ‘new Mill.’ But no, I was completely wrong – as the same website informed me: ”The power of water had been harnessed along these rivers for centuries, chiefly for milling corn. Water was the obvious choice for driving the machines of the early Industrial Revolution. The name New Mills does not stem, as you might think, from the huge buildings we saw from up top. There is a record of a water-powered corn mill further up the River Sett as far back as 1390.”
When a second mill was built, nearer to The Torrs, it became known as ‘New Milne’. So, the growing town had already acquired its name when manufacturers eyed-up all this free water power during the 1780s. The stone for construction, as we have seen, was just to hand and easily worked. Quarrying cleared enough land to provide the first cotton mills with a large enough plot, so it really was a win-win situation. ‘
Emerging from the canyon I found myself in a large meadow peppered with buttercups and mayflowers. One unexpected find was a friendly llama!
Trying to find the canal which parallels the River Goyt came to nothing, having been told my someone on the trail that it was ‘on top of that hill above the meadow’ pointing up a steep hill. So heading back towards the walkway I thought I should take a look at the Shrub club
that I’d been told was worth a visit. It’s a bar/restaurant in a former mill. It certainly had an amazing location. It’s very much a wedding venue and I wondered how the participants and guests would negotiate the steep trails down the gorge.
Heading into the town centre of New Mills lunch was provided by Pride of the Peak. In the town’s main street I felt as if I’d just stepped back in time 40 years, and this feeling was certainly emphasised by the pub. There was just something about the decor with its cheap shiny decorations. This was further borne out by the tv channel playing in the lounge – 80’s and 90’s pop videos. I ordered a chicken, bacon and avocado salad which was enormous, but just at the side of the bar opposite the table was a glass refrigerator with all sorts of tempting deserts, and after glancing in their direction for an hour I succumbed to a trifle. However, it was served with a further plate of fruit and fresh cream. Wow!
Leaving the Pride of the Peak the next port of call was to be the canal which I’d failed to reach, the first time round. I passed a large factory reminiscent of a Lowry painting. It’s the current home of Swizzles sweet factory which makes Love Hearts and Refreshers.
The canal basin was full of barges. Further along the Peak forest canal a sign caught my eye – Beware Giant Hogweed. I thought that perhaps the weed fell into the water and disrupted the steering of the boats but – wrong again.
The giant weed is highly toxic to human skin and online there are horrendous photos of burns that people have suffered from touching the sap of the Giant Hogweed. Hmm.
Back home after a 9 hour adventure including 9 miles of walking and barking up the wrong tree three times!
I’d not been to Bradford since before the first lockdown and I felt as if it was time to spread my wings a little more. For the previous few days I’d been exploring new territory – first a presentation in Mirfield which I’d never been to before. It was given by Emma Decent whose online creative writing classes I’d been attending during lockdown. I spent a pleasant hour after lunch exploring the canal in Mirfield.
The following day I’d gone to a lecture in Manchester Cathedral about the ‘forgotten’ Mancunian Edward Watkin who not only designed the first channel tunnel in 1880 (!!!!) which was abandoned after 2000 yards of digging, but also attempted to build the world’s tallest tower, to rival Mr Eiffel’s, in 1896. After the first stage was completed the structure started to tilt and this project likewise was abandoned and the current Wembley stadium was built on the site. After that, the weather behaving itself, I’d taken a river cruise along the Irwell River to see again the amazing new construction of office blocks and residential towers that’s turned Manchester into a city unrecognisable from my childhood.
So day three began in Bradford. I was to attend an organ recital in the cathedral but that was just the catalyst to get me to the city.
In 2016 when I’d stayed in England for the summer I’d joined a group of crafters in Bradford Cathedral engaged in a huge project to sew a long kneeler that would front the high altar. I’d gone back to the group in 2018 after I’d moved back to live in England and they were still working on the piece. I was eager to discover it it had been finished and whether it was now in use for its designed purpose.
Then to the organ recital and a wonderful buffet lunch to be nibbled in time with the music! These lunchtime organ recitals, both in Halifax minster and here in Bradford are renowned for their lunches.
Leaving the cathedral I headed back into the centre of town to find the bus stop to take me to somewhere new to me. At the bus stop were 3 teenage boys and a girl yelling loudly to passing motorists, jeering at passers by and generally making a nuisance of themselves. They looked me up and down. I felt they were trying to intimidate me. “Hello. Do you know which bus goes to Cartwright Hall?” I asked. They froze. I wish I could have taken a photo at that moment. They seemed so taken aback that I had spoken to them. The girl offered a bus number to me and then one of the boys said, “Hey. This girl is younger than me and she keeps making fun of me.” Giggles all round. “I’m not from round here” he continued. “I grew up in Leeds.” “And this one here” he continued, pointing at his friend, “he grew up in Pakistan.” “Oh, where abouts in Pakistan? I’ve only ever been to Karachi” I replied. They all stopped in their tracks. “Really? You’ve been to Pakistan?” he replied with a definite degree of incredulity in his voice. Determined not to be outdone by his friend in embarrassing me, he continued “And this one here, he’s been in prison!” He paused for effect. “I used to teach in a prison” I answered. Again I wished I had a photograph of their faces. Total incredulity!
And then onto Cartwright Hall. Until someone I knew had recently visited this place I’d never heard of it, and talking to other local people it isn’t well known by the people of Calderdale, even though its only 11 miles from Hebden. It’s an art gallery but until I read the exhibits I presumed it had been the stately home of a wealthy mill owner.
I approached through the formal gardens sporting fountains below which was a boating lake and pavilion.
A sign informed me that the gardens have been modelled on the Mughal gardens of the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir, Northern India, and the Taj Mahal, and Pakistan. I wonder if my friend from the bus stop had ever visited one of them. I’m fortunate to have visited both these amazing gardens.
Having paid my entrance fee – precisely zero – I entered an amazing building with a grand staircase, marble columns, arched windows. Before me were intricate costumes of the Bradford Mela carnival, celebrating the Caribbean culture in the city.
There’s a room devoted to local lad David Hockney including one of his famous swimming pool paintings, a Warhol Marilyn, and a Lowry industrial landscape.
A work by Hockney caught my attention – a piece depicting his mother on a trip to Bolton Abbey, one of his mum’s favourite day’s out, as it was my mum’s. His parents met there. I noticed that he included his own feet in the foreground, something I often do in my photos to show my own presence in the image.
It was time for some refreshment. I’d seen the vast courtyard from an upstairs window. It had just one table in it – occupied, but by the time I got down the stairs it was empty, so I had the courtyard all to myself.
The wool combing machine was invented by Edmund Cartwright, the inventor of the power loom, in Doncaster. It was patented in 1790. This machine was used to arrange and lay parallel by length the fibers of wool, prior to further treatment. The machine was important in the mechanization of the textile industry. Samuel Lister was an English inventor whose contributions included a wool-combing machine that helped to lower the price of clothing and a silk-combing machine that utilized silk waste. In 1838 Samuel and his brother John opened a worsted mill in Manningham. He had worked on a machine to comb wool so that the long hairs would be separated from the short, thus allowing their use for different kinds of textiles, and eventually he evolved a successful machine from an earlier, inefficient device built by another inventor. Its success contributed greatly to the development of Australian sheep farming. In time he had nine combing mills operating at once—five in England one in Germany, and three in France. He provided the land and the money to build the art gallery and museum for the people of Bradford and named it after the inventor, Cartwright, whose invention had enabled him to make his fortune.
Update: Precisely one week after ‘discovering’ Cartwright Hall I attended an illustrated talk by historian David Glover in the Square Chapel. He showed old photos of Halifax and one of the photos on screen was a still from a movie: Room at the Top, a 1959 film shot mostly in Halifax but some scenes were filmed in Bradford. in fact, the ball scene had been filmed in – yes, you’ve guessed it – Cartwright Hall!
Further update: The next week I found out that Ed Sheeran’s dad was a curator at Cartwright Hall when the family lived in Hebden Bridge.
This day out had been planned for a couple of weeks. I’d heard from Gary about a Great British Rail sale which included a 95p ticket from Manchester to Sheffield. It seemed a good enough reason to venture back to Sheffield. Since I moved back to England I’d only been to Sheffield once – for a weekend’s uni music department reunion when I’d had a brief opportunity to see the changes in the city centre since I left uni. However when I surfaced in the morning it was pouring down. If I’d not booked the tickets in advance I wouldn’t even have considered venturing on a day’s excursion in such gloomy weather.
From Manchester Victoria we took the train to Piccadilly and crossed the road to visit Malmaison. My Hoyle ancestors who built Acre Mill in Old Town above Hebden Bridge ended up making it really, really big as textile manufacturers exporting goods worldwide. Their Manchester warehouse has since been converted into the Malmaison hotel and the bar looked welcoming for a morning coffee. I had no idea that the facade of the ornate brick building would actually have Joshua Hoyle and Sons inscribed in stone facing Piccadilly station. I found out the cost of a night’s accommodation there. I really must stay there just to ‘feel the vibes’ of my ancestors!
Then it was onto the train for the hour’s journey to Sheffield. The train travels through the Hope Valley which I knew was very picturesque but the heavy clouds and poor light didn’t do much for the scenery. For three years I had travelled from Manchester to Sheffield but I don’t remember the train ride. I’m sure my focus wasn’t on the scenery. I don’t even recall the names of the stations and it’s possible that the trains I travelled on back then took a different route over the Woodhouse pass.
The first station of interest that we passed through was Marple. I could see posters on the platform about Agatha Christie. Wagatha Christie(!) is very much in the news at the moment. It’s the name that’s been given to the current celebrity scandal between two football wives – Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy. In fact their trial actual began today! Costs will be exceed 1 million pounds! But what of Marple’s connection to the real Agatha Christie? In July 2015, Mathew Prichard, grandson of the author and her closest living relative came to Marple and talked at the station about his family’s linkage to the area. He unveiled a blue plaque at the station that the Agatha Christie Ltd had kindly commissioned. This was done against the backdrop of artwork in the form of numerous Miss Marple book covers that had been specially produced by HarperCollins Publishers and now form a permanent addition at the station. Ah, these were the ‘posters’ I could see from the train. Agatha herself wrote the explanation of how her detective Miss Marple got her name. I expect you will be interested to learn that at the time I was writing The Thirteen Problems (starting with a series of 6 short stories for a magazine) I was staying with a sister of mine in Cheshire and we went to a sale at Marple Hall – the house alone, she said, was worth seeing, a beautiful old manor, belonging to the Bradshaws descended from Judge Bradshaw who sentenced Charles I.It was a very good sale with fine old Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture and at it I bought 2 Jacobean oak chairs which I still have – Wanting a name for my “old maid” character I called her Jane Marple.So now you know the answer to your question!Yours Sincerely Agatha Christie http://www.friendsofmarplestation.co.uk/agatha-christie.html
The next station to attract my attention was New Mills because almost adjacent to the station is the Torrs – a 70 ft deep gorge cutting through the sandstone. We were now in Derbyshire, close to the border with Cheshire. I could see a path running through the gorge and a bridge over the river that must have carved out its path through the sandstone. It certainly looked worth a visit.
By the time the train reached Chinley the landscape was becoming much more rugged and I truly felt as if I were now in the Peak District national park. Sheep with their lambs were sheltering from the drizzle behind stone walls and it certainly wasn’t bright enough to take photos from the train but we passed through Edale, the starting point of the Pennine way, passed through Hope station close to the Blue John caverns – which reminds me: I used to have a ring made out of Blue John stone, a semi precious stone only to be found in the depths of two caves at Castleton first hollowed out by the Romans two thousand years ago.
Then through Hathersage which I remember visiting from Sheffield to see Little John’s grave. Gary told me of a connection to Hathersage with Charlotte Bronte but I didn’t know of it. Apparently Hathersage became a familiar haunt of Charlotte’s and she often visited it in the company of her friend Ellen Nussey, since Ellen’s brother Henry had been made vicar of St. Michael’s church in Hathersage. He served in that position from 1845 until 1847, during which time Charlotte discovered the places, and people, who would be pivotal to the novel. The leading family in the Hathersage area at that time was the Eyre family. In the church, Charlotte would have seen the Eyre memorial, and in the graveyard she would have found the Eyre graves, including one for a Jane Eyre herself.
The train arrived in Sheffield on time. The station felt much bigger than what I remember and the forecourt has been completely rebuilt with fountains and a wonderful reflective steel wall – for this is Sheffield – city of steel. Looking up at the skyline I saw little of the immense changes that I see in Manchester and Leeds where lots of cranes are in evidence and much building work is in progress. The famous hole in the road has now been filled in!
As we wandered into town rather strange looking store frontage caught my eye with the signage – ‘Glory Holes – A golf club for adults only.’ The large windows opened onto a bar filled with odd figures . . . . It bills itself as ‘It is set to Sheffield’s ‘newest and raunchiest’ entertainment venue and bar. What can I say???
By this time there was lots of blue sky showing as we headed down towards the River Don and the canal. Situated between the two is Kelham Island, one of Sheffield’s oldest manufacturing sites. This manmade island was formed in the 1100s, when a stream was diverted to power a nearby mill. However, as industrial activity has moved on, the area has undergone a significant transformation in recent years and quietly become one of the most exciting parts of the city.
The remains of the numerous cutlery and steel works, factories and workshops is part of what gives the area its distinct charm, except nowadays these buildings house everything from indie shopping arcades to microbreweries and galleries.
We selected the Fat Cat for lunch. As we entered I had the distinct feeling that I had stepped back in time 50 years. This felt like man’s pub and I fully expected it to be littered with elderly men sitting by themselves, ruminating over a pint or two. And yes, it was all men but I got talking to group of three on the next table simply by saying I liked the Geordie accent of one of their party. Doing my first teaching practice in Easington, just outside Durham I’d had a hard job figuring out what the children in my classes said to me. I had even more trouble holding down my conversation with this man but he knew Easington and what had happened to its community when the pits closed. The other two guys were from Sheffield and they knew each district I mentioned. What was wrong with saying I knew the Broomhill Tav?
Then on to Kelham Island museum, housed in a former steel factory. I had recently sent Michael a link to this place after he’d bought a set of cooking knives made in Sheffield and he wanted to find out more about the Sheffield steel industry. It tells the story of what it was like to live and work in Sheffield during the Industrial Revolution. There were some wonderful sculptures made from knives too.
Leaving the museum we wandered into the city centre where the Winter gardens, a vast greenhouse, takes pride of place in the open area close to the impressive town hall and the Crucible theatre where I enjoyed many plays a long time ago.
Back at the railway station it was feeling decidedly warm and we sat outside opposite the steel wall watching the commuters hurrying for their trains home.
The journey back was lovely. The sun was out in full and the glow of the early evening light made the hills look magical.
As a promotion for the upcoming Manchester Jazz Festival pianos had been positioned in public buildings and shops throughout Manchester. One was even outside! So some members of my piano group set off to play them. In 2018 we’d played at a similar event to publicise the Leeds piano Competition and I’d ended up on the news segment of Leeds TV.
We met at Victoria station at 11 a.m.
Tea, coffee and pastries were provided. A lady from the Secret Sketchers group was also on hand to sketch our performances.
Then we trotted over to the Corn Exchange. I’d never been in this amazing building. It’s similar to the one in Leeds.
It was a good job that Tim was on hand to hold my music. The music holder was encased inside the piano – on all the pianos! – so there was nowhere to place our music.
Next up was Harvey Nichols where a watchful eye was kept on us by the two security guards. The store is an upmarket icon and as I put my music bag down to play I noticed that the Coach bag for sale on the shelf above had a price tag of 545 pounds. Needless to say I’d never been in that shop before but Tim told me there was a viewing platform from the upper storey and since there was a blue sky I decided to go up and take a look for myself.
Next stop was the Royal Exchange arcade. Unfortunately we were in competition with a very well-amplified street singer, just outside the arcade’s entrance, so my version of Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen was backed by Moon River!
Our next stop was Spinningfields. I’m slowly, very slowly getting to know the layout of Manchester, mainly by coming to concerts in the city and to my piano group’s events. I’d heard of Spinningfields but didn’t know where it was or anything about it. It turned out to be the centre of the financial district, a maze of very tall office buildings and equally tall apartment blocks – all very up-market. We took a small alleyway behind the John Rylands library which I’d noted on a previous visit to the library but I’d thought it just lead to another highrise building. But no, it led to a small tree-lined square in the middle of which sat a piano covered in a raincoat. By this time the blue sky had disappeared and there was a strong cold wind buffeting us as the piano was uncovered and we waited our turns to play. I played my own composition of Desert Lullaby – it seemed so appropriate (!) for this desert in concrete and glass that dwarfed us.
Beneath a tree I found a little statue about the people that lived in this very spot in 1861.
By the time we’d all played the outdoor piano and sealed it back in its raincoat we were ready to warm up a bit and luckily our next port of call was the central library where the piano was fortunately situated in the cafe so between numbers I got myself a warming cup of tea. There were lots of people in the cafe and surrounding tables trying to work so I don’t think they were too appreciative of our music!
And then on to Manchester Art Gallery where Ben, Bob and Ulric had a fun time sight reading piano trios – caught on camera here by Chris.
By the time we left the Art Gallery it was 4 o’clock and most of our group had drifted away. Two were working in the cathedral in the evening as organisers and ushers for the evening’s candlelit performance there. So the 3 of us that were left found a quiet pub, just off the really busy Rochdale Road, The Angel, at Adam’s suggestion. Featured in ‘the most historic pubs in Manchester’ today it’s surrounded by tower blocks of offices and apartments in an area whose cost of redevelopment is 800 million pounds. In 1851 this was known as the Weaver’s Arms and it certainly retains a lot of its character. It takes its name from the notorious Angel Meadow, arguably Manchester’s worst slum during the industrial revolution according to The Pubs of Manchester website. In the 1840s Engels described this area of Manchester as ‘Hell on Earth.’
It appeared to have closed down for good in 2005 but reopened as a gastro pub with a restaurant upstairs and the painted sign leading to that restaurant is still on the staircase. We chatted for an hour or so about the day before heading back to the train station where Adam and I played for a few minutes again before I boarded the train back to Hebden Bridge.
The following day was the regular piano group’s workshop in the basement of Forsyth’s music store, a business that has been in the family since 1857. There are ghost tours of the basement on Saturdays that I want to do! After the workshop 4 of us went to find a drink and I suggested The Bridge Tavern that I had gone to after April’s workshop. In April three of us had tried to find a quiet pub after the workshop but every one we tried was jammed packed with people. Eventually I’d asked one of the bouncers at one of these raucous pubs if he could suggest a quiet pub. “Try The Bridge” he said. “It’s like a morgue in there.” So off we went and discovered it’s lovely rooftop beer garden – surely a hidden gem! It’s surrounded on all sides by the back of taller old buildings and it had a great atmosphere. It’s just around the corner from Forsyth’s. The Bridge is a small pub set 100 yards down Bridge Street in a block of other shops. Originally a bit of a rough and ready style pub, the Bridge has reinvented itself as a gastro-ish type (via the tenure of Robert Owen-Brown who left here for the Angel Beerhouse). Ah, ha. I hadn’t known of the connection between the 2 pubs until I came to research for this blog. The Bridge Street Tavern, as it was previously known until quite recently, was originally the Pack Horse, licensed in 1808, with its name coming from the pack horse drivers from the nearby tannery that supped in here. The back of the Bridge backs on the original Salford and Manchester Street Children’s Mission (Founded by Alfred Alsop in 1869) the offices of which are still there to this day and still provides Manchester’s underprivileged kids with clothing, food, toys and Christmas presents. One reviewer writes: ‘I suppose with the area in which it’s situated, it’s trying to grab a slice of the Spinningfields action, but you get the feeling that it is neither a traditional pub nor a posh yuppie bar and has fallen somewhere in between.’