Alice Ann, Richard’s daughter, was born in 1880, the eighth of ten children born to Richard Gibson and his first wife, Alice Rawson. What a stroke of irony that she was born on Bride Street, Todmorden, for it was her lack of marriage that proved her downfall when, at age of 21, she took her own life only one year after her stepmother, Rose Gibson, did the same. According to the newspaper report “The inquiry aroused considerable local interest in consequence of certain rumours that were afloat” – an unfortunate turn of phrase considering the manner of her death. In fact this tragedy that took place just before Christmas 1900 was reported in newspapers all across the country from Leeds and Manchester in the North of England to Staffordshire in the Midlands and Somerset on the South coast. Alice Ann, a machinist, had told her sister with whom she lived on Myrtle Street in the centre of Todmorden that her sweetheart to whom she was engaged was going to a party with another girl.
She threatened to not only break off the engagement if he did so but to drown herself. Her sister thought she was just being dramatic. Willie Greenwood had gone to the party as planned and had failed to show up at Alice’s home the following Saturday as was their usual arrangement, understanding that by taking the other girl to the party he had precipitated the end of his engagement. The following day Alice had tea with a friend during which she had cried most of the time. Before leaving she had handed a letter to her to pass on to her fiancé the next day. The letter read ‘I cannot live to be laughed at and the shame of meeting you after what has passed between us. I have gone. You have deceived me and no mistake. Yours, Alice Gibson.’ Alice had left her friend’s house but had failed to return home that evening. Later that evening an umbrella, recognised as belonging to Alice had been found on the side of the canal and handed in to the local police. The following morning the police dragged the canal where the umbrella had been found. After an hour Alice’s body was discovered in the centre of the canal. Her body was recovered and at the inquest it was noted that she was fully clothed, minus her hat, and that the body showed no marks upon her body to indicate violence. But Willie still felt obliged to ask if anything could be done by the jury to protect him from the rumours that were rife about the town. The jury unanimously agreed to a verdict that the deceased committed suicide by drowning herself. This afternoon as I began my journey into Alice’s last hours I saw that today no houses remain on Myrtle Street, just the street sign leading to the car park. It was with a startle that I realised that on a winter’s day three years ago I had seen a white figure clothed in a flowing long white dress in this very spot– and she was still wearing her hat! She was carrying a torch, red with a burning flame. Was this Alice’s ghost? No. This was the annual Lamplighter parade, when a giant lamplighter puppet lights a torch symbolically guiding the community through the dark winter months.
From Myrtle Street I headed to the Rochdale canal. Moored boats were few and far between on this bitingly cold winter day. From the chimneys of the houseboats smoke was bellowing and blending with the low clouds enveloping the bottom of the valley. Carefully avoiding the icy puddles on the towpath I soon found myself at Sandholme Mill with its vast expanse of weaving sheds now silent, its tall chimney now redundant.
It was on this stretch of the canal that Alice breathed her last, over one hundred years ago. The newspaper column adjacent to the report of her death that day told of the death and funeral of Oscar Wilde. ‘An ideal husband’ was what Alice Ann had wished for – in vain. *
The towpath passed over an overflow channel and as I looked down at the bubbling water a flash of colour drew my attention. Looking over the bridge I couldn’t believe my eyes. A bouquet of red roses was caught on the lip of the overflow, fresh and vibrant as if someone had only just thrown them in. They were still bound together with ribbon and looked fresh so only could have been in the canal for an hour or so. it seemed a fitting tribute to my Rose.
Richard was the youngest of Joshua Gibson’s nine children and had been born in Winters, though by the age of ten the family had moved down into the valley and were running the inn on Bridge Lanes. Unlike his brother Stansfield Richard sought work away from the family business and was a millwright throughout his life. The millwright’s trade combined the practical elements of those of the carpenter, blacksmith and stone mason, with those of an engineer, requiring a resourceful turn of mind since the occupation of millwright demanded the ability to design mills and milling machinery, requiring the application of arithmetic and geometry to the manufacture of all the components of a working mill. Like Stansfield Richard was married five times. He fathered ten children with his first wife, Alice Rawson. I felt very moved as I saw their signatures on their marriage certificate signed at St John The Baptist, Halifax. Richard’s was large, flowery, confident. Alice too signed her own name but in tiny writing, simple and straightforward.
I wondered how much those signatures penned 160 years ago reflect their owners’ personalities. Following Alice’s death at the age of 49 Richard remarried three more times, all to widows. Sarah Crowley died three years after she married Richard and three months later Richard married Mary Ann Whittaker who was living at the Golden Lion in Todmorden at the time of their marriage. Three and a half years later Mary Ann died and five months later Richard married Rose Gibson who had already been widowed twice. Rose Stansfield had only been married for a little over a year to Richard Gibson when she was found lifeless in a lock of the Rochdale canal in the centre of Todmorden in the winter of 1899. Richard’s father, Joshua Gibson, had also committed suicide in the slaughter house of his pub, the Bull Inn in Hebden Bridge forty years before. And when Richard took his own life ten years after Rose The Hebden Bridge Times even headed their account – ‘Can Suicide Be Hereditory?’
An inquest into Rose’s death was held at Todmorden town hall on Nov 17, 1899, the day after her death, and it was reported in the Todmorden and District News: ‘Todmorden drowning case probable suicide. During the breakfast half-hour Monday morning great excitement prevailed in the neighbourhood of the Golden Lion bridge, capitalise Todmorden, by reason of a report that the dead body woman had been found floating in the canal and the sensation was increased by the fact that deceased’s husband appeared on the scene before the body had been recovered and actually assisted in getting the lifeless form out of the water. The deceased was Rose Gibson, aged 54 years, wife Richard Gibson, millwright, of 5, Longfield Rd Todmorden. She was very well-known in Todmorden district, being at one time the landlady of the York Hotel.The body was at once removed to 5, Longfield Rd Todmorden.
In matters such as this rumours of a somewhat ugly character soon ran rife in the town but the verdict was: “Found drowned, without mark of violence or injury, having probably drowned herself, but not sufficient evidence to show the state her mind the time.” Richard’s testimony was that the couple woke around 5:30 on the morning in question. Rose got up saying she was going to make some cocoa. That was the last he saw of her. When he got up about 7:30 she was not in the house and so he went to search for her, first calling in at her daughter’s house, thinking she might be there. But to no avail. He went back home to see if she’d returned but she had not. He set off again in search and when he got to the Golden Lion Bridge he heard that there was woman in the canal lock at Neddy Bridge.. He went to look, and found it was his wife. He recognised her by her hair and shawl. She was only a couple of hundred yards from her home. Despite five or six people gathered around Richard testified “I had to ask four or five times before they would put a hand on.” On being asked if she had ever hinted at taking her own life Richard replied “Well, she has sometimes said she would: she told me on Sunday that she had been a bit queer at times ever since the change of life. She has also been a hit upset about letter from a niece in Middleton. The Coroner: Has she been taking too much drink lately? Well, Sunday night she wanted a pint bottle for beer, and I fetched her one from the White Hart.”
So off I went in search of the canal lock at Neddy Bridge, scene of her death and Rose’s home at Longfield. I couldn’t locate Neddy Bridge on a map but by posting for help on FaceBook I found that that particular lock on the Rochdale canal is directly opposite the Golden Lion. The lock had taken its name from a former landlord and coach proprietor at the Golden Lion – Owd Neddy Blomley. From my home in the centre of Hebden Bridge I walked the four miles along the Rochdale canal to Todmorden. Mallard ducks and Canada geese accompanied me along the towpath, honking vociferously for this was Spring and thus the height of mating season. Fragments of former houses and mills edged the towpath from time to time, their stones covered with bright green moss, and I liked to imagine it was the hair of some wonderful canal monster.
At Callis gardens the vegetable beds were springing into life and early crocuses were adding splashes of yellow in the flower pots displayed on the roof of the houseboats moored on the canal. Stoodley Pike topped the hills to my left while the Wizard of Whirlaw dominated my view to my left. As I approached the town of Todmorden I could see Cross Stone church atop the hill and I thought about Stansfield’s wedding there one hundred and fifty years ago. Along the towpath’s edge herb gardens had been planted, part of the Incredible Edibles, an urban gardening project started in Todmorden in 2008 that aims to bring people together through actions around local food. In 2009 Prince Charles visited the project to give his support and since its beginning 700 similar groups have sprung up worldwide. Just before Neddy Bridge a large sign with letter 5 ft tall is set into a wall above the marina. It spells the word Kindness.
Running beneath the bridge a steep cobbled footway connects the towpath to the main road. I was in search for Rose and Stansfield’s home at the time of her death – 5, Longfield Road. Longfield Road rises steeply from the main road where it crosses the canal at the Golden Lion. On my right was Cockpit, home of Ellen Maria Farrar who had assisted in the laying out Rose’s body after it was taken from the lock. Today a lady was gardening outside Cockpit in the early morning sunshine and I explained the reason for my presence and we mulled over Rose’s story together.
As I sought out the house numbers on Longfield Road I realised that number 5 no longer exists. Judging from a retaining wall above the canal and the long flight of steps that must once have been a terrace of houses that in Rose’s time overlooked the Golden Lion inn and the canal I realised that the word Kindness is on the very spot where Rose and Stansfield’s house had been. A few weeks later I happened to see two photos spanning one hundred years superimposed on one another in an estate agent’s window in Todmorden.
The end result was that the author/photographer, Daniel Birch, delivered his book ‘Todmorden Now and Then’ to my door. Imagine my surprise when leafing through I found two photos superimposed of the old and the new view of where I suspected Rose’s house had been. And there it was, in a terrace of four storey houses directly above the canal and Daniel confirmed that ‘the steps leading to Longfield Road are still in place.’
My next stop was the Golden Lion, where, just to confuse things, Richard’s third wife had been living when she married Richard. It is primarily a live music venue of considerable repute. I was rather taken aback by the bright yellow coat of paint that has recently come to adorn the side wall, a rather bright gold, dare I say garish?
The current owners have been threatened with a £20,000 fine and even jail for painting the exterior wall this obtrusive colour. The Guardian and The Independent have both taken up the story in which the owner says it was done after the council asked local businesses to brighten up the town in the face of the pandemic. Six months later I returned to the scene and saw that the wall has now returned its former white hue. I looked in vain for a golden lion too but found instead a little outdoor street market, redolent of the strong sense of community that is prevalent in Todmorden. Built as a coaching inn around 1760 the Golden Lion inn was a halt on the Manchester to Halifax stage coach service. Many important meetings have taken place over a few glasses of ale in here and I was sad not to be able to sup a glass in Rose’s memory today in such historic surroundings. High on the list of significant meetings held here was one which resulted in the proposal to erect Stoodley Pike, a monument marking the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Its erection was first discussed in this very pub in 1814. Six years later the first meeting of a new company established to built [build] the amazing edifice of Todmorden Town hall was held here too. Today The Golden Lion is known as one of the small market town’s most haunted buildings. It runs UFO-spotting meetings and patrons sometimes stay overnight in the upstairs room, provided they provide their own sleeping bags—and a fair dose of skepticism.
Before I went to pay my respects to Rose I needed to know more about her life and to do that I had obtained her marriage certificate since Stansfield appeared to be her married name. Once that was in my possession I was able to piece together something of Rose’s story. Rose had been born in Mickleover, Derbyshire. Just two miles West of Derby the quaintly named village played an important part in the industrial revolution for it was there in 1717 that the world’s first industrial scale textile factory, a silk mill, was built. It’s cutting edge technology caused it to become quite a tourist attraction and both Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin visited the mill. Rose’s father, Thomas had been a silk weaver but like many of the families around the area he was a silk weaver working with a hand loom, not the silk factory. Rose was the first of five children born to William and Harriet (nee Ambrose) and she arrived in the world just two months after her parents had been married at the parish church in Mickleover. In the early 1850s the family moved 85 miles north to Tonge in Lancashire, close to Rochdale and on May 6, Rose married Joseph Bamford, a 21 year old labourer living in Tonge. A daughter and son were born to them but in the winter of 1871 when only 30 years old Rose became a widow. It took her 8 years to find another husband, this time marrying John Stansfield, a bachelor living in Todmorden and several years younger than Rose. John was a master whitesmith like his father and employed a few other men and boys. A whitesmith was a metalworker who did finishing work on iron and steel such as filing or polishing, a much needed skill in the factories of the industrial age when small intricate parts constituted the large machinery. They set up home together at 4 Eagle Street in Todmorden with Rose’s daughter Sarah Bamford, moving to 1 Raglan Street, the next street, some time before 1891.
Of course all this time I had been wondering what precipitated Rose’s untimely death and perhaps an article in the local newspaper may give some insight into Rose’s predicament. In 1893 Rose took John Stansfield to court for deserting her. The account of the trial is a harrowing one. John had been ill for twelve months suffering from dropsy and Bright’s disease. For the previous month he had been bedridden and unable to go to his place of work in Der Street where he employed five or six men in his whitesmithing business. Rose had nursed and attended to him throughout his illness providing him with beef tea, milk, bread and mutton chops. His friends had looked in from time to time to cheer him up and had brought with them whiskey, brandy and even a bottle of champagne on one occasion. On Friday evening January 20th Rose went to bed about quarter past eleven and bade John goodnight ‘on the best of terms.’ About 5:30 in the morning she went downstairs and found that her husband had gone.’ 24 Not only her had left but the bed to which he had been confined had also gone! Rose ran the short distance to Eagle Street where John’s two brothers and two sisters lived together and was told that John was with them but she was not allowed to enter. The prosecution brought evidence that Rose had not properly cared for her husband and that she had consumed the liquor meant for him. John’s friends had had to pick her up off the floor, so drunk was she, and they had made the decision to remove him from the house. The court ruled that since John could no longer work because of his illness he had insufficient means to support Rose financially and though he had sent one month’s rent to their Raglan Street landlady, he would be unable to give her a weekly allowance. The case was dismissed. John died four months later at his brother’s house, 4 Eagle Street. Rose moved in to live at the masonic hall in the centre of Todmorden with her daughter and son-in-law, presumably as the caretaker.
She was still living there when she married for a fourth time, in the Todmorden registry office on September 19, 1898, this time to Richard Gibson and so it is at this point that she enters my family tree. So, after walking past the Town Hall where the inquest into Rose’s death took place I headed to the masonic hall. This imposing building is opposite the White Hart Inn that played such a pivotal role in my family’s story for it was in that building that the bastardy court was satisfied that James Wrigley of Lily Hall was indeed the father of Elizabeth Ann Whitham, and it’s through her birth that all my ancestors in this story can be traced.
It was from this pub that Richard brought Rose her final pint of beer. Before I knew of any connection between this pub and my family my daughter Sarah and I had had lunch there when we were visiting Calderdale in June, 2017. The masonic hall was built in 1862 and is a Grade ll listed building. Today as I looked at it for the first time I see that is a very substantial building but it currently looks disused. From the masonic hall it was only a couple of minutes walk to my final stop in Rose’s story: the canal lock itself. I realised that overlooking the lock is the garden of House des Lowe, a cafe I frequent in ‘normal’ times which is owned by my textile teacher and her husband. I’ll never again be able to sit enjoying my coffee in their rose bedecked garden without thinking about my own Rose. I took a few photos as I stood beside the lock, thinking about that morning 120 years ago.
“Don’t go jumping in now,” quipped the man sitting on the bench beside me giving me a strange look.
Richard was 69 when he hanged himself in the staircase of his home at 17 Union Street. Today only the street sign remains. The rest of the terraced street was demolished in the 1970s.
Todmorden & District News – Friday 29 July 1910: IS SUICIDE HEREDITARY? At Todmorden Town Hall, on Monday morning, Mr. E. H. Hill, coroner, held an inquiry concerning the death of Richard Gibson (69). millwright, of 17, Union Street Todmorden, who had been found hanging his residence on Sunday night. Mr. Richard. Dewhirst was chosen foreman of the jury. Sarah Gibson, the widow, was the first witness. She said her deceased husband was 69 years of age The Coroner: Had he been drinking lately ? ?Witness: Just a little. When? On Friday and Saturday. Did he bring the drink into the house with him? No, sir. What was he doing on Sunday ? Laying in bed most of the day. He came downstairs two or three times to have a smoke. Did he have anything to eat? No, only a drink of cocoa. When did you last see him alive ? Just turned half-past six at night. Where was he then? Upstairs, laid on the bed, partly dressed. He asked me where I was going (he saw that I had clothes on ready for going out), and I told him I was going to his daughter’s house. Did he seem cheerful? No, he was very quiet all day. And then you went out? Yes. I locked the house door and went out, and got back at half-post seven. And what did you find? l shouted Are you coming downstairs? but there was no reply. Then I called out again, but he did not answer, so I went to the bottom of the stairs, and saw bis legs hanging down the staircase, and I ran out for help. Who cut the body down? Mr. Hanbury came in first. But your husband was quite dead, I suppose? Yes, sir. Had you had any trouble? Well, he had had bit of bother in the public house with man on Saturday night, and the man threatened to summon him, and sent him a letter. That seemed to prey on his mind. Had he ever threatened anything of this kind? No, sir. Has he ever been in an asylum ? No, sir. Or any of his relatives? Not to my knowledge. Have any of his relatives committed suicide? Yes, his father committed suicide. At about the same age, wasn’t it?Well, I think so. The Foreman: Hadn’t he a daughter who committed suicide? Yes, his last wife did also. John Hanbury, an out-door labourer, of 15, Myrtle-street, Todmorden, said be knew deceased. Coroner. l was just coming out of my lodgings on Sunday evening about half-past seven when I met Mrs. Gibson. She said her husband was trying to hang himself. I ran to the house and found him hanging in the staircase. The Coroner, in summing up, said he presumed the jury had no doubt deceased hung himself. The next question they ‘had to decide was whether there was sufficient evidence to show what was the deceased?s condition of mind. He was bound to say that in great many of the cases which had to investigate either some of the relations had been insane or had committed suicide. When they found there had been two or three suicides in family it was certainly some evidence that there was strain of insanity in that family; and doctors had found that in the case of such families a suicidal tendency showed itself at a certain age. Were the members of the jury satisfied deceased hung himself, and was there sufficient evidence to determine the state of his mind at the time. The Foreman said he thought there was little doubt that deceased was temporarily insane. His wife said had received a threatening letter which preyed on his mind somewhat. The Coroner: Yes, but the same time a letter of that kind would not upset the reason of man with thoroughly sound mind. A unanimous verdict was returned to the effect that deceased committed suicide whilst of unsound mind.
One name that takes up more newspaper columns than anyone else in my Calder Valley family. It that of Stansfield Gibson. Like his father Joshua he was a butcher and innkeeper like his father, but also like his father he took his own life. But that life had been a colourful one and he had certainly packed more than most into those 78 years. He married five times, fathered seven children, was accused of child molestation, purchased a chapel and was the proud owner of a prize winning pony.
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 provide 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.
Their 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 Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding 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 this was the scene of his tragic demise. In Stansfield’s case it was the presence of his 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 to cater for the religious needs of the people. 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.
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 the wife of Patrick Bronte and mother to Charlotte. 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 correctly .
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 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 essay was sixpence and “rithmetic” was one shilling and eight pence. 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 those exhibiting unruly behaviour 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. Behind Roomfield 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 slaughterhouse. 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, a fine building standing 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, bound over to keep the peace for 6 months and ordered to pay the costs-15s. Perhaps Stansfield 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. 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 for the mill workers 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 around twenty lodgers lived 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. I wonder if Polly had been the pony who had thrown Herbert from her back just three years before.
Stansfield’s wife Susannah died a couple of days after Christmas in 1894 and 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 as the cortege made 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 entirety 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 long settle 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.
Only four years later Stansfield was widowed again. The call of West Yorkshire appears to have been strong for Stansfield moved back to the Calder Valley 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 16 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. But it was the earlier 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. 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 style 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 capitalise he was entitle[d] 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, 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 characterize the town.
The newspaper article on 17 November, 1915 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 at 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 in a 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 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. Two years later Stansfield passed away. He died at 112 Bridge Lanes and he’s buried at Todmorden Christ church – a very sad end to a man who had certainly lived life to the full.
Winter was turning into Spring. At least the calendar told me so though I was somewhat skeptical since the temperature was in still in single digits. But at least it was sunny as I set off to find the appropriately named hamlet of Winters, once the home of John Gibson, the founder of a dynasty of innkeepers, spanning several generations. The Gibson family, who had married into the Whitham family has some of the most colourful characters in my family’s history but also some of the greatest tragedies. In 1834 at the age of 57 John Gibson was a shopkeeper and retailer of beer in the tiny hamlet of Winters, a small community that had grown up around a cotton mill, and appropriately named for my chilly but sunlit excursion in 2020. John was an important man in this sparse community of around thirty people clinging precariously to a steeply sloping hillside above the Calder Valley between Hebden Bridge an and Todmorden – for not only did he run the only shop in the village but he also had a license to sell beer. He’d moved up to this remote spot after twenty years of being the landlord at The Bull Inn close to the centre of Hebden Bridge and it was at The Bull that John and his wife Sarah Crabtree had raised their four children, two of whom were to become innkeepers themselves and one was to marry an innkeeper. To assist me in arriving at the start of my walk I caught the little Zippy bus up to Blackshaw Head, only three miles from Hebden Bridge, but three very steep miles and the bus laboured, puffing and panting, as it climbed the 800 ft to Badger Lane.
It’s a road well travelled by me for its wonderful views as it hugs the contour. Its name always brings a smile to my face. I’ve taken many photos of bleating lambs and mooing cows, and even a llama, but there’s never been a badger in sight. To find the tiny hamlet of Winters from Dry Soil I needed to find Marsh Lane, a well used bridle path on the north side of the valley, heading down towards the river Calder. Dry Soil, Marsh Lane and Winters. Hmm. The impact of the landscape and seasons was impossible to ignore.
I found a path that I thought was the correct lane but there was no road sign to confirm my suspicions but a man walking towards me along Badger Lane was just turning onto it with no hesitation and so I called out, “Is that Marsh Lane?’ “Yes.” I crossed over the road. “Do you mind if I join you for a little while? I’m looking for Winters Mill.’’ He knew the place and so we followed the path down towards Winters together. “I’ve always wanted to move to Hebden but my wife finds it depressing,” he confided in me.
I didn’t anticipate being able to locate the precise house that had been home to the Gibson family in the 1830s but I knew the view from the village would not have changed and I was looking forward to getting a feel for the remote location they’d called home. Winters Mill had been built in 1805 though virtually nothing remains of it today. The mill was both a spinning mill and a weaving mill. Originally it had been water powered and so I hoped to find the mill pond where water would have been stored and used to power the machinery at dry times of the year. Indeed, the first evidence I found that I’d actually arrived in Winters was the very pond, today shining a luminous green with its covering of duckweed.
Though now surrounded by a well kept garden the pond appeared to stretch to the very back doors of the cottages. I followed the lane around to the front of the cottages, neatly labeled ‘Winters Cottages’ as if for my benefit. At that moment a car drew up beside me and its owner rolled down the window. “Can I help you?” I explained my presence and she was very helpful. “We’ve just bought the end house, but haven’t moved in yet. Would you like to come in and see it?” I didn’t need to be asked a second time because this could easily have been John Gibson’s shop and beer retailing business listed in Pigot’s commercial directory of 1834.
We entered a house that was delightful in its preservation of original features. The interior walls had exposed stone and the rooms retained their stone flag floors. The ceilings were not more than 6’6” high and the stone fireplaces were intact, though they now had stoves inset. The lady took me into her back garden and within 6” of the back door was a small gully running with fast water over which a simple stone flag led into the large garden, half of which had obviously been the mill pond. An old water pump remained at the side of the pond. The cottage had been built around 1730 so even if John Gibson did not live in this cottage he would have known it well. As I took my leave the lady pointed me in the direction of the site of the mill. I slipped and slided away down the leaf covered cobbles knowing John and Joshua must have traversed these very stones.
When the mill was purchased by William Horsfall in 1830 he converted it to steam power to increase productivity and thus be better equipped to cope with competition from other manufacturers and it must have been around this time that John Gibson moved his family to Winters. Perhaps he wanted to take advantage of the anticipated increase in the population that the steam powered machinery would bring. He was closely associated with the mill, indeed his very livelihood depended upon it in the form of customers who were mill workers and when, in January 1834 some of the mill machinery was to be auctioned it was John’s son Joshua who arranged the viewing. The older part of this spinning mill used mules to spin yarn and the newer part contained looms which wove fustian cloth and so by 1842 the mill was capable of turning raw cotton into finished cloth having facilities for carding, spinning and weaving. Sateen, a mock silk made from cotton, and dimitie, a cotton cloth featuring raised woven stripes or checks used for making for dresses and curtains were manufactured here. As I stood on that remote hillside I found it bewildering to believe that this mill was said to be the largest manufacturer of sateens and dimitie cloth that was sent into Manchester to be distributed around the whole of England. In the 1841 census 32 men, women and children were listed as living in Winters, all but one, John’s son Joshua (listed as a farmer) working in the mill. I came upon a detailed inventory of the various rooms of the mill showing the extent of the operation: scutching room, card room, throstle room, three mule rooms, taking in room, counting house, smithy and mechanics shop. The mill even had its own school educating children from the hamlet and the surrounding hillside farmsteads– useful for Joshua’s 5 younger children while the older three, then aged 15, 14 and 12 were already employed in the mill. I tried to imagine life here in the 1830s when Winters was a tiny but bustling community with children going to school, people working in the mill, and shopping at Joshua’s shop cum beer house. Of all these once busy places of cloth making only a picturesque stone arch with initials and date carved above remains for when the mill went bankrupt in 1880 as the export of slave-grown cotton from the United States dried up. I learned from local historian Ann Bennett who used to lived in one of the cottages that the mill buildings were completely dismantled and sold for stone which was then used to build houses on King Street in the valley.
Another section of the inventory gave a more personal view of community life in 1842 as it listed farm animals and implements: Old white cow, red and white cow and roan cow, the new cow, old stable manure, bay mare, shaft and trace, general farming utensils and 3 stable buckets, 2 pack carts, box tubs, lumber, wheel barrow and hand barrow, 2 water tubs. 8 The beer cellar contained 10 ale barrels, racking of barrels, pots, cooler and 5 black bottles valued at £1.18s. When John died in 1837 his son Joshua had taken over as the shop keeper and beer seller at Winters, and he also ran a farm and was a butcher. Surely then, the beer cellar with its contents and the farm animals and implements listed in 1842 must have been Joshua’s. Joshua’s son John, aged 15, is a carter and so the bay mare with its shaft and trace would have been for his use. Meanwhile on being widowed his mother, Sarah, had moved back down into Hebden Bridge and had returned to the Bull Inn as innkeeper, along with her daughter Sarah. On his mother’s death in 1845 Joshua moved back into the valley and took over the pub whilst continuing to farm five acres, and slaughtering the animals for his butchering trade.
It was time to head down into the valley following Joshua and Sally’s footsteps. I’d checked with the locals that my planned route was easy to follow and I wasn’t going to find myself sliding down the hillside on my bottom, or needing to climb gates. Winters Lane is just about negotiable for vehicles but it ends at a five barred gate and turns into a tiny track called Dark Lane.
This was more like Dark River today but my new hiking boots were up to the task. Dark Lane led back onto another lane that was just about passable by car, though very, very steep. Bags of salt were stationed every ten yards for icy weather. The sound of traffic along the Calder Valley rose up to me and the whistle of the train blended in with the birdsong from time to time.
It reminded me that it was the coming of this very railway line in 1839 that meant that Winters mill could more easily obtain raw cotton from Liverpool and send finished goods to Manchester much quicker. Eventually the lane led to Rawtenstall Bank, another very steep road with several switchbacks. Though slippery with wet leaves I decided to stick to the road and not take the short cut down a well worn flight of stone steps neatly signed Cat Steps! Reaching Hebden Bridge I passed the site of the now demolished area of town known as Bridge Lanes, Joshua and Sally’s home in 1844. The densely packed community of Bridge Lanes at the west end of town was once a conglomeration of streets, almost literally on top of each other connected by several flights of stone steps. The whole development was demolished in the 1960s and apart from the stone staircases nothing remains of this once bustling part of town. Almost adjacent is the former Bull Inn, now a private house, where John, his wife Sarah and his son Joshua and daughter Sally had been landlords for over thirty years.
A lady was refurbishing the front door and so I paused to ask if I was correct in thinking that this had been The Bull. It had, and she explained that under normal circumstances she would have invited me in when I told her that one of my ancestors had lived there. It was only then that I realised that I’d actually been inside this building before. It’s now the home and studio of a wonderful artist, Kate Lycett, and I’d visited her in her home studio during the town’s Open Studio event the previous year. At the time I’d no idea that the building had been the home of my ancestors.
Joshua operated the Bull Inn for more than ten years but in 1855 at the age of 49 he gave up his alcohol license soon after his wife Sally died. Joshua continued as a butcher, living at Bridge Lanes, but I was shocked to read that the following year he hanged himself on May 30th, 1858 and was buried at Heptonstall church three days later. The article in the Leeds Intelligencer reads: ‘On Sunday afternoon last, between three and four o’clock, Mr Joshua Gibson, butcher, of Hebden Bridge, was found dead in the chamber of the house, deceased having hung himself. The cord by which he had been suspended had broken, but not before he was dead. Gibson had been drinking for some days previously.’9 There’s a note in the burial record, written by the minister at Heptonstall church ‘he hanged himself in his slaughterhouse.’ Apart from the comment about drinking heavily in his final days we don’t know why Joshua took his own life in such a deliberate manner but there are many many accounts of suicides by hanging in the local newspapers of the time. His eight children survived him. One of them was Stansfield, who was nineteen at the time of his father’s death.
The pub closed its doors for the last time in the 1970s when much of the town was abandoned. On 1st January 1978, fire broke in the former pub out and the bodies of 2 men (possibly squatters) were found in the attic of the empty building.
Willie Wrigley is James and Mally’s great grandson
It was May, 2020. The country, indeed much of the world, was in lockdown – the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet here I stood on a remote hillside with a panoramic view of the Calder Valley. Atop Erringden Moor Stoodley Pike rose like an eagle commanding a view of its territory, but it’s a black eagle, no hint of gold on its ‘phallic spike.’ 1 The bleat of new born lambs filled the still air, a joyous sound now no longer obliterated by the overhead roars of planes on their flight to distant lands. A curious cow had introduced herself to me as I strolled along Burlees Lane, high above Hebden Bridge but her eyes warned me not to enter her field despite the public footpath sign.
It had been a steep climb up Wadsworth Lane, passing the housing estate of Dodd Naze on my left while to my right was open pasture but now I had a bird’s eye view of the Calder Valley and the small town of Mytholmroyd. Even though this town with its tongue twisting name is only 2 miles East of Hebden Bridge the valley here is much wider here with more expansive flat areas with scattered buildings , quite different from the tightly packed houses on top of each other, accessible by steep stone staircases.
I was in search of Hill House, birthplace of one of my ancestors, Charlotte Greenwood. I turned off the main road onto a small unpaved lane, Raw Lane. Ancient cottages now mostly restored and exuding affluence, their windows overlooking a dramatic landscape are dotted along its length, seemingly at random, some with their front doors opening directly onto the lane and others set back. In places Raw Lane is tree lined and at this time of year the trees heavy with leaves bowed their boughs forming an arch above me for me to walk through onto centre stage.
The scent of the white hawthorn flowers was everywhere, reminding me of the hawthorn tree close to my childhood bedroom window at Affetside, and the brilliant yellow gorse flowers vied with a field of vibrant yellow buttercups for the prize of best in show. Today the verges were ablaze with colour. Foxgloves stood tall, proudly displaying their pendulous bell-like blooms and as I became aware that my jacket perfectly matched their shade of purple-pink I assured the busy bees that I was bereft of pollen. Yet I had walked along this path in Autumn when the fog was so dense I could hardly see the roadside verges, let alone the expanse of the Calder Valley. Winters up here can be treacherous with ice and snow in abundance, and even today bins of grit lined the path reminding me of those dark days of winter when the lane lives up to its name.
With map in hand I picked out Hill House to my right, perched alone on top of a smooth sided grass-green hill, devoid of trees, and justifying its name 100%. A man was gardening at Hill House Lane Top and I chatted to him, admiring the lovely view his house had before taking the poppy lined cobbled track down towards my destination passing a beautifully landscaped garden with an ornamental pond.
Just as I approached the ancient stone house with its large barn across the yard a woman came into view, the current owner.
I explained my quest and she was interested enough to bring out to me a framed aerial photo of the property taken about thirty years ago. It brought back memories of a similar photograph of my home at Third Bungalow, Affetside, framed and sitting in pride of place on top of my piano for many years. It had been taken from a helicopter some time in the 1970s and the pilot had landed in our field. Back at Hill House the owner pointed out a date stone above the front porch of 1678 and the initials IMG but she assured me that the building was significantly older than the stone indicated and that this was the date commemorating a rebuild.
With an invitation to return after lockdown was over I took my leave and she directed me to a path running behind the house enabling me to hike back into the valley a different way, following the outline of the hill which gives the house its name. I found myself crossing a beautiful meadow awash with wild flowers, clovers, cowslip and buttercups before reaching Red Acre Wood. Much work has been done to preserve the footpaths traversing this woodland sanctuary but the path remains steep, often with stairways and I had to keep my focus on my footsteps until I reached the valley floor from where I looked back and could see, high above, Hill House, perched atop its hill, birthplace of Charlotte Greenwood.
In the Spring of 1894 Charlotte married Willie Wrigley, the great grandson of James and Mally, my 4th great grandparents who had lived at Lily Hall. Willie was an architect of some renown.
I knew that Charlotte and Willie had a turbulent life together and his desertion of his wife and children resulted in a 3 month incarceration with hard labour in Wakefield gaol in 1901. But as I chatted to the current owner of Hill House that Spring morning I wasn’t aware of a tragedy that had occurred there one hundred and sixty years ago. A search later that evening produced an account in the newspaper that chilled me to the bone.
article in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph 4th Nov 1861 reads ‘Murder
and Suicide by a Mother Mytholmroyd:
Friday last, at midday, a most awful tragedy was perpetrated at Hill
House, Wadsworth, Mytholmroyd, by a married woman, named Greenwood,
wife of Mr. Greenwood, farmer. It appears that during the forenoon
Mr. Greenwood had gone to Mytholmroyd with a week’s butter, and
while away his wife cut the throat of her little daughter, about five
years old, after which she cut her own throat, and ran out bleeding
profusely into the house of a neighbour, (living at Hill House Lane
Top where I’d chatted to the current resident) named Sutcliffe, and
then ran back into her own house. She still had the razor in her
hand. Sutcliffe took it from her, and the mother pointed to the child
in an adjoining room, with its head almost severed from its body. It
would seem she had had two razors at work; one was also lying on the
table, opposite the looking glass, covered with blood, along with two
empty razor cases. The house presented more the appearance of a
slaughter-house than human dwelling, such was the quantity of blood
on the floors. The little girl’s hands were tied with a shred of
cotton lining. Mrs. Greenwood has been in a desponding state of mind
for some time, but not so much so as to cause much alarm. Since the
above was written, it is reported that Mrs. Greenwood is dead also.”
I found over sixty accounts of this tragedy in various newspapers, the story being reported as far away as Ireland, Wales and Scotland but only the Hull Advertiser suggested a reason for the tragedy. “She had been depressed in spirits for some time in consequence of her husband’s ill luck in business as a farmer, and also in consequence of the helpless and idiotic state of the child brought on by the violent fits to which it had been subject for two or three years.” 3
Three and a half years after the devastating death of both his wife and child James Greenwood remarried. I mean, it’s not surprising. He had four remaining children under eight years old and he had a farm of 28 acres to look after. Following his marriage to Elizabeth Jackson at Mytholmroyd church the couple had three more children, the youngest being ‘my’ Charlotte born in 1871. James and Elizabeth continued to live at Hill House for the rest of their lives and as I picked my way carefully along the steep path through Red Acre Wood I wondered what ghosts penetrated their lives there.
Emerging from the dark density of the woodsI found myself in the centre of a bright and sunny Mytholmroyd. This small town on the River Calder lies at the junction of Cragg Brook and the River Calder and the valley floor here is much wider than the narrow cleft in which Hebden Bridge cowers, just two miles to the East. Yet its propensity to flooding is equal to that of its neighbour and TV crews covering the floods often have a particular difficulty in pronouncing the town’s name, meaning a clearing where two streams meet. After a few minutes’ walk along the towpath I crossed the canal, the road and the river and arrived at the church, in search of the resting place of Fanny. It didn’t take me long in this well kept cemetery to find her grave, in which her daughter, Grace, also rests. So too is Grace’s sister, Sarah, aged 14 and Ann, aged 25. Fanny’s husband James lived to a grand old age of 72, and his second wife rests there too.
At that moment the church bell struck the hour and as I looked up at the asymmetrical church tower the outline of Hill House perched on its hill appeared to be directly the tower. That morning on my way to find Charlotte’s birthplace I’d looked down with pleasure at Hill House and its commanding position and chatted happily with the owner. I know now that the place will hold different memories for me whenever I see it perched on the hill looking out to Mytholmroyd.
The setting – An introduction to the Calder Valley.
Imagine a 5 mile square of West Yorkshire characterized by wild windswept moorland over 1000ft above sea level bisected by a steep sided gash created by the violent scouring action of the melt waters of a retreating glacier at the end of the last ice age, a valley whose bottom the sun never reaches in winter. Here and there tributary streams come tumbling down the hillsides gouging out their own tracks and often in winter bring severe flooding into the main Calder Valley. Centuries ago people lived on the hilltops eking out a living, keeping sheep and spinning and weaving their wool into fabric, carrying it by packhorse along the upland trails to markets in Heptonstall and Halifax. Often their journeys necessitated the crossing of the River Calder and so steep cobbled paths and bridges were constructed, but for the most part the people stayed out of the dank inhospitable valley. But with the invention of water powered machinery capable of speeding up the textile production exponentially the River Calder became ‘the hardest worked river in England’ 1 and so people came down from the hilltops into the valley to live close to the mills and factories that sprung up like snowdrops, full of hope but sometimes short lived. Some were rebuilt in a new guise, others were left to nature’s art, their skeletons exposed, their walls becoming interlaced with tree roots.
Now the river had to share the narrow valley floor with a road, a canal and a railway line. These lines of transport crossed each other under and over, over and under, intersecting in a pattern as complex as any piece of cloth that was woven here.
It was in one of the hilltop villages, Heptonstall, that this story was born. ‘Hep’ according to some means high in Saxon 2 and indeed the village is perched on a hilltop 500 ft above the intersection of River Calder and Hebden Water. When my own story begins in 1840 Heptonstall had a population of 4791 3 three times its present population. Clinging to the steep hillside, isolated, with its face pointed towards the Hebden valley, its hair a mix of touselled trees and with compound eyes ever watchful stands the blackened stone edifice of Lily Hall. This story was conceived not only figuratively but literally within the walls of Lily Hall.
My great great grandma, Elizabeth Ann Whitham was born there, in 1842, the illegitimate daughter of widowed Sally Whitham and the man who lived next door, James Wrigley. Sally was no innocent Spring chicken. At 35 year old Sally had been widowed for three years and had already given birth to six children, four of whom had died before their 3rd birthday whereas 26 year old James Wrigley had married Mary Pickles just two months before Elizabeth Ann was born. I wonder what relations were like between Mary and Elizabeth Ann living next door to each other. There’s little doubt that Mary knew of James’s fatherhood, especially when the Bastardy Court in Todmorden ordered James to pay one shilling and sixpence weekly for Elizabeth Ann’s maintenance until she turned seven years of age.
Over the years the Wrigleys, a family of cabinet makers, painters and decorators married into many of the leading families of Hebden Bridge, a town on the verge of major expansion due to its role in the textile industry. One of the prominent families, the Mosses, soon divided into two areas of expertise, one becoming leading textile manufacturers who married into other textile families, the Redmans and Hoyles who exported their fabrics worldwide, the other branch finding its calling in educating the children of the rapidly growing population. Is it pure coincidence that my mother worked in a cotton mill until I was born and my father began his working life as a painter and decorator, later becoming an art teacher? James’s sister Sally married Thomas Gibson whose father Samuel had been a nationally renowned fossil collector. For a time in high school I considered becoming a paleontologist and spent my vacations collecting fossils and taking them to my local museum where patient people helped me identify them. James’s brother Abraham married Sally Nicholson whose family was well on the road to becoming of England’s most illustrious organ builders and whose company is still in operation today.
In high school I had organ lessons and on occasion have played the organ in Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge churches for services . Sally and Thomas Gibson’s sons pursued careers as dentists, mechanics and photographers, all professions requiring skill with minutiae. Elizabeth Ann’s mother, Sally and her husband William Whitham had a granddaughter who married into another Gibson family, this time a family centred around the butcher and innkeeping trade. Elizabeth Ann’s great great grandson, my uncle Norman, was a butcher with his own shop in Harwood near Bolton.
The branches sprouting from the dual trunks of the Wrigley and Whitham trees were to provide me with gripping stories of many kinds whose leaves I was eager to explore: murder in a remote hilltop farm, suicides in the Rochdale Canal, wealthy textile manufacturers who built vast mills, a church architect who ended up in Wakefield gaol, pioneers of photography, bitter rivalry between dentist brothers, not to mention heated discord amongst musicians, a subject close to my own heart. Initially my ancestors were impersonal names written on birth, marriage and death certificates but as I visited the houses where they lived, rambled along the pathways in their footsteps, visited their graves and found stories about them in local newspapers they took on a presence that I now find impossible to ignore. Many wonderfully evocative sepia photographs of characters in these stories reached me from around the world from people with whom I share common ancestry enabling me to actually look into the faces of people in these stories.
I even obtained a handwritten account of a family’s hopes and dreams written over one hundred and fifty years ago. One memorable afternoon in 2019 the current residents of Lily Hall played host to a meeting between myself and a lady visiting from New Zealand. She, like me, was a descendant of James Wrigley who had lived at Lily Hall almost two hundred years before.
The history of the ancient hilltop villages of Heptonstall, Old Town, Midgley and Old Chamber which survived on the dual economy of farming and handloom weaving and the later growth of the valley towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge which developed and thrived during the industrial revolution can be found in numerous sources. This is the personal, often very personal story of my own rambles through the Upper Calder Valley during Lockdown, retracing the steps and recounting the stories of fifteen family members, all inter-related who died from unnatural causes – all within the 5 mile square.
On dark days when the clouds seem to press upon my shoulders I feel the valley tightening, closing its steep sides in an attempt to either evict its human population or, failing that, submerge them. In his book ‘Under The Rock’ Benjamin Myers, a resident of Mytholmroyd, tells how he plotted on a map of West Yorkshire the numerous crime locations, birthplaces and haunts and some of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Harold Shipman, Britain’s most prolific serial killer carried out his notorious killings of patients under his care in Todmorden. Peter Sutcliffe’s stalking ground was firmly rooted in the Bingley area of the county and John Christie, the strangler, was born in Northowram, just outside Halifax. Murderer Donald Neilson, known as the ‘Black Panther, was born in Bradford and Ian Brady and Moira Hindley, were convicted of the murders of five children three of whose bodies were buried on Saddleworth Moor, then in West Yorkshire. In 2009 Hebden Bridge resident Jez Lewis made a documentary film about the high number of suicides in Hebden Bridge- Shed Your Tears and Walk Away. ‘Why has Hebden Bridge become suicide central?’ was the heading of the Independent’s account of the film documenting drinking, drug addiction, unemployment. In ‘The Light in the Dark’ local resident Horatio Clare writes of his encounters with seasonal sadness and winter blues. Bleak is a term often associated with the Yorkshire moors and if we are products of our environment the landscape in which we dwell must surely have an impact on our outlook , even on our personality.
Ted Hughes, ‘A preface to Elmet’ in Collected Poems,
August 8th, 2022. So I’m off to Newcastle for four nights. OK. It’s not on the coast but surely it’ll be cooler than Hebden Bridge. Maybe the windows will open in my hotel, unlike in my apartment. But then again, maybe they won’t. Another hot hot week is expected throughout England with temperatures in the 90sF. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Newcastle even though Durham, where I did my postgrad studies was only a 15 minute train ride away. My closest friend in school had gone to uni in Newcastle but had graduated and left by the time I went to Durham. (Actually I discovered in my journal that Colin and I visited Paul at Newcastle uni in 1978 but I have no recollection of that trip).
My anytime return ticket was £50 so I set off as soon as I was ready and arrived in Newcastle exactly 3 hours from leaving home. It’s a bit far away for a day out but it was an easy journey, changing trains just once in York. It was very hot and sunny and lots of haymaking was in progress in the hinterlands of Yorkshire. It still takes me by surprise just how flat the land is in this area. I’d always associated Yorkshire with hills and dales but that shows the sort of landscape I sought out when I last lived in the north of England all those year ago.
Newcastle railway station was vast and a veritable treasure house of bars and coffee shops. It even had an M & S food court and a Sainsbury’s catering for all a traveller’s needs. I was really tempted to have lunch there but I wanted to ‘see’ the city and its famous bridges that I’d only seen from the train before. I headed out through the impressive arches of the station, stepping in the footsteps of Sting, to Jury’s Inn, a 7 minute walk away according to Google Maps. I’ve never stayed in a Jury’s Inn before, far too soulless for my liking, but it was close to the station, advertised a coffee bar (a possible breakfast venue) and a restaurant in case I didn’t feel like going out for dinner. There was no way I was going to pay £14 for my breakfast preference: cereal, toast and tea. As it transpired there was no way I was going to pay £15 for a hot dog for dinner either. And the coffee bar didn’t exist. The bar served coffee! That’s not what I call a coffee bar. My room was on the third floor and overlooked the central courtyard of a complex of apartments and offices.
I was travelling light and after hanging up a couple of things in the wardrobe I headed out into ‘the big city.’ I hadn’t been able to find a tourist information centre mentioned anywhere online and on inquiry back at the station I found out that there isn’t one.
I made for the centre of the city and within minutes it became apparent that this place is very different from Leeds and Manchester, the two northern cities I am most familiar with. In those places it seems rare to see anyone over the age of 35. This place was very much alive with people of all ages wandering around the predominantly pedestrian centre.
A few older historic buildings were wedged between bustling shops, the whole being looked down upon by Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey from atop a doric column 135ft high. It was built in 1838 and in 1941 his head was knocked off by a bolt of lightning. Earl Grey served as British prime minister 1830-1834 and possibly the tea is named after him. The vast shopping centre, Eldon Square was the largest shopping centre in Europe when it opened in 1976 on the site of the old town wall. With the high temperature I kept to the outdoors looking for a place to eat, outdoors but in the shade. It seemed that everyone else had the same idea and Newcastle isn’t equipped with much in the way of outdoor cafes. The days when they would be in demand must be very few and far between. After trying at least a dozen places I settled for a Japanese sushi place where all the tables were vacant – not a good sign – but this, the ‘Rolls-Rice of Japanese food’ provided me with a quite delicious meal and a pot of Oolong tea. On retrospect I should probably have opted for an Earl Grey, but I didn’t know of the connection at the time. I had already noticed several Oriental food markets dotted throughout the area, again, not something I had anticipated with my old fashioned view of the city. Also there were lots of supermarkets in the centre which brings people in to the centre and the bus station is adjacent to the Eldon Shopping centre. Most large towns I know have their supermarkets on the outskirts of town, necessitating a car to get there, leaving the town centres empty and abandoned. I always feel that Halifax is a ghost town after 6 o’clock in the evening. I usually like to photograph back streets and alleyways but in the centre I found little evidence of these.
After several abortive attempts to find a bus to take me to the river front, Quayside, I saw a Hop on Hop off bus approaching and jumped aboard, welcoming the breeze on the open top upper deck, and a sit down, having wandered around for several miles. The city centre surprised me. I’d expected a somewhat run down city. In fact, my choice of hotel had been governed by my mistrust of Aparthotels and Airbnbs on side streets – but this was my prejudice from my recollections of the city’s reputation 40 years ago. Instead I was confronted with a bustling metropolis of colourful, new, inventive architecture interspersed with a few historic buildings. The tour took me past the new castle. I didn’t know of its existence. I don’t suppose I’d ever considered the city’s name. But if this 1000 year old ruins was the new castle where is the old castle? Something to discover during my stay.
From the running commentary on the bus I learned that the derivation of Gateshead was goat’s head and referred to the goat farms on that side of the river. We crossed the river Tyne twice and I learned that the 5 bridges (of the Nice’s 5 bridges suite) had now been increased by two. A pity – seven doesn’t scan! I’d expected an industrial landscape, shipyards, warehouses, preserved factory chimneys. Not at all. Passing over the swing bridge I could see a riverside walk on both sides of the Tyne with well patronised outdoor cafes and bars on this very warm summer evening. Elegant hotels now filled the former industrial buildings and the number of people strolling along the riverbank looked more like an Italian passeggiata than a northern city at play.
After the hour’s tour I spent an hour in the hotel decompressing, picking up the book I’d brought along for the trip – Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations: Diary of an Independent Woman. I don’t know when I last read this book but it made a big impression on me. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that a piece of paper dropped out of it, something I’d written at the end of my month’s stay in England, so either 2016 or 2017. I had a shower to try to cool down a bit before heading back out to explore, now realising after getting my bearings from the bus tour that I could walk to Quayside quite easily. I’d picked out a waterfront restaurant for dinner simply based on its name: The Pitcher and Piano. At a pedestrian crossing the lights weren’t working and I got into conversation with a lady who advised me that The Pitcher and Piano was too far to walk and “far too expensive.” What that said about how I must have appeared to her is quite amusing. But I couldn’t find the place she recommended – Lloyds, and ended up in a Wetherspoons. All the outdoor tables were taken, as had been the case in all the previous eateries I’d passed, so I headed upstairs where I at least could have a chance at hearing myself think. It was an old building with exposed beams, thick stone walls and a tiled roof. I edged my way to a table with a view onto the river. I asked the waitress what the building had once been but she didn’t know. Later I found that it had been erected c 1515 as a warehouse, according to Pevsner.
Leaving the pub I walked further along the river, crossed the swing bridge and ended up in an outdoor bar almost under the Tyne bridge with its distinctive semi circular arch. This ‘hip brewpub’ is made up entirely of shipping containers in various stages of rusting.
They were set in a colourful garden and it was a delight to drink a glass of their locally brewed beer even though it was served in a plastic cup and cost 3.95 for a half pint! I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than 2.99 before. But what the hell! This was an amazing iconic landscape in front of me, and I was part of it. I really must listen to Nice’s 5 Bridges Suite, and some Sting – a local lad.
I retraced my steps amidst the cawing seagulls dive bombing me from the bridge’s girders. What? Seagulls? This was 10 miles from the coast.
I was to find the answer to that question at the Baltic Centre in a couple of days. I got a taxi back to the hotel. At 3 it was cheaper than my beer. I spent the evening searching online for bus timetables, opening hours, and made a list of things I’d like to do now that I had a feel for the place. There did seem to be quite a dearth of good tourist info. Perhaps all the people out there are locals. Later I watched the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games from another city which has changed dramatically since I knew it- Birmingham.
I woke to a loud continuous noise issuing from the forecourt and into my room through the open window. I peered out. Men were using giant hosepipes to power wash the forecourt. Just my luck.
Still, I was awake now and settled down with a cup of tea and immersed myself in ‘Without Reservations’ for an hour before venturing out in search of breakfast and wondering what the day in store for me.
Two ladies in the lift were just coming back from partaking of their hotel breakfast which they were extolling for its vastness – bacon, sausage, baked beans, egg and toast. I couldn’t think of anything worse to begin my day so I trekked off to the railway station and ‘Destination 1850’, a small coffee bar where I was the only customer.
Last night I had made a list of things to do but many places were closed on Tuesdays so I decided to go and find the Angel of the North. As it happens an original piece of artwork of this iconic sculpture by Anthony Gormley took pride of place in the hotel corridor just outside my room. I’d always wanted to see this gigantic figure completed in 1998 and viewed by 33 million people each year due to its proximity to A1. It stands 66 ft tall and has a wingspan larger than that of a Boeing 757.
It was a half hour bus ride through Gateshead and its suburbs and soon I was standing on the A1 being buffeted by passing cars doing the maximum speed only inches away from me. But there it was, The Angel, and I explored the grassy bank on which it stands, ready to withstand a 100 mph wind – the angel, not me. A mobile coffee shop had set up camp in the parking lot and a dozen or so people were exploring the site. I felt compelled to touch the weathered steel. Impromptu memorials decorated the bushes surrounding the site the words of some bringing me close to tears.
Back on the bus I headed back into the city and got a picnic to go at M&S and then back to the hotel where the power cleaning was still in noisy process. A shrimp pasta salad accompanied my reading of a few more of Alice’s exploits in Paris and then it was off to The Discovery Museum which had been pointed out on the Hop on Hop Off bus the previous day. It was mainly set up for children and there were lots of them around, mostly with grandparents in tow, but I was surprised to see an army tank outside the entrance to the building. I thought for a moment that I’d been transported into Kiev.
As I stopped to take a photo a man came over to me. “Know where she was built?” he asked in that Geordie accent I love so much. “I’m sure you’re going to tell me” I quipped. Then it was ‘Where are you from?’ That’s a complicated question and depending on the circumstances I can give a one word answer or several paragraphs. “What do you think of Newcastle? Is it what you expected? ” He was 54, born and raised in the city. I fully expected him to offer to give me a personalised guided tour of his home town but ‘I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.’
what did I discover in the Discovery Museum?
The new castle was originally built of timber in 1080 by Robert
Curthose, son of William the Conqueror and rebuilt in stone between
1168 and 1178
The old castle was
a small Roman settlement and bridge built on Hadrian’s Wall around
the year 200
3. In the 1600s a ‘Newcastle Coat’ or ‘drunken cloak’ was given as a punishment to drunkards in the city. They had to walk the streets wearing the barrel for everyone to stare and laugh at.
Eldon Square was the biggest indoor shopping centre in Europe when it
opened in 1976.
5. There was a large ship the Turbinia was the first turbine-powered steamship. Built as an experimental vessel in 1894, she was easily the fastest ship in the world at that time.
I wandered through Life’s courtyard – a vast science centre opened in 1998 which houses both a science museum and ground-breaking research into regenerative medicine and genetics.
It also incorporates a cafe and two bars but its the colourful construction of the building itself that stopped me in my tracks, beckoned me into its shade for an iced coffee, before heading down to Quayside.
I’d caught a glimpse of a plinth in a beer garden from the top of the double decker bus and I thought I’d go and check it out. It was now passeggiata time and a cool beer sounded just the thing. In the garden every table was occupied and when I walked over to read the words on the plinth it was obvious from the looks I got that I have very much a minority interest – which suites me just fine. I was totally taken aback by what I read. The plinth is the centenary memorial, 1891, to John Wesley and read ‘Near this spot John Wesley preached his first sermon in Newcastle on Tyne, Sunday May 30th, 1742.
This founder of Methodism, who preached in Heptonstall, and, according to some sources actually stayed in Lily Hall, home of my ancestors in that village, would surely have turned over in his grave to see his memorial taking centre stage in a beer garden!
Continuing along the waterfront I passed deckchairs festooned with plastic flowers and then a sculpture of what I took to me an anti slavery piece but in fact it takes its
inspiration from a strongman and fire-eater who regularly performed here on the Quayside – the chain is another reference to his act – and the statue was intended to breathe fire. Unfortunately but understandably, the cost of safely maintaining a gas flame ‘was prohibitive.’ Next to come into view was the Blacksmith’s Needle. It was made by the British Artist Blacksmiths Association, with its constituent parts made at different forges around the country. The sculpture was unveiled in May 1997 by the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who rang a bell, which hangs inside the needle.
Oh my. I didn’t know that connection when I was there, and I couldn’t find an explanation of the piece, but I did see some music notation on it and took a close up photo. When my daughter was working in Santa Cruz she served breakfast to Evelyn Glennie when she was in town participating in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.
I’d passed only one waterfront restaurant which had empty outdoor tables and I’d checked out the menu. It looked tempting so I retraced my steps and approached the maitre d’. “Table for one?” I inquired. “Sorry, we’re fully booked” came the reply couched in a beautiful Italian accent. I gestured to the dozen or so empty tables. “Really?” “Sorry, Madam.” “Oh, can’t you just fit me in. It’s just me and I won’t take up the table for long.” I turned on the charm. “With your lovely blue eyes how can I refuse your request?” came the smiling response and in no time I was sitting at a small table on a raised bank with a perfect view of the other diners, the evening strollers and the 7 bridges across the Tyne. Not being a foodie the name of the restaurant meant nothing to me. In fact Gino d’Acampo is a three Michelin star chef with seven series of Gino’s Italian Escapes on ITV with a cookbook for each series. He’s a regular presenter on TV cookery shows and panel shows and was crowned King of the Jungle in the ninth series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.Along the way in 1998 he broke into Paul Young’s apartment and stole guitars worth over £4000.
My table was adjacent to 2 others on which two men were also eating alone. I’m very conscious of going into pubs and restaurants by myself and can have great fun seeing what reaction I get. I set up a conversation with one of the guys, who was staying in the hotel, travelling for business. “Oh, I didn’t realise this is part of a hotel.” Apparently it’s called Innside. Its publicity states ‘Explore Newcastle’s most exciting new hotel, perfect for business and leisure. Indulge in art, music and culture with spectacular views of the Tyne and its bridges.’ Obviously I must have good taste. The hotel guest grew up in Newcastle and we discussed how the city has changed in the last 30 years. He’d stayed at The White Lion in Hebden Bridge just two weeks ago! So wrapped up was I in the conversation that I ordered a crème brulee and a second beer and eventually I settled back to watch the sky and river take on it ‘pink time’ colours as I listened to The Five Bridges Suite after chatting to Sarah and giving Daphne a glimpse of my spectacular view. “
Fantasia 1st Bridge” “2nd Bridge”
“Chorale 3rd Bridge”
“High Level Fugue 4th Bridge”
“Finale 5th Bridge”
The work was commissioned for the Newcastle Arts Festival and premiered with a full orchestra conducted by Joseph Eger on 10 October 1969. Written by front man Keith Emerson who left The Nice to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Keith was born in Todmorden, the next town along the Calder Valley from Hebden Bridge, after his family had been evacuated there in the Second World War. Although I knew the music of the album inside out I’d never paid any attention to the words. Now I wanted to read them and hear them because I’d seen the bridges, Northumberland street, Grey Street and St James’s Park.
FIRST BRIDGE (Instrumental) SECOND BRIDGE Five bridges cross the Tyne And the city sits close by For some go north and some go south But each one seems to cry There’s no good complaining ’bout dirty air ‘cos there’s nothing much else to breathe And it’s no good shouting from nine to five if you haven’t got the guts to leave You do not want to leave Then you make yourself believe You’ve got something up your sleeve
Won’t you take a walk with me down to the Jesmond Dene Very Green
THIRD BRIDGE Take me to Northumberland Street Where Northumberland people test their feet On a pavement On a crowded afternoon And no one wants to change this But I bet they’ll do quite soon
Take me to the new town hall With the light show on the wall In the evening All crimson, green and blue* Has your mother ever noticed? Perhaps she will quite soon
Take me to St James’s Park Where St James’s people park their feet On a Saturday United there they stand Now everybody’s dad’s there** With a bottle in his hand
Take me down to Grey Street Where no great people ever meet On Grey Street It’s all too very calm I don’t suppose you’ve been there That don’t change the rule
A brief taxi ride got me back to the hotel where I listened to Side two of the album – Emerson’s arrangements of Sibelius, Beethoven, Bach and Dylan.
Today I was the castle’s first visitor, climbing up the stairs to the Black Gate precisely as the cathedral clock struck 10. I had presumed that it was given its dark name after its colour, blackened by industrial grime. But no. It was named after Patrick Black who became Prince Charles’s tailor in 1613. When Charles became king Patrick was sent to France with £1000 to buy material for the coronation robes. A replica of the famous painting of King Charles in his regalia shows a very dandified-looking man clothed in black robes, white satin and lots and lots of ermine and the biggest bows on his shoes you ever did see.
Another plaque was, surprisingly, a photo of ukulele playing George Formby who made his first public appearance in Newcastle in a pantomime. He became famous during the 1930s and 1940s and was a great favourite with my parents. I remember the ‘When I’m cleaning windows’ song being sung in our house. The rest of what’s left of the castle is on the other side of the railway tracks. The castle had been reused as a fortress during the Civil War but pubs and taverns and many of the city’s cobblers made their residence inside the curtain walls of the castle.
Before long, it housed a series of tightly packed slum houses known as the Castle Garth which remained and when George Stephenson was constructing his railway bridge in 1847 many people wanted to demolish all evidence of the castle but a group of historians fought for its retention and the railway had to rebuilt around the castle. I rather enjoyed looking from a window from which arrows would have been launched and seeing the sleek body of an Avanti train edging its way along the track like some giant millipede overlooked by a giant stick insect, commonly known as a crane!
So off I trotted under the railway viaduct where the outline of the Roman fort is preserved in the cobbles and climbed the stairs into the castle keep. The thing that drew my attention was the amazing vaulting with its decoration. Richard l spent a winter here in 1292, sitting in the 43 ft high Great Hall. There was a splendid chapel too, and a cellar with its own fresh water supply, which was later used as a prison.
One notable prisoner was Mary Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce from 1310-1314. Ha! The first school I taught at in Bedford was called Robert the Bruce Middle School. The flooring of some of the passages was very uneven and with little daylight I had to be very careful where I placed my feet.
I climbed the stairs all the way to the top of the Keep. At one point a sign read ‘only 99 more stairs to the best view in Newcastle.’
Emerging into the top of the tower I came face to face with two knights in shining armour. Actually their armour was a little rusty, but they didn’t mind. They were too busy concentrating on getting the necessary trajectory to be able to hit the train below.
enough of this excitement. I needed to cool down before
my next adventure and
found the perfect spot at a Greek cafe with outdoor tables shaded by
large umbrellas – the perfect choice for my elevenses. And then it
was on to Durham.
The express X21 takes an hour to reach Durham, a place I’d not been back to since doing my postgrad studies there, though I’ve passed through on the train which gives a wonderful view of the cathedral and castle on the skyline. I could have made this journey by train in a quarter of the time but the bus travels through the villages where I can see the local pubs, little grocery stores, pretty, or not no pretty, churches and see more of people’s day to day life in the centre of their communities. I passed through Chester-le-Street, which I’d heard of and Pity Me, which I hadn’t. Of the many entomologies I found the one I prefer is the story that the coffin of St Cuthbert was dropped near Pity Me on the way to Durham, at which point the saint implored the monks carrying him to take pity on him and be more careful. The bus dropped me off across the river from the hill on which the castle and cathedral stand sentinel to the religious and political vagaries of the centuries.
The town was packed with tourists. Unfortunately I’d missed the boat – literally.
The last one hour boat trip of the day along the River Wear had already departed so I wound my way ever upwards towards the cathedral. I recognised some of the street names but little else. But apart from a dozen or so photos, mostly of views of the river and cathedral in deep snow, and one of me and one of Colin outside my dorm at St Mary’s college I have little mementoes of my nine months there. Today the cathedral was my first destination and I remember having afternoon tea there occasionally but I think that was in a building on the cathedral green back in the day. I also have a recollection of walking close to some ancient tall buildings at dusk and being bombarded by bats.
As I entered the cathedral I just couldn’t believe how vast it was. I mean I was totally blown away by its size. Both St Cuthbert and St Bede are buried here and a few modern sculptures and new stained glass windows have taken up residence in the last 40 years. One thing that particularly drew my attention were with thin, tall black marble columns covered in fossils that were supporting the vaulting. I asked a ‘Welcomer’ if she knew what the fossils were. She didn’t but she told me how much she relished the question. “Most people just ask me where the toilets are,” she laughed. But not being able to give me any answer she referred me to Norman, the chief archaeologist who was working on an ancient door. Apparently it’s a fossil coral and was extracted from the bedrock of the River Wear further upstream.
He also directed me to a large circular stone in the centre of the cloisters telling me about the crinoids visible there. The cafe is now in the cloisters and I sat there in the shade, relishing my mackerel salad with a world class view. I thought of how much it reminded me of the cloisters on Iona. The cloister garth was used extensively as a filming location for the Harry Potter movies. In fact, Durham cathedral was Hogwarts.
Next I went to take a peek at the monks’ dormitory with its original 15th oak beamed roof. Another Welcomer greeted me and we were astonished to find that we’d both been on the same PGCE course at Durham in the same year, though we didn’t know each other. He’d done his teaching practice in Hartlepool and when I mentioned that I’d done mine in Easington Lane he immediately grasped the difficulties I must have had with the Elemore pit, the lifeblood of the community, closing down that same year creating mass unemployment in the town.
He told me that when were students at the uni there were 7,000 students. Now there are 40,000 – that’s more than Newcastle which has 35,000. That’s hard to comprehend, especially when the town was so packed today and all the students were not in college. There’s also a Japanese College on the same site as St Mary’s. And when we talked about the recent changes in Newcastle he mentioned the influx of people from Japan who came over to work in the car industry. The Nissan factory was built in Sunderland in 1984. Just as I turned to leave this magnificent room it hit me that my parents had visited this place, before I came to Durham I think. And for the strangest reason I seem to remember them actually staying in this room. (Later at home, rooting through some journals I found a reference to my parents visiting 8 years before I went there on one of their road trips).
I walked past the castle which has been the home of one of the University College since 1837 and waited for the bus back to Newcastle and rather than wait an extra half hour for the express bus I took the stopping bus, simply because I was so uncomfortable waiting in the hot sun. The journey back was a nightmare taking one and a half hours in which I totally melted!
It was straight back to the hotel to bask in a cool bath (not big enough to lie in) and I came out feeling somewhat refreshed. The next big challenge was what to do for supper. Gino’s was fully booked and I fancied Thai food because I’d noticed a Thai restaurant in Durham but it was too early for dinner just then. I checked online and found a Thai Takeout just across the road from my hotel. I called them to make sure it was open and considered getting a takeaway but I thought I’d go over and check to see if it had any outside dining area.
The row of shops where I thought it should be all looked as though they’d seen better days and several were permanently closed but even though I walked up and down the row twice I couldn’t find the Thai place. On the corner was a pub and I asked a couple sitting at an outside table if they knew of it. No, they didn’t and they were locals. So I called the place again. “We’re a click and collect only and our door is round the back of the shops. I’ll come and get you.” And within 2 minutes the man appeared and steered me round to the back of the building where a rather dubious looking door led into a room, but I wasn’t allowed in. He brought me a menu outside and I ordered and he told me it would be ready in 10 minutes.
I wandered back round to the front of the pub feeling somewhat uneasy in this back street. True to his word within 10 minutes a text appeared on my phone. My food was all ready to collect. Quite an adventure. I took it back to my room and tucked into my lovely dinner while watching a film about the life and career of Marin Alsop, the famous conductor who had been the director of the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz and so I’d spent many hours watching her rehearse and conduct the orchestra, give conducting masterclasses as I review her work for various papers and magazines.
It was delightful to have a little bit of Santa Cruz with me in Newcastle. This was followed by Episode 1 of the new series of Shetland, which was the series that led me to go on a vacation to the Orkney and Shetland Isles in 2017 before I moved back to live in England. I love the scenery but find the plot line often difficult to follow. I need subtitles for Douglas Henshaw’s accent!
I’m sitting at a table outside The Baltic, drinking free tea. I need to move every so often to stay in the shade. To my left is The Sage, landmark venue for music and concerts, home of the Northern Sinfonia and closed for the whole of my stay here. For some reason its curving steel roof reminds me of a snail, or possibly a shell-less slug with its creased body as it manoeuvres. It rises from the river bank on a grassy hill and there’s a lot of construction in progress to its rear. I’ve been considering coming to Gateshead to a concert here sometime, and staying the night. Now I know the lie of the land I’m much more inclined to actually do it. There’s even a Jury’s Inn just next door.
It was another ridiculously hot day and I had purchased my yoghurt from the station and headed off to the castle to eat my breakfast picnic outside the Black Gate of the castle just like yesterday.
Then I set off to cross the High Level Bridge on foot, having been across its lower deck on the bus. I was immediately set upon by seagulls but the few locals walking over the bridge in business suits hardly noticed them.
Actually they are kittiwakes, something that I was learn from a notice on the viewing platform at The Baltic. When the reconstruction of the flour mill into a wonderful arts centre was under way in 1998 a temporary tower was built to house the displaced kittiwakes. Newcastle has the UK’s highest population of inland ‘seagulls.’ The High Level bridge was the world’s first combined road and rail bridge and was opened in 1849. The trains run along the upper deck so during my traverse a deafening rumble pierced the gentle sound of the morning road traffic inches away from me, from time to time.
There was less graffiti than I expected and to walk between the giant girders and ancient street lights was quite an experience. I paused for a moment half way across to look out at the swing bridge and the Tyne bridge. A boat was approaching the swing bridge and I hoped it would necessitate its ‘swinging’ but it was able to pass beneath the red and white span.
Actually they are kittiwakes, something that I was learn from a notice on the viewing platform at The Baltic. When the reconstruction of the flour mill into a wonderful arts centre was under way in 1998 a temporary tower was built to house the displaced kittiwakes. This is the UK’s highest population of inland ‘seagulls.’ The High Level bridge was the world’s first combined road and rail bridge and was opened in 1849. The trains run along the upper deck so during my traverse a deafening rumble pierced the gentle sound of the morning road traffic inches away from me, from time to time. There was less graffiti than I expected and to walk betweem the giant girders and ancient street lights was quite an experience. I paused for a moment half way across to look out at the swing bridge and the Tyne bridge. A boat was approaching the swing bridge and I hoped it would necessitate its ‘swinging’ but it was able to pass beneath the red and white span.
Back on dry land I found myself in Gateshead and I passed a stone violin commemorating the life of the world famous (not in my books) fiddle player, James Hill of Bottle Bank. Bottle bank was actually the name of the street cascading down to the Tyne and my great great great grandfather was named James Hill.
A blue plaque on a wall nearby told that Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders lived in Gateshead 1706-1710, in Hillgate where I was standing. In his lesser known book ‘Tour through the whole island of Great Britain’ he describes in great detail the lives and hardships faced by people living in the Calder Valley. In the the second of his journeys through the area, Defoe described the difficulties he experienced in coming down Blackstone Edge in a snow storm, during which he almost lost his life.
On arriving at the base of Blackstone Edge he then described the route along the still undulating valley with its houses interspersed throughout. He also gave one particularly gruesome account of the Halifax guillotine in use.
I walked past the entire length of The Sage with its reflective windows and then on to the old flour mill. It opened as a flour mill in 1950, employing around 300 people. The building is 138ft tall with a wing span of 79 ft and the building still contains the grain hoppers which run almost the height of the entire building.
It closed in 1981 and it wasn’t until 1994 that it was converted into an arts centre after an international architecture competition. Its six storeys high and each storey has immensely high ceilings. All the exhibits are contemporary and related to climate change and women’s role in society throughout the world. Some knitted lampshades and giant fabric banner of mythical beasts in particular caught my eye. The lift ran along the outside of the building and was glass.
It took me a few attempts to be able to look out as I ascended to take a look at the 6th floor restaurant. This must be one of the best locations to have a meal in the area since its all glass, but today it was absolutely stifling and only one table was occupied. So I settled for a seat in the ever diminishing shade in the forecourt and enjoyed the free tea and a croissant. I asked the barista if this was the only museum in the world to offer free tea with as many refills as required but she didn’t know. “I know people from other countries are always surprised that the gallery is free,” she told me. Like the rest of the places I visited the centre was mostly being viewed by grandparents taking out their grandchildren during the school holidays and I find that difficult to accept that I’m so far away from my children and grand daughter. I went back inside the building to continue my exploration noticing a plaque commemorating the honorary patrons of the building who include Bryan Ferry, Sting, Yoko Ono, Melvyn Bragg and Antony Gormley. In the children’s discovery room I found a wall covered in something like aluminium foil which produced wonderful reflections. I took an obligatory selfie and posted it on Facebook with the title ‘Melting in The Baltic.’ A friend took me seriously and asked if I’d had a nice time on my cruise! Another quote I saw in the foyer was ‘A Gentle reminder to look longer, think deeper and take the long way home.’ I think this reinforces the sentiment of the Alice Steinbach book and also’Away and Aware – a field guide to mindful travel’ that Anna sent to me last week.
With that in mind I took the ‘long way’ back towards my hotel, crossing the Millenium bridge and then climbing through the flights of stairs through treelined streets of old cottages juxtaposed with high rise offices above Quayside. It was while thus occupied that I came across All Saints church with its slim tall tower exuding a certain elegance.
A plaque outside told of its construction in the 18th century and that it is the only elliptical church building in England. Then it said that the church had been deconsecrated in 1961 and used as offices and a rehearsal studio for the Northern Sinfonia before they moved over the river into their present home at The Sage.In 2009-11 it suffered catastophic floods and was left in a state of total disrepair A group of people were having a picnic on the steps. “What is it now?” I asked. They looked at me as if I’d flown in from another planet. “A church – duh.” The door was open so in I went. Yes, indeed, so in I went, picking up a guide leaflet and admiring the round church with its beautiful woodwork. It’s now a Presbyterian church and is only open 3 hours a week, and I happened to have walked up its doors in this small time window. Sir John Betjeman, the former Poet Laureate, described it as one of the finest Georgian churches in the country. The plaster ceiling above the nave is more reminiscent of a stately home than a church. No pillars support the roof and a balcony runs around the entire circular body of the church. The whole interior is very light with large windows – from which there is a great view across the river. https://www.icysedgwick.com/all-saints/
I’d booked a table back at Gino’s for this evening’s meal and I took a new rout down to Quayside, down lots of flights of stairs leading down from the level of the High Bridge down to the waterside. I arrived at 6:15, 15 minutes early and asked to be seat outside. “Sorry. The outdoor tables are all booked,” I was told. You need to go inside and check in. Inside the restaurant it was not only packed by more importantly extremely noisy.
“I’d like to sit outside where I sat last night- table 503” I said to the maitre d’ making me sound like a regular customer. “No problemo. Just wait until I set up the table for you.” Ha! I had a lovely meal of jumbo prawns and spaghetti and at one point last night’s maitre d’ came over to my table to welcome me back. I guess it pays to be persistent.
I had an opened ended train ticket back to Hebden Bridge but once I know I’m leaving a place I like to get on the road – or in this case, the tracks – so I packed up and walked to the station, the temperature being expected to reach even greater heights in the course of the day. I thought of the photo of Sting in the very spot where I was standing.
I bought a few snacks for the journey and went in search of my platform. It was packed. I couldn’t even get onto the platform. It turned out that a previous train hadn’t yet shown up due to a problem on the line north of Newcastle (Where have I heard that before??) and then people had also arrived to board the next train. I went to sit on a quieter platform and people watch for a while. I then noticed that the train parked on my new platform showed ‘Darlington’ as its destination. Or was it? Perhaps it was to pass through Darlington on its way to Leeds, my destination. No destinations or routes were showing on the overhead signs on the platform but eventually I found the train driver. Yes, we’re going to York but not until after two other trains leave. I had no problem with waiting if if meant a less crowded train. I was able to board and wait the half hour until it was due to leave. Meanwhile I could see the crowd on the other platform increasing in size by the minute.
The time came for us to depart. We sat. We sat. At last we were told that there was a problem with the train and the driver needed to turn off the engine – and the air conditioning – to fix the problem. Half an hour later we set off and had a nice trip to York, passing the White Horse at Kilburn, covering 1 ½ acres, cut into the rock and then covered with white limestone chips created in 1857 although who was responsible is disputed. I changed trains at York and having boarded the train an announcement told us that, after Leeds, the train would not be stopping in Bradford or Halifax. In fact, our next stop after Leeds would be Hebden Bridge. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was 2 o’clock as I walked across the park into town. The severity of the heat was apparent in the fact that the park was almost completely devoid of people apart from one man who seemed determined to offer himself up as a fried human being!