I’d been to Baitings reservoir a couple of times before, once with a hiking buddy, once with friends Jean and John when Anna came to stay but though I’d walked across the dam I hadn’t walked around the entire reservoir. So, bus up Cragg Vale on t’th’ tops and then a walk around the dam.
It only took ab out 45 minutes to walk around the reservoir, about the same time as walking round Lafayette reservoir so I decided to walk into the little town at the foot of the valley, Ripponden. This required passing through the ‘Dam Car Park.’
There’s a new series of Last Tango in Halifax airing at the mom ent and in last week’s episode there was a scene in which sheep were being herded across the old bridge in Ripponden. Perhaps that was what reminded me of the little town and brought me to it today. Rather than follow the main road down I headed off across to the other side of the Ryburn valley and followed Blue Ball Road.
I was enjoying the lovely Spring sunshine so I decided to extend my walk to Soyland, a tiny upland village which I haven’t been to before. My reason was that one of my ancestors kept a pub there. Just as I arrived at the village a man walking his dog came into view. “Are you local?” I asked. Yes, he was and so I asked him about the pub, the White Hart. He told me that there was once a pub in the village and he remembered it. “You’ll see a big stone flag attached to the wall by the front door. That used to be the urinal!” I thanked him for this interesting snippet of information and walked on. “Oh, by the way,” he called after me. “There’s a White Hart Fold” about a mile up from Ripponden on the Rochdale road. There used to be a pub there.” Sure enough just around the bend I found what must have been an former pub with the stone slab for the urinal! But whether this wasw, or was not The White Hart that one of my ancestors used to run I have not yet been able to ascertain. “License of the White Hart, Soyland, transferred from Mr.John Bell to Mr.Henry Redman of Heptonstall. License of the Black Bull, Heptonstall, transferred from Mr.Henry Redman to Mr.George Greenwood. (Halifax Courier, 12th May 1855)” This was the same man who had been the licensee of Handle Hall Inn, Calderbrook, Littleborough which I’d visited a couple of days ago.
The road eventually became very steep as it headed into Ripponden and I made a beeline for the Bridge Pub for some much needed refreshment. It was far less busy than usual and I sat at a table well removed from others, keeping my distance.
Strategies for dealing with the collapse of the world as I know it:
Go for a hike
Take pretty pictures
Find some connection with my ancestry
Do some research
Write a blog
Arthur Moss, one time owner of the Sportsman was related to me.
Arthur was born in Garden Square, Hebden Bridge, an area in the centre of town that no longer exists. He was one of 8 children born to Joseph Moss, a fustian cutter and in time Arthur entered the same business. The family lived for a time at Buttress Bottom, a collection of ramshackled dwellings. Milltown Memories describes it thus:
Most problematical of all was Buttress Brink, where occupants had to walk through a gloomy ground floor tunnel still lit by gas lamps, climb steep steps set into an almost vertical hillside, then cross bridges spanning the gaps between hillside and property. Needless to say the homes within boasted no modern amenities such as bathrooms and toilets; the kitchens, small and cramped, had only a single cold water tap over a stone sink.
By the time Arthur was 8 the family had moved just across the street to Royd Terrace. Arthur lived there until he married Mary Ann Sutcliffe at St John’s Halifax in 1893. 1895 sees Arthur and his new family, two children, in Mytholmroyd. 1904-1908 they were at 1 Bottom Laithe, Mytholmroyd
Relationship to me!!!
Arthur Moss 1869-1927 1st cousin 1x removed of husband of 3rd cousin 2x removed
My Saturday plans had fallen through due to “social distancing” and so a friend had suggested a walk around Hollingworth Lake. However, the weather was a bit iffy – heavy clouds and intermittent rain, so we drove around the countryside, exploring no end of country lanes that petered out into footpaths or were barred, literally, by sturdy gates: a perfect Saturday afternoon in the countryside.
Out circuitous driving took us over the Pennines from Yorkshire into Lancashire. We spent some time in the Littleborough area where she had lived for a while, exploring the tiny hamlet of Whittaker with its lovely Heather Mount cottage.
I was surprised by the steepness of the single track lanes rising out of the valley, and several times we had to back a considerable distance in order to pass oncoming traffic. Another area new to me was Ealees. As we were driving around the Calderbrook area I suddenly recognised an ancient building on the roadside. It was built directly onto the road and was a long building adjoining a barn. It was named Handle Hall Inn, Calderbrook, although it’s now a private dwelling. Last year, as I was doing some ancestry research, I’d found an old photo of this place when it was still an inn, thanks to the Rochdale History Society Facebook page, and driving past it I’d recognised the building. We stopped so I could take a couple of photos but when I got home it took me a couple hours to find my family’s connection to the place. But what else was I to do on a Saturday night now that Match of the Day’s been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
We stopped to have lunch at Rebecca’s, a little cafe in the centre of Littleborough. I’ve walked along the canal through the town several times, and have stopped for a drink in The Wheatsheaf once while waiting for a train but I’ve never explored the little town, population 7500. It owes its origins to being at the junction of two ancient road over the Pennines, one being a Roman Road – Blackstone Edge. I have a very early memory of a drive out with my mum and dad along Blackstone Edge on a very foggy day. When they told me it was an old Roman Road I was quite scared because I expected to see a Roman centurion appearing out of the mist from the hillside. By the end of the Middle Ages Littleborough consisted of a church, a cluster of cottages and the primary occupation was hand loom weaving and sheep farming. Merchants passed through the town on their way to markets in Halifax and Rochdale. It’s interesting that the Wrigley part of my family, my gt gt gt gt grandfather, James Wrigley, moved from Rochdale to Heptonstall between 1809 and 1811. During the industrial revolution cotton became the major industry and mills, houses for the workers and mansions for the mill owners appeared both in the town and in the surrounding hills and hamlets. In 1804 the Rochdale Canal over the Pennines was finished, necessitating a tunnel over ‘Summit.’ The first time I walked the tow path of the canal over the summit, April 2018, I thought I was going to have to walk through a tunnel! Hollingworth Lake was built to provide a steady water supply for the canal. It was one of my mum’s favourite trips out after she moved to Tottington and she took my family there on one of our visits to England. In 1841 the Manchester and Leeds railway followed a similar route to the canal, and also necessitated a long summit tunnel. There is a ruined mill on the canal bank which always attracts my attention when I walk the tow path, and a beautiful old hall, still lived in is close by.
Henry was baptised at Heptonstall church on Christmas day, 1836. His parents were William and Mary. Along with Henry, who was born on Aug 12, 1806, his two siblings were also baptised, Richard, who had been born on April 16, 1809 and Elizabeth, who had been born on April 27, 1816. It wasn’t particularly unusual for several siblings to be baptised on the same day, but what is unusual was for them to be so old: Henry was 30 years old.
If I hadn’t seen a facsimile of the actual church record on Ancestry.com I wouldn’t have believed it! In fact it would seem that henry was already married before he was baptised since his children were Elizabeth (1834-1897-, John (1838-1881) and Sarah Ann (1841-1881). William was born 1843 and Hamlet in 1847.
In the 1841 census the family are living at Back Lane Heptonstall where Henry is a reed maker. A reed, in weaving terms, is rather like a comb and is used to push the weft yarn into place once the shuttle has pulled it through the warp threads on the loom. This would tie in nicely with Heptonstall being a village of handloom weavers at this time. Also living with them is Richard Redman, aged 25, a tin plate worker, someone who made or repaired tinware.
The 1851 census has the family living at, yes, Lily Hall, where Henry is still a reed maker, and now also a farmer of 7 acres. but by 1851 the Wrigleys, the Farrars and the Whithams, all ancestors of mine are no longer living at Lily Hall. In a newspaper of 1855 I found: License of the White Hart, Soyland, transferred from Mr.John Bell to Mr.Henry Redman of Heptonstall. License of the Black Bull, Heptonstall, transferred from Mr.Henry Redman to Mr.George Greenwood. (Halifax Courier, 12th May 1855).
This seems to imply that Henry gave up the Black Bull at Heptonstall and took over the White Hart in Soyland. On July 22, 1854 Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth had married George Greenwood, a painter from Heptonstall so it would appear that Henry signed the Black Bull over to his son-in-law, and he moved to Soyland. Both pubs are now private residences. The White Hart closed in the 1990s. The Black Bull closed in the 1920s though it was used as a working men’s club until 1972.
The next time I find Henry is as the landlord of the Handle Hall inn in Calderbrook, Littleborough, the building I recognised on my drive yesterday. Apart from Elizabeth, who is now running the Black Bull, his wife and all his children remain with him. In the listed building register it is described thus: The rebuilding of a house of 1610, with the barn added in the 1840s, they are in stone with a stone-slate roof. The house has quoins and eaves, cornice, two storeys and three bays. There are two doorways with ogee-headed lintels and hood moulds and the windows are mullioned, those in the ground floor with hood moulds. Above a door is an inscribed and dated plaque. The barn to the right has a round-arch wagon entrance and round windows. I’d contacted a Facebook page about Rochdale pubs past and present in December of last year and I’d had 18 responses, one of which gave me a link to a study that Rochdale Local Studies group had done on the pub complete with photos, a map and general information. Someone even responded that their gt gt gt grandparents had kept the pub. Henry lists his occupation as farmer and innkeeper but by 1871 he is a retired farmer living at #4, Wilderness. this presented me with an interesting problem: Where is ‘Wilderness’? Again Facebook to the rescue: Wilderness was an area of Summit Littleborough around the Royal Oak (later The Huntsman Inn) on Todmorden Rd. Henry Redman was the licensee of The Queen Anne Inn between 1858 and 1861. OK the dates aren’t quite accurate but now I know where Wilderness is.
Another responder also goes on to say: Just had a look on Google Earth to see if any of the terraces at Summit have Wilderness on them but no luck. So it would appear that there are some terraces near the Summit which Henry and Ann lived in but 1881 find them in Maden’s Square, right in the centre of Littleborough. No doubt life at the summit was difficult for a couple now in their mid 70’s. Henry died in 1884 and was buried at Heptonstall church on March 10th.
I couple of weeks ago during a rehearsal of my chamber music group we happened to sight read through an arrangement of Ketelbey’s ‘In a Persian Market.’ This brought back memories of my childhood when my dad used to give me music for birthday and Christmas presents. The pieces were usually ones that he had grown up with, and one of them was ‘In a Persian Market.’ I’m pretty sure I still have the sheet music he gave me. When it was first published, in 1920, in a version for piano, it was advertised as an “educational novelty”. It had an orange and back cover and at one point there are words: A chorus of beggars sings: “Baksheesh! baksheesh Allah;” passers-by sing “Empshi” (“get away”). One of our group commented on how such words are now politically incorrect and ‘you certainly couldn’t sing that now where I live.’ On further conversation I ascertained that he lives in Keighley, a town close to Haworth, which I can get to easily by bus, over t’ tops, one of my favourite bus rides in fact. ‘Is there anything in particular i should see in the town?’ I asked. ‘Well, there’s Cliffe Castle about 15 minutes walk from the bus station.’
So here I am, on a beautiful sunny day, scatterings of snow clinging to the bases of the walls on the moors for their very existence. Dropping down into Keighley I decided to explore the town if I had time on my way back but for now I walked up the hill for 15 minutes, past a large park, and saw from the neat castellated wall that I must be close to the castle. I’d checked the opening hours, and the fact that it had a cafe and housed a museum, but apart from that I didn’t know anything about the place. I headed for the cafe, housed in a large conservatory, and settled down to look around me.
From this vantage point on the hill the grounds of the ‘castle’ were laid out with lake and fountains, winding pathways, and on the other hillside across the valley were the barren moors. At one time a series of conservatories connected this building to the main house but some have been removed. A winged dragon tops a roof of the main house while a tall turret looms over the rest of the house in a most imposing manner.
I explored the conservatories, one having a really wonderful collection of cacti and succulents, beautifully arranged, and, as aa feature I always remark upon, there are boards and comments set up to delight children – another example of the way in which British children are ‘educated’ for free. For yes, entrance to this entire complex is free!
In this case children (and adults!) are asked to find 6 hedgehogs that are hiding amongst the cacti. One of the glass houses now hosts a small collection of birds and rodents.
Then on to the main house. I was met by a helpful docent and given a map and off I went to explore. He suggested I start in a room containing a timeline. It also acted as the lunch room for visiting school parties, one of which had deposited their backpacks there as they went on tour.
Cliffe Hall was built by Christopher Netherwood between 1828 and 1833, and designed by George Webster of Kendal a gothic revivalist. The Butterfields, a textile manufacturing family, bought Cliffe Hall in 1848. Henry Isaac Butterfield transformed the building by adding towers, a ballroom and conservatories from 1875 to 1880, and renamed it Cliffe Castle in 1878. He decorated the building with the griffin motif, which he had adopted as a heraldic crest. Cliffe Castle was originally the home of Victorian millionaire and textile manufacturer, Henry Isaac Butterfield. Completed in the 1880s the building was funded by the Butterfield family’s industrial empire which included wool textile mills and a shipping business that took British goods to Europe, America and China.
The completed house was a showpiece of international art and French decoration. It was the scene of many glittering social events. Butterfield family connections included the Roosevelt’s of America and members of the court of Napoleon III. By 1887, the Cliffe Castle Estate had around 300 acres. The son of Henry Isaac Butterfield (1819–1910) was Sir Frederick William Louis Butterfield (1858–1943). In 1916, Sir Frederick became Major of Keighley and held that title until 1918 when he hosted a visit to the town by King George V and Queen Mary on 29 May of that year.
In the 1950s the Castle was bought by Sir Bracewell Smith, a local man who became Lord Mayor of London. Sir Bracewell used architect Sir Albert Richardson to turn Cliffe Castle’s gardens into a grand public park and remodelled the Castle to be a free museum for the people of the district.
The 4 living rooms contained a wealth of sumptuous statues, fabrics, furniture and painting, way beyond what I had anticipated. One room was designed as a music room with a Bluthner grand piano. When I left the house the helpful docent asked if I’d be interested in coming to a music performance there. I offered to give a performance and gave him my card!
Part of the house is a museum. In recent years Cliffe Castle has undergone a major restoration. Visitors can see sparkling Victorian rooms and furniture, paintings, and decorative art. Special galleries deal with natural history, archaeology and social history, all of which can be seen on your visit along with the internationally important display of stained glass by Morris and Co.
The Airedale Gallery explores the fascinating geology of the district from the birth of Earth through to the formation of the underlying rocks that define the district and on to the shaping of the landscape during the last Ice Age. The gallery explores the Carboniferous Coal Measures and Millstone Grit that are famous for fuelling the Industrial Revolution that led to the birth of industrial towns & cities like Keighley, Bradford & Leeds. Throughout the gallery the visitor can view a myriad of ancient fossils from the familiar ammonites and ichthyosaurs of the Jurassic to the internationally important holotype of the early tetrapod Pholiderpeton scutigerum.
Another section explores the geology of rocks and minerals where visitors can learn how to identify different minerals and rocks or just enjoy the colourful beauty of what has been described by the former head of the Geology Museum as ‘…probably the best, as regards the range and quality of its minerals and its design, outside the major national museums’. There’s a natural history section too!
After a couple of hours I was overloaded with information and headed back to the cafe, had lunch and then explored the grounds which were just coming into their major Spring displays with crocuses and daffodils on the banks. Getting back into the town I did a bit of wandering, finding a street of Victorian buildings glistening a warm gold in the late afternoon sunshine. The street reminded me of Harrogate – not two town normally uttered in the same breath. I also saw an imposing building with Keighley Cycling Club etched in stone, and a large building, home to Keighley library, the first public library in England. Amazing!
Then last night on Radio 4 I suddenly heard ‘Keighley’ and it turned out to be a documentary about this man: Asa Briggs, Baron Briggs was an English historian. He was a leading specialist on the Victorian era, and the foremost historian of broadcasting in Britain. Briggs achieved international recognition during his long and prolific career for examining various aspects of modern British history. Apparently he was one of the leaders who tried to preserve the Victorian buildings of Keighley during the 1960s when towns were stripped of their beautiful old buildings in an attempt to ‘modernise.’
Last weekend I stayed in – the whole weekend. Having been prevented from returning to my apartment because of storm Ciara I was going to take no chances with storm Dennis. As it turned out Dennis was a bit of a damp squib in the Calder Valley. Being confined to barracks doesn’t suit me well so I planned a number of activities for the following weekend.
Friday night saw me setting off into Leeds to see Opera North’s version of Britten’s Turn of the Screw. I’d searched for recommendation for good food close to the Grand Theatre and came up with Zaap – Thai Street food. It’s ages since I’ve had a good Thai meal so I was looking forward to this. So of course the first question was ‘What shall I wear?’ In the U.S. I loved top dress up for the opera. As a music critic I was able to go to the opera a lot and I always made it feel special by wearing something fun. Many times Sarah would be my Plus One and we had a great evening together.
It’s a rather different kettle of fish when I have to walk through the park to the station, wait for a train, then walk to the venue – and then everything in retrograde, usually catching the last train home. By mid afternoon flooding was again threatening Hebden Bridge so this time I set off with minimal overnight supplies, those ‘bare necessities’ in case I got stranded in Leeds. I could see some flooding on the main road – cars ploughing through huge puddles. I really did contemplate wearing my wellies – yes, to the opera! And by the time I was halfway across the park up to my ankles on the flooded footpath I was wishing I had worn them. As I booked my ticket I asked the clerk if he could guarantee that there’d be a train back late in the evening. He ‘believed so.’
Zaap turned out to be a very popular venue. In fact there were 15 people waiting outside to get in at the door. It was packed. I gave myself til 6:20 to get a seat and then go elsewhere, but the line moved quickly and by 6:15 I had a table, right by the window, and so I had a perfect view of people being sprayed by passing cars or having their umbrellas blown inside out. The food arrived quickly and was delicious – and didn’t cost and arm and a leg. The Thai theme was all around me. Posters, writing, lanterns – and some people were eating in converted tuk-tuks. I really enjoyed myself.
Then off to find the theatre which was literally just around the corner, but I still nearly got blown over just getting there. I had an excellent seat. The orchestra were sitting below but in front of the stage which gave me a good view. The lighting and set design were excellent and the voice of the boy that played Miles was ethereal. But the lack of super-titles prevented me following the subtleties of the plot, and at the intermission I heard many people say the same thing. Even when an opera is sung in English it’s very difficult to decipher the words.
At the end of the evening I took a cab back to the station and with less than one minute to spare jumped on the train and was back in my apartment exactly an hour after the show finished.
Another train to Leeds – this time early (well, early for me) on Saturday morning to a Meetup group event at the lovely Tiled Cafe in Leeds Art Gallery. This was a conversation meetup for introverts, where someone generated random conversation questions on an App. Seven people showed up and we spent two hours discussing about a dozen questions. Quite a novel way to spend a Saturday morning.
I’d passed The Light on my way to the gallery and decided to explore it on my way back to the station. I couldn’t tell from the outside if it was an office block or a shopping mall. It turned out to be a multi-use venue constructed of glass joining two older buildings. It houses restaurants, coffee bars, a great bagel place (a rarity in England ) and some medical offices! I grabbed a bagel and ate my lunch on the train going back to Hebden.
By 5 o’clock I was back on a train, this time going to Halifax where I was to meet a friend and go to the theatre. We had dinner in Salterhebble first and then drove over to Dean Clough mill, once the largest carpet factory in the world but which now houses restaurants, a theatre, art galleries, apartments and offices. It’s huge – almost like a town to itself. Although it’s fairly central in Halifax we were thrown into confusion by the road to it being closed to traffic. The Diversion sign said ‘Use Shroggs Road.’ That’s all very well if you know where Shroggs Road is! We didn’t but Google maps came to our rescue and we made it to the theatre with three minutes to spare.
The Viaduct Theatre is in the cellar of one of the factory buildings, with exposed stone walls, from which, even in the summer time, water slowly oozes. Blankets are provided for the audience. The play was Quality Street by J. M Barrie and I was fascinated to see this play that I’d never heard of being performed in Halifax, the home of Quality street toffees. A couple of years ago I’d taken a walking tour with David Glover to see the modest home of Mr and Mrs Mackintosh who invented the business. My great aunt, who had worked at Dean Clough factory always brought a tin of Quality Street toffees with her when we met at Christmas but I didn”t know that they were made in Halifax – and still are, right across from the station. Each character was dressed in an outfit the colour of one of the toffee flavours. There were some great hand puppets standing in for children and it was very funny.
Someone in my chamber music group was chatting about things to do in Keighley and I mentioned that I wanted to see a cross stitch exhibition in Towneley Hall in Burnley. I’d figured out that it would be fairly easy to get to by public transport but then someone else joined the conversation suggested we go together by car. I’d been keeping my fingers crossed that bad weather wouldn’t prevent us from going and Sunday morning dawned sunny with blue sky, something I haven’t seen in weeks. But minutes later it was raining cats and dogs – and that was the order of the day.
We set off at 12.30 and it only took 35 minutes , driving through Portsmouth, to the park in which the hall is situated. I’d vague memories of coming here with my mother-in-law and our children when we were on a holiday in England years ago. The hall dates from the 17th century and it is famous for its textile collection. The special exhibition I wanted to see was about cross stitch. I’ve been working on several cross stitch panels myself recently so I thought I might glean some new ideas from the show.
The cross stitch panels were highly creative and some of the descriptions were somewhat disparaging about the more traditional designs of pretty landscapes and animals. I’ve done my fair share of those, the last one being kits that I’d purchased in Oban in 2018. But soon after I’d finished those I happened to see some cross stitch fabric for sale by the metre in Huddersfield market.
I had the idea that I could paint my own design on the fabric and then stitch it. I tried this method but the paint bled too randomly, so then I drew my own design on graph paper and then made that. I’ve completed about 20 panels this way but I’m not yet sure how/if to combine them.
Beside the living rooms of the hall, the formals dining room, kitchens, grand living room there were all sorts of random items that had been collected by enterprising Victorian explorers and donated to the hall – including taxidermy animals, my favourite being a cat, curled up and asleep, and an Egpytian mummy case. The wealthy owners of the hall often sponsored archaeological digs and were given items that had been discovered.
After a pause for tea and scones, in the quintessential tea room, I took a brisk walk around the parkland with its views towards Pendle Hill. When I got home I found the holiday journal report of my family’s previous visit to the hall – in 1996.
The highlight of the evening was Episode one of the new series of Last Tango in Halifax. I was rather disappointed to see that the character played by Sarah Lancashire is no longer the headmistress of the same school as in the last series, because the school scenes were all filmed in my all high school – Bolton School.
Woke up to snow for the first time this year. By the looks of it there was a snow covering of several inches but it was now raining hard so I though the snow would have gone by the time I left at 10 ‘clock. But that was not to be and I found my way trudging through a very slippery mixture of snow and water. Even in the centre of Bradford there were great chunks of snow in the streets that had fallen from the roofs of buildings and bus shelters.
I was heading for a Heritage Tour of St George’s Hall, and if I had not already booked and paid I probably wouldn’t have ventured out. As it was 8 people showed up for the 90 minute tour and it was definitely well worth braving the weather. our guide was excellent and she brought the history fo this, the first civic building to be built in Bradford to life. Conceived in 1849 by Samuel Smith who wanted to help provide a better life for the worsted textile workers who spend their Saturday evenings getting drunk in the town he raise 16,000 pounds to build a place of entertainment. The classes were still segregated, each class of person having their own entrances and staircases. The well dressed families arrives it coaches on the elaborate one way system and sat, of course, in the ‘dress’ circle. The lower classes weren’t even provided with a bathroom. Over the next 150 or so years the building saw many changes, including a 10 million pound restoration recently. The Halle orchestra was one of the early groups that performed, and still does. It stood derelict for many years, major stagnant sewage problems beneath the building, but then it was turned into a cinema with a couple of man going out into the streets of Bradford to record everyday life with the hopes that the people in those early movies would come to watch themselves on the big screen. Subsequently it became a major venue for rock bands on tour. A couple of people on our tour had seen Queen there, a docent had met David Bowie after his performance and another man had watched Keith Emerson run up to the organ at the back of the stage and play the Bach Toccata and Fugue. Sadly the organ hasn’t been working since 2009 and would cost an astronomical amount to return to playing condition. It was fun to see the signed posters of many famous people who have performed there – including Charles Dickens who read from A Christmas Carol – with no mic. Sir Charles Halle said that the hall had the best acoustics in the whole of Europe.
I had lunch in cafe with its wonderful crazy roof before heading to Waterstones bookshop in ‘Little Germany.’ I needed to get back for my creative writing class. By the time I got back to Hebden Bridge all the snow had disappeared but the two possible venues for our class were both flooded so it had to be cancelled.
Another rainy day. Today heavy clouds cover the hilltops. I decide to take the bus to Todmorden. I need to return my library book and find another page turner and Hebden Bridge library is still closed from last week’s floods. I also need some more knitting wool. As I brave the waist high splashes of cars whizzing through the puddles at the bus stop I rethink my plan. I have less students today since it’s half term. Let’s play ‘see what comes.’ Some buses to Todmorden go on to Rochdale, others go to Burnley. Some just finish in Tod. I’ll go wherever the bus takes me!. The bus arrives – I’m on my way to Rochdale, over the Pennines and in to Lancashire. it’s the first time I’ve travelled along the main road since the floods and I get a perfect view of the devastation along the River Calder, where debris in the trees on the river banks show the height the river reached – at least 6 feet above the river in many places. The cricket pitch is just a muddy quagmire and so many riverside allotments are still sub merged. Houses display vast arrays of sandbags and furniture outside the front doors wait to be collected by the bin men.
The bus follows the canal to the Summit and I can see the tow path where I crossed the Pennines walking a couple of weeks ago. We drop down into Littleborough and then through the outskirts of Rochdale. It’s fascinating to know that one branch of my family moved from Rochdale to Hebden Bridge in the mid 1800s. I had no plan of what to do in Rochdale. The market closed down last year.
But as I arrived at the bus station I saw the tower of the Town Hall and recalled going to the lovely cafe there once when I was in England for a summer and thought I’d head in that direction. The severe wind made it impossible to use my umbrella but I soon arrived at the magnificent building and entered into the peace and tranquility of the clock tower cafe with its table cloths and chandeliers.
Only a couple of tables were in use when I arrived but by the time I left it was pretty full, most people having made reservations. One area of the cafe has lovely comfy sofas so after my coffee and toasted tea cake I made myself at home and worked on my current embroidery project, a cross stitch panel of some street art I saw in Paris, for half an hour.
This coming weekend I’m looking forward to going to an exhibition of cross stitching at Towneley Hall near Burnley. I browsed the leaflets on the tables and found a booklet entitled Dippy on Tour. Ah, yes. I recalled that the Natural History Museum’s world famous diplodocus dinosaur is visiting Rochdale, his only stop in North West England. Well, this is half term week so I knew that the exhibit would be full of kiddies but, what the heck, it was only 8 minutes walk away. So off I went. I found my way easily by following the hoards of children with parents in tow. Yes, the place, Number One, Riverside, was packed but I got such a great feeling to see so many families braving the weather to show their children some natural history. Dippy was truly enormous. There can’t be many spaces where he can be displayed because of his size! Around him there were dinosaur books, dinosaur colouring pages, dinosaur jigsaws. Next week a leading Lego artist will be constructing a giant lego dinosaur and the Halle orchestra are coming to play their most monsterish music. And what’s more, the whole exhibit is free!
I headed back to the bus station, paying my respects to Gracie Fields, a Rochdale native who had associations with the same church as my Rochdale family. I was fortunate to get a seat on the bus – standing room only. I got off at Todmorden, popped into the library, went to the wool shop and arrived back home in time to watch another episode of Tony Robinson’s Coast to Coast series. I hiked that in 1980 something! I must dig out those photos.
I woke up to rain. There was nothing gentle about it. It was
violent, each droplet drilling its way into the sodden earth with the force of
an unseen battering ram. But moments before I left to walk, Andante of course, to
the railway station the opening movement of the suite had worn itself out and
as the conductor raised his baton for the openings of the gentle pastorale the
clouds dispersed leaving the sun it all
its finery. The river, however, was still in an angry mood, a seething blanket
of rich brown water with a rumble of bass tremolos punctuated by violin
glissandi as twigs and branches raced underneath the bridge. The big puddle on
the edge of Holme field, always present after a heavy rain, was basking, yes,
radiating in its full glory. A family in wellies were wading through, enjoying
their puddle-stomping, but a couple, ill-clad for such Calderdale surprises,
had decided to take off their shoes and go for the bare footed approach. I
opted to edge around the water in the deep mud preferring muddy boots to soggy
socks for my day out with Van Gogh.
The station café was a hive of activity as busy bees
consumed their chosen nectar at tables, and lovers passed their Saturday
mornings whispering sweet nothings to their honeys. Did steamed up windows blur
the outlines of passing trains or did the ghost of an engine in full steam just
chug down the track?
On board the train was packed. Empty beer bottles and cans
outnumbered the coffee cups and water bottles even at this early hour. Across
the aisle from me 2 gold hobgoblins were doing battle with a can of Stella
Artois, a can of Carling and 2 bottles of water while 2 phones looked on in amusement and the glasses case acted as referee. Beside them 4
gentlemen of a certain age were dressed in their Saturday best: brown leather
shoes, fitted jeans, button down shirts and jackets – leather or linen. They
talked in a language foreign to me – words like ‘interconnectivity’ ‘accumulated
depreciation’ ‘differentiated target marketing’ fell like aleatoric fragments
in an atonal score. I shared my table with three orange-faced women wearing
shoes I’d barely be able to stand still in, let alone wobble, and certainly not
move in straight line in the cobbled streets of Calderdale. Heavy smears of
dark eyeliner and black eye brows drawn onto smooth brows peeked out from above
pink leather jackets adorned with shiny
jewelry which looked capable of being strong enough to tether a bull, while the
length and sharpness of their matching fingernails would have allowed them to
tear the bull apart with their bare hands. In the corridor between the coaches it was
standing room only but the residents there seemed to be have a jolly old time judging
from the sforzando outbursts of guffaws that seemed to increase in tempo in
sych with the speed of the train. Half a dozen young ladies were struggling to
inch their way along the aisle on their way to the toilet. To say they were
scantily clad would be exaggerating the extent of their wardrobe. Judging by
the looks they were receiving from the sitting passengers I was not the only
one to think that these girls must have left home in a hurry – in their underwear.
Two of them were trying to cover up as much exposed flesh as they could by
wrapping jackets round their posteriors but that was tricky since that meant
they couldn’t hide their chests with their arms at the same time. Something had
to give! Meanwhile we’d sped through Halifax, taken a quick look at Bradford
station before backing out, and had exchanged passengers at Leeds, so now it
was standing room only in the aisles too. A large man stood by me. He had a
large fully laden backpack, a laptop case over one shoulder and an enormous
carrier bag in one hand. As the train progressed, so did his trousers. Down and
down. By the time he got off – the
train, that is – his trouser belt was below his buttocks and his underwear was
following the downward trend exposing the white belly as . . .
the touselled heads of the rosebay willow herbs on the tracks bowed their demure heads, too shy to see what would be revealed next.
Just before reaching York the train pulled into the tiny station of Church Fenton. According to the 2011 census the population of this little village was 1392. It has a village shop, two pubs and an Indian restaurant in the former station building. A mass exodus from the train took place at this very spot. The orange ladies, the young ladies almost wearing clothes, the business men, the dad who’d been entertaining his two wellie-clad, superman sweat-shirted small boys with Quavers, rice crispie treats and Vimto, and the group Chinese students who had spent most of the journey lying prostrate, if such as thing is possible on a Northern Rail seat, covered in piles of coats, all got off in this middle-of-nowhere. I must have been gazing rather quizzically at this sudden departure of passengers because the man across from me offered ‘It’s the mint festival,’ by way of explanation. Immediately pictures from my former life in California came into my head: the Pacific Grove wildflower festival and the lovely begonia festival in Capitola For some reason I was finding great difficulty imagining these departing passengers drinking mint tea, sniffing mint soap, and carefully creating artistic displays of mint leaves, eager to be selected Best In Show. It wasn’t until I got home that I fully appreciated what I’d missed by staying on the train. Instead of immersing myself in the ‘incomparable universe of Vincent Van Gogh thanks to the most recent virtual projection technology’ I could have attended the Leeds End of Summer dance party and got absolutely immersed in torrential downpours throughout the day while listening to Patrick Topping, Gorgon City, Enzo Siragusa, Claptone and Richy Ahmed. Who?
I stop for a moment to gaze intently at the fluorescent pink of the Himalayan balsam plant that lines my path, adding a welcome burst of color to this rolling sea of green. Yes, this plant’s an invasive import and is considered a menace by many, and I actually know people that walk these very paths scything it down, violently uprooting its stems – but it’s a beautiful menace just like the rhododendron. I step closer and peer into the flower’s very being as it gazes back at me with its hidden jewels. Its elongated body is hat shaped and cavernous as if to shade and obscure its innermost secrets. Above me the tousled heads of thistles, once proudly purple, now bow their shriveled heads, now grey with age, bowing to the earth, where they soon will come to rest. Above them the mountain ash forecasts the onset of winter with polished berries, as eye catching as Hawthorne’s scarlet letter.
The insistent singing of Hebden Beck navigates my scattered thoughts back to my morning’s reading, Glyn Hughes’s The Rape of the Rose, in which he describes the throstle machine which spun the cotton onto cones. A couple of manufacturers actually built child size versions of these machines so that children as young as five could be employed. Yes, employed, but disfigured, lungs ruined, fingers severed and lives cut short by this work in the new manufactories. The machines were named after the song thrush whose song they recalled. Residents of Lily Hall had been throstle spinners and throstle doffers, so it’s yet another link with my ancestry.
Passing Dog Bottom I imagine packs of wild dogs rampaging the steeply sided river bank before every inch of the river was imprisoned by walls, whose outlines are now softened, sculpted by stitches of moss into weird and wonderful creations that glint in the morning’s sunlight where a break in the trees allows the morning’s sunlight to penetrate the secret recesses, a green blanket gently enfolding and softening the brutal sharpness of life in Foster Mill. I have ancestors who worked at Foster Mill. I have ancestors who lived at Dog Bottom too. Above me the cold, weeping stone spine of Heptonstall stands atop the ridge like a watchful sentry perched above the two valleys, leafy trees now hiding their dastardly deeds. I loved Hughes’s description of the people going home after work up the stone steps with their lanterns radiating from the glowing mill like a starfish. A rustling in the bushes to my right startles me for an instant, but I smile to myself and console with the thought that it’s just the ghost of a wild dog. Then “Pie or crumble?” comes an utterance, unexpected but unhindered by the beauty of the balsam or the sighing willow herbs’ fleecy down. It rose from the darkened cluster of trees beyond me. I froze – unsure of my response. But I was saved by a reply from behind me, where I’’d heard the rustling branches. “Jam.”
Thwarted. Today I missed the bus. Literally. Despite the cloudless sky and Indian summer temperature there’d be no walk along ’t’ tops for me this morning. So a change of plan was called for – a walk along’t’ bottoms. I got the bus into Tod intending to walk back along the tow-path. I alighted at Lidl’s and tried several streets to access the canal towpath. But, horror or horrors, the towpath is still closed. ‘No access, towpath closed’ read the sign. Thwarted again I found myself in a no man’s land of half ruined manufactories, spectres of the industrial revolution where broken off chimneys stand like sentinels over modern metal warehouses. A bike factory has pedaled its way into a derelict factory site. There’s even a wasp factory. No kidding.
The houses are still wedged tightly between these remnants of a bygone age and the streets are huddled together as if for protection from the grime and whirring of monster machines. Streets cower under the heavy burden of surrounding hills whose ancient mass weighs down onto the frailty of humanity. The houses here are snail shells where the sun never penetrates their exoskeleton, and from where the people venture out only to return quickly, recede, seek shelter and close the curtains on the outside world. Houses where the gentle, healing sunlight never penetrates, where Helios can never stroke his warming hand to soothe the savage breast, the bent and broken limbs of weavers, old before their time. Here where back to back houses with serried ranks of wheelie bins and bicycles cover their eight foot frontage there’s not enough room to swing a cat, and there are plenty of felines available, slinking around doorsteps that, once weekly proudly polished with donkey stones from the rag and bone man now rest, worn, grit ridden, cloudy with algae. One family have sought to bright things up a little! (see photo).
You take your life in your hands as you walk the back street in danger of being garroted by a dozen neon plastic washing lines perfectly positioned at neck height. Many of them display next week’s attire dancing in the breeze like a tormented ballerina on hot coals. I reach the last street, blinking for a moment as I emerge into the sunlight.
I find myself confronted with a tiny bridge over a small stream. As gaggle of geese shoo me over the bridge. From my elevated vantage point I look back at the back-to-back streets and think What a tip! In front of me, leaving the geese to waddle down to the water, a wooded pathway leads to a playground. A rotting piece of paper tacked to a notice board exhorts me to look out for Water figwort, Knapweed, and purple loosestrife. It’s only then I notice the name of the park: Tipside Park. For real? But of course. They don’t mince words in this neck of the woods!