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Fourth series, episode 12

All 144 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In the latest episode, there's a vision of a better world, old mills and child mortality, Grace Jones hula hooping, Sally Wainwright filming, the mental health crisis, a new and old folktale, a book and film recommended and a gathering of a clan.

Utopia in Hebden Bridge

At home the sun came out for a few days, and I thought I saw Utopia in Hebden Bridge. Next day it was gone. The vox pops, the weather, the betting scandals, the football and the Presidential debates were depressing, but if we can’t have Utopia, let's at least hope for a change this week.

How black was our valley?

At the White Lion, a visiting former Crown Street shop manager, an engaging and humorous Geordie, admitted he didn’t know the industrial history of Calder Valley. His time here was well after the Hippies moved into derelict and cheap properties in the 70s. By then opening up a lingerie shop, I remember the displays,  was no longer shocking.

So he couldn’t have realised how many redundant mill buildings were razed to the ground by owners greedy for insurance money when the local cloth trade died in the 1960s. Hebden Bridge had been changed into a tourist town.

So Chris, Hebden Bridge born and bred, paused from sipping his pint, and recalled making his first trip to Halifax with his granny back in the 1950s, when Beacon Hill was "treeless and pitch black." The visitor, County Durham born and bred, asked if that was damage from coal mining.
Well, coal did power the steam engines and furnaces and smoke rose from scores of mill and house chimneys after the war, although the local pits had long since disappeared.

To get a sense of the old town, visit the waiting room on Hebden Bridge Station. You’ll see a cluster of mills around the station and canal; mills which were kept running into the night by power generated from steam engines and the free energy of what Ted Hughes once called, "The hardest worked river in England."

Child mortality in the mills

At the Wednesday Writers Group in Todmorden, Theresa Sowerby told us she’d walked past the little cemetery in beautiful Luddenden Dean and was inspired to write a lament.

The Liverpool Orphans

Looking over a wall at a graveyard in Luddenden Dean
our walk is darkened. Stark stone with its seven names
of Liverpool orphans employed by I & I Calvert, Wainstalls.

Mary Ellen Clark aged 14 years – did you keep
your scouse accent, memory of the docks?
A robin for you, watching from the wall.

Alice Devitt aged 12 years – did they cut your hair short
to keep it from tangling in the looms?
Take the call of a ewe to her lamb.

Elizabeth Edwards aged 17 years.
Did you imagine another life? Courting? Dancing?
The warmth of a candle to nurse your dreams.

Jane Johnson aged 12 years – have you a place, Jane,
where your mother still holds you. How cold this hillside.
May the stars at least light you tonight.

Sarah Shaw, died May 17th 1882 aged 15 years – spring
in the fields around, life renewing itself and you dying.
Hawthorn blossom to hold your hope.

Marie Emery, died January 27th 1895 aged 15 years – Marie,
a Catholic name? Did you leave your faith in Liverpool?
Perhaps you were glad to. A first snowdrop for you.

Annie Lockhart died March 7th 1895 aged 16 years – earth
warming slowly, dreaming new life and yours cut short.
Take this wind-blown daffodil.

Brought from Brownlow Workhouse, did you breathe
our clear air or were you frightened? The lint would soon lodge
in your lungs, fever consume you.

Amazing Grace

Neighbour Nicola and friends went to see Grace Jones at the Piece Hall. I’m told she managed to sing whilst hula hooping with a metal hoop for ten minutes, despite being in her 80s. Jude had told me that he would have liked to have been there, but he can’t cope with crowds these days.

Back in the 80s, fronting the Holroyd Brothers at a West Vale mill venue, I donned an Alone with a Strand mac and trilby, opened a copy of The Star (headlined Elvis Found on the Moon) and delivered Grace’s song with the repeat refrain, "Your private life drama baby, leave me out," which got a good reception, although I wasn’t simultaneously spinning a hula hoop at the time.

The Devil’s Bridge

Hebden Bridge artist Abi posted a photo of her swimming in the River Lune near the three arched Devil’s Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale.  There’s a well-known folktale connected with that ancient bridge. A woman lived on a farm by the side of the Lune and one night her cow strayed across the river and could not be coaxed back.

The devil appeared to her, offering to build a bridge in exchange for the soul of the first body to cross it. He made the bridge and left his handprint on a wet stone to prove his ownership. However,  when the bridge was completed, the old woman threw a piece of bread across its three spans and her dog ran across to eat it, thus becoming the first soul to cross the bridge. So the devil was tricked out of his prize. But I always wonder, whatever became of his dog?

Versions of this tale are told all over England, Wales and the continent. So it’s about time we had one.

The Devil’s Aqueduct

When the rich merchants who paid for the Rochdale Canal came to Hebden Bridge, they’d run out of funds to make a new aqueduct over the River Calder. Fortunately, they were on friendly terms with the Devil, and he offered to build an aqueduct, if the merchants allowed him to own the souls of the first two humans who crossed it. This secret contract was kept from a couple of bargees who walked across the new construction, whereupon old Nick clapped his hands and politely informed them that their souls were now in his possession.

Well, they looked suitably annoyed on receiving this news. So, to cheer them up,  he said he would give them back their youth and vigour, if they became his apprentices. He told them they were lucky, heaven was a boring place, where nothing really happens – not even guilt free sex. Instead of which they could live forever, or at least until the Earth itself is burnt to a crisp, during which time he would generously allow them to have three fun filled frolics.

Old Nick explained their tasks. Being the devil, he naturally loved to frighten people out of their wits.  So, at  Halloween, Peter would join in with the devil’s imps, sprites, goblins and undead souls, and report their ghostly tales back to him.  If Peter’s tales were entertaining enough he’d keep him on.

As for Rita, he told her she was fortunate indeed, for he liked humour almost as much as loved devilry. Each year on April fool’s day, or thereabouts, she must be his Miss Mischief and whisper ridiculous and bizarre fashion ideas into the ears of designers who come up with the new fashions for the summer season.

Then Old Nick pushed Peter and Rita into the newly excavated Black Pit Lock, where they instantly drowned, but immediately came back to life again! Peter, was aghast to find himself reincarnated as a stone head with a deadpan expression on the side of the new aqueduct, whilst Rita became a siren in the whirlpool where the Calder and Hebden Rivers meet.

Since when it’s said, that if you say, "Hello Pete," to Peter’s stone head on the Hebden Bridge aqueduct, in the dark months of the year, you’ll be inspired to tell a riveting and horrifying tale at the famous Shaggy Dog Storytellers gathering in The Stubbing Wharf pub.

Whilst, in Spring, when wanton youths try on their latest street cred fashions, they’d be surprised to learn that it was Rita who whispered freakish ideas into the ears of famous designers. Sometimes she cut out the fashion houses and got down and dirty into the minds of the kids themselves. In the 1990s, it was Rita who convinced tough teenagers to throw away their belts and walk along  showing off their garishly patterned Y fronts above pants worn just below their bums.

As for that other item in their contract,  it's said that Rita and Peter have twice enjoyed their allotted ration of passion. The first time was at Beltane, when Rita summoned Peter with her siren song in midsummer 2012 and he dived into the swollen depths of the maelstrom. But whilst they were at it, the devil whipped up a great flood, which swept through the low lying cellars, shops and houses of Hebden  and Mytholmroyd.

Their second night of passion was at Christmas 2015, when hearing the revellers singing happily as they left the Trades Club, Peter’s eyes lit up on hearing his true love’s siren call. After their passionate coupling the devil conjured up an even more ferocious flood.  

Since when, the couple have stayed apart, although  Rita assuages her passion by swimming. She recently wiped out a whole slew of annoyingly amplified buskers near the medieval bridge in Hebden, and she regularly swims upstream to Lumb Falls at Hardcastle Crags, where her family of gorgeous sirens lure young men to their doom in the time honoured way.

As for Peter, he looks out stony faced from the Devil’s Aqueduct, knowing that if his passion is ever sated again, he will plunge from the throes of ecstasy, into a hell of everlasting torment, cursed by his beloved Rita who would share in his downfall, and by the way, cause the devil to flood once more the now made over and highly desired properties of the Calder Valley.

Thirty years on

On social media, local writer Ben Myers shared an old class photo. I asked if he’d ever been invited back to his Durham secondary school. He responded: I was actually. To make a graduation speech, which I declined. I said, "Sorry, I hated school but maybe try Matt Baker?' and was told, 'We already asked him before you and he said no as he hated school too."

Mental health crisis

Research funded by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership in 2020, in the USA concluded from longitudinal studies in England and Wales that homicides by patients with schizophrenia were exceedingly rare, without substance misuse and in receipt of planned care. "To prevent serious violence, mental health services should focus on drug and alcohol misuse, treatment adherence and maintaining contact with services."

Following a spate of killings by people suffering schizophrenia, The Sunday Times (25 May 2024) blamed the collapse of mental health care in the last four years. Their reporters found a pattern of warnings from health care professionals preceding homicides. Patients who are sectioned are being allowed to stay in the community despite doctors saying they posed a risk to others or themselves. Mentally ill patients spent days in A&E or "are sent hundreds of miles away for a bed."

Worth watching

If you missed it at the Hebden Bridge Film Festival, Bye Bye Tiberius is now being shown in selected cinemas, starring Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas, who you will remember as the partner of Brian Cox in Succession. When war broke out in 1948 in the old British mandate of Palestine, our army told Palestinians living in Tiberius on the banks of The Sea of Galilee to evacuate. Hiam Abbas returns to her roots in the film directed by her daughter, Lina Soualem.

Women are revolting

Sally Wainwright is back in town filming Riot Girls, a comedy series featuring five menopausal women in a punk rock band, set in Hebden Bridge. In the Radio Times, she’s quoted as saying, "This is my personal homage to Rock Follies (1977) and the feisty little ladies who woke me up to what I wanted to do with my life when I was 13."

A good read

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi, (Profile Books, 2020) which I’ll return to, but it’s worth watching the renowned professor’s response to the present crisis in Gaza and his links to the tactics used by colonialists throughout history.

A gathering of the clan

My youngest niece brought my three sisters over from the Wirral for a meeting of the Murphys. In the White Lion at some point I mentioned Gavin and Stacey, and forgot why.

"See what I have to cope with,’ said PW, ‘He just goes off at a tangent." An hour later, I remembered what sparked my comment. It was the vivacity, spontaneity and slightly chaotic ambience of special occasions in parties at home or in pubs, especially when engendered by alcoholic beverages, which is deliriously captured in that series. Dollops of love are also a necessary ingredient. Thanks to all those friends, and the bar staff at the Lion, and to all those on social media who sent congratulations to our 36 year old.

And finally …

I performed for Kirklees U3A group a couple of months back, and the Chairman gave me a copy of a comic poem which explains the division of labour in local mills. Perhaps because his employer is the butt of his humour, the worker didn’t sign his name to the piece (but if you know its provenance – pass it on).

Trouble at t' Mill

There's a Town in't West Riding of Yorkshire
Whos fibrous muck earned it fame
Dealing in't Low Trade in Textiles
Perhaps you will soon guess it's name.

Joe Sykes owned a mill in this township
He were vulgar and crude and self-made
He'd amassed a respectable fortune
By dealing in this 'ere Low Trade.

One day Joe were passing thru t'warehouse
When a fault in a piece he espied
And he sent straight away for th'ead finisher
"there's a piece 'ere wi' stripes in" he cried

So they took the piece down into 't Finishing
And examined it over the PERCH
Then the Finisher said "not my problem
You'd best include t' Dyehouse in't search.

Any fool with half an eye open
Can see t' fault is plain to be seen,
It's yon great Calf y'ead, The Dyer
He's 'ad it in't pan wi' a Green!"

Joe sent straight away for the Dyer
Who examined the cloth, every inch
And gave his professional opinion
That it couldn'd have happened in't winch.

"If you look at the pattern o't damage
You can see that it's evenly-dyed
So you'd best look in t'Scouring dept
That's a Mill-rig about half-a-foot wide"

So Joe went down to see t' Miller
Who of strong soap and soda did stench
Who said "fault is too straight to be Mill-rigs
See t' Weaver, he'll be down at his bench!"

When Joe went into weaving department
He could hardly hear anything said
But he got from the chargehand that t'foreman
Was at lunch, at the Eagle and Spreads.

When t' Weaver returned after lunchtime
He were not in any mood to explain,
He said the stripes were no fault of his weavers,
Low-bulk-Ends were the Spinner's domain.

Joe rushed off to t'Spinning Department
He were sure that the culprit were fixed
But the Spinner said "Look at the Rovin,
It's in't Carding, they're up to their tricks"

When he confronted the Carder with t' problem
He found he had hit a brick-wall
"With the muck that I'm given to work with
I'm surprised you get yarn out at all!"

Joe thought about this for a moment
Last week he's had a lad sweep t'yard
He thowt it would be drawn out on t' card.
And the sweepings, Joe had thrown in the Hopper

So Joe went back to the boardroom
And confessed 'fault were his' to his son
Who explained in terms highly-technical
Meckin' cloth without WOL wasn't done!

So the panic was over for t'moment
A return to normality were made.
And this Town will continue to prosper
As long as there remains a Low Trade.

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