Looking forward, looking back…

Well, we’re halfway through January and it’s my first post of the new-ish year despite the resolution to write more regularly and the weekly alarm which I set but ignore!

We have much to look forward to this year with Granddaughter starting a new job shortly, having achieved her Master’s degree late last year, a family wedding and a new arrival to come in the summer, plus we want to entertain more now the house is usable again after a bit of work, and get out and about to catch up with friends and family at home and abroad. Let’s hope this year goes more to plan than recent years!

So, the looking back… Granddaughter came to stay for a couple of days last week and we were going through some old photos together. I noticed this one in passing and thought I’d give it the light of day.

In the mid-1980s after we married, our first holiday abroad was one we could barely afford, but we found a bargain buy in Tunisia where we stayed in a not-so-posh B&B down the road from a rather better equipped hotel with all the facilities (pools, restaurant, bars, etc) available to us, so we snapped it up. We enjoyed the country and went back a few times in following years. On this occasion it was just the two of us and as we pottered round town we saw signs offering flights at Hammamet Aerodrome, so decided to explore…

We should probably have taken warning from the fact the there was a sign on the gate made of grey sugar paper (remember doing posters on that at school?) with ‘Hammamet Aerodrome’ written in glue and glitter!

There were two microlights parked up, and a couple of pilots, a Frenchman (if I recall correctly) who looked suspiciously like a rugged ex-Foreign legionnaire from a novel, and a pleasant, younger Tunisian chap, were plying their trade. We scraped our dinars together and decided we could each do a flight round the bay and were duly strapped into our disturbingly Heath-Robinson contraptions.

Helmet on…

Stew went first with M. le Légionnaire and seemed to be away for ages. Eventually we saw them returning towards the dusty airfield and a safe if rather juddery landing on a slightly rutted surface.

My turn had come. I was almost going to duck out, and the young man was very careful to make sure whether I was happy to go, to be fair. I thought how jealous I’d be of Stew if I didn’t grit my teeth and go, and off we went.

If you look closely, the knuckles are white!

After the initial shock of seeing nothing much solid beneath my feet as I looked down over the Bay of Hammamet, I was entranced. We flew over a wreck site and the clear sea afforded a glorious view. We seemed to set off back in no time at all, and I was so busy looking round as we headed in to land (usually my nail-biting moment) that I was oblivious to a little drama that was playing out, and we landed safely on the rather basic runway.

After I’d thanked the pilot effusively, I said in a quiet aside to Stewart that I did feel a bit cheated as he’d had such a long flight and I’d only had 10 or 15 minutes; he gently pointed out that I had been aloft for the best part of 40 minutes – I’d been just so engrossed that it had shot by. Stewart also then enlightened me as to the mini-drama that had unfolded – all I had noticed was a bit of radio chatter… (Unfortunately either he’d run out of film to record it for posterity or was just too intrigued by proceedings to take any pictures!)

As our microlight approached the aerodrome, the sophisticated Hammamet Aerodrome Landing Control & Clearance System apparently came into play as follows. The pilot must have alerted the Chief on the radio to a donkey that had ambled on to the runway area, I assume in an over-optimistic and not very fruitful search for better grazing. The Chief then shouted to another man who was sitting comfortably half-asleep on a verandah with a small boy at his feet. The resting man jerked into action with a well-aimed kick to the boy’s posterior, galvanising the little lad into action. Said lad grabbed his little stick from the floor and ran onto the runway where, directed by barked commands and arm-semaphore instructions from Verandah Man, he herded the reluctant and unco-operative donkey with pokes and prods of the stick until the way was clear for us to land. I was extremely glad that I’d remained oblivious to all this action!

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Season of Remembrance

An anniversary post for this season of remembrance.

John Edgar Hardy was born to my great-great-grandparents, John, a fishmonger, and Mary Ann, in 1883 in Halifax, one of several siblings. They lived at 5 Briar Court. (I say ‘several’ rather vaguely as I know I have made rookie errors on this bit of my family tree journey, but I do know he had quite a slew of sisters known collectively in our bit of the family as ‘the Hardy aunts’, which makes them sound rather perennial!)

What I do know is as follows. He was baptised at St John’s in Halifax along with one of his sisters, Edith Worthington Hardy, in April 1886. His father died in 1888. In 1891 he and 6 sisters are living at 2 School Street with Mary Ann, who is listed as a charwoman.

Life can’t have been very easy then for Mary Ann, but she remarried in 1897, to Frederick William Cowper Turton, and we find John Edgar and three of his sisters still living with them at 3 St James’ St. in 1901, along with three boarders – quite a houseful! John is by then a printer’s apprentice. Fred is ‘van man’ for a baker and Mary Ann does not give an occupation – hence, perhaps, the three boarders.

By the April 1911 census, John Edgar is still single and now the only resident of no. 3 besides Frederick and Mary Ann. Frederick is still a driver but now for a fishmonger. John has progressed in the printing world to become a compositor employed by Joseph Ashworth & Sons, and a member of the Typographical Association. (Thanks to the Calderdale Companion.) He was also a member of the Rechabites, an abstinence group.

He had probably met Amy Hitchen by now as they married in Halifax during quarter 3 of 1911. She was living at 29 Wade Street with her father William, a widower, having lost her mother Sarah on Christmas Eve of the previous year. (Wade Street features quite a lot in our family records and memories but it would be pretty unrecognisable now to those who lived there over the years.)

Wedding couple1911.
My uncle’s find, I think, courtesy of Rene Macioce on Ancestry.

Their daughter Irene was born in February 1914, but the outbreak of WWI meant John Edgar was called up on 8th September 1916, and served as a Lance Corporal with the 13th Battalion Devonshire Regiment. He then transferred to the 174th Company Labour Corps.

Labour Corps insignia, rifle crossed with space and pickaxe topped with crown. Inscription Labor monia vincit. work conquerss all.
Bronze cap badge of Labour Corps.

In March 1917 he went over to France. John Edgar Hardy 104012 has a Hospital Admissions entry in August 1917: Pyrexia of unknown origin, trench fever, S (erious). The record also confirms he had been in the army 1 year with service in France 6 months.

He was seriously injured on 27th September 1918, suffering multiple gunshot wounds and was hospitalised in No.3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Doullens, where he died of pneumonia on 7th November 1918, aged 35. His photograph appears with a brief report of his death in the Halifax Courier [23rd November 1918]. He is also remembered in the Halifax Town Hall Books of Remembrance and on Amy’s parents’ memorial at Illingworth Moor. (See slideshow below.)

In memory of John Edgar Hardy and countless other victims of war.
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Tracks and traces

Just another inconsequential but somehow satisfying and serendipitous little find from my genealogy meanderings. You have been warned.

I was doing some transcription work for a family history society and while checking records in the 1939 register, came across Arthur Hinchcliffe, Professor of Singing, living at Montana, Savile Park Road, Halifax. This rang a bell, and sure enough, when I checked with a quick internet search, he had taught Walter Widdop, “the Yorkshire Tenor”.

A 17 March 1950 article in, of all things, the Motherwell Times, says my grandfather Clifford’s voice tutor had also coached Walter Widdop, well-known in his day as ‘The Yorkshire Tenor’. I think this tutor may well have been Arthur Hinchcliffe, who certainly taught Walter and I am sure I’ve heard that name before in connection with Clifford, so it’s quite nice to have picked this up .I was aware of a tenuous link with Walter Widdop and think this is probably it.

The review in the same paper of 31 March 1950 was pleasantly positive about Clifford’s Don José and noted Clifford being ‘superbly co-operative’ in the duet for one with ‘a voice of such dimensions’ so he seems to have been a generous performer.

Carmen Don Jose review from Motherwell Times 1950. Morton Clifford singing.

The only other operatic star connection in the family tales handed down is that my mum’s ‘claim to fame’ was that she once sang for Heddle Nash! My grandfather once brought Heddle Nash back to the house when he was in Halifax for a performance (I think Clifford was involved via the theatre at the time), and had Jean sing her ‘party pieces’ of the time to the ‘great man’. She was only a youngster then and by all accounts had a good, pretty well coloratura soprano (as opposed to the alto and lower of later years).

Sadly I have no recordings of either Clifford or my mother singing, but do have many a happy memory of family sing-songs round the piano.

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On the Brink

I was transcribing some school log information for a family history society and needed to check an address in Hebden Bridge. I hadn’t been sure if it was Brink or Bank but a quick search turned up Buttress Brink in this useful site (and source of the featured image, acknowledged with thanks).


Buttress Brink, was a warren of dwellings on different levels at the bottom of the Buttress, off Old Gate opposite the Hole-in-the-Wall Inn. Occupants had to walk through a gloomy ground floor tunnel lit by gas lamps, climb steps set into the steep 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”. Buttress Brink was demolished in 1967 as “unfit for human habitation”. (Based on an article in Milltown Memories No.1)

I read the description, which is quite graphic, but was brought up short to realise how late the demolition of these dwellings came – 1967, and that I can recall many of the features in the image, overall pinny, whitewashed walls, tin bath and all, from my 1950s/60s childhood in neighbouring Halifax and environs. (Of course, the question of what replaced these and the impact of the changes is another story.)

I think it’s the contrast that strikes me, in that when people envision the ‘Swinging 60s’, all those bright images of Carnaby Street, pop stars and mini-skirted Mary Quant wannabes seem to come to mind. I’ve always said we weren’t exactly overwhelmed with those in my childhood in West Yorkshire and this does rather reinforce a somewhat grimmer stereotype!

More seriously, the absence of sanitation and safety concers had been a major issue in Victorian times and there were some great campaigners for improvement; though much progress had been made, clearly it took longer than they probably envisaged.

Here’s a link to a couple of more recent shots of the Buttress area on the invaluabe Calderdale Companion site.

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Little Discoveries, Bigger Picture…

I dabble in genealogy and suddenly remembered tonight that Find My Past had offered free access to their newspaper archives over the long weekend. There wasn’t time left for any major research, so I contented myself with a slightly manic and unstructured search for a few close family members and dug out a few nice bits and pieces to flesh out the names on the family tree.

Searching for maternal granddad (who ran off with the opera!) threw up my lovely aunt’s birth announcement just in time for me to send it to her on her 80th birthday, which pleased me greatly.

I also added to the story of his touring the country with Carl Rosa and other companies, with a number of adverts and reviews. These were mostly for Lilac Time, in which he played Schubert (to good reviews) ‘Cav & Pag’, and a new one on me, the 1947 Follies. I am not sure if that is him or another singer/entertainer of the same name. A little more work needed… I was chuffed to find a couple of good reviews and one with a photograph – awful reproduction but still nice to see. I think he also sang as part of The Imperial Trio, and discovered him in amateur theatre in Halifax. I had a brief frisson of excitement when I found him singing oratorios around the chapel circuits with a Joan Hammond, but that was short-lived; ‘a’, not ‘the’ Joan Hammond!

I checked out great-granddad Marsden and found short accounts of his death and funeral in 1950; these provided the trivia that add up to help complete a picture of a person, including his 50+ years as a greengrocer, which I knew, and his membership of the Bowling Club, which I didn’t.

A great-aunt’s efforts on behalf of the chapel and missionary societies started early, I discovered from her Sunday School collected donation. I found various successes of mum and dad’s, from a grammar school scholarship for dad to RSA exams and Grade VII piano for my mum. I still have her Pitman teaching certificate – about the size of a duvet cover and impressively florid!

I found the online version of an article about dad’s appointment to the Colonial Service in Nigeria that sits as a cutting in an album with dad’s angry scribbled note ‘I didn’t say any of that stuff – the reporter must have read it somewhere and just stuck it in!’ ‘That stuff’ referred to a custom of teeth filing (presumably picked as suitably ‘exotic’) and attributed vaguely and inaccurately to the Houssa (sic) in Northern Nigeria. I also came across another paper’s very short version which despatched my dad summarily to Tanganyika along with the other Yorkshire candidate who actually was going there!

That’s all for now folks; you were warned that this is a very random blog!

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Domestic disruption

I’ve just decamped into our bedroom with a bag of electronics, a few bits of extraneous furniture, cardboard packing cases and bubble wrap hoping to get ahead, or slightly less behind, in the schedule of packing up rooms for the decorators (whilst also still trying to maintain some sensible Covid precautions for us and the decorator whose wife is undergoing treatment).

Labelling our life…

We’ve been living mostly upstairs for the past 3 days while decorators were working downstairs: so far, so straightforward. Day 4 sees the living room and dining rooms being finished but still out of use and now also two rooms upstairs are having ceilings de-Artexed and plastered (hurrah!), hence the bedroom retreat.

It’s a curious and slightly unnerving foretaste of downsizing, something we need to consider, or of life in one room in a care context – a less happy prospect. Among other lessons learned, juggling tray on lap while sitting in a dining chair is not to be recommended!

It also remains a mystery to me why, after months of decluttering and having worn a track to the tip and charity warehouse, we still have a houseful of ‘stuff’! Well, not exactly a mystery, as we both have wide-ranging interests and a tendency to collect for very differing reasons, but the rate of disposal vs fullness of house & garage does seem to defy the laws of physics.

The logistics are making me grateful for project management skills gained at work. The schedule is akin to one of those sliding puzzles pictures with just one empty slot which keeps moving. At least it’s keeping up the step count.

Unnerving but probably apt invocation of the Lord of the Underworld on the storage boxes!

Apologies for the banality of this, but in an effort to discipline myself to blog more regularly, I have set some reminders and thought I’d better not ignore the first one. So it is I find myself here on the phone, inviting you to share in the domestic disruptions of the disorganized! With carpet fitting to come too, there’s 3 weeks or so of this still to come, so all tips welcome!

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Not bad…

…for a lad from the back streets of Halifax who spent half his childhood (as did his sister) in a children’s home/orphanage, as I’ve touched on elsewhere. Their mum was a seamstress and in the Depression years work was hard to come by and money incredibly tight, so she did what she thought best for the children and placed them at the William Smith home in Brighouse.

When David passed his 11+ they asked my Gran’s permission to send him to the Grammar School, which she did – on condition that his sister had the same opportunity, which she did.This is his School Certificate; a lover of learning, he went on to University after his military service, qualified as a teacher and did a Master’s in later years.

I came across Dad’s School Cert again tonight and thought I’d just express my admiration, not just for the achievement but for the overcoming of circumstances.

It must have been very hard for the children and their mum to be separated (the children even lived separately within the orphanage) but the youngsters did get a chance that might not otherwise have been there for them and made the most of it. I loved and admire all of them for their resilience and determination.

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Remembering mum

My lovely mum on what would have been her 95th birthday.

As my pun-addicted dad labelled this, Ma-Ru (taken in the garden at Maru!)

I have a couple of treasured pictures taken of our family (in best bib and tucker in the garden at Maru, Northern Nigeria) by Gavin Carr, colleague of my dad’s and family friend.

Despite my mum’s inclination (also inherited by me) to owl, rather than lark tendencies, this was the place where she would get up before sunrise to take me and Judy-dog for a walk as it got so hot later in the day. Bit of a climate shock for Yorkshire folk, I guess!

For some reason, on this occasion, my dad also had a pic taken in full academical gear (in 40-odd degree heat!) – I think, probably to send home to his mum.

My dubious coiffure tradition clearly stems from a very early age, but at least I can blame this one on mum!

I count myself very fortunate to have been born to such loving parents.

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Connections and digressions

Feb 1963. Snowy Yew Trees Avenue
Not again! April 1963

I posted these two pictures in a Facebook Group, Calderdale Then and Now, as I had spotted someone else’s similar post about the bad winter of 1962-3. We had returned from Nigeria for good (or so my parents thought) in early February of that year, rather to my shock and disgruntlement. My first conscious experience of snow on the trip back from Kano was in Switzerland. It was raining when we arrived and for the train trip to our destination at Ouchy, Lake Geneva. I pretty much accused my parents of breaching the trades description act, as they’d promised me snow, and went to bed in our slightly unusual accommodation of a church retirement home (a story for another time!) in high dudgeon, low spirits and a flurry of oversized feathery duvet.

The next morning I awoke to two whiteouts, the first being the huge duvet! Pushing this aside, I looked at the bright window and ran to see… thick snow! I dressed quickly in what turned out to be totally inadequate clothing for a European winter, as I rapidly discovered, and shot outside with my (less exuberant) parents. My first dash through pristine snow was a delight, leaving footprint devastation in my wake, but was rapidly curtailed as the snow made its presence known. I retreated rather grumpily indoors with my parents, who embarked on a mission later that day to fortify my apparel!

Once back in Yorkshire, we faced the tail end of this rather brutal winter in Northowram, which isn’t the most sheltered of spots. The first image shows me sitting on a neighbour’s wall (the Hardies’), and it’s odds-on that I am whingeing about the cold! The second photo is of the back garden, which backed on to houses in Newlands, and I swear I can hear the anguished cry of ‘Oh, no, not snow again!’ from my parents almost 60 years later.

Having posted the pictures and brief commentary, I had a few welcome responses fairly quickly, including some from people whose relatives or friends had lived in the street. I am not sure I recall Mr Whiteley’s Auntie Peggy and Uncle Cyril, who apparently lived in a bungalow there for a time, with their Border terrier Trevor. I would probably have known them as Mr & Mrs… I do recall a Mr & Mrs Baxendale in a bungalow nearby, but mainly because I was always scared silly of asking them for permission to retrieve stray tennis balls from French cricket games in the street!

Though intangible, these little connections do warm the heart, particularly after 2 years of pandemic limitations, and underline the importance of feeling a shared past with someone and having someone who understands your shared context. I have come in latter years to realise how people become reconciled to shuffling off this mortal coil as, more and more, one finds oneself the only one with specific memories. The sharing of experiences and connections very much feeds our souls, and once those connections have gone, the ties that bind seem to loosen.

Back to the little tale. Within a day, however, a closer connection emerged, with a response from a Mr Shaw, who said that he and his wife had lived in our house while we were in Nigeria, having married in September 1962 and living there while waiting for a new build house to be ready! It turns out their new house was also just down the road from one of my great-aunts, off Moor End Road in Halifax – so the Shaws went from the opposite of the frying-pan into the fire, I think, from a high and chilly Northowram to an even more exposed moortop! We must also have passed them many a time when visiting my aunt.

Being only 7 or so at the time, I have no recollection of any house arrangements while we were away, and it only struck me at this point that I assume that my parents had probably also rented the house out previously, and that I didn’t even actually know for certain when we got the house. There’s another little challenge for me to sort. I should get on with other things, but can never resist a puzzle.

Oh, and if this makes any connections for you, do get in touch!

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March 1953 – with the Jenkins to Bassa

This extract from the family album has perplexed me. Dad’s captions speak of ‘down the Miango road’ going to a village, Bassa. However, Bassa town, which I had assumed it meant, is in the other direction from Jos, and even in 1953 would, I think, have been rather bigger! I wondered if dad had noted Bassa as the region, and then mistaken it when later compiling the album, and this is the explanation I’ve plumped for. I also wondered if it was Miango itself, where I recall being taken by my parents in the early 60s, but suspect that was a bit bigger, too, though I may stand corrected if anyone out there can confirm?

Wherever it is, it’s a very tidy village, looking at that layout, with great examples of traditional mud-built houses with thatched roofs.

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