We have managed to catch up with a few friends in person in the last couple of days. We had to go to Kidderminster for husband Stewart’s eye appointment at the hospital on Saturday, so thought we would take the chance afterwards to drop off some Christmas presents to a couple of friends in the area (and take a flask of mulled wine along to share for good measure!).

Both friends had decked the house with festive fairy lights, if not boughs of holly, and suitably seasonal decor, and put us entirely to shame as our decs still languish in the loft, despite various pleas from me. We’ve managed a few desultory lights in the front window and on the front garden tree (well, as far as I could reach from the second step of the ladder – too wimpy to go higher!).

Deer friends!

Digression alert: I found said husband putting out the Christmas cards round the house, the other day, something he never does. I was waiting to put them in the holders I usually hang up. I was going to congratulate him on a sudden surge of festive spirit until I clocked that he was valiantly trying to cover as much space as possible so he could claim we don’t need the decorations and there’s no space anyway!

A couple of other friends we’d been trying to meet up with for a week or two asked if they could pop over briefly on Sunday. It was lovely to catch up with them over mulled wine and nibbles and ‘christen’ the new veranda, though it still seemed very strange sitting out in our coats, albeit in sunshine, with the Christmas music in the background.

It brought home to me how much we are missing the spontaneity of people just dropping by or popping in on someone. Even so, whilst the garden and driveway visits have their frustrations and limitations, it is just such a real pleasure to be with people, even if you can’t give them the hugs and hospitality you want to share.

In case we don’t say it enough, I’m saying it now, loud and long; friends matter, and we value every one of you greatly.

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The Choir!

Group picture of Wesley Chapel Choir 1924.
I think this was taken for the local newspaper, scanned and edited/additional labels by me.

Rootling among the old family photos I came across a little moment of glory for the Wesley Chapel Choir in 1924. From news reports at the time it seems they had a needle match with West End Congregational choir, singing the test piece ‘He wants not friends’ a capella.

From the Halifax Courier

On closer investigation, there was quite a bit of family interest in the picture. My maternal grandfather Clifford is on the back row; that was he of the tenor voice ‘like a golden trumpet’ who ran away with the opera! I only met him once, I think. He sang professionally as Morton Clifford.

In front of him stands my great-uncle Willie Marsden, a lovely man who was in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI. I did get to know him as a youngster. Like Clifford, he was a useful rugby player and they were both stalwarts of the Boys’ Brigade at Wesley (10th Hx).

At the front sits my great-aunt Dora, who was also very much a mainstay of the church, including supporting the Boys’ Brigade. She was in her latter years very much a focal point of the family and her abiding interest in all that was going on led to her being affectionately dubbed ‘Eyes and Ears of the World’. I thought at first it might be my grandmother, Hilda, Dora’s sister (and later Clifford’s wife) as they looked quite similar, but as my aunt told me her mother couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, she thought it had to be Dora!

I am not sure if Willie’s first wife-to-be, Elsie Chambers, was also in the choir; they married the following year.

I wonder if anyone can add a few more names to this?

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Woodland Wandering

A touch of Narnia…

Between Worlds

Rather more mundanely, a composite of a couple of phonecam images taken during an autumn walk in local woodland.

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Anna’s Random Thoughts

I’m going to have to do this, given the title!

A simple and effective artist’s book idea from Anna Yevtukh-Squire. I’ve enjoyed some brilliant classes in creative bookmaking with Anna at Malvern School of Art. over the last couple of years – in fact, we’ve a first Zoom class on Monday, so this might get me back in the swing…

How to make your own Random Thoughts notebook.

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Great-grandfather Frank

Frank Marsden was born in 1871 to Jonathan Marsden (1843-1889) and Jane Marsden (Smithson, 1847-1913). In the 1871 census they were living at in 3 Church Gate, Brighouse, Yorkshire.


In the 1891 census, Frank was a corn miller. He later became a greengrocer, and by 1937 had a shop at 56 King Cross Street, Halifax (tel. Hx 4602!)

He married Sarah Helliwell (1871 – 1947) in 1893, at Halifax Parish Church, now known as the Minster.

They had seven children, my grandma Hilda, 5 great-aunts and a great-uncle, more of whom anon, all being well.

Lily b 1895
Willie b 1899
Dora b 1902
Hilda b 1904
Florrie b 1906
Amy b 1913
Lena b 1916

Frank lived variously in Spring Bank House, Elland Rd, Hipperholme, (1881) 62 Lister Lane, Halifax (1901) which is pretty much where Burdock Way now crosses and splits Lister Lane in two, 38 St Mary St. Halifax (1911), and in the 1939 register is listed in the family home for many years, 41 Stirling St, Halifax.

Here’s the family with the first 3 children, so presumably in 1902, as Dora is a baby. I don’t know anything about the Foster family also pictured, other than names and now census details. Frank is on the left, Sarah middle front, holding Dora. The names are written above. The Fosters lived at 38 King Cross St. in 1901, and John listed as a greengrocer, living with Evelyn, Lister (then 6) and Doris (4). Whether the connection was just via the trade, friendship or family remains to be unearthed. Which house this is I don’t know, Lister Lane or King Cross St – or indeed, somewhere else entirely. I do know, however, that an E. Gregson, photographer, took a photo of baby Willie in 1899 for Frank and Sarah, and his studio was at 70 Lister Lane, so perhaps he popped along the road to no 62 to do this one, too?

Marsdens and Listers.

Frank would go regularly with his wagon to the glorious Piece Hall when it was rather less grand, serving as the wholesale fruit and vegetable market. His grandson, my uncle, fondly recalled the memory of going with him and remembered the flickering yellow gas lamps there on winter mornings.

I have yet to ascertain whether Marsden & Furniss, trading from the Market Hall, are connected, and to discover when Frank took on the shop. In 1905/6 it’s a James James running a greengrocery business there, and in the 1920s and 30s directories I’ve looked at there is no entry for the shop, just Marsden & Furniss. He’s listed as a Greengrocer & Employer in the 1911 census.

As Frank died some years before I was born, I never knew him other than through family tales and snippets. I know Stirling Street held very fond memories for my mum, aunt and uncle, and it saw family parties and gatherings aplenty, whence the tradition of daft games and family traditions that I grew up with. The family gatherings continued in various venues and were highlights of my childhood. I recall mum saying he liked his Christmas cake not only served with cheese, in good Yorkshire style, but buttered, too!

The family were stalwarts of Wesley Chapel. Here’s a newspaper cutting (Halifax Courier) dutifully kept over the years, capturing a moment of stage glory for Frank!

Courtesy of Halifax Courier, a clipping in a family album. Unsure of year.

Frank died in November 1950 at Stirling Street, so the picture I have of him at mum and dad’s wedding in May of that year must be one of his last.

Granddad Marsden

Frank is buried at Christ Church, King Cross Wesleyan with Sarah (picture courtesy of Calderdale Family History Society) and her sister Lily Helliwell, who had died in 1934.

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Difficult Times


I seem to have been in stasis a bit since the coronavirus lockdown, dabbling in this and that but not really getting on with any of my planned projects. Random by name, random by nature, then; I will not wait until I’ve organised my thoughts and information (might never happen) as I’d hoped to do a bit of a family history recording on here, but will start to pop things up as they occur to me and before my attention span wanders yet again!

I was scanning this cutting, which I think came from the 60s or 70s in a feature in a local paper, probably the Halifax Courier but I haven’t been able to track it online, so apologise for lack of proper credit.

It must have seemed so surreal to my mum and friends (at ‘Trinity Tripe Shop’ as I believe it was affectionately known!) doing the air raid drill, clutching her mask in its cardboard box and wondering fearfully what the war would bring. I find the situation we are in difficult enough now, but how much worse for a (just) teenager, anticipating that the industrial town she called home might be a prime target and wondering how long the war would last.

More cheerfully, I remember a few of the friends from this picture managed a reunion in the early 70s, perhaps triggered by the publication of this photo in the paper. I do remember that my mum was so pleased to meet up with them and look back.



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Injecting some colour into my life!

The other day I had a play with a couple of online colourising tools. It was coming up to what would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary, so I played with a few photos to post elsewhere on the day and just for fun. Results differ quite significantly across the two sites, and there are limitations, but in both cases I got some pleasing results, and once colourised, they can be further tweaked in editing software, though I’ve left these pretty much as they came out in most cases.

It was surprising how much the colour brought people to life for me, even knowing it was ‘false’ and only guesstimated. I had thought that, having grown up with black and white pictures, films and TV, my brain would have somehow sorted all this out, but no – people I never knew and who had been just an old photo now popped off the screen, demanding to be acknowledged and recognised. People I had known and still love were suddenly back there with me. The power of a few colourised pixels took me quite aback.

Further info: My Heritage in Color (this is part of a family history site and you have to sign up to free membership to use this for a limited number of pictures). Watermarks automatically. Facility to save the picture. online facility, free to use. Best where people feature prominently and with natural backgrounds. Uses Captcha checks. Facility to save the picture and a comparison picture.

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Comfort food

In these strange and uncertain times, I’ve been indulging a penchant for some traditional comfort food. Some of these weren’t necessarily favourites in childhood, when the exotic was more appealing than the everyday, but now have a nostalgic appeal.

The other day saw us with braised beef and herby dumplings, but today is a sweet treat, albeit very simple.

Baked Egg Custard

Baked egg custard

4 eggs

Scant 2oz sugar (if you have vanilla sugar, use that, or add optional drop of good vanilla extract or essence)

1pt milk (semi-skimmed is fine or full cream for a richer mix)


Little butter for dish.

Preheat oven to 170, 150 fan.

Lightly butter a 2pt dish.

Beat the eggs lightly with the sugar. Heat the milk gently to boiling point, add to eggs, whisking constantly.

Pour mixture through a sieve (optional) into the prepared dish. Pour hot water into the baking tray (enough to come halfway up the dish).

Sprinkle grated nutmeg over the top.

Place baking tray with water carefully in the oven, then put the custard dish into the tray and bake for about 40 minutes. Check from 35 mins on. A metal skewer poked into the centre will come out clean when set, but there should still be a bit of wobble when you shake the dish.

Serve hot or cold. If serving hot, leave to stand for 25 minutes or so.


Try variations – top with a sprinkle of ground cardamom for a change, or cinnamon, or leave plain and serve with a tsp of jam.

Add the finely grated zest of an orange and a half-to-full teaspoon of orange flower water to the custard, omit the nutmeg. Delicious! Particularly good with the richer, part cream, version.

Serve alone, or with fresh fruit such as raspberries, stewed fresh fruit or bought compote. Rhubarb and apple both work well. For a store-cupboard tea, use longlife milk and serve with tinned fruit!

Top with a teaspoon of soft strawberry or raspberry jam or gently warmed marmalade.

Top when cool with a thin layer of soft brown sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch or under a hot grill.

For a luxury version replace a little of the milk with cream.

Use 6 individual pots, check after 20-25 minutes.

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Revisiting the past: ‘dame school’.

I occasionally search desultorily for some of my childhood memories in one form or another. A search for mentions of my ‘dame school’ in Bukuru, Nigeria, threw up a surprise result today, in the form of a book written by a fellow pupil with whom I must have overlapped for just a few months. I’ve now bought the book and shall enjoy reading it, assuming that my increasingly rusty German holds up. I was particularly delighted to have a reply to my message to the author, the only other former pupil I’ve come across.

School badge, 60 years on!

In the preview shown in my search, two key chapters for popped up for me; Mrs Prescott’s Academy and Stormclouds over Bukuru. The first of these reminded me of the front-room school this little, but formidable lady had set up, housing some 40-odd children from three to thirteen or so, with Mrs P dotting around from one to another. Author Nicola Vollkommer Sperry recalls some deterrents I’d not remembered, such as a plastic ruler wielded on transgressors, or, the ultimate deterrent of Mr Prescott’s slipper hanging on a nail! As I don’t recall them, presumably the deterrent effect worked! Nicola tells an amusing tale involving some impromptu art work in Mrs P’s garage.

I recall being very scared one day at the school, as a fellow pupil took great delight in telling us littl’uns that the sun was going to disappear. Once en route home and duly consoled, I learned a bit more about eclipses!

One of the highlights of the school week was at end of play on Fridays (school was morning only) we were allowed to browse Mrs Prescott’s bookshelves and borrow a book, to be taken home and devoured – I was an avid reader. For some reason The Wheel on the School remains imprinted on my brain; I still have a fondness for the book discovered there.

Other random memories include the cry of ‘Team lines’ which was the call we all echoed as we ran to line up at the end of break on the garden playground area. At least, I did, after my first day at the school when I thought everyone was shouting ‘Tea lies’ for some unknown reason!

Another odd “snapshot” remains in the memory bank, of us all lined up as for our return to class, and receiving vaccination jabs (with ever-blunter needles in those days). How we didn’t all get tattoed at the same time with all the laterite dust in the air, I’ll never know!

Dealing with so many children on an individual basis must have been a challenge, especially with limited resources, but I was introduced to French lessons there, aged 6 or so, and to be fair, my experiences with ‘Madame Souris’ there effectively saw me through my first year or so of French at secondary school several years later with little effort!

We went to visit my former teacher at her home near Blackpool when they returned from Nigeria, in about 1967. We walked down the path at the side of the house, a bungalow, I think, and peeped in the window in passing – there was Mrs P at the sink in the kitchen, at about eye level with me (aged about 12). We knocked on the door, and I looked straight ahead as it opened, expecting to see this impressive, tall presence that I recalled – and had to look down a good foot or so, at a trim little lady with a sedate blue rinse! Clearly it was her personality that loomed so large.

The other, much more sombre, chapter mentioned above recalls a dreadful incident during 1966, that I had heard about but not witnessed, and which I’ll pick up in another post. In the meantime, here’s to you, Mrs Prescott!

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“Alas Too Idle Yet Writing a Book” – Census Gems

A quirky look at the census…


If you think reading the census is dull, think again. It can reveal some unexpected gems. I thought I’d share a few I’ve viewed over the years – ones I’ve found, and some located by others. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

As March is designated Women’s History Month I’m starting out with some 1911 census entries. The suffrage movement advocated boycotting this census. Some women deliberately absented themselves on census night, 2 April. Other census forms have information and notations which indicate they are clearly linked to people actively involved, or sympathising, with the suffrage movement.

Suffragist, and a founder member of the Women’s Freedom League, Dr Octavia Lewin of 25 Wimpole Street, Marylebone wrote ‘No vote. No census. I absolutely refuse to give any information’. She does then go on to list her impressive array of qualifications, ending with ‘assistant physician…

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