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).

https://penninehorizons.org/items/show/6289

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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Easter 1953 – A Visit to Toro

This gallery contains 10 photos.

David Dobson was PEO (Provincial Education Officer) based in Jos but with responsibilities around the Plateau region. From the next pages in the family album, it seems those duties included visiting Toro, where there was a school and a Teacher … Continue reading

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10/9/1952 – 3/6/1953 – First posting to Jos

This gallery contains 14 photos.

10 St. Patrick’s Avenue, Jos. PEO’s House My mother and father, Jean and David Dobson, went to Nigeria a couple of years after they married in 1950; quite a contrast from industrial West Yorkshire. They lived with David’s mother, Flossie, … Continue reading

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Moonrise

I had totally forgotten this feeble attempt to transcribe (in an early look at Noteflight) the chorus of a song my paternal grandma used to sing to me as a small child. I only rediscovered it when I clicked on a guest post link in a forum to see the music… only to find it was my own Noteflight account! I don’t recall actually hearing any verses but have found this set of lyrics (below) online.

I seem to recall singing ‘Over the city and fields and mountains’ – though it doesn’t rhyme with hill, perhaps a reflection of our Pennine surroundings!

I have tried to find a recorded version and sheet music without success, most recently checking with USA sources as new media come into the public domain, but a bit of further research suggests an origin around 1928, so a few years to wait yet.

Moonrise

Shadows are falling and daylight is past;
Beautiful evening is with us at last;
All the wide heavens with silver are dressed;
Night winds are kissing the flowers to rest.

Forest leaves rustle in quivering light;
Sing, all ye nightingales, lo it is night;
Sing to our Father your praises on high–
Praise for His beautiful moon in the sky.

Moon, moon, beautiful moon!
Rising, rising, rising still
Over the city and field and hill,
And creeping, and peeping,

Where children are sleeping.
Moon, beautiful moon.

Verse by Theodora Wilson Wilson – pacifist and novelist who had a book banned – check her out!

This is the source of the version I quote here. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/40613278/2986170

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