Erika Bowker

Erika Bowker

Interviewed on

The first thing I’d like to do is ask you your name, your place and date of birth and where you live now?

Yeah, I’m Erika Bowker and I was born in Germany, in Bunzlau on the 28th of February 1925. And I now live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, West Riding, definitely West Riding.

Where about in Germany is this?

It’s not in Germany any more, it’s Polish now.

Is it? Was it a large town?

About 25,000, a beautiful town, a most beautiful town.

When did you leave there?

In ’45, we had to flee from the Russians and Poles.

Is that when you came to Hebden Bridge, then?

No. We came from Wilhemshaven. That’s where I came to work for the British Navy. That’s where I met my husband. Who was a Royal marine and we got married in Wilhemshaven and we came to England in October 1948.

Did you come to Hebden Bridge at that time?

Yes. I first lived in Charlestown, a little one up one down and I didn’t know that houses like that existed cos there was gaffs, no inside toilet, no water outlet, it was like going back a century, but the people were lovely, they were wonderful. They made us very welcome. My sister in law made the cottage very warm and welcoming. And, also there were rations, but the cupboard was filled with food and cakes, very welcoming, and a little fire. It was a culture shock, but it was also lovely, and the neighbours were very welcoming.

My first Christmas I spent in Eastwood. The Postmistress knew my husband from when he was a little boy, he use to be in the scouts, they were a big scouting family. And I wanted to phone my husband, so independently I went to the post box outside, and as I pressed the pay button, there was a scatter of coins, everything scattered down and I went to the Postmistress, ‘what am I going to do’ and she said ‘take it as a Christmas present. I’ve told them and told them to empty the box and they never bother, take it as a Christmas present.’ So I thought it was wonderful.

So you had a free call.

Yes, I had a free call and a bonus on top. It was lovely, everybody was really, really lovely, and my neighbours took it in turn to look after me, they had me all organised. They were lovely people and use to have me round for supper, in turn, it was really lovely, people were very kind.

How long did you live in Charlestown?

In Charlestown just about one year.

And where did you move to?

Then we moved to Heptonstall to a council house. That also, was very nice. People again were very nice and welcoming. We had good neighbours. And our children thought, I use to take them to Hardcastle Craggs, they had chicken pox and I didn’t want them to pass anything onto other children, so I took them to Hardcastle Craggs every day after their nap. They use to think that was their back garden, that was one of the things. We went down Widdop Road there was a little gate and we turned right and there was a little bridge over a brook and that was ours, we went there every day, every day. It was wonderful. We talked about trees and all sorts of things, but that was our spot. It was lovely, it was beautiful.

Have you ever been back to where you were originally from, then?

No, no, I haven’t managed that yet.

Would you like to?

Oh, I’d love to do, but you can’t have everything in life can you. I consider this my home now, you know, but if I could go to live, I don’t know. I always said I’d walk on my knees to go back home. I’m still very, very homesick, but you can’t have everything in life, you have to make the best of life, and I’m very happy.

Can you tell me a little about your background, when you were young, what you did when you were young and what it was like then?

I had a wonderful childhood. My parents had a radio business. It was just a magical childhood, we were a very close family, two sisters and a brother and I’m a Catholic, so we were very closely connected to the church. Church choir, I climbed up to the organ loft as soon as I could get up there to sit with the organist, and turn pages and get to the choir. And our priests were wonderful, absolutely wonderful. It was just a magical childhood. We had an indoor pool, slipper baths, and we had an outdoor pool. We had sports centres. I belonged to the swimming club and the gymnastics club. It was just a magical childhood, you know. The town was my home. If I got into mischief, by the time I got home my father knew about it already. And I never found it irksome, I felt very sheltered and very loved and very cared for. It’s, you know, it was very beautiful, well, it still is I suppose. The school was just next door. I use to look at the children, we had one of those mesh fences, when they played. I use to love going to school before I had to go and I knew everybody. It was just a magical, magical childhood.

Christmas’s were especially magical. It started at the beginning of Advent and my father would get all the things together for making gingerbreads and they have to rest for a long time, you know, so the house smelt of gingerbreads and things. At Advent we use to have a big ring around the lamp in the sitting room and we all use to get together and candles, candles, candles, oh, sheer magic. And one of the rooms was locked up, and we weren’t allowed to go in there cos the Christ child was busy in there, it was dangerous, and on Christmas Eve we either had carp or bratwursts, it was wonderful. Then, we children use to have a bath and we went to bed and by the time our parents got home we were already dressed for them and ready and things like that, ready for Christmas Eve and we sat down and had a meal. And I learnt to play the violin as a child, and I was the first one outside the door and the others lined up behind me. And I scraped that poor fiddle and we sang Christmas carols and there was a little bell and the door opened and there it was, Christmas in all it’s glory. Christmas tree from floor to ceiling and lights and candles and you know there was a place for each of us, and it was just sheer, sheer magic. And it went on for days and days and days, first the family and then the other friends and things like that. Whew! It was absolute magic. A lady phoned me from Germany and she told me, she said, ‘I’ll never ever forget your Christmas’s’. She was an only child and they lived on the top of our house and when it came down to rub the tree, you know to trim it down, well father said that Gerta must come as well. That was nice and she’s never ever forgotten and she tells everybody about the Christmas’s. It’s very touching in a way, it’s lovely.

Did you do that with your children, then?

As much as I could, as much as I could, I wasn’t so well off. We had the Advent trees. I always made the Advent trees. And Miss Spencer, who use to have the flower shop, she gave me the greens and everything, so I made it as much as I could.

So every day at Advent did you put something else on the tree?

No, we had a crib as well. No, no, no. We didn’t see anything at all until Christmas Eve. That was the magic, that was the sheer magic of it. Advent was the preparation time. And we had a little crib and if we were good we were allowed to put some straw hay into the crib. It was up to us to make a really nice soft bed for baby Jesus. If we were bad we had to take it out, you see. We were encouraged to do one nice thing for somebody we didn’t like. And that person we had to do something nice for all through Advent. You know, it was good, it made us think. My parents were very caring parents, you know, they encouraged us to help other people, it doesn’t revolve around ourselves. You live in a community and you put into the community. If you know somebody who are not so well off, you try to help them in any way you can, you know. I was mischievous. I was no angel believe me. I was the black sheep, I think.

And then in wintertime we use to go skating. Not far from us was a pond, full of carp. And the carp were fetched out at Christmas, but we use to go skating on that pond and it had a little island in the middle with a swan’s house there. It was lovely; we had a little ice skaters club. Like I say it was magic and we had a lovely big wood, where the forester lived and that had a bigger pond, about half a kilometre away. It was just a magical time; I can close my eyes and walk through the streets. It was beautiful.

I suppose you lived there during the war, then?

Until ’48, yes.

That must have been quite a shock?

We couldn’t leave when it got really bad. We had to wait for, we couldn’t leave because we had a charging station for batteries. We charged the batteries for the services, so we weren’t allowed to leave. Until we were given permission and they, you know, took us out in the sancraft, you know a sanitation car. And after that there’s a big space, because I had an accident and I suffered from amnesia for quite a long time, but I’d rather not think about that phase.

Yes, indeed. So, you came to Hebden in 1948 and you’ve lived here ever since?


What work did you do?

Oh yes. What was my first one? Oh, my very first work was as a cleaning lady for Crestwell Crabtrees and I went for the interview and I said that nobody, but nobody must know that I do this. I said I come quietly and I go quietly. And I left little notes for them would you please not leave ashes or whatever, you know. It was only the boss and I knew.

And then, what did I do after that? Oh, it’s when we wanted to emigrate. We thought it was most practical if I stayed here until my husband was established. So, I went to work at Kipp Asbestos, spinning. Again, the people I worked with were wonderful. They sheltered me from all coarse jokes and things like that, it was if you want to sit here, you know just, and you know people have been just so lovely. You know the people in this area are so wonderful and so caring, and then I became ill. And I think it must have been a blessing, I got stomach upsets and things like that, so I had to give up. I think that might have been a blessing, because I might have got that awful asbestosis. So, even the elements looked after me.

And then I worked in Redman Brothers, in the office as an office girl. I would only work when the children didn’t need me. I always went on the premise, when I start, if the children need, then I have to be off. There’s no notice nothing, if they need me, that’s it. And they were always very, very understanding, the Redman Brothers and the place in, oh what do they call it, in Market Street there was a sewing shop. I can’t remember.

There were a few, weren’t there?

No, no. There’s Cawbers. I can’t remember the name, but I was happy wherever I worked and stayed friends with most of the people who worked there as well. And then I worked at Crossley Carpets for a while. Again on the same premise. Now that was a company, I was so astonished. I started work there, again, in the stock office. And I had to leave at short notice; my little boy or little girl was poorly. And then a year after that I got a letter with a cheque and I just thought there must be a mistake. And I got a bonus; I got a full bonus from them. It was so extraordinary; I’d never had a bonus or anything like from anybody. So, I thought they were really, really caring people.

And then I went to work at Stansfield View, trained nursing. But, that wasn’t to be. I had a motorbike accident just before my final. And so I said well, I still want to know what happens and started my midwifery and the same thing happened. So, I wasn’t meant to be a nurse, but I really, really loved it. Stansfield View was hell to work at, but I loved the patients, they were wonderful and I’ve kept in touch with them. Same with the midwifery, that was awful, but I always wanted to finish something. But I had a teaching certificate. I taught at night school and then I went to work at Riding Hall Carpets on the switchboard, which I enjoyed very, very much. And then I was asked if I would be interested in teaching people with learning difficulties. And I said, oh yes please. And they said would you come to Stansfield View and I said no, thank you, if I teach them, they come to college. And that’s what I did. It was lovely there. I taught them until I retired.

Which that college was?

Calder College, Todmorden. It was nice. I taught social skills, music and dancing. It was very good, lovely. My connections with people with learning difficulties goes back to 1963, you see.

That’s a long time.

Yes, but once you work with them, there’s such a bond kind of thing with the people. They’ll never pass you by on the road, you know, they’ll say hello, and give you hug. So how could you not be moved and you know it’s something I really feel passionate about, I feel really passionate about them.

Do you feel you’re part of the community here, in Hebden?

Oh, definitely yes. I use to belong to the history society. I was involved with this disaster of a swimming pool thing. It cost me pounds and pounds and pounds. That was a disaster because people just don’t listen. Everybody wants to make their mark, you see, and that isn’t good. For us personally, it was a disaster. It cost us hundreds of pounds in solicitors’ bills. I haven’t been involved anymore. It was awful. It really was bad. Suddenly there were several councillors involved, and no, whew! Then it started again as this straw thing and I said well, I think we ought to have a swimming pool and again I’ll support if I can. But, again, they let us down, you know.

Who? The councillors, did?

No, the people who set these schemes up, they are so enthusiastic, it’s going to work. And I desperately wanted a swimming pool for Hebden Bridge, you know. I started off in Rochdale when I first came to England. No, There are these people who won’t listen, they want to be the one, they are the ones. They make such foolish decisions. It’s sad. And we could have had a swimming pool. We had the land, if they’d just got back together. We could have had a swimming pool. I was the first one to do a sponsored swim. I raised hundreds of ponds for that. And people generous, they were really, really lovely and supportive. And I really, really believed in it, but just a small number of people, you know.

Are there any other community activities you’ve been part of?

Oh well, I’ll join anything, if it’s for the community I will. My husband ran a little youth club in Heptonstall church, in the parish church. He use to take the youngsters riding, cycling. And I had the children’s choir for ten years in Hebden, in the Youth House, that was a delight. Yes, I had the children’s choir in Hebden Bridge and in Cragg Vale for about ten years and that was lovely. There’s nothing like children and they were delightful children, you know. And especially, in Cragg Vale. I sometimes got there late and I said if I was late they would have to practice, so one of the children would take charge and they would do the practices. They were delightful children. They gave me so much joy, both of the choirs. Hebden Bridge I started with first, but I started finding it difficult. I became more disabled. Oh yes, I think if you live in a community, you have to put into the community.

I believe that.

It’s the only way. And one has to make new comers welcome as well. You know, it was good, it was good. When I came first I couldn’t find the Catholic church. So, I joined the Anglican church. It was wonderful. There was this Bishop Tracy, oh, he was brilliant. And, I looked at everything, you know, and said, yes, I can live with that. And there again I became very active. I was in the PCC and in the choir and things like that, you know. I think one has to put in and you can never put in as much as you get out of it, a community. And I always think a smile and a hello doesn’t cost anything, you know. It doesn’t do to go when, with a long face. And I have learned in England if people go ‘how are you’, it doesn’t mean how are you, it’s just hello. And if someone says, ‘you have to come and see us if you’re in the area, they don’t mean that either, they wish you wouldn’t. Those are things I find very difficult to come to terms with because, I think you say it and mean it or not say it.

The other thing I find very difficult is this informality. I was brought up very formally. At college especially, when we were relaxed it was all Christian names and we are very formal with Zee and Dou and things like that, it’s a special process. You can say a Christian name with the formal Zee, they are boundaries and I found that very, very, and I still find that difficult. But now I’ve come to the idea that I’m just Erika, most people know me as Erika and that will do fine. It’s niceties like that which aren’t taught to children anymore and these bits of respect. I found it extremely difficult. I went to the head of our college and said, ‘Now look here, either or, I can’t cope with the way that you treat people. You have to make up your mind because I’m very professional in class, it doesn’t matter if my best friend comes to my class, they will call me Mrs. Bowker’. You know, you have to be professional. There’s a private life and there’s a professional life. With this, I can’t cope, but apart from that I’m extremely happy.

How has Hebden Bridge changed since you’ve been here, you must have seen quite a few changes?

I have, yes. I lived at Callis Bridge, and there were houses all down along the other side as well. When I went past the sewage works I’d hold eau de cologne over my nose when I went over the little bridge, but there were houses on both sides of the road, Bridge Lanes as well. There were lots of shops and there was the old chapel there, the Methodist chapel. There was a chemist, a baker and all kinds of shops there. There was a sewing shop at the bottom, and on the left where the green patch is, there were houses there as well.

Oh, wait a minute, for a short term I belonged to the Hebden Bridge light opera, we use to practice, down this little ginnel, there was this wonderful gown shop there and there was a little room up there where we practiced. I use to go shopping in Babyland, that’s where I got my first pram and that’s where I got my toys from. There was Leicester House on the right, and they supplied me with all my baby clothes. There was a shop called Meadow Dairy, they were a grocer, then there was a gent by the zebra crossing there, that was a butcher. Then there was, oh, I can still see there was this pork butcher on the other side, so many shops and so many delightful shops. And at the bottom of Heptonstall road there was, I think the shop was called Grovenor’s, and they use to come to the house as well, oh, they were lovely. You could order what you wanted and they would bring it up to you. That was a good shop, it was lovely, they were wonderful.

Heptonstall again was build up on both sides. It was, I don’t know, it hasn’t changed very much for the better, you know, I think. They let these great big wagons through and they pound the roads to bits. And I don’t think people really know what they’re doing letting those massive things pound our hillsides to bits. That’s where the damage comes from. I mean, I campaigned against these big lorries coming through because it must really crack the foundations and we don’t know what’s happening under the ground.

The most difficult thing I come to terms with is that the young ones, that the people, Calderdale as a whole does not approach the older people, the people who’ve lived here all their lives. They are so knowledgeable about what goes on, about the culverts, about the trees. I mean they cut the trees down, no wonder we have floods. We had, what are those great big trees, poplars. There use to be poplars in the area, they drink masses of water.

We wouldn’t have all these floods if they didn’t denude all the woods. It just grieves me; they are so careless with housing stock, with everything. They wait till something goes to rack and ruin and then they start thinking of raising funds. I remember when the first fires started with the sewing shops. I think it was Blackburns or somebody, on Market Street or Bridge Lanes, there, a huge fire. You know it was like a culture of factories, you know, lots of things magically caught fire. It was very, very strange, you know. And then they build those houses at Mythom. Now, they could have been lovely, they were strange, I mean, they didn’t fit in. In the end they could have been nice, I suppose.

They’ve knocked them down now, and are building new ones.

They’ve knocked them down, but that’s the history of Calderdale, isn’t it. Everything they build in Calderdale now, is luxury flats, luxury houses. Calderdale’s gone mad. Absolutely mad. They do not care for the people who live here. They do not care and they let people get away with it, they should have a rule. So much houses for people who just have to rent. There’s nothing for people, my children couldn’t afford to live here. And it started in Heptonstall.

People came from Manchester and saw this pretty little village and bought the cottages at ridiculous prices and so ousting all the local children really. They couldn’t rent, they couldn’t buy. You know it really upsets me. Then there are these people who have money and they just knock places to bits so they can build again. But that’s Halifax more than here. It’s very sad. You need a lot of money to live in this area now. It’s a shame. It’s a pretty area and it was a lovely, lovely community. I think it still is. I’m a bit out of it now, because I can’t get to many places and in the evening I’m a bit too tired to travel myself.

It’s such a lovely community, caring. I mean there’s still the children’s variety, or whatever, the Calder Valley Juniors. Well, at least I hope so, light opera, Little Theatre! It started off in the garage by the Labour Party down there. Oh, it’s wonderful. How long have you lived here?

Seventeen years I’ve been here.

Oh, gosh, you’ve missed a lot of that. They had the place where the café is now and that was the little theatre. Denroyd Coaches had a garage there and little theatre started building there.

When was that? When did it begin?

Have a talk to Ray Richards. I didn’t often go because I had children and things like that, you know. My neighbours, they went regularly and I think it’s better than many professional theatres. They are absolutely outstanding, what they’ve achieved there. I wish I could go, but I can’t go, because I start feeling ill, now. I’m so sad, but they’ve made it beautiful and they all work so hard. So devoted to what they are doing, they’re brilliant, really brilliant, brilliant actors, they’re good. It’s quite something. We’ve achieved quite a lot in Hebden Bridge, the local people have.

When they brought the Information Centre to Hebden Bridge, I was very much against it, because I thought, well, the tourist are coming anyway and they are taking the town over, kind of thing, you know. I wanted to share what’s beautiful, but then that Information Centre turned out very well indeed. Really good and they had a wonderful team there and Ed was absolutely brilliant in what he did. And what does Calderdale do, they close that centre down and they build that monstrosity by the Picture House and it is a monstrosity. It might be nice in another place, it looks nice with all the lights on. But it’s a monstrosity and it nearly obscures our beautiful Picture House. Now, what crazy ideas do they have? It’s monstrous.

They came up with the idea of turning part of Holme Park into a car park. I think I’m glad in a way that I can’t access all the places anymore because I’d be very sad. There’re lots of places where they could have put the skating place for the youngsters, you know the swimming pool was suppose to be out there. And they put it in Holme Park that belonged to. They have taken everything that we have held dear. They have taken our Civic Centre, that’s in Crown Street, that use to be our civic centre.

Oh yes, I am a founder of the Hebden Bridge European Group.

I didn’t know there was a Hebden Bridge European Group.

Well, they call it International Group now, but I shall always call it Hebden Bridge European Group. Arnold Edwards was the chief instigator and he said,’ how do you think Erika’, and I said,’ oh, fantastic’. So, I went to Wilhemshaven and made contact, it was a town I knew. We met with them first, kind of thing, and then we went to Warstein and it’s a good exchange, but unfortunately Warstein doesn’t accept people with disabilities. They’ve nothing for them. I went to Germany, to Warstein and they couldn’t find accommodation for me.


Yep. And I was the secretary for years and years and years, and so I went with them to Germany and I went to my sisters. But I thought that was very sad. One of these days I’ll visit Warstein and see. But that’s been good. I watched the Hebden Bridge Junior Band and I loved, just loved Mr. Robinson. And his father and mother, they use to come, they use to play for us actually at the European Group for the socials. And the Junior Band, oh gosh, biggest fan. It’s wonderful and I still love them. Brian, well, he’s retired. I still miss you Brian! And of course I love the brass bands because we use to have a brass band at home. Erika always followed the brass. Listen to the band and be spellbound. So brass banding is in my blood. I had a short spell on the council and I went to the brass band as a representative. I was their chairman for a few years and I keep that contact going because I think they’re brilliant, both Hebden Bridge bands and I hope that will both work together and feed each other and work together.

That would be good.

It’s so lovely. I can’t tell you want Hebden Bridge has given me, you know. It’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve done things I’d never thought of doing. It’s just brilliant. It’s good.

It must have changed more than once though in the time you’ve been here. In the fifties and sixties would have been one era and then a change and then?

It kept on changing, as I say, Calderdale grabbed everything we had. Youth House. It was so, it was a brilliant youth house. I just trying to think of the youth club leader. He had that house humming with activity. There were canoes. They had everything that you wanted to have for children there. They build the canoes and they went on courses to canoe and things like that. Bill Ackroyd, I think he was called. Bill definitely and he was a little powerhouse. Their family, you know his wife. They were really dedicated. So, that’s something else we lost.

The Picture House, it was only because of the local people that we still have that and sadly I can’t go because they have colour pictures and I can’t see them. I have problems with colours.


Yeah. I’ve only black and white telly. So, all these kinds of things, you know, the whole structure has changed. Then when the canal came, well, I suppose it was a blessing, but not for everybody, because it cost an awful lot of money, but when I see the canal going right through and the pleasure it gives to people, I don’t mind. There are lots of things that are good, because it can help us follow, you know, and that is good to have it again. I still see that little garage that was there, that little shack of a garage, in that space. There was a mill and there use to be a gantry over the road from one place to the other.

Where abouts is this?

Where the children, at the end of, do you know where the car park is?


There was a mill and I’m almost positive there was a gantry over the road, where they walked across. I’ve never been into that place, but that always somehow sticks in my mind. And the old bus’s, the Hebble bus. Gosh. My sister came over once and they knocked a corner off of one of the roofs on the way to Burnley. It was, I’d never been on buses like this. It was lovely. I’d never had travelled on bus’s because we always had a car, you see. Trains and car, and to go on the bus’s was lovely and the bus conductors would always say, ‘Now, Mrs Bowker, don’t run, we’ll wait.’ They were lovely. As I say, you know, it was almost like being at home when I was a little girl, people looking after me kind of thing, you know.

The shopkeepers were wonderful in Crown Street. There was a little lady and she had a haberdashers and I use to love going in there and we use to talk, but she wasn’t there very long. The next time, after a little while there was another lady, a younger lady. I thought, ‘Where’s, oh, I forgot her name, where’s Miss so and so. She said, ‘Well, it’s my shop now, it’s Marion Mitchell.’ So, I watched Marion Mitchell grow and we became good friends. It was brilliant. It was lovely. As I became more disabled and I got to know all the shopkeepers, I use to go around Hebden Bridge and nobody knew I had any problems at all, because I use to go into the shop, we’d chat, have a cup of coffee and I’d go out without paying. When I got home, I haven’t paid! And Miss Spencer’s use to be the same. I loved those two ladies. They had the flower shop on the corner, where Russell Dean’s is now. That use to be a flower shop. I spent hours and hours there. They were lovely. They arranged every kind of flowers I wanted, to send home or whatever. They were just wonderful ladies. I really wanted that flower shop at one time, but it wasn’t to be.

And there were dances and socials in the Charlton, you know the Charlton Buildings.


They had a dance room upstairs. My son was the disc jockey for some time up there.

Was that a regular occasion, then?

They use to have a regular, that was absolutely the elite dance occasion in Hebden Bridge, I believe. I never went, but I knew the new people who had it afterwards. They emigrated to Australia I think or America. I forget, I forget. The little grey cells are a bit tired. I met wonderful, wonderful people here, really wonderful people.

The square, St. Georges Square. I wish they would just get away from Georges Square and leave it. All these changes they are wanting to make. I wish they’d leave our town alone. It was alright, you know, and then all these one-way streets. They spend more petrol and they’re suppose to be so energy conscious and so environmentally conscious and when you see all the petrol fumes that go up, it’s nobodies business.

Where the car park is by the Yorkshire Bank, there use to be shops there as well, yeah, you know, at the back. There was a barber. There use to be a lovely little baby shop. There use to be all those kind of things, you know. It was good. And the Coop butcher is where the Yorkshire Bank is. It was good.

That’s quite a lot of changes, isn’t it?

Oh, there’s been lots and lots of changes, I mean, sometimes I hate the car. They’re replacing, cars seem to be more important than people, you know. They seem to have greater importance. If I could make a law, I would tax every second car to every household double and the third car would be three times as much. I really would tax them, because it’s not necessary. We’ve got to get all together the public transport sorted out. Our trains should be accessible. I can’t go on the train in Hebden Bridge. I can get on if I go to Leeds, but when I want to get off on the other side I can’t.

It’s all the stairs.

Yeah, but, I mean, we have a lift. We have a goods lift. If they would have left somebody at the station to work the lift we wouldn’t have any problems. It’s so simple, really. They have no idea. What’s he called, Greenwood, Greenwood, Lloyd Greenwood. He won so many prizes for the station. It was a picture. It was a joy to go in there, you know, flowers, flowers, flowers. Alan Thomas was there and I use to be able to book from Hebden Bridge at that little station from here to my home, to the house practically, in Wilhelmshaven. And my babies were taken care of, at every station I had help. That’s what it was like and it didn’t cost me much extra, at all. Seats were reserved. I had help at every station, food for the babies if necessary. Everything taken care of. All my family had to do was pick me up from the station and if they couldn’t I would have had a taxi home. That was simple and nowadays, well, I must say I can’t complain because I’ve had that kind of help all the time, till now, I can’t go on the trains, so I go by car. It’s been absolutely wonderful. I just love it here.

I sometimes think, well, where would I like to live. After my husband died, my son who lives in Tynemouth he says, come and live with, stay with us, until you find something. And I said, ‘I’ll come now and stay for a little while’, because that’s what they decided, but I wouldn’t want to go. I wouldn’t want to leave here. Sometimes I think should I move to Halifax because I work mostly in Halifax, kind of thing. And then I said, ‘No, this is my home’. The only thing that worries me is, my house is all stairs. If I have to leave where can I go? There’s nothing in my price range anywhere, you know. I shall get a canoe. I use to be a great canoeist and rower. I’ll get myself a little canoe or a barge and put a tent over my canoe and I’ll stay there. I’ll make a splash.

I have one thing now that I have noticed. In Mythomroyd a chap did a house up and he started annexing little bits of land and I watched him doing that. I got really, really very upset. And I would like to start a campaign for all people in Calderdale to look after their green patches. We are losing one after another. Somebody comes from outside or wherever they come from, to a house that they do up. And then they see that bit of land, it’s green, I want it and that’s bad. I seem to be going from one campaign to another. It’s ridiculous. There comes a time when I want to just relax and say everything’s safe in Calderdale, but it isn’t, you know. It isn’t. We all have to be very, very vigilant, because people are greedy. They see something, they like it and they have to have it. Other people come in to Hebden Bridge, they like Hebden Bridge when they come and visit and then they come and want to settle and then they want to change it. And I think how dare they! How dare they, you know, it’s wrong. Why should they fall in love with a place and then they have to be the one to change it.

Do you think that’s what actually happens?

It does happen. I’ve known the Browns, you know the engineering place, Alan Brown. Honestly, the way people created. That engineering place would still be there and doing well, if people who hadn’t come from outside started protesting because he needed to enlarge. That was meant for industry and it’s those people who have ruined somebody’s livelihood. I do not like them. I do not like them. I know that people who mostly protested, they did not come from this area. They came into this area and then they made their presence felt and it’s not right. It just is not right. If it’s something for the better, that’s fine, but to destroy somebody’s livelihood, I think that’s evil. If you love something why can’t you just do your best to make it good and happy, you know. I just can’t see the sense of it.

When you came over, I know you were talking about Christmas earlier; did you bring any traditions or customs kind of things, that you carried on with?

Yes, we had Easter kind of things, hiding eggs, painting and blowing eggs out, painting them and putting them on rings and putting them on twigs and things like that. And stilt walking for my children, you know my neighbour made us stilts and I taught my children stilt walking. They were all simple things. They were very, very simple things, whips and tops and things like that. We just had very simple things.

The ice cream van, they use to drive me crazy. They’d come about three times a day and mummy always said, ‘No’. I use to always be with the children and from orange peel we use to make beautiful lemonades and things like that. I couldn’t see the point of the children having ice cream three times a day. It’s a treat. The shopkeepers would say, ‘But, he asked so nicely,’ and I’d say, ‘but no still means no, they have sufficient’.

In Germany when you use to go to the butcher and you took your children with you we had those lovely cooked sausages and things and the children got a piece of the sausage or they’d get a chocolate from the grocer or something like that. That was nice, not all the time, you know, but everybody was very children friendly. In the shops here they don’t do that at all. There are different things, you know, it’s just a totally different culture.

Was it a good place to raise your children then?

I think so, where we lived in Heptonstall was ok. We had a little garden and it was not bad.

How many children did you have?

Two, we had two. It’s what you make it yourself in the end, you know. We liked to go walking. The first visit to Hardcastle Crags was a scream. I went with the pram. My husband took the bike, just in case he needed to go back for something because we didn’t know our way around. We heaved the pram over the walls. We heaved the bike over the walls. We couldn’t find the way and there were these anthills. They were like mountains.

They are.

Gosh, I’d never seen anything like it, but we could sit down to pick bilberries. Our bilberries, where I lived were very short and in those days people who went to pick bilberries needed to go for permission. They needed a permit. I don’t know why. There were more regulations at home, but here, we just sat under these bilberry bushes and had a whale of a time. They were as big as cherries, really. No, that’s a lie.

You know, the first Christmas when I came here, I said to the grocer, I said now, ‘ look, I’ve got a family at home and my husband is in Germany and I must make him a Christmas cake, a traditional English Christmas cake and would you please save the coupons for me, you know, would you save points for me’. By the time Christmas/Advent came, I went to the grocer and I’m sure I didn’t have those coupons, but I had everything I needed to make an absolutely luscious Christmas cake, an English one. As I say, everybody looked after me. It was out of this world. It was brilliant. People were so kind and they still are. They are lovely people. They’re really nice and the ones that aren’t so nice we can easily ignore.

Have you ever had any bad experiences?

Yes. I went in the doctor’s and because I’m a bit continental one old lady went, ‘Whck’ and showed me her beautiful back and I thought oh, bless you my love. One lady was extremely rude, but I learned to cope with it. The way I coped with it was to be extra special nice to her. She came to the shop, I use to open the door for her and things like that. It took me twenty years, but all of a sudden, hello, and I thought that works.

It took that long, did it?

It wouldn’t that long, but it was years and years and funnily enough. I better not say or you’ll know who it is then. Yes, she made my life hell. On the quiet she accosted me in the street and things like that, yeah.

That’s not nice, it’s uncalled for.

No, it’s not nice. I think if you’re consistently nice, if you’re consistently pleasant people eventually thaw, I mean, I know when I’ve been ill. I went into the bank and I ranted and raved and I thought I can’t believe this. And I apologised and explained it wasn’t me. I could hear myself and I couldn’t stop myself. I just blew up and I thought that’s not nice. I’ve had my experiences. In the Post Office we had a chap who, yeah, you get them everywhere, you know, but that poor chap saw the error of his ways.

On the whole, if people are really bad, they don’t realise just how much they hurt people. It’s thoughtlessness or they might be very unhappy themselves. That unhappiness, they don’t realise how it spreads. It’s like a rot. Unless you consciously make the effort of just saying hello and a smile doesn’t cost anything. I worked in Halifax, as I said, at the Riding Hall. I use to go through the churchyard, there, everyday. Met the same people, morning, noon and night, more or less, you know. Then I went on holiday and I came back and I said, ‘well, this is not going to continue’. So I started smiling at them and I said, ‘hello’. And they looked at me, umm. Then came their holiday and they were away and I said, ‘have you been away, I missed you’ and all of a sudden it was hello every time. I don’t know who they were, but we smiled and said hello. It’s as simple as that, a hello and a smile. It goes much further than a frown, you know. I’m naturally a very happy person. I can be whoff, I can be bolshie, as well, but I’d rather be happy and give out a smile rather than a frown. It’s much easier, cheaper as well and healthier, you know.

What do you think the future holds for Hebden Bridge, then? Where do you think it will go?

I would like, I hated it when we went into Calderdale, I really hated it, because we had a brilliant council here that looked after us. It was a good council. We had a rural, and what is it called, rural, and what’s the other council? Urban, urban and rural. They were brilliant. They were dedicated people, you know. They really looked after the area. They listened, as well. A bit autocratic sometimes. Kenneth Cavery was a good clerk. He knew what he was doing. I would like us to get away from Calderdale because Halifax was a mess. It really was a mess. I worked in Halifax and if it snowed at all we had to go home early because the streets were never cleaned. The buses couldn’t get anywhere and things like that. The West Riding was brilliant. You knew the border and you knew you were in good hands. I would like us to be independent of Calderdale. There is no such place as Calderdale. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous! I think we could do things better for ourselves, you know. The people would say what they really want. And all these horrible buildings, it’s all imposed on us and I resent it bitterly. I like Hebden Bridge and would like Hebden Bridge to be Hebden Bridge Urban District again, thank you.

That’s interesting.

Bigger is not always better.

Well, that’s very true.

They lose sight, they lose sight.

This end of the valley, the upper valley, they don’t seem to think about it very much, really.

Yes, well, I mean look what they’re doing in Halifax. They’re spending so much. The bring stones in from all over the world. The robbed us of the cobbles, the stones. We had beautiful slate and things like that and where has it gone, you know. As I say, we are being robbed.

I look at Luddenden Foot. There’s the Black Lion there and on the roadside, I will have to tell the council eventually, that land with the trees, it’s all eroded. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven that way.

Not lately.

I look when I go and that bit of land, that will be washed away and if a child ever clambers up there, I shudder to think what can happen, you know, and things like that. I feel the councillors don’t treasure what they have, what’s under their noses. Same as that lot in Mythomroyd where that chap is annexing it. I’ve never heard a councillor say anything about it yet. You know, that’s their job. They should know their area. I was only a tiddlely councillor for a little while, but the road sweeper came up the ginnels in the wintertime with the leaves and things like that so the old people could be safe. You working for the people, for everybody. It’s not just the peoples concern, but its what’s on the roads is your concern as well, as a councillor, you know. The people are lovely when you meet them, but as far as taking care of Hebden Bridge, there’s a long, long way to go.

They need some dedication and commitment.

Yes, you do. I read the police are much more visible now, you know and they’re lovely actually. At first I went to the police station and the inspector there, he said, ‘between us we’ll sort it’. He was lovely. He really was lovely. When I first came to England I asked every policeman the time. They are lovely. They are and they still are. I haven’t met a bad policeman yet and they’re all very caring. And I think if you’ve had bad experiences you should ask yourself how have you approached them, because they have a very difficult job to do.

We had our fire station, our fire engine and everything, you know. We were self sufficient and look at us now, you know. Strapped to Calderdale.

We had a fantastic MP, Douglas Hogden was brilliant. Donald Thompsom was good as well. Dougie Hogden, he was good, I knew him best. Donald Thompson I knew, but I didn’t know him as well as Dougie Hogden.

What do you think of the new MP, then?

Chris is OK! She is a hard worker and I like Alice Mahon. I really admire her. I obviously don’t agree with things that go on, but she is one of those ladies, she has honesty, she has integrity and she has never let me down and I’m not a Labour Party person anymore. I use to be for a short time, but I’m not a Labour Party person anymore. I think I’ll finish with politics, with party politics, all together! I wish they would just get on with the job.

When Alice sat and Chris sat and, I mean, you know, the others did as well. Well, she has the integrity in parliament to stand up and say what she feels about the war, about all these things. And she will really stand up. When you go to her with a concern, to both of them. We had to go to them, recently and they will follow through. They really will. And Alice even though she is retiring, she’s working hard right to the end, you know. And I don’t care, I go by what people do, what I see them do. Labour are ok, people can do what they like, but I have my own counsel and I will judge people by what I see them do for other people and what’s good. So, I think we’ve covered practically everything. Oh, Peter Calvert at Heptonstall was my first parish councillor. They had lovely summer festivals there.

They’re going to start it again this year, they say.

Yes. And I remember a tall teacher, Dobson I think he was called at Heptonstall, he started the Pace Eggers again, you know. Mr. Dobson, I think he was called Dobson, a very tall man and Ray Richards is still involved with that. He was a brilliant teacher and he was a kind man. He was a lovely man. Well, he is a lovely man, sorry Ray.

There is so much you know. I was involved with the church in Heptonstall when the change came. I was on the PPC, then. There were only a handful of us left in the church, altogether. And that vicar and his family, they were the ones who taught me what Christianity was all about. We had to spend that money in certain ways and he invited people to have their say, you know. And the first thing if you knocked on their door, it was flung open, come in, what can I do for you, no matter who it was. And they never fired that poor man. They crucified that man. It was horrendous. And it was actually through them that I came to nursing, with people with learning difficulties. They were expecting this baby and I was really horrible to them I think. Well, I said you’ve got bla bla bla . Then this little baby was born, Jonathan and he was disabled. And they let me, who was so horrible to them. They let me go and see Jonathan and I use to play with him and that’s how I came into learning difficulties. I loved that little boy and they let me play with him and things like that. And they are very, very special people, the Forshaws. They taught me what real Christianity was all about. Honestly, in the end, when they were working on the church, there about a handful of us doing the services in the vicarage on bare floors, you know, it was just like the old days. Thomas Atock and the Greenwoods and Joan Mason, of course. She was our head chorister. She was leading the choir. And Abel Stansfield was the organist and we were only a handful left there. That’s how they treat people who were really, really good. It was sad. It was sad. I’ve, also, seen these messages, what’s going on now each month, and I can tell you never the twain shall meet. I wasn’t aware of these things. I just said hello to everybody. It was so nice when we first came together and worked and talked to each other and we found we were just like everybody else.

So, do you, you don’t go to the Catholic church?

I’m a Catholic again. Yeah, I’ve gone back to the Catholic church, the year my sister died. I went back to the Catholic church the year after that. It is my history, you know. There are reasons why I did. I shall always be grateful for the time with the Anglicans. I’ve still great friends. I keep my contacts. And my husband just absolutely adored Peter Calvert and his family and his mother and sister. They are lovely people. There’s one god and his children, you know. When I go home, I go to Latin mass. I’m a traditionalist, when I can I go to Latin mass. My father always use to say wherever you go in the world, when you go to the church, you’re all one. We all speak the same language and that’ll do for me.

Yeah, OK.

You thought I’d run out.

No, I’ve got a bank full of there. I could go on for ever. I find it really fascinating. Actually, there’s loads and loads more I’d like to talk about.

Sometimes I go on and on and I think it’s wrong, really, but I feel so strongly about things. Don’t talk to me about people with learning difficulties. You’d have it two days a week or a month and a year I could talk to you about that, because it’s something I really feel passionate about.

Do you have a computer?

There is one in store for me somewhere, but I need to sort my house out first. I don’t let anyone into my house. I can’t get into the sitting room myself. It’s so.

The only reason I mention it is because we have a website and one of the pages there is you can tell a story, you could carry on telling more stories. If you wanted to talk about the disabled, your involvement with disabled people or your belief in working with people with learning difficulties, rather than actually doing it like this you could type it in. You wouldn’t have to do it like this or if you know anybody else who might be interested in doing something like that then they can do it that way. It doesn’t have to be like this.

That’s lovely, I might get to that.

About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge

Phone: 01422 844450
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