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David Fletcher (1)

Interviewed on 19.03.2010

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[TRACK 1]


TONY WRIGHT: Right, this is Tony Wright, it’s the nineteenth of March 2010, I’m in the Birchcliffe Centre and I’m interviewing David Fletcher.  Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?


DAVID FLETCHER:David Edwin Fletcher, compulsory Edwin, it’s a family name going way back.  Born in the front bedroom of 56 Caldene Avenue at Mytholmroyd on the fifteenth of July at 2 a.m. 1933.


TW:Right.  Well what was your family life like in the thirties then?  What did your parents do and what was the house like?

 
DF:Well my father came to Mytholmroyd; he bought into a small corn merchant’s business in Mytholmroyd and so he was working very hard to try to get that established.  1933 was a critical year for him because one of his major customers went bankrupt and it almost took him with them, so it was a pretty tough time and they’d just moved into this new house, a semi-detached house on Caldene Avenue. Caldene Avenue at that time was just rubble, it wasn’t a tarmacked road.  The whole area was pretty disorganised; all the streets around were just rough rocky roads as we used to call them as kids and there were other houses around  about, there were quite a few kids about so we had lots of playing out, it was terrific.  My mother wasn’t working as generally was the custom in those days so she was, you know, at home to run the house and of course there was a lot more work running a house then.  There were no washing machines, no fridge, nothing like that, you know.  It was always very interesting.  I look back and I think we didn’t go shopping all that much because the shops came to the door you know, the milkman came with a horse and a milk float, and you went out with a bowl, and he measured so many gills, a gill being half a pint in this part of the world, not a quarter, into your bowl and then you carried it into your house, and you put it in the sink and you draped some muslin over the top of it and you kept it moist to try and stop it going sour, a pretty difficult thing to do in summer time.  The groceries and greengroceries came to the door you know, Crabtree’s cart - a whole shop on a cart with a horse pulling it.  While my mother would stand there buying vegetables or whatever, the horse would be eating the privet hedge round the front garden, and everybody would be out chatting and it all seemed very leisurely, and as a child it was all quite exciting and there were, you know, lots of things to do, and I remember we spent a lot of time outdoors and we roamed far and wide, and our parents didn’t seem to bother.We used to play up in Bell Hole, you know, Broad Head Clough as the Ordnance Survey call it today, but that was a couple of miles from where we lived, and at you know, six and seven and eight years old we were there building dens and playing on the rocks and in the old quarries; quite dangerous places I suppose, and at other times we’d be up at Scout Road in Mytholmroyd at the bottom of Scout Road rocks there, with rocks falling off the cliffs from time to time.  That was before the authority had turned it into a dump and started burying asbestos there.  I remember – it’s partly hearsay I suppose – at the age of three being found on my tricycle in the middle of Mytholmroyd and my parents had no idea where I was, and it didn’t seem to be a problem.  Everybody knew everybody which had a good side and it had a difficult side when I was about fourteen and I’d started trying to smoke cigarettes.  My father knew about it almost before I’d got down the first one [laughing].  Everybody knew everybody and they were all in contact, so it was a great life.  The biggest drawback for me was my illness.  I suffered from chronic asthma, and so I used to spend about three months of every year in bed, which of course there didn’t seem to be anything they could do for asthma much in those days.  There were no inhalers.  If it got really bad I had to take a drug called ephedrine, which more or less pole-axed me and I had to be in bed, and I’d be there for weeks, and anything I caught, and of course there were loads of childish ailments then – chickenpox, measles, mumps and you know, the dreaded scarlet fever.  If you got scarlet fever you had to be taken away and all your toys had to be burnt because it might – and of course there were things like smallpox and polio around then, and several of my friends at school caught things like that. I lost a few friends as well from accidents that happened.  All this playing out was a jolly good thing and it brought a great sense of freedom, but it did lead to quite serious injuries in some cases and two of my friends got killed in accidents whilst I was a young child, so


TW:What kind of accidents?


DF:Well….one sat on the pillion of a motorbike that a friend of his had got.  An older boy got a motorbike and so the sixteen year old got the motorbike, the thirteen year old’s on the pillion and the sixteen year old set off rather abruptly doing a wheelie you know, the front wheel in the air and my friend fell off the pillion into the road.  Everybody laughed like a drain, thinking this was very amusing.  He got up and said ‘fine, fine, nothing wrong with me’, took about six paces and died, just dropped dead, cerebral haemorrhage.  The other one unfortunately got chopped in two on the railway lines.  The Mytholmroyd of the 1940’s you know, when I was a little bit older, was full of children.  Less than half of them indigenous children, the rest of them evacuees.  We had two evacuees in our family, and these evacuees were very very streetwise kids.  They were from the East End of London or in our case from Brighton, but Brighton must have been a different world to Mytholmroyd.  It was an eye-opener really meeting these.  We had a girl who was a year or two older than me and she did a great deal for my education in many respects.  It was an interesting time, because there were all these kids and of course half the fathers were away and so there wasn’t as much parental control as there might have been, there tended to be groupings of kids – gangs – not street gangs in the sense you’d think about today, but there were gangs.  There was a Caldene gang which, you know, we were members of and we had our base in a tree house about twenty-five foot up in a big sycamore tree, and up there we had a stock of clay that had been beaten into little cubes and dried in the sun, about an inch cube and you could throw them at people, and if they landed they hurt, and, you know, that was our ammunition.  Our last line of retreat was up the tree and got all this ammunition.  The nearest gang to us was the Nest Estate gang – the Nesters – and between the two was the railway line.  We used to run across the railway lines all the time, but that was not easy because there were four tracks in those days and the two tracks in the centre were for fast moving trains which at that time were mostly troop trains, and the two side tracks were known as the loop lines, and they didn’t go through the railway stations because there were only two tracks going through the railway station.  The loop line between Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd was often full of a queue of about five goods trains carrying coal and they had to wait for the express trains to go through the stations, so one express train would go through and then they’d let a couple of goods trains go through and then it would be all halt again, so quite often if you went across the railways tracks you had to climb underneath the wheels of the goods trains to get to the fast tracks where you’d have a good look and then run across.  This lad was walking between the wheels of a goods train when it set off, and, you know, the trucks were coupled together with just links of chain, and when the engine set off, the old steam engines, they took the strain of the train and then the wheels would skid on the lines [imitated sound of skidding wheels] and the wheels would be spinning, and all the trucks would shuttle backwards and forwards making crashing noises, so this lad wasn’t run over, I mean he was mashed because he was there when the trucks shuttled backwards and forwards.  He didn’t stand a chance.  We gazed on with great curiosity.   It didn’t seem to register when you were a child.  Children are – you know it’s quite pertinent of certain cases that are in the news at the moment.  Children just don’t seem to have that sense of you know, this was a living, breathing, kicking, swearing little child and all of a sudden it’s all gone, so it’s quite worrying really to look back on attitudes to that kind of thing.  One or two people got shot with air rifles and got minor injuries, two of my friends lost an eye; one through an air rifle, another had pinched some blank ammunition from the Home Guard and we thought it was great fun to put it on the ground and hit it with a hammer and it made a rather spectacular bang, but in this case a piece of metal flew off and blinded him in one eye.  There was much, much more of that kind of thing than there is now and kids really are molly-coddled and get taken everywhere in cars, and parents worry about what might happen to them, and so….somewhere between the two might be the best pitch.But going back to the illness, I don’t suffer from asthma today so far as I know and kind of grew out of it.  I think the last attack I had was when I was in my thirties when it gradually tailed off through my twenties.  It was still a bit of a bug-bear when I was at university and I had to come home every November, I just couldn’t live through Novembers without going to bed, and I attribute it to atmospheric pollution.  I mean people talk about atmospheric pollution now but you ain’t seen nothing.  The Calder Valley in the 1940’s and the 1950’s, the amount of soot in the atmosphere was incredible, I mean we took it for granted because it was there, but looking back on it, it was just black.  Traditionally one always slept with the bedroom window partly open and everybody had net curtains, and after about a week, putting up new net curtains there was a black square where there was an open window.  We used to put a handkerchief over our nose and mouth going to school, I mean I went to Burnley Road School in Mytholmroyd initially, but then at eleven I went to Hebden Bridge Grammar School; I passed my eleven plus much to everyone’s astonishment and went to the grammar school.  I used to go on a bicycle four times a day – go in the morning, come home for lunch, back again.  One trip between Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd and the handkerchief over your nose and mouth was absolutely black, and that obviously wasn’t doing anybody any good at all, this load of soot.  In winter time if there was a period of a few days when there was no wind and clear skies, temperature inversion, the soot couldn’t escape from the valley and so the soot was pinned below the temperature inversion in the valley, and you had a black roof on the valley.  Without any exaggeration it was as black at midday as it was at midnight, and of course in the war there were no street lights, no lights at all, no light from any houses and it was black – twenty-four hours – black until there was a wind to start dispersing it, and we had a lot of cold winters in the 1940’s so a lot of temperature inversions.  Even the snow was black when it had been lying for a day or two, and if you had a long winter, and the winters of ’40, ’41, ’42, ’45, ’47, ’49, ’51, they were all long, cold winters.  ’47 was the one that people talk about but the others weren’t far short.  You could tell how many times it had snowed because you’d got snow with a layer of soot on top of it and then snow again with a layer of soot on top of it, you could actually count the snow fall, which in some cases were many. ’47 was remarkable for the snow fall, I mean the war had just finished but there was no machinery to clear the snow and there was no manpower to clear the snow, and the main road through the centre of Hebden Bridge was just compacted snow which got ridged and frozen till it was like a ploughed field, but there was virtually no traffic.  Halifax Corporation was still attempting to run its buses, but with great difficulty and very hit and miss.  It was pretty difficult walking about, people were falling about all over the place and


TW:How long did that last for?

DF:Well it snowed in early January and then there was a slight warmer period, and then it started to snow with a vengeance, and it carried on snowing nearly every day until about the middle of March, and it didn’t melt till April, and it was fierce.  It was wonderful, I mean I thought it was marvellous.  I had a fantastic sledge that my Uncle Albert had made for me; he was a bit of a handyman, and it was about four feet long by two feet wide, and it was really a platform of timber with some bent gas pipe – two pieces of bent gas pipe underneath to make the runners, and it would really go, and a friend of mine, Kit Whiteoak whose father was the Whiteoaks Chemists in Mytholmroyd, he had a pony, and we put the harness on the pony and some long reins, put a tea chest on the sledge, and he’d stand at the front with the reins and I’d stand at the back with the tea chest, and we’d be off down the street doing everybody’s shopping; we’d got our own means of transport, and the snow in Mytholmroyd was only a foot or two deep, but we used to get – I should be careful what one says – but I suppose it’s long enough ago – we used to go to Blackshaw Head to get our black market butter.  There was a farm on Badger Lane and we had an arrangement, so we used to go up to Blackshaw Head to get black market butter because everything at that time was rationed and I think you had about two ounces of butter a week or something and you had to live on that, and so most people could get most things.  Sugar was always a problem but butter you could get in Blackshaw Head.  There were cows in Blackshaw Head and there was green top milk as we came to call it eventually with cream on top.  We used to sit at home on Sunday evenings and make our own butter, listening to ITMA, and Ann Ziegler and Webster Booth and Richard Tauber on the Sunday evening wireless with a large glass full of cream that we’d taken off the top of the milk, shaking it until your arms ached and then you passed it to the next member of the family, and it would just take about the length of an ITMA programme before you could see this blob of butter in the middle of what sort of was the whey, you know, the bit that’s left, but Blackshaw Head…we walked of course.  Walking on Badger Lane, the snow was so hard that you walked on it without leaving a footprint, and when you came to a telephone pole, some of them stuck out just about enough to make a little stool to sit on, so there would be….fifteen feet of snow.  Some had disappeared completely and the wires went in to the snow and when you got to the farmhouse, it was recognisable by a hole in the snow and steps cut in the snow because the snow was at roof level and you went down this tunnel to the back door of the farmhouse, you know, that was amazing, and that was due to the pile-up of snow in ’47.  In ’41 there was a deposit of that amount of snow overnight.  It was known as the Great Lancashire Snow Storm because Lancashire got it worse, but it came on a west wind and so we got a lot of it.  I remember going up Pecket Well when they were trying to dig it out and it was up to the rooftops of the houses in Pecket Well.  That block of red brick houses just as you are going into Pecket Well where it had come off the moors, and it had just drifted up to the rooftops of the houses.  Even down in Mytholmroyd, 1941, I was eight years old, the only way I could see out over the depth of snow was if my parents lifted me up on to the window bottom so that I could press my nose against the glass at the top of the window, and look out over the snow drift that was up to the top of the window.  We had got a privet hedge all round our front garden and it was just covered – everything was covered in about four or five feet of snow, and you know, I’ve never see anything like it since, at least not in this country, so those were the winters, and pretty exciting times playing out, but the asthma just kept me back from most of it.  My mother in particular was terrified that if it was cold I would catch things.


TW:Do you think the asthma started to go because you moved out of the area, or because it started to get a bit cleaner?


DF:Well I didn’t move out of the area, I mean I’ve lived here all of my life, and I never went anywhere on holiday until I went to university, but even when I was at university I was back here at weekends and in the holidays and so on.  I think it’s due to…you know, the Clean Air Act actually.  1952, the Clean Air Act after the big London smog didn’t have that much impact because it was discretionary.  Local Authorities were permitted to declare smoke control areas, but in the north a lot of them didn’t, especially the ones that had miners as voters – they couldn’t, but then, ’66 I think it was, the second Clean Air Act made it compulsory and the atmosphere really did begin to improve.  We were troubled by a lot of local smoke and the cure for that of course was unemployment and depression and the collapse of the local economy, anyway we’ll come back to that, but the other half of the smoke that troubled us came from Manchester and Bolton and Wigan and Liverpool and so on, there was this load of soot blowing across the Pennines from the north-west, or if the wind blew the other way... you couldn’t get a sun tan for example here.  You could lie on a sunny day all day and go pink, but you wouldn’t get a tan, you wouldn’t go brown afterwards which was a source of great disappointment to my sister.  You just could not get a tan here because the ultra-violet was filtered out long before it reached ground level, but…childhood diseases were a lot more serious than they are now; there were no antibiotics for a start, so you just had to build up a natural immunity to these things, and when I was ten I had a particularly bad asthma attack and it shows you something about the local doctors at that time.  They were all kind of one-man practices and they worked…when there was an epidemic on, they were working like twenty-four-seven because there was nobody to cover for them, and they would visit the house even though they were so pressed.  You could go to their surgery; there were no appointments so you’d to devote about three hours to sitting in a room with lots of other people coughing and spluttering, it wasn’t a good idea, or you could ring them up and they’d come to your house, but of course it would cost you; it was seven and sixpence or something like that, but in my case my mother thought it was worth it, but this particular night the doctor sat up all night with me and my mother and I remember being…well I was delirious you know and I kept going in and out of consciousness, and at one stage I woke up and I heard the doctor telling my mother that I wouldn’t make it till morning.  I still remember that. [voice breaking with sadness]…I remember being in bed and feeling scared.


TW:I bet you were.  I bet you really were, but you seem to have come through it alright.


DF:I also remember thinking, ‘I’ve not been right well,’ and then waking up and there were all these black shadows on the ceiling of the bedroom because I’d a fire in the bedroom; I’d been moved into a bedroom with a fireplace and, you know, that was the only form of heating in the house, and these black shadows, I thought they were all coming to get me, to carry me off, so it’s strange how these memories stick with you.  But the other side of the weather in the house, if I couldn’t go out, the snow storm came in to meet me as it were.  There was a little crack down the front door, and with an east wind and with snow falling, there’d be a snow drift about six inches deep in a line down the hallway, and it would stay there, it didn’t melt, and in the bathroom, I remember going to the toilet and I would stand facing the toilet and there was a small window and it didn’t fit too well at the bottom, and the snowflakes used to blow underneath the window and blow up, and make a snowdrift on the window bottom about six inches deep which didn’t melt, it stayed there, and there’d be ice on the inside of the window that you’d to scrape off with your fingernails if you wanted to see through the window, and if you ran a hot bath….you were in the middle of a fog, you couldn’t see across the room in winter time [laughing], so life was really very very different, and as I say all the evacuees were a bit of a shock to the system, a different life intruding into the Calder Valley.  Going away to university was a shock to the system to me as well, because apart from holidays with my parents I had never been out of the valley before, and it was quite astonishing to go away from home.


TW:Where did you go?


DF:Well I wasn’t a very successful student so I went to quite a few different places for short periods of time.  Initially I went to the University of Hull and after I’d been there three weeks they re-arranged my programme and made me take maths which is not one of the subjects I’d gone there to take, so at the end of the first year it was bye-bye Hull, then I went to Sheffield which was desperate for my asthma because the atmosphere in Sheffield you know, from the steel industry, was appalling.  It was full of sulphur, and sulphur was a real killer to me.  I used to catch the tram and then struggle up St Phillips Road to the university.  I did actually manage to stick it out for three years in Sheffield and got quite a good degree, and then I did a spell at Leeds University and then later in life a spell at Bradford University, so not very ambitious really, not very far from home.


TW:You say it was an eye-opener.  How was it an eye-opener?


DF:Well a lot of young people, mostly lads, living away from home for the first time and you know, it was very very different from being in a small enclosed village community, and I was very homesick at first, and I didn’t probably get as much out of university as a lot of kids do today because it was all rather frightening and worrying because of all the examinations, and of course my dad had to scrimp and scrape for the fees, and so it was particularly important that I was making use of it, and yeah, it was an anxious time in a way.   Later in life when I went back to do a second degree I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed seminars and I enjoyed the kind of academic fencing, you know, trying to research obscure facts and bamboozle everybody else and all that, but it wasn’t like that the first time round, and there wasn’t the money for the sort of student activities that go on today, you know, all these……well goings-on and the booze flowing.  I think I had about two and sixpence a week left over after I’d paid all my essentials, so it wasn’t kind of the student life that one sees on the films.


TW:Right.  So when you finished university then, did you go straight into work?


DF:Yes I went into teaching straightaway.  I’d always intended to go into teaching and I was quite fortunate in a way that when I left university they were so short of science teachers that if you’d got a good honours degree in science and you were going teaching, you didn’t have to do National Service, and although people who did National Service came out afterwards and said what a great time, I’m not quite sure I believe them because I had friends who were having it at the time, and it’s this kind of rationalisation I think.  If you’ve had to go through it for two years and you come out of it, you say to everybody else with bravado, you know, ‘oh we had a fantastic time and we did this and we did that’ but it wasn’t always so good. I mean some of my friends were in swamps in Malaysia with leeches crawling through their boot-holes, and others were in Kenya attempting to deal with the Mao Mao so it didn’t sound all that much fun really and…you know they all survived it, and they’ve got lots of tales to tell and…..I think attitudes to Empire were interesting.  I’d been brought up as a little child through the Second World War, I’d got the map on the wall with all the little flags pinned in; I knew exactly where our armies were.  I’d got four relatives who were in the armed forces in different parts of the world and I used to write letters to them, and I used to get these squiddly tiny photographs and letters back, you’d to get a magnifying glass to read them, with bits crossed out that the censor didn’t like, and so you know, at quite a young age I was very interested in following the conflict and so on, and then of course the map had big blobs of pink all over it, you know, my father and my grandfather would stick their chests out and say ‘that’s the British Empire’ and my grandfather had been in the First World War and he had lots of tales to tell, and so you grew up as a sort of patriot or nationalist, or whatever it would be called today, and of course when I went off to university there were all these insurrections going on, I think they called them at the time, and after the Second World War when the mother of the Empire was on her knees if not her back, and the family were growing up and the colonies, as we called them then, were like teenagers rebelling against the family strictures and it seemed as if everybody in the world hated us and everybody wanted us to go away and we’d made a real bad fist of it and we were the evil ones and you know, you kind of felt ashamed.  There was this pressure on you to feel guilty about the Empire.  I think it still persists today, there’s a lot of guilt feeling and soul-searching and so on about it.  It’s a matter of how far you can take that, and in the last fifteen years or so I’ve done quite a lot of world-wide travelling and I’ve been to many of the places that were colonies and then became part of the Commonwealth and some still are and so on, and that’s been an eye-opener to me.  Wherever I’ve gone I’ve found that there is a relationship – to me it is very much like a relationship in a family, you know – the colonies, we had this kind of condescending attitude that these primitive people needed our assistance and we would help them into the real world, at the same time of course obtaining some of their resources and all the rest of it, but it was in a sense like a family and that’s the way that it’s been looked at, and then you have this rebellion when the teenagers are growing up and throwing rocks about and wanting to escape and so on, but now they’re all growing up and if you go to somewhere like India or Pakistan, Malaysia, there is definitely a connection you know, there’s a similar sort of legal basis...


TW:Is that connection to do with ordinary people or is it to do with people in power or the Government, that sort of thing?


DF:I’ll not mix with people in power and the Government when I go to these places.  I’ve travelled a lot in the last fifteen years or so with a cousin of mine and we just set off like a couple of hobos – boots and rucksack – we’re just like sort of hippies cruising, but we are somewhat older hippies with a credit card and so…..sometimes we sleep in a hedge bottom or on a park bench and we just…..well we buy an air ticket to a place A and then we’ve got an air ticket in our pocket to come back from place B, and we make our way as best we can from A to B and that’s the fun, and we’ve gone away sometimes up to a couple of months, and we’ve just…..been like a couple of tramps really


TW:It sounds great


DF:Absolutely fantastic.  I mean students these days go off on gap years, well I’ve done my gap year in bits and I’ve had it when I’ve been a bit older, and I’ve appreciated it a lot more, it’s been absolutely fantastic.  Wonderful journeys – South America, Central America, Central Asia, you know, one year we took a ticket to Tashkent and a return ticket from Islamabad.  Now how do you get from Tashkent to Islamabad?  Well we went on a very circuitous route that took us through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Xinjiang Provinces of China which are not China at all, they’re really…it’s this Tibet situation.  We’re not here to go into the politics, but it’s difficult politics there, it’s a political explosion waiting to happen, and then over the Karakoram Highway into the North West Frontier of Pakistan, and the people everywhere welcome you, and when you get into former British territories, it’s surprising, most people can speak English and you can sit down and you can have some quite in-depth conversations with them, and it’s really quite – I mean the thing that was said to me in India time and time again, ‘you know what you the Brits did wrong in India’ you know, and I’m thinking ‘oh heck, here it comes’ – ‘you left about fifty years too soon.  We weren’t quite ready for it’.  I’ve been quite astonished, I mean there’ll be a lot of people out there who’ll be saying ‘oh he’s just an old-fashioned old man who’s still got these colonial old attitudes’ but not true, not true.  I have a lot of respect for these people who live in other parts of the world, and they’re doing just fine, but a lot of them thank us for the things that we gave them.  They recognise the things that we took from them, but they also thank us and there’s a sort of position being reached.  I find it interesting.


TW:I’m trying to think about the work that you did then.  When you started working, you  said that you went in to teaching.


DF:Yes.


TW:What did you teach and where was it, and how did that progress?


DF:Well I taught for a year or two in Bingley, not far away.  I’ve always been round this part of the world, for some strange reason I’ve had this mad passionate love affair going with this part of the world and felt very much, you know, ‘these are my roots, I want to do things here’ and from the age of fourteen I was out on the hills planting trees.  I used to go out at night digging up little saplings that were growing in impossible places where they couldn’t survive and then go and plant them where I thought I would like to see a tree, even if it were somebody else’s land.  A lot of those trees are there today and they’re quite big, and I nod at them and they nod at me as we go by, and I just automatically wanted to come back here so I came back to work at Calder High School in 1960, and I scrimped and saved and bought a piece of land for the absolutely enormous figure of £125 and the following year I bought a pickaxe and a wheelbarrow and I started digging a driveway, and over the next two years I semi built my own house.  I had people in to do the jobs I couldn’t do myself and I did what I could do myself, and during that time I was working at Calder High School, and I was teaching mainly Biology.  I have always had a feeling for the environment, a connection with it, and I took a first degree in Biology and Geography which was as near as you could get to an Environmental Degree at that time, and I taught Biology at Calder High School. I also got talked into teaching General Studies, which was a sort of new idea that you had got to give people a bit of a wider curriculum and my General Studies became Environmental Studies, and in 1965 the Environment Studies class became Calder Civic Trust on the back of a particular issue.  1965, The Central Electricity Generating Board as it then was, you know, one of the big nationalised dinosaurs, wanted to erect 200 two-foot high pylons across the skyline above Hardcastle Crags you know, pretty reminiscent of the lady that now wants to put a turbine up somewhere there, and there was an outcry, even though it was 1965 and people weren’t all that environmentally conscious.  There was a Committee for the Protection of Hardcastle Crags which had existed since the 1930’s when Halifax first tried to flood the crags and turn it into a reservoir, and that committee got involved and I mean it was a ready-made case to get the students at Calder High School involved, which we did, and the kids really got into this and we started preparing evidence and so on. A public inquiry was held in Keighley and the school kids had put together a proof of evidence and I went to the then Headmaster, a chap called John Muschap, and said ‘look I’d like to take these kids to the public inquiry in Keighley and I’d like the group to be represented, and some of the sixth-form kids to actually present the proof of evidence’ – he turned me down.  


TW:Really?


DF:Yes.  ‘Children getting involved in controversial political issues, blah blah blah’ one thing and another.  I mean one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead and so on, and I’ll not say too much about John Muschap, but I thought it was appalling you know, this wasn’t what teaching was about.  Anyway some of the sixth formers went under their own volition.  I couldn’t go because I had to be at work, but a girl called Susan Crabtree from Heptonstall gave evidence at the inquiry.  She was in that period, sort of between A Levels, I think it was about June time of the year, so at that time it would have been called playing truant, because nowadays they seem to be able to come and go as they feel like it, but that time you know, you were at the school between nine and four, you’d be there even if you’d got nothing much to do because the exams had finished.  However some of the sixth form went over to Keighley, she was chosen to be the spokesperson for the group, and of course it attracted a lot of attention.  First thing I knew about it when there was a photograph of Susan in the ‘Daily Express’.  She was a very attractive girl and we’re talking 1960’s, we’re talking short skirts and long hair, long blonde hair, short skirts, and there’s a picture of Susan sitting on top of a dry stone wall, the ‘Daily Express’ photographer presumably crouching in the ditch down there somewhere, so it was a pretty leggy sort of photograph, a very attractive photograph, nothing wrong with it, and the headline was ‘School Girl Fights Giants On Moors’, well you can imagine what the Headmaster did when he got hold of that!  He went apoplectic…but, anyway, we survived. Eventually I did leave Calder High School for those sort of reasons.  I left school-teaching because of the way school-teaching was going and the way that you weren’t allowed to teach in the way you wanted to teach and you weren’t allowed to maintain discipline.  If you couldn’t maintain discipline in your class, I mean….I had discipline; I didn’t go around beating people up but I had discipline, and actually I had a pretty good time.  I really enjoyed it, I had a good relationship with the kids, but after ten years I think possibly the age gap was getting a bit too much and the new educational bureaucracies and all the sort of PC-ness was beginning to come in and it was driving me crackers, so that was when I opted out, went to do a second degree and then went in to university teaching where I set up a Department of Environmental Study at what today is the Manchester Metropolitan University, it was Manchester Polytechnic at that time, and I had a lot of fun there, I mean so that was my career until the universities started getting very bureaucratic and I’d built up quite a big consultancy in the department, and I’d got a department that was kind of made up mainly of people who were mainly fifty-fifty; there were fifty per cent working on consultancy, fifty per cent teaching students and the university was paying thirteen point five full time equivalent salaries but I’d got thirty staff, and I was topping it up with the consultancy money and in effect running a business – not making any personal profit, but again I thought that was a jolly good way for higher education to go you know, people who were doing the real job were actually talking to the students and we’d got real life case studies and all the rest of it, but the university authorities found it a bit difficult. They kept saying ‘what do we do with this money?  It’s not coming in from the Government, it’s this that and the other’ – I think they’re probably a lot bit better at it in universities today than they were then but after a bit I said ‘look,  let’s come to an agreement.  You take the department, I’ll take the consultancy’ and in 1988 I sort of went freelance as a one-man band, and that’s when I went travelling from 1988 onwards, and I got….rather a lot of interesting jobs working for all sorts of people from Manchester Airport to the National Civic Trust to the EU and I worked in lots of parts of Europe and North America and you know, that was a totally different part of my life after 1988.


TW:In the e-mail that you sent me, you mentioned working as a postman and a coalman and a bus conductor and in Barker’s.  Was that all in the fifties then?


DF:Yes, these were all short-term jobs as a student, you know, I worked as a postman for nine years on the Cragg Vale run. It was nineteen miles on foot.  There was only one delivery a day I’m glad to say [laughing] and it didn’t matter what the weather was.  I used to walk from Mytholmroyd Post Office up Cragg Vale with a bag full of mail delivering to all the houses till I got to what was then Cragg Vale Post Office which is just at the top of Church Bank – or was at the top of Church Bank, along with the Co-operative Store and the other corner store and all the various things that no longer exist in Cragg Vale, and there I would pick up another bag, and I would walk then to the top of Cragg, to Sykesgate Bottom Farm and on the Sowerby Old Road, going off the road on both sides to all the different farms and I know the first time I did it, I got all the letters in the wrong farms because once I’d got one wrong, I thought the next batch of letters would be for the next farm and everybody had to go back one to pick up their mail, and it created quite a bit of confusion.  That was one day – another day I got lost in the snow going across Nab End Moor .  You went along Sowerby Old Road to the end to Swot and Swillington and…another farm, can’t remember what the farm was called, the people who lived there were called Ryder and then you cut off across Nab End Moor and it was just a small but fairly trackless piece of moor and in the snow, driving snow and mist I got completely lost, I had no idea where I was until I came out of the mist onto a road and there was a farm there and I knocked on the door to see if I could find out which farm it was you know, ‘is this Swot Farm?’  ‘nay lad, this isn’t Swot Farm, it’s so-and-so’ I said ‘where is so-and-so?’ he said ‘what do you want to go there for?  That’s on t’Mytholmroyd round.’  I said ‘I am the Mytholmroyd postman’ – ‘ay well thou art in Sowerby now’ [laughing]….I abandoned it at that point.  On another occasion I’m looking for a farm on the Sowerby Old Road and it was called Half Acre – the Half Acre Farm - it’s still there, it’s got a gateway now with it written on the gate, and at the time I thought ‘I can’t find that’ – I stopped this chap, a farmer on the road. ‘Half Acre’ he said ‘Half Acre’ he says ‘I don’t know where that is.  Half Acre….oh’ he says ‘I know – thah means Toe Fac,  Little cameos from the past – so that was the postman, but I enjoyed that.  I didn’t enjoy the coal wagon very much.


TW:Was that your father’s business?


DF:That was my father’s, yes.  Coal bags – coal bags, they were made of sort of very thick sort of hessian material which always seemed to be wet except in the winter when it was frozen, so in my case I’m not being used to it and all my finger ends were split and bleeding from all these wretched frozen and wet bags, and a hundredweight on your back, up and down these staircases in Hebden Bridge, up and down these little ginnels and alleys and then tipping it in to a coal grate and never being sure whether it was the right grate or not because double-decker houses, there’s two grates – which one’s the top house and which one’s the bottom house and if you get it in the wrong one, you’ve got a real problem – you’ve got five bags of coal, five hundredweights of coal in the wrong cellar and even if the householder will let you, you’ve still got to go in there and get it out without making a mess, and you know, it happened from time to time, but even that was better than Barker’s tin shop.  We were making battery cages for hens out of brass metal and you stood there at a machine all day and you’d get hold of a piece of metal on the left which had been cut into a certain size and shape, and you’d put it in this press, pull a lever, press it into a certain shape and put it on the pile there and then the next person…it’s going down this line and it’s been cut and shaped, cut and shaped and folded and put together and something welded on to it and so on, but they’d got really sharp edges had these pieces of metal when they’d been cut and they were sort of oily, they were covered in some sort of oily stuff and so you were black with oil and they were slippery, and you couldn’t avoid getting lots and lots of cuts on you, and it was just such a soul-destroying and boring, sort of standing there you know like for eight hours, and I can’t remember the individual pay at all, I know at least when I started being a post deliverer at Christmas time I got one and tuppence an hour for that which is – what’s one and tuppence now – about seven pence, something like that, six and a half pence in today’s money or something like that.  I used to put it all in a Post Office savings bank and thats where my hundred and twenty five pounds [£125] came from that I bought the piece of land with eventually to build the house with, so those were bits and bats – oh the bus conductor, that was the best of the lot, the bus conductor in Bournemouth on the trolleys, the electric trolley buses in Bournemouth.  I could spend the rest of the day talking about tales of trolley buses in Bournemouth.  It was busy; they had a door at the front and a door at the back, and the door at the back was open like buses used to be, and folk leapt on at the back and some went upstairs, some went downstairs and then there was a door at the front for people to get off, because Bournemouth was so busy with lots of holiday makers and the buses stopped at every street corner, but you’d to be really quick on your feet because a lot of people would just dash straight upstairs and then they’d look in the mirror and when they saw you coming upstairs for the fares they’d go down the front stairs and you’d end up chasing people round the bus in order to get their fares!  I went down there with a friend as well and on one occasion he missed his bus; he got off to stretch his legs at the bus stop and it went without him! [laughing].  We used to do a double shift.  We used to work about eighty-five hours a week and we got about twelve pounds a week for doing that at that time.


TW:Very good.


DF:And I lived at my aunty’s so I didn’t have to pay out much for digs.


TW:Well the Civic Trust then.  I mean you helped basically start that didn’t you?

DF:Well that started as I said from a group of sixth formers in the main from Calder High School and some of their parents


TW:And how did that develop then?


DF:Well…..after this business about the pylons and so on I thought ‘well we’d better register this as a sort of independent group’ so we formed a Civic Trust, an official Civic Trust registered with the National Civic Trust in London, and some of the parents came in to join the committee.  The committee was about sort of fifty per cent of people like myself and parents and so on and fifty per cent students from Calder High School, and we decided, you know, what we think should happen.  The Calder Valley was in a terrible state at that time.  Immediately after the war the mills were all working, and chaps came home from the war and there was a lot of industry going on, a lot of textile work going on and that’s the Hebden Bridge you know.  St George’s Square at tea-time just resounded to the sound of clogs on cobbles as they were all coming out of the mills and going to buy their Halifax Couriers and things like that, and within the space of ten years it died, it was as quick as that.  Between 1955 and 1965 thirty-three textile factories in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd just closed permanently, closed and many of them were just abandoned and the jobs just went, but in the 1950’s there was plenty of work overall in England, I mean this was when we started to encourage people to come from other parts of the then Commonwealth to work in England because we were short of labour, so the people of Hebden Bridge are pretty enterprising and always have been, and Tebbit would have been proud of them because they got on their bikes and they went off to find work. [laughing]  They went to Basingstoke to make ball bearers and the motor industry you know was mainly in the Midlands and the south of England and people just picked up their things and they went.  Hebden Bridge has always had a tradition of owner-occupation for houses and all the people just left and abandoned their house.  There were stacks and stacks of houses in Hebden Bridge empty.  You could buy quite a nice little place for fifty quid; somebody did get one just for a penny, just as something to change you know, and there are quite a few people, if they are still around and they would admit it, got them for less than that, they just moved in, and so in the late fifties/early sixties it was a ghost town and the population was falling.  They kept having to change the sign at the entrance to Hebden Royd.   There was a sign at Brearley and another sign just outside Hebden Bridge on the road to Todmorden saying you know ‘there are 14,792’ or whatever it might be ‘people ahead – please take care’ but the number had to keep getting changed because the population fell dramatically.  If you go back to…..even something like 1971, the census, and plot the population of Hebden Bridge it looks like a retirement place because there’s not many children, there’s a big gap in the middle and then there’s a great bulge of elderly people, the ones that didn’t move, and it’s a lopsided bulge because there were a lot more elderly ladies than there were men, and…I’ve actually got all these, I’ve plotted all these, and the place was just dying on its feet, and what do you do about it?  Well we started thinking ‘it’s not surprising it’s dying on its feet really, it’s a dump’.  It’s black, it’s just covered in soot everywhere, there are no silver birch trees, they are all black birch trees and black sycamore trees and they’re all stunted trees anyway and dying back at the tips because of the pollution in the atmosphere, there are ruined buildings’ you know, there was a sort of huge building at Brearley that had been on fire and it looked an absolute eyesore, there was another one at Hawksclough that was an absolute eyesore, there were ruined buildings round Hebden Bridge Station, there was a big ruined mill on Bridge Gate in Hebden Bridge where there’s now the car park and you know, the mills at Bridge Lanes caught fire…..there is a very strong correlation between economic depression and fires in mills.  There are two different explanations to this; one is if a mill’s abandoned, ne’er do wells break in to it – meths drinkers, and meths drinkers who are also smokers have a bad habit of burning the building down if not themselves and so on.  That’s one explanation; there is another that we won’t go into, and…but it did happen and the place looked like a war zone, and into the middle of all this, the old Hebden Royd Urban District Council – ‘what do we do?’ so knock, knock, knock, there’s a man knocking on the door, you know, a…consultant who said ‘if you like, I can do you a Town Centre Redevelopment Plan to pull this town out of its’…you know, everybody was doing it.  Burnley knocked its centre down, Bradford knocked its centre down, you know, why shouldn’t Hebden Bridge – let’s get – they called him Mr Risden, Mr Risden.  I don’t know, round about 1965, welcomed into the Hebden Royd Urban District Council, comes up with a redevelopment plan, persuades the council that it has to be kept a very very close secret because it could affect property values and this that and the other, and so it’s a secret development plan, and so everybody with any property in the town were very very anxious, and it’s about the town centre, it’s about housing in the town, it’s about the whole town, and then of course the demolition starts you know to make way for the plan.  You don’t know what the plan is, but they’re beginning to re-shape the town before your very eyes, and the first campaign that we got involved in was about 1965 – no I think I got involved in that as an individual before we’d actually got the Trust, and that was Buttress Brink.  At the bottom of the Buttress there used to be these amazing properties, absolutely amazing.  They were dreadful – dreadfully amazing.  People were living in terribly squalid conditions and they certainly were the slums that they were classed as, but in those days local authorities had the power to clear slums and to give no compensation whatsoever to the people living in them.  They had to compensate for the value of the land, the cleared land at the end if they wanted to purchase it, but if they didn’t want to purchase they wouldn’t even do that, and so they just knocked these down.  They were tenements really.  Each occupier had two or three rooms, there was one cold tap with a big stone sink, the toilets were all in a block elsewhere and they were about four to six storeys high, and opposite where the old bridge is now, where there is a little footpath and a seat, that little footpath marks a tunnel which went through the ground floor of that building and it came out at the back of the building in a sort of pit between six storey buildings and that very steep hillside, and each tenement had a bridge to the hillside which was its back yard and these bridges were staggered slightly so that a little bit of light percolated down to the bottom, and there was a stinky, a real stinky gas lamp that leaked and so the pit was full of coal gas, and it really smelt, and you’d to go through the tunnel and zig-zag up the hillside on a bit of a muddy footpath and across the appropriate bridge to get into one of these tenements, I mean they were awful and they should not have been inhabited, but knocking them down was terrible because if they were there today and you know, three or four of the old dwellings made into a beautiful pad in the middle of town, I mean they were remarkable, they’d be worth a fortune.  I tried at one stage to work out the value in today’s money of everything that got knocked down in Hebden Bridge and, well I just ran out of notes, I mean it’s a big figure.  The same thing happened at Bridge Lanes - two hundred and fifty houses on that hillside between Bridge Lanes and Heptonstall Road and Back High Street which is still there – two hundred and fifty houses with steps and ginnels and tunnels and so on.  They were awful to live in I imagine, not as awful as The Buttress.  The ‘Boy, Girl and a Bike’ film shows a bit of what it was like to live there because that’s where the house was that they were using to film, so Mr Risden as you know - ‘these are slums’ you know, the Council has the power [sound of houses falling] then you compulsorily buy the land which the Council did.  They paid people six pounds, eight pounds.  That’s what you got for your house and you were out, and then Mr Risden said ‘And I’ll design you some nice new modern..’ well…they never got built because the land was so steep and so unstable, and it was just a hillside full of rubble when they’d knocked the houses down and it stood like that for years and years and years – that’s the entrance to Hebden Bridge – rubble, and Mr Risden kept putting in plans, putting in plans, and at that time small local authorities like Hebden Royd had to apply to the Government for permission to spend money, I mean it’s not that much post-war really you see so there were building standards and there was a sum of money attached to each aspect of the building – so much for the foundations and this that and the other.  Hebden Royd could get an extra allowance for foundations because of the topography, but they could never get anywhere near the cost yardsticks as they called them, but Mr Risden kept on putting schemes in, putting schemes in and of course he put his feed bill on the paper at the same time, and….so Bridge Lanes just languished as rubble.  The same happened on Garden Street, you know, the infamous Garden Street, perhaps I shouldn’t talk about Garden Street, but all those houses there were pulled down, there were about sixty-odd houses there, double-decker houses, some quite fine houses with fine frontages to Commercial Street and so on, and there was a chap on there – McArdle, who refused to let them pull his house down - sat on the roof and threw slates at them and eventually he pulled it down himself as a demonstration.  I think he was called McArdle, I hope I’m not maligning anybody else, and you know, again it was just rubble and it became a temporary car park and Mr Risden came up.  The plan on Garden Street was three six storey flat-roofed blocks of flats with balconies to get, you know, so you had to walk past everybody else’s window to get to your front door, you know, they were really awful things.  By this time, the Civic Trust was beginning to get some influence because we started…by saying ‘well what are we going to do with this place?’ and we worked up a strategy, and remember this is a bunch of school kids and mums and dads who were not professional people.  In those days there were not many professional – who I would not call professional if that means anything – people living in the area.  The strategy had four parts to it.  Clean the place up.  You know, if you’re going for a new job, you put your best suit on if you’re going for an interview.  Well the town needed a sort of cleaning up and we started a programme of building and cleaning,  we planted trees; we planted ten thousand trees in the first two years that you made reference to….I mean kids keep coming to me and saying ‘do you remember planting those trees?’   They used to bring their kids with them, they now bring their grand-kids with them and so on, and the wood that we put on the opposite hillside to Calder High School you know, is still there, and we planted trees all over the place.  We cleared footpaths, we cleaned buildings, we did deals with the owners of buildings.  Stage One – clean it up.  Stage Two – promote it, you know, it’s no good doing all this work and hiding your light under a bushel.  Get out there and tell people about it so we had all sorts of silly festivals and you know, Hebden Bridge Swiss Week, and the Awake Weekend, I mean I have stories galore about the Awake Weekend – the fabulous weekend we had in Hebden Bridge with everything from sort of contemporary art, the John Bull Puncture Repair Kit rolling about on the floor, Al Beech – big, big dummy sticking out of his jumper, rolling about on the floor pretending to be a spaceman eating artificial food by squeezing toothpaste out of tubes  and rolling about on the floor to demonstrate how weightless he was, and everything from that to a full four hour unexpurgated version of King Lear in a marquee on Calder Holmes which was packed – it was a terrific weekend, oh and The People Show at the Working Men’s Club in Hebden Bridge, they were a sort of revolutionary performing group that usually performed to students and so on, and every venue inHebden Bridge had an event on that Saturday night provided it was free and open to the general public, and The People Show were at the Working Men’s Club and Roland Miller ran The People Show, and Roland Miller was on stage with a rather pretty young lady who inevitably for those days, you know this is the sixties and for Avant Garde art had got down to little more than her frillies, and the Working Men’s Club people were standing that alright, but then Roland Miller made the mistake of uttering the ‘f’ word in public, in Hebden Bridge Working Men’s Club, on a Saturday night, which was ladies’ night.  The manager came down to the stage and he wagged the finger– ‘no more language like that Mr Miller – ladies’ night’.  But he carried on as before and everybody there roared with laughter because the people who were not members of the club thought that was part of the show [laughing].  The manager’s wife came down to the front and she left everybody in no doubt whatsoever.  They were a bit like a Blackpool postcard couple; she was quite large and she told Mr Miller what she thought of him in very very blunt terms but without using the ‘f’ word.  The girl ran off the stage in tears because she’d got the rough edge of this lady’s tongue as well, you know – ‘if you were a daughter of mine standing there like ‘ – you know, and Roland Miller was dressed in a bright yellow canary suit – immaculate, and he stood there and he looked her in the eye and took it off, like every stitch, like every stitch.  Well the place was in uproar, absolute uproar.  He got thrown out into the street in his nothings.  I felt some responsibility because I’d been part of the organising committee of this and I got the microphone on the stage and appealed for calm and said ‘look let’s be reasonable – we’ve all heard the word before and we all know what it means and yes, it’s not desirable but you know, let’s calm down and have the rest of the show’.  I got thrown out in the street.  I’m used to being unpopular.  There was a chap in the audience called Lord Faversham who at that time was Chair of the Arts Council for the Yorkshire Region and he’d come along to see how the Arts Council money was being spent, and he went round posing as a newspaper reporter trying to get comments from people, so he finished up out in the street as well! [laughing]  Anyway we had events and we did get a certain amount of publicity in one way or another, and then the third part was to attempt to turn visitors who came as a result of the publicity into what we thought were the best visitors in the world, 365 days a year visitors who were going to come and live here and import income and that got going quite well, and then the fourth part of the strategy was, well, what do we do with the big buildings? What do we do with the old mills?
[END OF TRACK ONE]



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
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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