Elaine Connell

Elaine Connell

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Interviewed by Julie Cockburn.

Hello Elaine – thanks for taping for us. Could you tell me what your name is and whereabouts you were born?

My name is Elaine Connell and I was born in Falesworth, which is in north east Manchester.

When did you come to the Calder Valley?

I came to the Calder Valley – I actually moved into Cragg Vale in May 1975.

Why did that happen?

I’d been living with my ex-husband in the Littleborough and Rochdale areas and we wanted a bigger house and we couldn’t afford anywhere that was big enough, because although he was working I was a student and so we started looking for places outside of Littleborough. Paul saw an advert in the Rochdale Observer advertising a house in Cragg Vale which looked very cheap. We came over to Cragg Vale, we really liked the area; we’d driven through Hebden Bridge when we’d gone on trips to Haworth. The price of property was right and so we moved in there.

Can you tell me how much that was at that time?

Four thousand but it was a place that was in one sense it was only a shell; it was two cottages that we knocked together and it didn’t have even mains sewage – we were on a chemical toilet, spring water. We did have electricity, you couldn’t get TV and it literally was had to knock everything out really and start again, plus getting mains sanitation and water into the house so although it was cheap, it wasn’t quite as cheap as it sounds.

What were the neighbours and the people around Cragg Vale like – were you unusual, being a new person coming in?

There were some people moving in, but the numbers were small enough for us all to know each other. For example, the whole block of the terrace that I lived in had been sold by this couple; there were another two houses and there was another couple from Rochdale called Elaine and Tony who had bought the other two, so they were in the same situation as us. There was a couple called Lorna and Les who lived up the road who had bought the old Co-op building and were converting it into what became an absolutely fantastic house, and there was a man called Roger Scaife who lived at that time in Twist Clough so at that point rally there were about…seven of us, maybe eight ‘off-cumdens’ as we were known by the – they called themselves ‘Craggers’. The rest of the people were all locals and I mean what was amusing about them was that they all thought we had more money than sense and that we had been robbed because of what we’d paid for the properties, I mean for example, Lorna and Les had been there about eighteen months longer than us and the old Co-op building which was absolutely enormous and had land at the back, they’d paid two and a half thousand for that and Lorna told me they really thought, the locals, that it was daylight robbery. So I think we gave the impression – people thought we were rich, but we weren’t.

And the people round about – the locals – the Craggers, were they old people, young people, what sort of people were living round about?

Mainly older people – oh yeh there were another couple of off-comers I’ve forgotten – there was Michael and Chiristine Bampton-Smith who is now the Lib-Dem councillor; they’d bought an old paper mill that wasn’t far from us and they were doing it up, so that brings the total of off-cumdens up to nine. There was quite a mixture really; there were a lot of old people but there were a lot of farmers in say their early to mid-thirties, but most of them were unmarried and without children. I don’t think actually when I look back on it that there were many people with young families, there seemed to be like a dearth of people in their twenties as we were, and as Lorna and Les were amongst the locals.

Did you go to a local pub or anything?

Oh yeh, we used to go to the Robin Hood – we were about four hundred yards from the Robin Hood because the house we lived in Castle Gate, it was down a dip off the road and we were absolutely amazed when we found this pub because we’d go in for what we thought would be the last hour – so in the week we might go in about half nine, weekends at ten, and the last hour turned out to be about two o’clock if you wanted to be; it was the first time we’d gone to a pub that served after hours, and in all the time I was there, I mean I’ve left that pub at four o’clock in the morning, the after-hours drinking culture really carried on and I don’t think anybody ever got arrested for it.

Were there any sort of particular characters and people living around there that you remember?

Oh yeh, there was Neville Baker, one of the farmers. We heard this story when – everybody was talking about it when we arrived; Neville had had an identical twin brother who’d been shot by another farmer called Bernard Pratt over some disputer over land and that was really big news at the time, especially because if I’m remembering it accurately, Bernard hadn’t gone down for murder, he’d gone down for manslaughter and wasn’t likely to serve much time, and he was known as quite a violent person; obviously Neville was quite upset about that, and Neville used to pass our door every day in his Landrover and I got chatting to him occasionally; he found out that I was a student and he said ‘so you can read and write then?’ so I said ‘yeh’ – and so whenever he needed anything reading or writing, I became like his reading and writing service and occasionally he’d deliver a rabbit to us, or a side of beef, eggs from the farm or something, and once – we didn’t know what it was, but we got this awful noise in the next level of our house. The houses obviously were on three levels; there was one level we were doing up, we were only living on one level and then the next floor and one night, we hadn’t got electricity yet down on the lower floors. We could hear this terrible noise and were both a bit frightened by it. Paul had gone down with a torch and couldn’t see anything and then we flagged Neville down and he came in and he immediately knew what it was; it was a tawny owl that had got in the house somehow, I don’t know if it had fallen down the chimney or what, and he managed to coax this – you could hear him talking to this bird and he managed to coax this bird on to his hand like a hawk, bring it upstairs and let it out the front door. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, the way he could just like tame this animal; all that it had been doing was flying around like a maniac, we didn’t even know what it was, but just from the noise he knew what it was, so he was quite a character

Were there any shops or anything else up and down there at that time?

There was only – there was a Post Office which was next to the old Co-op which is now shut. It did Post Office services and it was a very very small general shop, but really it only had the odd loaf of white bread, tinned veg, things like that; you had to go down into Mytholmroyd or into Hebden Bridge if you wanted to get any shopping.

And the old people – is that what they did, they’d go down into Mytholmroyd – did they go down on the bus – how did the people round about manage?

I’m actually not quite sure how people managed actually. I got the impression that most people had a car or that they had relatives who’d get the shopping for them, because the bus service in Cragg Vale was absolutely atrocious, it was only every two hours. While you could walk down quite easily, for anybody old the walk back up – I mean it’s the steepest gradient in Britain, it would have been far too much for anybody frail so I think a lot of people had very old vehicles and maybe carried on driving way beyond an age at which they would have liked to, or relied on relatives and things like that.

Did they speak in broad accents – was the accent hard to understand, was it any different from what you were used to?

It took me quite a time to get used to it. For example, Neville the man I’m talking about, at times he was almost unintelligible to me; but eventually I got attuned to him.

Was he using different words that you were used to?

Yeh, there were words and the accent was different; there were words like ‘leccy’ that I’d never heard of – I didn’t know what on earth people were talking about and he once asked me if I wanted some ‘spice’ and I thought ‘what’s he offering me spices for?’ and then he handed a bag of sweets and I realised that ‘spice’ was the name for sweets; I’d never come across anything like that.

What about young people – were there young people around, you know, sort of kicking around the street?

No, nothing.

Did you see or did you get vandalism?

Nothing – no nothing. One of the things about Cragg Vale is it’s a very very quiet place and I think it still is, because it’s got no real village centre; you know there’s no shops, there’s that main road so it’s like a ribbon development and certainly, it might have changed now, but there was no real place where anyone could gather because there was just a road and houses on the road, so I think that meant there was nowhere where really anybody could write graffiti or mess about, and at night you know, the street lamps were few and far between – there’s no real gathering places in Cragg Vale.

So where else did you go if you wanted to socialise – did you socialise in Cragg Vale or did you go to other towns?

No I never socialised in Cragg Vale apart from in people’s houses. I used to go into Hebden Bridge, but actually living in Cragg Vale made me very socially isolated because I didn’t have a car and I became very much dependent on my ex-husband for having any social life at all, which really proved quite difficult for me.

So what sort of groups or organisations or things did you get involved in when you moved to Hebden, or rather travelled into Hebden?

When I moved to Cragg Vale I put an advert in the Spare Rib asking if there was a women’s group or anybody who wanted to start one, and then I got a phone call from several people including yourself and Annie Fateh’s and people whose names now I can’t remember, we arranged to meet in Hebden Bridge, I think it was in people’s houses, I’m not quite sure where we all held the same meeting but that became like the focus of my socialising, and also I could always get down into Hebden by one of the buses, and usually some of the women at the group, nearly always someone would usually have a car and run me back, because again the buses to stopped at half nine to Cragg.

And what sort of things did you do in the women’s group?

Do you know I can’t remember now! [laughing]

Do you remember meeting in…Annie Fateh’s house?

Oh yeh, yeh – that was The Bull wasn’t it? I think that’s where we had the first meeting and it seemed like an absolutely vast house over lots of levels; obviously she was another one, it was a work in progress. I think all the houses I used to go into, they were always semi-building sites because loads of people were doing it themselves or getting people in to do it very cheaply; no-one could afford to live somewhere else and have you know the house done up and ready to go into, so as I say there was always a bit of a building site and what people would now think of as a quite rough and ready quality to them, but no-one seemed to notice really, I think we all saw beyond the sacks of plaster and concrete and whatever to the actual potential of the houses.

What was Hebden Bridge like at that time?

It was quite a dump actually. I remember coming to Hebden Bridge in 1968 when I was fifteen on a geography field trip, and we got off the bus and I turned to my best friend and said ‘bloody hell, what a dump – who’d live here?’ and the reason I said that was because everything was black; there was very little that was open and more than that, the actual people on the streets looked really depressed and grey, there seemed to be absolutely no fun or joy or colour in the place you know, so I just had this image of this very very black town, and that was – I used to have a summer job at Mytholm Hall, the old people’s home, the first summer that I came here and I used to cycle down to it in the morning to Mytholm and cycle through Hebden Bridge and again everywhere was still black, nothing had been stone cleaned, there were only a few shops open you know, the Co-op didn’t exist and it did give the impression almost of a like semi-derelict town, it looked like a town in decline really.

And how soon do you feel that that kind of atmosphere changed?

I think it had changed by about 1980, you know I think five years later – I think it started to happen slowly, I think in the mid-seventies more and more people like myself were coming in, doing up houses, people started buying shops – people bought shops or rented shops like Annie did and sold their pots or their paintings or whatever, so there was a certain animation to the place and then I can’t remember whether it was in the late seventies and stone cleaning started and that, I mean a lot of people area against it, but that seemed to make the place look a lot brighter and cleaner, and more attractive, and also people used to – the off-cumdens again, put a lot of plants and flowers on their window sills and outside their houses – they always used to say the definition of a hippy was a person who had more than three plants [laughing], I mean it certainly was, I think a lot of the place, it just all started to look better you know, in some ways it all began to resemble like southern market towns or French towns than English northern towns.

Do you remember Aurora Wholefoods?

Oh yeh, I remember Aurora – I don’t actually remember it starting, I think it had started by the time I moved here and it used to actually look a bit drab you know, it was all very utilitarian, you know you’d go in for your brown rice and I think at the time I first went in you were expected to take your own bags or your own containers, and the just scooped out the rice, the lentils or whatever into whatever you brought – your jam jar or your bags or whatever, but I first became introduced to Aurora bread then which I reckon one of the best breads ever made, and I still regret that you can’t get it! I used to put in an order for Aurora bread and the thing what always amused me was that in Hebden Bridge it was never known as Aurora by other people, it was always ‘the hippie shop’ and at that point, I remember once being in being served and a man come in asking if it was Aurora ‘cos I don’t think it had it outside, asking if he’d got the right shop and saying that he’d come all the way from Doncaster to buy brown rice – he couldn’t get it anywhere else, this was the nearest place to Doncaster that he could get brown rice, then he carted off a sack of it…so it really was one on its own, and one of the things I liked about it, you’d go in and you could always have a really good conversation with whoever was serving there, you know, you’d get on to all sorts of topics – politics, astrology, art whatever – it wasn’t like being in you know your average corner shop.

And what do you think the attitude to hippies in Hebden Bridge was from the locals?

It was very mixed. I think some people were very very tolerant and who thought it was actually good that people were coming in and buying up the houses and doing something for the town, and then I think there were people who were anti-hippy you know, I mean the big thing that was seen is that whoever they designated as a hippy, that they were dirty, you know it’s the usual thing isn’t it said about any incoming group, like you know – when I was a kid growing up in Manchester, people always referred to the Pakistanis as dirty – that was the first thing and more likely said about the travellers – ‘oh they’re dirty’ you know, and I mean it was the same thing in Hebden Bridge and I heard food referred to as ‘dirty hippy food’ because it wasn’t white, but I don’t think – I mean I heard of you know a few instances of outright hostility, like a guy who used to live here up Windsor Road who was a local born and bred and who I believe did all sorts to try and make people’s lives difficult, you know, off-cumdens’ lives difficult but eventually he just left, but in general I think it was amused tolerance; I think Hebden Bridge always has had a reputation of being a fairly tolerant place, you know I believe they’d taken in a lot of Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century when they came to build the railways, you know the Irish had a lot fewer troubles here than they did in other parts of the country.

Anything about clogs – do you remember people wearing clogs?

No, I’ve never seen anybody in a pair of clogs in my life, except middle class Londoners!

What about the Pace Egg play – do you remember that?

Oh yeh, I was absolutely amazed when I saw the first Pace Egg play. I wasn’t mystified by it because I realised, because I’d done an English degree, I realised I was seeing a living example of a mummers’ play because I’d done about mummers plays when we’d done you know early English drama and I was just surprised that these sort of plays were still being acted out somewhere, but I took friends who hadn’t done English degrees with me to the first one from Manchester and London who were all going ‘what on earth’s this – what are they going on about?’ so later on I had to give them a quick English lesson to explain it, but I thought that was absolutely delightful that a medieval tradition like that was still going somewhere in the country.

So are there any other bits and pieces you want to add?

…Yes, one of the things I remember an awful lot about virtually my first ten years in Hebden Bridge, 1975 to 85 is amongst the off-comers it seemed to me that at the time there were some real characters, you know some really strange people who all seem to have disappeared, you know I think now they’ve probably disappeared because the house prices are so dear that eccentric characters, unless they’re rich eccentric characters, can’t actually afford to live here any more, but there was an influx of people who, you know there were loads of stories about them.

There was a man apparently who bought a house on Edward Street who kept a horse in the kitchen, what had been the kitchen, and you know, he shared the kitchen with the horse – he used it as a stable and had straw on the floor, and I believe that went on for some time and then, if I think back on it, there was Dominic – you know Dominic was somebody who’d come here with his wife. He was a very very intelligent man who eventually became quite ill – mentally ill, I was never quite sure what caused it, but I mean he managed to avoid being put in a mental hospital for years – I mean I don’t know what’s happened to him now but I think in other communities, Dominic would not have been tolerated, you know and he managed to live in the community for years and years and years, I mean one amusing story about him, I think this happened in the eighties, is – he was in a really bad phase and a woman called Sue Currie went out into Broughton Street to get something from her car, when she saw really thick black smoke coming from Dominic’s chimney, and it seemed his roof, so she was – at first she thought she’d burnt some cakes she was making, then she looked up and saw it was what looked like Dominic’s roof and chimney on fire; she was very concerned. Some other people up Broughton Street had also seen it; they’d come to the door to look, they phoned the fire brigade. Sue banged and banged on the door; knew Dominic was in because she’d heard him. ‘Dominic, Dominic, come out – your house is on fire, your house is on fire’ and he wouldn’t come – the fire brigade arrived, they decided ‘yeh you’re right- there’s a fire’ and they shouted through the letter box ‘sir, sir, please will you let us in? Your house is on fire, your roof’s on fire’ and he’s going [shouting] ‘no, no – go away – I don’t want anybody in my house’ ‘sir, if you don’t open this door we’ve got a public duty to stop fires – we’re gonna have to axe it down’ so he let them in but he wouldn’t them all in at once – he opened the door and counted them in, and apparently he went ‘one fireman, two firemen, three firemen, four firemen, five firemen’ – what the fuck do they need five firemen for? They went up to see what was going on and apparently what he’d done, he was breaking up his furniture for firewood; he started a fire in the top attic in a chimney that hadn’t been used for years and years and years, and he’d actually been burning more horse hair furniture that he had, so of course it had set the chimney on fire and apparently had spread a bit into the roof but I mean I just think it’s amazing that somebody like that could have stayed in the community for so long

This is Elaine Connell track two.

Elaine, tell me about when you moved to Victoria Road in Hebden Bridge.

I moved to Victoria Road in Hebden Bridge in 1981 after I’d split up with Paul and about six months after that I met Chris, and eventually he bought the house next door but one to me. He didn’t want to have a phone in and he couldn’t afford it at the time with being quite poor, so we fixed up a system of wires which led from my phone, so that we had an extension in his house and the wires went over the window of our neighbour in between, a woman called Audrey who was very nice and who agreed to it.

One amusing thing about that, the guy who was next door to Chris who was called Tom, one day the BT engineers came to do something on his phone and he came in to Tom and said ‘what are these wires going between these two houses?’ so he’d obviously rumbled us, and Tom again who was an ordinary Hebden Bridge resident, said ‘oh it’s Chris and Elaine, it’s just some sort of intercom they have going between the houses’, so he was really supportive because I mean we would have probably got into quite a lot of trouble for doing that.

The other thing was, a couple of the old ladies who lived on Victoria Road knew that Chris and I were having a relationship and they were a bit scandalised because it was obvious we were sleeping in each other’s houses and we weren’t married, and we noticed that whatever time of the day or night each other left each other’s house, sometimes even say at one in the morning, often clutching a pair of last night’s knickers, we’d see one or another of these women in the street and we developed this idea that they were actually watching us, or I think in fact they were watching the whole street, and we christened them the Street Sentries, because it was like as if they were patrolling the street watching what was going on all the time.

One of these particular women, a woman called Ada – I’d had the outside of my house painted red and she passed by, she stopped, and she looked at the red very disapprovingly and said ‘oh red – you wanna get a red light up there’, looking at me very pointedly because I wasn’t married to Chris, and then she said ‘I’m painting mine muffin’ so ever after that, Chris called her Muffin, she was never Ada again, but Muffin!

What was Audrey like who lived in between – was she from round about?

She was actually from Manchester like I was; she moved here with her youngest daughter Ruth, after she retired; she was about sixty and came to live in the house in between us in 1983. She was an absolutely smashing woman, we both really got on with her really well, and she was fond of very amusing stories about Manchester working class life. Chris and myself were always trying to encourage her to write them down because she had such a turn of phrase, but she never had the confidence to think that anybody else would be interested.

Why had she moved to the area?

Her sister, husband and several children had moved there when the children were young; they’d wanted to get out of the city and bring the kids up in the country, and Audrey had visited them quite a bit you know when the kids were young. When she retired from her job as a machinist she decided that she would like to move out here too, and she also made quite a nice little living for herself because loads of people like myself and other people couldn’t sew for toffee, so she used to do things like alterations for people, and people found out about her from all over, and actually she could have worked full time from home had she wanted to because she was so skilled at cutting out patterns and making dresses, but she did sort of limit it a bit and she was a very useful person to know.

What else has changed in the district since you were there, since you used to live in Victoria Road?

I think the whole place has gone generally up-market, I mean for example now, a young couple, a youngish couple in their thirties like Chris and I were in the eighties couldn’t afford two houses on Victoria Road; they’re £120,000 each now. I got mine for £5,000, Chris a couple of years later got his for £7,000 so the total value of the two properties was twelve – now it would be something like two hundred and forty. Who in their thirties could afford that, especially on part-time work like we were on. Somebody like Audrey, an old age pensioner from Manchester, wouldn’t now – say if one of my elderly relatives wanted to move into Hebden Bridge from Manchester from an ordinary area, there is no way that they could do it, and I mean that’s what I – what I think what is a great shame about Hebden Bridge is that it’s gone far too up-market; now it is the preserve of rich people, whereas at the time I came, a lot of us came because we were poor. I think it made for an entirely different atmosphere because I mean I think a lot of the people who are moving in now, it’s a dormitory town for them, so they only really come here to sleep and they are around at weekends and whatever holidays they get from work.

Another thing I think is happening – it’s not happening where I live on Windsor Road, but I have heard stories from elsewhere – I think they’re trying to make Hebden Bridge suburban in some parts of it.

In what ways do you mean suburban?

Well I’ve heard stories of people – I can’t remember the actual part of Hebden Bridge now, but people trying to stop kids playing football in an adjoining field at seven at night, in the summer; I mean I feel that’s a very suburban attitude, it’s not a rural attitude. It’s not a working class attitude, I think it’s a very upper/middle class/suburban attitude; ‘oh it’s seven o’clock – off you go’.

Also, I think the number of property developers there are round here now – you know every single bit of spare green land, people are wanting to build on and I think they often build quite ugly houses as well with very little gardens, quite pokey; you know, they’ve not even got the room of some of the smaller terraced houses here and they cost a fortune, so people have got to work all hours to keep them. I think a lot of the people who’ve come here, the richer people now, they don’t contribute much to the community.

What about relations between the original inhabitants and the people who’ve come in now – do you think there’s communication between those?

I think there is now, yeh – I think it took a long time before we were accepted, but I feel totally accepted now by you know the original people who I first knew around here; I think have realised I’m a long-term resident, and now we all complain about the same things; we all complain how busy it is, how you can’t get anywhere to park, how Burnley Road, you might as well be living in London now, because we remember days when you could just drive down into Hebden Bridge in the eighties, and just park on Crown Street. You could always get somewhere to park in the Co-op if you were stuck. The traffic going through Hebden Bridge was moderate; if you were commuting to Manchester which I often did, it was very easy to leave your car at the station whereas now you get there after seven, and you can’t park anywhere.

So do you think that’s different compared to other places, or do you think that’s just part of what’s happening everywhere?

I think it’s slightly more crowded than other places because, or other places in the north certainly because I’ve had people who live in other parts of the north who express their surprise at what it’s like round here for the traffic and for the parking, I mean obviously it’s an increasing problem everywhere because far more people drive, far more people have two cars and people are taking fewer trips by foot, but I do think it’s particularly acute round here, I mean I think it’s really becoming a big big problem, I mean loads of areas round here now have residents’ parking permits; we just didn’t need them at one time.

Are there things that you think have changed positively for the better in the last few years?

No – to be quite honest with you, the thing is I was thinking I mean like whenever I drive to Todmorden let’s say and park in Todmorden, and I think ‘this is what Hebden Bridge used to be like’. It’s a much easier place to live in; in fact I think if I was living on my own and didn’t have to sort of share the decision making with Chris, I’d be very tempted to move somewhere else – not right away, I mean I still like this general area but I’m just really getting really fed up of the traffic problems in Hebden Bridge, the property developers and as I say these toffy-nosed people who are moving in with these suburban attitudes. I feel Hebden Bridge reached its zenith for me somewhere in the sort of mid-eighties – I think then it had all been improved so it all looked very very attractive, and the population was a mixture of locals and off-comers, but off-comers who weren’t tremendously rich and who were prepared to do something for the community.

Do you think that there are more facilities around for people than there were in those days – more things for people to do, places to go?

Well we’ve still not got a swimming pool have we! [laughing] That was the one thing that I really thought I’d see in Hebden Bridge, I mean my biggest shock when I moved here thirty years ago ‘cos as you know, I was a competitive swimmer as a kid and it’s my big sport, and I couldn’t believe a place the size of Hebden Bridge didn’t have a pool. It still gets to me way they try and build it up for tourism and as a place for people to go on holiday, and it lacks one of the major things that a tourist centre should have – some form of leisure centre, and I can’t see what the big problem is; there was the site down on Victoria Road that was possible for it. All it is I think is a lack of political will, and an unwillingness to spend the money. I don’t think anybody doubts that Hebden Bridge does need a swimming pool, so that was one thing I thought would develop, plus a lot of pubs have closed; we used to have a lot of nice pubs such as The Nutclough House Hotel which was our local and the Nutclough Tavern that we sometimes went out in, which we could walk to from here in five minutes; that’s gone. The Woodman has closed down and is now being used for housing, various pubs on the tops have all gone. We’ve got a lot more juice bars and cafes, but how many juice bars, cafes and twig shops do you need in terms of actual things that you need when you’re living in a community? I don’t think anything’s really improved and I don’t think that we have the library that a place like Heben Bridge should have, given the sort of educated nature of the population in Hebden Bridge, given there are quite a lot of kids, then I actually think that we should have a far more extensive and better library.

That is supposed to be coming isn’t it?

Is it?

Yes, they’re going to build a new one.

The other thing I think is wrong is that young with it really is the way that young people can’t afford to get housing here. We’re going to be a really top-heavy population. There is virtually, well – there are very few people in their twenties and thirties around, and the reason is because – there’s some, but the reason is because they can’t afford places and there aren’t decent places to rent, reasonable rents, I mean for example my daughter’s thirty – she would like to live around here, and there is absolutely no way that she and her partner can afford to buy and the rents – you’re looking at rents of six hundred and fifty, seven hundred and fifty for pokey little terraced houses so there is no way she can rent either, so I do think some of the facilities we need is some social housing needs to be built somewhere, but that I think is – that’s true for the whole country; I mean we’re now reaping the rewards of that woman Thatcher selling off all the council houses twenty years ago; everybody predicted that this would happen and now we’ve got it, I mean I’m very disappointed in this government that they didn’t start some form of building social housing again, because eventually if you did that as well, I think it would have an effect on the house buyers’ market and bring down the house prices which I think is really essential for this country’s economy, because actually far too much money goes into housing and property. I think you said to me once and I agree that we’re like the eighteenth century now, where all wealth lies in land and property rather than investment in industry or any other sort of entrepreneurial thing now, and the thing is it’s holding the whole country back really.

What about education round here, I mean schools and that kind of thing – do you think that’s improved?

I think the primary schools have improved tremendously, yeh I mean I think when I first moved round here and took my daughter to Stubbings, I was quite surprised at – I don’t know how to put this really – what some of the teachers were like. I felt like I’d stepped back into a time warp and was looking at my own education. For example in 1980 when Kate was four and she was just in reception, I went to wait for her one day and I was waiting in the cloakroom; the teacher was telling a story so I could hear what story it was, and it was ‘Little Black Sambo’. I was training as a teacher at the time and they hadn’t even bothered to say ‘don’t do things like that’ because the idea had been around for so long that ‘Little Black Sambo’ wasn’t the sort of correct stuff to read to kids…I dealt with it very gently with the teacher afterwards and told her that a lot of people would think that was racist and all the other stuff in the books, and she looked at me like I was an alien from the planet Zok and said ‘oh no – it’s only a story’. [pause] I mean I didn’t actually follow that up – nowadays I’d probably follow it up, but I did mention it to other parents hoping that they’d complain as well, but I don’t think anybody did, even the parents that I thought had similar views, so I also did a preliminary teaching practice in 1979 in Central Street Infants School so I got into the staff room there, and I was really really shocked at the way the teachers slagged the parents off there- the hippy parents in particular – and they told me that if the Plowden report had been implemented where the established educational priority areas which were mainly built on poverty and lack of education of parents and things like that, if the Plowman report had been implemented, this school would have been an EPA so I said ‘what?’ I just couldn’t believe it – ‘why?’ they said it was because they had so many single parents, and they didn’t seem to realise that a lot of these single parents had hundreds of books in their homes, a lot of them had degrees and even higher degrees; all they saw them as was ‘they’re not married or they’re divorced, therefore it equals these kids aren’t going to educationally achieve’ and it struck me that they really wrote the kids off, and they didn’t actually realise, seem to realise how clever these kids were or that actually they came from backgrounds that were educational, so I was very very shocked by that writing off of the kids.

Do you think by the time Morgan had started school, things had changed – when would he have been going?

Morgan started school in…I’m just trying to think…1993 and it was at a re-built Central Street and yes, things were very very different there. I found that an absolutely excellent school, you know – it was bright, it was cheerful, the parents were encouraged to come in and you know I never heard anything derogatory, they tried to involve you, you know but it was like as if even the seventies in educational terms had taken a long, long time to arrive in Hebden Bridge and then when he went to Riverside we were back in the dark ages again. Virtually the first week he came back from Riverside when he was eight, he came into the kitchen one day and he said ‘Elaine’ ‘cos he calls me Elaine ‘Elaine, Elaine, what’s a nigger in the wood pile?’ so I tried not to show my shock and I just said ‘oh it means somebody who spoils something’ and I said ‘but where have you heard that?’ and he said ‘Mrs Suchabody said it – she said to Mr Suchabody about this kid; here he is Mr Suchabody, here’s the nigger in the wood pile’. Well I actually phoned the Head next day who said ‘yes this is totally unacceptable, will you write it in a letter?’ so I did write it in a letter and actually I did find that the attitudes you know like, at one time if that had happened with Kate, I know the reaction would have been ‘oh it’s just a phrase, we’re not being racist’ but the Head understood the seriousness of what had been said and I saw the transformation actually at Riverside while Morgan was there because I think it was his first year there, there was an Ofsted inspection and a lot of people made their views known to Ofsted, who criticised some of the teachers a lot, and the Head was replaced by a very very good Head and some of the teachers took early retirement or were moved elsewhere, you know I think the teacher who used that word ‘nigger in the wood pile’ was early retired.

But then when he went to Calder High – again, Kate had been to Calder High which – it wasn’t bad, but my criticism then, actually it would still be my criticism now of Calder High but not as much now as then, again I felt that Calder High didn’t appreciate the sort of kids that they were getting. They seemed to label the off-cumden’s kids as a problem rather than seeing them as an asset because of the sort of homes they came from, and I think Calder High’s – if you measure success by getting five GCSEs at A star to C, I actually think Calder High’s pass rate should be around seventy-five per cent and it’s only still only at sixty or less; it was at sixty per cent when Morgan left last year; when Kate went it was only something like forty-five per cent so then they were really really under-achieving, now I’ve actually worked at Calder High as a temporary and supply teacher, and I actually found the kids the easiest I’ve ever worked with in a comprehensive, you know I never had any problems whatsoever with them, yet when I was in the staff room I felt that some of the staff just didn’t know how lucky they were. They never stopped moaning about the kids, and some of it I felt was that I think some of them had been there virtually since the school opened and they were still expecting behaviour from the kids like they had in the 1950’s. I think a lot of them hadn’t moved on; I think all the schools round here actually, it’s not surprising because jobs in the area that pay as much as teaching have been hard to find; it’s a nice area so getting a teacher’s a good job. I think a lot of the teaching population has been very static, and so there hasn’t been quite the change that you would get in some more inner-city schools, you know but as I say I thought some of the staff were wanting to start a Fourth Reich.

They had no idea sometimes as I said before just how clever the kids were and they would take as in-discipline kids making sort of smart arts remarks.

Such as?

I can’t really think of any off-hand, but I know I’ve had them when I’ve been on supply and I’ve dealt with them like – because I know some of the kids; saying things like ‘oh are you going to talk to me like that Suchabody and I changed your nappies?’ ‘you wouldn’t think he’d be like that to me would you when I’ve changed his nappies?’ so I did have some of that, but I found the kids there – they could be won over by humour which in other schools, I mean I’ve got a lot of teaching experience, you go to other schools, a lot of humour you use and it goes right over their heads or they’d be insulted by something like that, yeh they would – whereas I was on the same wavelength as the kids and I felt a lot of the teachers round here to my mind aren’t on the same wavelength as the kids – they want a very very authoritarian structure, and they don’t realise that the kids don’t come from authoritarian homes. So as I say, my idea of bliss is teaching round here because for a start I know some of the kids outside and I feel I know how to handle them, you know. But I think a lot of the teachers in say Calder High, it wouldn’t be hard to learn how to do it because as far as I saw, there were no really intractable discipline problems there; any of the discipline problems at Calder High are mainly manufactured by the teachers.

What about things like drugs and that sort of thing, and alcohol, in the neighbourhood or among young people, that kind of…?

I must admit I didn’t see it a lot at Calder High when I was working there, but I haven’t been there enough in recent years to be able comment there.

What about Hebden Bridge?

I only know what Morgan tells me, you know. I don’t really know, but Morgan tell me that he thinks that the people – the adults in this community have got no idea of the scale of the drug taking amongst certain kids…I think there’s a lot of dope smoking and I think even worse you know, heroin taking going on. According to Morgan it’s on a huge scale, but I don’t see it, I mean I don’t see for example, every time I go to Manchester I see some evidence of addicts or people with drug or drink problems but I don’t see it that often round here – maybe I don’t get out enough!

Anything more you want to tell us or shall we stop now? We can always have another go another time.

When I was talking before about a lack of characters, you know talking about the guy with the horse in Edward Street, another thing I remember is when the tee-pee people came you know, and they actually made a bee-line for Hebden Bridge, that was where the tee-pee people came and there was a big sort of uproar in the paper about it. I mean people thought we dressed strangely, and then when the tee-pee people came we looked positively normal! In see-through flowing skirts weren’t they, feathers in their hair and God knows what– they caused a right moral panic.


This is Elaine Connell track three.

Okay Elaine – off you go.

What were we talking about before? I’ve forgotten now!

Oh yeh – things that have improved in Hebden Bridge.

Lots of things have got worse, but I think one big, big improvement has been the quality of GPs and the health centres that we’ve got here – I mean they’re absolutely staggeringly better than they were. When we came here, there was a like small group practice down on New Road of about five doctors and I think there was only one decent doctor amongst that five, and even he was a bit patronising, I mean for example, I had very severe post-natal depression after having my daughter Kate; this doctor, the only decent one dealt with me, but I felt whenever I went to see him after that he had me labelled as ‘psychiatric patient’. So for example I once went in with a really bad ingrowing toe nail that I needed a referral for, and he asked me ‘how’s your nerves Elaine?’ – ‘Me nerves are alright – it’s me toe nail!’ There was one of the doctors that was permanently sozzled – I remember getting him out to Kate at one time and he could scarcely walk in the door, he was so drunk. Another was young but very very arrogant and once said to me when I went to see him about something, ‘you’re not pregnant are you?’ and I said ‘no’ and he said ‘thank God for that, I hate pregnant women’. Another one seemed really ancient, I don’t know how old he was but he looked about seventy – maybe he was in his fifties – some Irish Catholic who just didn’t seem to know anything about anything, I mean for example, he went to visit a friend of mine who was having a miscarriage; she had a mattress on the floor and he was a fit enough bloke and he looked at her and said ‘how do you expect me to examine you when you’re down there?’ you know, he wouldn’t actually just get down on the floor to feel her tummy.

I think things started to improve about twenty years ago when they built what is now the former health centre, was then the new health centre, really started when Dr Wild joined and since then I think we’ve had a set of really excellent GPs. I can’t say there’s any one of who I wouldn’t trust, I think we’ve got some of the best GPs in the country really, I mean if I discuss with my relatives in Oldham and Manchester about our GPs and the services they offer, they’re actually staggered – they didn’t get anywhere near the same service we get, in fact one of my aunties jokes ‘they’ve got Dr Finlay and Dr Cameron where you live’ so that has been one of the big improvements, probably as a result that now Hebden Bridge is a very very desirable place to live so we actually get the best quality people; they can probably pick and choose whenever they need a new GP there.

As for talking about characters in Hebden Bridge and strange things in Hebden Bridge – for a time it seemed to me wherever I went, no matter where you were, somebody had a contact with Hebden Bridge, for example I went on holiday in Athens several years ago. One night we went down to the hotel bar and there was an English elderly gent sitting at there; we sat next to him, he was on his own and got chatting. After a while I said to him ‘oh which part of England do you live in?’ and he said something like Isleworth and then I said ‘but you’re not from there are you?’ and he said ‘oh no, no – I lived in a place you’ve probably never heard of till I was twenty-five; it was called Hebden Bridge’ – and the chances – he hadn’t gone on the same tour that I had, so the chances against that happening I thought were incredible, but the most amazing coincidence like that was a friend of mine, Judith and her husband Stuart, they had a year off and they were trekking around India, Nepal and Tibet; they were in Tibet and they went to a region, I can’t remember the name of it, that had only really been opened up to westerners in the last couple of years and they managed to get accommodation for the night in this very very remote monastery. Judith said they really did feel they were in the middle of nowhere, they were up this mountain, probably one of the most remote areas in the world, and one of the monks who spoke English; after he’d served them a meal, he said ‘perhaps you’d like to talk to our English novice – we’ve got a novice monk here’, I think he’d enjoy speaking English, so Stuart and Judith said yeh, they’d meet him; they met this bloke and they could tell he was a Geordie. They asked him where he lived and he said ‘oh well I’m from Sunderland but where I was before here was Hebden Bridge’ Judith said ‘do you know my friend Elaine Connell?’ and he said ‘do I know her? I did a lot of building work on her house!’ We just actually couldn’t believe that in one of the most remote communities of the world there’d be somebody who knew me and – two people who knew me and a contact with Hebden Bridge.

So what do you think Hebden Bridge’s reputation is now, outside of the Upper Valley – how do you think it’s seen by people from not round here?

I think it’s actually, it’s got various reputations, I think it depends who you’re speaking to. A lot of people just still see it as the drug centre of the world – you say Hebden Bridge and all they can talk about is drugs, another set of people say things to me like ‘don’t you feel funny living with all those lesbians – they actually think – I mean there are a lot of lesbians in Hebden Bridge, but people seem to think it’s a like a ninety-eight per cent lesbian town because of the publicity. Other people see it as probably even more arty than it is. When I was doing my teaching course and somebody asked me where I lived and I said Hebden Bridge, she said ‘oh all brown rice and yellow wellies eh!’ So as I say I think in a way it depends who you’re talking to, but I still think somewhere occasionally there’s some people who’ve still got the image of it as a dump, you know people who haven’t been here for years don’t actually realise just how much it’s changed.

And what’s your favourite place in the district – which bit of Hebden Bridge do you like best?

I like the Crags, I think the Crags are pretty good and I actually like getting on the tops and looking down into Hebden Bridge as well, I think that’s quite nice. [pause] I actually used to really enjoy just wandering round Hebden Bridge and now it’s become a chore, I mean that’s I think where I’m saying the change has come – in the town itself? in the town itself. The traffic, the sort of general….I think there’s quite a stressful atmosphere now in Hebden Bridge, like – the shops seem to be heaving and you seem to be queuing and awful long time. I’m a terribly terribly impatient person; at one time Chris and I would never really argue about doing the shopping but now it’s become and issue because neither of us wants to wait that long – ‘oh no I don’t wanna go in the Co-op – I’ll be there…’ you know, you waste half an afternoon in there. I do think until perhaps the last ten years, and it’s got worse in the last five years, there was quite an ease of living here that I don’t think that you’ve got any more, plus I do think that people in Hebden Bridge shops are very very slow, so in fact you’ve got some of the pressures of the city but some aspects of the country that people don’t move at the same pace in the shops, say that they would in Manchester, so sometimes if I go to the Co-op I’ll say ‘nice shop for a day out isn’t it?’ because you’re just waiting so long, and as I say the pavements have got a lot more crowded,
so you actually can’t – I don’t feel you can negotiate the town as easily, and I know a few of the older residents who I still see about, they complain like mad about that because they’re less mobile and they feel it even more than I do.

And what about things for the future – what would you like to see happening in the district or how would you like to see it developing?

Well I think I said before, I think a swimming pool and homes for rent should be built. I would like to see one of the mills taken over and all the units in it be used for renting, I mean that’s what I’d do. I wouldn’t let the property developers do any more property developing, because I actually think they’re going to ruin the place, so hang the property developers from the nearest tree! Take over the buildings for social housing, let’s have a municipal swimming pool!

I think it would be nice to see a left social democratic council round here, you know actually running the place for the benefits of people who live here, you know not for tourists or property developers, because I don’t actually feel as well that tourism – I don’t actually think it’s that significant a part of the economy round here because all the shopkeepers say is ‘there’s a lot of lookers but no buyers’ – we get a lot of day-trippers but you don’t actually get people staying here for their holidays and contributing like people do if they go to the seaside towns where, you know they go in a hotel for a week or get a cottage or something like that, so I just think a lot of them come here and cause problems for the residents, and a lot of litter – they don’t actually spend much.

I don’t know – can you think of anything else you’d like to see, just out of interest?

…I’d like to see the water supply around and about being used for to run some power, I think that would be neat.

I think probably more wind farms is a good idea as well – oh and one thing that would be nice would be to see the Centre for Alternative Technology expanded; probably put somewhere bigger. Again, one of the old mills could be used for that as well, and that could – if you got something in a mill that was on a bigger scale, you actually could attract visitors who could actually bring real money into the town.

Anything else that you can think of that you want to talk about?

No, I can’t think of anything else, no.

How are we doing for time?

Shall we stop and then if you feel like doing any more some other time


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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