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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Mat Lawrence

     

    [TRACK 1] 

    TONY WRIGHT:

    It’s Tony Wright, it’s the 26th of July 2011 and I’m talking to Mat in his house.  Right, can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    MATTHEW DAVID LAWRENCE:

    Yeah.  My name’s Matthew David Lawrence.  I was…..date of my birth is the 22nd of December 1968 and I was born in Halifax, above a funeral parlour.

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    MDL:

    Yes [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Was that a family business?

     

    MDL:

    It was a family business yes, it’s been a family business for a couple of generations.  Me granddad was a cabinet maker who could make coffins before funeral directors existed, and he became a funeral director.  Me dad carried on the business and he ended up buying me granddad out and I was born in Halifax above the place there.  Me mum had to wait in between funerals that were happening for my birth

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    MDL:

    Yes, so that was me and my birthday just before Christmas, my mum holding on.  She didn’t hold on long enough for me to be born on Christmas Day, or I would have been the next Messiah

     

    TW: 

    Well maybe that’s a good thing really [laughing]…so was the business called Lawrence…

     

    MDL:

    Lawrence Funeral Services, yes.

     

    TW:

    And why didn’t you go into that then?

     

    MDL:

    A lot of different reasons; a lot happened at school.  Until…..until a certain stage at school I was going to do that; until about the age of fourteen I never thought about doing anything else.  I took all my O Levels around being a funeral director and then one day my brother who’s two years older than me, and was in the business, fell out with me dad, took me to Leeds and said ‘have you ever thought about being anything else?’ and I thought ‘no, not really’ and then he went off to his future and left me with this dilemma thinking ‘what, I can be something else?’ so at this stage I thought I could be anything, so since then I’ve tried to be anything I’ve wanted to do.

     

    TW:

    Right.  So did you live in Halifax all the time?

     

    MDL:

    I was born in Halifax and when I was very young we moved to Greetland, lived in Greetland, and at the age of……fourteen we bought a farm on the tops above Hebden Bridge in Cragg Vale, and the farm had been burnt down and collapsed; we built that, it took about two years, and then lived there until I was about twenty and at that stage I moved out.

     

    TW:

    What farm was that?

     

    MDL:

    It was Far Moorside Farm…..behind The Traveller’s Rest, in that area there.  We looked out over Stoodley Pike; it’s very exposed and cold and very windy but beautiful on sunny days, so we turned it into a….it was more of a smallholding; we had….at its peak we had….about forty head of Highland cattle; we kept pigs, chickens and ducks.  It was….it made its…..made a….[incomp] but at that stage my dad had sold the business so it wasn’t a financial pressure to make a lot of money; it was a lovely place to live, and I took a lot of what I think I am now from that, living on the farm; we were quite self sufficient.  Anyone on the farm….anyone on the hillside, if they had something, you’d swap a leg of beef for…..for a couple of legs of sheep, of lamb, so it was a very, a very interesting place to grow up.  The best thing about being there was learning how to drive so I didn’t have to walk home, three miles from the nearest bus, as I was growing up and entering into my adult life and having to stagger home…..

     

    TW:

    So was that just your mum and dad and you

     

    MDL:

    That was my mum and my dad and me and my little sister who’s fourteen months younger than me, and then above that I’ve got an older brother who’s ten years older than me and I’ve got an older sister who’s about nine or eight years older than me, so there was a big gap in

     

    TW:

    So did the older sister live on the farm?

     

    MDL:

    No, it was just me and my little sister.  My older sister had left home before we’d…..before we took this escape up into the hills.

     

    TW:

    Has she continued….you know, not living on a farm, but not having an outdoor life shall we say?

     

    MDL:

    ….no.  Me younger sister, she has….she didn’t really like it at the farm at all, so no, she’s quite happy living in the civilised world of Halifax, in a very nice area of Halifax.  Me older sister…..she’s very outdoorsy, but me dad, as we were growing up, we were very outdoorsy people all the time.  We went for long, long walks as soon as we could walk, so….and we holidayed in….we started off in Scotland a lot, so we were always exposed to the outside, yeah.

     

    TW:

    Did you have any family then in the textile trade as well?

     

    MDL:

    Not in the textile trade per say; anyone who lived around this area had….knew people in the textile trade.  Me granddad on me mother’s side…..the Garside side….he used to…..he used to strip out the mills and……and….take the machinery.  Initially he used to scrap a lot of it until he realised that he could sell it on, but he was a very interesting person but unfortunately he died when I was about eight, so I never really knew him, but he did a….he did a lot of things.  He gave machinery to the industrial museum in Halifax and also he sold…..sold a lot to India who we’ve been having a problem with since, so it’s his fault [laughing]….but me grandma was born in Boulderclough and lived in, and a lot of her friends lived in Hebden at the time, so as every kid that was growing up, we spent summer holidays with our grandma because me granddad was still working, and we spent a lot of time in Hebden Bridge at the time, I think that’s why….that’s where my initial…..I knew that….I knew that once I could live independently I would love to live in Hebden Bridge, even though it was a very…..kind of scary place.  I could only come in as a child and find it very….quite scary and [incomp] place to come to.  When we entered Hebden Bridge it was dark, there was nothing being sandblasted, and you went down the road, onto New Road, and it was always a very…..intimidating place to come as a kid, but there was a small café, so me granddad would take me, so yes [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Was that Ken’s?

     

    MDL:

    No it wasn’t Ken’s, we’d go to the posh place that was…..I can never just remember where it is; it’s on Bridgegate and there was a bakery….then you went upstairs to the café area and it must have been, the upstairs probably must have been Theo’s [sp] now, or that area of it, which as a child you could do all sorts underneath the bakery shop and go upstairs and [incomp] a milkshake and a bun [laughing]

     

    TW:

    And so you said like when you got to about twenty, you left the farm and presumably you got a job and moved out.

     

    MDL:

    Well it was quite complicated at the time; I was at college in Manchester and was staying over in Manchester.  I had a…..house with a lot of other students in Manchester, but then me granddad on me dad’s side got very ill so me dad was having to spend more time looking after me granddad.  The farm needed help, so I moved back to the farm from Manchester when I was about nineteen and helped with the farm while I was studying in Manchester because it was very close to get to, so we used to go, so I used to go and study in Manchester – I used to go and study in Manchester – I was doing sound engineering so a lot of the courses were in the evening and a lot of the work was in the studio in the evening, so I was having to do both and I also had a job in Halifax, in a pub in Halifax what just started as some money, so I moved back to the farm.  I picked up more hours at the pub and….once the college course had finished I got kind of stuck into the pub work and I carried on working there, and then at the age of…..twenty…I …managed to buy a narrow boat I bought in Skipton and I moved back to Sowerby Bridge at the time after going on a few travels [incomp] Sowerby Bridge, but I wanted to be in Hebden but the canal wasn’t connected at that time, so I had it lifted out and put on the back of a truck….and my uncle John who’s on the Garside side, he’s got trucks and he still does the clearing of industrial…..industrial….areas and things, so

     

    TW:

    Oh right

     

    MDL:

    and machine moving, so we got his truck, put it on the back - the crane had been there only a couple of hours and I managed to organise this – and me boat went on the back of the truck but it wasn’t quite long enough, up Tuel Lane with…..with petrol…..I can remember petrol was spilling out of the back and I tried to put me fire out but me fire was sparking and the sparks were flying out of the front, and I thought at that point I was going to lose everything that I’d worked so hard to get to, but we got….we got…..we got there, we drove to [incomp] Luddendenfoot, went up to Hebden and moored me boat and at that stage there was no-one else on….on….living, actually living in Hebden Bridge on a boat, so over the last twenty odd years that’s changed so much

     

    ANOTHER PERSON:

    So where did you actually live originally then, was it at Mayroud?

     

    MDL:

    No, there was a few boats at Mayroyd but they were just people who….weekend boaters, but I had moored my boat behind what was Watson’s builders yard in the centre of what is now where the Thai restaurant is, moored it there.  Me dad still had…..at that stage he still had….he owned….he bought a business in Hebden Bridge, a fuel business in Hebden Bridge, and they had some property there; we kept on what was the old taxi rank and so I got electricity from there, what made my life a lot easier because I could have a TV and hi-fi on the boat, so I could get electricity there and I was on the marina, so at that stage there was no-one else really; I was counted as a bit strange, living on a boat in Hebden Bridge

     

    TW:

    Have you still got the boat?

     

    MDL:

    No, I sold that boat – I have moved back to boats several times – I sold that boat, after a few years I met a girl and you have to want to live on a boat; there’s no middle ground, you’re basically living in a corridor, so we…..we moved out of the boat and for a bit we lived in Fairfield and then at Birchcliffe, and she became the mother of my son, Toby, and no, I moved off that boat probably, probably was only about four or five years before we moved…..we moved off and then it got sold, so

     

    TW:

    Did you…..didn’t you have a business to do with that as well?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah.  At about the same time I was selling that I decided to buy another six boats instead [laughing] so we…..we had….at the time I was helping run Calder Valley Cruising what was…..what ran the horse drawn boat trips and other trips on the canal, so when the auction came up to buy that I thought it was a good opportunity and I talked to my best friend at the time, so we ended up buying the business and running horse drawn boats as well as other boats on the canal for….for about eleven years…..doing that, what was a……probably the most wonderful thing anyone could really do in the most incredible business.  Problem with the business is that we were…..we were both quite young people without a lot of money behind us, and everyone else that went into this business tend to be people that were a bit more well off and had no problem financing these things, but we struggled and scraped and we went through all sorts of disasters.  We went through the foot and mouth when we couldn’t actually bring the horse in so sometimes we’d have to pull the boat by ourselves, and other times we’d…..we went through incredible bad summers but we survived and we sold it when we thought it was the right time to sell a business on.

     

    TW:

    Right.  Where did you keep the horses?

     

    MDL:

    The horses – we never actually owned us own horse; we decided that was something we didn’t….we weren’t particularly interested in…..so we sub-contracted the horses in, mainly from…..mainly from a guy called Mike who used to come along with his horse box, get the horse and our engine used to arrive very…..very nicely brushed, so it saved us….saved us looking after a horse every day of the year, but…..when we were…..when…..the person we bought it off, Phil, when we were learning off him, we…..there was a lot of skills that had been forgotten about actually running a horse drawn boat because no-one had done it

     

    TW:

    Like what?

     

    MDL:

    Most of the skill is actually stopping and starting the thing.  Once it’s going, the momentum, the horse doesn’t do any work really, but obviously stopping it at that stage, once it’s going, means that, you’ve got no reverse on the boat, you’ve got no way to stop it, so you have to use the line, the rope that connects you to the horse what is about fifty, sixty foot of cotton rope and that’s the only thing you’ve got, so when you’re entering a lock you have to stop it before it hits a nice nine foot drop at other end, so there’s a lot of skill using the wooden bollards you’ve probably seen at the side of the lock and people think ‘what are those there for’?  Originally those were there for….for stopping and starting the boat, not just to tie the boat up to, and if you’ve ever seen the old ones you’ll see the rope marks burnt in and that’s because of the friction, stopping and starting the boat.  Also on our trip we had a tunnel to go through so we had to….you didn’t have to learn how to leg, you just had to suffer the legging on many trips

     

    TW:

    Is that when you lay on your back on you push it with your feet?

     

    MDL:

    Feet up in the air and you push the boat through, and on the whole, if the boat – the boat could hold fifty two people, fifty five people - so if the boat was full it would be lower but it would actually be easier because the momentum of that weight would carry on pushing it but your legs would be stretched, but if it was empty it was actually harder because there wasn’t that….that weight to carry it through the tunnel

     

    TW:

    Really?  Right.

     

    MDL:

    So yes it was…..it was a fascinating job to do and every day you’re working with completely different people who were coming on coaches or from school trips or just general public coming into Hebden Bridge……what was by far the most enjoyable time of my life, and we employed all local people, mainly students because they would be back for that time period when we were the busiest time, and without a doubt we had a fantastic crew of people who worked with us.

     

    TW:           

    Were there like…..just a few months in the summer time then?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah I mean the students were often….university students so they’d get…..they’d get a longer……they’d often get longer than a few months and we had a lot of local people – we relied on friends when we were out of that season, but we employed up to about fifteen people at its peak and I think if you talked to any of them they would……we gave them an opportunity to do something what’s completely different and enjoyable, so yeah

     

    TW:

    So could you do that all year round then?

     

    MDL:

    We did…..we did it…it was busy….it was only busy for three months - around June, July, August were busy.  Before that we were quite busy with school parties because it was coming to the end of their term and they’d want to go on…..on trips and…..and then we’d have Christmas trips.  It died down by November and then we’d shut down for two months to do maintenance on the boat and it wasn’t worth opening on the scale.  We also had two small boats so we could do little trips, so if….we could always open up and hope that people would turn up and we’d take them on a little trip, but yeah, usually we’d shut down, usually about the time September came both me and Alex [??] who was the…..me friend who I did it with, we were both getting ill and tired because we were working….we’d be working on average probably seventy, eight hours a week because we’d have evening trips; we’d open up – we’d often have a morning trip at half ten, that meant we’d have to be there at nine and then, even though we weren’t working all the time we’d have a shop so someone was manning the shop and we’d have an office, so we would be working all the hours; we tried to get a day off a week but it never….or didn’t always turn out that way, so yes we were working a lot of hours, so usually by the time September came we were ready for it to…die down, but you had to make your money in the summer because you were paying bills all the year round, so that money had to be there

     

    TW:

    So was this from Sowerby Bridge or out of Hebden?

     

    MDL:

    Out of Hebden Bridge.  It was out of Hebden Bridge, out of the marina itself.  We had one big…..what was a barge, wider than a narrow boat what we used as a shop and office, and staff changing rooms and store rooms, and then we had a…..one narrow boat without an engine, it was a horse drawn boat, and then a couple of other boats what we used to use as tug boats, I could tow the long boats with it, or we could just go on small trips…yeah.

     

    TW:

    Where did you take them then?

     

    MDL:

    Our main trip was just an hour’s round trip down to….down to what used to be Walkley’s Clogs.  We often….when Walkley’s Clogs was open we’d do a half an hour trip with the coach companies; the coach companies would drop the…..the punters off, we’d take them down half and hour - [incomp] I’ve been on quite a few canal trips around the country – it’s probably one of the best trips because you’ve got to go….you don’t start in a historic place, in the middle of Hebden Bridge, and you could tell the story of the mills and how Hebden Bridge worked.  As you went down, you got to go through a lock and you got lead through a tunnel….and then you got the boat turned round, so it was an ideal…..it couldn’t have been placed any better for the trip, and we gave…..we gave a full talk on the trip, so we gave a full commentary and we went down and talked to them before we went – we wore all the traditional gear, from clogs on our feet that were made at Walkley’s Clogs, and corduroy and moleskin that were both traditionally from Hebden Bridge.  The waistcoats, big leather belts and….the neckerchiefs, and we could explain every bit of the costume and every bit of history, as long as they didn’t ask us anything that wasn’t on that canal corridor, and every now and again other things would be made up out of boredom [laughing], so these people probably left our trip thinking there is a treacle mine on the hills, and there is a Roman encampment on the…..what was just next to us, and that Robin Hood was in many places [laughing], but yes, it was very enjoyable and it was….it was a great time, yeah.

     

    TW:

    So eleven years you did that for?

     

    MDL:

    Eleven years, and we would have probably carried on doing it if it wasn’t for….the canal got taken over by British Waterways who turned the whole environment on the canal, and they wanted a lot more money off us.  The insurance companies…..we never had an insurance claim while we were doing it; we never had an injury to…..to a member of the public.  I’m not saying we didn’t have injuries to a member of the crews cos that would be lying, because I used to injure myself nearly every day, but….we never had an insurance claim, and every year the insurance was going up and up and up, and it became…..it became an unfeasible thing to do, to run a horse drawn boat trip…..but the insurance companies didn’t understand and it became an unfeasible thing to do, so when we sold the business the people who bought it didn’t want to do horse drawn boat trips, they just wanted to do engine trips……what was sad really because it was the end of…..of…..something what was unique to Hebden Bridge.  There is horse drawn trips in England – there’s another three I think…..at the moment, but none of them do what we did – they don’t go through locks and they don’t get legged through a tunnel, so what we were giving them was a complete package

     

    TW:

    Right.

     

    MDL:

    but we needed a new boat probably and…..and it was time to go

     

    TW:

    Was that Bronte Boats you sold it to?

     

    MDL:

    It was Bronte Boats we sold it to

     

    TW:

    And they’re still doing that now I think

     

    MDL:

    Yeah the people we sold it to aren’t…..aren’t doing it, they only lasted a year with their….with their business plan, and then…..then that name got bought out but there’s no actual boat trips going out of the centre of Hebden Bridge where you can just turn up and go on now.  There is one going out at Stubbing; Phil [??] runs small little trips on the boats that he bought back off us after….after many years of having them….yeah, then we made friends with everyone on the canal I think and all those friendships were viable to us.  At the time there was boat builders on the canal; we made friends with them and we helped move their boats about and they helped us

     

    TW:

    Are they the ones in Tod?

     

    MDL:

    They’re Pickwell and Arnold at….yeah, at Eastwood

     

    TW:

    Eastwood isn’t it really

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, and they……they would drop anything to come and help us, but it worked vice versa; same with the boat company in Sowerby Bridge, Shire Cruises, we had the same relationship with them.  If their boats…if we saw their boats in trouble we would go and help them and try and advise them, or at least ring up, then [incomp] goes and says ‘you might like to come and have a look at who you’ve got on the boat’…..and….and the tourist industry in Hebden Bridge, we tried to make friends with everyone, and it was all  [incomp], we all helped each other out.

     

    TW:

    So was this through the nineties…was it

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, this was through the nineties, yeah, basically all the way through the nineties.

     

    TW:

    Yeah…..so what did you do after the canal?

     

    MDL:

    Well although I was working…..I was working on the canal so I had a business, in the winter like I say there was nothing much to do, and in the winter you used to go off and try and find work for yourself to do…..to keep some money coming in and just to stop the boredom.  I’m not a very good sitter…..I need to do…..and I worked at Callis Mill what did the maintenance on the canal and they also made lock gates for….around the country, so I went to work for them and their busiest time was the winter, opposed to us, because that’s when the canal network got shut down, so they were after staff.  I had some……I had some skills and I could drive their boats around, but I also had some skills in….from living on the farm I could….I could dry stone wall quite well, when there was walling to do, and it was…it worked very well, so all the time, most of the time when I was running the business at the winter I was either working there….or in a coal yard, where I had a friend who ran the coal yard, so when the…..when we sold the boats I decided I would go and work at Callis Mill…..what was…..got consumed within Calderdale Council.  I was only going for a bit - I thought I would get bored - but at the time the job was very interesting.  We were going around the country fitting lock gates; we had the canal to run here in Hebden Bridge, so it was very fascinating

     

    TW:

    So….so was that like a separate [incomp] business that did that?

     

    MDL:

    It was…it was…we went through…we were paid through Calderdale…..it was very confusing.  We got paid from Calderdale because Calderdale supported it, but it was financed by the Rochdale Canal Trust which was a charity, and it was also….it also got money from the Rochdale Canal Company, and then British Waterways got involved there; I should….they follow me about, destroying my life as they go…..so it was financed through lots of different people but it was actually under, the financial bit was actually under the umbrella of Calderdale, so once Callis Mill got shut, once we’d lost the canal to British Waterways, Calderdale took these people on, but they were people with…all the people there had….had huge amounts of skills; there was great woodworkers there, so they started making benches and picnic tables and shelters and anything that was made out of hardwood or….or crafted, they would make there, and we would go out and fit them, but they were also still making lock gates for the canals, so we were still going off and doing those, but bit by bit Calderdale managed to….managed to….mess it up; they didn’t really understand it and they wanted to understand it, and it was making money, so the more people…..people wanted to get involved in it because it was making money, but the more people got involved in it, the less money it was making really.

     

    TW:

    Was it bad management then?

     

    MDL:

    It was….it was very very bad management through Calderdale, but now I still work for Calderdale….what is changing rapidly over the last year and it’s something I’m not particularly enjoying at the moment, but my job I enjoy because I get to do a lot of walling but it takes me back to when I was fourteen and first moved to the farm; one of the first things I learnt how to do was the dry stone walling and

     

    TW:

     

     

    So can I just ask what….if Calderdale….if you were working for Calderdale, why do they….do they have a lot of walls that need repairing then?

     

    MDL:

    They have…..they have an awful lot of walls that need repairing, but they tend to sub-contract them out to other people even though they’ve got a waller there

     

    TW:

    And you are that waller?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah.

     

    TW:

    Right. 

     

    MDL:           

    Calderdale’s got more dry stone walls per square mile of a council than anywhere else in the country

     

    TW:

    Really?

     

    MDL:

    So yes, they’ve got enough walls to do…..because the places where a lot of the walls are, the vast areas, the Dales where there’s vast areas but no-one lives there, the farmers look after them, but yeah, Calderdale is a central point in the middle of the Pennines for walling so there’s plenty of walls for me to do, but it’s just me by myself a lot of the time, or me with….with an apprentice and a lot of the walls….all the parks, most of the parks are surrounded by dry stone walls, the boundaries are, so yeah, there’s a lot of walls to do.  A lot of the walls by the highways we’re not allowed to touch because that becomes a….an argument between the farmers and Amey who run the highways department, so it usually takes longer to argue about it than actually to build them up….so…but since…..for the last four or five years I took my interest in walling, well it was just an interest as a child growing up, well as a teenager growing up on a farm, and I started taking my pieces of paper to prove that I can do it, and now I go off and teach people how to wall

     

    TW:

    Oh right.  So now are you a Master Waller?

     

    MDL:

    I’m not a Master Waller - I have got my Advanced Walling but I haven’t taken my Masters - it’s quite time consuming and expensive.  I’m hoping that s omeone will want a very fancy wall doing and pay me to do it, and that wall will be then Master quality rather than me spending weeks and weeks building a wall to be knocked down.

     

    TW:

    Is that how it works then?

     

    MDL:

    It can be; there’s test sites where you can go and build a wall what would be Master quality and then they’d come and inspect it and say ‘yes, that’s got all the features – it’s got everything you need to do’ or….or hopefully you find a wall, someone who wants a fancy wall building with the features what would tick the boxes.  There’s different parts to the Master’s; I could probably pass it if I got the right wall and enough time, but the two things have to come together for it to be worthwhile for me to do.

     

    TW:

    Right.  What features then do you need in a wall for it to be a Master?

     

    MDL:

    You need to…..you need to build a……there’ll be different walls you’d need to build a quite substantial retaining wall what’s holding back soil…..you’d need to be able to put the stile in what I’ve done…..I’ve done….I’ve done all but one of the things in different walls all over the place, so there’s stiles and there’s step stiles and also the wedge stiles; there’s a lanky hole what’s the small holes you see in the bottom of dry stone walls where they can run the sheep through, and there’s the arch what’s not…..not what people ask for, so to actually build an arch into a dry stone wall, not a lot of people ask for those because they’re very tricky to do; you have to build a form to build the arch

     

    TW:

    Yeah.  What use does an arch have in a dry stone wall then?

     

    MDL:

    I think it’s more a traditional thing than…..to prove that you can

     

    TW:

    Oh really?

     

    MDL:

    [laughing]  I should think……so if you…..if you go [incomp] you’ll see the lanky holes built with an arch and you’ll see on top of a wall if it’s a gateway, you’ll see them built like bridges

     

    TW:

    I know about the bridges side of it I think, yeah

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, so that would be probably the ultimate to do because you’ve got the depth to build, but one day someone will give me some money and I’ll have a go at one [laughing]

     

    TW:

    So….I presume that sort of farmers just do their own work, or do they just leave them because there’s not that much farming any more?

     

    MDL:

    I think…..there’s two ways.  The bigger farmers will do their own work or let them…..let them fall into disrepair.  There is grants from DEFRA for the farmers to get to keep their walls going; they’re not allowed to take them down, so they try and help them by giving them a bit of money to keep them up, but that bit of money’s not enough to actually employ someone unless they put something to, and as farms start getting sold out….sold to people who are keeping them as smallholdings, they don’t have the skills to do them.  I get work from…..private work from people who have got smallholdings, who just want the walls to look good, to be back up, and don’t have the skill or time to do it.  The farmers tend to look after their own walls……or not look after their own walls, so like if there’s an accident on a road that’s gone into a farmer’s wall, the farmer will actually try….well initially he’ll try and have no responsibility at all because he doesn’t want any responsibility at all because there’s been an accident, and then he’ll find that the insurance companies won’t want to pay a lot of money to get the wall finished, and then he won’t want any responsibility, so in time the highways, so in time the highways could be the same…..they don’t want any….they want to blame the farmer, and then they find that there’s money so often you’ll go to….to walls, when you’re working for the Council often you’ll go to walls and there’s people arguing one way and then straight away the other way, so a lot of….a lot of….what I do is actually repairing walls what have either been hit by something or been demolished by kids on a park, or something like that, just because of……just because it hasn’t been kept up to.  A dry stone wall, if it’s kept up to, will last as…..as long as you keep up to it.  Once you stop…..once the top stones get pinched, things can get into a wall; water can get in and in the winter the water expands and pushes something out, or you don’t take the trees out next to a wall, then……but if you kept those things going [??] in a dry stone wall it will last….it will last hundreds of years….and part of the Dry Stone Walling Association what I’m a member of, once you’re getting to my level you are allowed to give a hundred year guarantee for every wall you build and I do that in a very flippant way, but I am allowed to give that as long as, you know, they’re willing to keep up to it.

     

    TW:

    Yeah.  Do you have like a…..not rule book, but a sheet of paper with certain rules, like you know, if you could budge a sycamore….just take off [incomp] then if they get established then they’ll undermine it won’t they

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, the walls that I guarantee to stand without any natural invasion to it, because like you say the trees round here, some of them, the sycamore, grow very quick, and if you take a tree when the roots are very deep it will take a wall out in no time.

     

    TW:

    There are a lot of…..I mean when I think of dry stone walls the first thing that comes into my mind is…..like one across a field shall we say, you know, or up the side of a slope in the Dales or even around here, but really…..there’s lots of little lanes where the road, over years of usage it’s , you know, one two, three feet down below and there’s like a dirt bank and then the wall’s on top of it like this.  I suppose it’s just gone down that far by being used and [incomp] and the wall’s on top of it.  doesn’t that create huge amounts of problems?

     

    MDL:

    It can do, but it can work in other ways that….often earth moves around to the wall because it’s continuously getting blown onto the wall, so….so what would have been the foundations; the majority of times you’ll go and find foundations what would have been just [incomp] below the surface; you’ll be looking for foundations and they’ll be that much below the surface, so it might be a bit of both.  When you see the bridleways like you’re trying to explain, they’re dragged down but the soil has actually gone up round as well; you’ll often find when you……you’ll often find when you go and find a wall that needs repairing and you look, the first thing you’ll do is take your time and then look for foundations and you’ll often find that the wall has a whole has completely moved away from the foundations, but kept upright; it’s actually moved

     

    TW:

    It looks like a sort of L shape

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, the foundations will be here but it’s made its own foundation again, but because they’re all linked, the [incomp], are all linked, it will actually move but it will take years to settle and…..the most skilful bits of the dry stone walls is not what you see, it’s what inside, your hearting sp], your filling.  That’s where a wall has been built and if you don’t put enough in, that’s when the wall will fall down but that will settle as you go, so any stone you lay, you’ll have to put wedges, you’ll have to put bits of stone in the back because every stone you lay, round here with millstone grit, you don’t get nice flat edges, well you do now with the modern quarry and that’s why

     

    TW

    Do you need to be a bit of a mason then as well?

     

    MDL:

    You need to be able to….you need to good with a hammer or you need to be good at balancing…..anyone will say that dry stone walls are like a big jigsaw with no picture and it is; there’s certain things what they say about a wall – every stone you pick up you should use; now ideally that’s true, but if it isn’t fit, you have to weigh up very quickly in your head – is it worth getting that hammer out and chiselling a bit, or is it worth picking that one what knows it will fit, so…..but once they fit, you get them to fit on the front, you get them with as little gap as you can on the front and it doesn’t matter if…if I let go of that stone it will try and fall back or forward, but hopefully back because if it falls back into the wall that’s when you can wedge, you can get packing within a wall, you get that unstable; hopefully what you’re trying to do if it’s a wedge shape, you don’t just try to get it to sit, you try and push it up enough so it’s level so your next one what goes on is easy, so always try to think about the next stone above it, making it easy to fit, not just a stone you’re laying, so it’s…..the things you put in the middle are so important because once they sit and they’re wedged they’ll work their way down the middle

     

    TW:

    They might fall out

     

    MDL:

    But none of it will fall in…..hopefully.

     

    TW:

    Doesn’t……like when the weather gets very cold and it gets all frosty and turns to ice, I mean, doesn’t that crack the inside of it somehow?

     

    MDL:

    It can yeah, but not as much as putting cement in, because you’re giving water every access to come out.  Water can crawl out of the wall wherever it can because you’re not making a complete seal, so that’s why you never really want…..you never want to put cement into a dry…..into a wall because the moisture will stay in the cement, even when it’s dry and it’s putting a firm point, it’s joining things together, but in a dry stone wall the water will naturally run out and run down to the bottom and then off the foundations, so if you put cement or anything to seal things in, that’s when it can expand, so hopefully in a dry stone wall…..the wind can go through them, so if you put a fixed wall up what’s got cement in and it hits it, it has to go over like that but the wind hits a dry stone wall and it….some of it’ll go through, some of it will work its way through so you never get a solid wind hitting, so that’s why a dry stone wall will last longer than a solid fence or……or a solid wall, and that’s why sheep find it easy behind a wall that’s dry stone because the wind will actually loop over the top rather than going up and over then straight back down again, there’s some covering; the wind….the rain will get taken away because enough of the wind goes through to make it….to make it not a fixed item.

     

    TW:

    Right.  So really you want the front face and the back face to slope inwards

     

    MDL:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    Is that the best way of doing it?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, you always have the camber

     

    TW:

    Is that what it’s called, the camber?

     

    MDL:

    The camber, yeah, from the bottom to the top, what is very traditional to the area and very……very specific to what you’re building, there’s lots of different types of walls even in this area; there’s boundary walls what you see on the farms, and then after that you get more refined walls going up and up to areas where….to areas where everything will be cut but still dry stone; you’ll see them a lot round the reservoirs on the Water Board land, still dry stone walls but everything’s been cut so that they’ve got courses and it’s all very neat, where a boundary wall is just basically what you pick up as you’re going so you get a very random wall

     

    TW:

    So if….can you….if you go for a long walk say all round the tops or somewhere, you can tell just by looking at the walls if they’re boundaries to old farmsteads, so you can tell which….which plots belong to which sort of thing

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, and you can tell who would be the richest person because they….they would…..they would have it more crafted and they would have…..they would employ a better waller to do their area.  The walls got originally put in when the Land Registry came in and you were allowed to…..you were allowed to claim bits of land with restrictions of how big your fields were, that’s why you get lots of small fields around here; you were allowed to claim, only if you could get it fenced in a certain amount of time and then walled in within two years, so that’s why you got lots of walls going up but the people with the money were coming sometimes with more power, they would say…you can walk around and see if….who would be owning that and you could link fields together with different walling techniques, and see…..like I say, see who’s got the money

     

    TW:

    I’ve been told…..old walls, like medieval walls, and there’s some up the Colden Valley at the top end and there’s some I think round Redacre or Hawksclough, somewhere around there, you get these massive big boulders, huge big things and then just gradually they turn into like proper

     

    MDL:

    [incomp]

     

    TW:

    Is that true then, those are really old walls?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, often when this land they [incomp] and there was something they couldn’t shift or a line of natural rocks they couldn’t shift, that’s where they’d take their borders from, and there was that many rocks around here just laying about, they’d…..they’d mark their field out, start at the centre and take every bit of stone and take it to the outside of their boundaries, and by then you would have enough to start, or sometimes complete your wall without having to quarry any stone, but that’s when you get these random shapes of rocks, but if there was something unmoveable they’d consider using that as their…..their boundary, plus if it isn’t and there’s one big one there, you don’t have to move them so far; you wouldn’t try and move them, but yeah, still now you’d throw big rocks in, I mean it is a dying skill because we don’t do that any more.  To use a fixed rock, we very rarely do that; I’ve done one in my garden, there was a rock there and I’ve used that with my wall because that was there and it was the ideal place to start, but it sticks out, but if they do that’s the beauty of them I think, using your environment that’s around, yeah

     

    TW:

    So if you’re going to build a brand new wall today, like if you were going to fix one you’d go and presumably it had fallen over and you’d just use the stones that are there, but if you were to build a brand new one……you’d go to some quarry…..and what would you ask for?

     

    MDL:

    You ask for uncut walling stone, unless the person who’s employing you wanted….a lot of the dry stone walls you see built now, they’re not what we’d call traditional walls, they’re cut stone - you might have seen them in people’s gardens – they actually look like actually cut stone, it’s just how the sandstone’s formed here, but you just go for a lot of uncut stone and it obviously saves them….it’s usually what is left out of their stone, their……their surplus, the stuff they don’t….can’t use, not worth cutting…..what is cheaper because the price of stone’s just going up and up

     

    TW:

    Is it really expensive?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah it is, even in cuts from…..you go to a quarry and ask for it uncut, well that’s slack, basically their waste, but they know how to charge for their waste [laughing]….yeah, so usually….when you go to a wall, if a wall has fallen down or moving you’ll have to go and put it back down.  Your first……your second test in the Walling Association to get your intermediate is just to take down and build a wall with a [incomp] in with an end to it – three metres of wall – so you to actually take it down and rebuild it, and you’d think that….a lot of people think when it goes, ‘if I take it down and I lay it all down, with this stone here I’ve taken off here’ and they always try and remember where each stone had come off and the equivalent, it would never go back that; it will always be, for some unknown reason, you always need more stone than what’s in the wall or you’ll very rarely have some left, because it will never go back how it’s gone so the best thing to do when you’re taking a wall down is to just forget it and put them into a nice order where you can know where the stone is.  You’d happily think that there should be enough stone and it must go somewhere – stone pixies must take it – but it never goes back just how you think it should.

     

    TW:

    Yeah.  Do you know anything about these…..I don’t know how old they are, but these massive big ones, like going up Keighley Road,  you know, it’s holding up half of Birchcliffe hill isn’t it, and it’s a huge, huge retaining wall.  How do they do that?

     

    MDL:

    You would start off very very wide; the width of them….everything would be build as a double wall, so it’s just literally using a lot of stone; they would……you wouldn’t be building into the hillside; they’d clear the hillside and then bring the hillside back to the wall, so it’s just the same as any retaining wall; you’d want a gap with nothing where you’re controlling the soil coming back to it, and I wouldn’t know or dare…..I don’t think there’s….you’d be very lucky to find the skills to be able to do a lot of the walls round here now.  It was just…..crammed into….the Victorian attitude of ‘it can be done so it will be done’….but the bottom of those walls, they will be ten foot, probably plus, and they will come, as that cambers up, the one at the back will also camber up so you’re ending up with a triangle giving the strength, but then like I say, you’d dig away more than you wanted to bring back; they would probably build down to the bedrock as well there

     

    TW:

    Do you think so?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah I should think so, because it’s…..I’ve looked at them many times and marvelled at them.  The blockwork’s also cut so each stone does fit very very nicely, so

     

    TW:

    So a Master Mason would be involved?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, there’s be masons involved, not just walls but

     

    TW:

    You’ve got the river, particularly up Colden, and in so much of it, it’s on this wall but it’s also [incomp] in various places

     

    MDL:

    Yes, and altered so much as well.  The house I moved in to, the second house in Hebden Bridge, was….on Eiffel Street I looked down over the river, and I found an old map of Hebden when the river, it ran through all that area, and if you look down, it does actually almost go back on itself, but not enough to stop the river up to Nutclough Mill, and then went back down again

     

    TW:

    From Lee Wood?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah down that bit yeah, and it’s just…..you just really can’t….you struggle to get your head round the way they could do that

     

    TW:

    As well, there was Foster Mill there and they built that mill pond…..below Windsor View on there, and there’s goits all the way right back almost up towards Midgehole, so they must have just totally….just took control of that landscape and did exactly what they wanted

     

    MDL:

    But it’s incredible that the landscape hasn’t taken back……but again, dry stone wall, all of it would have been dry stone wall but it’s got the beauty, like I was explaining about the wind, it doesn’t have full resistance; also the water would have a bit of a bumping [??] as it goes through and that would have been put in clay I presume, they’d have used the same technique as the canals

     

    TW:

    The canals have…..they were clay lined weren’t they?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah they were clay lined and then built round, then your problem was…..when we used to work on the canals, not when stones fell in because they just went back up, it was if the clay was breached then that’s when they would leak and the stories, when we used to work on the canals, there’s lots of stories of how they used to…..how they used to [incomp] the clay because they used to weigh the clay down and then it needed……it needed squashing, and they’d often get the farmers to run the cattle down the canal in all the clay

     

    TW:

    It must have been safe then

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, but to get it……to get all the air out and to get it sealed, so the farmers would run the cows to the market on the canal and if the cows weren’t there they’d just get the navvies to run up and down the bottom of the canals to [incomp] it, so like you say, they probably used the same skills in changing these rivers

     

    TW:

    Well I live down on Oxford Street and there’s a lock at the end there, and they changed…..some of it, they replaced some of it and they did put a crack in it, and so the bank…..there’s the canal and then there’s the towpath, and the towpath must be…..twelve foot above the ground level where the houses are on one side; as soon as they’d finished it the next day, water started coming out of the wall because they must have cracked that…..that seal.  They did put it right in the end [incomp] but for about two months we were thinking it was all gonna come crashing down

     

    MDL:

    Yeah they put bar washes [??] into…..into the locks

     

    TW:

    Yeah like that

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, sort of

     

    TW:

    A U-shaped thing down in the lock, along the back and back in it

     

    MDL:

    Yeah it was just to stop some of the pressure, I mean the locks on this canal, it must have been the busiest canals in England and it’s changed, so we’ve got all this water coming in sometimes, and what has [incomp]…..but most of it’s down at the bottom gate, the larger gate and it’s slightly…..slightly lower than the top gate so if water comes in it can always escape….but the barrier wash [??] got put in in that area.

     

    TW:

    Right…..okay [laughing]…..well I’m just thinking…..is there anything else then that you’d like to talk about to do with….walling or the canals or anything like that?

     

    MDL:

    No [incomp]

     

    TW:

    Do you think……well there are two things.  You said sometimes you have an apprentice with you

     

    MDL:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    and then you also said you’re the only one left, and then way that it’s looking like is that you might go private on that

     

    MDL:

    Yeah

     

    TW:

    So do you think that’s…..would you take an apprentice on if you went private then?

     

    MDL:

    Oh I would yeah definitely

     

    TW:

    To try and carry the skills through

     

    MDL:

    Well it’s a case of carrying the skills through, and walling often works better with two people if you can work with that person, because it saves you hopping from one side of the wall to the other all the time; if you can work with that person and get on the same wavelength, you want to bring the wall up on both sides.  They’re all two…..they’re all……all walls are two skinned; they’re joined every now and again with through stones, but they’re all joined, so if I could get someone I could work with [incomp] get somebody I could train up rather than….because everyone walls slightly different, so if you could train someone to wall like in your style it would make it easier; it would be something…..it is something…… and talk to people as well, because I have tried to wall with other people and you have to wall in a similar speed and a similar style because as I say, the very important bit of dry stone walling is the through stones that link both sides of the wall together and you have to put them at the same height, and depending on how tall I just put them, usually just about knee height if they work, and get them in as many times as you can, but if you’re working with somebody, you have to be getting to that space, so yes, it is something I’ve thought through, and I’ve tried people…..not very successfully sometimes.

     

    TW:

    I suppose you have to really look for a good person don’t you?

     

    MDL:

    Yeah……yeah.  I don’t think……I think a lot of the skill can be taught, but you need to have that natural

     

    TW:

    Like a calling [??]

     

    MDL:

    Yeah, it’s like a puzzle sort of thing…..it’s a natural way of looking at things….seeing perspective, and some people don’t have it, and I see that when I’m teaching; sometimes you just know in the first hour who’s going to need all the work just to get the wall [incomp]…..confidence.

     

    TW:

    Have you ever found any [incomp] things in walls sometimes, you know, you haven’t found any 

     

    MDL:

    Pipes - there are a lot of pipes….broken pipes, clay pipes, and bottles…..broken bottles I’ve found

     

    TW:

    Is that just litter do you think

     

    MDL:

    I think probably the pipes……whether they were broken when they shoved them in, or that they put them in….I find hammers every now and again…..when you’re building, when…..when you’re in the flow, and these people were far better builders, better wallers than I am, they go up quickly, they can go up quite quickly, and they can go up in a day.  When you’re building a wet wall with cement there’s only so high you can go in a day because you squash the cement out with a lay to it but a dry stone wall doesn’t have that problem, so it can grow up quite rapidly especially if you have a lot of people, and often you’ll put something on the wall; I’ve had to take my walls down to find my phone; I’ve walled my phone twice and I’ve had to ring it……but you put it on a wall, you finish on the phone, you put it on the wall, you go on, you fill that bit…..you fill that bit and then you put……a stone on…..twice I’ve put my phone in [incomp] to find the phone, so yeah, I’ve found spectacles…..and like I say a lot of clay pipes; I’ve only found one solid lump but you don’t know if they….but I’ve found other bits; I’ve never found a dead cat or anything else…..I find a lot of mice but they live in there…..you find coins every now and again……old bits and pieces, but yeah, lots of bottles and…..not medicine bottles you know, big….big bottles that have often been cracked, really beautiful bottles, yeah

     

    TW:

    Right, right…..well I’d like to thank you for talking to me

     

    MDL:

    Thank you

     

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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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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