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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Stuart Gibson

    [TRACK 1]

    Sorry some of it’s going back over old ground but we’ll just..

    …you just ask what you want and I’ll do my best – that’s all I can do.

    Can you tell me your full name and then where and when you were born?

    My full name is Stuart John Gibson and I was born actually in Halifax at the Royal Infirmary during the war in 1944 when they didn’t have home births because of the black out and various other things you know so it were a case that they had to go into hospital in them days to have their children, so my mother went there and I was born there just at the end of the war it was, in 1944 I was born. What date was that? 6th of October 1944 it were, I think the war had a year to go

    Did your parents live in Hebden Bridge?

    They lived in Hebden Bridge yes, they’d just moved into Hebden Bridge. They’d lived in the valley for a while; they’d moved from Stoke On Trent eight years before, I think it was 1934 when they moved when they got married. The job situation down there was pretty hopeless and my father and his brother-in-law it were, my uncle, they decided that they’d to do something about getting some work so they got a train to Manchester. When they got in Manchester they asked where there was work and they were told t’best place to go was Luddendenfoot, so they caught a train through and got off at Luddendenfoot. More or less next to the station there you’ve got Sagar Richards and it’s still there, and they just walked round from the station, walked in and just got jobs and both of them worked there until they died.

    What was the work that they did?

    It was in engineering, it was sort of non-skilled engineering to start with but my father was eventually classed as a semi-skilled engineer. He got involved a lot during the war with making moulds for gas masks, you know which became very popular I think – not through choice, but a lot of people were getting ‘em and he was a charge hand it was in the department that actually made the moulds. He made them during the war and then after the war they stopped making them for a year and as things got bad and the Cold War went on I think they became more conscious that there was likely to be a war again sometime that towards the end of the 1950s they started making the moulds for gas masks and they brought that back into production; he was one of the originals on that so he went back and he worked on that and he worked on that and he did about three or four years then unfortunately he died.

    Did your mother work?

    My mother did yes, she did various jobs like but she worked in the clothing industry at Trim Turn and Fold I think they called it.

    What is that exactly?

    It’s when the trousers have been made – she worked at Scarbottom Mill when I knew it but she worked at various places before that. They’d been made had the trousers and they used to trim the edges and tidy them up a bit and then fold them to be passed straight to the presser so they could put them straight on the press and press them so they could look as though they were presentable to be put in a shop.

    Where was Scarbottom Mill?

    At Mytholmroyd, opposite what used to be the Fire Station, now it’s Pot Luck but it used to be the Fire Station. There used to be opposite there a bridge, I don’t think ithe bridge is there now any more. There were some upheaval there; they built the houses on the dam for what was Scarbottom Mill; like everything else it’s been taken over as building land, but when I was a lad I used to call round there because we used to be able to walk all the way round the dam but now it’s houses on there like and there’s a road that runs across, but the mill, I think it was a three storey mill and she worked in there.

    Did you ever go in the mill?

    Yes I went in a time or two, but my mother – well after we’d lived in Hebden Bridge we moved to Mytholmroyd and I carried on at school in Hebden Bridge but I used to make my own way to school and back home again which I think they’d be horrified these days if kids were doing that at six or seven year old, but I was doing it and sometimes if I got home and there’d been a bit of a mix up or something like that and I couldn’t get in to the house, I used to just walk down and go in and see my mother and she’d make sure I could get in.

    What was it actually like in the mill?

    I hated it – my mother never objected about it but it was horrible – the dust from the material you know that they were working with, it used to get up my nose, it were terrible – it made your nose sore. I hated it. I hated going in there.

    Which school did you go to?

    I went to Central Street School in Hebden Bridge. When I was born we lived at Osbourne Street and that was a family home then; I came home to there from Halifax where I was born. It was the end of the war again and my mother was working I think in the clothing industry, it was one of those jobs they needed, she was involved in making uniforms and such like for the military and my mother was involved with that a bit; she worked all the time through my childhood and of course then when they needed the workers in them days, they could afford a nursery as well. Where the car park is in Hebden where the market now stands, that was a children’s nursery many years ago and I went there for two or three years, I don’t know how long it was, maybe two or three years I would imagine. My sister used to pick me up from school and take me back down again, she was seven years older than me. After I finished at the nursery, they had a nursery section at Central Street School. My sister went to Stubbings School I was going to ask why you didn’t go to Stubbings when you lived on Osbourne Street – they had a nursery section there and my mother moved me from there into the nursery section at Central Street School and then I carried on going to Central Street when we moved to Mytholmroyd; it carried on and I went there all the way through till I was eleven.

    Whereabouts in Mytholmroyd did you live?

    First of all we moved to Nest Estate in a council house, which in those days they were building council houses and making them available, then after the war they were building more still. I can remember them building all Banksfields and all round there, and I can remember them building Calder High School as well.

    I suppose that was a big change – all of Banksfields, Calder High and all of that – was it all fields before then?

    Funnily enough I don’t remember the fields there, I can remember the houses appearing and I can remember Calder High School appearing there; I can remember some workmen putting a swing in a door that they’d constructed and they hung a swing in it, and we used to go up there and play on a swing in the door – I can remember that [laughing]. I wouldn’t be that old then like, but my sister was one of the first to go to the school, she was just at that age when they built it, about eleven or twelve. I can remember her going there and she was pretty apprehensive about it all the time but it was a new step and it was interesting to see how the school’s changed over the years, I mean I look at it now and I just think ‘wow’ – I look down and it and see the size of it…

    How’s it changed – just by adding bits on?

    It’s extended but it’s not only upwards a bit but it’s spread out. What were playing fields have been built on and all at the back of the school…I can remember going up and seeing my sister playing for the school at hockey and sitting on the wall at the edge there and watching; now there’s houses there – there’s Hullett Close and Hullett Drive and all those round there. It’s built up a bit, it’s not quite the open space that it was because both sides of Midgley Road across the other side of Foster Clough, they’ve built houses there as well; I can remember those being open fields as well. I can remember cattle grazing down there. There was a lot then in them days. I think our milkman it was had that field who used to deliver milk, it was Percy Sunderland.

    Did he deliver it in bottles – how did it come?

    The first time I remember milk being delivered it was when I lived at Osbourne Street and I can remember Matthews – I’ve forgotten what his first name was now – Matthews just on at Rowland Farm he delivered milk and I can remember him coming down in a horse and cart and of curse you could come down in a horse and cart easy enough but when it got to t’bottom where the school is before you go up School Street that were as far as he could get, he’d have his horse going. I can remember we used to have a white jug; my mother used to wash that out every day and I had to run down t’hill when I were a little lad and hand this jug over and it would get the milk put in, he’d secure the top on it and I’d be back of up the hill, and that’s how we got it t’first time.
    Then I can remember they went into bottles and they used to have cardboard tops on with a hole that you pushed through in the middle; my sister used to save them and she’d get some thread and wrap it round a few times through the centre and round the outside she went round, and cut through them round the edge and hang them up for decorations for t’Christmas tree then when it came round, so that was something that was going on all year round, making these bauble type things out of material and hang them up on the Christmas tree – nothing went to waste.

    Can you remember the teachers or the things you studied at Central Street School?

    I can almost remember every teacher all the way through. To start with there was Miss Sykes it was at first who had the junior end of the school, then when you went through to the primary section, I can remember going through there and the year I moved on into the primary section Miss Sykes left and Mrs Cushing came who stayed there and I can remember her being there long after I’d left school and that, and she was still teaching down there with Mrs Cushing, in fact I’m not sure whether she taught one of my children eventually. I remember her leaving there but I can’t remember exactly when it was so it must have been after my children were born I think if I remember her leaving because…it was Miss Smith I remember who I learned joined-up writing with and taken through all the procedures of doing that, [someone came in] then went on into t’second year and it was Mr Holt then, and he came from Todmorden, I remember that because he was a friend of a teacher that taught me later when I went to Sowerby Bridge Grammar School. I knew of this teacher through him and I can remember some interesting lessons with him, but then he went on and it was the big move to Phyllis Oakley’s class. She was a very what you might call ‘with-it’ teacher in those days; she used to take us out for lots of walks and that sort of thing and I remember seeing my first rabbit with myxomatosis while out on a walk with her, and that was a horrible sight to see. She stood us all at a distance and realised the distress this rabbit was in and sort of explained to us all about it, what myxomatosis was and why it had been introduced and what were going on and that but I can still remember it, it were a fairly traumatic experience really seeing this rabbit suffering and it was just in its last death throes sort of thing; it was a fairly big rabbit as well and it was on the hill as you go up to Horsehold. You can walk up there and just beyond I think it’s the last field on the left hand side there’s a path that goes through to Old Chamber and there’s a seat there, and it were just in front of that seat were the rabbit and I can still remember it being there; we were walking up Horsehold like, but we were all ushered past it so that we couldn’t avoid but see it but she made sure we understood what it was and I’ve thought about it since really and for our age group – I’d be about eight I suppose at the time, it was an important lesson in life that we all…

    So you finished Central Street School and went to Sowerby Bridge Grammar School then, that’s now the High School – what was that like in comparison?

    Oh it was a culture shock, that was! It was a bit too stiff and starchy for me at Sowerby Bridge but I know I’d been encouraged to work hard and pass my exams the Eleven Plus as they were then. Phyllis Oakley I think it was that actually went to Sowerby Bridge Grammar School when she was a girl, and of course she used to talk to us about the schools that we’d be going to later and I felt by the time I got to going to Sowerby Bridge that I was sort of pointed in that direction and I went there, but really I don’t think it was a suitable school for the likes of me with working class parents. I think my parents found difficulty in coping and understanding exactly what the ethos of the school was about, and I think it expected more, there were a lot of children…I mean I got along well with them, there were no problems in that way but I remember doctor’s children, solicitor’s children, clerical people in the church, their children that went there and they all seemed to be sort of geared through to going to university and that, whereas I mean nobody in our family had ever been near a university so I went through the school and I did fairly well at school, I mean I passed my exams at the end and left when I was seventeen but I don’t think it were an appropriate school really; think it would have been better for me I think if I’d been somewhere with lower expectations of me where I could have gone through to learn a trade or something like that.

    So when you left, what did you do?

    Well at the time it was unfortunate really, it was the time that my father was taken ill. Me and my father….. never worked….. – I left school and he had his first week the week that I left school. I got a job actually working as a Public Health Inspector and I worked in Public Health.

    Was that for the Council?

    That was for Sowerby Bridge Urban District Council as it was then.

    What did that entail?

    Well one of the main jobs I did was I was involved in a lot of smoke control in the valley; I learnt quite a bit about atmospheric pollution along the valley and where it came from, which properties were most responsible for causing the pollution and about the railways as well and how they were responsible for it, which they were in those days – the old steam trains and that. It was a mucky place was Hebden Bridge, I always think that and Sowerby Bridge was even muckier probably than Hebden Bridge, they were not very pleasant places in them days I mean, compared with what they are not, I think they’re beautiful now, compared with what they were then. I can remember the fogs we used to get, I mean we politely called them smogs but it were thick fog, pea-soupers they were and I can remember one day school when we had Christmas party and it was in the evening. I was at Sowerby Bridge Grammar School and we had the Christmas party in the main body of the school but the school canteen was across the playground; you had to go out and across and it was up a slope to it – we left the school when we were told everything was ready for us to eat and it was an ordeal getting from the main body of the school to the canteen. At the back of the canteen there used to be bins and in them days they used to empty all the slops into those bins but when the smog got round it, it sort of carried and made it into a really horrible smell and it really put you off eating anything, but we went into the canteen and we had a Christmas meal, the party, in there but it was horrible and all of us were sort of looking – ‘have we got to go back and face all that again? Anyway we managed to get through the evening but that night was the worst I can remember as far as how they used to smell sulphurous, it wasn’t just a bit misty or anything like that, it was a really sulphurous fog we used to get on the valley. I think it was the best thing they ever did was when they cleaned up the valley.

    Who were the worst culprits for producing smoke and pollution – was it the mills or the trains or the houses…?

    Well in terms of percentage contribution to it, the heaviest polluters were the houses; everybody had a coal fire in those days and everybody belched out smoke, and it was a pretty on-going thing; when it got to this time of year it were hard work to keep a fire burning and stack it up at night and keep it going through t’night so you had something in t’morning and sort of damp it down once a week a give the black leaded grate a polish; that were a Saturday morning job, but all council houses on the valley, when they built those, they all had the black leaded grates with the oven beside them. I don’t as many people ever used their ovens, I mean the only person I remember actually using an oven like that was when I met my wife Glenda and I used to go to her house and her mother was fairly well organised in that department and sheused to bake and put cakes and that at the side of the fire and she used to bank the fire up and open everything up, do what she were doing with it and bake cakes and that, and she were a good ‘un at baking cakes – it were interesting to see what she could produce out of that little black leaded doorway at the side of her fire! I think they were a fairly modern invention really were them in terms of houses, I don’t think they were part of the old traditional way of life or anything like that. Oh really – I thought they might have come back – I didn’t know that. Well Glenda’s house where she lived, they were probably put in at some time long after the houses were built – that was built some time in the late nineteenth century, it was up beyond Heptonstall, but I’d say that were as soon as they were put in to those houses. It was rather unusual that the council houses looked comparatively modern but had the old fashioned black leaded grate in them. I don’t think anybody by that time knew how to use them so they were just as something to be cleaned!


    I’m just trying to make a bit of a link now – weren’t you in the Boys Brigade?

    Yes, that was at Mytholmroyd.

    When did you start doing that?

    Well they used to have a junior section called the Lifeboys and I started – nine year old I think you had to be before you started there, so I was in the Lifeboys from nine until I was twelve then at twelve you went up into the Boys Brigade proper – you were one of the big lads then. There were some that went through until they were eighteen and they were still in the Boys Brigade; I remember Stuart Greenwood was there till he was about eighteen. We used to go camping, hiking and walking about the place and do various things through the chapel.

    Was it associated with the chapel?


    So if you were part of the chapel, quite often you’d join the Boys Brigade – is that how it worked?

    It was, yes. I think it was one of these class things – the chapels were more working class and the churches were more middle class, and if you went to church it was the Scouts and of course you had to buy your uniform when you went to the Scouts, I mean they had the short pants and the shirts and it was a full uniform that you bought whereas in the Boys Brigade it was a leather belt we got, we used to have to wear just sort of grey flannels and a blazer which was our school uniform anyway and you had a white sash that went round and we used to blanco that and keep that fairly smart, there were brass buckles on it and brass adjustments and that – we used to polish them up and make them look smart and that, but of course it were something that could be given and handed on from one to another so there was no expense involved really in buying a uniform as such, and that were the difference in the Boys Brigade like. I think it was a little bit more…puritanical shall we say was the Boys Brigade to the Scouts, I think the Scouts used to sort of pride themselves on their outdoor….you know, outdoor skills. The Boys Brigade wasn’t particularly too concerned about that, even though we used to go camping and do stuff, it wasn’t really part of the agenda to teach us all to light a camp fire or anything like that [laughing].

    Do you have any photographs of you in your uniform?

    Not when I was in the Boys Brigade, no I don’t.

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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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