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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Freda Kelsall and Chris Irvine Browne

    [TRACK 1]

    TW:

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the 4th of May 2011, I’m talking to Freda Kelsall and we’re at Hawden Hall. Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    FREDA KELSALL: I was born in Southport which is on the west coast. My name’s Freda Margaret Kelsall and it was 1938, April.

    TW:

    Right. What was Southport like in those days?

    FK: It was a Victorian dormitory town: people who worked in Manchester or Liverpool would have their families living in the large Victorian villas. A beautiful street, I think rivalled only by Princes Street, Edinburgh, which had tree-lined pavements where about twelve people would walk abreast, and beautiful shops with colonnades, and another layer which was the promenade with the hotels and hydros, and then marine drive, but I think the sea was retreating, so that parallel lines – Southport’s built on parallel lines – kept creeping out towards Ireland. And now I think there are another two roads which don’t get washed away very often. In my childhood I think the tide did come over marine drive, but not any more. The estuary gage is silted up.

    TW:

    Right. What kind of a childhood did you have there?

    FK: An interesting one; a lovely one. I enjoyed it hugely. I had a very strong network of family and most of them had things to do with food shops – bakers, grocers – very nice, because it was rationing so we had very squashed Battenberg cakes that had been dropped in the bakehouse, and if the end of the ham in the slicer was too fatty to sell to a customer, we got it. We weren’t marvellously well-off but we had one of those new-build thirties houses with its own garden backing onto the railway, and my father bought it on a mortgage. I don’t think our family had been into buying until then, but because it was only about thruppence a week more than paying rent, he decided to have a mortgage and take the chance on it, and I was born before the Munich Crisis and I think they waited five years to have a little brother for me because it wasn’t a good time to be having children as far as they were concerned. My father wasn’t a very well man. He was a wonderful man and a delightful father, but he hadn’t been very well as a child. He had rheumatic fever so he wasn’t called up but he was an ARP warden and he used to sit over bomb craters waiting for something to happen, and I was out a lot at night, and he did have a telephone. He was one of the few people in this drive that had a telephone with him because, and he had a car, and so we were I suppose in an odd sort of a way quite lucky. We were also very chapel orientated. The whole family went to chapel, and we met each other, and our cousins grew up together and I think we’re still very strongly bonded in our layer that’s left, the other all been gone before, but the bonds were very strong. We had holidays together and every Christmas was a kind of battling for the dates around Christmas and the New Year – whose party it was – a very happy childhood.

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans

    TW:

    How long did you actually live in Southport then?

    FK: Until I was in my early twenties. My brother managed to get a place at grammar school when he was eleven and I’d been through my.....up to the fifth form in grammar school, so I took a job. My father wasn’t very able to work then, and so I took a job in the library which was where I wanted to be; it was my natural home I think, and also I went to the rep quite a lot. I was a theatre person and so in the off- duty shifts I could go to drama school, and I had the money to do it with. My brother did very well at grammar school, so he went first to university. I didn’t go to college until I was in my mid twenties, but once he’d done his bit I went to London – we shared a flat in London and it was good. That’s when I left Southport. He got a job in London after he finished at Oxford, and he worked for first of all GLC and then English Heritage. He was very into old buildings, and he’s now.....he’s been with the Ancient Monuments Commission for a long time. He’s got his own private architectural practice, so I see a lot of him.

    TW:

    So what did you actually study in London?

    FK: Divinity. There was a shortage – the shortages were for teachers of Divinity and Physical Education, and I was never very good at hanging off the wall bars so I studied divinity which I enjoyed very much because it was not a bit like my chapel upbringing of being rather tidily, cosily packaged. There was a lot more academic research involved and I thought that was absolutely fascinating, and I met some very strong minds.

    TW:

    So when you studied Divinity and you finished, what.....do you have a college degree or

    FK: Yes it’s an educational.....I got.....gosh, I suppose Educational Certificate with Merit which was quite a sort of step up and I was able to teach after my first year of apprenticeship, and I took a job on the opposite side of the railway rush because as most of the trains were coming into London bringing people, I went out to a job in Harrow, because of course it meant I had plenty of empty trains to ride in, both going out to work and coming back, so I went to Harrow for my first job and loved that, and then I looked at.....I thought ‘I must start buying property because it’s silly not to’ – it was, I suppose you might say the late sixties, early seventies and they were just about beginning to look at women as being people who might be trusted to have a mortgage. There was a lot of women’s lib going on so really in 1970 it was time I got my foot in my own doorway and had my own door key, but I couldn’t afford Harrow but I could afford Hampshire, so I went and bought a little Victorian terraced house in Hampshire, and got a job at the end of the road in a school there which was again a bit of luck, but that was a fabulous place to go to.

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 1

    TW:

    How did your teaching develop into your interest in local history then?

    FK: I think because I’d always wanted to be a writer with a cottage in the country that was the underlying thing, so the library and the teaching, I think because it was always an interest really, local history was one of the things I was exploring. I did some television work when I was in London – because of the library experience I’d been a children’s librarian and I was asked to do a series called ‘Outlook and Insight’ which was reviewing children’s books – books which the parents would enjoy and would....they talked a lot about a gap – a generation gap – and I think in the sixties it seemed unnecessary, because a lot of books children could discuss with their parents and enjoy the same stories and the same characters. There was a real richness of children’s literature in the sixties, with fantastic writers coming out and whilst reviewing the books I just thought there was a lot of experience to be gleaned from one founder member to another, from discussing the stories and a lot of them are still classics now, you know, Alan Garner and Katherine Paynton there were some very good writers still being picked up by this next generation of parents because everything was children, so that was one thing. The other one I did – I think the first television series I did was something called ‘R.I. on Trial’ which was a programme for Associated-Rediffusion and they were trying to get some sort of rationale about the fact that R.E. or Divinity or Religious Knowledge were the only compulsory subject on the curriculum, the only one that was absolutely compulsory – not even Maths was compulsory. The 1944 Education Act said it had be Religious Instruction and a Corporate (ed. should read Collective) Act of Worship every day, and that was the only thing by law – every else was a bit of a ramshackle till the National Curriculum came in, but they were examining that and I think I was just starting and I took them all into school any my sixth form, and the children I was teaching had a go at television and what they got out of it, and they were super, they really were, especially the sixth formers – I mean in the sixth year everything, everything to deal with their honest to God was being thrown about and discussed, and people were going through all sorts of interesting experiences like, you know, the Beatles trotted off to Maharishi and all sorts of spiritual adventures were taking place, so I was I suppose a part of that as well.

    TW:

    Is that still a big part of your life now?

    FK: I’m interested of course, you can’t just drop it. I went to see my old tutor a couple of weeks ago, he’s ninety eight now in June, but he was a very good stimulus, and you know, we knocked sparks off each other and he’s down in a retired clergymen’s home in East Grinstead. I just thought ‘I must go and see him’, partly because I haven’t had a Christmas card and I thought ‘this is unlike him – what’s the matter? Is he not very well?’ and I went to see him, and he was fine, but he’d forgotten it was Christmas [laughing]

    TW:

    How did you get from Hampshire to Yorkshire then? Is that a long story?

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 2

    FK: A long journey between – I was doing a lot of television work for Yorkshire Television while I was still teaching in Hampshire. I’d been doing ‘How We Used To Live’ for about eight years and I was always on a train between Leeds and Manchester. I stopped teaching when it was getting to the point where I felt ‘I can’t do either of them properly’ and then after about eight years of this journey up and down for meetings, and I’d gone to London as well for meetings because I was doing other work apart from the schools television which was this long-running series, ‘How We Used To Live’ which I’d been writing since about 1973, and I thought ‘yes, I’m not really living a full life in either place’. I was very much involved in the life in Hampshire – I was always going out to parties and meetings; I was Chairman of the Parish Council and worked my diary around being there – so in end I thought ‘I must try and find somewhere to live in Yorkshire’ and I thought ‘I’ll keep the Hampshire house on because it’s going to fizzle out’ and about twenty five years later it still hasn’t fizzled out [laughing].

    TW:

    So how did you do your research for that television programme?

    FK: I had a great deal of help from a man called Norman Longmade at first and there were other researchers put onto it, so there was always somebody would help me. I mean goodness me, how did I do it without Google – I’d no idea. It looks impossible now to have done all the things we did. We spent a lot of time in Leeds Library going through the archives of the newspapers and everything that we could put our hands on, and looking at exhibitions – anything – museums had I think been going in tandem with the sort of social history drama that I was working on. Instead of having exhibitions of things in glass cases, in one kind of show they had exhibits in rooms of the period, and from that it was an easy step to make period dramas, period houses, period characters who re-enacted this thing. We didn’t use museums that much because we were able to dress the houses, because of the economy of the programme, we would take a whole house over for maybe a year, the designers and the property people could put it back to how it should have been in Victorian England or the inter- war years or 1940s to get everything right, and you could generally find somewhere that you could dress and back-date adequately.

    TW:

    Right.

    FK: That’s part of the research of things, and I had a very good team.

    TW:

    So you said you did Victorian and the inter-war years, I mean what other subject matters did you actually cover?

    FK: Well it was change which brought about the National Curriculum and they’d started tying the programmes down to half a term per subject. We’d taken two terms and then orchestrated the final term which was going to be follow-up work, because the

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 3

    follow-up work came after the first two terms of programmes and that was given out in teachers’ notes and suggestions and so on. So when I was faced with the idea of condensing it all to one – the first one we had was – we’d already done a Victorian series that was covering about seventeen years.....1874 to 1887, I think that was the sort of benchmark – to have one family and get the children to grow up just about, and be the same faces at the end of that period otherwise they would have had to be re-cast because you couldn’t take a longer period. That was my favourite series actually, because that was the one we didn’t have to change people’s appearance to make them of the right age, but the next time we did it, it was a different set up. I did 1840s and contrasted, you know, compare and contrast of academic stuff of 1890s, so we managed to get the early Victorians half a term, late Victorians half a term, so we got the Victorians expanded – I can’t imagine anybody thinking they could cover Victorians in half a term.

    TW:

    So how long did you actually work on that?

    FK: Twenty five years...about [laughing].

    TW:

    How did you actually come to Hebden then?

    FK: Well because I was looking for somewhere....I had bought a house just near the factory in Leeds, near Yorkshire Television, at first on my own, just took a little mortgage out, and found a lovely little house by Kirkstone Abbey which was on the bus route and it was really handy, but then I thought I was going to be there very long so I wasn’t bothered....and then as time went on I thought ‘I’m not getting back to Hampshire at all, I’ve just got no time’. I was writing single plays and other programmes for ITV like ‘Emmerdale’ and stuff like that, so I was actually not getting home at all and I thought ‘this is silly’. Then I came out here to the snows of ’82, everything had thawed and I went for a walk and this place was for sale, and I’d been up to Heptonstall quite a lot but not been on this track in the woods, and Heptonstall village was a wonderful location – we used it a lot for the atmosphere really, and the fact that the houses still have the mullions in the windows and it had such a strong history of handloom weaving, and sheep farming, so that was used and I came up first of all, I think it must have been in the seventies, before they built the turning circle and I remember it was a January day and we were coming up to look at Heptonstall, and in this sort of murky, snowy day, and we went round this hairpin at great speed – our Director was driving – and I said ‘where are you taking me?’ and he said ‘to this village, it’s right on the top’ but there was no turning circle to make you do it gently. You had to go up a very steep hairpin bend, but then I’ve got used to those now – I’ve been here nearly thirty years!

    TW:

    And what was it about this place that made you want to buy it?

    FK:

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 4

    Its remoteness, its peace; I just loved it. I just fell for it, and a lot wanted doing but I wanted to do it – I was quite challenged and I loved the stone, I liked that history and the feeling of being.

    TW:

    But do you know about the history of the building before you actually bought it?

    FK: No I didn’t know anything about the building; I didn’t even go inside, I just saw the placard lying in the snowdrift and said ‘is it for sale really?’ and the owner said ‘oh no, no, it’s sold now, it’s all sorted’ so I said ‘well if it falls through, here’s my number’ so two months later he said ‘are you still interested?’ and I said ‘yes!’ so I said ‘I’ll buy it’ and he said ‘you’ve not been inside’ I said ‘no, it’s alright. I’m not going inside; I’ll get cold feet’ [laughing] ‘it’s alright’.

    TW:

    So when you actually moved in, could you move in straight away or did you have to do some work?

    FK: Well I had a very good friend, well I made a friend – I made a friend with all the people who worked on it because they were so lovely – and he said he’d put a damp course in for me, and then I said ‘do you know a builder?’ and he said ‘oh yes I know somebody who could build you a house from the ground up’ and he said ‘he’s good with stone and he’s got a good team working for him’. So I think....oh about three or four years when I had a lot of work on I’d walked up to the village and a friend said she was going to be away and she’d let me have her cottage, so I wrote in there while they were hammering the roof back into shape, so that was fun, but they were wonderful and at the end of it all, end of phase one, which was getting the house dry, basically have it all in the middle before we started building bits on the end, we had a concert and all the builders brought their lady friends – their wives and daughters and things – we sat there with kind of a great big picnic, and a friend of mine who’d been in ‘How We Used To Live’ – he was one of the actors but he always plays heavenly violin – and so he stood on a rock in the middle of the valley and played his violin. It was on a day like today: full of sunshine and the bird song was beautiful. It was lovely to meet them all with their partners and wives and families and it was a sort of picnic celebration really, of phase one. There were other phases to come [laughing].

    TW:

    When did you start finding out about the history of the building then?

    FK: Almost immediately I think, because you couldn’t miss it, you went into Hebden Bridge and.....also we had this wonderful contact in Alice Longstaff. She was brilliant; she would keep finding photographs and say ‘I’ve got another one for you’ – she would come out of her shop and say ‘Look, I’ve got another one for you’ and she told us a lot as well as finding photographs of how it had been, and the valley itself. She would come out with bits of stories and anecdotes, and we picked up ‘Murder on the Railway’ – the booklet, and the products of the Literary and Scientific Society, Historical Society. They had meetings quite regularly although not being the sort of

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 5

    person that gets into town that easily, I haven’t been to a lot of meetings but when there was something special that affected this area I would go down.

    TW:

    Right. And......what’s the most intriguing bit then of the history – I mean, do you still write about this sort of thing?

    FK: I write as much as I can. I should.....I think I could probably find more out about it, but I think it’s been done quite comprehensively. I think the interesting story about the murderers – it’s not so much the sadness of the characters that got themselves into that pickle – alright there was a murder, it was a clumsy effort to do a robbery from an old man who woke up I think during the course of it and who probably was hit hard to keep him quiet when they were making off....the main perpetrator was making off with his treasures, not that they were much, but I think the story, I liked about it was what they found and how they were detected because it was the tally that hadn’t been signed. It was this....almost like a cheque and it hadn’t been signed and it was exchanged for all sorts of different goods, and it went through different hands, and then somebody noticed it hadn’t been signed and to trace it back to the robbers and find that they lost their lives because of that careless slip of passing on something that was duff, and they lost their lives as a result, and the whole thing was a horrible mess, and that was a thing that I would want to write about. It’s a tragedy, it’s operatic really you know, it’s a huge opera, but the travel of that little bit of paper, I think is what intrigues me the most – but what does intrigue me is William Holt. I think his character is really quite stirring and he was quite recent, in the early twentieth century; his character came into the story when he came home from the First World War with his gratuity and brought all those camp beds and bell tents, and....things that he could make a holiday camp out of, and people flocked into the area, and he had a tennis court. What happened to the tennis balls down by the river I’ve no idea, but he had a tennis court down by the river and I can’t imagine how they managed to play on that terrain [laughing].

    TW:

    So how long did he live here for, do you know?

    FK: He didn’t live here very long. I think he only tried it as....he was quite an entrepreneur; he’d already taught himself languages while he was weaving; he had a book on the end of the loom, and I think he really wanted to travel. He’d been about a bit and most of it, he wanted to write and he wrote very vividly, and so being here just making sure people had got their tent pegs was probably not going to be enough for him, and once his leg had healed after he broke it falling out of a window on Armistice Day I think he probably wanted to get around Europe with Trigger; he was off on his travels with Trigger and he passed it on, I think probably a year after he bought it and set it up.

    TW:

    Now this house is actually part of a larger community, and although there isn’t that many buildings here now, there was quite a few at one time.

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 6

    FK: Well down by the river there’s a little hamlet called New Bridge and that’s part of a bigger hamlet called Midgehole and perhaps later on you might find the reason why it’s called Midgehole, but down at New Bridge there was quite a community of people attending on the Mill; it probably started with the mill – there was a shop there, there was a saddlery. Looking at the photographs you wonder where they all went, what happened and how much of a loss it was when everybody started moving away, because I know the people who lived here and the children worked in the mill, and it was a mixed economy; they would have a few animals and grow a few vegetables, and their children would go and work down the mill.

    TW:

    Right. Did they have an association with Gibson Mill at all?

    FK: I don’t know. It just says on the census returns that they were mill workers but I’m assuming and I think I’ve heard from other sources that they went down – well it’s much nearer – it’s only a five minute walk

    TW:

    Was that a cotton mill?

    FK: Yes.

    TW:

    Right.

    FK: And that was water powered which explains a lot of the odd arrangement of tunnels and goits, ditches in the fields here, but it was powered and there was a big reservoir where the water was collected and they could operate sluices to hold it back and let it out

    TW:

    Do you actually own part of that yourself?

    FK: Yes everything that was attached to the mill. It’s a very odd shape because it’s a long thin strip of riverbank really.

    TW:

    And that’s part of this

    FK: Yes it’s just an amenity as much as anything; you can’t do much with it. I can grow things on it, and do! But it’s basically just the river bank and I’d be really pleased to let the wildlife have it. The secret thing is....a hundred years ago there were otters in the Calder Valley

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 7

    TW:

    There were what sorry?

    FK: Otters, and very much with this area being taken back by the wildlife and there weren’t any for a hundred years until last autumn.

    TW:

    So you’ve seen one have you?

    FK: No [laughing].

    TW:

    Do you think that’s because the fish have come back?

    FK: I think it’s because they haven’t improved a lot; they’ve made the water quality much better. Is he in the way?

    TW:

    I don’t mind him being on me – he’s in the camera [laughing.

    FK: Off you get, go on – you can’t be in everything! No, I think the area’s very rich as you probably know from the Hardcastle Crags side of the valley, but it’s absolutely rich in....interesting things that people don’t take notice of, much like the wood ants.

    TW:

    They’re fabulous aren’t they?

    FK: Yes, and so intelligent, and so aggressive sometimes. I know when they started building a nest here and I thought ‘I don’t really want it here’ so I thought ‘never mind, there’s a nice big one over here’ so I picked the smaller one up which was just being constructed on a shovel and took it to join its neighbour – my God, it was Civil War! They came rushing out and they knew – how did they know which were the interlopers? They started.....it was gruesome, I had to rescue, get my shovel back and rescue them because they were not allowed to invade, so I put them somewhere else [laughing]....well they’re fascinating – all the wildlife – and the herons – we have the most beautiful herons and they breed every year, so the fish must be okay; the fish stock must be supporting quite a lot.

    TW:

    So would you like this whole valley then to...well not revert, but become more of a wildlife sanctuary?

    FK:

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 8

    Well I think it is. I think it would be nice to think that things that have been driven out by industry, all over the UK, occasionally can return, and I think this is what is happening, not just here, everywhere.....with a bit of care.

    TW:

    All of the alternative energy that Gibson Mill is creating – are you in favour of that sort of thing?

    FK: I am, yes, yes. I think one of the things we’ve been talking about were people who know how these things work, these turbines which can generate from the waterworks that were done by very burly, hardworking men in the eighteenth century, that those could be rescued and put back to good use because the water is here, I mean – it isn’t now, we’ve had a month of drought, but I think you know, most of the time the water supply doesn’t run out in the Pennines. It keeps coming and it could keep making free energy or energy that can be harnessed

    TW:

    Well if you have a mill pond, and they restored it perhaps to let it flow as it used to, could they not put a generator in there and use it?

    FK: Yeah I think so, yes, I think probably. I would have to live about a hundred and fifty years to get the money back [laughing] – the investment would have to be altruistic! But yes, I’m sure that could happen

    TW:

    Is it something that you might be interested in getting involved with?

    FK: Yes we already have had people round looking at it and saying how much it would generate, especially if we get it from the mill there because it’s quite a long drop. I think for hydro energy you need quite a long drop to make it work and that mill, what’s left of the mill, there’s quite a lot of it.

    TW:

    So is the mill on your land as well then?

    FK: Yes, well it’s an extra piece I acquired to, really to make sure I’d got somewhere to come up in snowy weather because I could park down there, because you have experience with your car of what this track can be like in snowy weather, but yes, I’ve got that site as well, not that it’s of any particular interest except as historic survival. It’s got this lovely chunk of old masonry covered in ivy

    TW:

    Do you know anything about the history of The Blue Pig at all?

    FK:

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 9

    I don’t. I’ve been in obviously and there’s a lovely little community in there growing, to try and just care about the area, especially since the dye works has been sold, well it’s not been sold – it’s got a question mark over its future and it’s a site which people are naturally interested in. Less so from this side of the woodland, but people living in New Bridge and Midgehole want to know what’s going to happen because it’s been something of a great historic interest. In fact one of the last surviving bits of textile industry in the valley, and so that’s been bringing us together in The Blue Pig to talk about it.

    TW:

    And what are people saying then

    FK: I thought, and I don’t know how other people react to it, but it seemed to be going down quite well, from my point of view it seemed to be housing for specific people who don’t need two cars, you know, I think when you look at the width of that road going up to Midgehole, and a lot of people park on the road, that to use that site for....I would say granny flats, you know, sort of inter-related housing and young families, first time buyers with small children – built-in baby sitters – one car serves you know, the whole family and they don’t need two or three cars per household because people have retired don’t need two cars, and people who’ve got small families tend to....maybe they do if their father goes to work and mother goes to work as well or has to take the children to school, but I mean then we would have to have a bus service wouldn’t we? We get two days....we get weekends and Bank Holidays, from April to September we have a bus four times a day, five times a day – it’s amazing [laughing] so that would have to happen again. There would have to be a bus if they did, because it would be impossible I think. It’s already a problem for people trying to park and it’s such a popular....Hardcastle Crags sees two hundred and fifty thousand people come every year, and going up and down – I’m sure the bus drivers don’t like it very much because it’s so narrow that adding to a population and making them vehicle conscious....vehicle dependent.....would be a problem.

    TW:

    Yes. Well turning the dye works into flats, I mean, what actual say has the community got in that? Is it not just the developer?

    FK: I think it would have to be something that was an interesting development that people could take on board and say ‘Well yes we like the sound of that’. I don’t think there’d be any clout particularly, but obviously if people had an input and they were creative about it, I think there are some very clever people who know much more about development than I do and were making some very good suggestions, and I think from an unselfish point of view that they want the best for the area.

    TW:

    Do you know anything about Tom Bell’s cave?

    FK: Well I’ve never found it; I know where it’s supposed to be; I’ve looked – have you found it?

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 10

    TW:

    I’ve found it and I’ve taken people down it.

    FK: Really? How far does it go?

    TW:

    We didn’t go to the end. There’s a bit of a drop and then none of us ventured past that.

    FK: I think you’ve probably been braver than me! [laughing]. How easy is it to get into? Because I looked at it and thought ‘no way’.

    TW:

    There’s a very big stone which is at least five foot high and twelve foot wide, or something like that, and you have to climb over it to actually get in, then there’s like a little....almost like an alcove bit, and then off to one side it starts to go down and you just follow it down really. You need lights and ropes and good grips on your shoes.

    FK: Yes, I think I knew roughly where it was and I thought ‘I think it’s there’ – I think I know where the slab is, but.....I don’t like caves as much as some people do. I’ve never had any great wish to go underground [laughing].

    TW:

    Do you know about the story then around Tom Bell?

    FK: Yes, yes I mean I think that’s one of the interesting ones.

    TW:

    Do you believe the truth of it?

    FK: No [laughing] I like it though, I do like it – I’m very sceptical.

    TW:

    Right, yes. Because apparently they found...below Hebden Hey they found Roman coins on the stepping stones around there as well.

    FK: Well I didn’t know about the Roman coins.

    TW:

    It seems unlikely, but I just wondered if you’d heard.

    FK: No, local history interest hasn’t penetrated to that little corner! [laughing] But coins would be very interesting, and having Romans here...yes, very interesting.

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 11

    TW:

    It’s a bit out of the way for the Romans though.

    FK: It’s not on the way to anywhere else is it? I can’t feel a great sense of commitment about that. I think they probably would by-pass us. I’m not sure there weren’t people – I’m sure there were people here during Roman times, but they may have been very quiet about it and not put their head above the parapet, and the Romans didn’t know there was anything good happening and they didn’t know anything worth pillaging, so I think they missed us, and it would be very difficult to make a straight road here – very difficult.

    TW:

    You came in 1980. I just wonder from.....1980 to 2011, in that thirty years, how has Hebden Bridge changed, or this area changed?

    FK: It’s changed in many ways for the good. When I first came a lot of the houses were blackened by the old soot and they’d been stone cleaned and looked almost like Cotswold stone on a sunny day like this. The people who came here in the sixties I think had brought a lot of interesting ideas about how to live which had made Hebden Bridge rather special and that’s why I liked it; I felt comfortable with the people here because I think we just relaxed together and talked the same language and aspired to the same sort of things; not always agreeing on everything but, certainly feeling comfortable with each other, and the children were different from the urban child who’s never been able to race up a mountain, or....just follow a mystery trail in a wood and not have to talk about it all the time, not to have to be plugged into something which is digital [laughing]. The children here seemed to be interesting to talk to, and I felt that the whole place had a.....let’s say hippie character. People kept talking about it being framed by hippies looking for somewhere cheap to live and having a culture rather taking over from the mill workers that made the place, and were sturdy and practical, and didn’t you know, talk nonsense like these....these artistic people might, but I think there’s been a, over thirty years I’ve been here, certainly a strong merging and mutual respect growing, and people finding common ground with each other which has made for a very interesting culture which I like to be on the edge of rather, in fact I like it very much; I find it warming. There’s hardly anyone that you can’t talk to and you feel that they’ve got you on their side somehow. You get the odd ones....having a four wheel drive sometimes....it’s necessary, I can’t get in and out without it! But sometimes you know, they’ve got a kind of picture of a four wheel drive owner who is toffee-nosed, snobby and you know, should be put down [laughing]. I think I had a League Against Cruel Sports thing banner on it once, and somebody took against it thinking it was pro fox hunting because it was a four wheel drive you know, just don’t think – it’s not, it’s not – it’s anti! But you know I think there was that feeling that if you talked a bit posh and you had a four wheel drive, you were going to be out with the hunters and you know, blood sports and all that, which I’m very against

    TW:

    That still goes on, doesn’t it, on Lord Savile’s area.

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 12

    FK: I know there’s shooting; there won’t be any fox hunting I hope.

    TW:

    No I don’t think there’s fox hunting.

    FK: No I occasionally hear the ‘pop pop’ of the shoot – I don’t like that. I think it’s horrible to breed them and then shoot them; it’s like saying ‘take your grandchildren up there and have a pop at them yourself; you’ve been feeding them for you know, nine months’.....[laughing] I find it very odd.....but this is a lovely place for animals of course and I’ve had some very happy experiences with the dogs and cats, and I’ve been extremely contented to live here.

    TW:

    Can you see yourself moving anywhere else?

    FK: ....I broke my hip....three years ago and thought ‘is this the right place, with all these gradients and slippery bits?’ and it got better very quickly, the NHS is brilliant in Halifax and Huddersfield, so this is where marvels have put me back together and it was a bit of Central Street that pulled me down. It was a very unmade road which is still unmade, I just walk carefully on it, so I thought ‘no, I’m not going until I have to’ [laughing]. Where would I go? I mean where is there that’s got half the character and interest.

    TW:

    Some people reckon that Hebden Bridge has become a bit too up-market. What would you say to that?

    FK: I would say....it’s changed because of how it’s developed its industry which is attracting people to come to somewhere which has got plenty to look at, plenty to shop for, plenty to be relaxed about. You can sit by the river and feed the ducks or go into the park and watch somebody playing football, happily amateurish, not necessarily feeling that they have to be....I love the Picture House, I mean that is something of a treasure. I love the Little Theatre and I think if that’s the way it’s going, because what do you do with a mill that’s not making textiles any more because they do it cheaper in India or China, and what do you do with places that haven’t got any industry left? I’d love them to be making something again, and would love to buy it. I think I’d like to buy.....in small craft shops or a potters, and buy some beautiful jugs, things like that, which have been made in a small way, but I think if people have got to make money by giving food to people because they’ve come from a less attractive place to have a day out, then fair enough. What I do feel sorry about is that I’ve got a sewing machine that I bought on Market Street and every two years I had it serviced, and the sewing machine shop is no longer there.....and there was.....fortunately we still have Bonsalls where we have all our hardware and paints and things like that, and you can get some nails and screws.....but basically that’s the sort of place that I would worry about losing, and have lost in many cases –

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 13

    the practical service places, but there’s no way they’re gonna fit Tesco’s into a place that’s as narrow as Hebden Bridge, because there’s no room for anything like that, so we will stay the town with small shops and I think in many cases they are independently owned, most of the shops, and we have a wonderful, wonderful book shop which is a credit to any street, and I think a lot of the designer-led shops, they’ve come in and they’re for the glitterati, which they don’t belong to, but anybody who does want a treat or to buy something special.....you could go to a town like Southport with all its verandas and fairy lit streets, you could actually go somewhere like that and not have as much delight in what you’re buying. In fact it’s more targeted here. You can go to one place after another and find interesting things that you don’t see anywhere else.

    TW:

    I sometimes wonder if those sort of shops will be sustainable over a long period rather than just a short period, because it seems to me as if a lot of the new people that are still coming in to the Hebden Bridge area, they’re much more environmental thinking and ecologically.....sort of based shall we say, and although they might work in Leeds or Manchester or somewhere like that, actually out here they want to try and go back to older ways of living by growing things and producing locally, whether it’s to do with farming stuff or anything else. Can you see Hebden Bridge growing bigger and bigger in that way?

    FK: I think it could become a place where people exchange ideas and services. There’s a lot of natural healing and the sort of services that people would buy which are......just straight off the peg, but something that people can recommend to each other and by word of mouth, someone has an interesting business going – there are some wonderful projects as I say, people make things, or they teach people things which they didn’t know were going to be interesting but they are. There’s a feeling of I think mutual support; I may be over idealistic in this; you can start things off and see how they go, and it’s a wonderful environment even though it’s tiny, you can’t get big premises anywhere, it’s very difficult to expand in Hebden Bridge, but then maybe people who start that sort of business don’t want to.

    TW:

    Can you compare Hebden Bridge to the likes of Todmorden for example?

    FK: Todmorden has the Incredible Edible logo now. I think they’ve got more flat land at Todmorden. Todmorden’s bigger: its theatre is much bigger; it’s got a greater choice of services such as solicitors and I think.....they’ve got the big health centre now which is enormous. That’s one of the changes in say the last thirty years of being here, is the size of the things that have been moved out – we don’t have anything of a great size and I’m quite glad about that. There was only one block of flats....set of rented flats, high rise, when I first came and they’re gone, so the whole profile of the town is something quite unique.

    TW:

    Do you think that’s led by the Town Council, the local Town Council, or do you think that’s just been an organic way of happening?

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 14

    FK: Partly organic and partly because a lot of people have put their best cares and concerns into the wellbeing of the place and I think the Town Council have been quite supportive about all sorts of things. I was running a theatre company here for......oh about twenty years and we sort of spread out and went elsewhere, and we moved about and toured, but certainly when we were getting going, the Town Council were very supportive. We used the Little Theatre until it was.....well it was self sufficient and also they had to expand it.....that one got knocked down when we started, and we made some very good friends and that’s more important than a building.

    TW:

    Tell me a bit more about this theatre company then.

    FK: We called it Bridge Theatre because it seemed logical....why not? Really it was a bridge because we were starting in the Little Theatre which had seventy seats and was a bit near the canal and rather damp sometimes but that was somewhere to start, and because this town, how I got here really, was half way between Granada and YTV in Leeds. Quite a few people with theatre skills applied for theatre and had to go elsewhere to work, and we had – I just had this idea at Christmas once, I thought ‘why go away from the family for pantomime when we could do one here?’ So we just started doing panto as a one-off and I stayed – I was loading vans about twenty five years later or something; perhaps twenty years later, I was still loading vans and I thought I was much too old for that sort of thing, but we picked up a very good Yorkshire arts supplier and he said, when the Little Theatre was being demolished to be replaced, ‘you’ve got a company – why don’t you tour?’ So he sort of introduced us to people and as a co-op dem we got around some of the less glamorous venues, like Rotherham and Doncaster and Scunthorpe, and the places that the Royal Shakespeare didn’t go very often [laughing], they would have us.....oh we did a lot of good work and we’d started doing a summer season down in Norfolk, and that drained the life blood out of us because it was very demanding. You’d get back in September and have to start planning the following year straight away, so we did some good stuff I think; I was very proud of it and we made some good friends.

    TW:

    Was anybody based in this area then?

    FK: No, after we started touring and going down to Norfolk it wasn’t as necessary, but we started off with a very strong local base because the idea was that it was nicer than having to go away from home to work regularly if you could, and seventy seats weren’t exactly viable but it got us off the ground, and having a friendly and supportive group of people to work with, and that was partly the reason for it being a bridge – it was a bridge between local amateurs with their long history and tradition, and our sort of locally based company which was....because there is actually still an actors’ co-operative agency in Hebden Bridge.

    TW:

    Were you part of that at any point?

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 15

    FK: I mean a lot of the people I employed were, and came from there and did some very good work. I think I gave them – I hope I gave them something nice to do which was interesting and stimulating, and they didn’t have to be away from home quite so much.

    TW:

    Right. Are you part of the Little Theatre’s.....sort of membership now?

    FK: Yes I’m a member now and I don’t go to everything but I do what I can, except for when we’re snowed in [laughing] which happened this year. Yes I like to go and see what they’re up to. I’ve made some very good friends there and they called me in this time last year because they’d got a production that needed a bit of lift; fortunately I was in the choir there too so I just looked round the choir and thought ‘him, him and her’.... [laughing] and cast it more or less from the choir, and also borrowed one of our company from the old days who’d sort of started....he thought he’d retired but he hadn’t, so he came in as well and it was good. It was a Priestley play, very local, very Yorkshire.....

    TW:

    ‘An Inspector Calls’ was it?

    FK: No, it was ‘I’ve Been Here Before’ – recurrence – slightly spooky, but I didn’t find it spooky, I just liked the idea of a recurrence anyway – why not? But it was one of Priestley’s time plays which take a bit of following, but one you’ve got the handle on it, it’s alright.

    TW:

    How do you think people can encourage....a more green effort shall we say, whether it be getting different species of animals or even plants and perhaps getting rid of the things like the balsam and the knotweed? Do you think people should, you know, try and encourage that sort of thing...

    FK: Oh yes, I think if it’s part of the what the valley should look like, I’m very embarrassed about my balsam and keep trying to pull it up – I pull it up for months and it still comes back. I know they have a big balsam bashing festival – they have a scythe and try and get rid of it on that side, but of course on my side it just comes over, so yes it is a problem. Japanese Knotweed..........not a good thing to encourage! On the other hand I think where you have something that’s rather special, I mean this year, particularly with this weather, I’ve never seen so many orange tip butterflies, and I would associate them with the downs in Hampshire, but over the last few days I’ve seen dozens of them.

    TW:

    Is that because of the change of climate?

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 16

    FK: I think it’s because it’s been dry and they’ve come out earlier and bred earlier, but they’re beautiful.

    TW:

    Just a sort of general question really about creativity in general in this area....do you think this is a good environment for creativity to happen?

    FK: Yes.

    TW:

    And why is that then do you think?

    FK: It’s human scaled....I think there’s nothing that dwarfs the human spirit that says ‘yes I can be creative’.....if you go into a big city, I mean imagine going into Canary Wharf now.....I went to Canary Wharf because they were filming something of mine that I had written, and it chills the spirit somehow. Oh Hello. (Chris Irvin Browne joins the conversation).

    TW:

    Well there’s just one more question really. Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you’d like to talk about – your creative life, or about this house, or about this area?

    FK: I think it’s sort of organic – you used the word organic and I think that expresses a lot about Hebden Bridge as a whole. It has an organic life; it waits for something to stimulate it but then it grows, I mean the right sort of people seem to come along and find reasons why it should grow, or it maybe doesn’t take, then it’s transplanted and put out somewhere else. Some of the businesses come and they go, some stay and develop...it’s nothing to do really with the recession or boom and bust, it’s something to do with the character of the place.....

    TW:

    Do you think it’s the people that make the place?

    FK: I think the people, and the people who come to visit the town that we have made....the people who live here make the town what it is, and people who come and spend some money and make it prosperous, and come for the day because it attracts them and so far there has been nothing to really repel or make the spirit shrink in the face of it, and I think even those flats I was talking about, they came down and were replaced by something through which you could see the skyline. In fact I don’t think there’s anywhere you can stand in the town and you can’t see green. You can stand anywhere and look around and see a hillside or a group of trees, which is very expanding.....human scale.

    TW:

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 17

    Right, well thank you very much......You wanted to talk about the influence the internet has had on this area.

    CHRIS IRVIN BROWNE: Well, when we started the theatre company of course there was no internet in the early nineties, and we’d be touring and if we were doing one play the days would be free. We wouldn’t really be rehearsing. We’d check into the theatre, have a whole week, and often, and often we were in towns like Scunthorpe, you know northern towns, and wondering what to do, so I was always interested in second-hand books and that sort of thing, and theatrical memorabilia, so I’d go rooting around and found this very interesting, and then around 1998........my neighbour who has three sons, the elder son I think was at university, just finishing, and I said ‘you know, I’ve been collecting this stuff and I’d quite like to flog it’ and he said ‘well you know, websites are the thing’ so within a fairly short time, in October 1998, I had a theatrical website up and running, and someone rang me from America that week. I thought ‘this is astonishing’ and I think only about twelve per cent of people were actually on the internet then, so this was a huge success and I got established in a niche market, sort of Victorian theatrical activity and Gilbert and Sullivan particularly, and sort of musical theatre of the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, of which there was quite a lot of......quite a few schools about and programmes, all those sort of things, you could get quite inexpensive and put them on the internet, and it was connected to our work but was going twenty-four-seven, and then I also had a parallel interest in sheet music, classical music, again vocal scores, that sort of thing, and Chris Radcliffe who is in Hebden Bridge, created a sort of database which was a bit more complicated with a search facility and all this sort of thing, and so he did that and we spent some time...I mean it was beautifully designed, and is now linked to this Victorian site and I have established a business which is mainly stored here, which is connected to our theatrical activity, and I’ve met lots of interesting people, gone to conventions, met people who now set my music, my own music. I now have a website myself which is Christopher Irvin, and have samples of my music.....astonishing......very open to all really, it’s not an exclusive sort of activity any more, whereas it would have been highly specialised, probably through catalogues, very much targeted, so there’s no paper any more, so that is something when we moved here in 1982, we couldn’t have perceived anything like that, that would have that sort of wide appeal, and still ongoing possibilities, so, exciting I think

    TW:

    And you can run a business from essentially the middle of nowhere.

    CIB: Well yeah, I do like to think of Hebden Bridge as the middle of nowhere [laughing] – people think you’re terribly remote, but in fact I can walk into town in a very short distance, but we have an illusion that it’s remote ....mainly because it’s been protected by the National Trust opposite, but we have the best of both worlds and now that we’ve got this Grand Central West Riding line, we can actually get to London very quickly – have you ever tried that?

    TW:

    I’ve not yet.

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 18

    CIB: No, so that’s another new, though it’s an existing line...

    TW:

    They are doing deals on them for ten pounds return I think.

    CIB: I went down for forty pounds which is terrific. It’s a superb service, so you know, you don’t feel isolated. Obviously you’ve got to have some money, but you can be in Manchester...if you want to go to London you can, which is important because that’s where all the money’s been put into our great museums and all that sort of thing, but we’re very fortunate I think.......I’m trying to think of other modern things that were not in the frame when we moved here. Have you had this discussion before?

    TW:

    Well.....about the change....we talked a little bit about.

    CIB: Mobile phones didn’t exist.....I’m trying to think what else might not have existed.....I don’t think faxes did....I think the internet though is a real revolution on a par with the industrial revolution, because there was a huge mill down there, I’m sure you’ve seen photographs, and the people who lived in these cottages which go back as you know, back to about 1600ish, on the census returns which you’ve seen, the children were bobbin doffers and all that sort of thing, were very much focused on that industrial base, well there was a sort of limbo from the late seventies-eighties round here wasn’t there, when it was trying to find an identity in Hebden Bridge, which has come and gone in a way, this sort of tourist thing, but the internet has been a lifeline I think.....I’m not saying it’s a saviour, but it is.....a tool for progress and for freedom.

    TW:

    So do you thing there is an identity in Hebden Bridge then?

    CIB: An identity?

    TW:

    Yes.

    CIB: Well I hope it doesn’t get too much imposed on by officialdom. One of the wonderful things initially was....it was a very free place, you know, you could just leave your car and do creative things, and now everything is down into industrial, hourly units where you’ve got to be watching the time; that is very bad for a creative town. They should have a creative town free zone and so you know, you don’t have to watch your clock [laughing]. I think that is a terrible thing to do, to impose that from Halifax I think is a very bad thing indeed....it’s not so much the expense, you know, I think it’s very reasonable, the parking, it’s just that....oh we’ve got to get back, we’ve got to compromise, and one business I know I don’t use any more because I can’t park and I don’t necessarily know how long it might take me to do a job, and I don’t want to be

    Freda Kelsall & Chris Irvin Browne trans Page 19

    hassled when I’m doing what I consider to be creative work, and always watching the clock. I’m sure lots of people feel like that......So anyway you’re talking about the identity of Hebden Bridge

    TW:

    Do you think there is one or is it just......a conglomerate of people.

    CIB: A conglomerate, yeah...I hope, and I think it’s been nipped in the bud, there was a speculative aspect that so often happens with successful places – holiday home blocks and that sort of thing – it’s a free market – you must keep housing in particular within the range of sensible pricing, and that would be a victim of its own success I think.

    TW:

    So you think like young people and starter families can’t afford to live here any more, so they might.

    CIB: My parents lived in the Cotswolds and it was exactly the same problem. Unless you had centralised control or regional control, it would be a very difficult problem that....but there is quite a lot of social housing I think; this area’s better than most, with very fine work all round. I think Freda was talking about those flats which were replaced by something which I think is much more sympathetic to the area. It is very difficult in attractive areas...what you want to try and do of course is make everywhere attractive.....I went to Salford the other day and walked up from Victoria to the university and...you know, it’s a difficult area and you can see why people want to live in an attractive area like this. It’s not very far from here....I think the built environment is where most of us live, I mean this is slightly unusual but I haven’t always lived out here, and everything should be done to make places as attractive as possible.....who would have thought....you must have heard this about Hebden Bridge....if you said you lived in Hebden Bridge thirty years ago, evidently people said ‘oh I’m sorry’ ....haven’t you heard that? [laughing]

    [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.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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