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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Jan van de Merwe

    Okay, the first thing I’d like to do, really, is to ask you to say your name, birthplace and date of birth and where you live now.

    What, the full name?

    Yes, why not.
    My name is Jan Willem Hermanus van de Merwe, born in the Netherlands, in Delft, on the first of November, 1956.

    So, your birthday’s coming up soon?

    Yes, it is.

    Where do you live, now?

    I now live in Hebden Bridge.

    How did you come to live in Hebden Bridge?

    I came to Todmorden about six years ago dealing in antiques, then I met Sonia and from Tod moved to Hebden.

    So, Sonia is your partner?

    Yes, she is.

    Did she live here before that?

    She’d lived for fifteen years in Hebden.

    Why did you come to Tod to deal in antiques?

    A friend of mine is the owner of the antiques centre in Todmorden and he comes from the same place I’m coming from. He said, “Oh, come and wheel and deal in England as well”, so I did.

    Just out of curiosity, you’re selling antiques in Tod, how does it compare to Hebden for antiques?

    I came to both places. Hebden is a bit better for tourism, but an antique centre is always better because people are staying in longer and there’s more choice of things than in a shop.

    Delph, where you came from. What was it like in Delph? What was your upbringing like there?

    Delph is a nice pretty town in the country. You can compare it with the town of York. It looks all nice in the daytime, but at nighttime it’s the same as anywhere.

    What did your parents do there?

    They worked at a Post Office, taking the post around and my mum worked in a chemical factory.

    Doesn’t sound very nice, it depends on the chemicals, I suppose. So did you, before you came to Tod always live in Delph or did you move about?

    No, I always lived in Delph.

    My image of Delph is from the old master paintings. I’ve never been. So, what is it like? You said it’s a bit like York?

    Well, York is more of a tourist town. It is as big as. I can compare it with a small inner city with areas around it, so it makes it bigger, like Halifax.

    It’s famous for blue and white pottery.

    Yes, mostly.

    So the work you do with selling antiques?

    Well, it is not really antiques; it’s antiques for the future, 1950’s and 60’s.

    What made you choose this type of thing?

    Well, when I met Sonia, she had a shop selling clothes from that era and then slowly I bought some furniture and light fittings and some pottery and then sold all the clothes off and put our energy into this kind of stuff.

    Is it doing well?

    Reasonably, it’s not best at the moment. We’ve had three bad years, foot and mouth, September 11th and world war in three years. It’s not good for business.

    Yes, right. So, you’ve been here what, about six years did you say?

    Yes.

    Do you like being in Hebden? Apart from Sonia being here, which is obviously the main reason, but are there things about it that you like?

    Well, I have quite a decent lifestyle. I have quite a few friends, here. It is a nice time to be here. There’s not much going around, except bird life. There’s not much else, but it’s fine. I do darts, pool.

    So, you like darts and pool?

    Yes, well more darts than pool.

    Are you in the team?

    Yes.

    Which team?

    Railway.

    Right, so, do you feel part of the community because you’ve made this contact with that?

    Yes, I do.

    How does your life here compare with your life in Delph, then, are there any comparisons that you can make?

    Oh, it’s different in every way. I was married in Delph with two children, so it was completely different kind of life here. I had an antique shop in Delph, a big one and I did a lot of excavation work.

    Excavation work, like in archaeology?

    Yes.

    Oh, really. Did you … What type of work did you do?

    Oh, digging in the ground …

    Yes, yes. I understand, what era, what historical period?

    Oh, up to the 14th century.

    Fascinating, fascinating. Have you done any work over here?

    No, I did that in Holland purely for myself. Not for a community, whatsoever, not for a group or for a museum. We sold it off. I haven’t had much time here, to try and find anything. Hopefully, next year there’ll be time for that.

    Oh, I’m interested in archaeology, as well. I find it fascinating. The landscape around here, it’ll be quite different than Delph. Delph, is it on a river or near the coast, I don’t know?

    It’s on a river, well, it’s more of a canal. It’s between The Hague and Rotterdam. It’s not far to the coast, but it’s not near the coast.

    And it’s flat?

    Yes. It’s quite flat. Our highest hill is known as the sleeping policeman.

    So, how do you relate to the landscape around here?

    It’s beautiful.

    Do you go walking?

    No. I have problems with my back. So, I can’t walk that long, but I drive around and it’s lovely.

    Have you brought any customs with you from Holland, traditions, or things that you do, like it’s your birthday in a week or so?

    Yes, well, always with birthdays, but this year I don’t know, there’s a surprise coming up. I don’t know what it is, but normally we celebrate birthdays in the house with your friends coming and not in the pubs. We’re still doing that.

    Yes, so, does everybody do that in Holland, is that the kind of traditional way of doing things, so you don’t go out, as it were?

    No.

    Apart from birthdays is there anything else that you do? Do you think people are more family oriented, more doing things in the home than in public?

    Yes, I mean, of course, you come out at weekends, but it’s not a pub-oriented country. Like here, everything the English do is in the pub. And it alters quite a lot of things at home. There you go out for dinner and then at 10 o’clock at night, you go out for a dance to 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning, or whenever you want. It’s a completely different lifestyle, you know.

    Do you prefer that kind of lifestyle?

    Well, you get used to living with everything, of course, but sometimes, yes, it’s a bit, I think it’s very different on the continent.

    I’ve spoken to other people who are from the continent and they’ve said very much the same thing. That it’s a whole different way of eating really, very often it’s much later in the day. People from the southern part of Europe where it’s hotter, you might expect that. So, it’s the same in Holland?

    Yes. Especially going out for dinner, talking about Friday nights or Saturday nights. Through the week, we, normally, we eat at home like everybody else.

    Is there anything else you’ve brought, then, I mean Dutch food?

    I bring it over, constantly.

    Oh, do you? Is there no way over here where you could buy what you need?

    It’s not here, I mean, nice ground coffee. You can’t buy it here and if you can find it, it’s very expensive. Same with cheeses and a lot of other groceries, as well, sauces, powders for poultry or your meat or vegetables soups and those kinds of things, you can’t get here.

    Do you go back, often, then?

    Not as often any more, not as often as I wish. I am going Monday, that’s since three months.

    Is this for business, then, or family?

    Family. This will be a very, very short trip, this one. Normally, I’m staying a few days, but the ferry is very cheap, one night staying in Holland to see the kids and then back again.

    Have you noticed a change round Hebden Bridge, then, since you’ve been here?

    Yes, it’s not for the good.

    Why’s that?

    A lot of shops are closing down and what’s coming back is food places, places to eat and that’s it. So, Hebden in three years has changed quite a lot. The other bad thing, here, is on weekends, there is hardly any police and there is more and more crime on Friday and Saturday nights.

    What kind of crime?

    Vandalism. You saw me this morning cleaning the front. It’s filthy. That’s the attitude of a lot of people. It’s a shame. I mean, when I was young I had respect for other people’s property and I still have respect for people’s property and things, but I don’t think the young people have it any more.

    Do you think that’s just to do with youth?

    No. I think it’s to do with the parents.

    You think it’s to do with them. Do you get this sort of thing in Holland?

    Oh, of course. It’s not the sort of thing that you find only in England. I have to say that in Holland it’s forbidden by law, forbidden to walk around with gangs with beer, drinking in public on the street. The police can arrest you. Also, juveniles get arrested and put away and here it isn’t.

    So, you think it’s a whole attitude from government down.

    It is, yes.

    What is it? Is it about human rights; is it about respect and responsibility?

    Well, the thing is, you can’t blame it on the youngster for having no respect, if respect has never been learned to him. If the parents don’t respect anything, the children won’t either.

    So, why don’t you think the parents have got it? We’re talking late teenagers whose parents are thirty or forty, so why haven’t they got it in the first place?

    It’s because lately, it’s an attitude of me, me, me. And maybe in the end, you think of you, and that’s it.

    I think in this country, not just beginning with Thatcherism, but because of Thatcherism, it became much stronger, the attitude of society was based on self interest, rather than community spirit and doing things together and doing people down to get on. It’s an attitude that grew through the 80’s. Do you think that’s partly true?

    I think so, yes. Also, partly to do with unemployment, there’s not much to do here for youngsters. There’s the music at the Trades Club, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. There are no activities for young people to do, so, they go out on the street and start to drink early. So, they’re pissed after two pints and start making a lot of noise and emotional things, because they’re unhappy with themselves.

    I think there’s a lot of truth, there.

    I think a community like Hebden Bridge should do something, I don’t know what, but something for young people.

    So, what about the future of Hebden Bridge and the community spirit?

    I think the future of Hebden Bridge is even darker. The locals can’t afford to buy a house here, now. It’s too expensive to buy a house here. Southerners are coming here, to the north, because, of course, you can still buy some very good house’s here for far less than half the price you would pay in the south, in London. So, Hebden is already becoming a town of commuters. And already, through the week, in the streets, there is hardly anybody around, anymore, because they all work in the cities or down south and then they come back at the weekends.

    And do you think that will continue?

    That will continue and strangely, enough, everyone wants to live in Hebden, but the prices are sky high and you can see in Mythomroyd the prices are going up and even Todmorden.

    That’s true.

    It’s all people from down south, often from the south, that come, that puts the prices up.

    So, you think that’s destroying the kind of community atmosphere that you got in Hebden?

    Yes. Well, that’s why you see a lot of shops are closing down, because they can’t earn the money, anymore. If you can count how many places there are to eat, here, and it’s only a tiny place. There are over thirty places, including pubs.

    It’s an awful lot for such a small, little centre, isn’t it?

    Yes, so, something has to give somewhere. The question is there’s not enough money for everyone to survive.

    Don’t you think if local people can’t afford to buy houses, here, all the young people, the teenagers, will probably move away? Then the community, in say, ten or twenty year’s time will become an aging community, say like at the seaside or somewhere where all the people have retired. Do you think Hebden will become that type of place?

    Well, that could be, if the prices of the houses stay that high. You can only afford them if you have the money for it.

    Yes.

    It’s like everywhere else of course, but especially in a place like this, it’s very vulnerable.

    Yes.

    I mean, even a back-to-back houses cost 80 thousand, 90 thousand.

    Yes, it’s a lot of money for that type of house, isn’t it?

    Yes, they should cost 30 or 35 thousand.

    Why do you think people want to live here, then?

    I’ve no idea. Friends have told me, there is a spell in Hebden.

    A spell?

    You can come in, but you can never leave. There are people who went away from Hebden for many years who have come back, again.

    I have met a few people like that. Do you have friends from Holland who come over?

    Only a few dealers.

    What do they say about the place?

    Nothing really. They just say it has nice surroundings and they like that.

    They don’t see it as a good place for business, then?

    No, no, they just come here for their own reasons and that’s it.

    If you had your choice, would you move your shop somewhere else?

    Yes.

    Where?

    I think to a big city somewhere.

    What keeps you here, then?

    I don’t want to live in a big city!

    Is one of the reasons living here is nice, is because it’s a balance of living in the country with a slower life style, even though the business isn’t quite as good as living in a big city? Is it a question of finding your own happy balance between a personal and business way of life?

    Yes, I mean, if business is normal it’s lovely to live here, because we have a lot of friends, here. We’re not afraid to go to other places and make new friends there, but we own the building, it’s nice in a way and the grass is not always greener on the other side of the hill.

    Yes.

    So, you have to be very careful, but that’s life, c’est la vie.

    That attitude is good because if people put into the place in which they live and, almost, help to stabilise the community, even if you come from somewhere else, you’re committed to the community in which you live. Because you like living there, it makes for a healthier place to live. Even if there are some problems, it’s better. As you were saying earlier, if lots of people come from the south, in particular, who just come for the weekend, they don’t really engage with many local people, don’t really spend much money in the local economy and then go back to work somewhere else, it isn’t good for business or community.

    No, but that’s the way it is. They come from the south, buy a house here, bring their own furniture and things and that’s it. Maybe, at the weekend they eat somewhere around here. To be honest, you can’t spend your money around here, because there is nothing.

    Right. Yes, there is that.

    Not everybody likes 50’s or 60’s antiques. They want to go to Ikea or DFS, but if you look around here, you know for yourself, where can you find something like a pair of good jeans, Wrangler, or shoes? Not that expensive shoes, but not cheap shoes.

    There’s not much variety or choice. Most of the people I know will go to Halifax, or Leeds or Manchester, Bradford, or even Rochdale or Burnley, somewhere.

    So, they spend their money there, but where can you buy, even, a plastic bucket, here?

    Er, maybe Bonsalls, perhaps?

    A washing up bucket, you know what I mean. They’re, often, Asian shops.

    Yes, when I moved to Hebden sixteen years ago, there were more greengrocers, more butchers, two, ironmonger sort of shops. There were a lot less cafes and charity shops and more clothes shops, as well, and one or two cheap shops where you could buy bits and bobs of this and that. I must admit a lot of that has disappeared in the years I’ve been here.

    Also, the very high business rates.

    I’ve heard a few people talk about that. How long has that lasted, has it just been in the past few years?

    What do you mean?

    Here, business rates, have they gone up, jumped up, or have they always been high?

    Well, I don’t know about that. When we came here, every year there is an increase in the payment. What we pay on business rates is enormously high. It fails a lot of businesses.

    I don’t know how business rates work.

    It works on the mortgage.

    It’s based on the value of the business or property?

    No, it is on the size of the selling space.

    Is that it?

    Yeah, then you have council tax. So, you pay twice, for example, for the police that aren’t around on the weekend when they’re needed.

    So, you’d like to see more police round, then? I think you’re not alone.

    The rumours go, that a few shopkeepers have tried to make an alliance to raise money for policemen.

    To pay for private police over the weekends?

    Yeah.

    Is that right? Interesting.

    We have to do something. It can’t go on, because people are getting more and more angry, before any accidents happen, terrible accidents.

    Before anything serious happens, yes.

    I mean, it’s not only local youngsters. It’s people from other towns, because they know there are no police here and before they come, they are gone.

    So, would you say a lot of the shopkeepers feel the same way?

    Yes.

    Are you part of a business association?

    No. I have been to a few meetings in the beginning. Someone from the business association came to the shop and he asked if we wanted to join. Normally, it would be £90 a year to be a member, but because we were on Market Street, we could pay £25 if you wanted. I felt like saying, “who do you think you are, on Market Street, we can pay less, because of what?” I found it a bad thing to say.

    You found it insulting?

    Very insulting. We went to a few meetings and it was like… well we have to have some clowns for the children when there’s a festivity here in Hebden and I said no, you have to have something to attract more people here, so they can spend money, not children. You can do something for little children, of course, but, you have to move to get people in, to spent money, to get customers in. That’s the business association for you.

    Yes.

    And if you want to do something for children, you have to make a different group for that.

    Yes. Are any of the things that happen, like, we have the bonfire coming up soon, is that good for business?

    I haven’t noticed that.

    I wanted to go back to some things about you, personally. Have you had any problems from anyone in the town because you are from somewhere else? Have you experienced any prejudice or anything like that, yourself?

    Yes and no. I mean, if you come back to the property issues, again. People will say, well you come from another country, you’re buying a house, but we can’t even afford anywhere. There’s a jealousy thing in there. It’s the same, as I said, about people from the south who come here and buy the houses.

    Yes.

    So, in one way there’s jealousy and the other way, of course, you’re from Holland and it’s always laid back on you, anyway.

    Yes.

    It’s all right. It’s also, how you treat your fellow people. If you treat them as normal, they will treat you as normal.

    Yes, I always thought that. Do you find any difference between people who were born and bred in Hebden and say…

    Are there any?

    Yes, there are. I know quite a few, although they’re not just Hebden people, they’re from Mytholmroyd or Tod people. I, also, know quite a few from other places, other parts of the UK, really, and other countries. What you just said is quite right, really, if you’re genuine, honest, straight forward, nice with people, you, normally, get that back.

    Yes.

    But, if you have a bit of an attitude, for any reason, you tend to get on people’s nerves and they will give you aggravation back, as well.

    Yes.

    But, what I have found is people who have travelled about a bit and lived in different places, different cultures, not always, but generally, are more accommodating, more open minded in some ways, initially, than a lot of Hebden people that I met in the beginning. They’re not trusting, they just like to sit back and wait and watch and judge and it takes a long time. But once they get to know you, they’re brilliant people, they’re fantastic, they’re really helpful and everything.

    Yes. It’s the Yorkshire attitude isn’t it?

    It is a Yorkshire attitude, but it’s, also, a country attitude. You do get this in big cities, people take time to get to know you, but I think it’s more of a country thing, a rural attitude, really, because people in the country tend to be more tied into the life cycle and kind of take their time just to see how things pan out. That’s how I see it anyway. I might be mistaken.

    Yes.

    Do you think it’s a good place to raise children?

    No, I don’t think so.

    Why do you think that?

    Because there’s nothing for them to do. They go to school. They come home. There’s nothing for them, really, not even a playground for youngsters, very tiny ones.

    There’s not many. There are a few about.

    Yes, but sadly enough, there’s, also, the drugs problem in the playground. You’ll find needles about. It’s a problem.

    That seems to be the same in a lot of places and don’t you think it could be a lot worse, in a town or city, rather than here?

    Yes, I know what you’re saying, but there are things you can do to prevent, for example, at nighttime, floodlights.

    Oh, right, yes.

    Because people who want to use their needles like to do it in the dark, where they can’t be seen doing strange things in the dark that will not be detected. Put floodlights in, fence it in and open it in the morning.

    That’s a good idea.

    Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but coming back to would it be good for a family even when they grow up a bit, there’s nothing for them. There’s not even boy scouts, here. I’m not saying boy scouts is the thing to do, but you can’t play tennis here. You can’t play football.

    Well, there is Calder Holmes Park where you can play football and there’re two tennis courts, though you do have to pay for it. I don’t know about boy scouts anymore, they use to be here. When they had the carnival parade in June, they were part of that at one time. Whether it’s stopped now or not, I don’t know. Whether they were based in Hebden Bridge, I don’t know. From my point of view for young people it’s good because of the countryside. They can go into the woods or down by the river and get in touch with nature. It’s healthy and it’s fresh air and I think for children from three or four to, about twelve or fourteen, that it’s a good thing. After that, when they’re teenagers, I think you’re right, there’s not enough foe them to do. What they tend to do is computer games, they stay in the house and watch TV or get into some sort of technology. So, they don’t know how to engage with people when they get out in the street. They don’t know how to socialise or behave properly. That’s part of the problem. I might be wrong, because there’s a load of factors, I should think.

    That’s why it’s a good thing to have army training, for two years.

    Possibly, do they do that in Holland?

    Not anymore, it’s all professional soldiers, now. But it’s the same like England. They have territorial armies, now. If you reach a certain age, it’s a thing you have to do for a few years.

    You think that’s a good thing?

    Yes, I do. For a start you have to live in groups, whether you want to or not and I think you learn something. I’m not saying exercising with a rifle is learning something. It’s other things like polishing your shoes, making your bed, breakfast things and clearing up your own mess.

    Yes, I can appreciate that, because I have a teenage son. I would like him to do more of that.

    It’s attitude, because it’s allowed. When I was a boy, if I wanted to play outside, I was told just clear up your room. I had to do it or I wouldn’t go out.

    That’s good family values, isn’t it?

    It is, it is. I’m not saying you get a better person out of it, but at least the house is cleaner.

    I want to ask you about the darts team. How long have you been there and what kind of people have you met through going to the pub? When you’re on the darts team you have to travel around to all different pubs, don’t you to play the games and you meet a lot of people? What kind of experience has that been?

    Oh, it’s nice. I mean, the moment that we came to live in Hebden, the same season I was on the darts team. The nice thing about it is that it’s a few days out, on Mondays, but also, Tuesdays in the Todmorden league. You meet a lot of people. All sorts and that is nice.

    Yeah, does that make you feel more part of the community, do you think?

    Yes.

    Tape ends

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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

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