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  • Interviews and Storytelling: David Wright

    [TRACK 1]

    [BACKGROUND INTERFERENCE FROM 17:04.05 to 25:22.7]

    TONY WRIGHT: Right it’s Tony Wright, it’s the 4th of May 2011 and I’m speaking to David Wright in Arts Mill. Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    DAVID WRIGHT: Yes it’s David Alexander Wright. I was born in Birmingham on the 22nd of September 1929. I went to school there; first of all to an ordinary school where most of the kids left at fourteen and went on to work. I lived on a council estate which had not long been built on the outskirts of Birmingham and it had quite a sort of good feel about it because it was one of the modern ones of that time, and the people that had moved into the houses were quite new and had come from elsewhere, most of them, so from the local school I then went – oh by the way, I lived in a place called Billersley which was just off King’s Heath which is a better known district, and I went to a strange school which was called Chittiford Road School. From there I went to Moseley Grammar School and spent the next three years with a gap in between there....I was evacuated during the war and went to Devizes and I did a couple of years in the local grammar school there and returned in my fourteenth year, and started my exams which were then school certificates and a higher school certificate. However, going back just a little bit – my father was a sculptor so I was into the arts right from the beginning and when I went to school, he had no interest in academic studies at all, so I really ploughed my own furrow there with help from a doctor with whom I stayed as an evacuee, who did a lot to help me raise my academic standards, and at the end of the school certificate I got the right amount of results to go on to university if I wanted to and I thought I’d go into the sixth form to do literature, not art although that was the thing I’d set my heart on. I’d worked a lot with my father in his studio, so I had a good knowledge with grounding in all the arts really; he was interested in music as well, but I thought I wanted to do something totally different from him, so I joined a sixth form literature class and I did about three or four months of that, and I’m afraid I got into a tangle with the guy who ran it, the sixth form tutor, and I decided that I didn’t want to go on, and he was glad that I didn’t want to go on, so then my father, and this is the interesting part of my story, because we lived in a council house remember; my father decided that I could stay at home and work [ I didn’t have to go to college, he didn’t want me to go to college at all, and he knew that I was going into the Air Force at eighteen, so at sixteen I spent my days in my own bedroom which I called a studio and painted under his tutelage and also of course under his wages because I’d got no money and I helped him on some of his commissions which were quite big, many of them, and that’s how I earned my money, so that really completes the sort of embryo of my artistic interests and education, so I’ll leave it there because then I went into the RAF.

    TW: That was during the Second World War?

    AC: That’s right, yes.

    TW: And were you a flyer?

    AC:

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    No, no, I was....twelve when the war broke out in 1939, but my father was and he felt, although he was a pacifist by heart, he felt that he had to do something about Nazism. He was a pilot in the First World War and flew in, you know, wooden canvas aircraft, and he looked a very smart man in his uniform; I’ve got photographs of him, but in the Second World War, although I can remember a conversation we had driving along, he said ‘this shouldn’t happen’ he said ‘people like me and you and Germany don’t want this, and I don’t want it and the rest of the world doesn’t’ and he said ‘it shouldn’t happen’ but he joined the RAF again, and he worked on the ground, although he flew occasionally and he was there until the end of the war in the late 1940s, at which time I went into the Air Force myself and my two brothers had also been in the Air Force during the war, so you know, we had quite a sort of camaraderie about the Air Force, the four of us.

    TW: I see, I see. Were your brothers artistic?

    DW: No, none of the others were. I was the youngest and I suppose they’d set their teeth against it quite early on. My sister was quite academically clever and so was my older brother, who became a pilot in the Second World War, and.....my other brother was a bit of a tease in a way because he got into difficulties and hot water on occasions, but art was not anything to him, and my sister went into the nursing service, even in her middle teens, and ended up becoming a nurse and eventually rose in the ranks there, and she and I met up again when I finally did go to college and that was after I came out of the Air Force and I went to the Slade, then she and I shared a house in Hampstead during that period....

    TW: Go ahead.

    DW: Okay.

    TW: So did you study painting at the Slade?

    DW: Yes, but I mean getting into the Slade was interesting from my point of view because....a lot of people who went there were very well heeled you know, they had wealth at the back of them, and I’d done what they probably hadn’t done and I’d worked on my own and accrued quite a lot of big paintings, big for that time, and when I applied I got a further education training grant which was from the Government, being in the RAF, so my fees were being paid really through that, and I suppose the assumption was - my proposal was - that I became a teacher afterwards, though really what I wanted to do was go to the Slade because I knew its reputation and just paint and develop that, so I bundled a whole load of quite big works for their interviews into a lorry and drove off when I was invited, and I was interviewed by William Coldstream who was the new Principal, he’d just come from Canada, and I got a place and they were rather shocked to see this lorry standing outside the Slade steps with all these big works on it, and I had to get people to carry them in, but I think it must have impressed them because I started there in the 1950s and did a three year course.

    TW:

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    When you finished, what did you do after that then?

    DW: Well I hedged my bets actually; I didn’t want to teach but I thought if I ever did at any level, it might be a good idea to have some sort of certificate so I went to Birmingham to a newly developed art teacher training, and I succeeded in getting that certificate, so you know, I put that in my back pocket just in case, and then I went....[interruption from someone else] .....the training at Birmingham. It was a new establishment, and it was.....it was in the lead. It was at that time regarded as one of the bright colleges for teaching training in the arts, although I found it rather boring in a way and I didn’t get on there very well. They wanted me to be a senior student which I did become, but I found all that such a bore that I’m afraid that it lapsed and I was chucked out of that job and somebody else took it on, fortunately. At the end of that I again decided that I didn’t want to teach and I wouldn’t, and that I would find myself a studio somewhere. Well I got married not long after that, and I moved out with my wife to Bewdley in Worcestershire, found myself an old factory and rented the whole top floor of that and began to paint. It was not very remunerative – then as now – but I did sell some pictures and my wife taught in Birmingham so you know, we had a steady income, but I met up with someone from the BBC and they wanted to know whether I would like to do some work for them, because they’d heard me play my guitar and sing to it, and they gave me one of their slots on a magazine programme in the evening which I did for some years, and I did that first of all for radio then eventually for television, transferred to ITV at some stage in my career, and I made something like six guineas a week out of that, which was quite a large sum in those days, and then......moved from Bewdley out into the country and took an old farmhouse apart which was timber framed and re-built it to live in with my wife. We worked on it together ourselves, and from that point it was difficult financially so I did take some teaching and went to the local college in Kidderminster where I became a lecturer for the time being.

    TW: Right. How did you eventually come up to Hebden Bridge then?

    DW: Well that was a rather sad but a necessary move. My wife and I fell out, not too seriously, but I said I couldn’t go on living where we were and she didn’t want to move so I said ‘I’m going to apply for a job in Wakefield’ which came up. It was the Head of a School of Art which they still called it when I first made the application. I did my reading and I read up about Wakefield and how many schools there were in the area and what sort of courses they had, and they had a foundation course and I was always interested in those, and in fact I set one up in Kidderminster, and I thought ‘I’d like to go to....an art school to work’ you know, the traditional school, and I made the application and I got the job, so I moved to Wakefield on my own and I did live there for quite a long time, and was at the college for twenty years, and developed the School of Art into a Faculty of Art and Expressive Arts and Design, so it was not until 1990 that I was free to do what I wanted to do, but I didn’t stop working, so I mounted quite a large collection of work during the time I was at the college of my own, set up a number of exhibitions for them and other places too – commissions – and eventually by chance met up with one of my staff who was actually doing her own work in Hebden Bridge in the mill, in Linden Mill. She had a large studio and she said ‘well why don’t you come and share this with me?’....came here to Linden Mill. Linden Mill seemed such a comfortable and welcoming place and it had that wonderful feeling that it had been lived and worked in for years and years, and it had.....sustained itself and also it had carried that sort of atmosphere with it – working atmosphere with it, and I found

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    the architecture so interesting too, and I said ‘are there any other spaces in the mill?’ Ro Knapper who was one of my former staff said ‘yes’ and....she brought me upstairs to the one across the way, over the other side of the stairway at the centre of the building, and it was huge, it’s bigger than the space we’re in at the moment which is the gallery, and I negotiated with the owners and got it for about three hundred pounds a month which was quite a lot of money for me to find. By that time of course I was retired, so I had my own income and I’ve been here in the mill ever since, and of course it was wonderful because it was a large space so I could do large pieces of work which I’ve always done, and I set to and spent a year or two working in there, just on my own, other people in the mill came to visit me and friends, and one day, talking to Ro Knapper who was the person who introduced me to the place; she said ‘wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could have a studio and a gallery in the building?’ In Wakefield I set up the Arts Mill, Wakefield Arts Mill, which was a complex of studios and one of the reasons why I came to Hebden Bridge to talk to Rowan was that the politics of the administration got so barbarous that I thought ‘I’m not staying here any longer’ although we were due to go into the new art gallery in Wakefield as part of the complex there. It never happened eventually, but anyway I resigned and came, took up abode here, but traveled to Wakefield......nearly every day.

    TW: What year was it that you came here?

    DW: That was 2003....and in 2003, as I say I lived in Wakefield but she and I came to look at this place here because there was a public arts consultant who lived in the space that we’re sitting in here; this was his office and it was all empty apart from this bit, and who should be sitting at one of the desks but a former student of ours who’d been here for two or three years with him, and talking it over, we decided that the three of us plus the......ghosting at the back as it were....the arts consultant, we would set up a gallery. That was in 2003 and we started that really off the cuff. I mean we didn’t write a plan, we didn’t do a business presentation of any sort, we didn’t ask anybody else to contribute, to be involved, I just went to the owners again and said, ‘tThat space is not being used. Would you donate it to us for a period of time, and give us the chance to set up a gallery with certain policies and we’ll see how it goes?’ and they said, ‘Right, you’ve got it for free for a period and we’ll see what happens. Well it never changed; we had it for free until 2010 and they were very good to us, the owners; they never bothered us, but were very pleased as it began to grow, and we had a policy, a contract.... (David begins to cough)

    TW: So did you have to start paying in 2010?

    DW: Yes, but that was another sort of move, which wasn’t expected; in fact it came as quite a blow. The gallery gathered force and we had a programme that covered international and national, and people who worked in the vicinity....people who worked in Hebden Bridge in fact exhibited here, and the policy was quite wide and democratic and we always vetted everything that came in. Sometimes we rejected things, but we had connections with galleries in London and we could select things, so the range of work was tremendous, from local artists to.....people like Bridget Riley and.....we’ve had a Picasso exhibition specially set up for us; last year we had Goya; last year we had Anna Maria Pochenko; and Paula Rego has exhibited here nearly every two years. So we’ve had a wide range of exhibitions at different levels....and the policy was quite distinctive

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    and quite definite in that it was not a commercial gallery. We did not set anything up, any exhibition, to earn money; we set it up to bring as wide a range of people into the vicinity as we could, to feed....well, the festival among other things, but otherwise all the artists in the area who might have the chance to do something here that they couldn’t unless they went a long way away, or they couldn’t get to places, and to draw people in from outside. So it added to the tourism to some extent.

    TW: Do you think the area, the Upper Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge in particular, is a creative area and the fact that people appreciated the arts helped the gallery become a success?

    DW: Well it’s fed a lot into it; the atmosphere, the quality of life in Hebden Bridge and the very broad range of artistic activities that go on in Hebden Bridge and of course its history – the writers that have been here or used to come – poets and so on – but I think it’s the sense of permanence about the place. I know it’s earned a cock-eyed name from time to time, but I think all that can be pushed aside for the fact that there are lots of people here....very knowledgeable, very interested in the arts, who make a contribution to the town in their own right, but also of course, have something amidst them, not just arts and gallery people, others as well, which is really like a show case for the things that go on and the work that goes on in Hebden Bridge – visual and other.

    TW: Right. I mean, the international artists you mentioned – Paula Rego and Bridget Riley, Frank Auerback and others... it not being a commercial gallery, how do you sell it to them, that you know, having an exhibition here would be a good thing?

    DW: Ah well, they are commercially viable those ones, and they come with a price tag on them, and if we can sell them we will sell them, so the fallback position is – when we can get artists that are of such a status that they can encourage people with money to come in and look at what we’re offering, we earn a living from that to some extent. It’s hit and miss, but funnily enough, the artists who bring in works that are at a much lower cost often don’t sell as much as one or two pictures from someone like Paula Rego or.....Pasmore, Victor Pasmore, for instance; we’ve just sold some works of his as well. I suppose the one layer of visual arts that we don’t touch at present, although we’d like to, are those that are actually contemporary, and at the forefront of their own work really; and things that are going on in the arts nationally and internationally. We can’t afford to bring those except through bought-in exhibitions from the Arts Council which is run now... one of the circuits is run through the Hayward Gallery, so in fact this year we’ve got one of the most controversial area of artists sending their work.....the Chapman Brothers, and we’re showing that at the festival. So we do get these challenging sort of exhibitions from time to time and that’s part of our policy – to challenge our audience if you like.

    TW: Now I know because the uses of this building have changed recently, you’ve actually set up a whole series of studios in another part of the building. How did that come about?

    DW: Well I’ve always hoped that we would pay our way as a gallery and I was negotiating

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    with one of the owners to set up a studio on the same floor as the gallery in a huge space, which is parallel to it, which is all glass and it is therefore called ‘the greenhouse’ and I set up a design, costed it all out, and we discussed what income we would get from it, he and I, and we agreed that we would start building it and that we would split the income between us in what we thought was a fair division. In the middle of all this, quite to my horror, he came to me one day and said ‘I think you’d better sit down and listen to this’ and he said, ‘I’m afraid you will not be able to build your studios on this floor,’ he said, ‘and not only that, I’m afraid we’re going to take your studio over.’ I said ,‘You’re going to kick me out?’ He said, ‘Well, you can put it like that,’ he said, ‘but it might be to your advantage, and what I recommend you do is to speak to the other half of the management, because there is this person who now owns this side of the building, because he’s got a proposition to put to you and the proposition is as follows: We will not do it on the top floor, but because he is moving out of his space we will build it on that floor. It will give us an income, but more than that, we’ll expand the Arts Mill to the whole of this side of the building, we’ll try and get other people in to it and then we will live off that income and we will make bids to the Arts Council (which we’d already decided to do), so I’ve had a discussion with the other partner and one of the things he is keen to do is to give access to the gallery in such a way that it will attract more people and it will also give people who....were invalided or whatever, with wheelchairs even, to gain access to the building and to come into the gallery.' So it was decided that the gallery as it stands will be moved downstairs and it will treble in size, and I will then take over this gallery as my studio. So we set to: plans have been drawn up; we made an application to the Arts Council and we are breathlessly waiting for that; and we now have twenty studios and we also have, in the plans, four exhibition spaces – two smaller and two larger ones – and we also have a café written into the plans, so we might make it more of a social centre than we have done in the past - if it all comes into being. But you hold your breath on these occasions because the Arts Council, although we’ve had it vetted and we’ve been visited and they’ve seen it as a sustainable project and they’ve suggested what sort of bid we make... it’s never guaranteed. What happens after that, if we don’t get the bid, the grant, I don’t know – we’ll come to that in due course. But up until then we’re very optimistic and we’re still showing exhibitions right up until the end of year here in this gallery, and we hope to have the other one probably taking over before the end of the year, but we don’t know.

    TW: So doing all this administration work, has it impacted on the amount of time that you’ve had to create your own work?

    DW: I haven’t done any. I stopped working – I said, ‘The best thing to do is to put it behind you for a year, or less if possible, until you get back into your studio when the gallery goes downstairs,’ and I haven’t felt deprived in any way. And in a way it’s going on in my mind; I’ve got ideas – I’ve just been doing some small drawings ready for my next launch into it, but of course you fail to move with the times, you fail to have work that you can show that is contemporary in your own style, and when it comes to doing an exhibition, as someone pointed out to me a couple of days ago, all you show is retrospective work [laughing] which is not good for your psyche in a way.

    TW: Don’t you think though it might give you a period of reflection so that you can look back over the years and the different types of work that you’ve completed, and maybe draw a line under some of it and say ‘well I’ve done that now – I’m going to move on to something new’ – have you not had a reflective period?

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    DW: Well I do. I mean I do that anyway, but I had a retrospective exhibition in 2008 which traveled around, and that was a time to look back and I was quite astounded by the work that I was able to dig out to show what I was doing when I was in my twenties; people loaned me or you know, I found stored behind others, and I suppose it was quite a pleasure to see that array of work and what it did reveal is that there were these stops and changes; sometimes there were slow developments, others there was a sudden break and something else started up quite different, and I think you do that anyway as an artist, and I’ve been looking back but I have not been saying to myself, ‘Let’s make a fresh start and do something – face in a different direction entirely...’ I’ve actually looked at the work I’ve been doing and on one particular section which was all about the war, I started to do another series about contemporary war and that I hope might be joined with another artist who is in his nineties now, who has painted pictures from his experiences in the war, and we may have an exhibition here at some time in the future, so I’ve got a project, I’ve got a target, I’ve got a timescale, and they are different in one sense because they deal with contemporary people as opposed to....symbols if you like, of dictators and.....people who have carried out atrocities and so forth, and bits of war and what it looked like in the First and Second World War. These are occurring here and now.

    TW: Right. Does the landscape of this area affect you in any kind of way?

    DW: Oh I find it fabulous. Funnily enough I write poetry and I write more poetry about it, because landscape is not my subject but yes, I think it’s marvellous. I come through the moors every morning to work and it’s.....an extraordinarily......rich sort of experience every day, changing light, changing effects of the weather and so forth.

    TW: Do you not want to include your poetry as part of your art work, or are they separate medias?

    DW: No they’re separate. Poetry is much more personal, although I have written about the landscape a number of times, but I’m not a good poet; I do read my poetry to people from time to time, but never here, never in Hebden Bridge, not yet anyway [laughing]

    TW: And what about your music side then? I mean you obviously made a living out of doing that at one time. Is that not something you carry on or could integrate?

    DW: No, I do pick up the guitar occasionally but if you don’t play it your skills go I think, and I earn my living by writing songs and writing lyrics and then singing to camera. It was a nerve-wracking experience for me; it was never easy and I.....to perform in front of audiences or the public, I’ve never felt comfortable, so I think it’s died out for that reason.

    TW: When you wrote songs for the radio and for television, what was the subject matter of the lyrics?

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    DW: Well they were ironic, most of them – not all of them, but they were ironic and they were about what was going on from day to day. My remit was to phone up the director of the programme who would then say ‘get hold of the Daily Mail or’....I don’t know.....’The Times and read the headlines, and base a song on the headlines’, so they were political, they were personal, they jibed at people - not too discomforting for them - or it was about some incident that occurred, usually, was not violent or too upsetting, but just doggerel really, you know. That was great fun but it was nerve-wracking because, when I wrote it, sometimes even the music during the day and the lyric, sometimes I borrowed old songs and based it on those, and then I drove thirty miles into the centre of Birmingham to the studios. I had one rehearsal – by that time they had vetted the lyric because I had to telephone that back as soon as I’d written it, and they’d tell me whether their legal department said I could sing it or whether I’d got to drop things out, and occasionally they said, ‘You can’t sing this – you’ll have to write another one,’ so I was shunted into the spare room to write another one, music and all, and then at about six o’clock, six thirty, I had to do it live to the cameras, so it was....it was nerve-wracking, I must admit.

    TW: You’ve had this broad experience of sculpture with your father and painting and poetry and music; what do you think about artists who create like installations that have a multi-media affect?

    DW: Great. I love installations – I’ve done them myself. I think there’s a misconception about what an installation is in some respects. I see installations as all-enveloping art works and ones that you can physically....merge yourself into, rather than some small object which becomes rather precious and seems to be in fact just something that goes on a plinth, though it may be called an installation. They may have to have historical, political or social meaning, but they must have a meaning; it must be an issue, and it must in a way almost swallow you, the whole thing, so that you walk through it – that’s what I think an installation is.

    TW: Almost like it’s environmental

    DW: It is, I think an installation is an environmental thing, and it will reflect the real world around in some way I think; either because of the materials you use, the issue you’re focusing on, whether it be something to do with war or you know, the green world or the not green world, but it has to be something that’s manufactured in a large space and is tangible, really tangible. I think installations where it’s purely words, purely words I find very difficult to take on board. I may use words within them, but not to....offload if you like my literary endeavours onto a wall somewhere on a small scale; I find that is not really an installation, not in my mind anyway.

    TW: Yeah. I’d like to talk a little bit more about your own work because you said you’ve had various periods over the years when you’ve done different things and gradually progressed. What kind of... do you have a philosophy of art or a way of working?

    DW:

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    Oh very much, yes. I think that if it isn’t based on some activity, be it historical or contemporary, so it is at the forefront of people’s minds that it’s a social issue of one sort or another.....then you have to use ideas. If it isn’t that, if it’s something that is totally imaginative in a sense, the issue has to be replaced by some sort of spiritual or mystical....sense of.....dream or even nightmare if you like – another world; it has to be another world. So it falls into two halves really. A lot of my work is based on ideas that take you into realms of the imagination; gardens I’m particularly fond of and I use a lot of those as backdrops to ideas, but they’re always somehow enfolding an idea about mystery, about magic, about the idea of penetrating into somewhere different and therefore has a surreal flavour to it. But the other ones are quite distinctly thumbing my nose at situations like the art establishment, banking, investment. The one that I’m working on at the moment is religion....that does involve contemporary ideas as well. But also I’ve set up ideas in my mind for the issues surrounding war and I’ve done quite a lot of work based on that......even about the law.....I’ve done a large work based on the ironies of the law, but it is eventually humorous – I hope it’s witty, but it’s irony, it’s juxtaposing ideas which run counter to if you like, the establishment notion of what the subject is about, so it’s undermining it in a way.

    TW: So you focus very much on social life as it were, rather than individuals. DW: There is one further section I suppose to my work, and that’s family – family in that sense of society.....marriage is one of them, daily living is another, I suppose also family problems and pleasures as well, they come into my work, but that’s a very small section in a way and that arises like everything else does, out of experience, so there’s a whole one on the start of and the break down of marriage in a series, but I regard those as issues as well you see, so they fall into the other categories as well.

    TW: Right. You say you paint a lot of very large pictures. Why have you chosen that scale?

    DW: Well I find doing small things is niggledy......and not only that, when you sort of explore the possibilities in making work, large or small, you get caught up in different techniques and different ways of doing it, and one of the ways of sort of getting an expansion in your own mind as well is to take an image and blow it up. Now when photocopying and all the common photography came into being, you could do this and not actually make it costly, so you could start with a small idea and by a mechanical process you could blow it up, virtually to any size you wanted, providing you could afford to fix it to the surface on which you were working, and I found that by using photocopy you could blow up images to beyond human size and providing you were prepared to work on it very steadfastly and panel it in, you could go up to eight feet by six feet, or twelve feet by ten feet quite quickly and easily, and you’d got a ground of large shapes and forms and ideas down on a surface which you would then work over in various types of colour, usually acrylic paint, so that expansion made you feel that you could walk into your own picture. It’s quite a nice sort of experience. A lot of people say about my very big works that the thing that they enjoy more than anything else, they feel that they can move into it – it’s got a perspective – not always done distinctly with perspective but it’s got a feeling that they could actually step over the frame and into the picture, so that’s one of the things.

    TW: Well the reason I asked that is, you have people like Paula Rego and there’s Goya you

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    spoke of, both of which painted large pictures but they also created quite small ones in their etchings and print making

    DW: Well I do that you see

    TW: So you do that as well?

    DW: I do that as well, but I mean Paula Rego works on her pictures on a very small scale – might start with drawing a figure you know, A4 size, and then she eventually, gradually builds up towards big things and eventually she does them just in pastel – they’re not paint any longer - and big drawings as well which she turns into lithographs and etchings, but the....I work the opposite way round. I start off with an idea, I start painting it almost immediately, I look for the images that I want to put on it, which could come from any source – I could draw them, I do a lot of drawing and I transfer those onto the canvas, magazines, newspapers - anything goes - and I blow those up bit by bit and of course they become something different then, so whereas it might start off as an inch and a half by an inch and a half, it ends up by three feet by three feet and the difference in what you’ve got on the big scale and how far it’s gone from the original statement, even if it’s a picture out of a newspaper or magazine, the gap is so wide that it no longer has resonance at that scale, but it’s very interesting to go back the opposite way. Oncethepaintisonthecanvas,youcanthenphotographthatandwiththenew techniques of print, you can actually reprint it on a small scale, in other words, boil it back down again, but of course it’s changed irrevocably because it’s now colour, it’s got a different feel about the scale of it, and it goes down to a small scale and you can print that – a one-off straight away; you can print the photograph the wrong way round by having it photocopied the wrong way round and then you can put it down on a surface and by putting a fluid on the back and burnishing it on the paper or the canvas, you’ve got a full scale picture on a very small scale, and it’s exactly the same as some of the big ones – I may have tweaked it in one way or another – and so you’ve got a sort of reflection on a smaller scale which in a way is what Paula Rego does; she often does small pictures of the same subject matter that become large works in oil pastel.

    TW: Have you ever thought about producing books as art work, because you’re obviously into this reproductive side of things. Would that not be another way to go?

    DW: Well I did start at one time doing children’s books and illustrating them, but I don’t know why, I found it a chore. I also became engaged in the past in illustrating other books, quite a number of which have been published, but I’ve always felt that they do not effectively carry the message that I want them to carry, apart from the fact that you’ve got a subject matter that you’ve got to match up to quite often, and if you can’t get the information that the writer wants in the book, in the illustration, if you can’t get a source from which to get that information, it’s a real chore.

    TW: You mentioned earlier gardens as backdrops. Is that a symbolic importance for you?

    DW: Yes, it’s.....I mean gardens are magical places to me, and many are so magical in fact

    10

    they become our worlds, totally other worlds. What’s so interesting about a garden is that it’s really a man-made construction in a way, or a person-made construction, and it’s taking elements which are ungovernable in a sense, and it’s creating a new world from the combination of, you know, imaginative ideas and the processes which you have to bow to in the natural growth of things, and I always think of it as a world in its own right, so you wander through a world which has been created with this rather mysterious and mystical feeling about it, and all my work in gardens is based on that notion. They have either become dreams or they have become nightmares or they have become other worlds, surrealist spaces if you like, but you can add things to them which can give you that feeling and you can, sometimes you take pictures that you’ve photographed of places, and you can quickly turn them because of what they are in themselves anyway, and that gives you the opportunity of changing all the colours of course, taking the natural colours and literally reversing them because I use computers to do a lot of those things, and it can also allow you to add things in that aren’t there and so give it another character from its original one.

    TW: Right. You mentioned earlier that you weren’t a landscapist, and I’ve heard you just talk about gardens as being man-made. Is the reason that you haven’t ventured into landscape shall we say is because you feel it’s not man-made?

    DW: No, no, I have done a lot of landscapes in the past but not of recent times, but I do create my own landscapes as backdrops to things as well, but the gardens are specific – they’re always of a particular place – architecture is one of my great things too. I love...I did architecture as a secondary subject at the Slade and that has probably given me that sense, as my father’s work has, because he worked with architects of grandiose themes you know, like the cathedral behind you there, which is....that’s an eight by four picture, very meticulously done but printed and not the original place at all you know; I’ve turned it into my own cathedral really. But that sense of awe you get when you go into a cathedral or a large space – architectural, wood, whatever, forest - that’s always inspired me, it’s as though you are moving out of the urban, rather down-to- earth, somewhat boring local situation of.....I don’t know, a council estate somewhere - although that has its mystery as well - into the spiritual world, which is ripe, if you like, for using your imaginative creativeness to get this mystical, dreamlike feeling.

    TW: Right. I’d like to follow that a bit more. I mean, although people might think that out in the wilds up on the moors it is a wild place and it is, but it has been managed for a number of years and things like cathedrals, it is said that all the pillars are imitation trees and they’re like symbols of old sacred groves and that type of thing, so do you believe the sort of symbolism of landscape shall we say, bringing that in to an art work, whereby you create your own world – is that one of the ways that you would look at things?

    DW: It’s very natural when you think of temples, in the early days of Greek and Roman architecture, those columns were in fact wood to begin with and they were transformed because man found that you could make them more permanent with stone, and so that is there, and all...I mean my father’s been into the decorative arts because he’s worked on large buildings, public buildings. They have used all the symbolism and decorative elements of the past, going right back to Greek times, and they still crop up in....like the leaf forms and the plant forms, petals and flowers and so on, and they’ve become stock

    11

    in trade as it were; you make something twined round a column, the bark of a tree becomes fruits on the columns of stone buildings, and the use of animals, birds and all sorts of small creatures have always been combined into it. Now I’ve been brought up with all that, so that comes in unconsciously and the broad spaces that you’re talking about, like the moors which have obviously been controlled in one sense, those wonderful, almost like....body shapes....you know, like lying people.....those are sort of endemic in a way, they belong to one and they come naturally into the psyche and get translated from that into whatever comes to mind at the time, and then you look back and you say ‘gosh, that’s just like the way that the moors graduate backwards’ or you go the other way round, you say ‘I am going to take a slice’, which I have done in some of my war paintings, and say ‘this is France but it’s based on the moors of Yorkshire’, so you get that too, you know, these interactions and reverses that are going on all the time.

    TW: Is this idea of permanence then important to you?

    DW: Very much, very much.....which makes me sad about some of the works that happen today, because......even ones that appear to be of a permanent nature.....they can’t be for all sorts of reasons. There’s been an interesting exhibition, it’s changed now, of a guy called David Nash who works in wood and he actually cultivates wood as well, so his whole life has been about wood – planing, sawing, burning, all the things that you would expect in making charcoal, so he was imbued with this idea of nature and wood, and he’s used things that have been changed in nature, sometimes by a natural process, but sometimes he’s taken something that has fallen down because it’s been diseased or.....I suppose that’s still natural, but he’s also chopped them up in certain ways that somehow reinvests them with something that is still the spirit of wood and the spirit of nature, but again it’s man-made, and those sort of artists I find, although the materials they use are transitory in a way because he uses live stuff, he combines you know, trees that grow together or form a ring or something like that, but.....nature is only relatively permanent isn’t it? Man-made things are only relatively permanent, but I think they should have some time scale to them of permanence because they re-inform people you know, in the future, and.....we all look back to history and draw things out of it, whether we be artists or you know, just ordinary....commoner garden thinkers, which most of us are. [laughing]

    TW: Well we’re getting near to the end of the hour I think. Is there anything that you would like to say about your own work or about Arts Mill that I haven’t asked about?

    DW: I don’t think there is really......I think if you just.....three sort of statements......as it were closing in from the town and its surroundings....one of the things that I know keeps me here – I don’t live actually in Hebden Bridge, I live in Rishworth, but it’s nice to come over the moors to this every day, it’s like going to work every morning you know, I could work at home because I live on my own. I have a big space which I could use as a studio but I’d feel absolutely crammed in, so it’s this feeling that you move out of what is a cramped little apartment, you go over the hills and they’re changing every day. The light is changing every day, the animals change every day. It’s burnt today; it was a sort of scabrous yellow orangey colour you know, a few weeks ago, because of its natural growth and dying, coming back to life again. Peat suddenly appears, like sores almost, or scars on the landscape. All this is changing all the time;

    12

    that’s great, that is a setting for a small town which is built in layers and terraces, and that is in itself like many of the ones in other countries; you like walking up the hill to them. I mean you don’t here, it’s perhaps the other way round, you walk down in a way to the town in the valley, but that’s got the same feeling, that you’ve got all these different levels at which you can see up and see down, so that’s like a rolling down from the moors into the town, and there aren’t many towns like that just immediately round here that are so compact and they have all the things going for them, even in this modern day. They’ve got a way in and a way out, which is terrific; a railway; they used to have trams which were great things at one time; they had buses which... okay, and cars can get here and get through it. So you can use what’s going on in the present to come here, and then you’ve got all these buildings that in themselves are so exciting. You know, when you see three floor buildings that are actually three houses in one... I mean you see a lot of two, but you get three here occasionally and that’s absolutely fantastic. So all these rather exciting and unexpected things gives this town a particular ambience which is comforting. There’s a sort of cosiness about it; it still has shops that are individual; it has a range of people who are empathetic and sympathetic to their surroundings and to others. It has its sharp political edge like every town does, it has those who other people fear are trying to destroy it, and there are those that feel that they’ve got to keep to the times and build it up, so there is an evolution going on, even in this present time, but it refers back to periods of the past and it refers back more than anything to labour really, to a working situation and that’s something that comforts me. Whatever it is, it’s a working situation. To be in a building where fifty or sixty young women from about fourteen up to dotage were working with machines, across there right to the end of this building, here in this space at one stage, is both uplifting and it’s tragic. So you’ve got these two interconnecting or facing issues about the drudgery of work at one stage, but the life it’s left has, you know, passed on to you – it surrounds you, you can’t help but feel it.

    TW: Well thank you very much

    DW: It’s probably all mumbo-jumbo but you can edit it down

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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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.

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

Phone: 01422 844450
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