Towering Views

A trip to photograph the Roll of Honour at St Paul’s Church, Shipley for my Shipley in World War I website turned into something of an adventure when I was invited to go up the tower.

‘First though, you must sign a disclaimer,’ I was told.

Vertical climb

Vertical climb

Before anyone yells ’elf and safety gorn mad, trust me the church has every reason to ensure that people agree they won’t make a claim if anything goes wrong – it’s a hairy climb.

I thought the narrowest spiral staircase I’ve ever seen was pretty tricky. Good to take a breather in the bell-ringing chamber before climbing again to where the huge bells themselves hang.

Looking around I couldn’t see where the stairs continued until my guide started up a vertical, metal ladder. Mmm. Ah well, come this far.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

A bit tricky finding hand holds as you squeeze through the narrow opening at the top where you are confronted by a second, vertical ladder.

This time you inch your way out into the sunlight where, as you regain your breath (and nerve), a warning is given not to lean too heavily on the stone work. There’s a narrow ledge between the roof of the tower and the stone walls; still wondering if this was such a great idea, I edged myself towards the first gap.


Along the valley

Along the valley

The views are breathtaking. I’ve noticed before how St Paul’s tower is visible from right around the district and now, looking back, the vista opens up. Saltaire shines out; Victoria Mill also speaks of Shipley’s rich textile past; Hope Hill and Wrose rise ahead; across Shipley you can pick out Lister Mill chimney; you can see along the valley for miles; and then there’s a view up to Northcliffe woods.

Victoria Mill

Victoria Mill

One of the biggest surprises is just how much woodland there is so close to Shipley. It really does deserve a better town centre. The only blot on the landscape is that ghastly 1960s clock in Shipley Market.

The climb down is just as tricky but after that experience, it’s a small price to pay for views like these

Victoria Hall

Victoria Hall


Over the Town Hall to Wrose

Over the Town Hall to Wrose


Salts Mill

Salts Mill

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Everyman’s (and woman’s) history

Sometimes I wish I still believed in the heaven of my childhood, where departed souls met up with old friends and family while keeping a benign eye on those below they once knew. It would be such fun right now to picture the look of gobsmacked astonishment on the faces of my former history teachers who made it past St Peter’s scrutiny.

I hated history at school: all those kings and dates to remember, not to mention the names and fates of Henry VIII’s wives and who was the true heir to which throne and why. There were countless dukes and noblemen but not a hint of anyone like me.

And even worse were the endless wars, illustrated by maps strewn with arrows showing which general had outflanked his foe in a place I’d never heard of.

It was all so irrelevant to a teenage boy in Tunbridge Wells who was hooked on the lyrics of Bob Dylan and wore his CND badge with pride.

So you will appreciate the irony when I tell you that I am launching a World War I project that is going to take up the best part of five years of my retirement.

Some things haven’t changed. I still have no interest in battle tactics and while better minds than mine dispute the ‘lions led by donkeys’ theory of WWI, it does seem to me to have been the squandering of millions of young lives on behalf of hanging on to an oppressive empire.

But what is different – and the reason I am spending five or six hours most days on this project – is that I now understand that history is also about the lives of ordinary folk, people like you and me, men and women who in 1914-18 would have been our friends and neighbours.

And it is those lives I am exploring by working my way through the pages of the weekly newspaper the Shipley Times & Express from 3 July 1914 to the end of the war. It only took a couple of issues for me to become hooked and there were so many great stories, I just wanted to share them, so I have committed myself to publishing each week a digest of the articles that appeared in the newspaper exactly one hundred years before.

Home Front

Much of what I am labelling Shipley Times+100 concentrates on the Home Front, building a picture, week by week, of what life was like in a small part of West Yorkshire. Some of the pieces have nothing to do with the war, snippets of court cases, news stories or adverts that remind us that only a hundred years ago, horse-drawn vehicles were still commonplace, cinema was coming into its own and houses were on sale for a couple of hundred pounds.

But a time of tumultuous conflict was bound to affect those at home. Trade boomed for some, died for others; women’s roles changed from giving up their time to knit socks for soldiers to taking on the jobs the men had left; incredible pressure was applied to young men to persuade them to enlist in Kitchener’s Army; men, too old to fight at the front, formed a ‘Dad’s Army’ to prepare in case of invasion; communities found ways of helping those impoverished because the bread-winner was at war and then dug even deeper to provide shelter for refugees from Belgium who streamed into Britain.

And week after week, alongside the official releases about the progress of the war, readers were able to get a sense of what it was like for the young men who until recently had been working in local mills, or on the railway, or delivering their letters but now found themselves in the trenches.

Men like Neville Stringfellow, a 29-year-old Windhill policeman, whose wife Annie regularly shared his letters home.

As a reservist, Neville was among the first sent to the front and he graphically described the conditions:

Neville Stringfellow

Neville Stringfellow

‘I’m beginning to feel a bit “scratchy,” he wrote. ‘It’s eleven weeks since we had our clothes off. We sleep anywhere. It’s getting very cold at night especially in the trenches but we don’t mind the cold as long as the rain keeps off. It rains for a week at a time here. We were up to our knees in the trenches in water and sludge and every time the shells burst, we had to duck under.’

A few weeks later he sent an even more harrowing letter about a battle he’d been involved in alongside his brother Bernard.

‘My brother and I were side by side. Our company was advancing and we got too far. We were lying down in the open and the Germans got nearly all around us.

‘Bernard and I, along with three more men, were laid down firing an hour after the others had retired. I lifted my head and saw that all the others were killed or wounded.

‘We then took our packs off and crawled along the side of a turnip field. All the time there were thousands of bullets being fired at us and we realised that we were between two fires, our own and the Germans.

‘We crawled for about a thousand yards on our stomachs and Bernard and another man got into the next field.

‘I did not see him again.

‘The man who was with him said he was all right until he got nearly to the end of the field when he got hit. We were all lying in a ditch half full of water for six hours. We dared not lift our heads on account of the bullets.

‘I tried to get back to Bernard but I could not. The Germans were within thirty yards of us so we laid still until night. The hours seemed to be years, shells dropping all around us. It was terrible. I shall never forget it. I said to my comrades, “We are done”.’

In fact Neville survived but Bernard didn’t and in heart-breaking letters he desperately tries to persuade his family that it was not his negligence that had allowed his brother to die.

His story and those of many others that I’m discovering as I continue this journey could have belonged to any of us if we had been born in a different time. For some families, indeed, they are the stories they are experiencing today as those with power still ignore the evidence and decide war is the way they will resolve their differences.

This is a history that resonates for me and in a way links me again with that teenager who heard Bob Dylan sing ‘How many deaths will it take til they know, that too many people have died?’

You can follow Shipley Times +100 on my website

Shipley Times + 100 header


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Posted in History, Yorkshire

And he’d dance for you…


One of the joys of retirement is that when something catches your interest you can make the time to chase it around a little and see what pops up.

Usually it is a meander through the serendipity of google, a quick check of a fact turning into a couple of hours or so of increasingly unrelated, but fascinating links until you have quite forgotten what you were first enquiring about.

My latest musings started by watching Bruce Forsyth’s moving tribute to Sammy Davis jnr on ITV followed by the repeat of a show the pair did together back in the days when television concentrated on real talent rather than cooks, diy experts and wannabes. What did happen to Variety?

I was immediately reminded of seeing Sammy Davis at the London Palladium, I guess in the 1970s. It was the most thrilling night I’ve ever spent in the theatre.

I’ve been fortunate to witness some memorable entertainment moments. There were stellar nights at Ronnie Scott’s when the likes of Oscar Peterson and Sarah Vaughan performed close enough to almost touch.

I sat immediately in front of Fred Astaire at the London premier of the movie That’s Entertainment and watched in awe as he seemed to float down the steps on his way to take a bow at the end.

Buddy RichI joined in the standing ovation for Buddy Rich at Brighton even though he was ending his concert after only three numbers because his bass drum pedal broke and there wasn’t a spare. He sacked his roadie on the stage, played a breath-taking 15 minute solo then marched off. (Wonder if it was all an act and he just wanted to finish early?)

But Sammy Davis topped the lot. Tiny, almost fragile, he was alone on that big Palladium stage but he filled it with his talent. He danced, he played several instruments, he came up with a string of spot-on impressions, and he demonstrated that with the possible exception of his mate Sinatra, there has probably never been a better singer of the great American song book. And I recall noticing that while there was no doubting he was the star, he had a great rapport with and appreciation of the orchestra accompanying him – he clearly loved being among musicians.

If you haven’t seen Sammy Davis in action I urge you to watch his masterpiece on YouTube, telling the touching story of Mr Bojangles – ‘he looked to me to be the eyes of age’. But before you do, take a look at the version by Jerry Jeff Walker who wrote it.

Jerry is a country singer who was thrown into a New Orleans jail for over-indulging in a bar and there met an old ‘hoofer’ who told him his story. According to the website, Jerry said ‘I spent much of that long holiday weekend talking to the old man, hearing about the tough blows life had dealt him, telling him my own dreams.’

The singer then moved on to Texas, where he sat down to write: ‘And here it came, just sort of tumbling out, one straight shot down the length of that yellow pad. On a night when the rest of the country was listening to The Beatles, I was writing a 6/8 waltz about an old man and hope. It was a love song.’

So Jerry’s version should be the definitive performance. Yet to me, while it’s a pleasant enough country song, it’s not something you would immediately think ‘I must put that down as one of my eight discs in case Kirsty Young invites me on Desert Island Discs.

But then watch this version by Sammy Davis. He doesn’t just sing it; he doesn’t even just perform it; he lives it. The experience of being on the stage since he was a small boy is there in every immaculate gesture; but so is the pain of all those years when being black meant using the back door and when your so-called friend, John F Kennedy, for whom you had gained so many black votes, refused to invite you to the presidential inaugural ball because the world would not look kindly on a black man married to a white woman.

This is a performance of sheer genius – one person described it as music’s equivalent of Olivier’s Hamlet. But be warned once you’ve watched it, you’ll want more and you could find yourself spending hours on YouTube in awe of the many talents of Sammy Davis Jnr.

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Down to the shade by the river

Lodepit Beck (5)

“I’m going down to the shade by the river one more time

And feel the breeze on my face before I die.

I’m gonna leave whatever’s left of my luck to the losers

And bend me down and kiss the world goodbye.”

As the days seem to accelerate towards my three-score and ten and that damned reality imp at the back of my mind whispers that not everything on my bucket list is going to be achieved – sorry Australia, Himalayas, playing the piano and reading Ulysses – Kris Kristofferson’s defiant but philosophical Kiss the World Goodbye resonates more and more.

‘I’m just a river that rolled forever and never got to the sea’ is earmarked as one of the lyrics to be heard at my funeral. As I’m from a gene pool that has seen many members of my family live well into their 90s, I’m hoping it will be many years before my time is up but when the moment comes I think I’ve found the perfect, shady river for kissing the world goodbye. Or more accurately, the perfect beck.

I first became aware of Lodepit Beck – or as I once heard it called in a moment of delicious historical Chinese whispers, Lord Pitt’s Beck – when I started to make a few tentative walks along the river and canal near home in order to be rid of an unsightly paunch. There’s a delightful – and delightfully short – walk along the side of the River Aire between the rowing club and Dowley Gap and to get to it you cross the beck on a narrow walkway just below Hirst Mill weir.

Wood path above Lodepit Beck 31-5-13 (8)As my fitness improved, I gradually ventured further from home and started to follow the beck upstream through fields and woods, past huge boulders dumped by nature, stone walls and stiles made by man, under a canopy of towering trees and round fallen trees weathered into shapes that Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth would have relished.

Every step disturbs a blackbird or a thrush or a pigeon or a magpie or occasionally a heron hoping to get lucky or any of the countless other birds my ignorance prevents me from naming; there are rabbits and squirrels aplenty and I once even startled a deer that bound off before I had time to focus my camera.

At every stage along its course – even when you can’t see it – you can hear the beck as it makes its way through the countryside, rushing over stones, eagerly seeking the quickest path downhill. Each time I make the journey, I grapple with the right word to describe that sound – chuckle, babble, gurgle, chatter? I usually settle on bubble because that also describes what is physically happening.

Over a period of months I’ve worked my way further up, through Eldwick on to the moors and while I’m still some way from arriving at the source – or rather sources because this beck is fed from many directions – I now have some concept of its journey down to the river. It is a path that water has followed for probably millions of years. People waited until the bronze age to arrive and probably later to settle along its bank – Eldwick is from the old Norse Helguic, ‘Helgi’s dairy farm’. Even then, the beck forced them to build over it or round it. It is tempting to think that long after we’ve all gone, the beck will still be running. Chuckling will probably be the right word then.

Let’s follow it down from Graincliffe Reservoir, up near Dick Hudson’s pub. There’s a short run down the hill to Eldwick Reservoir from which a steady flow of water feeds into what is clearly recognisable as a beck – at this point Eldwick Beck. It continues down the hill to where it once provided the power for Eldwick Mill. The corn mill is long gone and the beck has now been incorporated into the well-manicured garden of the cottages that once held mill workers. Beck in field across road from Beck Cottage, Eldwickback to backs. Look behind you, up the field towards Tewitt Farm, and the vegetation tells you that another stream, hardly more than trickle most of the time, is making its way to join up with the beck under the garden wall.

From there it runs parallel to the road known as the Green, behind the houses and the Acorn pub before being walled in under Bridge Cottage, under the road and out again through a rustic, three-arched opening before being channelled along Spring Lane. But man only controlled its path for a short while and the beck snakes down below Saltaire Road, darting round houses and under tiny stone bridges, making its way towards Baildon Moor.

Behind the houses on the Green

Behind the houses on the Green

At the entrance to the moor it is joined by Glovershaw Beck tumbling down from the hill above and as the two mingle under the bridge and make their way into the wood, it is here that it becomes Lodepit Beck. Its path here is through a deep, heavily wooded valley carved out millions of years ago by ice. I once tried to follow the beck along its course but a lack of suitable footwear forced me to turn back or get soaked; easier to follow it from above on a moor path, occasionally glimpsing a white-water cascade as it leaps over rocks but always aware of the sound.

The reservoir built by Sir Titus Salt

The reservoir built by Sir Titus Salt

The path eventually dives down through the woods and you pick up the beck once again at one of its most attractive spots, just above the small reservoir built by Sir Titus Salt to ensure he had some control over the flow of the river past his mill. It’s a little gem with by-waters, overflows and intriguing bits of walls that leave you wondering who or what they were meant to keep out – or in. You can only admire the amount of effort that must have gone into building it in this inaccessible piece of hilly woodland with nothing but tracks over which to carry your materials.

The Beck nears the river

The Beck nears the river

The beck’s journey is almost complete. Released from the reservoir, it skips and leaps through more thick woodland that gets extremely soggy in winter as water pours off the hills to add to the flow below. Then into a stretch of meadowland, under the arched stone bridge at the end of the Coach Road and down past the housing estate to the river where it is immediately swallowed up in the cauldron caused by Hirst Mill weir. There is still a long way to go but unlike the person in the song, this river will eventually reach the sea. However, it is hard to imagine it will pass through a more beautiful setting again.

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So, not the sign of a nerd

The Stocks's Arms Kathleen Lindsley prevents my occasional excursions to photograph inn signs from becoming the weird pastime of someone who is a close cousin of train spotters or stamp collectors. The Oddfellows, Wyke

Whenever I rehearsed my excuses, ready to trot them out if ever caught in the act, I always protested that inn signs carry clues about history, sometimes tell you about the locality and are, at times, amusing as with The Oddfellows at Wyke which instead of showing the usual Friendly Society arms portrays the ultimate in catch-weight boxing.

But most of all, I would claim, inn signs represent an open-air art gallery, free to all, where they can find landscapes, portraits, animal paintings, sporting prints, heraldry, transport, trades and travel.

That of course is true. What slightly diminished it as an excuse for being nerdy and left me still feeling open to gentle ridicule, is that most inn signs look good from a distance but if you get up close they are not great works of art.

But then I discovered the series of signs created by Kathleen Lindsley for Samuel Webster’s West Riding pubs in the 1980s and I could produce my camera without fear of scorn.   KL blog 1These wood engravings would look at home in any gallery. They were commissioned by Pentagram, the upmarket design agency with blue-chip clients like the V&A, the Art Institute of Chicago, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cosmopolitan, Tiffany and Alexander McQueen. Whichever partner came up with the idea of using Kathleen Lindsley had a stroke of genius.

Born in Gibraltar, she studied art at Newcastle upon Tyne and started to specialise in wood engraving in the 1970s. In 1987 she moved to live in Skye where much of her work is capturing that isolated, rugged but beautiful spot in all its moods.

The 1980s commission was to re-brand the brewery. Of course, back in those less trendy marketing days, it wasn’t described as re-branding, rather it was ‘to fashion a new identity for Samuel Webster: an identity that would reflect both the long family tradition of the brewery and the individual character of its pubs.’ KL blog 2But Kathleen Lindsley did more. She produced a series of engravings that have all the qualities of Yorkshire – power, beauty, subtlety, humour, tradition and sense of place. The bold black and white signs, with occasional splashes of colour, work well from a distance but they have enough interesting detail to make close-up study worthwhile.

Indeed, Pentagram were so impressed they produced an exquisite little book in a limited edition of 350 copies, printed on Zerkall mould-made paper signed and number by the artist. I paid £80 for No81, the most I have ever paid for a book, but it turns out to have been a bargain because according to the internet, there currently appear to be only five copies available around the world, and all of them more expensive than that.

I love many of the designs – the monk in the Mowbray Arms, Victoria at two different stages of her life, the old boy at the Traveller’s Rest, the dramatic Noah’s Ark and the Commercial Inn which reminds me of some of my older colleagues when I was a rookie sales rep at Penguin Books.

But if I were only allowed one, it would have to be The Stocks Arms at Northowram which features at the top of this piece. When I first saw it, I thought it must be based on a local legend but I could find no mention of it. Why is the prisoner playing the fiddle? Why only one leg in the stocks? And why that hint of a smile?

Eventually, thanks to the internet, I was able to put those questions to the artist herself. She replied: ‘When I designed these signs in the early eighties I had no easy access to information about the origin of the names. I came across an early woodcut (C17 or C18?) which fitted the bill, and cribbed it!’

Looks like I may have to invent my own legend. Or do you know better?

You can see more of the Samuel Webster inn signs on Kathleen Lindsley’s website along with many of her other work.


One of the sad things about writing this piece was discovering when I looked up some of the pubs on google, that many of them have gone the way of so many country pubs and closed. It seems the local, ‘where everybody knows your name’ is fast becoming a part of history.

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