Friday, May 28, 2010

Sepia Saturday 25 : Fowler Beanland

I am leaving Enoch Burnett behind and switching to my mothers' family : the Beanlands. And my photograph this week probably - and I stress the probably - features Fowler Beanland, my mothers' uncle. You will already be familiar with Fowler as he was the postcard collector and it is his collection dating back to the first decade of the twentieth century which now forms the bulk of my collection. This particular photograph was amongst the postcards I acquired from my mother. We know that Fowler was a keen bowler and also that he lived in Longtown, Cumbria, so there is a good chance that Fowler is one of eight men in this splendid photograph.. But which is Fowler?

Fowler was born in June 1872 and therefore would have been thirty-three when the photograph was taken. I have searched the faces looking for some family resemblance, but there is nothing obvious. Is that a familiar smile on the face of the man on the left? Is that a Beanland profile on the right? The more I look, the less certain I become. I did meet Fowler when I was very young - he died when I was eleven - but by then he was very old and I was too busy leafing through his postcard album to pay any attention to the man himself.

He never married and lived the last thirty or so years of his life with his nephew David. I have begun to sketch out the complex relationships of the Beanlands : the amazing thing was how such large Victorian families were pared down to size by a combination of childhood deaths and a strange antipathy to marriage and parenthood. You might be as well cutting out and keeping the above diagram - I have a feeling I will be coming back to it.

This And That And The Clarion Cycling Club

Another end of the week round-up of miscellaneous jottings - the accumulated fluff at the bottom of the drawer of my subconscious mind.

THIS week seems to have been one of those weeks when things have constantly interfered with the serious business of a little harmless blogging.  Therefore I need to apologise for not getting around to doing all the things I had promised to do - like posting more of the cards from the Victorian card set. More importantly, I need to apologise for not doing the rounds and visiting the many, many blogs that I count as my favourites. I will hopefully catch up over the coming few days, but we have a long Bank Holiday weekend coming up here in the UK and therefore I might find myself called upon to do jolly things like go shopping or clean the house. Before too long the Lad will be back at University and the Good Lady Wife safely back at work and I can concentrate on the more important aspects of living.

THAT includes, of course, beer. And beer is one of the things that has been occupying my mind over recent days because I have 40 pint of the stuff slowly fermenting away in the garage. My good friend Mark and I have launched ourselves into the cheery hobby of home-brewing with considerable enthusiasm : co-ordinating our brewing efforts so, over the course of a weekend in a few weeks time, we can sample each others' efforts. My brew seems to be fermenting quite well (see the photograph) and this weekend I can hopefully transfer it from the mash tub to the waiting keg. I have decided to name my first brew, Bloggers' Bitter, and I will provide detailed tasting notes when the first pint is eventually drawn.

I am going to the Theatre on Saturday to see a play about the CLARION CYCLING CLUB, Directed by my good friend - and News From Nowhere reader -  Mike Lucas, the musical play tells the story of the early twentieth century socialist cycling club, the members of which would combine their love of cycling and spreading the socialist message. Although the hay-day of the Club was 100 years ago, it still exists today and I did once spend a night at its last surviving hostel which was in Lancashire. I featured a photograph which was taken during my stay there on my Daily Photo Blog a couple of years ago. The performance of "Pedal Power" on Saturday marks the start of the 2010 national tour by the wonderful Mikron Theatre Company. The show will be visiting most parts of England during the coming months - see the Mikron website for details of the tour dates.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Postcard Of The Week : The Flying Dutchman

My postcard of the week is a curious thing for a whole variety of reasons. Posted in Dusseldorf, Germany in December 1905, it was addressed - and presumably delivered - to the sparingly described Mrs Roberts of Bramley, Near Rotherham, Yorkshire. The message, as best as I can make it out, is as follows :

"Kaiser Wilhelm Ring 40, Dusseldorf, Obercassel.
A Merry Xmas & Happy New Year. We are settled here for 2 years. We had intended coming north this year, but are postponing it for another year, as we want the children to reap the benefit of the language. We are enjoying the Operas & Concerts. We go once, and sometimes twice a week. Frank understands and speaks a good deal now We have been here 6 weeks now. I have to go backwards and forwards to England pretty often as I am acting Mayoress of (Thorne?) for my brother whose wife is ill. I go over for 2 balls 19th / 20th Jan. Hoping you are all well. Love from us. J A Tilcomb"

And so to the questions. Who was J A Tilcomb and what was she - and presumably her family - doing in Germany in 1905. It would appear that the education of the children rather than employment was a prime factor in the location of the family which heavily hints at some form of independent financial means. The fact that JAT's brother was Mayor of a town (the best interpretation I can make is Thorne which is a town in Yorkshire about ten miles or so away from Rotherham) also suggests a certain social position. The ability to frequently return to England for balls as part of her duties as Acting Mayoress probably means that money is not a major issue. The address that the Tilcombs were staying at seems to be Kaiser Wilhelm Ring 40, Dusseldorf, and if this is the case, the building is still standing and, from what I can see from Google Earth, it is a very substantial residence. But perhaps the most intriguing question is what happened to Frank (the son of the family?) : a young man, fluent in German. Ten years later - in 1915 - where did he find himself? So many questions, so many stories.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Magpie Tales 15 : Leaden-Grey Gills

They say that time heals. It doesn't. Maybe time causes the wound to scab over, providing a degree of protection so that a form of life can carry on : but it doesn't heal. Given enough time, the scar might fade : but still the pattern of the trauma is traced on each new layer of epidermis with all the assurance of a tattooist's needle : it never heals. The pain can resurface in response to the most oblique summons. A voice that mirrors a long silenced voice. A look. An object. And that power of the pain of loss to reappear with all of its original force hardly blunted, does not diminish with time. Such pain is not subject to an inverse square law : such pain is a universal constant. Ask Beth, she could tell you. She could explain how a sound could transport you back thirty years. She could tell you how an object can move your fragile emotions faster than the speed of light itself. Ask her. Ask her as she sorts through that tray of bracelets, charms and rings. Ask her as her fingers brush the leaden-grey gills of the tiny fish.

* * * *

It had been hell. It was hell. The waves, barbed with ice crystals, smashed against the wailing timbers of the "Agatha Jane" with a remorselessness that bordered on persecution. Matt told himself that they would make it, that things would come right. This was the Irish Sea not some far flung herring bank in the Arctic Ocean. If it had been possible to see through the driving rain, over the raging peaks of water, through the darkness of the night, home was but a few dozen miles away. But home was a lifetime away, and he knew with a certainty that sent a chill down his spine that matched the coffin cold of the sea spray, he knew that home was a life away. He knew that the forces acting against him were too strong. He knew that what was being acted out here, ten miles south-west of Chicken Rock Light, was merely another scene in an age-old play that relentlessly proved the dominance of the forces of nature over the designs of men. He knew that he would lose all : his home, his family, Elizabeth, his future. All for the leaden-grey gills of these cursed fish.

For more interpretations on the theme go to the Magpie Tales Blog

Monday, May 24, 2010

Play Your Cards Right

I came across a strange deck of Victorian cards this weekend, tucked away inside of a cigar case which, I think, my friend Janie gave me a few years ago. I have a feeling that she was giving me the cigar case and the cards were a bonus find. But what a find and what a game. That is both a comment and a question - what game could it be? In the set I have, there are 40 cards : 10 groups of four cards each. Each group has both a colour drawing and a descriptive title. Could this be an early form of "Happy Families" perhaps, or a kind of snap game? I have fed a few of the descriptions into Google and found just one hit : someone selling a similar set of Victorian cards (although not as complete) in New Zealand earlier this year. From the description, they had no idea what the game was called or how it was played either.

I can sympathise with the poor fellow with the cut face. I find this morning that it isn't my face which is covered with plasters, but my hands. The fine weather over the weekend brought about a rapid change of format to the party we had planned and in extra-quick time the lawn had to be mowed and the BBQ scrubbed. I finished up with blisters all over my hands which is an indication of, not how hard I worked, but how soft I have grown during my gentle decline into old age.

Part of the reason for the party was to celebrate The Lad (and his girlfriend Heather) having got through their second year exams. In a few days time they will start the practical training and then before the end of next month they will be going out on placement into the hospitals of South Yorkshire. Congratulations to both of them - and commiserations with the poor folk of South Yorkshire who could just possibly wake up in hospital and find The Lad gazing down at them and scratching his head in puzzled amusement.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sepia Saturday 24 : Charabanc To New Brighton

In a remarkable and uncharacteristic show of logical organisation, I have another photograph of Enoch Burnett this week. The photograph shows a party on what must have been an outing to the seaside. I suspect that it was taken in the 1930s as Enoch died in 1948 and I can't see that there would have been spare fuel to take people to the seaside during the war. Maybe it was a charabanc trip from the local chapel in Bradford, maybe it was a pub outing : nobody knows and fewer care. I am able to identify my grandparents thanks to a penciled inscription on the back and I have marked them on this following enlargement.

Who the rest are, I don't know. A more interesting question is where was the photograph taken. The large building in the foreground looked too substantial to be another lighthouse and the angle of the curve wasn't quite right. After gazing at the building for a while I suddenly thought I recognised it from seaside trips of my own as a young lad. I checked a number of photographs on-line and I am now certain that the original photograph was taken in New Brighton, just across the River Mersey from the port of Liverpool. You can make out the same massive stone walls and the same relationship with the lighthouse in this modern photograph.

Both the old fort and the lighthouse are still standing. According to what I have been able to discover, the old fort is used as an occasional rock concert venue whilst the lighthouse can be hired as a place for newly-weds to spend their wedding night! Quite what Enoch and Harriet-Ellen would have made of all that I can't imagine.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

This And That And The Floral Dance

Another end of the week round-up of miscellaneous jottings - the accumulated fluff at the bottom of the drawer of my subconscious mind. This week, music seems to be at the forefront on my mind.

At the Antiques Fair last weekend I managed to buy a few copies of Picture Post magazine dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. At 50p each (about 75c I guess) they seemed a reasonable buy and I was delighted to find some excellent discoveries when I got home. One is a classic article from 1939 on "housemaids" which not only provides a wonderful look at British society seventy years ago but the photographs are by Bill Brandt (they are unacknowledged but you couldn't mistake them) I will return to that article in more detail at a later date. There was another article from a 1949 issue entitled "A New Jazz Age" which captures the very beginnings of the Traditional Jazz revival movement in pictures. Never mind 50 pence - some of this stuff is near priceless.

I have had the lyrics of a Lorenz Hart song going through my mind all week (you know what it's like, a song appears on your play-list and just seems to stick). It is the magnificent 1937 composition, "I Wish I Were In Love Again" and it must be one of the cleverest songs ever written. I am sure most people will be familiar with it but I am giving you a couple of verses just to implant it in your mind where, no doubt, it will stay for the next seven days.

"The broken dates - the endless waits,
The lovely loving - and the hateful hates,
The conversation - with the flying plates,
I wish I were in love again.
When love congeals - it soon reveals,
The faint aroma - of performing seals,
The double-crossing - of a pair of heals.
I wish I were in love again".

Last Saturday night, the Good Lady Wife and I went to a concert by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band at the local church hall. Brighouse is only a couple of miles from where we live - and Rastrick is even closer - and we are lucky to have such a world renowned brass band on our doorstep. The band is big and the church hall was small and the sound was powerful. At one stage I even turned my Cochlear implant off and just "felt" the music. At the end of the concert, as an encore, the band played the one tune they will always be associated with - their 1977 version of the Floral Dance. Unlikely as it may sound this became a No 1 hit for them and led to several appearances on Top Of The Pops. There is a YouTube video dating back to that time which is a bit faded and scratchy, but - in exactly the same way as the Picture Post article - is evocative of a time gone by. I will leave you with it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Theme Thursday : Fat Dog To The Big Apple

Regular readers may be familiar with my "Fat Dog To The Big Apple" Blog. I still can't decide whether to consolidate it into the main News from Nowhere Blog or leave it as a separate entity. This week's theme for Theme Thursday is "Pets" so it provides me with an opportunity of posting the latest Fat Dog episode here. For those unfamiliar with the project, Fat Dog is an exercise in virtual travel. Each day my dog Amy and I walk the streets of West Yorkshire but we carefully note our weekly distance and - when we can remember which, sadly, isn't every week - transfer it, via Google Earth, onto a virtual walk from Los Angeles to New York City. So far, after 59 weeks, we have got mid-way up the Oregon coast. Here is our latest weekly postcard.

Click the postcard to enlarge

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Postcard Of The Week: Walter Has A Moan

This week's postcard is another new acquisition. It is an early colour-tinted picture of Brighouse, which is just a couple of miles down the road from where I live. It was the local connection which attracted me to the card, but I was also quite taken for the message on the reverse which somehow seems to sum up the Yorkshire character. The card was sent in April 1905 by someone called Walter to Dorothy Helliwell (sweetheart, relative, friend ... who knows) who lived in Lytham, Lancashire. In typically laconic Yorkshire style, Walter points out that it is only three weeks to Easter and then complains that Dorothy's last card didn't have a stamp on it and he had been forced to pay a penny to receive it. Add to this penny the further halfpenny it cost Walter to send his terse billet-doux and it is clear that a Yorkshireman is always prepared to shed out his hard-earned brass for a good moan.

With postcards of local scenes I can never resist doing a "then-and-now" with them so yesterday I went in search of the exact spot the picture must have been taken from. It wasn't too difficult to find a hundred and five years down the line, the arched entryway and the distinctive bay windows provided useful locational clues. I couldn't manage to get a shot from exactly the same angle as the postcard as that would have entailed me standing in the middle of what is a busy main road. Who knows I might have got knocked down and that would have really have given me something to moan about.

See other Postcard Of The Week posts on News From Nowhere
See other Then and Now posts on Alan Burnett's Daily Photo Blog

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tobias Braybrook Takes Me On A Strange Journey

The Good Lady Wife and I went to an Antique Fare on Sunday (no, I didn't buy a willow plate) and, amongst other things, I came away with four small Victorian photographs of the type that are known as carte de visites (CDV). These small photographic portraits were popular in the 1880s and 1890s and they gave rise to a flowering of local photographic studios in the towns and cities of Britain. The joy of these little things - which only cost me 50 pence each - is not just reading the faces (which can be a timeless occupation in itself) - but also the wonderfully printed reverse sides which feature the business details of the photographic studios.

The example I am featuring here is a delightful portrait of a young woman which was taken by the North-Eastern photographer, Tobias Braybrook. It appears that Braybrook was active in West Hartlepool in the 1880s and 1890s and I am sure that there must be hundreds of these small CDV's of his around. But there is something charming about it, something that makes me want to treasure it. I suspect I have just become a collector of CDV's so you can expect to see more on News From Nowhere from time to time.

One result from Googling Tobias Braybrook was to find a link to a great little tale written by his great, great, great niece who, a few years ago, was writing an on-line journal under the name of radiaor_grrrl. She spins a strange story of meeting her long-dead photographer antecedent whilst he was selling ice-creams on the sea front at Marske!  Another example of how little things can take you on the strangest journeys.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Magpie Tales : The Smudged Transfer

I have been meaning to have a go at Willow's wonderful Magpie Tales for weeks and weeks. But something has always got in the way and prevented me. This, of course, is a lie : it is just that I have never been able to work up the necessary courage. Looks like I've finally run out of excuses.

Alice Baines walked down Watton Street towards the factory, the clatter of her wooden-soled shoes cutting through the morning stillness with granite-like severity. She was vaguely aware of other figures making their way to Minton’s , but these early morning trips to work tended to be solitary excursions with none of the convivial fellowship of homecoming. At the end of the day the pot girls would walk together , laugh together, shout and occasionally scream together as they climbed the stone sets up Hanley Bank and headed towards the smoke-stained terraces that spread like the folds of a concertina along the Burslam Ridge.  But at this early hour Alice and the dozens of other factory-bound girls tried to cling to the memory of their recently vacated beds as if the memory itself could provide comfort and protection from the biting wind that gusted down from the far off mountains.

But it wasn’t just the breeze that sent a chill down Alice’s spine that Monday morning.  That Welsh-whipped wind was aided by sadness and abetted by an unwelcome familiarity with mortality. There probably comes a time in everyone’s life when the realisation that life is a finite affair dawns on them with gut-wrenching certainty. For 24 year old Alice Baines, that moment had been yesterday, Sunday 19th January 1854. The day Aunt Ruth had died. For as long as she could remember, Aunt Ruth had been a part of Alice’s life - cooking oat cakes for her Cousin Tommy and herself, sharing a glass of stout with her mother, rubbing the pain of bumps away, smoothing out the emotional care lines of life. And now Ruth was no more, snatched from life by some unspoken disease that had been cleaving its way through the narrow streets of the Potteries for much of the winter.

Alice’s sense of loss  was accompanied by an even more powerful sense of shock :  shock that the world could continue on as though nothing had happened.  The Pot Banks could still send out their clouds of acrid smoke, the steam whistles could still split the morning mist, the carters’ horse could still spark the stone cobbles : all without the person who had been a central part of life itself.  And with the shock came the realisation that at some point in the future – maybe in forty years, maybe in forty days – the same would be true of Alice herself.  The world would go on without her and the evidence of her very existence would quickly vanish like condensing steam. No religious education had prepared her for this rendezvous with mortality. No Sunday School teacher, no circuit preacher, no travelling evangelist had offered an explanation. Alice wanted to know what would live on when she, like Aunt Ruth, had gone. Nobody could tell her.

Such thoughts accompanied Alice through the brick arch entrance to Mintons’ Factory.  They walked with her down the stone floored corridor that led to the Transfer Room. They occupied her senses as she took her place amongst  the long row of girls who attached the printed transfers to the white china plates and with practiced skill brushed on the dark blue paint to form the highlights of the traditional willow pattern.

“Alice Baines, look what tha doing lass!” The harsh voice of Josh Thurlston, the Transfer Room Overlooker broke through Alice’s morose mood. “Tha’s smudged that ‘un”, he said, picking the plate up and roughly stacking it next to the pile of seconds and rejects in the corner.  “Start thinking of thy job lass, ‘stead of daydreaming, else tha’ll have no job to think of”.  Alice tried her best to forget about mortality, about death and about what would live on, to cast such thoughts aside like the willow pattern plate with the smudged transfer.

* * * *

Ben headed for the exit of the Antiques Fare, satisfied with the haul he had managed to gather together. The small hall table was well made and had a pleasing patina that suggested real age rather than something sprayed from a bottle. The print might be run of the mill, but it was Victorian run of the mill, well framed and in good condition. The only thing that fell short of his usual standards was that odd little willow pattern plate, the one with the smudged transfer print. He had no idea why he had bought it. It was nothing special. It probably started life as a reject and had gone downhill ever since. But there was something about it, some life-force which had protected it down the years, saved it from the rubbish dumps and the municipal garbage piles. Something which lived on. 

For more interpretations on the theme go to the Magpie Tales Blog

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sepia Saturday 23 : I Blame Enoch

Looking back at my Sepia Saturday posts, one thing I notice is the overwhelming sense of disorganisation with regards to my weekly postings. Whilst others take a structured and logical approach to their family history, I flip from branch to branch of my family tree like a demented gibbon (or, for my British readers, like an expense-claiming politician). Here we are at Week 23 and we have Enoch again (you met him in week 17. his grandsons in week 16 and his son in week 21). The way things are going, you might meet his father next year and his third cousin by the end of the decade. I long to be systematised, I crave design. I want neat little diagrams in leather-bound books fixing forever the exact relationship between Cousin Ada and Great Aunt Ruth-Annie. 

So I start with Enoch. Born in the fourth quarter of 1878 in Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the son of John Burnett, a weaving over-looker, and Phoebe Broadbent. John was a man on the up living in a town on the up. Whilst it was quite acceptable for his daughters to follow him into the mill, he wanted something better for his sons. The eldest son, Israel, was apprenticed to a butcher and would go on to own a butchers' shop in Bradford. The youngest son, Albert, was apprenticed to a coachbuilder and would go on to run a small business near Manchester. But Enoch, the middle son, was different. Whilst the others had firm goals and planned campaigns to achieve them, Enoch had a wondering mind. He joined a travelling funfair for a time and  flipped from one thing to another. Sometimes he was a window cleaner, sometimes a clock repairer. Often he was both at the same time. He obviously had difficulty sticking to one thing or in taking a systematised approach to life.

I have started a file. Written "Enoch Burnett" in large letters on the cover. I have added one or two census records and started to draw little boxes on squared paper. But as I examine the 1881 census I notice that the chap living next door is listed as a "cow keeper" whilst his son is listed as a "book keeper". How unusual. How could anyone keep cows in the middle of industrial Bradford? I start working my way through old books and searching through old records : all thoughts of organisation and structure evaporate as I embrace the circuitous with the fondness of an old friend. So I have no idea what Sepia Saturday offering you will get next week, but the chances are that there will be no logic to it. It's in my genes. I blame Enoch.

Go to the Sepia Saturday Blog for links to other Sepia Saturday posts.
Links to my other Sepia Saturday posts.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This And That And Thomas Cromwell

Another end of the week round-up of miscellaneous jottings - the accumulated fluff at the bottom of the drawer of my subconscious mind. This week it seems to have a literary theme to it.

The other day I downloaded the Free Audiobooks App for my iPhone and I have become a great fan. With the election over and the football season at an end, the range of podcasts to keep me entertained whilst I walk Amy is somewhat limited. Audiobooks, which makes use of the range of readings available on the LibriVox website, plugs any gap, even on the longest of walks. LibriVox is the Internet at its best: free of charge, volunteer-based, and great quality. Free Audiobooks is the iPhone App at its best : well-designed, simple to use and costing less than a cup of coffee. Currently I am listening an fine reading of Arnold Bennett's "Tales of the Five Towns". Excellent stuff.

Talking of Arnold Bennett, I was in Leeds on Wednesday and decided on a lunch-time pint in the wonderfully old Ship Inn. I am never happy having a pint without a good book to read and therefore I stopped off at Waterstones for a browse. I have read most of Arnold Bennett's books, but I did spot a slim volume called "The Human Machine" by Bennett which I had never heard of before. It was published by a small publishing house that specialises in the publication and distribution of rare and out of print books. So Arnold Bennett and I went off for a pint at the Ship. A pint of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin later I discovered why the book had been out of print for so long. Far from excellent stuff. At least it shows that even the best writers can write a poor book.

Talking of books, I need some advice. So far I have managed to plough through 307 pages of Hilary Mantel's epic best-seller "Wolf Hall". There are a further 341 pages to go and I face the prospect with anything but unrestrained joy. Whilst it is well written and interesting from an historical perspective, I do find it lacking in pace. It is the kind of book that Readers' Digest Condensed Books was invented for. What I need to know from anyone who has managed all 600+ pages is, is it worth it? Or is life too short to sit alongside Thomas Cromwell watching paint dry?

Finally, a reminder that the Linky Sign Up for Sepia Saturday is up on the Sepia Saturday Blog. Most people now tend to link after posting so you will probably have to wait until Saturday to see what's on offer. But, unlike Arnold Bennett and Wolf Hall, satisfaction is guaranteed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Postcard of the Week : The New Spa, Bridlington

Valentine Postcard circa 1908. Postally unused.
My postcard of the week shows the Yorkshire seaside resort of Bridlington, one of our family's favourite seaside destination when I was young. Indeed, one of my earliest memories is of the little boating lake that was located next to the Spa complex. I remember it as anything but little : it was vast, the size of the Atlantic at least, and the highspot of my holiday would be when my father, brother and myself would set sail in a small rowing boat in search of exotic lands.

The re-developed Spa Complex in 2008
The New Spa and Gardens were built in 1896 as a private development designed to provide much needed visitor attractions to what, until then, had been predominantly a fishing town. For 6d (sixpence in old money, two-and-a-half modern pence) you could get a day ticket which would allow you to explore five acres of gardens, listen to a band playing, take refreshments in the cafe, or go to a concert in the theatre. Initially it was a great success, but in 1906 - shortly before the above picture must have been taken - the theatre was devastated by a fire. A new building was quickly erected and the "New Spa Opera House" became a popular venue for the new craze in moving pictures (it was a opera house in name only). In 1919 the complex was bought by the local Council who demolished the less-than-grand Opera House and built the much grander Spa Royal Hall in its place. But the complex seemed to be plagued with bad luck and in 1932 it burnt down yet again. A new Royal Hall was built and that one seems to have survived the years, although it has recently been subject to a major redevelopment and modernisation.

I am not sure if the boating lake is still there. I must try and get to Bridlington sometime over the summer and take a look. If it is, I will hire a rowing boat and go in search of exotic lands. That's a promise.

See other Postcard of the Week posts on News from Nowhere

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Great Yorkshire Pubs : The Three Nuns, Mirfield

The Three Nuns : Leeds Road, Mirfield, West Yorkshire WF14 0BY   Tel. 01924 494233

Step into the Three Nuns Inn near Mirfield and you step into a typical 1930s road-house. It is the kind of place that was built with motor coaches and charabancs in mind, a place of trilby hats and potted meat sandwiches. Or rather it was, when it was built seventy-odd years ago. These days it is a "family pub" with a heavy emphasis on food : fighting hard with Special Offers and Party Packages to fill those near cavernous paneled rooms. The great bar which faces you when you enter the pub remains long enough to serve a coach party on its way to Blackpool: but these days the holiday-makers have headed for Spain and the bar is an architectural feature rather than a retail necessity.

I stepped into the Three Nuns the other day and had a pint of Tetley's Cask beer. "Brewed in Yorkshire", the plaque on the beer pump proclaimed, "but not for long" I mumbled to myself as I took an appreciative sip of the smooth, hoppy beer. Carlsberg UK - the current owners of Tetley's - have announced that, as of next year, Tetley's Cask Ales will be brewed in Wolverhampton : and Wolverhampton is a very long way from Yorkshire. As tears of nostalgia dripped into my emptying pint glass, I glanced around the near-empty bar and marveled at the scale of it. It has been built in that mock-Tudor style that was popular with pub architects in the 1930s. You feel that you could have a decent game of real tennis in the room and nobody would notice and nobody would care. It might be plastic history, but it is history. And in many ways the Three Nuns has more than enough history to adequately fill all its' cavernous rooms.

Whilst the new road-house was only built in 1939 it replaced an old Inn that was supposed to date back to the end of the fifteenth century (curse, curse and curse again whoever agreed to that particular bit of modernisation). It stands close to the site of Kirklees Priory and the old Inn was supposedly founded by three nuns - Katherine Grice, Joan Leverthorpe and Cecilia Topcliffe - who were forced out of the Priory when it was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s. Legend states that Robin Hood died close to Kirklees Priory in the fourteenth century, having been poisoned by the Prioress there, and an old - and it must be said, fake, - gravestone can still be found in adjacent woods claiming to be final resting place of Robin Hood's .

Moving forward a few hundred years, Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have rested in the old Inn on his way to fight at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. Fast forward another couple of hundred years and you might have found the bar full of pipe-smoke, intrigue, and revolutionary sentiment, as the Inn was a favoured meeting place of Luddites as they drew up their demands for fair wages and their plans for direct action against mill owners. A few years later Charlotte Bronte would have known the Inn well : she was both a student and a teacher at Roe Head School, a few hundred yards away. Her biographer, Mrs Gaskell, mentions the Inn and wonders about its origins in her "Life of Charlotte Bronte". During the last century there were frequent tales of ghostly visits and haunted noises (which would have been much more fitting in the context of the old Inn rather than the new road-house) and these resulted in an exorcism being carried out in the pub in 1991. I may be a cynic, but I suspect that the exorcism was more about attracting visitors than discouraging ghosts.

Given the current state of British pubs and their empty bars and bankrupt landlords, a bit of company as you sip your beer is not a bad thing. The Three Nuns may not be a beautiful pub and it certainly isn't an old pub. But as a place where you can sit down and enjoy a quiet pint with Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Henry VIII, Charlotte Bronte, Mrs Gaskell and a bunch of Luddite revolutionaries - it is near unique.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...