Memories of Calderdale

Rastrick Common & Sowerby Bridge


Elizabeth Whitmarsh

I was 4 years old when I moved to Calderdale with my family. Born in Goole – which was then in the West riding of Yorkshire – we were to move to a place called Sowerby Bridge. I did not know it then but all my ancestors came from the area. But before I saw my new home I was sent off to my grandparents in Rastrick Common so that I was out of the way during the move. I had never been away by myself and I was very jealous of my two elder brothers who were allowed to help.

My Granny's house in Rastrick common always had a strange and memorable smell as they had gas lighting that hissed and spluttered on the wall and gave out a weird fluorescent glow. The lavatory was down the yard, a scary spidery place with sheets of newspaper torn up and hanging on the door on a piece of string, which served as – very scratchy – toilet paper. At night we each had our own po under the bed which we had to empty in the morning.

Granny made her own bread and baked everything on the big black coal fired range in the kitchen. She cleaned this regularly with something called Zebrite and she polished it until it shone. Every morning the front and back door step were scrubbed and yellow stoned or donkey stoned – and heaven help the first person who put a footmark upon it; usually poor granddad. Best of all was the secret bath which lay under the rag rug in front of the range. The water was put on the range to heat, the rug rolled back and a secret wooden door was lifted to reveal a bath set into the floor. Sitting in the flickering kitchen in front of a coal fire was the ultimate bathing experience. Of course, I did not have to empty it by hand afterwards as Granny did!

It was in Rastrick that I first tasted dried banana and bottled lemonade. I loved the banana – no fresh ones in the shops until long after the war – but I hated the fizzy lemonade. Granddad had an allotment, like most men did during this era, and I was able to go with him to pick strawberries and gooseberries.

At last the day came when Granny was to take me to my new home. We caught the tram down Rastrick common into Brighouse; the electric trolley bus from Brighouse to Halifax; and the green and orange double decker bus to Sowerby Bridge. I'd never been on public transport before so the journey was memorable. Sowerby Bridge was a very hilly place, especially compared with Goole! Our house was up Bolton Brow near Crow Wood Park. The whole area was dominated by the wool and cotton mills which clattered and clanked and crashed as we walked by. When you went inside, the noise was deafening and the workers all shouted at one another, only understanding each other by lip reading. I often went into Longbottom's Mill for they were friends of my father. The soot from the mills covered the whole area – it was years before I realised that rhododendron bushes had green leaves and not black ones! Or that sheep were white not dark grey!

It was not long before I started at Bolton Brow Infants School. Miss Horsfall was the Head Mistress and Miss Dearden my class teacher. Unfortunately 1947 was one of the worst winters in living history. We trudged up and down Bolton Brow with the snow to the top of our Wellington Boots. My mother was expecting another baby so it must have been exceptionally hard for her.

School was wonderful (for a while!) There were big pipes all round the classroom on which we dried our clothes daily, wet from the snow outside. The lavatories were outside and across the yard and were freezing cold. I tried to wait until I went home for my dinner – we all ate dinner at lunch time in those days; and had tea at 5 o'clock. Every morning in assembly we had to wave our handkerchiefs in the air to show we had one. Most were made of flour bags which were bleached and hemmed as there were none in the shops after the war. Woe betide anyone who forgot their hankie for they, in front of the whole school, had to go across to the dreaded lavatories and bring back 6 sheets of rough Izal paper to show everyone – inscribed as it was in green capital letters NOW WASH YOUR HANDS PLEASE! The handkerchiefs had to be put safely in our navy blue knicker pockets or in the trouser pockets of the boys. Girls never wore trousers even in these freezing conditions. Before we left assembly to go to class we had to line up to have our compulsory teaspoon of cod liver oil. Luckily I liked it although others had great difficulty in keeping it down. At playtime we all had to drink a third of a pint of milk – usually frozen solid – which came in little bottles with cardboard tops that were wonderful to wind wool around to make pom poms. We got the wool by unravelling old sweaters – my vests were also hand knitted and worn underneath a Liberty Bodice; a sort of fleecy waistcoat worn underneath out clothes.

Our new home had coal fires in every room and my brothers and I soon learned to dress and undress underneath the covers. The windows were frozen over on the inside each morning and we had many a burst pipe that winter. I thought they were quite exciting! Every Saturday morning my brother Roger would collect in our sweet ration coupons – 4 ounces each per week. We all put our order in and he went to Garforth's shop which was opposite Crow Wood Park. On his return he would share them all out, watched with eagle eyes by his siblings! I usually chose Dolly Mixtures because you got more. My father's favourites were Yorkshire Mixtures and the boys loved Mattocks toffee that was made in Halifax.

I made good progress at school and moved up into Miss Horsfall's class. I learned to read and write. I could do adds, takeaways, times and division. I was all set to leave school. It came as the most tremendous shock to find that I had not finished with this thing called school – there was another one to go to called Ellison Memorial School in Tuel Lane. There were no such things as orientation visits in those days and I never liked school again after this betrayal! But I did love to go down The Delph into Sowerby Bridge to the library every Saturday. Sometimes I read three books and went back again in the afternoon. The swimming baths were next to the library and sometimes I was allowed to go there. Unfortunately I had something called 'swollen glands' and dreadful bouts of tonsillitis. My mother had to put a hot Kaolin Poultice on my neck every morning and every eveniong. Dr. Morck became a family friend he was at our house so often.

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:26 / 30th May 2021 / 8389

Page Ref: M_2

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