Memories of Calderdale

Clifton Common: Life as a child 65 years ago


David Shaw

The railway through Clifton was an empty line when I was a child. The station had been closed in 1931, 2 weeks after my parents had arrived back from honeymoon in Llandudno.

However the odd train could still pass as the tracks were still there.

As we played in the fields of Cock Walk Farm everyday, we never saw anything pass on the railway line which lay a few fields below, but between us & Brighouse half a mile away.

Then one day in the 1950s, as we played our usual game of football or cricket depending on the season, we saw an amazing site in the distance.

It was a column of steam arising from Oak Hill woods and moving slowly through the tree canopy.

Eventually a locomotive appeared with at 1 or 2 carriages, one of which was memorable as it was most unusual with a balcony at the rear, an observation car.

This was the engineers checking the state of the line, although we did not realise that this was the final survey of the line, until they pulled it up a few months later.

What was left of the rotted sleepers was collected over the coming years for our bonfires.

Whilst Clifton in our day appeared to be a medieval idyll, with fields that grew mushrooms, this was far from the case, and all around us as we played were the remains of the industrial village it had once been.

The coalmines were closed, but in the village were the pit hills, the final tips and the closed shafts.

Of more relevance to us on the Common was the remains of the hauling line which had gone through the fields to the canal basin. As we avoided getting our football into the large cutting, blocked off at the ends in front of Cock walk farm, we did not realise that the huge pigs in the sunken pigsty were in a section of this cutting.

There was other evidence of the past at the end of America Lane. Near the barn in the fields was a small well at the end of a small usually almost empty stream. The well was most unusual as it and the stream were yellow, we assumed this was iron stained water, and I think that at times the appearance was of yellow cobwebs.

That this was a sign of minerals in the area and the old coal workings lower down the hill on the common, was to be confirmed in the mid 1960s when the Common suddenly one day reverted to being an industrial area.

There appeared to have been no prior consultation, public meetings or demonstrations before the day when the large scraping machines turned up in the fields at the back of our garden, and began to remove opencast coal on a huge scale all the way across the Common, for the next 2 years.

We were left with a view of spoil heaps perhaps 30 ft. high bordering deep valleys, like the surface of the moon instead of the green fields and the hills at the other side of the valley.

Climbing around at the end of the day when the machines had stopped it was possible to see at least one early industrial mine gallery, about 3ft. square cut in section as it went from America Lane towards Railway Rd. I cannot be sure if it started at the lower part of the hill or above as an entry point.

It was clearly evident that many of the workers must have been children, working by candle, in long deep tunnels. The common was later reinstated to a greenfield situation, with much tipping of dubious textile material etc.

This may be why the lane photographed from Railway rd in the 21st cent. Looking up into this area goes nowhere, much to the puzzlement of the photographer, although as I recall it only ever went to the well and the barn if it extended through the field as a track, at all.

It was never in the 1950s an full extension of America Lane down to Railway rd.

Herbert Haines was a Norfolk man, with a Norfolk accent

He lived in the council houses at the Kirklees end of the village, but after his employment as the local lamplighter was done, would come down to the Common side abovere the old railway Station to tend his large area of allotment.

He sold the produce around the local streets in the summer and on occasion I would help with deliveries and orders.

Mr Haines also kept the occasional pig, fed on the traditional pig swill, boiled in a shed and a mongrel dog Dusky, who wore a flat cap, glasses and a pipe when fully dressed.

The annual bonfire which on the year of the hawthorn hedge clipping on the Common was really double size, was constructed by him in the next field, behind the bottom houses.

However with increasing reading of the local history an interesting question has posed itself.

I have read that Kershaw's, the great 19th century nurserymen of the town, who may well have landscaped Ashgrove large house and grounds, derelict in my time, bought a plot of land in Clifton about 1860, and used it to grow their stock.

I suspect that, as I once helped to carry, the allotment produce from field, which was divided into small plots, that this was the site of their plots.

I can think of no other area of Clifton that fits the pattern.

Was this their plot? Perhaps study of the 19th century maps will provide the answer.

In the early 1950s, whilst playing in the fields, Mr Dilley rounded up some of the boys to form the Church choir.

The subsequent choirmaster was Hubert White, who found us a still wild tribe, certainly on the day when we gathered elderberry branches entering the church for Choir practice to shouts of Hosanna.

Children from the Common side usually went to school in Brighouse and had only occasional contact when very young with the children of the village, except through Church and chapel, until older.

Even at a young age it was common for us to wander the lower fields of the village, which were cultivated, although not by machinery on any great scale.

In winter they became the sites of the various toboggan runs.

Access was for us unrestricted.

The local farmers were John Sykes, of Cock Walk farm, whose breakfast mushrooms I picked in his fields, and the laconic wearer of a perennial flat hat Willie Snowball, of Vine farm.

He lived with his long surviving sister Doris.

Willie Snowball delivered the local milk, on a daily basis, 6 days a week.

When I was very young in the late 1940s early 1950s, it was in a large milk churn from which he ladeled out the measures, sometimes a gill was mentioned. I suppose it was pre-pasturisation.

Visiting each morning to spend a long period talking about the weather, moon quarters and the village scandal, whilst leaning against the door frame, smoking his habitual Woodbine.

For my mother, he was the contact with the upper village, which although we had only been in Clifton since 1931, contained many families to whom she was related in the 19th century, as the daughter of a Crowther.

It was Willie who cut the hawthorn hedges and ploughed the fields with his 2 fine white shire horses Blossom and her son Farmer.

They were ridden by him and Charlie Ingle at the head of the Coronation parade in the village, and clearly were delighted to lead the Faff & Fuffen Band, mainly playing combs, as we past the old Clifton tradition of the piglet on the wall.

I was in the parade in a costume covered in royal newspaper pictures, which won me First prize, a £1 note.

The bonfire was re-scheduled to the Saturday, due to the inclement weather on the day.

We roamed his fields, moving the hawthorn clippings and once helping with the harvest. We also visited the farm area, I recall an attempt to sledge on the Eiger-like Saville, and also to pick a sack from a barn full of frosted potatoes in a year of shortage.

A lorry full of sheep, somehow escaped near where we were playing. Willie soon made an appearance, dressed as I had never seen him before or ever saw anyone again, to organise the rounding up.

On top of his characteristic clothes and flat hat he was wearing a waistcoat with many slots, from which he carried a range of pincer like implements, presumably for the handling of sheep.

I visited a display of old farming implements once at York Castle museum, but could identify nothing of that type. A very rare occurrence.

He, like most farmers, never went as far as I know, on holiday and I can remember his interest in the crops and fields on the odd occasion when he visited presumably the East coast. The sea never got a mention

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:26 / 30th May 2021 / 10290

Page Ref: M_37

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