Memories of Calderdale

Ash Grove, Clifton


David Shaw

I was born & brought up at number 54 Clifton Common, one of three houses built around 1931 by a man called Squire, costing (I believe) about £500, on land bought from the Armytage estate.

On the other side of the road was the large old property known as Ashgrove. Pretty well named as the Ash trees must have been over a hundred years old & were in significant numbers.

Who lived at Ashgrove you may wonder? In my day, the only occupant was an old lady by the name of Miss Ann Walker.

A visit with my mother over the road took me as a small child into the world of Miss Faversham, straight out of Great Expectations.

I only entered the kitchen, perhaps the once, where the scene seemed to be one of unwashed knives, forks & plates in the cobweb chaos, of a permanent world of spiders' webs.

I may never have needed another inoculation in my life after that visit.

Miss Walker dressed in all black was the full personification of Miss Faversham.

The only other time I recall seeing her was about 7.00 pm one November night, when she knocked at the door carrying a bundle of twigs for our Guy Fawkes bonfire. My reaction would be one of great disdain, we dealt in railway sleepers in Clifton Common.

Then one day, about 1954, Miss Walker was taken away, to a home. I expected that she had died, but she had not & the tough old bird lived on for about another 10 years, I think, & we visited once a home near Huddersfield.

There was this old house then, empty now in the middle of its significant landscaped grounds, with only a cousin & the solicitor to protect it.

Apparently, the solicitor was too slow & the word was there was cash in the house & the vandals arrived & ripped the place apart before it was finally boarded up.

My mother gave evidence in Wakefield, at the prosecution of some of the many who completed the job.

There we were, then living opposite, a gang of lads playing every day in the fields, what more natural than to have a wander, very carefully into the forbidding place.

After a while we went in to see, what we could see.

I remember the large old house about 4 storeys high, in old black ashlar stone, & the door in the side to lift things to the top storey. Always seemed a little commercial somehow to me.

The large overgrown grounds with the ashes & many holly trees, one still grows in my garden, here in Lancashire, 65 years later.

Nothing to see there then, but go round the back, into a square yard with out-houses & a large carriage house.

The out-houses were the place of wonder.

I can remember only one other thing of note: the piles of bound up old newspapers. Yorkshire Posts from the 1890/1900s. Even at that age, I saw for the first time the great names of Yorkshire, George Herbert Hirst & Wilfred Rhodes. Well, the reports were there & the photographs, but perhaps I added the names later.

A few years later, about 1960, it was Boxing Day & the party was at my house over the road. It snowed, heavily about the late afternoon. My older brother, his friend & I had a magnificent snow ball fight in the dark, with the landscaped gardens providing a superb range of places for an ambush in a winter wonderland.

Mr Taylor the taxi man came for my aged female relatives about 11.30 pm.

I can still remember the size of the tumbler of whisky my father gave him to warm up!

Then there was the coming of Mr Tomic. He was a legend in his day, based, I think, in Bradford. A one-man Polish tree-felling operation He arrived one day with a contract to fell a few of the ash trees, & of course chose the ones that were most lucrative. Working alone on these giants using axes, & wedges to great effect, he spent most of the week dropping the trees & turning them into logs using a circular saw. The local window cleaner Joe Pratt, who lived further up the common, seemed to come to an arrangement to help with the log production.

Then it was Sunday & I was on my way back from church about 10.30.

Mr Tomic had arrived & started work on his own. He had chosen the giant Ash tree, the biggest of the group. The only problem was that this tree was in very close proximity to the road & almost overhung our house.

With his axes & wedges he managed to drop the canopy & later the trunk, a quite awesome feat of skill for one man on his own.

Years later, my father told me Mr Tomic had been killed felling a tree.

My final memory of the house was in 1966, when I was back home from College.

I decided to show my girl-friend, now wife, the Ashgrove. The back door was once again open & we went inside. Though the remains of the kitchen were torn apart & the smashed grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs, we came upon a room without windows, I think.

It was about 15 ft square, with the colour being purple, I remember. That was because there was an organ at one side & a piano at the other, back to back.

The organ had the purple textile covering popular in the early Victorian period.

The rest of the room was clearly used as the library.

Now all was a disaster, the books had gone to be replaced by a sea of paper on the floor.

It must have been one of the major libraries in Brighouse, & its theme may well have been topographical as I found the Yorkshire Poll book for 1807, butchered on the floor & another book on Mills & canals, I think.

A little research may well provide the key to who built the collection.

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:26 / 30th May 2021 / 7435

Page Ref: M_40

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