My Education 

The first educational establishment I attended was Dockray Street Congregational Sunday School. I started at the age of four. I know this because Grandad died when I was 5, and by then I had appeared as a solo artist in two annual concerts. I sang “Lazy bones” and “Back in the good old days”. I started as an entertainer at the same time as I started Sunday School.

I got a standing ovation for “Lazy Bones” and was told to sing it again. It was called an encore. The year after I sang “Back in the good old days” and although I didn’t get asked to do an encore I started giving them one until someone yanked me off so that the next act could start.

Mum taught me how to perform on stage. She had been the Dockray Street Choir soloist and was taking professional music lessons with William Heseltine, a recording baritone who lived in Colne. Grandad never went to any of the concerts. He got me to perform my pieces by standing me on the table as if it were a stage.

At 5 years of age I didn’t know many people. Grandad used to call in every day when he’d finished work at Broughton’s, the cotton weaving shed at the bottom of Bright Street. We lived at number 24, about 5 houses up from the bottom. When Grandad came in he whooped and hollered and excited me. He was loud, brash. He was a weaver but he used to mend his own looms. They wanted him to be a “tackler”, someone who mends looms for the weavers. But he was happy to stay a weaver. When he died it left a massive hole in my world. He was Mum’s Dad. I knew something was wrong that day because Grandma was at our house without him. And she spent the night at our house. I kept asking what was going on but no one would tell me. Then I found out he was dead. At 5, it didn’t make much sense. What’s this “dead”? I wanted to see him. They wouldn’t let me. He was in the house , that is number 6, and they wouldn’t let me in. Then, after lots of pleading and tantrums, they relented. When I went in I saw Grandad lying in his coffin by the window. He looked peaceful and had a faint smile on his face. His hair was thick and white. I stroked his hair. And his forehead. And I said to him, “Grandad, wake up. Grandad, wake up.” I could hear sniffles behind me. I was glad they let me see him. I remember it so well to this day. But they wouldn’t let me go to the funeral, and I was angry about that!

Years later I found out how Grandad had died. I first noticed something different when I saw in the kitchen a bucket of oysters in water. I was told that these were to clean out Grandad’s insides because he had not been feeling too well and this was the cure. Then on Tuesday 8 July 1952 Grandad was taken to hospital in Northallerton. It was during Colne holidays. We were staying at Auntie Jenny’s home in Hawes. Auntie Jenny was Grandma’s cousin and they had grown up together in Burtersett and Hawes. Jenny became Kit Calvert’s second wife after his first wife died. Kit Calvert rescued the manufacture of Wensleydale Cheese in Hawes during the 1930s, and on the Sunday, when the factory was closed, Kit took me and Mum and Dad and Grandma on a tour of the cheese manufactury. Grandad wasn’t with us because he felt too poorly to come. Later in the week he was taken away to hospital.

I remember waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Grandad was unable to hold down any food. As soon as he ate some he was violently sick. When the ambulance arrived he insisted on walking to it himself. He refused a stretcher. He tottered and swayed into the ambulance and the doors were banged shut and he was driven off down the path at Kit’s house, past the playing fields, and off out of sight. Off to the Friarage hospital at Northallerton.

I visited Kit and Jenny’s often with Grandma. We got on a red double-decker Ribble bus at Colne on a side street off Skelton Street and got off at Skipton bus station. Then we boarded a single decker, an orange and black bus, and that took us to Hawes. Two things I remember about the interior of Kit and Jenny’s house, Kit’s collection of clay pipes, and Kit’s library. A library in a house! When I grow up, I thought, I want a library in my house. Outside, beyond the front garden, a children’s playground with swings, a drum roundabout, a slide, a spider’s web, and my favourite, a wooden horse.

Sometimes we would help Kit and Jenny with the haymaking. The July of 1952 was the first time I had been with Mum and Dad and Grandad as well. In those days millworkers got 5 days holiday for the first week of July and we usually went to Blackpool. Then in the second week of September millworkers got Monday and Tuesday. We usually went for “days” during the annual September holidays. One day would be Southport, another day would be Morecambe, a third day would be New Brighton, and sometimes, if we managed a fourth day, it would be the funfair at Belle Vue, Manchester, and a ride on the Bobs, a crazy rattling big dipper. For July of 1952 we broke with tradition and went to Hawes.

Kit and Jenny were very good to us and they took us in their landrover to see Grandad in hospital.  I was only five at the time and they wouldn’t let me in through the front door to see my Grandad. Fortunately his bed was next to some french windows that opened out onto a garden with a veranda and hanging baskets of flowers. I remember sitting there in the warm sun swatting away an interminable number of lazy wasps. After a while, when the coast was clear and no nurses were in sight, I was allowed to creep in and see Grandad. He couldn’t really talk to me because of all the tubes but I remember him squeezing my hand and I also remember that he had some tears welling up in his eyes. 

The doctors decided Grandad would need to go back to hospital for an operation. In those days it was impossible to get there and back in a day by bus so we didn’t get to see Grandad much while he was in hospital. But Grandad’s sister, Aunt Emma, who lived at 5 Bright Street, had a son called Albert Seed. Albert from early childhood had been mad on cars and eventually he built up a big Ford dealership, Seed’s of Colne. He became a town councillor but he was a Conservative. When Grandad was in hospital Albert’s first garage was on Burnley Road. Albert had what seemed to us luxury beyond compare, a big Ford Zephyr Zodiac, with long pale leather seats and a column gearlever. Albert was very good to Grandma and would take her and Mum in his car at weekend, and also one or two evenings. On one occasion they allowed me to go with them to see Grandad again. It was the first time in my life I had been in a car. Coming back over the Blubberhouses Albert sped the car at 80 miles an hour! We watched the speedometer with great excitement! 

Eventually news came through that Grandad would be coming home from hospital. I was pleased that he was better after all this time. Dad went with Albert Seed to Northallerton to bring Grandad home. There had been a big change at number 6 though. The table, where I had performed my solos to loud applause, had been moved into the kitchen and in its place stood a double bed. This was for Grandad when he came home. I was told that at first he wouldn’t have enough energy to climb the stairs each night for bed.

We heard Albert’s Zodiac arrive and we opened the door to greet Grandad. Albert and Dad got out of the car and a frail old man was struggling to stand on the pavement. I was still looking for Grandad in the car when I slowly realised that the frail old man was actually Grandad. He had a faint smile on his lips. Albert and Dad rushed round to help him to his feet, but once he was standing he motioned to his helpers that he wanted to walk into his own home unassisted. He hadn’t quite straightened up, and he swayed and tottered towards the doorstep.   

The doorstep at number 6 was much higher than most down Bright Street and, being such a prominent doorstep, it was important to keep it immaculately clean. Without a contest being declared, there was a competition in the street for the most decorative doorstep. Grandad used yellow and white donkey stones to create his artwork, the finest doorstep in Bright Street. The rag and bone chap used to keep him supplied with donkey stones. 

The stretch up the step for Grandad looked formidable now in his weakened state. “C’mon Charlie, let’s give you a hand,” said Albert. But Grandad forced his way up and staggered in. “Ay Charlie, y’should let somedi ‘elp yer,” said Grandma.

Grandad was always in bed when I visited number 6 most days. I used to climb in with him and snuggle up to him. One day I was fidgety and restless and he gave out a loud shout of pain which made me jump. Grandma made me get out of the bed and I wasn’t allowed in again. Grandad looked frail and lost in that large double bed, not a bit like the Grandad I used to know before he had been taken to hosital. I missed him calling at our home every day and shouting and picking me up and swirling me about above his head, and holding my arms together between my legs and tippling me over. All the fun had left him, and he lay there in bed, with yellowish skin against the white pillow case where his frail head lay.

The day Grandad died Mum could have discovered him first if she had jumped up to look through the window. She always called in to number 6 when passing, and this day she was coming home from choir practice and, unusually, the door was locked. Mum assumed Grandma was out and that Grandad wanted to sleep undisturbed. So she didn’t jump up to look through the window. If she had she would have seen Grandad asleep in his rocking chair, a sleep from which he would not awake.

That afternoon Grandad asked Grandma to go to the bookies to back his horses, and he locked the door behind her. This in itself was unusual because Grandma would not have had a key with her. Locking doors down Bright Street was something you did if there was no one left in the house or it was last thing at night.

When he was alone he got out of bed and washed his body and hair in the kitchen at the slopstone sink, shaved, cut his finger nails and his toe nails, and brushed back his thick white hair. Earlier that day he had lost control of his bowels and was distraught at the mess Grandma had to clean up.

After preparing his body he went into the kitchen, opened the gasoven door, and turned on the gas, and turned on the four hob gas jets. Then he came into the living room and bent down by the fireplace and turned on the gaspoker. Then he got his newspaper and sat down in his rocking chair…

I could not possibly understand at the time the nature of Grandad’s illness. When they opened his abdomen in Northallerton hospital they removed most of his stomach and the tumour that had attached itself to his stomach. This would prevent him from spewing up his food. The doctors also discovered that he was “full of cancer” and that there was “nothing for him.” They stitched him up again and when he was strong enough to leave they sent him back to Bright Street to die.

When Grandma returned from the bookies she couldn’t get in because she didn’t have a key. She feared the worst because she could smell the coal gas seeping out through the door and the ventilator below the window. The window was too high to see inside the house without partly climbing up the wall. She then began to alert relatives in Bright Street.

In those days extended families tended to group together in the streets and Grandma and Grandad’s families were no exception. Grandma’s sister Maggie lived in the top shop with her Welsh husband Bryn Owens. Bryn now worked at the gasworks but before he came to Colne he had worked as a coalminer in Tredegar. He had been a friend and colleague of Aneurin Bevan. Once when Bevan came to speak at the Municipal Hall Bevan recognised Bryn in the audience and they renewed their friendship. Maggie and Bryn had moved away from the shop though before Grandad died.

Grandma had another sister, Nellie, who lived at 22 Bright Street, next door to us. One of Nellie’s daughters, Ethel, lived opposite Grandma at number 7, and above Ethel lived one of Grandad’s sisters, Emma. Grandad also had a brother, Herbert, who lived opposite us. We never came into much contact with Herbert. Grandad had fallen out with Uncle Bert over something to do with appropriating some money. Grandad had given Bert some money for a horse and instead of placing the bet had spent the money. When the horse won and Grandad went for his winnings Bert had to confess. Grandad said he could never forgive his own brother for stealing money from him.

There were other relatives in the street, related to Marie, the wife of Grandma’s brother Ernest. In my book “The Second Spring” Marie is on the front cover as the May Queen. One of Marie’s sisters was called Adeline and she had a son and twin girls, all living in the street. It was not long before a crowd of people had gathered outside the house. It would be quite a while before the emergency services appeared at the scene though because the police station was at the bottom of Albert Road well away from the town centre. There were no telephone boxes nearby. The important thing was to prevent anyone walking past who might have a lit cigarette or pipe to avoid a gas explosion. Someone eventually broke down the door and switched off the gas flows. Grandad had another sister, Sarah, who lived in Colne, Langroyd Road. This was at the other end of Broughton’s mill. Herbert dashed off to let Sarah know. As he rushed along North Valley Road he collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. Two brothers had died on the same day.

One day, after Grandad’s funeral, Grandma received a pinkish red ceramic rose from France. It was from Monsieur Guy and family and was for Grandad’s grave. In the Remembrance Garden at Skipton Crematorium there was no marker for Grandad’s remains, and even if there were, the ceramic rose was too beautiful to leave there. Grandma fixed it to the wall above the table in the front room. After Grandma died it was fixed to Mum’s front room wall. After Mum died I took care of it, and this morning I studied it again.

Monsieur Guy had not been able to get over from France for Grandad’s funeral. Soon afterwards though Monsieur Guy came with his wife and family and stayed with Grandma’s brother Ernest and his wife Marie. They had a son called Jean. He was three or four years older than me. Jean was the first foreigner I’d ever met and I was thoroughly captivated by his difference. He spoke a little English and we got on well together.
Monsieur Guy became friends with Grandad when Grandad was living in France during the Great War. Somehow Grandad had managed to survive four years in the army throughout that war. He was 24 when war was declared. I never heard him speak about the war and according to Mum, like many ex-soldiers who had experienced that war, he never did talk about it. Grandad got to know Monsieur Guy because Grandad was one of the soldiers who saved his life.

Grandad was assigned to catering when he went to France. His job was to keep front-line soldiers supplied with fresh water and other supplies. With this job his chances of survival were greatly improved.

On one occasion, after the front-line solidiers had gained some land in battle, Grandad and his colleagues with the water carrier were on their way back from providing refreshments for those soldiers who had survived to the new front line when they noticed, among all the corpses that had not been collected, one of the corpses apparently moving. They went over to inspect and found a young French soldier still breathing. They loaded him on their horse-drawn water cart and took him back to base and from there he was transferred to hospital. This young French soldier turned out to be Monsieur Guy. His war was over because he was too badly injured, but his life was saved.

So that beautiful ceramic rose reminds me of Grandad and the story about Monsieur Guy. The only other artefact I remember of Grandad’s was his concertina. Mum told me that he used to play the concertina to entertain the front-line soldiers when they arrived with water supplies for them. A group of soldiers would stand on the cart like a stage and sing sentimental songs together to remind them of home, with Grandad accompanying the singing with his concertina. But I never heard him play the concertina, and I can’t remember Mum ever saying that she remembered him playing it. I can remember Mum telling me that Charlie’s friends who survived the war with him often recalled the music and song and Charlie with his concertina.

Grandad used to play the piano though. He couldn’t read music and he never took himself seriously as a pianist. Every so often he would sit at the piano stool and start thumping out some tunes. Then he would pause for a while staring at the ceiling. Mum and Grandma then used to start gently humming a tune and sure enough, Grandad would start thumping that tune out on the piano. He was so absorbed in this exercise that he never quite realised what fun his audience was having at his expense.

He would probably have played more often but for the next door neighbour and the thin walls. Alice Moorehead lived at number 4, a house she shared with three or four cats. There was always a cat sat in the front room window and the front bedroom window. Both windows were heavily laced and it was not possible to see anything of the inside of Alice’s house.

I used to be terrified of Alice. She dressed all in black, a long black frock and a black shawl over her head. She looked extremely old, had a white face and a hooked nose, and she terrified me as a witch would terrify a youngster. She looked like a Miss Havisham dressed in black. She would come out of her house every now and then and stalk along Rook Street. I would see her when I was playing out on “The Tops” and I would hide in a den, or behind long tufts of grass or nettles. There was always a cat close by, following her with arched back and tail high in the air.

She lived alone, and I never heard her speak. But I was told that she was very well spoken with no trace of a regional accent. She was also a classically trained pianist and apparently she used to give solo concerts in her day.  I never heard her playing the piano but every so often, I was told, she would sit at her piano and play the most exquiste music. So I suppose Grandad felt a little intimidated thumping out his tunes especially when, according to Mum, his left hand played the same three chords for most of the songs. When Alice died a team arrived to fumigate the house.

Grandad had come home to die. He used to weigh about 12 stone. He was a small stocky man, but very muscular. At home he wore collarless flannelet shirts, or “tacklers’ shirts” as they were called, and his sleeves were rolled up over his thick biceps. Even I noticed his changing appearance, how he was shrivelling up in the middle of the double bed in the front room. When he died, Mum told me, he weighed less than 6 stone. His cancers were eating him, living off his body. But home is where he died and where he wanted to be.

In fact, he very rarely left home. Apart from work at the mill at the bottom of Bright Street, and the bookies “up street”, he had no desire to go anywhere else. Occasionally they got him to Blackpool or New Brighton during a mill holiday, but he was, according to Mum, “a homebird”. He loved his home.

It has since struck me that his condition must have been a mild form of agrophobia, the mental fallout from his four years in France, in the trenches. What he must have seen during those years would have told him that home was the place to be. And if ever he got back home, he must have said to himself, that is where he would stay, forever grateful for the simple things of life.

He was not antisocial though. The door at number 6 was open to anyone who cared to walk in, and down Bright Street folk used to wander in without knocking. Or if they knocked they’d be opening the door at the same time. They often came to “Charlie” if they had a problem and needed something fixing. He was a general handyman. He was particularly skilful at rescuing cats that had got stranded at the bottom of a shaft of a tippler lavatory. He was also good at mending clogs. Anything, as long as it had nothing to do with electricity. He never trusted electricity, he was suspicious of its mystical qualities, and when the opportunity arrived in Bright Street to be connected to the town’s mains supply he point blank refused. Eventually he relented and allowed it in, and when he got a wireless and could listen to the news he mellowed. His brother Bert though who lived opposite us down Bright Street, still rejected electricity, and even I remember sitting in their front room fascinated by the gaslights on the walls.

The one occasion during the week when there was a full house at number 6 was Sunday evenings. Uncle Bryn and Auntie Maggie arrived after chapel, Uncle John and Auntie Ethel came from across at number 7, Uncle Ernest and Auntie Marie came from Derby Street, Uncle Dick (Grandma’s brother) and Auntie Grace arrived from Nelson, and Mum and Dad and me. I got to stop up late. From time to time more distant relatives

The big attraction was the card games, crib and pontoon, and sometimes fantan. They played for money, and with a seriousness as if their lives depended on it. There were furious rows during the games, but afterwards everyone always left on the best of terms, and all turned up the week after for the next session.

During the winter months Grandad always had a roaring fire. He was well-known for his roaring fires, and they roared in a Victorian cast iron fire range that was always immaculately clean. When Uncle Ernest arrived, before he took off his overcoat he would grab a stool and sit as close as possible to the roaring fire, pull up his coat collar, and say, “Nay Charlie, let’s ‘ave a bit more coyle on this fire!”

Uncle Ernest was the comedian of the family. People were always laughing at his jokes and his funny actions. The two comedians who remind me of some of Uncle Ernest’s characteristics are Les Dawson and Marty Feldman. Uncle Ernest had a set of false teeth and without warning, he would slump back in his chair and his top teeth would come clattering out of his mouth. He would slump motionless with his teeth sticking out and his eyes closed. Then he would open his eyes and draw the protruding set of teeth back into his mouth and roll them over 360 degrees and land them back in place.

Whenever he caught me looking at him while he was playing cards he would start rolling his eyes and contorting his face. He seemed to be able to move his eyes independently of each other, and he could make his pupils disappear so that all you could see were the whites of his eyes, as if he were having a fit. And all the while he was doing this for me, the game of cards carried on, and no one took any notice of him.

One of his favourite tricks he played on me was to stick out his first finger and say to me, “‘Ere, pull this.” When I obeyed him and pulled on his finger, he leant over onto one cheek and let out a ripsnorting fart. “Ernest!” said his wife, Auntie Marie. “Ernest, don’t be so vulgar!” But everyone was laughing.

On other occasions when he wanted to fart he would open the door and go outside and fart, and then squeeze his backside against the wall to remove the obnoxious gases before coming back in.

Uncle Dick was a regular attender. He used to sit in Grandad’s rocking chair, and I used to stare long and hard at his right trouser leg, rolled up and pinned above where his leg would have been had it not been missing. Uncle Dick lost his leg in the Great War. He was 19, and when the whistle blew to start his first charge, he rushed at the German trench with all his mates. While this charging was going on the Germans meanwhile were firing machine gun bullets, and his mates went down one by one. Then he went down, his right leg shattered.

They got him to hospital and removed what was left of the leg, and he lay dying, life barely flickering in his body. They sent to Hawes for his Mum to go out to France to bring her baby’s body home to the Yorkshire Dales. But when his Mum got there, and held his hand, and wiped his brow, and gave him sips of water, and wept over him, and prayed to God for him, he began to recover. They said his Mum had saved his life because it was all up with him before she arrived.

Uncle Dick had this little ritual. When I was told to stop staring at his empty trouser leg he would say, “Na then young ‘un. See’f tha can find mi leg! ‘Ave a good luk rayand.” So I began looking behind his chair. “Uncle Dick, it’s not behind your chair.” “Well luk somewhere else then.” “It’s not under the dresser Uncle Dick.” And I would crawl under the dresser looking for his leg. Then I would say, “I’ll find your leg Uncle Dick, I know where it is!” I went into the kitchen, and on the floor, behind the back door, there was a draught stopper, a long black weaver’s stocking stuffed full with crunched sheets of newspapers. I picked it up, held it aloft, and marched into the living room announcing to the assembled gamblers, “Here it is! Uncle Dick’s leg. Here it is!”

Although the gambling den was full of raucus laughter and raised voices when Auntie Maggie and Uncle Bryn arrived from chapel, they came with their souls at peace and, looking back, seemed enveloped in their own silence. Auntie Maggie had a peculiar way of responding when someone said something to her.  Instead of actually speaking she opened her mouth and drew in a sharp audible breath with a slight nod of the head and a raising of eyebrows. This strange  action was used for approval or agreement with the speaker or it could be an expression of surprise. The difference between surprise and agreement could be gauged with the height and the angle of her eyebrows. Again depending on the  height and angle of the eyebrows and the sound of air being drawn in, it could also mean disapproval. She also had one of these actions for the first sight of her hand of cards. I suppose if I had known more about the card games they were playing I would have been able to work out what sort of hand she had.

Uncle Bryn was also a very quiet and private man. When I picture him in my mind he is sitting by the fire in his rather gloomy, old fashioned living room, clock ticking, smoking a pipe, and reading a newspaper through jamjar bottom spectacles, and a cat purring loudly on his knee. He brought this calm, controlled exterior to the gambling den after chapel and would sit quietly smoking and calmly studying the hand someone had dealt him.

But there was something else about Uncle Bryn and Auntie Maggie that I couldn’t put my finger on at the time, but over the years I’ve come to realise what it was. There was, in fact, a very deep and enduring sadness about them, pervading them. Sadness was their body language. They were ravaged by grief, and that’s how they would be for the rest of their lives. When I was observing them in Grandma and Grandad’s living room it would be 1951. In 1943 their son Kenneth was killed in the war in a plane crash. So it was only 8 years after that I knew them, and those 8 years would have gone by in a blur for them. Time would have stood still from losing “our Kenneth”. 

In 1953, when Grandad took his own life, a successful execution was important. Failure could mean prosectution and a jail term. It wasn’t until August 1961 that it was possible to fail without fear of being branded a criminal. Grandad had carefully planned his own death. He had discussed his intention with Jenny Calvert at Hawes that morning he had been taken to hospital in Northallerton. Jenny tried to reason with Grandad and talk him out of it, and she got the impression that her counselling had been effective. He had also received a Catholic education, and the Catholic Church has always firmly taught that taking one’s own life is a grave sin.

Although Grandad had attended the Sacred Heart Catholic School, Colne, he had shown little inclination to attend the Catholic Church or any other church. Perhaps what he had seen in the trenches in France during the Great War took its toll on his belief in the existence of a benevolent God. His younger brother Jonathan, who had also attended the Catholic school, became a Catholic. In fact, according to Mum, he was “a big Catholic” which means he was a regular Mass attender. Uncle Ernest was also a Catholic, and he had “turned” because his fiance and later wife, Marie Fallon, was a “big Catholic” from a “big Catholic family”.


Dad was a Catholic and Mum was a Congregationalist. Dad had fallen out with the Catholic Church though and got married at Dockray Street Congregational Church on 9 August 1945. He told me two stories over and over about the church. He said him and his mate Bill Templar used to get caned often at school, and it usually happened on a Monday morning if they hadn’t been to Mass the day before. He used a get a ticket at the door which proved he’d attended, and if he couldn’t produce a ticket on Monday morning his teacher caned him. Sometimes they would run out of tickets and even if you’d been to Mass you could still end up getting caned on Monday morning if you didn’t have a ticket.

The other story he told over and over was about a day he turned up late for Mass and stood at the back. Fr Aspinall stopped his sermon when he saw Dad and beckoned him to come inside the church. It was full at the back so Dad had to walk all the way down to the front with everyone looking at him. The trouble was, his family had no money, and he had to wear his clogs even on Sunday when everyone was all dressed up in their finest clothes. Dad clomped down the aisle in his clogs, deeply humiliated. That was it for the church, he never went near again.

The Sunday School teacher was Mrs Watson, a kindly lady who was always smiling. There were about 30 children in the class with ages ranging from 4 to probably 11 or 12. Mrs Wastson’s son, Robert, was in the class. He went to Colne Grammar School and then after university became a solicitor in town.

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