Wednesday, 1 February 2012

"Swealing" ........burning off the old pasture grass in the fields at the beginning of spring.

Me in the fields in 1970
I dreamed about the Rossendale Valley the other evening.Stephen and I were standing looking at the old familiar hills and feeling that tug of the roots which are embedded in its soil. Our roots, the roots of our childhood, and the place where we lived until we moved on in the '70's after we were married. Stephen's first job being in Portsmouth. It felt like a very far off place from where we began our lives. We were talking in my dream about whether or not to move back to live in the area discussing where we would buy a house.We stood looking out at the hills that surrounded us, and acknowledged that, for us, it was timeless. We have climbed and walked most of them. I could recall the smell of the damp stone walls on wet days, and the feel of  clumpy spiky grass if you sat down to take a break and admire the views when the weather was kind. Why is it that in early childhood the summers always seemed to go on forever and the sun shone endlessly. It obviously would not be so, as Rossendale was the centre for the cotton industry because of it's damp climate. As we often say "When it rains, it rains!"     We never thought that we would ever move before we were married, both having been born there and went to the same grammar school, and for me, beginning my first job teaching in Crawshawbooth. So the dream ended, and as I woke there was an indefinable feeling of loss.
Lower Cribden side 1969
 Maybe it is because the Woodcroft story of our childhood was an age of innocence. It was a different era then, just after the end of the second World War. We didn't have a lot in the material sense, but our parents  gave us a secure environment. I never missed the tv because we didn't have one, nor a computer or telephone.
I loved to read and listen to the radio. My mother used to complain that I always had my head in a book! Until I discovered a propensity for drawing and painting, and I graduated to covering the attic plain plaster walls with various bits of "art" using little pots of paint!
Most of our other pastimes were outdoors. If it rained we played indoors with our friends. Endless games of Monopoly and Ludo, or Snakes and Ladders.        
 As it is, today, the first day in February, there is still an anticipation of winter finally slipping away. So it was when we all lived in Woodcroft. My bedroom window at 12 East Street was at the back. This, however, although it overlooked the mill roof, had a wonderful view of the woods where we all played. I knew which tree came into leaf first, as it was the whitebeam, the colour stood out. But in early February the trees would still have bare branches. Somehow our thoughts would turn to the next seasonal event in our childhood calendar...... "swealing" as it is known in Rossendale.....the burning of the old pasture grass by farmers, to make way for the new.        
Burning old grass in spring.  
How we anticipated going out to the fields and watching the fire crackle and take hold. There was the unique smell of the old grass as it succumbed to the flames. We used to help it along.......! Gathering clumps of tinder-dry grass and using them as torches.Stamping out flames with our shoes if it got out of hand! Our socks becoming filthy with sooty carbon!   The boys making crude torches to light with their matches, at which Health and Safety would be horrified today! Using their jackets to stop the flames spreading too fast. The smell, even now, if I come across a random  moorland ablaze, is so evocative. It signalled the end of winter. Spring was on its way and lighter nights, brighter mornings, and at some point there would be a change in the wind. It grew softer, and the early wild flowers came into bloom. Coltsfoots, and kingcups, (marsh marigolds), being amongst the first that we spotted, gathering them up to put in a jam-jar on a windowsill at home.     
So as the Woodcroft story is about to be finally finished and the dvd "Capturing History For the Next Generation" in the editing stage, I actually wish we could all just go back in time for one day, and see those fields, as they were, without all the new houses, play in the stream, wander the meadows and sledge down those streets! 
It was a very special childhood. (link to previous blog)

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Up the Clarets!!!!

Alastair Campbell, Matthew and the signed Burnley FC shirt.

This child sized Burnley football club shirt of our Matt's has a very interesting history.
But it needs some background information to explain the significance.

Long ago when I was young, my dad, myself and eventually my mum, were avid supporters of Burnley FC when I lived in  Lancashire. Until I was 13, we were at East Street, Woodcroft, then on to Haslingden Old Road, Rawtenstall. 
Every home game would see us atop a double decker bus making the journey "over t'moor", (as folk would say), from Rossendale, to drop down the other side into Burnley itself. We caught the bus opposite the Co-op shop at the bottom of Thorn Street, and there were extra ones on match days  A sense of anticipation was palpable and the general hum of conversation about the opposing team and our team, rolled on with the bus as it carried on its journey, packed to the gunwhales!
If you rode on the top deck, you could hardy see through the haze of cigarette smoke! On wet days, the windows all steamed up, and the smell of damp clothing added to the atmosphere.   
The bus disgorged its passengers,having completed the long steep hill down from the moor as it reached the Bus station. We joined the hoards of others all walking towards Turf Moor ground. Come rain, hail, sleet or shine. Snow was more difficult!! In harsh winters the road over the top down into the town could be closed. 
Burnley were in the First Division and a really great side. It is the one and only time I ever attempted to knit anything,not being domestically useful(!) and painstakingly did knit one, purl one, in the two colours of Claret and Blue, until I had a scarf long enough.
This I festooned with badges of the Burnley players. I also had a football rattle. I'll bet Health and Safety would ban them now!
In the season of 1961/62, Burnley progressed through some thrilling FA Cup Final matches to reach the hallowed turf of Wembley itself.
There was a ticket lottery, using numbers in the programmes and dad got a ticket allocated and I didn't. There were two other lads we knew who also got tickets.
So, he decided to take us all to Wembley on one of the overnight coaches provided by the club. Then accompany us all the way to the ground, leaving me with his own ticket, and go back to watch the game on TV at his cousin's, who lived a stone's throw from the station at Wembley itself.
I was  just 14 years old and had never been to London in my life before. 
So it was a great adventure.
We arrived very early in the morning, and after some breakfast in a cafe, dad took us to see the sights, knowing London like the back of his hand.
I was so disappointed with Buckingham Palace, pronouncing it to look like a biscuit factory! maybe I expected the grandeur of Windsor Castle!
Eventually we got to dad's cousin's and had some lunch.
Here I am outside Buckingham Palace 
And with mounting excitement we walked up Wembley Way with the chants of the supporters, and the colourful sea of team scarves and flags, not to mention the rattles!!
All along the route were ticket touts, and we also had to keep our pockets secure.
I will never know to this day how dad felt as he left us at our entrance.
I only know it was a sacrifice for him,made voluntarily.
Unfortunately we lost 3-1 to Spurs! But it was still an experience to have been there.
So, on to the rest of the story.
Moving quickly forward, when our Matt was born and still a youngster, we lived in Cowplain Hampshire, and dad got him a Burnley bobble hat, in the hope that eventually his grandson would show an interest in football. Obviously those who knew him would see his love of the game, and also that of cricket.
Dad with Matthew, 1977 
So to continue again.......
We moved up to Birmingham in1981, and the nearest football team had to be Aston Villa as they also play in Claret and Blue. Matt was 7 when he went to his first match at Villa Park. He became an avid supporter, and also fulfilled an ambition when he played on the hallowed turf with a team from work. We were all there cheering him on! They lost, but to him it didn't matter!! He was cock-a-hoop!
Meantime becoming political animal, (and how!) he discovered that Alastair Campbell was going to be in Birmingham at the ICC, giving a kind of lecture and question and answer session.
He got a ticket like a shot!
During the evening Alastair said he had a signed Burnley FC shirt to give to the person who asked him the best question.
So Matt managed to have the mike and proceeded to tell the story of his Grandad Smith and his mum, Vivien, and the trip to Wembley. Then he asked Alastair if he would've given up his ticket to go to Wembley.
Alastair said that was a very hard question to answer, being a rabid Burnley supporter himself, and didn't think he could've done it!!
As a result he gave Matt the Burnley shirt having signed it.
And what a happy bunny he was!!
He told his grandad all about it and it passed into the Smith archive of stories!
The stuff of legend!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

When the girls ruled the roost!!

In this picture, the top of East Street can just be seen on the right, it's gable end appearing off white. To the left of the chimney are the new houses being built in the 1980's. These are on the fields where we had the hen pens, and where we used to play. Some of the neighbours we knew let us use the hen huts as our own special "dens". We girls had one and the boys another. So enjoy another letter from the "Woodcroft" selection and more to follow!           
The new houses being built in the fields where we used to play

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Friday night was bath night!!

I remember when we lived up East Street, having a bath in front of the open fire, complete with it's fireguard of course. It felt scratchy and when the water became cooler, mum would boil some more in the kettle and pour it in.You had to make sure you tucked your knees under your chin so as not to be accidentally burned!
I hated having my hair washed, and the jug of water pouring over my head making soap suds run into my eyes so they would sting,was a source of lament! Eventually I would learn how to hold my head face up so the water poured down my back instead. On becoming a teenager, it was my mum's turn to constantly tell me that "You wash your hair too often" and also "You shouldn't go out straightaway now you've washed your hair, you'll catch cold"!                At what point we graduated to using the bath in the back bedroom I cannot remember, but here is a letter I wrote about it to the Rossendale Free Press, from Peter Fisher's archives. His sister Maureen kept them in a scrap book.

The last letter is one from our dad, and he is writing about his father-in-law Jimmy Westwell, who was known as "Jimmy Curly". Here is the transcript. 

"East Street has featured in your columns recently.At number 12, there was a gas bracket in the wall in the attic for illumination.
When required, the arms were swivelled from the wall before the gas was lit.  It glowed in an orangey-yellow arc.
My wife's father, Jimmy (Curly) Westwell, shouted from the attic one evening "Ethel! There's summat burning up here" She, (dad's wife) went to investigate. It was his own mop of hair that was singed. He was standing too near the fire .
Neither of them are with me now, but the memories linger on. "