My Yorkshire childhood - John Mitchell, Sowerby Bridge

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 June 2013

Martin and John Mitchell

Martin and John Mitchell


John Mitchell and twin brother Martin grew up in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire against the frightening backdrop of war

Martin and John MitchellMartin and John Mitchell

It was late 1939. Hitler had started his aggression, but in a terrace house in Sowerby Bridge there was even greater anxiety. Two or three weeks earlier my parents had been told they were expecting identical twins.

We started life in an incubator at Halifax General Hospital but the double event really took off when we were taken home. My brother Martin was the eldest by 10 minutes and when it was feeding time mum used to have to loosely tie a ribbon round one of us. Why you ask?

The reason being that if grandparents or neighbours called, which was a frequent occurrence, she might be distracted and forget which one had been fed. I think on occasions she must have got it wrong, as I have always been very slightly heavier.

Right from the start up to leaving home at the age of 22 we did things together. We looked and dressed alike, same height and pretty much same weight. Our voices, mannerisms, interests, education and ability were all the same. It was utter confusion for those who didn’t know that the other existed, and equally so for one of us when stopped in the street by an unknown person.

School was Tuel Lane Primary School and the catchment area was the many streets of through-terrace and back-to-back houses that prevailed throughout the West Riding. Every so often the school had to retire to the air raid shelter in the playground for practice in case of an air raid. A particular delight was in the summer of 1945, at the time that became known as the ‘khaki election’ when Prime Minister Winston Churchill came up Tuel Lane in an open topped car on his way I suppose to Todmorden or Burnley to give a speech. All the school children were lined up against the railings and we waved enthusiastically at him. Even at five years old we knew about the war and of Churchill.

We had plenty of friends who in the main made their way to our house because there was plenty of room outside to play and there was always something to do. Dad had a third of an acre hen pen close by the house and adjoining was rough grassland with trees with the land then shelving sharply to the Rochdale Canal. The whole area was a kid’s paradise, although we were told sternly to keep away from the canal, even though we could swim. Further afield was Norland Moor, half an hour walk away. Saturday mornings would see a lot of children attend Junior Clubs at the nearest cinema.

On November 5th, the bonfire would be assembled in the middle of the stone sett street and every body gathered round. The lamp lighter would attend and light or repair the street gas lamps. Major road works would be roped off and lit with red glowing paraffin lamps. A night watchman would be in attendance all through the night and would have a little cabin and a brazier to keep him warm. The milkman and the coalman, up until the latter part of the 1940’s still delivered their goods by horse and cart, with the milkman ladling out the milk into the housewife’s jug.

The Scouts and the local Methodist church together with its youth club were the means of recreation, and in our town youth activities were very prominent.

I was in the Scouts for many years progressing through all sections and then as a leader, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Sowerby Bridge Urban District Council were keen to engage the youth and used to hold very formal junior civic balls at the Prince’s Hall, for young people from about 15 to 21.

My twin lives in Newark, and no, we did not pursue the same careers.

Today John, a retired environmental health officer, local artist and public speaker, lives in Meltham and has just published Meltham Past and Present, a book of 24 pen and ink sketches with narratives, £9.50, email for more information.

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