My Yorkshire childhood - Trevor Raistrick, Pudsey
PUBLISHED: 00:15 27 July 2013
Author Trevor Raistrick revisits the West Yorkshire village where he grew up in the hope of banishing writers' block
in the past year I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my birthplace, Pudsey, and recall memories almost forgotten. I now live in Stoke-on-Trent and I’ve been researching my third novel Shattered Heritage which is mainly set in Edwardian Yorkshire. The location for the vital sub-plot was causing problems. I couldn’t get it right. I was afflicted by the dreaded writers’ block. But I remembered something, a place from my past; a strange, ancient village called Fulneck. Perhaps it might hold the answer.
When my brother Howard and I were lads in the 1950s, we used to accompany our mother to visit her elderly aunts Bertha and Charlotte. They lived in a small two-bedroom, terraced house set around a yard with five others at the top of Greenside where it joins Fartown.
The parlour was, I recall, dark and dismal and had a giant black iron fireplace and fender. There was an enormous oak sideboard on top of which stood two large figurines, The Whistling Boy and The Flower Seller. A dark, threatening, long-leaved plant dominated the centre. I remember asking Aunt Bertha what it was and was told it was an aspidistra. I knew the Gracie Fields song and my brother and I once gave the assembled company a short chorus of ‘It’s the biggest aspidistra in the world.’
Aunt Bertha was a large lady with a round face. She was always dressed in black and when she ventured out wore a black wide-brimmed hat. She reminded me of pictures of Queen Victoria (but with large round spectacles) and her house was like a Victorian house. It was just like visiting a time capsule, even in the 1950s. Aunt Charlotte was a spinster, smaller and darker. Whilst Aunt Bertha held court in the parlour, her sister, a quiet, mouse-like creature, would busy herself in the tiny kitchen preparing a real Yorkshire tea. (I especially remember the Yorkshire Cake; a fresh round teacake almost a foot in diameter, cut into soldiers and served with butter and jam).
The downside to these visits was if we needed to go to the toilet. It was not like the modern bathroom in our house but necessitated a walk to the end of the yard to a block of six outdoor toilets. I recall my mother’s warning as if it were yesterday. ‘Remember it’s the fourth one down, don’t try to use any of the others and whatever you do, don’t lose the key!’ Chance would have been a fine thing.
It was the largest iron key I’d ever seen. Whitewashed and freezing cold, (even in summer), the toilet’s only interior adornment was a rusty nail on which hung a few sheets of neatly cut newspaper – my first contact with the Pudsey News. But without a doubt the highlight of the visit was when we were allowed out to explore the exciting places around.
And here I was again 60 years later approaching Fulneck from along Bankhouse Lane. The memories of my childhood suddenly flooded back, the long walks along the peaceful lane flanked by dry-stone walls, the distant vistas of farms and large country houses, and The Banks and Tyersall Beck where we played and explored as far as the railway tunnel.
Turning left at the bottom of the hill, I approached the village along the tree lined drive and through a gateway. There before me, like a past moment in time, was the strange but beautiful settlement, as if it had been set in amber, not just for 60 years but for over 200 years before that.
As I wandered round I suddenly realised, here was the perfect setting for that pesky sub-plot, so integral to the story, yet so difficult to conceive and place. What a rewarding visit.
Shattered Heritage is published privately to raise money for The Douglas Macmillan Hospice, Stoke-on-Trent, where I now live. Most of the book is set in West Yorkshire, including several chapters in the Fulneck community of 100 years ago. It is available by post from the author (£5.00 + p&p). Please email email@example.com for details.