"I recently came across the photograph below. It is of Cleckheaton in the year 1905. With the exception of the tram lines that are no longer there, everything else in the photo is more or less as I remember it as I grew up in the 1950's.
Between the ages of 5-21 years, I grew up on Windybank Estate in Hightown, about one and a half miles from Cleckheaton. For my family and friends, Cleckheaton represented a large part of our lives. In many ways, it was the centre of our universe once we left the estate.The nearest Catholic Church that our family attended was in Cleckheaton; which was located fifty yards away from the bottom right of this photograph. Each Sunday, my father and his three eldest children would walk the one and a half miles from home, down the New Road to attend Sunday service, and it would be lunch time before we'd walked back home again. Then, for our Sunday afternoon activity, my parents would walk us three miles across the fields from Windybank Estate to the park in Brighouse, where the brass band played. By the time we had walked back home, we would be hungry and ready for bed.
My mother had this annoying habit of cycling to church on a Sunday morning at the last minute. She would always arrive at church five minutes after the service had started and leave to smoke a cigarette outside before the priest had given his congregation the last blessing! When I say that my mother would cycle to church, I mean that she would turn the pedals until she got off the estate, but once she got to the top of the New Road, she would simply sit in the saddle and free wheel a mile down the hill, smiling at any late church stragglers she passed by with a royal wave. She wore her long, black hair loose and I'm sure that she pretended to be the film star Maureen O'Hara from 'The Quiet Man' film as it blew freely in the breeze. After Sunday service, as the eldest child in the family, she would tell me to push the bike back home for her, as the return journey was all uphill.
'Cleckheaton Market Place' was the place where all the best bargains were to be had; this was located at the bottom left of this photograph. All the families from the estate would go there, where second-hand clothes, poultry, almost anything one needed, could be purchased. My very first bike was bought from the Market Place when I was 8 years old. My father paid ten shillings for it. It was naturally second hand. It had a black frame and two wheels, one with a punctured tyre. It also had a worn saddle, a rusty frame,no mudguards, and only one break. I loved learning to ride that bike up and down the avenue of Windybank Estate. With one break at the front of the bike and none at the back, when one suddenly stopped, it seemed no different than learning to ride a bucking bronco
Whenever we needed to see a doctor, we would travel to the surgery in Cleckheaton. We were usually taken there by my mum, but when I was 9 years old, mum decided that it was about time I was able to take myself when I next needed to go. I recall going to the doctor's surgery on my own when I was ten years old and felt very important and grown up as I entered the building without an adult by my side. I sat in the smoke-filled waiting room for fifteen minutes before my turn came around. When I went in to see the doctor, I told him that I was coughing on a morning and bringing up some yellow stuff from the pit of my stomach. He provided no examination of my throat and continued to smoke the remainder of his 'Craven A' cigarette that smouldered in the ashtray on his desk. He then looked at me very authoritatively and said, 'It looks like you've got catarrh, lad,' he replied, adding 'This is a catarrh area, boy, and it's only to be expected!' That was the extent of my visit to see the doctor on that occasion.
Later that year, I fell in love with Winifred Healey who went to my school in Heckmondwike. I was 10 years old and Winifred was going on 11 years. I wanted to impress Winifred so that she'd forgo all other boyfriends and wait for me to one day marry her. The way I chose to dazzle her was to give her a solitaire diamond engagement ring. Having no money to buy a diamond ring, I stole one from the home of my best mate, Peter Lockwood. His parents would frequently invite me to have my tea with Peter and on the evening in question, his twenty-year-old sister, Margaret, took off her engagement ring while she washed up. I seized my opportunity and stole it before making my excuses to leave. It took the local bobby who investigated the theft two days before he sussed out it was me. At first, I denied the theft, but once it became common knowledge that 11-year-old Winifred Healey was strutting around showing all and sundry her diamond engagement ring, the game was up! I was subsequently taken down to the nearest Police Station in Cleckheaton and given a verbal telling off by a burly looking sergeant.
My first job was at 'Bulmer and Lumb's Textile Mill', one-quarter mile beyond Cleckheaton town centre, in the direction of Heckmondwike; which at the turn of the 20th century, was probably the textile capital of the world when it came to the manufacture of carpets. Of all the jobs I ever had in my life, my years in the mill of 'Bulmer and Lumbs' shall remain the most memorable. The first time I ever had my trousers pulled down by a woman was at the age of 15 years during my first day at the mill. Although this experience would not be the last time a female would remove my trousers, this first time was the most embarrassing of experiences I ever encountered, and it was done without my consent! Part of my job specifications was that of all new boys, who ran errands between one foreman and another. This task nearly always took one through the spinning and weaving sheds. Little did I know on that first day of work that, like all newcomers before me, I would be subjected to a textile Christening by the women of the spinning and weaving sheds, the very first time I walked by their machines. Believe me, having one's trousers forcibly removed by twenty or more laughing females and having one's todger pulled and poked in public view, is an experience that a young man never forgets. One must bear in mind that working class males of the 1950's rarely wore underpants during the working week. After my mill Christening had taken place and I was accepted into their ranks as a work mate, I later asked one of the women why they had this humiliating ritual. Her reply was, 'To get to know thee, lad. Once we've seen thee tackle up close, its easier to know whether your worth sitting next to on the bus when we have the work's annual outing!'
The first shop to the top left of the photograph was 'Sladdins' clothes shop. This shop was like an upmarket version of 'Greenwoods' and one's first suit would often be bought there. None of the boys from the estate ever liked getting measured for a suit there as the effeminate speaking owner always took a month of Sundays measuring one's inside leg. At a time when any homosexual act landed the perpetrator in prison, it seemed that, apart from being a 'Redcoat' at Butlins or an airline steward, the only way for any gay to get their thrills was working in a clothing store that made up suits!
The farthest pair of buildings at the top of the photograph were the two cinemas next door to each other, 'The Palace' and 'The Savoy.' Every Saturday morning as a growing boy, I would attend the matinee and watch a cowboy film. If anyone had no money to get in, one of their friends would open the fire door near the toilets and let them in. So it was perfectly normal to see one boy visit the toilet, only to have two boys emerge a few minutes later. Every week the film would break down and until the projectionist had restored it, every boy and girl would shout at the top of their voices, clap and stamp loudly and throw all manner of objects at other patrons. The cinema was also the place where often girls and boys had their first kiss and fumble, and the back row was always reserved exclusively for those older girls and boys who wanted nobody to see what they got up to in the dark.
Fifty yards beyond the bottom left of the photograph was the bus station, which features in some of my adult books. As courting couples waited for the last bus home after a night out, but couldn't wait a moment longer for their goodnight kiss, young men and women would slip behind the back of the bus terminal. As the last bus came in, one in the queue often saw a couple emerge from the darkness, still hurriedly rearranging their clothes.
To the top right of the photograph was the 'Town Hall'. The 'Town Hall' was the place where all the young went to bop on a Saturday night. Invariably, a fight between different groups of boys would break out, and before one knew it, the entire dance floor would be fighting in lumps. I once had a fight upstairs in the 'Town Hall' when my opponent and I went over the fifteen-foot-drop balcony. He broke a leg and fractured an arm, and luckily, I escaped with mere bruises.
To the bottom right of the photograph, about five yards further on, was a cross road junction. To the right was the park and to the left was a road called 'Peg Lane' that led to Gomersal. Part way down 'Peg Lane' was a large waste ground, which for two weeks every year, a visiting fair would park. I'll never forget my first time visiting this fairground without my parents. I was fascinated by 'The Big Wheel' which was the most popular ride by all the courting couples. As one's coach got to the stop, 'The Big Wheel' would stop for a few minutes, making some think it had broken down and they'd be stuck there! The courting couples loved the ride because the higher up the coach went, the less they were in public view and the more hanky-panky they engaged in. Just before I made a move to go back home one fateful night, one of my mates older brother fell out of 'The Big Wheel' after it had stopped at the top. Down he went, only to have his life spared by the poor girl he landed on and who'd cushioned his fall. The girl died and my mate's brother was left crippled for the remainder of his life; which strangely never prevented him riding a 500 cc motor cycle. A number of years later, he too was killed doing 'a ton' (a hundred mph) along the road to Blackpool as he raced another motor bike user from the estate.
Along the Bradford Road towards Moorend, about a few hundred yards beyond the 'Town Hall' was the best pub in Cleckheaton at the time, 'The Commercial.' This pub was where I had my first illegal pint of beer during my 15th year of life. It was also in the near vicinity to the place where I next had my trousers pulled down willingly by a 17-year-old Heckmondwike girl whose name I never knew, but who shared an experience I'll never forget. 'The Commercial' was highly popular because it was one of the first Cleckheaton pubs to have Rock and Roll groups entertain its customers. All the other pubs had some elderly pianist who would play singalong songs from the 1940's/50's, where the night's final rendition that was guaranteed to lift the pub roof was always, 'Nellie Dean'.
As an 11-year-child, a lorry ran over me on the estate and left me with extensive injuries. A Cleckheaton solicitor eventually secured £1200 compensation for me, which was kept in trust until my 21st birthday. Between 11 and 21 years, interest accrued on my compensation brought the amount up to well in excess of £2000 (twice the national average annual wage for a working man). By the November of 1963, when my 21st birthday arrived, I wanted to throw one of the best parties that my friends on Windybank Estate had ever been to. It seemed very important to push out the boat with a cheer, as I was booked to emigrate to Canada a month later. So I booked the best Rock and Roll Group in Yorkshire for the then princely sum of £45, which represented two weeks wages at the time. The going price for any top group at the time was £30 for a night, but I agreed to pay them the princely sum of £45 if they didn't have as many intermissions as usual. We arranged that the group would start playing while the rest of us bopped the night away, and that they were not to have a break until I indicated they could.I clearly had 'control issues' at the time.
I was the first in the pub that evening to receive my guests as they arrived. As each person came into the dancing room of the pub, they bought me a short to celebrate my birthday and like the fool I was, I drank them down one after the other. The upshot was that the band started doing their turn at 8.00 pm, but by 9.00 pm I was at home in bed, drunk as a skunk. I learned the following day that after I'd left the pub drunk and was taxied home, the other guests continued to have a good time. I also learned that the Rock and Roll group that went on stage at 8.00 pm didn't stop playing and singing until 10.45 pm when a fight broke out. The fight started with one drunken youth throwing a part-eaten pork pie at someone, and that act quickly escalated to a real slanging match where chairs were tossed, along with glasses.I was later told that it was as good as any Saturday night rumble at the 'Town Hall'.Two mates were taken to the hospital and George Minett was later found hung up on the washing line out back. When I called around to 'The Commercial' the next day after having heard the gossip, the landlord charged me thirty-two pounds to cover the damages and barred me from the pub!
With regard to women and courting, my mother's advice had always been, 'Billy, when you marry, marry for love, but if you love 'em and they also happen to have rich parents, don't dally. And whatever you do, don't marry a Heckmondwike girl because they're nothing but trouble!'
After I came back from Canada and was ready for settling down, it wasn't surprising at all when my girlfriend whom I later married, lived in Cleckheaton with her widowed mother and younger sister. It was about seven years after we'd married when my mother's advice came back to haunt me. My first marriage had started to go downhill and it was only then that I discovered from my mother-in-law that my wife had been born in Heckmondwike!
I will always think kindly of dear old Cleckheaton as being the consecration and the cradle of my development. It was the most influential town in my life. There are so many bawdy tales that I could tell, but it would be unfair to so many Winybank/Cleckheaton residents who are still alive and have good reputations to maintain. Cleckheaton was the place that I enjoyed many of my 'firsts,' and it will always hold a lasting memory for me; and to think that I never actually lived there, but passed many landmarks of my development there. Long live Cleckheaton or Cleckheckmondsedge as my old friend, Richard Whitely, used to call it." William Forde: November 27th, 2016