You look at pictures of the area as it was in the first half of the twentieth century and it's a forest of tall chimneys set in a smog as thick as the smog they've got in Beijing. Now there's scarcely a chimney left. You can't regret this; the old town was a hell hole. On the other hand it had a character and a culture- tough, chippy, self-mocking, proud, sentimental, that was worth something and is now history. I saw the fag-end of that culture. If it didn't kill you it made you strong. I had people in my parish- older people, all now dead- who I think of as moral giants: Fred Lloyd, George Sherratt, Marian Jones. Pah, I'm getting sentimental myself now. But I hope they'll leave a mill or two standing as a reminder of how things used to be.
When you've known a place for any length of time you have a movie of it you can play in your head- a fast forward movie in which the years go by in seconds. My movie of St. Anne's Royton starts in black and white- the black and white of the hard winter of 1981 when the built environment was still largely Victorian and Edwardian- then rushes forward- in a fidget of walls coming down and walls going up- to the bright colours of the day before yesterday- with baskets of flowers hanging off the barriers at the intersection below the church- where I once worked- at my lowest ebb- as a school crossings attendant. Irrespective of the virtues of old and new, that onrush is- in itself- a wonderful, enthralling thing- and bearing witness to it makes me happy.