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Tony Grist

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There And Back Again [Jan. 15th, 2007|10:26 am]
Tony Grist
If you live as I do on the borders of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire is foreign parts. A mere six centuries ago there was  a war between the so-called House of Lancaster and the so-called House of York and- as those of you who live on either side of the Mason-Dixon line can attest- these things never wholly die away. Stories- probably apochryphal- are told of streams in the  Pennine borderlands running red with blood. For all that our subsequent histories- centuries of sheepy goodness followed by the bouleversement of the industrial revolution- are remarkably similar- we don't trust them and they don't trust us.

Here in Oldham we live so close to the county line that people at the edge of the Borough- a mix of hill-farming in-breds and wealthy white-flighters- have been campaigning for years to have themselves re-allocated to Yorkshire. God, but I hate those people!

And yet, as always- as with England and France, as with Confederate and Yankee- there's a fascination that goes along with the animosity. If we want to take a nice, Sunday afternoon drive we automatically head into Yorkshire. It's prettier over there. They have tough little mill towns with Palladian town halls squeezed into river valleys. Yesterday we took a road we'd never taken before and found ourselves in a valley that had been dammed up to make a reservoir. The reservoir was full and the water was slopping over the top of the dam and sliding down the hundred feet of slithery wall like- like an incoming tide that had been stood on end.  It was marvellous.  I found a gap in the fence and trekked to the foot of the falls and took photos and got the spray in my face and then all but gave myself a heart attack climbing back up to the road. Lancashire has nothing to show like that. 

We wound up in a place called Sowerby Bridge. Now, that's another thing they've got.: place names. Our towns have names like Oldham, Rochdale, Littleborough, Burnley; There's no oomph to them. But Sowerby Bridge- there's a guy in Dickens called Sowerby; he's an undertaker. And a mean, sour, tight-fisted, little, twisted bastard ( a typical Yorkshire man in fact). Sowerby Bridge: It's onomatoepaic; it expresses something about the soul of the place.

And on the way back we passed a fingerpost pointing to places called Lumbutts and Manikinholes. No doubt these are wholly disappointing, blink-and -you'll-miss-them agglomerations of council houses and service stations, but the names, the names! 

Which brings us to poets. West Yorkshire breeds 'em . This is Bronte country. Also the stomping ground of the unspeakable Ted Hughes. I don't like him, but no-one has expressed this damp, craggy, cruel landscape as vividly as he did. And his sometime wife, Sylvia Plath,  is buried here. On a windy hillside In a place called Mytholmroyd. Pause to savour and deconstruct that name. 

I'm glad to come home. We're less melodramatic over here. East Lancs is real and West Yorkshire isn't quite.  Here's where the humans live and over there- well, what species do creatures like Heathcliff and Ted Hughes belong to?  It was in some god-forsaken corner of West Yorkshire that the American Werewolf got the bite that turned him feral.  But there's envy mixed up in it. Why can't we have a dam like that? Would they miss a crag or two? Let's go dig up Sylvia Plath and bring her home to civilisation.

[User Picture]From: baritonejeff
2007-01-15 12:41 pm (UTC)
My Lord, what an evocative post!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-15 01:37 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: shullie
2007-01-15 01:03 pm (UTC)
fabulous post...

I'm a South Yorkshire lass...with a dash of Derbyshire borders thrown in... and as beautiful as West/North Yorks is... them there folk ar reight forign - a different tribe all together!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-15 01:40 pm (UTC)
It's amazing ( and reassuring) that in such a small island- and in spite of all that's happened- we still have these huge regional and tribal differences.

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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-01-15 01:49 pm (UTC)
I believe that a certain amount of North/South rivalry preceded the so-called Wars of the Roses. Certainly one glum chronicler referred to Margaret of Anjou's troops as being from the North, "whence every evil comes."

Richard Duke of York's family seat was in barely-Northampton -- Fotheringhay, near the border of Cambridgeshire -- the northern connections, I believe, were more from his inlaws, the Nevilles.

The battle of Towton (1461, if memory serves) is purported to have resulted in 28,000 slain. That's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision hundreds or thousands of panicked Lancastrians being driven down the hill to the flooded Cock Beck and the stream running red with blood. Doesn't take all that much blood to turn the water red.

Some photos --


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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-15 02:10 pm (UTC)
This is more North-North rivalry; The folk to the West of the Pennines (that's us) being at odds with the folk to the East.

Even today the Pennines present quite a barrier. OK, you can get through them in a car or train in about 20 minutes- but look out the window and that's a wasteland out there.

I don't think the War between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists was ever really a war between the two counties, but it's remembered as such. And the counties still use the red and white roses as their emblems. As I drive up into the hills I pass a sign surmounted by a white rose, "welcoming" me to West Yorkshire. It feels like a challenge.

Thanks for the photos. You can feel the chill. I'd like to visit Towton. Have you seen the TV film about the archaeology of the battlefield- "Blood Red Roses"? It contains marvellously graphic reenactments of the fighting and (rightly) won awards.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-01-15 01:56 pm (UTC)
oh, crap, leave Sylvia where she is. Civilized she may have been, but just barely.

We have regional rivalries here in the same city - our school can beat your school at basketball, football, baseball, etc because "you kids are a bunch of rich spoiled sissies and we are all the children of blue collar workers and know how to play this game the way it should be played."

Which doesn't take away from the fact that I would really like to see your part of England. And the part you drove through, yesterday.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-15 02:29 pm (UTC)
Ted Hughes had two women commit suicide on his watch. I think he was a humourless, self-important bastard. I'm one of those who would quite like to see The "Hughes" scratched off Sylvia's headstone.

She was the better poet I think.

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From: bodhibird
2007-01-15 02:57 pm (UTC)

Transplanted Englishmen

I live in Maryland. If you drive north on York Road, which overlaps with Interstate 83 for a good stretch, you will cross the border into Pennsylvania. Not so far into Pennsylvania, you'll come to a place where the road splits. Go right, and you'll enter York, Pennsylvania. Go left, and it will be Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Just names. No history.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-01-15 03:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Transplanted Englishmen

My mother, a York County girl, said to me about ten years ago, "You know, York is the white rose city and Lancaster is the red rose city. I wonder why that was..."

Given that I'd been rocketing around the house fulminating about those skeevy Lancastrians since, oh, 1961, I was dumbounded.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-01-15 03:18 pm (UTC)
Wonderful, wonderful post, Tony! Thank you.

One of the many things that draws me back to England time and time again is the regional diversity. Oh, we have that here in Spain although in my own homeland, vistas aside, the USA is a more homogeneous place. My very first visit to England was to Lancashire but north, to Lancaster itself. We haven´t ventured into Yorkshire yet but your post pulls me in that direction. Oh, the wildness!

I really need to convince Manolo that we should take road trips in England and not just fly up there and rely on National Express to get us around but we´re both a bit afraid of getting all jumbled up driving on the left side of the road.


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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-15 04:59 pm (UTC)
My daughter and son both went to Lancaster university- so I know the town quite well.

Yorkshire is arguably the most beautiful English county. It's also the largest. So yes, you probably would need a car to get into the interesting out of the way corners.
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2007-01-15 04:38 pm (UTC)
I had a friend who lived in Saddleworth, Yorks, which was just next to Oldham, Lancs, and the nearest big town was Manchester. I visited him in the vac once, and loved it. His father was a nurseryman, and when people paid him by cheque it went through the books, and when they paid him cash it went into a shoebox under the floorboards. One day he took the shoebox down to a car dealwer and bought a new van, paid for in grimy and mouldy pound and ten-bob notes.

And then there were the famous Moors Murders, scary places, those.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-15 05:16 pm (UTC)
Saddleworth is the place I'm talking about. It used to be Yorkshire, but then they re-arranged the boundaries and tacked it onto the borough of Oldham. It's been disputed territory ever since.

It used to be a very isolated place; Ailz lived there for a time and found the locals hostile to in-comers- which is why I'm not entirely kind in my account of them- but now it's filling up with the Manchester glitterati.

Ailz knew the family of John Kirkbride- one of the victims of the Moors murderers. Those killings cast a gloom over her childhood. Suddenly she and her friends were no longer allowed to roam freely.
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[User Picture]From: kaysho
2007-01-16 08:40 pm (UTC)
When I lived in Lancaster, I was amused to see the red rose insignia everywhere ... because the Wars of the Roses are even more a pure history-book thing for an American.

Interestingly, the city next door to mine (Pasadena, California) also has as its symbol a red rose. Anti-Yorkishness apparently follows me everywhere. :)

Although since it's a "conflict" to which I'm really not a party, I must say that York is a really lovely town ...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-17 03:31 pm (UTC)
I'm a Southerner by birth and should really not allow myself to be drawn into these north-country tribal disputes.

So I do my best to be nice to the Yorkies. Yes, York is a very handsome city. And what a history- Roman, Viking, medieval; I really ought to treat myself to a weekend break there, sometime soon.

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[User Picture]From: liseuse
2007-01-20 11:14 pm (UTC)
I feel a slight need to go "HRRUMPH" being a proud Yorkshire lass (North, no less!) by birth. But then my mother and father are both from Manchester via Ireland and lived in Oldham for years.

Still. Hrrumph.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-01-22 02:11 pm (UTC)
Well, yes- I'm actually a Londoner. My loyalty to the red rose is the fruit of thirty years residence in the Manchester area.
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