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Lives Remembered - Norman Hurst

Norman HurstNorman Hurst died at home on Friday, 3 July 2015

See below for responses from Graham Packham, Mick Piggott, Alan Phipps, Veronica Mooney, Pauline Wood, Michael Moss, Bernie Hurst, Alan Sparkes and John Billingsley.


From Graham Packham

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

I first met Norman and Di in 1964. They were friends of my first wife, and we met at Ken Colyer's jazz club in Soho. Norman was still in the army - the Signals Regiment. He had signed on as a 'boy soldier' and was due to be demobbed after, I think 15 years, in 1965/6. He had picked up an enviable mix of practical skills in the army, both mechanical and electrical/electronic. At the end of his service, with his army bounty, he bought a small unreformed cottage called Littlewood, at the top end of Cragg Vale.

When he left the army he also bought a Ford Van, and with Di, and two other friends set off to drive to India and back spending time in all those Middle Eastern countries that have become no go areas for Europeans for the last 30 years or so. On their return they moved into the house that we had just got a mortgage on in Crouch End. Norman's multi-skills were invaluable in helping us to renovate this very dilapidated house.

We were all active in the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, CND, and the Anti Apartheid movement. Through these we became involved with the International Socialists, and around the time of the battle of Grosvenor Square the Hornsey IS branch was formed and began to meet regularly at our house.

We began to go up to Norman and Di's Cragg Vale cottage on a Friday night, helping with various improvements, getting drunk on Saturday nights, and driving back to London late Sunday evening for work Monday morning. The beauty of the valley from their house in Cragg, contrasted dramatically with the dark, drear, smoke stained towns and mills of the valley bottom, especially Hebden Bridge. After a time N and D moved up to Littlewood permanently and we would visit as often as we could, sleeping in their silver-paper lined psychedelic loft complete with music activated lights and a pair of early Hurst-Phillips built speakers. Norman had secured a job with the Post Office due to the electronic skills he had acquired in the Signals.

Two events that particularly stick in my mind from those times. In the late 60s, possibly as a reaction to his long army career, Norman's appearance was 'interesting'. Norman had a substantial beard. He had been thinning on top and to compensate he had grown very long hair but especially long on one side, which was carefully combed over. In those bitter winters of the early 70s, Norman would wear for work, an Afgan sheepskin jacket, and a huge wolf skin hat, that he'd acquired on his travels. The combination of his uncontrolled beard and hair, the very hairy winter clothes, and his occasionally wild eyed look were certainly more Cossack than Scouse. The point of my detailed description is that Norman's Post Office job was to visit police stations all over West Yorkshire to check on the functioning of each station's 4 minute nuclear warning system! The fact that neither his appearance nor his political views were ever challenged is amazing, and perhaps a reflection of more innocent times?

The other event from 1974, also involved the police. We had had many residents at our house in London. In 1970 a friend had been staying who was the girl friend of Stuart Christie who had served 4 years in a Spanish jail following his abortive attempt (aged 16) to assassinate the dictator Franco. Following his early release he was targeted by UK intelligence services and was finally arrested as one of the Stoke Newington Eight. Following a year long remand and lengthy trial he was acquitted of the trumped up charges along with three others. Wanting to get away from London, Brenda and Stuart bought a house near Honley. By 1972 my wife had moved to Linthwaite with our son. During one visit North I was helping Norman put a kitchen in Stuart's house in Honley.

After a day's work we went for drink or two. Driving back over the moor Norman spotted an old steel sink unit in a field. "Just what we need for the new kitchen", he said. Whilst loading it in the back of the van, we also (I'm ashamed to admit) took 3 pieces of dry stone wall to finish off their new fireplace. Another car drove by and Norman gave the driver help to negotiate past us in the narrow lane. Back at the house in Linthwaite we went to bed. At three in the morning 7 police called and arrested Norman and I. It turned out that the car Norman had helped was driven by the owner of the moor top scrap yard! Anxious not to alert the police to Stuart's presence we said we were the only people involved.

At Slaithwaite police station we were interviewed. Norman's appearance was as wild as ever despite him now being an electronics lecturer at Bolton College. I was a student up from London. But once the police realised we were not a gang of metal thieves from Rochdale our charges were airbrushed from history and we got a lift home in the stations best car on condition that we returned the items from whence they came the following morning. It could all have turned out so differently.

From 1977, after I'd moved to Slaithwaite, we spent many happy, sunny days helping Norman and Di reconstruct there farmhouse at Colden and enjoying Norman's generous hospitality. Later still in the early days of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, Norman's photographic skills were invaluable in capturing many of the events and exhibitions for marketing purposes, and for posterity.

Norman's passing is tragic and the end of a 50+ year era for me. I'm so glad I was able to talk with him a few weeks ago before his rapid decline. The small group of friends who have been there for Norman and Di week in and out have been magnificent. Di will need them even more in the immediate future.

From Mick Piggott

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Norman and Di came into our lives just before Christmas 1970. We had just 'migrated' from Manchester to Hebden Bridge, with friends and children, driven by the idealistic notion that we could create a commune in the country; we were motivated mostly by a desire to bring up our kids in a rural environment.

We moved into Latham Farm, above Old Town, which was then dilapidated, lacking basic facilities, and cheap. It had yet to be improved and modernised to the lovely dwelling it subsequently became at the hands of Mike and Jenny Slaughter when we moved on.

We had only been there a few days when a small group of people, who were known locally (and colloquially if inaccurately) as the 'Hebden Hippies', visited to welcome us into the community. This group included Norman and Diane Hurst. We soon became the best of friends.

Norman's background was that he came from a family of Liverpool dockworkers. He overcame a physical birth defect (corrected by surgery in infancy) so that he was able to join the Army as a 'boy soldier', where he learnt the trades, that provided him with a decent living for the rest of his working life when he left the Army.

One of the reasons for our close friendship was that we shared with Norman and Di a firm conviction in Socialism. We also wanted to Ban the Bomb. Norman recounted how, before he had left the Army, he had become a supporter of CND: in fact, he attended a CND demo and on returning to base, proudly wore his CND badge. He got into some trouble for that minor 'offence'.

Politics aside, he was the truest friend anyone could wish for.

He was incredibly supportive of us in times of trouble. At one time, I was under attack from certain members of the local community who wanted my employment in a local organisation terminated. Feeling shattered and weak at the perceived hostility towards me, I felt unable to mount an appropriate self-defence; and then Norman stepped into the breach and publicly delivered a speech which was angry, clear and in its way, devastating. He stood up for me openly and fearlessly: it was one of the many times that Norman has proved to be a most stalwart friend. I could cite others …

Our children grown into near-adulthood, Jean and I migrated to Australia in 1989. We returned often to the UK, every one to two years, and always caught up with most of our many friends in the Calder Valley, including, invariably, Norman and Di. In 1998, Norman and Di visited us and stayed for several weeks at our home in Bridgetown, Western Australia. We were able to do some travelling with them, visiting the wonderful southern areas of Western Australia.

When we returned to live in the UK in 2006, we started going out to lunch on a regular basis with Norman and Di, and we were soon joined by other close friends, specifically Sue and Mike Pemsel, close mutual friends who had known Norman and Di longer than us. This grew into a larger group, and the regular lunches became a monthly lunch club, meeting in each others' homes. We take it in turns to host the lunch club, with the hosts cooking the main item and everyone else contributing. It won't be the same without the contributions made by our joint founder-member, Norman. Who was, by the way, a most excellent cook, along with his many other talents and abilities; his photography has been mentioned elsewhere.

People like Norman - especially Norman - contribute so much to society generally and local social life in particular, that it is so sad that he was not able to enjoy an even longer, happier retirement with his wife of fifty-five years.

It may be a cliché to say 'He will be sadly missed' but with Norman, it could not be more true.

From Alan Phipps

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

I met Norman and Di Hurst in 1969 through Graham Packham and his first wife, Vaz. Visiting them made me fall in love with the Calder Valley and Cragg Vale in particular. I contrived, in 1970-71, to get my polytechnic course sandwich year to take place in Manchester, so that I could live there – firstly with Norman & Di and then in a cottage near the Robin Hood.

When they moved to their tumbledown farmhouse at Colden – Lower Fieldhead - I spent two happy summers helping with the re-building. Dated 1665, we were told by an elderly neighbour that only animals had lived in the buildings in living memory. N and D lived in a caravan on the site for two years whilst the work was in progress. This consisted of builders dismantling the cottage and barn, numbering the stones and re-building it. Various friends helped out with other tasks such as mixing tons of cement for the new foundations. Norman would come home from work and spend his evenings at the countless tasks needed to realize the project.

Norman was an extraordinary character. Many of his friends were 'arts-persons' with little in the way of practical skills. But Norman, with his scientific / technological background, always had a way to make things happen, or to make things work. Some of us dubbed him 'Magic Norman' because of this! But he had a wonderful enquiring mind; he read voraciously on a wide variety of topics. He was interested not only in peace-and-socialism ("just a dream some of us had!") but also in philosophy, Eastern Religions, astronomy and many other things.

On my visits to Lower Fieldhead, over the years – and Norman's main courses and Di's puddings - we had countless discussions, many of which still resonate with me, on all manner of subjects. He was a speculative and open-minded thinker and a person of great wisdom and sensitivity – a person of many infectious enthusiasms. I will miss him greatly.

From Veronica Mooney

Thursday, 9 July 2015

What beautiful tributes for my big Brother Norman. Sadly I do not have many childhood memories of Norman as there was a 10 year age gap and Norman left home to work on a farm when he was only16 years old. I do, however, remember him arriving home fuming and complaining about what an "Old B----" the farmer was. As Norman was no shrinking violet I am sure the farmer was aware of his feelings.

It is difficult to imagine how traumatic Norman's childhood must have been. Dad left for Army service when he was only 3 years old. Mum had the twins who were tiny babies. He had to grow up very quickly. He was 9 years old when he next saw Dad. The atrocities of war had a lasting effect on him and his beliefs.

I remember there was great excitement in the Hurst household when Norman bought a beautiful border collie puppy home from the farm. Well, I was excited but I am not so sure about Mum and Dad. Patch was a wonderful dog and she became a very important member of the Hurst family. The whole neighbourhood knew Norman's dog and over the 13 years Patch was with us we have many happy memories of Her adventures.

As I grew from that irritating little Sister into a person Norman could actually talk to we became good friends and Norman and Di spent many happy times in Devon with my family. I was so pleased that his last Christmas was spent with us. He was weak and tired but still the old Norman.

Norman and Di took a great interest in their Nephews and Nieces had amazing skill in choosing presents for all the family. Christmas presents,Birthday presents were chosen with great care and because of this they were very special. The beautiful rag dolls Di made, many many wonderful books, Norman's photographs. My Son in Australia still has Fat Cat,a soft toy Di made to go with the Fat Cat book. Daisy their great Niece treasures the sampler that was given when she was born. They were not just presents but a little part of them and their love.

Norman loved a challenge and a few years ago we persuaded him to research our family tree. With great enthusiasm and determination he set about this task. We would receive regular updates and often he would be frustrated as he felt he had reached a blank wall but defeat was not in his vocabulary and the result was the most beautiful document which we will treasure and can pass on for generations. We did smile when Norman told us that Dad's family originated from Prussia he then promptly said "don't get excited" With our stature, short legs stocky body, we were more likely to be of peasant stock than of Royal decent."

As a couple, Norman and Di complimented each other. Di being the more "touchy-feely" person and Norman more practical. I can visualise our wonderful family Christmases together. Norman in one corner telling a story or debating some topic. Diane in the other sitting patiently whilst the nieces combed her beautiful Long hair.

Over the years we have had some happy "Family get togethers" and with some good food and wine we would reminisce about old times. These are the memories I treasure. Norman, his gentle yet strong presence, his wonderful stories, that wicked sense of humour and laughter, lots of laughter. I will miss you xx

From Bernie Hurst

Friday, 10 July 2015

The twins, Pauline and I, were born in 1940. Our father was away for the entire war. It must have been particularly tough for Norman, as he was nearly nine when Dad returned and I think it was difficult for both of them to adjust. Dad achieved the rank of warrant officer class one, which Norman told me is the highest rank for a non- commissioned officer. He returned back to work at the Liverpool Gas board, albeit at a lower level job than when he left.

We lived on the outskirts of Liverpool near the village of Childwall. There was an anti-aircraft gun station a few hundred yards away from our house, and Norman remembered watching the shells fired at the German bombers who were on their way to bomb the Liverpool dock area.

Norman always had a great love for the countryside and nature. He was an avid bird watcher and used to volunteer at the local horse riding school.

Our parents were strong Catholics, so Norman had to attend a school in the inner city. I think it was despite the level of schooling there that he passed the 13 plus examination and attended a technical school that focused on the building trades. He told me that this stood him in good stead when rebuilding their house.

Norman joined the army around the age of 17. He achieved high marks in the aptitude tests so was streamed into telecommunications.

Gill and I emigrated to Alberta Canada 1973 We still kept in touch through long telephone conversations discussing various common interests. The breadth of Norman's knowledge on many topics always amazed all our family. We also visited England most years and have many fond memories of our time with Di and Norman.

When we heard about Norman's illness last year, we visited Norman and Di in October and were really glad that we did. We were able to spend several days with them enjoying the local pubs and countryside. A particular highlight for us was our trip to the beautiful village of Wycoller. Norman was able to drive us. We learned so much from them, and they told us this was one of their favourite spots.

Norman and Di spent four weeks with our family in Canada in 2001. Their enthusiasm and interest in everything they experienced is still something that stands out for us. We visited our son Chris and Wife Terry in Valemount, which is situated in British Columbia in the Rockies. Chris and Terry were running a bed and breakfast there at that time. Chris spoke to Norman on the phone and told us that America was under attack. This was September 11. He asked Norman to break the news to the American guest who was staying there. The guest later sent an email to thank everyone, in particular, Norman and Di for the compassion and support they provided him.

Another highlight that Norman and Di recalled was when we visited the salmon-spawning site near Valemount. There were half-eaten fish and bear tracks on the path there, so we all stayed close to Chris who had bear spray. The spawning site was amazing, with hundreds of salmon at the end of their final journey and golden eagles flying overhead.

Norman and Di love of books was really reflected in the beautiful, thoughtful books that they sent our children each year. Gill has made sure these have been carefully preserved, and they are now being enjoyed by our grandchildren.

Even though our children grew up on the other side of the world and had limited opportunity to spend face-to-face time with Norman and Diana, they have all expressed a deep respect and admiration for the example that they set through their willingness to forge their own paths and live their lives as an expression of their humanistic values.

From Pauline Wood and family

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Norman changed our lived in many ways. When I was sixteen, my brother Norman thought I was spending to much time going to the Cavern Club in Liverpool, so he introduced me to art buying me wonderful books on French Painters. I still love paintings. With my husband John over the years we have collected so many paintings and have now run out of wall space.

To our children Julian, Stephanie and Nick, Norman was one of the Coolest Uncles after he built us metre high speakers the envy of all their friends. The sound from those speakers was amazing. They were Eco friendly built, being stuffed with local sheep wool.

Before he became too ill, my sister Veronica and I would stay at a local B&B, Norman would cook us a great meal, always with wine then with the help of a torch we would stagger down the very uneven track terrified in the dark. Of course we would have to have a tot or two at the pub at Jack Bridge.

What fun and Happy days. You always think those days will last longer.

Norman, we miss you.

Pauline and family

From Michael Moss

Sunday, 12 July 2015

I remember those days of fixing up the house in London. I was wallpapering to the loud sound of Sergeant Pepper the LP over and over again.Tthen helping put up tongue & groove wood in the kitchen at Cragg Vale, going up there on a friday night. It was fun.

How the years flash by. I only saw the farmhouse after it was finished. It was a realy good reconstuction of that Queen Ann farmhouse at Blackshaw Head.

I remember Norman reconditioning an engine for their Ford van in our driveway at Dunstable. After that they went over land to India. I gave Diane a camping air bed only to get a post card somewhere on the road ending with this blo__bed keeps going down in the middle of the night. I also remember going to the house when they lived in Andover, they had a party and there was a lot of people there. Good times.

I will miss Norman greatly as he was so good to my sister Diane. To quote an American saying, I'm very bent out of shape a lot. I just freeked out when I heard as I spoke to Norman a week or so before he fell enquiring about Diane. We had a discussion about King George and he corrected me on which number it was as we were talking 1776 battle of independence. George Washington that was on the tv over here in California, USA

That's it for now. God bless you Norman Hurst.

From Alan Sparkes

Friday, 17 July 2015

I first met Norman and Diane in Hebden Bridge around 1973/4 and over the years we intermittently crossed paths. Every time I met Norman he was always very welcoming and interested in what was going on in my life.

I always appreciated our conversations as Norman was articulate, learned and a great communicator. A particular time was at one of Mick and Jean's infamous parties when I took the opportunity to play one of my favourite vinyl LP's at the time. Norman was attracted to the sound and came and sat with me and we chatted for a good hour or so - the time went quickly and it was compelling listening from Norman as we explored a number of subjects around music, politics and life in general. The LP was one of Johnny Winter's collaborations with Muddy Waters.

I always appreciated Norman's cooking and how he ensured I always had plenty to eat - I had a vegan diet for many years. One of my last memories was when Norman informed me the origins of the title "Scouser," I never knew it was a type of stew. Another example of Norman's extensive knowledge and how he imparted that knowledge in a thoroughly entertaining, informative and interesting manner. Goodbye Norman. You were one of the good guys.

From John Billingsley

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

I'd known Norman and Diane for some time on a 'hello' basis, but it was only earlier this year that I got the opportunity to see and have a good talk with them both over tea and books, and I must say I regretted not having made better acquaintance earlier. I last saw Norman in June, and having been away much of July, have only just heard of his passing. Now how much more do I regret not having enjoyed he and Diane's company more, and earlier.

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Lives Remembered

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