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Lament for the Mills

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic, returned to his roots in the Calder Valley and recalled his childhood spent close to the mills in Todmorden and Walsden owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith.  

Speaking to Hebden Bridge Local History Society, he wove together the poems from his collection ‘Lament for the Mills’ with some remarkable photographs, to re-create an atmospheric picture of the mills, the people and the landscape that inspired his work.  The stories told by his father, as well as his own memories, leant vividness to the descriptions of the processes of weaving and informed the dialogues Robert recreates in his poems.

Hollins Mill

Hollins Mill

Hollins Mill shed workers 1902

Hollins Mill shed workers 1902

The Cockcroft boys - his father and four brothers - were encouraged to have free run of the mill to explore and experiment. On one occasion Robert’s father and uncle unwittingly unleashed the power of the great water wheel and were caught up in its rotation, narrowly escaping injury. In his poem re-telling this story, Robert makes the link between this spirit of exploration and the ground-breaking experiments undertaken by his other uncle, scientist  John Cockcroft, which resulted in the splitting of the atom.

There were portraits in words and pictures of remarkable people, including some outspoken  correspondence between his great-grandmother and great-grandfather in the days when their courtship was not going so well:  ‘you need not think because you’ve got a cage, you can have any woman for the asking’. What emerged most strongly was the pride of the community, the invention, the skill and the industry of a lost era; it was refreshing to see and hear the valley’s textile heritage memorialised in poetry.

The final talk of 2012 will be a fascinating look at ‘The City in the Hills’: the story of Dawson City and the building of the Walshaw Dean reservoirs, at 7.30 on Wednesday 12th December at the Hebden Bridge Methodist Hall. Details from www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk

Many thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

See also

How much thought do you give to a war memorial? - Mike Edwards told a meeting of the Local History Society, war memorials can be found in many forms and in unusual places. Read more (17 Nov)

Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)

Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.

The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

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