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Local History Talk - Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Looking back on the more recent past is often fraught with problems, especially a tendency to see the world through a prism of stereotypes or rose coloured spectacles. Speaking to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society, Ian Dewhirst, retired reference librarian at Keighley Library, painted a picture of everyday life in Keighley and neighbouring towns with often hilarious detail, but the story was rooted in the rich sources of records and memorabilia found in the archives. Ian is a great story-teller, but he is also a great local historian.

So it was that the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was reminded of the bleak facts of life in the back to back streets of towns like Keighley, streets which rarely saw the sunshine. Medical Officers' annual reports record high infant mortality, and diseases like scarlet fever and diphtheria at a time when, to avoid doctors' bills, it seemed that Grandma had a remedy for every ill. Consumption was a killer, and open air sanatoriums were established to cure the illness - an idea turned into a commercial venture when the owners of a maggot farm in Denholme traded on the belief that the atmosphere there was beneficial and opened a 'maggotorium' where sufferers could sleep.

National Rat Week

Housing conditions caused real problems when there was minimal sanitation for the mass of the town. For two weeks every November the public health office promoted a National Rat Week when a penny halfpence would be paid for every rat's tail presented as proof of death. However, slum clearance programmes had started in these interwar years with new council houses built at a density of 12 to an acre, with gardens, toilets and bathrooms, replacing the old back to backs crammed in at 60 or 70 per acre.

The brief respite between the two world wars saw huge social changes, with outdoor hobbies like hiking and cycling becoming popular and the break-down of some of the restrictions of relations between the sexes. This was the era of the scouting movement, though it was clear that some of their games were aimed at making the boys into prospective soldiers able to follow commands.

The war to come was throwing its shadow over the country from at least 1936, and the horrors and repercussions of the last war were ever present, but there were plenty of opportunities to escape. There were cinemas in every small town, live theatre attracting big names and spectator sports like rugby and football. More people were able to take holidays, and the postcards they sent home are another rich source of social history.

Ian's message was clear: hang on to memorabilia - it is through the ephemera of letters, leaflets, posters and club reports that the rich historical details of ordinary people's lives are preserved.

At the last in the current series of talks to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society Sheila Graham asks 'Whose land is it anyway?' – a look at the landscape impact of Parliamentary enclosure in this area. Meeting at 7.30 on Wednesday 26th March at Hebden Bridge Methodist Hall.

Details from the Local History website

Many thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Previously, on the HebWeb

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner

Anne Kirker tells of Sam Hill of Making Place, Soyland Read more (22 Dec)

Local History Talk: A Postcard from Sunny Bunce's, a local destination that became known as the playground of the north. Read more

Withens Reservoir, the subject of the latest Local History Talk, was part of a fascinating story . . . not so much Cragg Vale's reservoir as the property of distant Morley. Read more (19 Nov)

Local History talk on Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley: As make-believe witches come knocking on our doors John Billingsley, folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Local History Society that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed. More info (27 Oct)

Local History talk on Mytholmroyd's Moderna: Joan Laprell spoke to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society where she recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. More info (12 Oct)

Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)

Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)

Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)

The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)

Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)

Our Railway Station in the 19th century. David Taylor told a meeting of the Local History Society about how the early railway developed in Hebden Bridge. Read more (28 Jan)

Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)

City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)

Lament for the Mills - Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic told of his childhood spent close to mills owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith. Read more (2 Dec)

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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