On first glance the above shown graffiti might look like wanton vandalism of the worst kind,  written on a wall by some mindless idiot…but read on and here is the story of one of the most iconic images of Bradford in the 1960/70.

When I first started work in Bradford in the 1960’s, I used to pass these words written on a wall on All Saints Road and wonder what the author was thinking when he wrote this, because to me, Bradford at that time was booming with its Wool Industry keeping over one hundred mills working day and night and employing a large percentage of the population….it didn’t seem like ‘a mean old scene' to me!

No one really knows who wrote this, but rumour has it that it was written by a university student called Graham Little in 1969, who went on to be part of a local Theatre Group.

On closer inspection of the letters, particularly the ‘E’, ‘T’ and ‘S’s it was clearly written by someone with artistic tendencies, perhaps an art student, or at least someone who practiced calligraphy.

Over the next few years many Bradfordians came to love seeing the wall with its meaningful words, so much so that the head of Bradford Council’s clean-up team is rumoured to have kept putting the removal notice to the bottom of his pile.

 Some years later, when a car hit the wall and partially demolished it, the council were forced to lower the height of the wall when rebuilding, and partly destroy the graffiti....then someone came along and rewrote it with the new phrase ‘It’s still a mean old scene’!

Many people came to look at it, and appreciate it over the years, so much so that a Jim Greenhalf used the image in a book he wrote called ‘ A history of Bradford from 1974’, and someone else called Pete Coe, even produced a folk music record with the phrase of the title track.

There is also a blues song written in the late 60's by John Mayall called ' Double Crossin' Time' which uses the phrase in it's first line.

Pete Coe article
Jim Greenhalf's book

There were even tea-shirts produced with it shown, depicting the Bradford Boar as well!

Sadly, had it been a modern day 'Banksy', I’m sure it would have been moved and reassembled in the local museum today but like most things, nothing lasts for ever, and the image has now long since gone…..but not forgotten in lots of local people’s memories.

[When I was research for this article, I posted a request for more information about this and received literally hundreds of messages from fellow Bradfordians who had fond memories and anecdotes about this iconic feature…..thank you to them all.]

Jabez Bancroft..."The Wrecker"....part 2

Keighley News - 17th January 1931

I wrote an article some time ago about a Jabez Bancroft [1854-1933], who led a very interesting life in his home town of Keighley, and I recently came across more information about him, including the above photograph of him taken from the Keighley News in 1931.

Early in 1931 one of the worst mill fires to hit Keighley broke out inside the 111ft four story high Mantra Mill, then under the ownership of W & J Bairstow, who ran it as a corn mill. With there being a large amounts of combustible material throughout the building, the fire left it as a complete burnt out shell. The only outcome was to demolish the mill. This caused a bit of a problem because behind the mill stood a water tank which weighed ten tonnes and it was sat on top of an 80ft stone tower and nobody seems to of had any idea on how to deal with it.... that is until Jabez Bancroft a local metal and demolition expert arrived. He had a very simple solution with the aid of just one assistant. His plan was simple, and with a wire rope and winch he pulled the water tank down off its footings, and he then proceeded to blow up the remaining tower with dynamite.

The ten ton water tank pulled to the ground

All this must have been the talk of the town at the time, and no doubt did Jabez’s reputation no end of good as a demolition expert. Goodness knows what it would have done to his reputation if it had all gone wrong!

Shortly after the demolition, plans were drawn up to replace the corn mill with a new building originally called 'Mantra House', which still stand to this day, although now it is divided into many small working units.

Architect's drawing - the new 'Mantra House'

 Jabez life is explained in much more details in my previous article, which can be read by clicking HERE

Bringing home the Turf.

Me, Grandad Ned and the Ass-Cart

As a child, I have fond memories of spending summer times on holiday in Galway, Ireland with my maternal Grandparent, and on speaking to my mother recently about this, it all came flooding back. 

Looking through some old photos, I found the above old photo of me with my Grandfather Ned, bringing home the turf in his Donkey-Cart, or "Ass-Cart" as he always called it. I was about 12 years old at the time. [“Turf” is the name used in Ireland for dried peat.]

It may seem strange to many people nowadays  that even in the 1960’s peat was still been cut from bog-land and widely used to heat the homes in rural Ireland, but this was the norm in the small town where my Grandparents lived, indeed it is still very common to this day to see people using this fuel in the home. My Grandparents would have paid the owner of the bog land a certain price per yard for the right to cut turf for their own use, although at one time the family did own some bog-land of their own.

The photo above shows the type of cart many people had in their back yard, ideal for being pulled over wet bog-land because of it’s large wheels, by a donkey at the time…..can’t remember the name of the donkey, if indeed had a name, but my Grandfather always seemed to have a donkey around on land at the back of their house, as many others did, and I remember going to sleep one warm summer’s evening with the bedroom window wide open, to be woken up in the morning with the donkey sticking it’s head through the window and braying for food!

My Grandfather, assisted by his brother-in-law, Tommy, had the job of cutting and then transporting the dried turf back home.

Cutting the turf was very labour intensive in those days and involved cutting into the wet bog with a specially shaped shovel called a ”slean”.

The Slean
“Saving” the turf involved turning each piece of turf to ensure the sun and wind could help in the drying process. The turf was then placed upright or 'footed' for further drying. Footing the turf involved placing five or six pieces of turf upright and leaning against each other in a small stack in order for the wind to get between the turfs to full dry them out fully, ready for storage.

I well remember seeing the sweat on Tommy’s brow, cutting turf on a hot summer days, then stopping for a rest and a cigarette. He and Grandad then loaded it on the cart after drying and brought it the few miles home to be used through winter.

Their home had a large black range in the kitchen which heated the house and was used for cooking as well. It seemed as though we were continually going outside to the shed for another hand full of turf to keep it stoked up, and then emptying the ashes out because it filled up quickly due to the peat not lasting long. Today many people use commercially cut blocks of peat, which are compressed and therefore seem to last a lot longer.

Back-breaking work!

My mother remembers friends in the town, although not in her time, as children having to each take a piece of turf to school with them every morning in order to heat the classroom, otherwise there was no heat for the class!

And just to finish with, I still have the wonderful smell of burning turf in my head from those happy times years ago.

Drying turf stacks

Oxenhope in the Great War

I recently read a book called “Oxenhope in the Great War” which was a very informative story about how WW1 affected this little village in Yorkshire and the lives of the men and women who lived there, where 370 men left home to serve King and Country and 54 of whom never returned.
Usually my articles about WW1 are tinged with sadness about all the young lives lost during this terrible conflict, but in this article I want to talk about people who survived, In particular one individual called Edgar Bancroft who was born in the village, was called up in 1916, and not only survived the war, but stayed on for 6 months after the end of the conflict in the army of occupation in Germany because he wanted “ to have a bit of smooth after the rough!”

As in most areas of the country, many men volunteered to fight, and the above newspaper advert uses comradery and patriotism to try and persuade men to sign up, and many did. The 2nd Bradford Pals Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment visited Oxenhope on a recruiting parade and on 24th March 1915. The men, women and children of Oxenhope, who had been taken out of school that day all watched as the soldiers marched and were welcomed in the village.
Edgar was born on 3rd November 1897 in Oxenhope, the younger son of Alfred and Sarah [nee O’Hara]. Alfred was a master tailor, who later in life became a farmer and cattle dealer living at Stone Top Farm. Edgar became an apprentice plumber, working in Keighley for a Tom Slater.
He was called up and enlisted with the York & Lancaster Regiment on 12th September 1916, and travelled by train from Keighley to Halifax, where he reported to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at their collecting depot. From there he was sent to the transit camp at Clipstone near Mansfield, and was the youngest man in the hut. After training, he went to France, travelling overnight by train to Dover, then drafted out to Abbeville and St. Omer.

He did not go into combat immediately, but eventually served at Ypres and Passchendaele. One of his memories there was standing directly behind a gun and watching the large shells for a second or so as they went down the trajectory. Some of the guns were huge and before a battle when the artillery put over a massive barrage, the ground would shake like a jelly, and the guns would leap into the air as they recoiled.
He joined the Machine Gun Corps when volunteers were called for and was given two days leave as a reward. Sixty other lads who hadn’t volunteered were also drafted into the MGC, but without any leave.
Edgar was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and the 9th Kite Balloon Squadron, and he would watch the officer go up in the balloon to check and correct the range of the artillery fire. However, sometimes the Germans sent over a plane to shoot down the balloon, and when the officer saw it coming, would have to quickly parachute out. One particular morning this happened several times.
As mentioned earlier, at the end of the war Edgar was asked to stay on for an additional six months, and went to Germany with the army of occupation, and was most impressed with the city of Cologne. Although he was offered promotion to sergeant, he declined to stay on any longer, and was demobilised on 7th August 1919, transferring to the RAF Reserves.

Edgar is named on the Oxenhope Wesleyan memorial.
He died, age 65 years, on 1st March 1962.

[I am grateful to be allowed to use extract from the excellent book “Oxenhope in the Great War” by Norma Mackrell. Anyone who wishes to purchase this book, the profit of which go to Manorlands Hospice in Oxenhope, can do so on the following website.]