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Backwords: A Welcome In The Hillsides

Mike Shaw stoutly defends the hospitable nature of folk born in Yorkshire's Colne Valley.

Colne Valley people are often accused of being clannish.

But I don’t go along with our reputation for giving comers-in the cold shoulder.

Suspicious we may be. Instant friendships may not be to our liking either. There are even some cynics who say it takes two generations for a family to be accepted into the Valley’s fold.

But take it from me, once you have won over our supposedly hard-skinned people from the hillsides they’ll stand by you through thick and thin.

You don’t just have to accept my word for that. Look around the farmsteads, terrace cottages and semi-detacheds and you’ll find plenty of people from afar who have become quite at home here.

The first outsiders I remember meeting were the wartime evacuees from London. They must have thought they had been dumped in a foreign land when they tried to decipher our dialect.

One young lad from the East End was even supposed to have told his mum and dad they seemed to be living in China. That was because he had overheard one Colne Valley woman saying to another: “Eh washee, who washee wi?’’

The Londoners’ lingo took a bit of following as well. And I never was able to make head or tail of the rhyming slang business.

The Cockneys and Tykes were as different as chalk and cheese. But that did not stop them coming together in peace and harmony - even if the culture clash did provoke a few minor skirmishes.

One of my best mates in my early teens was a lad from London. His family were true Cockneys, bubbling with energy and humour. We had countless happy winter evenings in their cottage on top of the hill. We made the little house positively ring to the sound of laughter and singing as I tried to teach them On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At, and they forced me to try my hand at Knock ‘Em in the Old Kent Road.

Most of the evacuees arrived in the Valley with little more than the clothes they were wearing. It took some of them a long time to build up a home, and I still look back with admiration at their bright cheery ways and lack of bitterness.

They could have been excused for feeling aggrieved. After all, it is a savage disruption to be moved overnight from the familiarity of the metropolis to the strange world north of Watford. Instead they showed a gentle acceptance of the upheaval and it wasn’t long before they were part of the Colne Valley community.

The next group of strangers in the Valley came from even further away. They were young men from Poland who arrived in Marsden to work in the mills.

They lived in a couple of hostels in the village. One was a converted textile mill and the other was the Adult School which centuries ago accommodated comers-in of a different kind when soldiers were billeted there during the Luddite uprisings.

The Poles were certainly no Luddites. They worked very hard with bags of overtime and spent their money wisely. Although they didn’t know much English, they knew how to attract the girls.

Most of their money seemed to go on clothes. They were very slick dressers, and the luxury fawn gabardine raincoats which they could afford and we couldn’t made us green with envy.

I suppose the Polish lads must have had some other assets to help them pull the birds. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been so many of them who married local girls and settled down here for good.

One thing those Poles could do was play football. They had a team called K S Silesia who were positively magic.

During the game they shouted to each other a lot. In Polish of course. So we couldn’t understand a word.

But they baffled us with soccer science as well. Their skills were superb and when I played against them for Slaithwaite United we went down by a huge margin every time.

I wouldn’t say they were happy-go-lucky types. More the strong, silent variety. Not at all like the chirpy Cockneys. But many of them are still here too, with the Colne Valley girls they married.

It’s not only the Welsh who keep a welcome in the hillsides.


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