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Backwords: A Special Place Called Marsden

Mike Shaw writes with deep affection of the small mill town in which he grew up.

Of all the small mill towns dotted around the Huddersfield area, few if any were as self-sufficient as Marsden.

In the days of my early childhood it had just about everything - except a hospital - that people needed to see them through from the cradle to the grave.

Even though there was no Marsden Infirmary, it did have its own ambulance to whisk the ill and injured down to Huddersfield. Not to mention doctors, nurses and a fire brigade all on its doorstep.

No need then to rely on deputising doctors based half a dozen miles away to turn out in the middle of the night if someone was seriously ill.

Nor did they pack you off to hospital if you needed a few stitches for instance.

Like the occasion when I fell off a bridge over the River Colne and split my head open on a rock inconveniently protruding above the water.

Evening surgery was over, but the conscientious and formidable Dr Guy agreed to wait until I arrived with my mother on the bus at his house in Manchester Road.

He was dressed for dinner rather than for stitching people up. But without even bothering to take off his tailed jacket, he set to work instantly with needle and catgut.

The operation came to an abrupt halt midway through when blood shot out from the gaping wound and spattered the understandably annoyed medic’s beautiful white shirt.

But, after a quick sponge down, he quickly finished off the job and hustled me out of the surgery before dashing off to his dinner table.

On a hillside fringe of the village the mill-owning Crowther dynasty provided an ambitious sports complex which included a cricket field, golf course, bowling green and tennis courts.

“Enjoy your cricket in the moorland air,’’ was a slogan used by the cricket club which provoked many an ungentlemanly comment from visiting teams as they shivered in biting winds blowing across the field at Hemplow.

Even so, a lot of youngsters like me had their enthusiasm for the game fired at Hemplow, where the club was proud of fielding teams made up almost entirely from lads from the village.

Down in the centre of the village I spent many winter Saturday afternoons watching the local team from the shelter of the tiny timber stand at Fall Lane.

Towards the end of the season there were some fiercely contested clashes in the midweek workshops competition which on one famous occasion drew a huge attendance.

The crowd was swollen by hordes of press photographers - but they were there more to watch the referee than the players.

Golcar’s Reg Mortimer was the man with the whistle , who only a few days before had been in charge of a more illustrious cup final at Wembley.

Good old Reg was as immaculate for the match in the shadow of Marsden’s gasworks as he had been beneath the famous twin towers.

Long before my time they used to play cricket at Fall Lane. But I’m told Crowthers put a stop to it because they were fed up of having their mill windows smashed.

Marsden’s real pride and joy, I suppose, has always been its park, where as a young boy I used to listen with my parents to the band on Sunday afternoons, and where as an older boy I used to canoodle with a girl friend on balmy summer evenings.

The halcyon days were numbered for Marsden when it lost its seperate identity, along with its council, and was submerged into the Colne Valley district council just before the war.

So was born the oft-told tale of a Colne Valley workman who was spotted carrying boxes of plants out of the park at Marsden. Asked by a pugnacious old villager where he was taking them, he replied in all innocence “Down to Slaithwaite.’’

Which left him wide open to the comment “Aye, an’ ah suppose tha’d tek park an’ all if tha could carry it.’’


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