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Backwords: Brotherly Ghost

…Apparently the middle-aged bachelors exchanged foul words over some poultry when their mother died. After the row they lapsed into a silent sulk which I’m told they carried on until one of them died…

Some rare characters have lived in Yorkshire’s Colne Valley, as Mike Shaw reveals.

Have you heard the story of the two Colne Valley brothers who lived together for donkeys years without speaking to each other?

I knew them well and both were friendly enough to others. But there wasn’t much brotherly love around in their smallholding on top of the hill.

Apparently the middle-aged bachelors exchanged foul words over some poultry when their mother died. After the row they lapsed into a silent sulk which I’m told they carried on until one of them died.

I wonder who it was who started a rumour that one of the brothers had passed away while he was still hale and hearty?

The culprit was never found…but the story spread like wildfire and it caused quite a few red faces before the “dead’’ man showed up alive and well.

The flag went up at half-mast on the club where he went for a pint, the officials promptly ordered a wreath for the funeral, and the poor old fellow’s sister was told the sad news.

When I saw him a few days later he was really enjoying himself. “What’s the matter, have you never seen a ghost before?’’ he said, trying to keep a straight face.

Like most of the valley’s old characters, he had a sharp sense of humour. So when I asked him for a comment for the paper he studied for a few seconds and announced: “I’ve thanked the club for what they were going to do for me. I told them I’m a bit under the weather so now they’ve sent me a very nice basket of fruit!’’

Talking about death, you’ve got to be full of fun to do what an old Colne Valley undertaker did many years ago.

He was a man who took a pride in his job. And he was dead set at making sure that nobody else touched the coffin in which he was to be buried.

So he found himself a lump of solid oak and set to work with mallet and chisel. Day after day he hewed away at the wood, and now and then he even climbed inside to check it was a good fit.

When it was finished the coffin was a real masterpiece, a fitting tribute to its maker with its brass handles, bindings and delicate decorations.

“All my own work,’’ he used to say proudly to the privileged few who were allowed a sight of the coffin.

As befits a man dedicated to his trade, he made all his own funeral arrangements long before he passed away. The coffin - which, incidentally, had to wait 20 years in his workshop before it was required - was only part of his carefully laid plans.

Every Sunday evening in summer he used to walk up the hill to his favourite pub for a few pints. And he wanted to make sure that he called there on his way to his last resting place.

On his list of instructions for the funeral was one which said the cortege must stop at the pub on its journey to the cemetery.

“The drinks will be on me. You must call going, because I shan’t be with you when you come back,’’ he insisted.

When the funeral day dawned, however, it was scarcely surprising that the mourners couldn’t bring themselves to enter into the spirit of things.

The hearse and cars drew up outside the pub. But nobody felt like a pint of best bitter at that particular moment.

“We daren’t do any other than go past the public house. We thought we had honoured his wishes when we halted there,’’ said one of his relatives.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t cause the old boy to squirm a bit in his fancy coffin. After all, they hadn’t done as they were told, had they?

One thing is for sure. They don’t make them like that any more.


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