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Backwords: The Quiet Corners

“… Everything seemed so warm, cosy and permanent. Even my aunt and uncle, who lived there at the time, reflected the warmth and permanence of the place….’’ But the house in which Mike Shaw’s relatives lived is now cold, empty and unwanted.

The three-storey house now stands cold, empty and unwanted.

It’s boarded-up windows are bleak testimony to the neglect that has set in since its last occupants deserted it years ago.

But it still manages to retain a strength and dignity reminiscent of the old gentlemen who swell the ranks of the Chelsea Pensioners.

Colne Valley wouldn’t be half the place it is without old homesteads such as this.

Weavers’ cottages, hillside farms and ancient family houses form a skeleton that shaped the valley’s character hundreds of years ago.

And as a framework fashioned from the traditional local stone it looks capable of lasting for ever.

There’s something remarkably reassuring about these homes with their stout walls, strong wooden beams, outsize fireplaces, and the grandfather clock ticking away in the corner.

The three-storey house used to be like that when I was a boy. Everything seemed so warm, cosy and permanent. Even my aunt and uncle, who lived there at the time, reflected the warmth and permanence of the place.

Two generations ago my grandfather employed a small but industrious band of women to make pegged rugs in the third-storey workroom while bringing up his family on the two lower floors.

The garret was empty when I used to explore it while visiting with my parents. But reaching the deserted workshop was an adventure in itself.

In my grandfather’s days, I was told, you could climb up a ladder from inside the house. But when the garret fell into disuse the only way up there was through the cobbled yard and a single-storey warehouse, out into the back garden, and finally climb an outside wooden staircase.

Once inside, it didn’t need much imagination to visualise the women seated at their workframes as the sunshine flooded in through the long windows.

When I wasn’t running around in the garret, I could usually be found in the other place of curiosity - an outside privy.

A common or garden privy was not unusual in those days. After all, we had one of our own at home.

But this was something quite superior. A two-holer, no less. One big hole for grown-ups and a smaller one for children. So that mother and child could sit there together and the offspring need have no fears and could learn what to do.

The lavatory seat was scrubbed to a pearly white perfection. And there was always plenty of reading material - a thick wad of newspaper squares hanging from a nail. But how frustrating to come across a fascinating piece of news only to find that part of the story was missing.

Every visit to Nearfield - the aptly-named house with a sylvan setting and a stream bubbling its way through the back-garden ferns - was a history lesson and a delight.


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