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A Shout From The Attic: London Midland And Scottish

In this vivid autobiographical chapter Ronnie Bray recalls the days when horse power really was provided by horses.

To read more of Ronnie's life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

… those people keep on movin’
and that’s what tortures me-
John R Cash

The LMS had its goods yard lower down Fitzwilliam Street, at the steep part. The street was cobbled then. If you took up the tarmac you will find the cobbles, hard, shiny and rounded like sandy, orange and dark red 2 lb. loaves. The horses pulled the carts up from the goods yard. Huge horses they were too, big as mountains to a small boy and not much smaller now I am grown. Many of them carted heavy coils of metal rods up to Joseph Sykes at Lindley, where they were drawn into wire that was then used to make card clothing for the textile industry.

The horses I remember best were chestnut, although there were some greys. As they pulled the carts steadily up the hill, their muscles bulged as they lowered their heads, arched their necks, and snorted in explosions of raw power. I never saw a wagon driver being cruel to his horse, although I have heard that it was not uncommon. About this time, late thirties early forties, the Karrier Kob or mechanical horse was making its entrance. These little three wheeled tractor units with bulging cheeks and small tyres were nippy by the side of horses, but for all their wonderful modern looks and performance they could not eclipse the sight of a steaming horse pulling several tons of wire rod up Fitzwilliam Street.

Of course, horses and carts carried other goods. Road sweepers had a big brush and shovel and a horse and cart. The carts were giant yellow things with two red wheels each taller than I was. People were not so dirty then. No one of any pretensions to decency would throw rubbish down in the street. The streets were always clean.

Women washed their outside steps at least weekly and rubbed the corners with scouring stone - sometimes called Donkey Stone after a popular brand. Those with more pride or artistry also did their windowsills with the scouring stone. Most people would sweep the pavement outside their homes and scrub that clean as well. To have dirty steps was a shame. People felt shame in those days. It was a matter of keeping standards up. Even the very poor had their standards, not like now with people being deliberately dirty and tearing their clothes for some demented fashion.

The railway arches down Viaduct Street were the stables for the LMS horses. I can smell them yet. There was also a blacksmith’s shop where the horses were shod. I have passed many an hour watching this fascinating process. The smell of the smoke when the hot iron was offered to the hoof is still with me. The blacksmith would bend iron for sled runners when the snow came. This would cost sixpence and save a fortune against shop bought sledges. There is a field in Edgerton behind the old-fashioned tram shelter. Sledging there was the best winter sport. Up and down we would go until the cold and wet made us head for home to dry out and warm up.

The blacksmith's shop was a dark place with a huge forge near the door. This was stoked with coke and blown by a giant tub-shaped bellows operated by pulling on a long pole. The fire glowed white hot at the centre. The fire and smoke made a harsh but romantic picture with parts of the shop being illuminated by the fire and others obscured by the billowing smoke and steam. I cannot remember whether “the smith a mighty person was he with large and sinewy hands” but I always found the whole operation absorbing and fascinating. Now it belongs to another age.

Near the viaducts, snuggled between Brook Street and Northumberland Street, was the wholesale market. Now housing the open air and second-hand markets. It was a trip full of interest with the fruit and vegetable wholesalers shouting their wares to retail greengrocers gone to buy their stock.

Brook Street I remember for the smell of fish, the lightning speed of filleters dicing with their fingers as they boned fish, but taking them all home every day, except for one now and then who let his concentration wander to the misfortunes of Huddersfield Town Football Club, or to appreciate one of the indigenous beauties.

On Saturday mornings I was sent down to Woods to get “Threepenn’orth of bits.” They were cod fins and tails with plenty of fish stuck on, and the fiction was that they were for our cat. The fishmonger was still there a few years ago but has been rebuilt to house a wine shop.

Round the corner lay Viaduct Street and the railway blacksmith. Gazing inside the smithy for half an hour on a Saturday morning made the errand far less unenjoyable. Wagons would be bringing their loads into the LMS goods yard. Often they would have such a load on them that one horse, even the biggest of them, would not be strong enough to get them us the sharp rise at that part of the street.

Waggoners having heavy loads would wait at the bottom on St John’s Road and another horse was brought down. Hitched together in a double-header the horses would take the hill at a run, straining against the leather and just about at their last gasp before turning into the level yard. Sometimes in icy weather a load would leave the yard and head downhill with the cart’s wheels braked hard and the horse dropping to its haunches and sliding to the bottom, pushed by the sliding cart and its load. Although it was a fearful thing to see none of the horses I saw ever looked the worse for it when they reached the bottom.


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