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A Shout From The Attic: The Old Wooden Footbridge

Ronnie Bray continues to delineate the boundaries of his boyhood kingdom.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Wakefield Road was the longest ‘friendly’ road in Huddersfield having the added attraction of Ravensknowle Park and the Tolson memorial Museum with a reconstructed Roman hot room found at the old Roman settlement at Slack, near Outlane, in its grounds, and a see-into beehive, major attractions in themselves, on the way to Waterloo that was its natural end, beyond which were strange places such as Lascelles Hall, and no one is sure of its exact location to this day, and Lepton, whose mystique was shattered in late 1950, when I met Kathleen Crowther and her family who lived there.

Wakefield Road mysteriously changed into Tandem and Penistone Road after its division at Waterloo. It was known that Penistoners were not far removed from the formidable Brigante that once inhabited the upper reaches of Castle Hill and kept the Romans at bay with nothing but knotted strings of conkers, as the prized fruit of the horse chestnut is known to the initiati of Yorkshire.

Waterloo was the furthest safe reach, conveniently marked at its terminus by The Waterloo Cinema. Beyond there was a land, like so many other lands beyond the pale of my experience, that felt so different as to immediately and positively identify them as alien in the worst way. It was known for sure, according to spies, that round the bend on Penistone Road there were actual fields and farming was carried on by broad-faced Yorkshire men whose lingua franca was more exotic and outlandish than that spoken by us soot-faced Townies.

The next road in the sweeping circle is Newsome Road, but this could not be accessed from town centre. It had to be gained by way of one of the many thoroughfares that sprang out from that side of town, such as Queen Street South or by way of Firth Street from Aspley, or even along Colne Road from Folly Hall at the bottom of Chapel hill. Then, at its point of origin, the far side of Newsome Bridge, it ran steeply uphill before crowning by St John’s Church and dropping just as sharply into the mystery that was Berry Brow.

In between Folly Hall and Newsome Bridge was a narrow wooden footbridge of ancient vintage for the many foot travellers to cross to town from Damside Road to work and home again in the bone-weary evenings. Those with strong legs could climb up the countless steep and winding stone steps to the top end of Primrose Hill. Pip Hill, as it was commonly known, was inhabited by people as strange as those who lived in Lindley were and the outer reaches of Birkby were.

I crossed the river, usually by way of the wooden footbridge, always pausing in the middle, to hang over the rail and think about life, the universe, misery, and that sort of thing. I was on my way to Auntie Nora and Uncle Will’s, who lived at the bottom of Riley Street across from the back of a noisy weaving shed or finishing room. They lived in the little terrace house where my stepfather, Tommy Scott, had lived, and when he married my mother and moved into 121 Fitzwilliam Street when I was two or three years old, Auntie Nora and her family took on his old house.

Once, I walked all the way up Riley Street before turning down Newsome road and through the small doorway at the side of the butcher’s shop and down the steps into the big cinder-floored wasteland that served as a hanging ground at the back of Riley Street. I eventually ventured a little further up Newsome Road when I discovered the Lounge Cinema at its junction with Stile Common Road, and went on Saturday mornings forever to pay four old pennies to see Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless, and the Clay Men mixing with Pauline in her Perils, along with Johnny Mack Brown, Eddie Dean, and other heroes of the Wild West, and dream my dreams of what might have been.

I did not know it then but I was also learning to love classical music. The stirring tunes of Liszt’s Les Preludes poured into the cinema as Flash, played by Larry Buster Crabbe, who wore his underwear outside his tights long before Superman ever did, and it sunk deep into my soul. It was revived some years later when I heard the piece played through on BBC radio’s Third Programme. I went and bought the record, a 78 rpm composition that was not shatterproof. It was almost sixty years later when watching an archive show of Flash Gordon that I identified it as the music that had accompanied his assaults on Ming’s almost invincible kingdom. Not all the baggage of childhood weighs us down.

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