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Feather's Miscellany: Always Change

John Waddington-Feather tells of the immigrants from all parts of the world who, down the long centuries, have come to live in the Yorkshire town in which he was born.

Nothing endures but change; and the little world of Keighworth had changed from the beginning. Gone was the ice from an Age millennia before which left behind huge boulders on what was to become moorland, which, in time, Roman legions marched across to set up camp at Olicanum (Ilkesworth). And before them, when Stone Age man had wandered into the area and made it his home, he carved strange signs on some of those massive stones: a weird swastika and cup and ring signs.

Centuries later, the Celts immigrated in around 500 B.C. and left their mark. Their place-names still exist in names like Craven, the region in which Keighworth is set. The name comes from the Celtic “craf” meaning “garlic” and there’s plenty of wild garlic growing around Keighworth. Another incoming migration around 500 A.D. brought in the Angles from North Germany, one of whom, a certain Cyhha, gave his name to the new settlement. In time, the village which sprung up found its way into Doomsday Book in 1086. Fame indeed! And I wonder what the place looked like then with its thatched, wattle-and-daub timbered houses clustered round its long-house near what is now the Parish Church.

Barely had they got the place up and running when they were joined by Irish-Norse Vikings led by Jarl Gospatrick, according to Doomsday Book, migrating from Dublin, merchant farmers who mingled easily with the Anglian settlers, as they set up their own Norse kingdom with its capital at Yorvik (York). They divided Yorkshire into three, Thriddings (Ridings) for administrative purposes, an early bit of bureaucracy in the region.

Then not long afterwards came the upper-crustian Normans from France, clobbering the county and laying it waste for its opposition to Norman rule. They built a huge castle at Skipworth to keep the under-crustian Keighworthians under control, for the under-crustians in Keighworth were always an unruly lot. Indeed, in Henry VIII’s reign in the sixteenth century they joined in the Rising of the North against the king who put it down ruthlessly. Many from up North lost their heads in that campaign, but few Keighworthians, I suspect. Though a bit unruly, they were also a canny lot and knew how to play their cards well.

And in succeeding centuries as the tide of history swept up the Aire and Worth Valleys, more immigrants arrived from abroad: refugee Huguenots from France in the 18th century, who brought with them textile skills; and in the nineteenth century more immigrants arrived from Germany, textile merchants and their pork butchers. Ice-cream makers came in from Italy and pedalled their delicious confectionary across the town, and the odd Jewish jewellery-maker fleeing from mainland pogroms settled in Keighworth. All good for trade which flourished enormously in the nineteenth century and Keighworth was founded on trade. Anybody who brought trade to Keighworth was welcome.

It was in that century the town really took off and swelled to over 50,000 townsfolk, many of them Irish Catholics who’d come in as labourers to build the spate of mills and the railway and canal which serviced them. In the 1930s an Austrian Jewish refugee fleeing Hitler’s Nazism made his home in Keighworth and set up shop manufacturing handbags and slippers on a large scale. There were other incomers, too, who diversified Keighworth’s engineering trade, making cranes and lifts.

Immigration began again after the 1939-45 War when waves of eastern European refugees settled in the town: from Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Czech, Hungary and Germany, escaping from the Communists who’d occupied their lands.

More recently in the 1950s and 1960s thousands of Asians arrived from Pakistan and India to work in the mills. Many set up their own businesses which added their penn’orth to the town. And it is concerning this group of immigrants, who made Garlic Lane their home, that my tale is told.

Katy Webster lived down the lane all her life. She left school at fifteen to work in the mill but she was a well read woman, self-educated who would have gone to college with the right background and a generation later. She fell in love with Ken Pollard in the next street and wed him at Trinity Church, some years before it was demolished. What changes the lane saw in their lifetimes! The whole area became a new Asian community.

Holroyd’s butcher’s shop was bought by Saeed Ali, who sold Hal-Hal meat. Stanley’s Stores in Vicar Street became an outlet for exotic spices and eastern grocery. Clough’s fish and chip shop up the lane became a Tandoori curry takeaway – all very oriental; Mustafa Khan bought Adams’ paper shop and sold Urdu journals and Pakistani sweets. To cap it all, after Trinity Church went, a mosque was built opposite Westwood School on Mulberry Street which ran off Garlic Lane.
Katy and Ken Pollard stayed on when many of their white neighbours left one by one. They had two children, a boy and a girl, who grew up surrounded by Asian friends they played out with in the street. They also attended Westwood School, and to help them, Katy invited the Asian children into her home when they were stuck with their English homework. She also helped their parents with their English and in turn was invited back for meals into their homes. In time she became a kind of Christian mother figure to the Muslim community in which she lived; and throughout her life she remained a devout Anglican, and when Trinity Church was demolished she started going to the Parish Church in town.

Katy and Ken remained pillars of their church and their community to the end of their lives, caring for their neighbours which had always been the custom down Garlic Lane, and in turn being cared for in old age by their Muslim friends. They adapted to change when many of their generation didn’t, and they certainly contributed to good race relations in the town when in many towns elsewhere there was friction.

At Katy’s funeral years later there was a large turn-out at the Parish Church, many of the pews being occupied by Muslim families; and the week she died, Katy was also remembered in the Friday prayers at the mosque on Mulberry Street.

Gradually, as time went by, white people filtered back down Garlic Lane when old houses were demolished and new ones built in their place; when a new and integrated community evolved in the never-ending pattern of change in the little world of Keighworth.

John Waddington-Feather ©


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