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Open Features: From ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’ to ‘The Magic Flute’

Jean Cowgill found Hades and Elysium in Yorkshire's Holme Valley.

Place names in the north of England can usually be traced back to a Norse, Angle or Celtic origin. The strangest pairing I have ever come across occurred thirty odd years ago when I walked ‘The Holme Valley Circular’ which is twenty four miles in length.

Part of the walk was on my doorstep, living as I did, under the lea of Castle Hill near Huddersfield. This part of Yorkshire gained notoriety as the setting for the television series ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’. Village names such as Upperthong, Netherthong, Holme and Hepworth paled into insignificance when, on a map, I discovered the two hamlets of Hades and Elysium.

How did upland farms come by such grand names? I assumed that a God fearing, West Riding community may have used biblical rather than earlier sources. Perhaps landowners worked their way through an A – Z of the Good Book. Even so the naming is strange, Hades being the abode of the dead.

In the New Testament Jesus depicts a wicked man suffering the fiery torment of Hades. In ‘Revelation’ Hades is itself thrown into ‘the lake of fire’ after being emptied of the dead. Elysium, also being part of the Underworld, would be an obvious name for a second dwelling. It is the place where the souls of the heroic and virtuous have their final resting place. There might be some prestige in giving such a name to a farm; even a form of oneupmanship on the neighbour who had chosen Hades.

But if we suppose for one moment that these farmers had chosen the names based on Greek or Roman mythology. Are we stretching credulity too far in considering the presence of an agrarian classicist? Elysium is a name given to land struck by lightening. People believed Zeus may have blessed such land turning it into paradise where the dead could spend eternity.

Then drink and food would taste good to me;
Then I could
Measure myself with princes,
Enjoy life as a wise man,
And feel like I’m in Elysium. (Schikaneder/Mozart ‘The Magic Flute’)

You may imagine my disappointment when I walked down the shoulder of Wessenden Moor towards this ‘promised land’. The track was barely a footpath; areas of peat made navigation difficult. Sour moor was bounded by rows of pine whose military rows defied trespass. With a mounting sense of loss I came across two deserted farmsteads; all that remained of Hades and Elysium.

Gable ends pointed to the sky like the remains of rotten teeth. Inside Hades I was conscious of a dank smell. Grit stone lintels protected window spaces which in turn offered a kitchen garden view now dominated by nettles and advancing bracken.

Elysium had a blackened fire-place in which beer cans and kindling showed there had been a recent occupation. A solitary boot waited for transport. Between the two dwellings ran Elysian Fields purple with Rose Bay Willow Herb.

Why were the buildings deserted? Ironically drink, as mentioned in ‘The Magic Flute’, may have been reason why these two farms had fallen into disuse. Perhaps a water council compulsorily purchased the land. Clearances in gathering grounds were supposed to ensure clean water in the home. Separated by two hundred yards Hades feeds ‘Brownhill Reservoir’ in the east; Elysium overlooks ‘Digley Reservoir’ to the north.

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To read more of Jean's entertaining words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=jean+cowgill


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