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Feather's Miscellany: The Real Garlic Lane

Author John Waddington-Feather tells of the Yorkshire mill town in which he grew up.

In Keighley, West Yorkshire, there hangs in Cliffe Castle Museum and Art Gallery a large canvas showing what the town was like before the Industrial Revolution arrived. The artist may have stretched his imagination a little, nevertheless, the scene is idyllic. It is very like that today further up Airedale untouched by industry and still very rural; in picturesque villages like Grassington and Malham, which are set in pristine farmland where mainly sheep and beef cattle are raised. You have to travel to the East and North Yorkshire plains to see the large agricultural farms of the county with their acres of ploughlands.

Across the other side of the county high in the Pennines are much smaller, neatly laid out farmsteads, many of them of Viking origin, surrounded by drystone walls. At intervals are outlying laithes, barns housing fodder or cattle in winter. Keighley and the land round it looked very like that in Regency times when the painting was done.

Yet already industry is already creeping in, for a handful of small mills can be seen, probably powered by water-wheels because they all lie along the River Worth, a tributary of the Aire, flowing down from the hillsides and giving the great wheels the power they needed to work the looms.

There’s a mere track where Lawkholme Lane is now, swinging round to Hard Ings Lane one way and to the river path the other. The very name Lawkholme gives a clue to its origins. Over a thousand years ago Norse Vikings came into West Yorkshire and settled peacefully among the native Anglians. Lawkholme is a compound name from the Old Norse: ‘lacr’ meaning ‘garlic’ and ‘holm’ meaning ‘water meadow.’ There’s plenty of wild garlic growing in the more rural parts of the region still and hence the name appearing in my short stories and novels and my play “Garlic Lane”.

Even a two or three generations before mine Lawkholme Lane was still semi-rural. The town’s milkmen ran an annual race on their cobs down Lawkholme lane, starting from the town end of the lane, then along Hard Ings Lane and finally back up Bradford Road, completing the circuit round the old estate of the Mansion House of the Craven family shown clearly in the oil-painting in Cliffe Castle.

However, when I grew up down the lane, it had been completely built up and had a tarmac road. All that was left of the old estate was the Mansion House and the immediate parkland round it. The Mansion House had become a museum and natal clinic and its parkland had been bought by the borough and turned into a public park, Victoria Park. The original ha-ha, a ditch dug to keep out cattle from the Mansion’s gardens, was still there though and contributed to many children’s games. The very last farm buildings were still inhabited at the bottom of the lane and adjoined the rugby and cricket fields, themselves former meadows.

We lived almost at the bottom of the lane in a row of terrace houses which the cricket and rugby crowds used to pass on Saturdays, and I used to wave at them from my bedroom window as a child when I ought to have been asleep. Later, as a young man, I trained and played on the same grounds.

Once there were fields outside our house which boasted a long vista to Kildwick Grange some miles away. The Gentlemen of Craven had their cricket field immediately opposite where now a scrap-metal yard stands. Across from the yard a woollen mill and garage were built in the 1920s. A track separated the mill from the scrap-yard and I could see the inspiring turrets of the then privately owned Cliffe Castle through it, long before the 19th century castle became the town’s museum and art gallery. On a summer’s night when the windows were left open I heard the owls hooting in the castle’s grounds.

Daily I walked up the lane to school for years and on Sundays to Holy Trinity Church, now, alas, long gone. It was where I was baptised and confirmed and I sang in the choir from an early age till I left home in my mid-twenties. Some of my great love for church music was fostered there from an early age.

Standing on the fringes of the town, the countryside around it was very accessible. A ten minute walk brought you to the river; another thirty minutes and you were on the moors overlooking Keighley; a further ten minutes walking on them and you were in a wilderness of bracken, heather and ling with not a mill chimney in sight, and there we played our hearts out during the school holidays. So Lawkholme Lane and its characters were very much a part of my early life and I have many cherished memories of it. It was a magical place in which to grow up and it features in my verse-play: “Garlic lane” which eventually found its way to a production on the London stage in 2010 – a far cry from where the play was set, but where it was warmly received.

John Waddington-Feather ©

( “Garlic Lane”is published by Feather Books, PO Box 438, Shrewsbury SY3 OWN, UK at £5. $10 US.)

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