Tuesday, 20 December 2016


from Bob Phillips (5th April 2017)  "URINE ECONOMY"

We had to get used to some privations in living: buying a house for £1500, one doesn’t get much, not even in 1975 in the Lancashire valleys.  Specifically, one does not get an inside toilet. Outside the back door, on the basement level, there was a stone-flagged yard about the size of the kitchen, and in the far corner, a privy  – a rickety wooden structure.
We moved in during October.  O my, was it cold.  A dreadful trek down from the top of the house – two steep flights of boxed-in stairs – across the cold stone flags of the basement floor and out and across the freezing stone flags of the yard.  Then you had to wrench the old wooden door open and brace yourself for the freezing seat.  It was horrible. 
Then, the paper was always damp and disintegrated in your hand.  And nothing to read – no book would stay readable for long in that little outside building, and in any case there was no light to read by.  Naught for our comfort.
Not surprising that an early-identified essential was a commode. 
We started to scour the items for sale ads in the local paper and at last spotted a contents sale at a local farm.
The farm lay squat close to the side of the hill above Haslingden on Cribden side.  A nasty west facing spot lying in the teeth of every storm which blew in from the Irish Sea.  At the time of the sale, Bob was at work at the Bleach Works, so Anna went on up on her own.
An old man answered the door and led her round the dim interior cluttered with many lifetimes of stuff. And there waiting for her, she found it – a lovely mahogany commode with carpet set into the lid and a thick white china bucket and lid sitting below. Having found what we sought. Anna got excited and started buying all sorts of other stuff that was not exactly needed. But it was all so cheap and we had so little.
Anna found a huge supply of long johns that was just what she thought I needed and she also came away with a sweet sentimental Edwardian picture of a girl gazing at her bowl of goldfish.
We had our commode; kept in the bedroom – nice and warm. 

We learned that there was an economic cycle revolving around toilets in the Valleys.  This was one of a huge amount of fascinating knowledge acquired during a visit to Higher Mill – what was to become the Helmshore Museum (not then open to the public, but Chris Aspin’s private repository of the past).  This mill sits beside the River Ogden which provided the motive power when it was working.  Our visit was prompted by our overhearing a conversation in The Bay Horse, a pub off Deardengate, and the meeting place of the local caving club.  At that time the members of this club were immersed in the project of clearing decades of deposited mud from the mill race at Higher Mill.  They and Chris got the wheel to turn again.
The machinery that is run from the water wheel in this old mill is intact.  It was a shock to us to see it and be told that it had been running commercially as recently as the late 1950s.  I had seen drawings of the technology in a history book, and I went back to Haslingden Library to check.  This technology was current in the 13th century and earlier!
The wheel, driven by water, drives a shaft with great oak cams mounted on it.  The cams drive the rocking motion of massive counterbalanced oak hammers – blocks of oak jointed together in a hammer-head shape.  The hammer heads pound into oak “buckets” with a rectangular cross-section to match the hammers.
What is pounded is cloth.  Rough thick cloth – felts – from all the cotton mills around.  Pounding the cloth in a solution of urea results, over time, in the fibres matting and combining to make a fabric that has excellent water-proof and hardwearing properties.

What the cloth is pounded in – the solution of urea – is urine.  There were tall earthenware jars like those in illustrations of Aladdin around the Museum.  These jars were distributed to households in the near vicinity of the mill; filled; and then collected back to provide the process chemicals.  Until 1956!

Florence Walsh added -5th April 2017:

As an adjunct to the latest article:
The mill owners paid more for the pots of urine if the household members were Methodists as there would be no alcohol content.  Also, if anyone in the household had red hair, more was paid as they believed their urine had special properties.

Michael Mullaney added - 8th April 2017:
The poor of many industrial towns would sell their urine for a few pence to keep body and soul together.  This would be deposited in a "Pot" and saved until the collector came around.
However if you were really poor you couldn't afford a "Pot" and so it was said "You didn't have a pot to piss in", as a way of describing just how poor you were.


From The Station to Broadway Crescent.
John Dunleavy, a former newspaper boy, recalls his experiences in Helmshore.

Recently while going through the motions of clearing out my garage I came across a 

fragile copy of the Daily Herald. At one time among the more popular dailies in the 
country, the Herald claimed to be the voice of organised labour, both political and 
industrial. The issue I found dated July 11, 1950, carried a banner headline: "US
war chiefs fly to Tokyo"; this was very much was what come to be termed the period 
of the cold war. Apart from this, other stories reported a wave of industrial unrest in 
the country. A surprising number of figures prominent in World War II were still 
making news, hence the cartoon drafted by David Lowe depicted Churchill attired as 
a rather portly Salome seeking to persuade the premier Clement Attlee to dismiss his 
minister John Strachey who was held by many to be committed to a policy of 
permanent austerity. Admittedly life for many was still rather harsh, low wages and 
shortages did not make for a happy country. However the Herald's editor tried to 
insert a little spice into the lives of his readers by printing what purported to be a 
news story. Under the heading 'A new fairy story. All about a lovely princess,' a 
photograph depicted the Archbishop of Canterbury introducing Princess Margaret to 
Dr Hewlett Johnson, better known as the Red Dean, who allegedly had induced the 
king's younger daughter to enlist in the communist-inspired peace campaign! Even at 
times of crises the media is capable of finding space for the most unlikely stories.

Despite the difficulties of life in post-war Britain one item that indicated the people 

were not unduly downhearted by the gloom and doom was indicated by the millions 
prepared to purchase copies of the numerous newspapers that appeared each day. 
Britain owed its flourishing press due to the compact nature of the country, the 
extensive network of communications, and the high level of literacy. Newspapers 
published in the metropolis were among the best sellers, though additional sources of 
news were provided by the evening papers (never as popular as the mornings), weekly 
journals such as Picture Post, and Illustrated. while the BBC's Radio Times was much in demand. A wide range of  local papers enjoyed the loyalty of millions. The distribution of newspapers  was achieved by a network of  outlets such as those on railway platforms, and in particular by numerous local shops.

Mr Norman Taylor was the proprietor of a shop in Helmshore, and apart from 

newspaper sales he offered a wide range of articles such as stationery, toys, and fancy goods. After a brief interview at my home, he suggested I join him the following morning at seven o'clock when he would introduce me to my duties as a paper boy. Bright and early on the day agreed I was greeted by Mr Taylor and his wife and presented with a large canvass bag containing the papers and magazines to be delivered. Along the way Mr Taylor explained the need to be considerate of the customers, such as always closing gates 
after one, taking care to ensure the fragile newsprint reached the customers in good 
condition, and treat any pets along my route with respect. This really amounted to 
what these days we would term 'hands on' experience, and the advice tendered proved 
to be very useful over the following two years. The employment of deliverers was 
regulated by the local council, the newsagent being obliged to equip the boy with 
protective clothing against the elements, notably a water-proof cape, wellington boots, 
and a sou'wester. The scale of pay was a matter for negotiation between the agent and 
the boy. Some time later a document, an Employment Card issued by the local authority, stipulated the hours when I might deliver papers, the times being between seven and eight in the morning and five and six in the evening.                       . 

My route was from The Station Hotel in Helmshore Road and culminated on the 

fast-developing Broadway Crescent estate. The round contained a combination of 
nineteenth century houses, a number of semi-detached homes of the inter-war years 
that backed onto the school playing field; and the Broadway estate was indicative 
of the government's determination to house the population in modern, healthy homes. 
The pre-fabricated - or pre-fab houses - were bungalow type homes, an expedient for 
providing homes at short notice. Demand for housing at this time was extremely high, 
and those unable to secure rented accommodation frequently complained at what they 
regarded as the extravagance in providing pre-fabs which included a fridge, an item 
rare at this time and regarded as a luxury. To partially appease the critics the council 
was committed to building brick built homes over a period of years and the first of 
these appeared shortly after the completion of the pre-fabs. After six years of war and 
continuing shortages it would be some time before the government could satisfy 

The newspapers published and delivered locally fell into two categories: the 

'heavies' or qualities such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and the Manchester 
Guardian; and what were often termed the 'populars,' the Daily Mail, Daily Express, 
Daily Mirror, Daily Herald, and the News Chronicle. All these papers were supplied 
locally, the notable exception being The Times. Unlike other journals The Times was 
printed and published only in London. Enquirers in Haslingden were by told the 
leading journal could only be supplied in the afternoon, putting it at a disadvantage in 
respect of its rivals.

If most homes were satisfied with one paper, there were a few exceptions. On 

Helmshore Road for instance, one house had a standing order each morning for a copy 
of the Daily Telegraph and one copy of the Daily Worker. The latter had the 
distinction of being unique in that it boasted of being a non-commercial journal and 
was the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The Telegraph by contrast 
was regarded as right of centre, its views ultimately being determined by its owner 
who was guided by commercial considerations. The curiosity of the delivery boy 
elicited the information that the Telegraph was the paper of choice by the man of the 
house whose occupation was that of a cooper in a brewery, while his wife who taught 
at a local high school preferred the Daily Worker.

In retrospect looking back of the early 1950s Haslingden appears to be a rather dull 

place. After all how could once explain the paucity of news stories bearing on the 
town appearing in the national press? Rather more might have appeared in the evening 
paper, the Northern Daily Telegraph, though that was published in Blackburn and not 
every home ordered an evening paper. The delivery boy was in a good position to spot 
any stories of local interest but few came along. However, what might have seemed a 
rather monotonous routine was interrupted one morning when, having deposited the 
usual paper in one of the pre-fabs, the door was opened from the inside by a man 
employed by the local council. Having enquired what was amiss I was invited to take 
a look in the house to find it devoid of the usual residents who had decamped with 
their belongings. The only symptom of past occupation was the lace curtains flapping 
in the breeze.

This was not a unique event, families unable to meet their commitments often 

found this was the only way they could evade the demands of their creditors by taking 
refuge in a town where they were little known, and eventually sort out their problems. 
The exercise was termed a 'moonlight flit,' apparently regarded by the law as a civil 
offence, and of no interest to the police. On reporting the news to Mr Taylor, he

indicated he was already familiar with the problems of his defecting customers, and 

hinted they were in debt to several local tradesmen.

One consequence of the second World War for Helmshore and many other 

communities was an influx of people from other countries. Ironically, among the earlier arrivals were a number of German prisoners of war, who were under the direction of a local building contractor. They were engaged on the task of leveling and preparing the ground for drains and roads on Broadway  prior to the assembling of a number of prefabricated homes.  A larger and longer lasting addition to the labour force proved to be a number from Poland. Many were veterans of the war but on realising their homeland had displaced one tyrannical regime for another, refused to return to their own country. The Poles proved to be energetic workers and found to be adaptable in matters of  employment. Many found work in the textile factories of the district, while the younger and seemingly tireless men found work on the Haweswater scheme.
This was a major project commenced in the late 1920s but progress was  interrupted first by the Great Depression and later by the war. It was designed to provide Manchester with a more adequate water supply. Much of the heavy, demanding labour was supplied by the Poles. They were housed in an army style encampment at Stonefold near Haslingden; while access to the underground workings were located at Brynbella, close to All Saints High School. Earnings were high, and the Poles subscribed to the philosophy that they should work hard and play hard.
They lived up to their reputation especially at weekends and earned the soubriquet of ' the  Tunnel tigers. '

A number who chose to opt for factory work were housed in Helmshore House which served as a hostel for a decade or more. Built originally for a mill owner in the mid 19th century, the mansion  

for a time had been the home of a brewer. The presence  of the Poles 
brought a request for a Polish newspaper and is due course copies of The Polish
Soldier-Citizen began to appear. The Poles had a reputation for hard work, and 
soon found jobs many setting up homes locally. By the late 1950s the need for the
hostel had gone and the building along with the extensive gardens was acquired by the Roman Catholic church which in due course formed a parish dedicated to St 
Veronica, which eventually comprised a church, presbytery, school and community centre.

While residents welcomed the prospect of a modern home, those rehoused on what 

came to be termed Broadway grumbled at the absence of shops and other social 
amenities, and a poor bus service. The council meanwhile seemed determined to press 
ahead with an ambitious scheme that envisaged the junction of Helmshore Road and 
Broadway being transformed into a new town centre, which on the drawing board 
resembled what was then Queen's Square at Rawtenstall. Eventually several shops 
were opened and still more houses were built though there were still complaints at the 
irregular bus service and the lack of choice for customers.

My years as a delivery boy proved to be good for me in many ways, and an 

influence on my subsequent life. Access to such a wide range of publications made 
me aware of a variety of ideas and interests in British society, and to consider and 
respect the views of others. Yet a glance at a modern street plan for Rossendale 
(Haslingden having been subsumed in that extended district in 1974) indicates just 
how demand for housing since the war has led to Haslingden and Helmshore 
physically becoming a much more integrated unit. In addition to several new schools 
in the area, Haslingden council did establish a small industrial estate at the junction of 
Broadway and Manchester road, though the cattle market at Bent Gate which attracted 
a great number of traders to the town each week is no more. As for the railways, first 
Haslingden and then Helmshore were to lose their railway services. The diminishing 
number of paper boys can still be met with, while there are fewer newsagents such as 
Mr Taylor. Aggressive retailing by the supermarkets and petrol stations account 
largely for this trend. The thirst for news is being satisfied increasingly by additional 
players in the market, notably radio and television.

Personally my two years as a paper boy proved to be a happy period in my life. 

The local education authority had always been insistent on regular attendance and 
punctuality; these were disciplines much sought after by potential employers.

I have enjoyed compiling this account of life and part time work in the district more 

than six decades ago. I hope this account will bring back some happy memories for 
the reader.

 (Bryan Yorke ed.), Haslingden Old and New,  (revised edition, 11.3.2017 )

Another great contribution from Bob Phillips (27th Feb 2017)

"Buying and Selling 302 Blackburn Road in the 1970s"

National Westminster Bank
The Manager of the Haslingden branch of the National Westminster Bank was getting close to retirement, and he looked a bit forbidding.  He turned out to be a delightful, helpful, friendly gentleman.  His branch was rather magnificent – an imposing stone structure on the corner of Deardengate and Ratcliffe Street, He was fortunate in his age – he retired just before the trend for downgrading and closing branches swept through the British banking industry.  When he retired, it was from a position of importance as a Bank Manager, and of great respect in the community.
I went to see him to borrow the money to buy a house.  We were going to need £1500 for the purchase price and a bit more for work to be done.  By the time I went to see the bank, I had a job - £30 a week at the Holden Vale Manufacturing Company, and Anna had a very respectable “in tray” of furniture restoration work lined up, courtesy of our new friend Dale Campbell-Savours.  But we had no savings – nothing to put up as a deposit or as collateral.
We could have seemed a very unpromising bet.  I must have looked like a student who would get disaffected with factory life in a couple of weeks.  In the early 70s, a woman starting up in cabinet-making can’t have looked much more promising, especially to a gentleman from an older generation.
However, I do not believe that these factors carried all that much weight in the interview.  The Manager represented an earlier generation of banking, hanging on into the late 20th century.  I think what decided our fate were our accents, our manner and the degree from Cambridge.  I am afraid that we were really trading on being “the right sort of people” for a bank to do business with.
And, whatever the reasoning, it was a good decision for the bank to make.  I stuck at the factory job until long after the loan had been paid off.  Anna built a business which was very successful on two continents for nearly 35 years (if never very lucrative).  We remained good customers of the National Westminster Bank for over a decade.  And we became good friends with the manager.

There were then several happy years of living in 302 Blackburn Road, but this narrative is about property transactions, so I shall skip over those years to the end . . .

Selling 302 Blackburn Road

We had bought 302 Blackburn Road for £1500 because it was not considered then to be a desirable house; it had been empty for years.  But it was (is) a wonderfully solidly built house, of course.  We were convinced that it had, by the time we came to sell it, acquired, and re-established, attributes that made it much more desirable.  There were those new attributes that estate agents noticed: an indoor bathroom, with a dividing wall to make a nursery, central heating, redecoration.  But, there were also other qualities to which interested buyers would, in our view, now pay attention, which seemed to be of no interest to any estate agent: the natural qualities of the house position, such as the views from both back of the house (over Martin Dale Farm and Hud Hey, and out to Anglezarke) and front (across Hud Rake to the grass slope beyond).  Also, we now had a vegetable garden, having obtained permission to use a scrap of Shepherd Timber‘s unused land behind our house.  The estate agent were disdainful of any facility that we did not own. 
We decided that the estate agent was blinkered, and we placed our own advertisement on the notice board at "On the Eighth Day", the whole-food store in Manchester, sharing our pride in our growing vegetables and making it plain that we did not own that land.
We got a response to our ad within a couple of weeks, from two young ladies who loved the idea of a vegetable patch, whoever owned it, and even though our horticultural efforts in the Lancashire climate had not produced impressive results.  They looked at the house, and at the views - loved it, and it was they who bought it, for £6,500.  This experience coloured our interactions with estate agents for the rest of our lives. Not just in England, but also in the USA, both in Dallas, TX, and in Philadelphia, PA, we realised that it is the owners who are best able to tell people about a house.  After all, the owners love the house, whereas for  the agents is just a transaction.
Before that deal was consummated, there were interesting difficulties to negotiate.  I decided to save money by managing the legal side of the sale myself, in addition to the marketing (especially since the cost of sale is a higher proportion in an inexpensive house).  Conveying a property that is registered with the Land Registry is not too complex. 
However, I discovered that 302 Blackburn Road was not so registered.  Mr. Harry Greenwood had been the tenant of the Haslingden Industrial Cooperative Society back in 1925, before the Land Registry was set up.  He had remained as a tenant until 1939 when the copyhold in fee simple was transferred to him.  Records in the Land Registry are set up when there is a sale transaction.  During the lifetime of the Registry such a transaction had not happened to this property - until our sale, that is. Thus it became our responsibility to create the record that would rest in the Land Registry thereafter, and forever.  A solicitor would have had a field day.
What I needed to create was an "Epitome of Title" to be lodged with the Land Registry as proof of the soundness of the title and its transfer – documentation of an uninterrupted sequence of valid legal transactions to prove continuity of ownership right up to us.  My research (this was before Google) showed that this document needed to be in a form where each line of the text tells one step of the story: from X, to Y, at date D, followed by an indication of the nature of the transaction.
I had all the documents going back to 1925 and could abstract them all in that form, except for one.  Harry Greenwood's death certificate was one step in the sequence that showed how title had transferred from owner to owner.  How would a solicitor record that document in the format stated above?  I did not know, but I came up with my own solution: "from Harry Greenwood to his Maker on 29th November 1968- a death certificate".  No-one questioned it; no-one objected to a document printed on a cheap dot-matrix printer.  Maybe no one looked at it.  The sale was completed, for very little expenditure, and no doubt the Land Registry will retain my creative thoughts in perpetuity.

Goodbye ...  to the National Westminster Bank

What remained was to say our goodbyes.  To our best friends, the Warwicks, of course, but we fully intended to stay close to them.  To other friends and neighbours.  And to the National Westminster Bank Manager who had played so big a part in making this all possible, who had continued to maintain a polite interest in our welfare in Rossendale.
We made an appointment to see him, and discovered that he was on his way out - to retirement.  When we arrived, the new Manager was already in evidence, a bustling man in his late 30s who clearly could see no business purpose in giving us time.  We insisted, and were ushered in, with baby in tow, to the old Manager, in his old room, now a bit stripped of its furnishings.  It was essential to say our farewells to him.  There was nothing official to say, but lots of gossip and goodwill to share.  Our old benefactor was delighted to meet our baby Joanna for the first time.  She crawled across the floor of his spacious office and round to the back of the big desk.  Our friend got down on the floor before long, his knees creaking rather, to show Joanna how to throw balled up wads of paper into the waste-paper basket.
It was at that point that his young, eager, NatWest replacement knocked on the office door and walked in without the ceremony of permission.  The incoming manager was a busy young fellow, with hair combed flat to his head, a new suit, and an attitude of self-made self-importance.  (Hooper to Guy Crouchback, for those readers who admire the way that Evelyn Waugh skewers the passing of civility in Unconditional Surrender).  The perfect bank officer for the era ahead: in which branches were to be closed, local autonomy to be curtailed, computer-based algorithms to take over from human judgement, and conformity to central office procedures to be the key to promotion. 
The new company man clearly did not see why the outgoing manager needed to spend any time at all on meeting a family who were announcing the end of their local custom, and were in any case insignificant property owners, when there were many more important matters to attend to in handing over to him.
The young man had come back into the office when he felt that we had had our few minutes enough.  The old Manager was on the floor, wreathed in smiles, and making a major hit with Joanna and her parents.  It was a moment of complete failure of understanding – a total breach between professional generations in terms of customer relations, the role of social contact in business, the definition of the dignity of the office and the institution, and pretty well everything else you can think of.

The expression on the new Manager‘s face made it plain that he did not see any lessons to be learned here in customer care.  Sadly, our old friend looked embarrassed.


Another kind contribution by Bob Phillips

It all started off from Haslingden......

And here we have a little bit different! its a fabulous story about "The Ural" motorbike which Bob (ex pat from Blackburn Road (Hud Hey) used to own.  He brought it back to life whilst in his wooden garage which was "where Pinch Belly Row (Hud Rake) used to be, and the garage is still there today (with slight modifications) - Its a cracking tale which covers lots of local and social history at its very best, so here we have it in Bobs own words:

The Ural

The bike

The Ural is a mighty motor bike.  Manufactured in Russia to BMW plans.  (In !945, the Soviet Zone of occupation of Germany included the state of Thuringia, and the BMW motorcycle works at Eisenach.)  A 650cc horizontally opposed twin cylinder engine, with the BMW trademark of cylinder heads sticking out horizontally on  both sides of the frame.  Without the other BMW trademark of shaft drive – that had not been invented in 1945, when the plans for the Russian Ural were frozen to the blueprints they captured.
Deep black with almost no markings; heavy – really heavy, with a sidecar made from thick steel.  (There are tales of collisions between a Ural and a camel in the Sahara, and the Ural coming off relatively unscathed; the camel dead.  A less exotic tale of my collision with a Ford Cortina taking a wrong turn to park in King Street, Cambridge, at about 3 m.p.h.: the Cortina wing crumpled, the Ural sidecar body dented perhaps ¼ inch.)

The search

We had decided that we couldn't really afford the car.  A motorcycle seemed an affordable alternative, if a little hardy for the Lancashire winters.  I started buying motorcycle magazines, and read about the Ural – mighty retro beast.  Immediately I coveted it – the engineering chic of the BMW; the political chic of a communist machine; the street chic of a big black frame with separate triangular seats, the passenger seat mounted high up on the hefty steel rear mudguard.  It looked like something straight out of the 1940s – which it was.  A vintage motorbike manufactured in the modern age.
And cheap.  Cheap new, because the Ural’s performance (meaning speed) was absolute crap.  Much, much cheaper second-hand because all the trimmings (cables, chrome, switches, etc.) are so badly manufactured that the machine looks like a wreck when it has been out on the streets for a few months.  As for performance, that did not signify with me – I was not after speed (scared of it, in fact) but after solid transportation and street credibility.
The most alarming thing about the Ural combination for me was the fact the sidecar is mounted on the European side – the wrong side.  The Valleys are full of steep roads with sharp bends, and the cambers are not always too carefully engineered.  I had visions of a bike with the centre of gravity made high by a passenger perched up on the rear, being completely unsteady with the sidecar turning the whole bike over on a reverse camber bend, crushing the driver beneath hundreds of pounds of steel.  (My fears were justified: if one ever rode the bike with passenger on board and an empty sidecar it would be lethal, and even properly loaded, it need careful handling on bends.  Just as well it did not go fast.)
So, I had identified the bike of my dreams.  How was I going to get one?  There were very few in circulation, and the chance of finding a second-hand one nearby was virtually nil.  Or so I thought . . .
I started buying Exchange and Mart weekly.  Standing about in the factory reading the Motorcycle section of Exchange and Mart on breaks introduced me immediately to the company of the bikers in the workforce.  We had a topic of mutual interest to discuss – something I was often short of.  They were very generous in their interest: just a little hint of mutual interest – opening the paper up to the interesting section – and they were almost welcoming in their willingness to open up conversation.  8 or 12 hours at a stretch at work is pretty boring, after all, and there is not that much to talk about unless you work at it.
Douglas of the yellow Ducati (he who managed to strip his bike and reassemble it in the pit under the paper-making machine, in one shift.  My this was a busy factory!) knew a bit about the Ural.  He was complimentary, even though for himself he would never buy anything so slow or so un-stylish.  His yellow sporty 650cc machine had a big tank and saddle set back so that the rider adopted a racing position stretched across the top of the bike to slightly drop-down handlebars.  Douglas was a man for fitting leathers in a colour that matched his bike, not the oil-stained Barbour jacket that I acquired with my Ural, that really rather matched the bike.)  We bent our heads over Exchange and Mart together.  But “Not a common bike – you don’t see many of them on sale.”  was Douglas’s warning.

The purchase

The Gods must have been favouring my plan.  Unbelievably, in the second week after I had made my commitment that a Ural it had to be, there was an ad in Exchange and Mart for a Ural and side-car, in Todmorden.  Todmorden, that had just become Lancashire instead of Yorkshire in the county boundary reorganisation: in other words right on the county boundary, in the same Pennine hills and valleys that surrounded Haslingden.
Anna and I took the little Morris Traveller – the car that I had been given, second-hand, for my 21st birthday – up into the hills.  The journey to Todmorden takes one up from Waterfoot, between Lumb and Cowpe, into the branch of the Rossendale Valley that runs through Bacup – straight east into the middle of the Pennine chain, through industrial desolation much worse than Haslingden.  Where the side valleys rise into the bleak saddles of moor land, the industrial revolution had its most tenuous hold, and faded first.  In Bacup, the industry had been shoes, and it was no more, aside from a few (and locally famous) clog-making shops, hanging on desperately.  The factories were small, grey, empty and weather-beaten.  
On, across the moors that divide Lancashire and Yorkshire[1], to the south of Todmorden, towards Mankinholes, on the side of the town where Jim Denniston lived.
I had, of course, been in contact with Jim, the bike’s owner, to arrange a meeting.  They were ready for us – they being Jim, his wife Helen and their baby, Oona.  It was more like a meeting of friends than a commercial transaction.  Todmorden, and even more so its neighbouring town, Hebden Bridge, was a centre of the alternative lifestyle even in 1974.  Small waves of hardy hippy types had converged on this cheap and attractive little corner of the Pennines since the late 1960s.  The signs were along the road as one passed through the towns: small whole-food shops, stores selling bright, flowing dresses, hand-printed signs for bands and political meetings.  All the regalia of the drop-out.
Jim worked in a local mill, like me, if I remember correctly. They lived in a house not unlike ours, except that their road was one of the many cul-de-sacs in Todmorden, running at right angles off the main street straight into the hills.  Grey stone terrace; two up, two down; the valley walls lowering at the back.
Baby Oona made the side-car rather inappropriate and, mirabile dictu, what Jim and Helen were looking for, ideally, was a Morris Traveller.  Jim took me out to look at his machine.  It was everything I had wanted – ancient, black, heavy, almost like an agricultural implement.  (In fact, Jim explained, the massive torque and low gearing were designed to give a rock-steady slow speed for dragging a plough!  The gearing was what kept the top speed down to about 60 m.p.h.)
Jim was scrupulous in telling me everything that was less than perfect – as expected, the chrome-work was in a sorry state.  He looked at my Traveller, and a deal was struck in no time at all.  Completely amicable – more like barter than a commercial transaction.
In keeping with the social nature of the transaction, we stretched it over several visits.  Finding that the two families liked each other, and that we had a similar history of escape to the hills, of course contributed to the leisurely pace of the deal.  Also – Jim was very reluctant to let go of the beast: he was as much in love with the Ural as I was to become.  (My Morris Traveller also had a pull on my affections – the little Morrises are that sort of car.  My first car, at age 17, had been a Morris Minor, and in Zambia with my stepbrother before then in 1967 we had shared another Minor, on loan.  Many memories of time spent pulling the guts out of a Morris and putting them back again – in Lusaka, with David Jones, in Farnborough with David Stratton, in Putney, in Cambridge.)
This first trip, we simply agreed upon a transaction – the exchanged of much-loved vehicles and some incidental monetary accompaniments (I think from Jim to me, but I am not certain – the money side of the transaction was definitely secondary, or even tertiary.  The much-loved objects came first, and the growing inter-family relationship came second.  The social priorities of the barter economy.)  On the second trip, Jim showed me how to ride the beast, and then how to ride it in the hills on badly-cambered roads.  It was on the third or fourth trip that the wrenching exchange actually took place.
On one of these trips, Helen and Jim took us for a walk through Colden Clough, as Helen told us about one of the famed natives of Hebden Bridge (actually of neighbouring Mytholmroyd) - Ted Hughes.[2]   Then we explored, more with Jim in the lead, another world of relaxed commercial transactions – the rescuing and recycling of useful building material.  Jim was an habituĂ© of building demolition sites and auctions.  He introduced Anna to a dealer who had a remote mill stacked to the rafters with rescued timber and fittings, and that man in turn took Anna to a church in Todmorden that was being demolished.  The last journey of the Traveller for us was to transport a long pitch-pine pew that Anna bought for a song.  (With very clever planning and cutting, it later provided all the material for the construction of a long sideboard that went with us from Haslingden to Milton Keynes to Dallas and to Philadelphia, where it was passed on to the Germantown Unitarian Church.)
We returned to Jim and Helen’s house.  I had the extraordinary Ural maintenance manual and toolset to explore, while the two families deepened their new friendship.  The manual was about 200 pages thick, printed on cheap-paper and poorly translated.  The opening chapters explained that there was a front wheel and a back, and what brakes were and the principle of the internal combustion engine.  By the end of the book, the owner of the magnificent machine had been told how disassemble the engine and to strip and service the main bearing.  This was a book written for people who had never owned a machine before, but were going to be entirely on their own in looking after it.  The toolkit corresponded – a magnificent array of very carefully chosen implements designed to do both very simple and very complex jobs, economically packaged and wrapped in a tight little cloth bundle.  “Economical” is the word – unfortunately the whole enterprise was marred by the fact that the tools were constructed in the cheapest of materials, and did not look as if they would actually do the jobs for which they were intended, without bending or breaking.  (There is an allegory for the Soviet Communist planned economy here.)
The day came to an end, and all parties were highly satisfied.  I cannot remember if we went away in the bike then and there.  I am sure that I needed Jim to give me a couple more riding lessons.  (I didn't need a motorcycle endorsement to my driving licence - the sidecar puts it in a category with a car.  That was one of its attractions, from the start - no need for a motorcycle driving test.) 


Anyway, we came back to visit Jim and Helen and baby several times; there were evenings in their little house when Helen played the guitar and we all sang.  Both families had been learning a bit about Lancashire folk-songs.  Helen taught us a lullaby sung by the wife of a railway engineer, and we taught her “The Four-Loom Weaver”.  Helen was a performer – a dancer as well as a singer, from somewhere in the West Indies.[3]
Helen ended up separated from Jim.  We last had contact with her when she was one of the artists and prime movers in a community arts collective in Battersea that became very big - the Battersea Arts Centre.  On the way there, she actually came to live with us.  We cannot remember exactly how Helen announced her wish to stay.  She turned up, with baby Oona, and did not, as far as I remember ever go back to see Jim.  I do not even remember what caused the fatal rift, although Helen complained that it was hard to get Jim to stir himself, and it is clear that Helen herself was a dynamo.  
I say “was” because, sadly, I only learned about Helen’s extraordinary achievements in her life from her obituary.  (From that obituary, we learned of more tragedy: Oona had died too, in a street accident, in the year 2000, just as her grandfather was in his final illness.  Oona would have been about 14.)  Helen and baby stayed with us for several months, in the tiny room we had carved out from one of the two top rooms, dividing it from the new bathroom.  The room that was later to be Joanna’s nursery, and had been planned as such.
Helen and Oona were the beginning of something big.  Even at the time, Anna and I realised that by opening up our household to extra people we were doing something that had implications.  Later on, there were people in our house who really did become part of our family.  That was not completely the case with Helen and Oona, but this was the first step towards something  that became enormously important to us.

The bike at home

Back to the story of the Ural motor-bike.  (Let me run that story through to its conclusion, even though it means jumping ahead in time for a spell.)-  We had found a little room for the motor-bike, too.  The road that ran diagonally up the steep hill opposite our house, from the other side of Blackburn Road, was called Hud Rake.  There were a few houses at the bottom of Hud Rake – a short stone terrace than ran down to the ginnel along the back of the Blackburn Road houses (the terrace that included Martin and Kaye Warwick’s house at 325).  Above this short terrace, I guess the land was too steep even for Lancashire builders.  The next architectural phenomenon above the terrace was a line of ramshackle wooden garages.  The weather in the Valleys is cruel for wooden structures, and Hud Rake really is exposed.   I think it would have taken heroic (and totally uneconomic) levels of maintenance effort to preserve these garages in anything like decent condition.  No chance of that – there is not much sentiment for building maintenance in these climes, and even if there was, these mean structures did not deserve it.
The garages were black – not with paint but with weathering, with tar-paper roofs nailed down with boards.  They leaned against each other down the hill, and it did seem to be a marvellous thing that they had not slid down into the valley.  Mine was the second from the top – I cannot remember how I found its owner and arranged the rental, no more than £1 a week.  I was very pleased with it – a suitable house for my fine machine, close by (visible from the top floor front window) and on a road with a name like “Hud Rake” – perfect.
As the year passed on into winter, I discovered the need for an addition to my garage.  I purchased a little paraffin lamp, designed to be put under the engines of cars in the extreme cold.  I guess in a later age of elfansafety, the idea of putting a naked flame under an engine containing hydrocarbon fuel in a rotten wooden structure butted up against other wooden structures, might have been considered to invite disaster, or at least litigation.  But Haslingden was in a different age, and the instructions on my new appliance assured me that was exactly the use for which the lamp was intended.  It burned quietly all night.  The Pennine winds raged outside the little garage, and through the cracks in its walls, but they seemed to show no propensity for blowing the flame either out or onto something inflammable.  Without my little lamp, the oil in the motor-bike sump would have been congealed every morning, and I would have had no hope of turning the engine over with the kick-start.  With my little lamp, the beast started perfectly almost every morning, and when it didn’t, it was for other causes.
It was outside my garage that I had some of my most intense heart-to-hearts with my new steed.  The struggle of coming to terms with the carburettor will serve to illustrate them all.  The Russian built carburettor cannot have been part of the old BMW design – I refuse to believe that BMW would have engineered such a crude thing, even back in 1945.  It required constant adjustment, and fiddling with the carb before kicking the beast into life became a regular morning routine, sitting outside my garage.  The Ural Owners Club newsletter came to the rescue, with a tip about creating an airflow between the inputs to the two cylinders. As directed, I  threaded a little piece of clear plastic pipe through the frame, with two little pipe ends tapped in.  That is the sort of home-spun engineering that kept the Ural in fine fettle.

Emergency maintenance

A wonderful example of this – away from home – cropped up after I had owned the bike for a year or so.  On a long journey to Cambridge (following faithfully the Yelloways bus route on a big chunk of its journey from Blackpool to Clacton - wakes week to wakes week), I had a terrible mishap in Leicester – half way between my two homes at the time, and a place where I knew no-one to call upon.
The sound of the mishap was most alarming – a strangling metallic crash that seemed to come from the centre of the engine.  Off the bike, and look for damage.  A combination bike stands up to be looked at on its own, and a BMW engine, with its cylinders hanging out sideways, invites inspection.  But there was nothing obvious.  So I took a cylinder head off to see what I could see  – the toolkit had a spanner for everything, and the spanners worked if you were very deliberate and careful not to over-stress the poorly-manufactured tool.  The cylinder head was right there, clear of the side of the bike, to be tinkered with.  The head and gasket came off, and there was the problem – the inlet valve was obviously bent.
(I worked out later that the valve clearances on a new Ural are set for Siberian weather.  For most of my bike’s life in the Pennines, that was exactly the type of weather the beast experienced - there had been no need for Jim or me to adjust.  When I drove it to the balmy south, metal expanded, clearances closed, and BANG.)
A bent valve following a collision with the piston head in most modern engines would be a major disaster, calling for new parts, specialized tools and expert mechanics, maybe even a new engine.  Not so the Ural, with its agricultural tolerances.  I pulled the inlet valves out, took them to the filling station over the road, used a bench vice to straighten the valve stems as much as I could (eliciting a great deal of interest and pitiful shaking of heads from the Indian mechanics in the shop), inserted them and tightened up the cylinder heads (no new gaskets), and I was off.  In fact, I never touched those valves or heads again during the lifetime of my ownership of the bike.
Another result of the crude tolerances in the whole design of the bike was that I had a freedom of fuel choice not afforded to the owner of your average internal combustion engine.  After experiment, I established that my beast would run comfortably on a mixture of ¾ paraffin and ¼ petrol.  Illegal, but very cheap.
I could go on for a long time, and bore my readers to death.  This was a bike with a personality – rugged charm and economy, vintage graces, idiosyncratic mechanical habits, and an eccentric ride.  A wonderful machine.  When I eventually let it go – as payment for a commissioned diptych of the Wolf’s Leap Gorge in Radnorshire (and a crummy ancient Morris van thrown in to get me home) – I rode my motorbike for 7 hours through freezing rain to Hundred House with Anna in the sidecar, wet accumulating behind her back.  Even that did not entirely kill our love affair. 

[1] The realignment of the county boundary was very recent - 1974.  I had seen an article in the local (Lancashire) paper that had hoped to surface some of the traditional rivalry between white and red rose by interviewing those affected by the change.  One dour Yorkshireman, transformed without consultation into a Lancastrian, was encouraged to express anger, or at least disappointment.  The interviewer got little traction - the gentleman didn't think life was going to be very different as a  result of the boundary change.  However, right at the end of the conversation, the interviewer struck gold: "There's one thing that is a bit of a bad job - the weather.  It's gonna be worse now.  It allus rained more in Lancashire."
[2] Ted Hughes was raised in a house called The Beacon, at Slack, just outside Mytholmroyd, but he  returned to buy the mill owner’s house in the village - Lumb Bank.  Helen took us past it; she was excited that the house had just become home to a foundation which teaches creative writing - The Arvon Foundation.  For Helen, this was all part of an exciting birth of culture in this little town.  
Of course, Helen was right - the flowering of Hebden Bridge came in her lifetime, though she had by then moved on to Battersea Arts Centre.  Hebden Bridge and Haslingden may have started as similar dour towns, but in all but architecture they diverged greatly in the last decades of the 20th century!
[3] We later discovered that Helen's origins were quite famous.  Her father was "Oswald "Columbus" Denniston [who in 1948] booked a one-way passage from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush. Thus, later, did he become the first African-Caribbean trader in Brixton market in south London. His entrepreneurial spirit and sense of community made him a key figure in the growing migrant population." (from the obituary of Columbus in the Guardian, 17/2/2000.  Helen herself was a sufficiently important figure to merit an obituary in the Guardian too - on her lamentably early death on 27/6/2005: "In 1989 the arts consultant and administrator Helen Denniston, who has died of cancer, aged 53, played a key role in the Colour Of Europe festival at the South Bank Centre. That led to her co-directorship of Africa '95, the six-month season of African arts which took place across Britain. And that festival in turn inspired African Odyssey, at the John F Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, for which she was, from 1996 to 2000, a consultant."

Added by Robert Wade on 18th December 2016

Love the Ural story on the blog, I can remember the bike!  One slight error, in the 1974 boundary re-organisation Todmorden did NOT change counties, Barnoldswick and Earby did.