Thursday, 22 March 2012

Home Sweet Home

            I enjoyed the irony of a postcard I saw on eBay so much, I had to buy it, for £1.89, plus £1.26 p&p,  from New Zealand! It dates from 1908, and reads : -

The GARDEN CITY of the North

Sheltered from every wind. Protected on the North by the famous Yellow Hills, on the East by the finely wooded Mill Hill, with the unique Daisyfield at the summit, and on the West by the gorse-covered Lark Hill.
A beautiful panoramic view of the district may be obtained from the top of Lark Hill. Electric cars run up the hill every few minutes.
Thousands come weekly to visit Grimshaw Park, the finest Park in the world. Unrivaled for its natural beauty. Its magnificent Waterfall is the sight of a lifetime; whilst its Strawberry Bank is without parallel.


Anglers will find capital sport in Snig Brook, undoubtedly the finest trout river in the Kingdom.
Splendid boating on the river Blakewater. A Water Carnival takes place every night. The thousands of Fairy Lights reminds one of Venice.
Splendid facilities for safe bathing in the river Blakewater. Swimming and Diving competitions held weekly. Entrance from Water Street.
Sportsmen will find good shooting on Blakey Moor, far-famed for its grouse.
Do not fail to see Little Har-Wood, with its magnificent pines : the sylvan retreat of lovers.
Archaeologists should examine Sudell Cross, one of the oldest crosses extant; it has puzzled historians for centuries.
To Invalids,- Take the waters from Bast-well and be cured. Marvellous health-giving properties.

Which is all, of course, nonsense.

The Yellow Hills are to the North - they are also battered by winds from all sides. They lash across from the Irish Sea to the West, hammer in from Morecambe Bay to the North, blast over the Pennines in the East and whistle down from the moors in the South. The finely wooded Mill Hill evokes a picture of water- or wind- mills. The Mill on the Floss, mayhap. But these mills were the dark, satanic, cotton mills of industrial-age Victorian England. I grew up in Mill Hill, between the canal and the railway sidings. In the early sixties, the wall of our school subsided from the main building, and threatened to fall down altogether. As an emergency measure, the classrooms were relocated to the weaving sheds of the mill across the road. But only for a couple of years. Primrose Mill,it was. Sounds nice? It wasn't. It was a mill. At least we were being educated. A couple of generations earlier I'd have been working there.

Unique Daisyfield sounds nice - a field of daisies, perhaps. Sorry, more cotton mills. And Lark Hill - ah, the trill of the lark rising, except Larkhill is famous for Larkhill Flats, stark tower blocks of Sixties brutalist architecture. Larkhill isn't even a proper hill, it's a sorry little bank.

Grimshaw Park - finest Park in the world... Grimshaw Park - finest ASDA in Blackburn. Grimshaw Park, home of the dye works, built on the site of the old brick works. The mellifluously sounding Strawberry Bank - a side street, about twenty houses.

Fishing in Snig Brook - you should know that a 'snig' is, in Lancashire dialect, an eel, and by extension any small, wriggling creature. A fidgeting child might be told to sit still and stop being like a snig. Snig Brook was another side street, knocked down years ago (1922, I think). 

The river Blakewater, if you can find it, is a sorry dribble. It's buried underground through the town centre. Blackburn takes its name from the Black (or Blake - from Old English blaec) Burn (or stream, more commonly found in Scotland these days, but some Northern English also still use the word). The stream was black because it drained through peat, which gave it a dark colour. I would not risk a swim in the Blakewater - when I was a boy, it was a different colour every day. It depended what colour they were using in the slipper works upstream).

Blakey Moor is smack dab in the middle of town. The only grouse there are the grouses of the people grousing, or grumbling. You'll find the magnificent Victorian Technical School there, now tacked on to the faux-modernist Blackburn College campus, a qualifications mill with pretensions of University status. Like a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.

The sylvan retreat of the Har-Wood. It could be the wood of the hares, or it could be har-wudu, the grey wood. Here be more mills. Little Harwood, and Bastwell, together with London Road and Whalley Range is where the first immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh started to settle. Remember yesterday's post about India. In the 1950s and 60s, immigrants with British passports were encouraged to move from the sub-continent to fill a labour shortage left after the war. Blackburn now has the highest Muslim population in the United Kingdom outside London (over 25% : national average 3.1%). There are tensions now and again, but on the whole we all rub along together. Sit thi deawn, lad.

Finally, Sudell Cross. Not, as you may imagine, an Eleanor cross, like Charing or Waltham Crosses, but a cross roads. There used to be a water fountain there, but they moved it to Pleasington fields. That sounds pleasing -  Pleasington, pleasing-town. It's where you drive through on the way to the cemetery and the crematorium. The last journey of many Blackburnians.

Well, I think it's funny. If you like laughing.

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