Mytholmroyd Net

Memories of Mytholmroyd

by Roy Stockdill

IT is 50 years since I went to live in Mytholmroyd and over 40 years since I left the village. But the eight years I spent there were among the happiest of my life. During this period, I was transformed from a snivelling 10-year-old kid to a spotty teenage adolescent to the verge of adulthood. Don’t they call them the formative years? If that is so, then there were few better places in which to have spent them, in my opinion, than in this rather plain, urban industrial village in the heart of the Calder Valley.

Nobody ever said Mytholmroyd was pretty! I don’t recall many country cottages with roses twining round the door. To the outsider, passing briefly through on the way to Halifax, Hebden Bridge or Todmorden, there isn’t much about Mytholmroyd to detain the traveller. But living in the place, now that was different. For one thing it does have by the bucketful is character — character and grit, not just in the grey stone from which many of the older houses are built, but in its inhabitants. Growing up in Mytholmroyd in the 1950s was an education and you soon found out who your friends were. No mealy-mouthed soft-soaping and pleasantries for the hard-headed locals. If they didn’t like you, they told you so!

Fortunately for me, that was never much of a problem, for in my eight years in Mytholmroyd as a young lad I always seemed to be surrounded by good friends, mates that I grew up with. We played football and cricket together, went on Boy Scout hikes, rode our bikes up and down the hills, chased girls and went out in a gang on Saturday nights with the sole ambition of getting legless the moment we were old enough to drink (and sometimes before we were old enough!).

In these brief notes I will mention a few names of friends I recall from those halcyon days of more than 40 years ago. The vast majority of them I have never seen since, but if any of them are reading this and feel like getting in touch, even if just to say "Hello" for old time’s sake, well my e-mail address is at the end of this article. I will be delighted to hear from you!

We came to Mytholmroyd in 1950 — me and my parents, that is. Some of the older inhabitants of the village may just remember my Mum and Dad, Molly and Leonard Stockdill, when they were landlords of the Royal Oak Inn on Burnley Road. Yes, the same, sad old Royal Oak that has been for many years now a rotting, derelict, tumbledown ruin — a disgrace and a scandal that shames the village, in my opinion. I have revisited Mytholmroyd a couple of times in the last few years and was horrified and appalled to see the state of the dear old "Oak". Probably few present-day Mytholmroyd residents will even remember it now as it once was, but when my folks kept it it was a lively pub, busy with both locals and passing trade, and a lively centre of village life. I am glad my parents, both long deceased, never saw it in its current state, for they would have been heartbroken. They loved their time in Mytholmroyd at the Royal Oak.

Mum and Dad took the Royal Oak over in 1950, their first venture into the pub trade. We had moved from Golcar, near Huddersfield, where my father had run an electrical business and been on the Colne Valley Urban District Council as a Liberal. Both my folks were gregarious, outgoing and good mixers with everyone, so they took to running a pub like ducks to water. I am probably biased, of course, but I believe they were very popular with customers and just about everyone in Mytholmroyd who knew them.

The pub was a centre of village life. Mytholmroyd FC had their headquarters there and so did the local pigeon racing club. I still remember that on Saturday afternoons, when the pub was officially closed, men would appear with clocks and gather in the upstairs function room to discover whose bird had won the race that day. The Royal Oak used to enter a football team in what was called the Workshops Competition and I remember great joy when one year we won the trophy, beating a team from the Moderna works in the final at Hebden Bridge. Mytholmroyd FC, too, had their share of successes and when they won a cup my Dad would fill it to the brim from the beer pumps and it would be passed round for everybody to take a swig out of.

My mother did lunches, wedding receptions and other functions and we had a fair bit of coach trade, too. Quite often in summer, parties from our former home in Golcar and the Colne Valley would stop off for breakfast when on a day trip to Blackpool. My parents worked long and hard, but they seemed to enjoy it. My Dad would spend what seemed to me hours down in the cellar, involved in some mysterious art he called "tapping the barrels". To me, venturing into the cellar was a bit of an adventure, for it was dark and gloomy down there and, being so close to the River Calder, which ran immediately behind the back wall, there were often frogs hopping about! The pub, by the way, belonged to the former Halifax brewery, Whitaker’s, which disappeared long ago after being taken over by Whitbread’s. In the early 1950s, I recall, they were still using horse-drawn drays for some of their deliveries. I can still see those beautiful, big shire horses tied up in the yard alongside the pub.

As for me, well, growing up in a pub was not always easy. I was an only child and my parents were so busy working long hours that they had little time for me. I was left to my own devices for much of the time, but fortunately I quickly made friends with many of the children in the village. Actually, I had a rather curious childhood, for I must have been about the only child in Mytholmroyd who didn’t go to Calder High School! In those days it was celebrated as the first comprehensive school in the country, the pioneer of a bold new experiment in education. However, before we left Golcar I had passed the old 11-plus examination and my parents opted to send me to Elland Grammar School (now the Brooksbank School), so that was where I went for five years. This involved catching two buses and changing in Halifax, but I didn’t mind because it meant I had two entirely different sets of friends, one lot at school and the other at home in Mytholmroyd.

For a few months in between leaving Golcar and waiting to start at Elland Grammar, I attended a school in Hebden Bridge called the Central School, which I remember very little about at all. However, I do know that it closed as a school many years ago and the last I heard it was used as education offices.

One of the earliest things I did to make friends in Mytholmroyd was to join a Boy Scout troop at the old Mount Zion Chapel in Midgley Road. For those of you who don’t remember it, it was just up Midgley Road from the main road, at the top of the hill by the bridge over the canal and near the White Lee recreation ground. I gather the building was demolished many years ago after the chapel shut down and was amalgamated with the one in Scout Road. However, when I lived in Mytholmroyd it was a lively centre for many of the young of the village. Apart from the Scout troop, we had a youth club and a soccer team in the Halifax League, and a busy social life centred around the chapel.

We were the 17th Calder Valley Boy Scouts — funny how one remembers the most trivial things after all these years — and the Scoutmaster was a lovely man called Fred Rawnsley who lived in Cragg Road. Some of my fellow Scouts whose names I recall were Ken Taylor, Darryl Whittaker, John Gaukroger, Malcolm Scott, Donald Pryor, John Jackson, Eddie Greenwood and Roger Wild, whose parents Harold and Gertie Wild kept the White Lion, the pub immediately opposite the Royal Oak and who were good friends of my parents.

I must have shown qualities of leadership, for I was promoted to the dizzy heights of Patrol Leader of the Eagle Patrol! About once a month we went on church parade at Mount Zion Chapel and I was the one who always carried our troop flag. This was quite a struggle, since I was among the smallest physically in the troop, while the flagstaff was about twice my size and blew about in high winds, so it was difficult not to be carried away with it on a windy day. I can also recall to this day walking solemnly down the aisle with my eyes fixed to the roof, praying the top of the flagstaff wouldn’t bash into any of the light fittings hanging from the ceiling!

Oh, what fun we had in the 17th Calder Valley Boy Scouts. Some weekends we would go on midnight hikes to Stoodley Pike, or Hardcastle Crags, or over Midgley to Jerusalem Farm and Luddenden Dean. We would go to the cinema in Hebden Bridge, enjoy a fish and chip supper and then set off on our trek with rucksacks hoisted on our backs. At some unearthly hour of the morning we would be sitting up on the hillside at the base of the grim and forbidding monument of Stoodley Pike, scoffing sandwiches and flasks of coffee. Do kids enjoy such innocent pleasures in these days of computer games and 24-hour television? I doubt it, somehow.

I can remember taking part in Scout Gang Shows and plays at Mount Zion and pea-and-pie suppers when we all wolfed down huge quantities of food, usually provided by my mother. There were camping trips when we spent several days away from home under canvas and once three of us hiked all the way to Clitheroe in Lancashire to gain some badge or other.

Apart from the Scouts, my life in Mytholmroyd seemed to consist principally of playing football in the winter and cricket in the summer. I was part of a gang that played regularly, virtually every night and every weekend, on White Lee "rec". This was immediately opposite the Royal Oak, of course, and we used to use the old stable that belonged to the pub as a changing room. This is the low building with the arched windows that still stands there today, sad and forlorn like the rest of the site. Besides the names I have already mentioned, some of the lads I remember as being part of that little gang included David Capper (someone told me he died some years ago), John Wray, who later played as an amateur goalkeeper for Halifax Town, and Pete Duerden. We formed a team and played other sides regularly at Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall and Luddenden Foot. I can still recall practising my footballing skills in the pub by kicking a ball constantly backwards and forwards against the wall by the main door, probably driving my Dad and customers to distraction!

Probably my closest chum of all in Mytholmroyd was Ken Taylor, who lived in a house just outside the gates of Calder High School. We were literally "thick as thieves" and, when we were older, used to go to jazz concerts together at the Victoria Hall in Halifax and other venues. Only a few months ago I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Ken again for the first time in over 40 years when I called in at the cafe he now runs in Hebden Bridge. Another old friend from Mytholmroyd days that I renewed acquaintance with recently was John Gaukroger, another stalwart of the 17th Calder Valley Boy Scouts. I ran into John at a couple of family history fairs in London and York.

When I was 16 I left school and ventured into the great, big wide world of work. I was lucky enough to be taken on as a junior reporter at the Halifax Courier, thus beginning a career in journalism that was to last over 40 years and take me to London and the giddy heights of Fleet Street and national newspapers and widespread travels in Europe and America. I still spend much of my life writing, but these days it is done strictly in comfort from my home in Hertfordshire and via the computer and Internet. However, it was my early apprenticeship on the Courier, covering such mundane tasks as weddings, funerals, courts and council meetings, that was the foundation stone of everything I have achieved in my career, modest as it is.

Inevitably, as we all got older, left school and started work, the little gang I had grown up with in Mytholmroyd gradually drifted apart. We all had bigger fish to fry and new territories to conquer. We left the village in 1958 when my parents became stewards at a golf club at Almondbury, near Huddersfield, and later took over another pub at Rastrick. My Mum and Dad are both now long passed on. But I know they loved their time in Mytholmroyd as much as I did.

These days I am heavily involved in the genealogical and family history world, editing a journal, writing about family history, serving on various committees and giving talks on the subject. I still get up to Yorkshire a few times a year on business and to see old friends. I promise to drop by Mytholmroyd again one of these days — and if anyone is reading this who remembers me from the old days, then I look forward to you buying me a pint!