Gleaning Teeming Brains 6

[ href=””>Banksfield Mill (Scott & Rhodes) 1920's Banksfield Mill (Scott & Rhodes) 1920’s[/caption]

Rowland is the 3rd child from the left on the second row from the book. His cousin Isaac is stood behind him

Rowland is the 3rd child from the left on the second row from the book. His cousin Isaac is stood behind him

rawdon-quaker meeting house

Hare and Hounds 6

Chapter 6
“Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again
But is for others undiminished somewhere”.
Philip Larkin
Sad Steps
Class photo. Yeadon South view school c1932
Rowland Kitchen junior. Second row from the back, third child from the left

Up until recently I had not a photo of Rowland Kitchen Junior as a child. Then as often happens where your mind is on the lookout for things this picture turned up on a local history site. The photo is taken near the main school gates. The house to the left of the teachers head is the first one on Brooklands Crescent where Rowland lived. Quite possibly he could see his own house from where he stood. Teacher and head teacher stand book end style at either end. My brother has looked over this picture and remembers most of these boys as middle aged men in the 1960’s. More boys are standing at the windows behind; there are thirty eight children, all boys in the class. Presumably the girls in similar numbers had a class of their own (the school had at this time separate boys and girls entrances. The boys were rising twelve, so were born around 1920 and so conceived just after the end of the war.
Thirty seven years later I would have occupied a similar place in a class photo at the same school. There were thirty children in my class boys and girls. Much less than half the number than in the class of 1932. So why so many twelve year olds? The school served the same catchment area, the population the town had increased but not by that proportion. It’s possible that children from two years were grouped together in one class so as to make single sex classes viable. Yeadon had lost a disproportionate number of men in the war. The shocking memorial slabs on the wall of the town hall demonstrate that. I would suspect it was around a firth or a quarter of all the men who had joined up. Lots of men should have had children in this photograph but they did not live to conceive them. Those that did come back from the war, and their wives were in a rush to get on with life. Lots of children came along all at once. This group of boys would be nineteen in 1939, which made them just the right age for the next war. Before then they would have to live through the economic turbulence of the 1920’s, the General Strike of 1926 and the searing depression of the 1930’s. The hardship of those years would leave some of them with what appeared to their children, near delusional fears of poverty and debt. The good times could not last and we would be back to sharing shoes.
Rowland looks untypically relaxed and ebullient. The jacket hangs open as if his hands were tucked in the trouser pockets. Grin on his face. He gives every impression of being comfortable in his skin. It feels odd seeing ones father as a child. His cousin Isaac named after the uncle who died in the war is on the left end of the row behind.
Setting Rowland in his world. His house is a hundred yards away. After school he will have his tea with Rowland senior, Ida, Iris and Kathleen. Across the street and nearer the school is Isaac’s house and Rowland’s uncle Eddie the one thats a bit of a lad. Half a mile across town would have been his grandmother Louisa but she had died two years previously. A very old lady for the time, seventy eight.
Scattered across the town and neighbouring villages are eight uncles and aunts all of whom are likely to have worked in one of the numerous textile mills which dominated the town. In England, Bradford was the centre of wool production; Leeds was the same for cloth. Yeadon stood geographically between the two and had the whole spectrum of manufacturing processes between the two poles.
The population of the town was 7,500. Its death rate was higher at 15.3 per thousand was one point higher than its birth rate. Population was first steady and then with migration out of the area as well had begun to decline. It would rise again when times got better.
Yeadon was not a bad place to grow up in. The life was midway between the farm drudgery of the dales labourer and the squalor of the slums of Bradford and Leeds.
We left Rowland not doing very well at school after he fell off a wall and broke his leg. He felt that this had left him behind & to my mind a bit of a chip on his shoulder about teachers which was to be ironic in its own way. Some children from this age group would have got scholarships to the local grammar school, His future wife Kathleen was to do so in five years time.
We have already looked over what came next. Two years after this photo was taken Rowland had left school and was working as a bicycle powered delivery boy for a grocer at the bottom of Yeadon Steep until he was caught with his hand in the till and sacked. Walking past the shop sixty six years later he was hit by a pain in the chest which was to kill him within twenty four hours. I’m sure that the two events are in no way related.
Then came Banksfield Dye Works.

Ariel photograph of Banksfield Mill in 192. The white shape at bottom left is the wing of the plane. Rowland worked in the ‘Wet-end’ of the mill from age fifteen to fifty five. The only time he was ever off sick was when he developed Gout and lay on the sofa ranting for two weeks.

The mill is in the centre of the picture resembling an ocean cruiser with an extended smoke stack. The entrance is to the left of the site at the end of Otley Road. An ancient, probably Roman track runs alongside the near edge of the mill and goes across the moors to connect with the Roman road known as Yorkgate Rowland worked inthe ‘wet-end’ of the mill where the woollen cloth was dyed. This is towards the right side of the site. The extraordinarily soft water used in the proce ss came from a spring which seeped out of the hillside. This slope, known locally as ‘The Banks’ rises sharply above the ‘Wet-end’. Local campaigners claimed it as common land and successfully campaigned in the late 1990’s when attempts were made to sell it off for housing.
There is considerable open ground in this picture but by the mid-1960’s housing estates filled the spaces on three sides. From about 1953 Rowland and his family lived in the Hawthorn Estate which occupied the bottom right quarter of this photograph and extended half a mile to Yeadon Dam. The temporary council owned houses were quickly put up after the war to meet the housing crisis and help with slum clearance. They lived there until 1960, when one Sunday afternoon they went for a walk. It was one of the stories his wife told often. “He was never one for making decisions but that Sunday afternoon we were out for a walk. We stood at the top of the banks and looked down. Some houses were being built and streets lay’d out. From nowhere he just said, we’ll have one of them. We were some of the first to move in. The houses above us on the street were still being built and the street was mud”.
The move to Banksfield Rise was traumatic. The January of 1961 is infamous for the severity of its freezing weather. The household effects were carted in a van without problem. The goldfish was to be delivered by hand which does not seem to have been a sensible judgment. The middle son Neil who was around 8 years old was given the job of cupping the bowl in his hands and carrying it over the banks. Of course in the freezing cold he dropped everything. He picked up the flapping fish with his bleeding fingers and ran the distance to the new house. His mother tried to resuscitate the creature. Moving the fish between warm and cold water basins she hoped the shock would bring the twitching fish back to life. Neil’s distress was topped by the body being flushed away through the toilet when this did not work. Whenever the move was mentioned that was the story told.
Kathleen was to live there for next fifty years, Rowland a few years less. In 1960 it was not common for banks or building societies to give out mortgages to men who were labourers but he somehow got one. He paid it off many years ahead of the scheduled time. Their future house is located at the end of the track which seems to run off from the far side of the chimney through two clumps of trees in the phtograph. The second set of set of trees surrounds a former rectory known as Springfield House. Banksfield Rise ran up the hill alongside it. The mill chimney was set like a semi suburban Lowrie painting in their dining room window until a fire destroyed in it the mid 1970’s. From 1953 until 1998 Rowland never lived more than three football fields walk from work.
What was the place like? It was not really somewhere I went to often and thought about still less. I had on occasion taken his lunch time sandwiches in to him. The chief memories are of an uncared for place, utilitarian, but operating on make do and mend. Exposed wires, cigarette ends, engine grease, the dirt of ages and fractured glass in window frames. Mostly it smells though. A rich fruity, damp woollen cloth smell, that I sometimes still catch from wet clothes. I have no idea what happened there other than cloth got dyed and there was a lot of sacking around. I have no knowledge of the process and astonishingly I believe that I never asked him. And it did not cross my mind to do so. I think he would have been surprised if someone had. It was an area of absolute no interest. I know that he saw it as dead time. Something you went through each weekday so you could come out the other end and get on with your life.
He went off each morning at half past six and came back just after five. He wore the same outfit for work every day, the kind of clothes I save for gardening on a weekend. These carried the smell. The boots were important though. He still called them clogs, protective shell toe caps segs or steel studs on the sole. They scratched the skin of paving stones. He was on friendly term with the men he worked with but I don’t think they were ever friends as such. They split into two groups. His peers and the young lads. The first were men of his own age who had been at school together and had been glad to get a job in the mill in the middle of the Great Depression. Almost every adult man in the village did similar work. They identified themselves like club members as belonging to Scott and Rhodes, Greenbottom, Peats, Billy Muggs, Ives or a half a dozen other mills. Walking past my dad in the street they would say “aye up Rowland” and he’d “aye up” back. On a Sunday lunchtime they would nod across from adjacent tables at the Factory Workers Club and say “is that your lad. He’s a big un”. He’d come back with a “Big daft bugger more like it”.
The young lads in the mill were said to be a different breed .The threat from Rowland was that if you did not shape up at school you would end up like them, loutish and ‘thickies’ . Up before the magistrates and featured in the Wharfedale Advertiser week after week. Boys who had barely survived in school till fifteen and became a problem at work for their foreman and co-workers. There seemed a big social divide between the youths and the older men but maybe the lout at seventeen became the descent working man at twenty five when he had kids and rent to pay. By the 1970’s though people had more choices and it was only the boys who had been in the bottom streams at school who got jobs there. If this seems snobbish it’s not, it’s what the older men who worked there articulated. Nobody would choose to come there for a job if they could do something else. Rowland said it in the strongest terms, the man who was there union shop steward and stuck up for them. He was prone to place himself at the more judgmental end of the spectrum and left no space for excuses.
Banksfield mill or Scott and Rhodes as it was more often known was the visible place of work from his teens to mid fifties, with no break for the war. All that changed was his route to work, from east north or south west. At 5 0’clock and at the weekend he became something else.
So what occupied the years until he got married twelve years later. Much of it echoes the youth and young adult years of John Yeadon Well first there was the ‘your body is a temple’ crowd. From what I know was mostly competitive walking, cycling and boxing. By his sister Iris’s account he had not been a robust child. The insurance chest x-ray in middle age showed that he had signs of Tuberculosis infection from childhood. His father died of that illness in 1944. Compounding it all, and what I almost forgot to mention was the deafness which had been there from infancy. In later years he was classified overall as severely deaf. No hearing on one side and a low figure on the other. I remember 15% but I can’t believe this is right. He did not have a hearing aid until the coming of the health service in 1948 so he had done all his growing up in near silence. Maybe there’s an instinct when you feel frailty at fourteen to want to work on the God given apparatus of your body and fix it.
We have all heard how at the turn of the century one third of the men who went to sign up for service in the Anglo- Boer War were rejected on medical grounds. The British working class was poorly nourished, bodily under developed and riddled with TB. The consequence of both urban and rural poverty, and wretched living conditions. Arising in the early twentieth century the Health and Fitness Movement took a hold in the country. I’m not sure that it reached Yeadon in its purest form but echoes produced sports clubs and societies which sort of espoused its principles. That is, a healthy mind in a healthy body, self discipline, abstinence from alcohol, and self improvement. I’m sure that the reality was never as monastic as it sounds, and it is an easy target for ridicule (which is fun!) but the reality was that there was a need for self upliftment. Its worth remembering that the earliest state pensions were established on the premise that a high proportion of working men would not reach retirement age. In my childhood the actuarial graphs showed an early rise in the mortality curve for men designated as labourers. And of course everyone was skint in the 1930’s. If you were going to have a social life it had to be dirt cheap. Best of all this recreation made you look good
Rowland and a friend Ernest who seems to have been a slightly solitary man, joined the local sports clubs. Each one is tagged in the family memory by the linked story. So for competitive walking it was the story of the dates. I suppose the sport must still exist but I can’t recall seeing it for a long time. Maybe it’s become un-cool once the resemblance to John Cleese funny walkers was identified. The linked story is about how Rowland’s performance in one such race was influenced by performance enhancing substances Dates. These had been bought on Leeds market just ahead of the race. They worked their bowel loosening magic and this sort of (in a intermittent staccato kind of way) increased his pace. These stories were always told by his wife who tiptoed in good Methodist style around the impolite bits. There was more mention of what was considered acceptable style in competitive walking. Both the heel and the toe of each foot had to make contact with the ground at each step. Rowland came out ahead of the field but was judged not to have met these criteria. He had come closer to running than walking at the end of the race.
The cycling story is accompanied by a photograph. He’s 19, looks fit and is wearing the appropriate gear for the time. Plain sports shirt and baggy shorts pulled tight around the waist with a cord, which in truth look better than lycra. He is standing in a semi heroic pose up alongside the bike.The picture was linked to a cycling touring holiday in Scotland taken by Ernest and himself. The story in my mind though is of his wife Kathleen talking about the picture. She is relating an account of a cycling holiday that they had taken across to Kendal and the Lake District, which from this point in time does not seem at all like her. They had stayed in Spartan accommodation each night, closer to shelter rather than hostel which was operated by a national cycling federation. They had been courting at the time and Im guessing this is the first time that they had been away together. The story was more about how she told it. It was not what was said but what was left unsaid and that was given away by a grin which even a ten year old boy could pick up on. Looking back it makes me very glad. Everyone needs to have had some times like that.
The third story is about the boxing. An experience with this sport may have had a long resonance for him. The memory is that he is talking to me about it directly. He is trying to explain that boxing is about self control. By somehow becoming adept at the skills of physical assault you learnt not to use them. Success was dependent upon harnessing ones innate aggression but not being ruled by it. The addendum was added some point later by his wife. He gave up boxing when he knocked an opponent out. The man had been carried unconscious from the ring. Rowland experienced a terror that lasted a few minutes that he had killed him. After that he could not bring himself to box again although he did twenty years later push his eldest son into taking up the sport.
So we have an odd couple, the deaf Rowland and the solitary minded Ernest throwing themselves into physical culture in the years before the Second World War. I don’t know if the friendship continued through the war years but it certainly came to an end before Rowland’s marriage in 1947 to Kathleen. The next scene in that story is them both going to Ernest’s funeral sometime in the late 1970’s or 80’s at the cemetery near Yeadon Dam. They were one third of the congregation and the only non family members. Ernest had continued with his solitariness, never married but had loved hiking and the outdoors. Kathleen always completed her stories with a touch of pathos. Ernest’s sisters had not expected mourners and so nothing was planned for after the funeral. Rowland and Kathleen instead walked down Cemetery Road and had tea and ham sandwiches in the new cafe at Morrison’s supermarket, which did just as well. That story has an echo twenty years later when after saying a personal good bye to Rowland in a chapel of rest my elder brother Ian and I had tea and a heated up sausage roll at Morrison’s. That was at the new one in Guiseley though.
In September 1939 Rowland was nineteen. It may have not been then but sometime in the next year he made a big decision which was to mark him in the minds of those who knew him in the village for the rest of his life. He registered as a Conscientious Objector. He would have been classified medically unfit for conscription because of his severe deafness, but he refused to allow this to be used as grounds to exclude him for military service.
The following comes from the Peace Pledge Union website page about the experience of CO’s in the Second World War.
“Before they even got to a tribunal, COs had to register (at their local job centre, then called the Employment Exchange), just as men had to register for military service. Registration was an uncomfortable experience. ‘Everybody was declaring themselves at one counter, and there was this other forlorn counter for you to declare you weren’t going to join in. It felt as though you were separating yourself from the rest of the world”.’
As I child when I came to understand that he had done I wanted to make sure that the other children understood that my father was different to theirs. Maybe it was how my Kathleen framed the information that shaped my attitude. She would have put a heroic veneer on events. When I told other children that my father was a ‘Conshy’ the reaction once they had talked it over with their own parents was not good. The general feeling was that he must have been scared and a coward. Their fathers had driven tanks across the desert in North Africa or been in the Merchant Navy. I absorbed the idea that he had been very brave in his own way.
What had produced the decision to be awkward and difficult, and despite the medical classification which would have exempted him from service lead him to register as an objector? Firstly it may have been the experience of his father and uncles who had all served in the first war. Uncle Isaac of course had been killed. There may have been bitter talk about the worthlessness of the war and the misuse of working men as machine gun fodder. The war memorial on the wall of the town hall in Yeadon still takes my breath away with its implications. My guess though is that the resentment would not have been expressed so much in political language as in more personal terms especially by the women. “Stupid fools for going off, leaving their families without help”. Some of the men would have felt that they were taken for mugs. There was a general disdain when silly fools spoke about the first war in terms of duty and sacrifice. I do not know for sure because I cannot remember Rowland ever speaking about anything to do with these events. All the information came from Kathleen.
A second set of reasons may have been to do with wanting to be different just for the sake of it. His instinct was to turn against the stream and be an awkward sod. Whether it be as at this point with pacifism or later with Communism I would sense that he was never the jump up and down impassioned believer type. He instinctively mistrusted people who made a big show of things. His mode of expression was always part old testament, part bookie. A peculiar mixture of dogma, stubborn bloody mindedness tempered by occasional flips into opportunistic pragmatism which at the time I found confusing. What I did not get was that he always believed he was right and you were a half wit and congenitally weak to disagree.
He certainly liked to be different. Some of it may have been a chip on the shoulder about a lack of education. I’ve found boxes full of mid century self improvement books. Teach yourself magic, gardening, public speaking, account keeping, economics and Shakespeare. According to the family dentist a man named Moffat he was the first man in Yeadon to wear a pink shirt and green French Beret. Kathleen once heard him attempting to speak with a French accent in some pub or other there might have been some broader strategy there.
Finally there was a reluctance to move out of certain comfort zones. This seems odd but one element of the choice that led him to appear before a tribunal, risk prison and bring down hells wrath on his family was that he found the prospect of adjustment to military life jarring to his precious routines. He hated jumping social ponds and coming up against people who did not know him. The line “hell is other people” might have been made up for him.
At the end of the day he put himself outside of his community and said “no I won’t do that”. I don’t really know or understand the complexity of his motivations. He certainly was not someone who would attempt to offer to do so. For sure he was not set alight by the flame of pure idealism. His response to to anyone who was would have been the universal put down….”silly bugger”. Do I agree with his views? Absolutely not. Is my respect for him diminished by any of this? Not in the least.
He did get help though. He was a member of the Peace Pledge union. A box full of booklets and newsletter testifies to that. I don’t know but there was probably some kind of local mutual assistance network, there was elsewhere, which prepared objectors for the tribunals. These hearings deliberated upon the objectors claim to exemption from military service. Potential outcomes included a complete exemption, partial exemption where the individual was required to carry out some war related work which could include service in ambulance brigades or the claim not being upheld. With the last two failure to adhere to the outcome could result in a custodial sentence as it amounted to desertion or refusing military orders.
Rowland despite not having religious belief also received valued support from Quakers in the neighbouring village of Rawdon. I believe they accompanied him to the hearing. There had been a split in the local group; a senior member had spoken out against their traditional pacifism and this had caused a good deal of soul searching and some bad feeling.
I did not hear at first hand from him about what happened at the hearing, and I’m not sure that Kathleen new a great deal. It is certain though that a friend failed to get exemption and ultimately served a six month sentence in Armley Prison in Leeds.
The experience for Rowland was different and I’m guessing fairly confusing end perplexing. He was severely deaf and it was clear that he would have qualified for full medical exemption on those grounds alone but he had chosen not to go down that route which would have probably diverted him into a reserved occupation.
He was not able to get a hearing aid until the National Health Service came in 1948 so he relied upon the very limited function he had on one side backed by lip reading and guess work. I know that in formal situations, such as when he got married a few years later this could lead to excruciatingly embarrassing, confusing, semi comic incidents (he ended up marrying himself but we will come to that later). I’m guessing that the scenario may had an element of dark farce to it.
The second element which would have added to the mental testing of the tribunal members was that he was making the request on non religious grounds as an Atheist, but supported by a group of Quakers. The process may have been unusual but the outcome was the right one. He was given full exemption from military service.
The pragmatic part of me is astonished by the respect for the rule of law, due process and tolerance (at least at some level) for individually held beliefs at a time when as a country we were fighting a total war for survival and death was going wholesale. Everyone during the course of the war would lose someone in their family or a friend but it was still possible to treat the awkward bugger, with no hearing aid or religion decently who refused to join up. I don’t underestimate how difficult the process must have been, and Rowland and his family became social lepers to many in the village (apparently his mother had an especially hard time) but the management of objectors in the second war was an improvement on what was done to those who refused to fight in the Great War.
My dad despite his atheistic Communism retained respect for the Quakers in Rawdon. In the spring following his death in November 1998 I spent some days in Yeadon visiting Kathleen and sorting out his financial affairs. My route took me close by the Quaker Meeting House in Rawdon. A sign was up announcing an open day so on impulse I did an illegal ‘u’ turn and parked up on Littlemoor Green alongside the building. Ive always had a fondness for the Quakers buildings especially when the sun is shining. It’s a mixture of their simplicity and what the sun does to the rows of plane grave stones. I wanted to go inside and ask if anyone remembered him. There was a couple of very old men, full of dignity and respect who had known him. I did not want to ask too much as half of me wanted to run out of the door but they confirmed the essentials of the story. I asked about the other man who had been given the jail sentence at Armley. The men pulled out a large old fashioned ledger which contained the records of their meetings from the war years. The facts were there in carefully formed script. Something to the effect of prayers were said for two of our brethren who are currently serving prison sentences in Leeds. I don’t know what these old men made of me but I was trying to say thanks for the help that they had given to Rowland. It was never forgotten.

PHOTO: Rawdon Friend Meeting House. 1697

There is no doubt that he and his family experienced hostility from neighbours and those they worked alongside. It would have been surprising if they had not considering that every family had someone risking their life overseas. I can’t remember specific examples of this but my general sense of conversations was that some of the servicemen were less hostile and more understanding. Towards the end of the war there was some official recognition of the position of CO’s. Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin remarked: ‘There are thousands of cases in which COs, although they have refused to take up arms, have shown as much courage as anyone else in Civil Defence.’ Some of that courage was also shown in the way they faced the consequences of living by their principles.

This is a link to a film on youtube presented by Ian Hislop about First World War Consciountious Objectors.

Rowland I think kept his head down and lived fairly quietly working at Banksfield Mill and pursuing the more solitary pastimes. By the end of the war Kathleen said there was an expectation that he would not marry and end up living with his recently widowed mother who seemed happy for the company and income. Sisters Iris and Kathleen had married and Rowland senior had died in 1943 aged fifty eight. . People found it hard to imagine him having a long term girlfriend or getting married. When Kathleen’s workmates heard that she was going out with him they were shocked. The general feeling was that he was a bit odd and there was always a comment about the non conventional clothing sense. In her seventies Kathleen became more happy to share scandalous stories. She let me know that one of her friends had told her Rowland was rumoured to be seeing a married woman whose husband was away, but she had added “I can’t see it myself.”
Rowland’s ‘differentness’ may have been the attraction. He could recite Shakespeare, knew some poetry and had a grasp of politics (by this time he may have joined the Communist Party). The deafness seemed to be an inconvenience rather than obstacle. The dress sense was an issue which never quite got sorted out. My calculations are that she was eighteen and he twenty five when they first met. Kathleen after a shaky start with her very young parents had walked off across the road by herself and gone to live with her Grandmother Hetta Smith when she was three years old. Life became happier and more settled then. She earnt a scholarship to the local grammar school at eleven years old and the feeling was that she was on line to get one to Oxford or Cambridge when at fourteen her mother did the working class self destruct thing and pulled her out of school and brought her back to her house. From fourteen she worked at a local factory, Crompton Parkinson’s until she met up with Rowland. I don’t know how they met for sure but it was most likely at the Hare and Hounds pub in Menston. This was the place to be in 1945. The annexe now known as the Whacky Warehouse , together with the hall at the adjacent mental asylum was the leisure hub of Aireborough and the lower Wharfe valley. It was all about dancing and getting your drinks bought. On most nights during the week there was live music. On leave servicemen and the infamous French Canadians from a barracks near Otley would descend upon it in droves. It was Menstons’s den of iniquity.

PHOTO: The Hare and Hounds Pub, with Whacky Warehouse (previously dance hall).

Rowland and Kathleen seem to have started going out together in the spring months of 1945. In the week before VJ night in August, he and a friend went off to Scotland for a cycling holiday. May be the one in the photograph. Before setting off he had spoken to her seriously. “You won’t go in the Hair and Hounds whilst I’m away will you?” She’d sworn but then broke her promise and went anyway. The atomic bomb falling on Japan had prompted Rowland and his friend to curtail their holiday and get back to Yeadon a day or two early. She was sat with a mixed group of friends and servicemen sipping a soft drink when Rowland walked in. He looked across and then swung on his heel and walked straight out. As Kathleen got older and the past became more real than the present, she would recount the incident and then finish up by saying that it all hung in that moment. If she had stayed in her chair her life would have taken one turn, but impulse caused her to get up and run after him. Cognitive neuroscientists could write a book about that moment but the image in my mind is s tennis ball hanging on the width of the net deciding to go fall forward or drop back. Some momentary neuro-chemical disequilibrium caused the ball to move its mass forward. That action impulse laid the conditions for a hundred thousand more decisions and post event rationalisations in the chain which culminated in them marrying in April 1947. I had a similar experience one Thursday evening in 1978. Sat bored on a sofa and seeing that Top of the Pops had a poor line up I decided to go out with a bunch of friends to a nightclub in Leeds. On such things the world shifts!
Kathleen and Rowland’s courtship included a cycling holiday in the Lake District, and gifts of books like ‘The intelligent woman’s guide to Socialism’ by George Bernard Shaw. Kathleen by this time had returned to live with her grandmother Hetta at Nunroyd. Rowland, at evenings and weekends had taken up, what he in an old fashioned way called a conjuring act and joined a concert troop which included the Wallis Family of Otley. They performed in clubs, larger pubs and smaller music halls in the district. Kathleen joined this social circle and the group became a network of friends.
Sixty years later Kathleen is sat in the patients TV lounge at Leeds General Infirmary recovering from a heart attack. She is surrounded by children, grandchildren and her first great grandchild. The wicked effects of dementia caused her to struggle to fix a wall between the present and the distant past. Two streams of consciousness, separated by many decades run at the same time. She would weave backwards and forwards between them. A sprightly old man is marching up and down the main corridor of the ward wearing a brightly striped hospital dressing gown which did not really cover much up. Kathleen shouted out a name in the direction of the man. My heart sank; she often accosted strangers like she knew them. This man though did know her though and said her name without hesitation after six decades. He had played some brass instrument in the concert party after the war and they had all hung out together as young people. He recognised her frailty but knew she would remember some stories. They had a normal conversation like any other two people which taught me something about dementia. They talked about a mutual acquaintance Harry Corbett (of Sooty and Sweep) and how well he had done and all about the Hare and Hounds. He had been a semi-professional musician all his life. His last big job had been in the Hovis advert. Before going off he gave her a nod and a touch on the shoulder and then the same for me. Then the door closed and it was over and Kathleen was back working at Moon’s Mill in the 1950’s.
Rowland and Kathleen’s courtship continued through the remainder of 1945 and into 1946. Sometime around her birthday in June she got pregnant (a timber yard near White Cross, close by the Hare and Hounds was implicated) and so they were to get married. There seems to have been some hesitation though, probably on the part of Rowland. Most couples given the circumstances would have married quickly, but their wedding was delayed for nineteen days after Ian their first child was born on the 30th March. It was a ceremony at the Registry Office in Guiseley. Rowland step sister Kathleen and her husband Bill Hepworth acted as witnesses. There were few other people there apart from some close friends of the couple. Rowland still did not have a hearing aid and this led to delays and confusion when it came to repeating the vows after the registrar. Eventually in desperation and embarrassment the card with the words on was handed to Rowland who performed the ceremony for himself. So were they really married or not? Was it okay for the groom to perform the ceremony, at least in part for himself? That would be the annual wind-up remark for the next fifty years they were married. Their first child Ian was born at the end of March and then the show was on the road. I know the family which grew out of these events to be not like others. Lots of churning raw emotion red in tooth and claw, existential drama, book discus from bedroom windows, storming out, storming back, Christmas day punches, maniacal rants and rows complete with stabbing hand gestures, circular jibing, and surreal raging stand offs over dinner tables about how to spell umbrella (irony abounds, thank-you spell check). Days when Rowland decided to wear a pan on his head just to make Kathleen so angry that she was incandescent, the rest of us laughing so much that it was not possible to breathe. You might as well have put five cats in a sack and swung them around. Did it do any harm? It probably made all of us unfit to live with anyone else for any length of time. Do I regret any of it? There is lot to see that could have hurt people but probably did not. We raged against each other to the point of apoplexy but I would not swop that for the anaemic, lifeless, barely polite, gutless, mutual detestation that quietly passes for life in some other families. I suppose there are some happy, happy houses where everyone gets along and smiles a lot but that would probably cause me to reach for a gun as well. The three sons came out of it possessed by high octane motors and a poor braking system, which in turn shaped their biographies, in my view ultimately for the best. So using our given names I Daft Bugger, on behalf of Sneaky and Slinky say thanks for the for the slight breeze behind the impulse that caused Kathleen to stand up and follow Rowland out of the Hare and Hounds on VJ night in 1945.



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Filed under Aireborough, Biography, Family history, Humour, Local history, Social History, Yeadon

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