AS THE TWIG IS BENT

Chapter 10 - Manningham Lane

Manningham Lane ran down to the town from our house.  It was like a shelf along the hillside that dropped away steeply below it to the valley and rose more gently above.  We used to watch the immense traction engines hauling boilers up to the mills.  It was a magnificent sight.  Those huge engines were escorted by men walking alongside who threw sacking under the wheels to help them to grip the setts.  The whole street seemed to shake with the pent up power. The columns of steam and smoke, the sweating grinning men and the boiler in tow, (usually painted red, with dark cavernous holes), all made up a scene like some tribal dance or ritual with the men casting their cloaks for their god to pass over.  Progress was extremely slow up the road, which made it all the more dignified and awe-inspiring.  There was always the chance that the engine would give up the ghost and that the whole contraption would begin to run backwards down the hill.  But willing slaves held great chunks of wood ready to slip under the wheels against such an event.

The development of the petrol internal combustion engine has done away with these traction engines.  But even the lorries developed for heavy work in the 1914-18 war had a job to cope with this hill. They shook to bits with their solid rubber tyres and over-heating was very general.

Northern Landscape (1957)
‘Northern Landscape’. Another vivid childhood memory of Bradford painted in 1957

One day I was offered a drive in a motor car.  One of Father’s colleagues was a Dr. Hancock.  He had an enormous practice which made a car very necessary - I should think he was one of the first doctors to use one in Bradford.  He had two!  One was a four-seater saloon, possibly a De Dion Bouton.  The bodywork was very much like that of the horse-drawn cab.  The brass work was lavish and the tyres were painted white.  The spokes of the wheels were scarlet and the body was royal blue.  The interior had red leather seats and there were curtains with bobbles attached.  The other was a high two-seater single cylinder De Dion of an earlier date.  The rich upholstery in red was a joy to behold.  The lamps and horn were magnificent brass, in fact it was most elegant.  This it was that arrived at our door one day and Dr. Hancock emerged from the fur rugs with a cigar in his mouth and monocle dangling from a black cord.  He was a little slight man with white hair cut very short.  His complexion was almost white.  He wore a high starched butterfly collar, cuffs with fine gold cuff links, pale grey waistcoat, frock coat and shiny silk top hat.  I had the impression that a stethoscope always hung round his neck and he had the traditional little black instrument bag.  His general appearance was aristocratic.

When the front door was opened he would catch sight of one of us and, blowing a cloud of cigar smoke into the house (Father was a non-smoker) he would enquire 'How’s your Dad?' which struck us as odd because we always called him 'Father'.  My youngest sister once tried the experiment of calling him 'Dad' and was promptly sent to bed without any tea.

Dr. Hancock was a bachelor and lived with his white haired, plump and bouncing sister.  She took a great interest in our family and I owed it to her later that I was able to practise the organ at a nearby church.

Dr. Hancock then invited me to go on part of his round with him in his car.  I was to wrap myself up and we tucked ourselves well in with the fur rugs and off we went, the engine chuff-chuffing its way along the streets and down Queens Road where we stopped at a couple of houses.  I felt terribly proud sitting there waiting while small boys and adults would stop to look at the car and admire it.  It was a wonderful day.  We covered the great distance of thirteen miles before I was reluctantly put down at our doorstep again

Manningham Lane was not very long but there were so many points of interest and variety in its length, down to the Penny Bank where it forked, that it seemed strange that it only took about ten minutes to walk there.

There was first on the left the chemist’s shop with its huge twin bottles with the red and green liquids.  I went there frequently to get things for Father.  The scent in the shop always gave me such pleasure and while the chemist neatly corked and tied up the bottles (finished off with that beautiful white paper top with pleats and red cotton sealed with sealing wax at a small gas jet), I gazed at the cupboards of sponges, some of them still containing sand from the bottom of the sea.  Could part of that invigorating smell of the shop be sea air?

Then there was the bakery where loaves three feet long were piled up in the window or were being brought out on large wooden trays into a waiting van.  We didn’t know anyone who purchased these loaves, as everyone seemed to make their own bread.

On the right there was a private road with large fluted stone pillars to hold the iron gates.  This road was a cul-de-sac ending at the Vicarage with a beautiful garden.  The road itself was covered with a kind of red shale that was quite common in private drives in our neighbourhood.  I don’t know where it came from.  

Near the top of the road lived Mr. Bloomer and his family.  He had been a craftsman and cabinetmaker and taught joinery at the Bradford Grammar School when Father was a pupil there.  I have already mentioned that Father used to go and play the piano to him.  One of his favourite pieces was a short prelude arranged from a Concerto Grosso by Corelli.  Father told me this when he found me struggling with it one day at the piano.  I still think it one of the most beautiful short preludes in music.   One of Mr. Bloomer’s daughters was a singer, whom I have already mentioned; the other was an artist in pen and ink work.  Mrs. Bloomer was very stout.  She was perpetually teased by her husband who never smiled.  When she consulted him as to the names they would give to their children he replied that he would leave it to her but when they were duly christened he persisted in calling them by some other names of his own choice.  He delighted to tell the story of how Mrs. Bloomer was one day cutting out material for clothes.  She had the floor covered with paper patterns under which the cat had gone to sleep.  During her activities she inadvertently trod on it.  He explained that they had to remove it with a shovel!  He was a beautiful silversmith.  Father purchased a necklace and pendant from him for Mother.  There was a beautiful purple stone set in it.  I always remember it well as Mother frequently wore it in the evening and when she came to say goodnight to me in bed it hung down as she bent over me.  I would catch it in my hands and examine the stone and the finely wrought filigree of silver leaves that held it.

At the bottom of the road was a house where we went to dancing lessons.  These were given by Miss Pratt.  On the other side of the road, opposite Miss Pratt’s dancing establishment was a steep road running down to the football ground and from one of her windows I could see into the grandstands and watch the thousands of men streaming in or out.  I tried very hard to escape notice and kneel on the window seat overlooking the football ground but it was no good.  The alert eye of Miss Pratt missed nothing.  She was a large heavy woman, splendidly corseted.  She had a florid complexion and scanty hair scraped up into a very small bun on the top of her head.  She had thick powerful lenses in her pince-nez and her red neck had the texture of a plucked chicken.  But she had considerable poise and like many heavy people she was nimble on her feet which were shod in scarlet dancing shoes.  She had a piano accompanist who also wore pince-nez but was thin and harassed looking.  She had great heaps of music all in tattered sheets on the top of the upright piano but she always seemed to be able to find the right piece at the right moment.  She thumped and pounced her way through waltzes, polkas, landlers, highland schottische and hornpipes and whenever there was a rest even for a few seconds, she snatched up her knitting which seemed to have hundreds of needles, flashing and spiky, involved in the scraggy bit of tormented work on her lap.

The admiring Mothers sat round the walls watching their progeny. The girls were naturally the centre of attraction with their hair fluffed out all over their shoulders, white dresses with pink ribbons and those filmy bits of gauze which they used for the Scarf Dance.  I gather that when they had reached the stage of being instructed in the Scarf Dance the girls considered that they had arrived.  Margaret used to practise this engaging solo before the mirror over our sideboard with sickening gestures.  But the boys certainly performed the hornpipe and, when Miss Pratt herself joined in, the floor rocked.  I hated this waste of time.  I don’t know how long we were incarcerated in that dancing room but it seemed interminable and when we finally had to make our bows and curtsies at the door the relief was great.  I have wondered often since what became of that valiant woman, and there must have been many like her, when the style of dancing changed and when physical disabilities prevented her from pointing her nimble toe.  She deserves our salutation.

Some years later this road became known to me again as Father had his consulting room there when he left Bradford for the sake of Mother’s health.  And it was in a little room here that I first made acquaintance, which developed into a friendship, of John Bickerdike who, brought up as a woodcarver, was beginning to be noticed as a modeller and carver in stone.

But just now, walking on down Manningham Lane past the Belle Vue Schools, we come to a little post office with a large thermometer fixed to the wall outside. This tiny Post Office and Stationers was kept by a Mr. Cockroft.   I think he must have been a grateful patient of Father’s as he always greeted us as though we were his most valuable customers.  His almost bald head, long face and large nose appeared through festoons of Christmas cards and over the counter like a benevolent Punch.  Rubbing his long fingers together he would enquire what he could do for us today.  It was usually a penny bar of Heartbutts Plasticine, and I remember when my small brother took his place in the queue and said he wanted exactly the same, placing a halfpenny on the counter, he received his coin along with ours as though he had given an order worth its weight in gold.

Our purchases of pencils, chalks and drawing books from our penny a week pocket money were transactions of great moment and when Margaret and I discovered we could buy a penny tube of Chinese white and a pan of gold paint for tuppence, to embellish our little magazine called Peeps at Nature which we were compiling under the auspices of Little Folks, we were delighted.

A few doors further down was a shop set back on the pavement with a large bow-fronted window.  This was Mr. McGrath, the second-hand bookseller.  He had tables of books set out on the space in front of his shop.  He could be seen with his shiny pate bending lovingly over his books, for he was a great reader.  I did not get to know him until much later.  The young students congregated in his shop and talked with him and gleaned much solid wisdom from his slow considered speech.  He had a large tobacco-stained moustache and, before answering my enquiry, he would extract the short stump of a cigarette from somewhere under this appendage with his finger tips and thumb, the cigarette pointing into the palm of his hand. The price of the book was 'three half-crowns'.  One of my greatest treasures was purchased from him by Father; the six folios containing colour reproductions of Turner’s Watercolours at Farnley Hall.

Almost opposite Mr. McGrath’s shop was a large building of ramshackle construction, which was the roller-skating rink. When the doors were open you could hear the noise of the skates.  But I remember it mostly for the Bostock Circus and Menagerie, which had a long season there at one time.  We were thrilled with the animals but I think even at that early age we had some misgivings about the performances.  I know I was surprised and a little disconcerted when a ‘Frenchwoman’ in slinky garments ordered some leopards about in French.  I liked the elephants best with their slow rhythmical movements and the sad but humorous look in the eye while they performed on the big drum or stood on ridiculously small circular platforms.  Thank goodness they never suffered the indignity of being dressed in petticoats as in some latter day performances.

Further down on the same side of the Lane was the Theatre Royal.  It was here that Sir Henry Irving gave his last performance, dying that same night in the Midland Hotel.  It was here too, that I saw my first play, Peter Pan.  The excitement before the performance was intense.  I could hardly manage to live through the few hours between the announcement that we were going and the time for us to be off.   I had no idea what it was to be like.

The interior of the theatre passed all my expectations with its gilt boxes and galleries and the great, mysterious heavy curtain draped so gracefully on the stage.  And then it suddenly and noiselessly went up.  But what I saw almost made me panic-stricken.  I was looking at another curtain on which a huge pair of spectacles looked at me with eyes behind them with great eyelashes.  There were pictures of rings and diamonds and a girl with most extraordinary hair, and lots of writing.  What did it mean?  Was this what we had come to see?

I looked about at the rest of the audience and realised that they were not looking at the stage but were talking and laughing among themselves.  So I asked no questions and waited.  At last the lights went down and a glow of light along the bottom of the curtain showed that the footlights were on.  The curtain rose again swiftly and silently and the play commenced.  I think it was the sets that intrigued me most, particularly the section showing the home underground and the forest above the ground.  This was the kind of hideout I would like to make.  Pauline Chase was Peter Pan and I couldn’t understand the affected speech employed but I realise now it was the manner adopted by principal boys in pantomime.  The flying act had the most lasting effect on our household; all our beds either had broken springs or sagged like hammocks in the middle.  We stood on the mantelpiece and flew on to the beds with monotonous regularity until Mother had to put her foot down about it and the beds had to undergo treatment.

Mother had ideas about beds, just as she had about mangles and washing machines.  She tried all sorts of strange spring mattresses which I have never seen anywhere else.  Those that found favour with her eventually, were constructed of wooden laths supported by spiral springs at each end of the bed.  They presented various difficulties; for one thing it necessitated getting right into the middle of the bed first go.  If you got in too near the edge you were in danger of being shot off it again or else breaking one of the laths, and sitting on the bed was inadvisable.  At first I was frequently called in to mend a broken lath by binding it with string and glue.  Another disadvantage was that the mattress slipped about on top of the construction but Mother persisted with these beds as she assured us that they were the most comfortable.

Nearly opposite the Theatre Royal was the Raleigh Cycle Shop and here I glued my nose to the window whenever I passed.

And then we come to the fork in the road with the Penny Bank in the centre with a clock on it. The Bradford Grammar School was on the left, looking like a great prison running down to the railway and when I became a pupil there later I would see the time by that clock as I walked to school.

On the right hand side there was a tiny shop window and behind it there was always to be seen the venerable head of a man with a magnifying watch glass stuck in his eye.  This was Mr. Kreutz whom Father had known for many years.  I think he must have mended my Grandfather’s clocks and watches, as he tackled an old German clock left to Father which had a most complicated mechanism of chimes, alarms, months and days of the year.  He had to call in an accomplice who was interested but I think they had to admit defeat.  

The left hand fork led down to the railway terminus while the right hand one went on to the shopping centre. This was a maze of short streets; some of them steep, leading into the town centre that was dominated by the black Town Hall with its Italian Gothic clock tower.

Before the steep ascents there was a market place and at this time under-nourished women and girls were to be seen with shawls round their heads and shoulders and wearing clogs. Even in the late nineteen twenties I remember the shock I received on returning from my first year at the Slade School in London with its well dressed women, on seeing these mill girls still attired in shawls and clogs.

But there was one more shop almost next door to Mr. Kreutz that became increasingly important to me as I began to grow older.  On coming out of the Grammar School I always crossed the fork and looked for any change in the window.  A picture dealer named Priest owned the shop and he had both prints and contemporary paintings on view.

One day I noticed in the window a dark print in a black frame.  It wasn’t very easy for me to see it through two layers of glass but there emerged at length an ornate helmet with a smiling face almost in profile under it, a cloak and a shield and a gauntlet holding a lance.  I had never seen anything like it before; it was so still, so mysterious and so rich.  I walked home in a daydream, missing the Raleigh cycle shop and Mr. McGrath’s, and found Father at home. In my excitement I described the picture to him and he looked at me, his face which was often careworn, lighting up.  'Yes, do you know who it is by?  It is by Rembrandt', and then he added rather oddly 'Mother does not like it'.

I wondered when these discussions about pictures could have taken place as I had never heard them mentioned at all in the family.  The pictures we had in the home were mostly huge steel engravings.  These were Morning Prayers in the Family of Johann Sebastian Bach which hung over the piano; two large already fading photographs of Mother’s parents;  Christ arguing with the Doctors in the Temple by Hoffmann;  One of the Seven Sleepers by a 19th century German painter; a boy asleep in a hut with a lot of sheep bleating round him and The Death of Chopin which was banished to the lumber room. 

We had also a frame with a detachable back, which contained a set of coloured lithographs illustrating the Bible.  Mother would tell us the stories on Sunday and change the picture for the week.  In the nursery we had Cherry Ripe and The Captain of the Eleven and Bubbles.  There was also a small harrowing picture of a baby crying its heart out, a bottle of milk overturned with a gang of puppies lapping up the contents.  But I had no picture of my own.   Father’s Mother had evidently become aware before anyone else that pictures meant something to me.  One Christmas she sent me a picture.  I thought at the time that there must be some mistake because children were not given pictures in frames but it was for me.  It was by the German painter Defregger, of a group of children bringing a sick dog to a doctor’s house.  I liked it very much.

Father purchased one picture during the whole of our family life.  A grateful patient asked him to get something so he bought a print of the portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery of William Wilberforce by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and it was hung in our dining room.  When he retired he commissioned me to paint a portrait of Mother during the first year of the Second World War.  So the Rembrandt painting of A Man in Armour awoke in me a certain distaste for the pictures in our house and also a suspicion that all was not as well as it should be with some of the paintings in the Art Gallery.