The house where I was born was one of a terrace. This terrace is high above the street level so that there are steps up from the iron gate, then a flagged path sloping gently up to another short flight of steps to the front door. All houses here are built of millstone grit and look solid and black. The wall at the bottom of the garden is black and the wide road with tramlines is paved with granite setts.
On the opposite side of the road the character is quite different. There is a high wall with gates large enough for vehicles, which suggest the houses have quite big gardens and stabling. There are also large trees. But the important part of the situation is that the terrace of a dozen or so houses is the end of Manningham Lane and it divides here. One road turns at right angles up the hill to the left, the magnificent chimney of Lister’s Mill dominating the skyline, and the other bears slightly to the right going on to Baildon and Shipley. This road is the lower boundary of Lister Park. Its large quadruple gates face down the Lane and can be seen from our front windows. This spacious entrance is flanked by evergreen shrubs and trees.
A large notice 'Motor Cars are not allowed to enter this Park' is followed by a smaller one: 'Please keep off the Grass Edges Edges'. The repetition of the last word always amused us. The notice was on an iron clover leaf, the first 'Edges' being in the left hand lower leaf so that the right hand also demanded to be filled for the sake of symmetry.
A white marble statue of Lister on a plinth, showing reliefs of looms and other machinery at work, stood facing the entrance. He was surrounded by an avalanche of cogwheels and the like, all cunningly carved in the same white marble. Then more trees again as the road inside the park divided. Taking the left hand one soon brought you to an imposing asphalt space with flowerbeds, at the corner of which were large stone spheres. It was great fun jumping up on to these and after having surveyed things from this height uttering some incantation and jumping down again.
The flowerbeds were filled with magnificent blooms cultivated in the large greenhouses nearby. These glasshouses contained all sorts of exotic plants and palms. They appeared to be always locked up and in the centre of the lawns surrounding these houses were copies of Greco-Roman Statuary. There was a forbidding-looking ladies lavatory where my elder sister got barricaded in by some rude girls. I had to ask a passing lady to go and rescue her. But dominating all this display is the building immensely solid and ornate, known as Cartwright Memorial Hall. This is a museum and art gallery and was built about the time of my birth. The central turret could be seen from our windows.
Our nursery faced the front and from these windows we observed the outside world. The electric trams were the first splendours that came almost bounding along the Lane and they rocked like a seesaw as well as swaying from side to side. They were very gay, some of them painted cream and scarlet, others cream and blue. Some of them stopped outside the house and returned townwards; some went on up the hill to the left and others continued on to Shipley and Baildon. They were decorated with coloured advertisements depicting tomatoes and other vegetables painted on enamel and fixed to the upper deck. These were no doubt our first reading lessons.
But the behaviour of the tram driver and conductor was most interesting. If the tram was continuing its journey, the driver stopped it and, diving into some sort of armoury, brought out a heavy steel implement, stepped out of his driving cab and approached the points. He jabbed the instrument in between them, gave a great heave and they sprang into the desired position with an audible 'clonk', which was most satisfying. If on the other hand, the tram was going to reverse and go back to town, the driver would turn all sorts of wheels, and with his great leather driving glove would remove the handle (which was just a great spanner) and lift the bell from its bracket and march round to the other end. He would take up his post there, replace the handle and bell and draw the gate to, which was constructed on the expanding fence principle. Meanwhile the conductor had taken a long bamboo with a hook on the end, and after one or two efforts, hooked the rod with the little wheel, which travelled along the overhead wires, and pulled it downwards and round, replacing it in reverse on another wire. Sometimes the springs that held the rod up to the cable were so strong that the conductor could swing round only touching the ground every few feet.
Those trams going up the hill sometimes had difficulty in getting round the corner and the driver pressed a pedal and some sand was released from a container over the wheels on to the lines to help them get a grip. These trams were quite beautiful, having fine iron work and wood work in their construction. The seats were of a closely knit cane which gradually took on a fine antique polish.
The settee in the nursery was a good substitute for the general shape of a tram and a small table was placed precariously in the middle to give the inside saloon and upper deck reality. The driver, usually myself, made tram noises and jumped up and down when the vehicle was in motion. The conductor, my sister or any willing visitor, blew a whistle, occasionally got down on the floor and wandered round inspecting the tram to see that it was in order, then pulled an imaginary leather thong which rang the bell and the journey would continue. The springs of the sofa suffered considerably.
Behind the high wall opposite lived a doctor who had a motor car. This was quite rare in those days and we watched the manoeuvring of this car through the gate and out into the road with great interest. It had magnificent brasswork and was driven by a chauffeur in a splendid uniform who also appeared occasionally in a different guise with a cockade in a top hat driving a carriage and pair.
There were various regular passers-by who became quite familiar to us. One of these was a very sedate person with white hair, a silky top hat, frock coat, high collar and always a rose in his buttonhole. This severe old gentleman was an artist, a painter. He did pictures 'by hand'. Mother admired them very much, there was so much detail in the bird nests and eggs and surrounding leaves. I was told later that they were very bad. I was rather shocked at this as I hardly realised that a hand done painting could be bad. But there is a large watercolour of Whitby in the collection at the Cartwright Hall, which is by John Sowdon and is no mean achievement. He never spoke to me. Father knew him quite well and in fact showed some of my paintings to him and asked his advice about my future. He evidently approved of them in a grudging kind of way but never asked to see me. The last time I saw him in the Art Gallery, Father was with me and I was about seventeen. Father said something about the French paintings on view and Mr. Sowdon turned round on his heels, swept the room with an angry gesture 'All like coloured lithographs, all of them'. Father afterwards remarked that the trouble with John Sowdon was that he never had any doubts about anything.
At the back of our house the yard was surrounded by high walls. There may have been a few neglected and grimy looking plants and some nasturtiums. The maid swilled, scrubbed and scoured the steps to the kitchen. Margaret once left her toy monkey with a furry tail out all night in the yard. In the morning after rain he was a sorry sight and not at all like the comforting bedtime companion he used to be. In fact the life seemed to have gone out of him and we were miserable over our first experience of a corpse.
At the bottom of the yard the solidly built ash pit (there were no dustbins in those days) and the back entrance looked out on to a grim back street used by delivery vans and street sellers. From our back windows we listened to the voices of these. There was one we liked very much, and it was amusing to hear a neighbour’s parrot calling out 'clothes props', the second word always sounding a fourth above the former. 'Coals' of course was sung out in vibrating tones and could be heard a long way off. 'Any old rags or bones' was in a much less tuneful voice.
The milkman always came with a large can with a lid and a brass monogram on it. He spooned out the required amount of milk into a jug with a ladle that hung inside the milk can. Father insisted that all milk should be boiled.
On the other side of the back road were stables and sheds used mostly by the shops round the corner. But from our back window we could see a covered-in riding school. The silent mysterious coming and going of horses being ridden round and round made a dream-like picture very different from the noisy traffic at the front of the house.
But Margaret and I seemed to live at the nursery window in the front of the house. Every Saturday or Sunday in the summer there were band concerts in the Park. Crowds of people came to these concerts when some of the most celebrated brass bands in the north of England, such as the Black Dyke Mills Band, came and played in the bandstand, which had a proper semicircle of seats in tiers to accommodate a perceptive audience. At the main gates we could see a man with a large tin box on folding iron legs selling programmes. In these days when music and entertainment are on tap, one would only see a crowd like this going to a football match. It was certainly an entertaining crowd. The Edwardian fashions being at their height, the women had those large hats perched on top of a coiffure of piled up waves of hair and a bun, kept on by numerous hat-pins thrust in at acute angles. On the hats themselves were further piles of fruit and flowers.
Skirts were worn right down to the ankles and were of a heavy voluminous kind. Bodices and high necks were still tight fitting and sleeves rather full. There were fur tippets, usually rather mangy, and that horribly suffocating looking object, the feather boa. The women who wore them usually had pince-nez glasses, purple hats with spotted veils (which they had to draw up if they wished to dab their noses with minute pocket handkerchiefs) and tended to look like old hens with scraggy necks. The men in their sober best wore either cloth caps or bowlers, high starched collars with a broad tie with a tiepin stuck in it.
But besides the band concerts there were gigantic processions on certain days of the year, such as May Day. The decoration of the horses and carts seemed to bring something oriental to dull smoky Bradford. The carts contained Tableaux Vivants of children in fancy dress. Several bands marched at intervals hardly out of earshot of each other: the Boy Scouts, The Church Lads’ Brigade, Salvation Army and works bands. My admiration for the performer on the big drum with the magnificent leopard skin hanging round his neck and over his shoulders and chest was unbounded. The tearing sound of the bugles was almost too much for me when they passed our window.
I think the sound of the big drum was my favourite as high-pitched sounds were too acute for my sensitive ears. If there was a carpenter working in the house I always wanted to watch operations but if he was using a hammer I could not be in the same room with him.
There was the strange rite called the Whitsuntide Walk. The walkers in singlets and shorts all looked bony, wiry little men. They strutted along with elbows held high and their movements seemed singularly jerky. The pavements were crammed with sightseers cheering them on and I should think the granite setts must have been a severe test for their ankles. They walked to York I believe. There was usually a clown, possibly with a collecting box, running ahead and causing much mirth by his droll wit and capers.
There were horse-drawn fire engines with glittering brass and the sound of the iron-shod wheels of the vehicles on the setts, while the men, looking so dignified, sat back to back. There were brewers’ drays with horses which were probably the finest in the world. With their chains of brasses, plumes on their heads and beautifully plaited manes and tails, they moved in that majestic rhythm which puts them in a world apart. I have no difficulty in understanding how people worship or hold such animals sacred. The first time I saw a Jersey bull I nearly wept at that otherworldly dignity. The feeling that to stare at such perfection was unmannerly, that at least one should bow or salute in some way, made me turn away almost in pain.
After the colourful and noisy procession comes the water-cart, spouting water on to the road through a rotating wheel which fans it out, or through a pipe perforated with holes.
For the first five years of my life, this was my world outside home. We enacted in the nursery all these sights, even to the wagon with a telescopic platform which came round to repair the tramway cables. This was managed with tables and chairs precariously piled up to the ceiling. The nursery table was also turned upside down and used as a boat. Under it we stacked cushions so that it would rock about while we hung on for dear life to the legs, which in time became loose at the joints. A large ironing board also came in useful to slide down into the sea of blankets and rugs. The whole room must have presented a strange spectacle with the rocking horse on dry land by the window bedecked in rugs and ribbons. It was not fixed to the floor and we rode it so furiously that the stand thumped the floor till the plaster became loose in the ceiling below.
I was left to watch with my second sister when Margaret was old enough to go to school. She came home one day and triumphantly announced that the school had broken up. I longed to go and see the ruins.