Characters of Holmfirth (1987) by Holme Valley Civic Society

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As a contrast to the many Walks Books and History Trail Books which The Civic Society have published, we offer to you this collection of “Cameos” of Characters of Holmfirth, written by the late Mr. Frank Marsh, always a man of the Valley, in all things, to Frank the valley was everything.

He was a very able and knowledgeable member of the Local History Group and a founder member of The Civic Society.

The following stories are a light-hearted look at some of the people who stood out in his memory, and probably in the memories of many more people in the valley. It is hoped that they will be accepted in the spirit in which they were written, with no insult, offence or disrespect intended.

Most of the sketches are by another member of The Local History Group, Mr. Derek Wilson, the one of the two ladies by Mrs. Jeanette Leadbeater and the one of Doctor Trotter by an unknown artist, was published as a cartoon during The First World War.

F. G. Burley Local History Convenor Holme Valley Civic Society

This book, including the above note, was originally published in about 1987 by what was then the Local History Committee of the Holme Valley Civic Society. As it has been out of print for several years it Is now being made available on-line by the Committee's successor, the Holmfirth Local History Group of the Civic Society. This 2022 edition uses the text and illustrations of the original slightly rearranged to suit on-screen viewing.

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by Frank Marsh


Holmfirth is well-known for its Brass Bands, its Feast Sing and most of all for its floods. The names of the local Bands are Known over a wide area and Holmfirth “Sing” is acknowledged as the best for miles around. Our local Choral Society and the Dramatic Society provide us with a high standard of entertainment in their own particular spheres. It seems to me however, that little is remembered about our likeable old characters who lived in Holmfirth mainly in the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps it is because they are a dying breed and modern society is not conducive to the creation of characters like these. I have tried to fill that gap in our local history by writing about some of these fascinating people that I knew and remember from my younger days. I hope that you will find it interesting and that you will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

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narrow part of Towngate he would turn his head towards the road and ejecta large stream of tobacco juice which would land on the opposite side of the road a feat which I have seen him do on many occasions.

The other thing that I remember him for, only occurred once a year on “Hospital Day” which was a flag day and a Carnival Procession in aid of the Holme Valley Memorial Hospital with decorated horse drawn waggons and people in fancy dress and all the bands playing. Always at the side of the procession was Tom in the most ridiculous outfit that he could devise and a blackened face, but always with a collecting box in his hand and I would be willing to bet that he would have as much as anyone in his tin when he handed it in to be emptied. The little area behind the Church where Tom lived which was strangely named “Scotland Yard” was well known for being the home of several - to say the least - unusual characters and on a Saturday night after closing time the atmosphere there was often quite boisterous. The names of two more readily come to mind, there was "Lying Jim” whose name tells its own story and Billy Tubber who was a teamer for the railway and whose family had once been in the trade of tub- makers and the name had stuck.

Talking of “Hospital Day” leads me to think of George Eastwood, I think his name was George but it doesn’t really matter because he was always referred to as “Tarzan” although not his face of course. He was a very short man, probably just under 5ft in height and bow-legged as were

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many people in those days which was usually a sign of an under-nourished childhood. He never seemed to have a regular job and as he lived at Ward Place he would be in Holmfirth quite a lot to do a bit of shopping. He was always on the lookout for some trivial job in the hope that he would be rewarded with a cigarette or a “tanner” if he was very lucky. I remember that he worked for several days helping to clean up Hollowgate after the 1944 Whit-Monday flood. However, his chief claim to fame was a regular attender in the Hospital Day procession. Each year he would be there, dressed up in a very realistic gorilla’s costume - which with his short stature seemed to fit him like a glove. There he would be, lolloping backwards and forwards at the side of the procession waving the inevitable collecting box. So well did he look in his costume that he was always known (without any malice) as “Tarzan the Ape man”.

Another very familiar figure to be seen almost every day in Holmfirth was Wright Sanderson, commonly known as “Shink”. No-one seems to know how he acquired this strange name and a lot of people never knew his realname. He was, as he proudly told you, a scrap metal dealer, a business

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everything that was left and give a reasonable donation to the organisers. He always seemed to have the same clothes on 7 days a week and year after year and his outfit consisted of navy blue ex-postman’s trousers with the red cord stripe down each leg and an ordinary blue serge jacket and an old celluloid collar round his neck but no tie. On his head he wore a dirty cloth cap with the kneb always over one ear and on his feet a pair of clogs which announced his coming long before you could see him. When it was cold or wet he would have on an old long raincoat which was probably quite waterproof with the grease which it had acquired over the years. As time went by he used various methods of transport starting with a small handcart and then for a short time he had a donkey and small cart, and it was said that on winter nights he took the donkey into the cottage with him. Another mode of transport that he used for a while was an old bike with a large carrier on the front. I would think it was at least fifty years old at that time, and I don’t think the likes of it has been seen in Holmfirth either before or since. Finally he finished his days using an old pram as that was probably as much as he could push, although he would still pile stuff high as best he could. When he died he was much missed both as part of the daily life of the town and for the service that he provided.

Whilst talking of Shink and South Lane, it reminds me of my next character who was again to be seen almost every working day and his name was Charlie Greaves. Now Charlie was unfortunately deformed by a slight paralysis down one side of his body and consequently he walked with a bad limp and had only partial use in one arm. But in spite of this affliction he was quite a cheerful chap with a ready wit. He tried to earn a living by carrying small items on his donkey cart and he seemed to have a regular job carrying out orders for Herbert Taylor the greengrocer at the top of Victoria Street. To illustrate his wit I will tell you one of the popular stories concerning Charlie. One day he was making his way very slowly up South Lane with his donkey and cart delivering his greengrocery when he heard the sound of a motor horn behind him. Looking back he saw the gleaming brass bonnet and headlamps of an immaculate shiny Model “T” Motor Car. Acting as though he hadn't seen it, Charlie proceeded slowly up the hill. Now that car was as well known as Charlie and his donkey because it belonged to Dr. Edward Trotter who was renowned for having a rather short temper. On seeing that Charlie was not making any move to let him pass, the doctor gave another loud honk on the horn and then shouted, “What on earth do you think you are doing? Get out of my way”. Hearing this, Charlie turned round again and said, “What are you making all that noise for? I am going up here and I am going as fast as thee”. And with that remark proceeded slowly up South Lane.

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As the story of one character leads to another, I suppose that Dr. E. Trotter, although a highly educated man was still quite a forceful character and in a different way was quite as well Known as the other member of my rogues’ gallery. It was woe betide any patient whose home was not as clean as it might have been, or maybe had not carried out the doctor’s instructions

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to the letter, for they were in immediate danger of hearing some very unpleasant words from his scathing tongue. If he was in a belligerent frame of mind he was just as likely to tell them to “Go to Hell” as to wish them a “Good morning”. On the other hand if he called to see a patient in a bright and cheery home, no matter how small, he would give a bright and cheerful greeting to the householder and behave like a perfect gentleman that he usually was. His motto was that “there is no excuse for not being clean”, even the poorest people could afford soap and hot water. He himself was the epitome of cleanliness and a more immaculately dressed man never walked the streets of Holmfirth. He was almost always, as I remember him, dressed in a grey check suit over a white shirt with a wing collar and a polka dot brightly coloured bow-tie. (This was fifty years ago and he would still be fashionably dressed if he walked down Victoria Street dressed like that at the present time). To complete his elegant outfit he wore a grey felt trilby hat and on his feet a pair of highly polished black boots. In winter he had an enormous heavy cape which gave him adequate protection in all weathers - it was certainly needed whilst he drove around in his Model “T” Ford which of course had only a flimsy canvas hood over to protect him from the elements.

One delightful story is told of him that in his early days as a young doctor he went on his round riding on horseback. A particular patient that he had to call upon lived on the roadside and as it was a warm summer day the door was open revealing the staircase right behind the door. Now the doctor was way behind his time schedule that morning so he rode his horse straight up the staircase with its forelegs a good way up. Then without dismounting he shouted, “Good morning, Mrs. So-and-so, how are you this morning?” On being informed by a voice upstairs that she was improving he said to her, “Very good. I am in a great hurry this morning, so stay where you are and I will call again to see you in a few days, when I have a little more time”. A character indeed.

Another Charlie comes to mind now, a most interesting fellow, so I will tell you what I know about Charlie Stubley who was very well known in Holmfirth although he was not seen as often as most-of the local characters because of his job. He was a professional cattle drover - a job that was rapidly being superceded by the cattle-truck and I suppose that he was as seen about Holmfirth when he was not working. A very cheerful man who was always a bit of a mystery and he took his secrets with him to his grave. It was said that he walked cattle from the Scottish Border markets to the farms of the purchasers in Yorkshire. He was a well- spoken man with no trace of any regional accent, certainly no hint of Yorkshire dialect. He was also quite knowledgeable on numerous subjects, which suggested that he was a well educated man who for reasons best known to himself was happy living a simple, austere way of life. He lived for quite a long time at Magnum,

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which like Charlie himself is no longer in existence; and he was one of the last inhabitants there. In his little cottage were only the bare necessities of life, and he said that he never had a fire or any other form of heating no matter how cold it was. When asked how he managed to keep warm in winter, he said with a smile that when he felt a bit chilly he just ran up and down the stairs a few times and then he was quite warm again. In his early days in Holmfirth Charlie lived with his mother to whom he was a devoted son. When she died in 1927, all he would allow in the funeral cortege was the hearse carrying the coffin and himself a solitary figure walking alone behind. Truly an unusual character.

Still in the Dunford Road area another well-known character lived for most of his long life in a cottage in Underbank Old Road. It was not often that you would have found him in his home where he lived alone for many years as he was always to be found down in the centre of Holmfirth. He was Firth Lee, a name as quaint as the man himself, although owing to his outlandish dress he was better known as “The Sheriff’. He appeared to wear the same clothes year after year as though the same rig-out would last for ever. And what a rig-out it was, making him instantly recognisable even if he should be amongst a crowd of people. On his head he wore a large broad-rimmed light grey “Homburg” hat; at least it was light grey when new but the years had taken their toll and it became very discoloured indeed. His jacket of tweed was usually a dark grey and seemed to be the only item of his clothing which ever changed. A white wing collar and a fancy cravat complete with a gold and pearl tie-in complemented his very fancy waistcoat. Across his chest was not one but always two very heavy gold watch chains. On one of these chains was a very large gold watch resting in his waistcoat pocket. His trousers were very narrow and dark grey or black in colour and he wore a pair of heavy brown boots which were quite sensible as he was constantly walking up and down Dunford Road. He was quite a dandy and no mistake, and his permanent smile and huge walrus moustache made him stand out in any company. It was assumed that he acquired this unusual gear after he had made a trip to America, probably in the early 1920's. There is a well Known story about him that occurred soon after his return from America. He was said to be standing in his favourite position at the corner of the bridge parapet from where he could see everything that was going on and he turned so that he could see the Church and then with his smile bigger than ever he remarked, “I see the old Church is still standing”. As he had been away for only three weeks, it was not very surprising to find the Church was still there. He would spend his daytime either standing on the bridge or “Kalling” in Collins’s newsagents shop for whom he would sell the “Examiner” and other Evening Sports papers. When all his papers were sold, he would retire to the “Conservative Club” and do any odd job to help the caretaker. If there was a “Whist Drive and Dance” on in the

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Conservative Hall, Firth would appear as soon as supper was over to sweep the floor and walk up and down the floor shredding a candle with his penknife to wax it ready for dancing. Having done this he would disappear into the upper rooms from whence he came. A part of Holmfirth itself and as well known as the Church that he referred to.

Another regular caller at Collins's paper shop was Mr. Herbert Marsden who would stop every morning for his newspaper and a packet of Woodbines. Nothing very unusual about that I can almost hear you saying, but if you could see the vehicle that he had driven up in you would instantly realise that here was someone that took care of his money, and take care of his money he most certainly did - his motto (like a lot of other Holmfirthers) was never spend a penny if you can manage with only spending a halfpenny. This motto Herbert always carried to the N’th degree and his motor was the visible proof of that fact. It was always rusting away and held together by pieces of string and wire, and I feel sure that no-one but himself would ever have got the engine to start. To watch him and his son coaxing that engine back to life after he had been in the paper shop was a bit of sheer unconscious comedy worthy of a Bamforth film. Father would sit behind the wheel with his hand on the controls whilst the son was swinging the starting handle. After several abortive attempts they would reverse their roles with father telling his son what kind of a fool he was. This procedure proving to

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be no better with the engine still refusing to start, father would once more climb into the driving seat at the same time giving his son a few more well chosen instructions. After many swings on the handle and a few more commands from father, the engine would miraculously spring into life once more. Son would then jump hurriedly into the seat beside his father and with a bang and a roar they were off up the street and to the bottom of Parkhead Road where they had their place of business.

Mr. Marsden’s trade was one which I should think is now extinct - that of wheelwright and cartmaker - all to be horse-drawn, of course. A master craftsman, he was almost a wizard with wood and just as good at painting them too, in bright colours with contrasting decorative lines. He could take a length of wood which to the layman looked completely rotten and with an axe as sharp as a razor he would chop away all the rotten wood leaving a perfectly sound length which he could make into a spoke of a cartwheel. After surveying his handiwork, his favourite expression was, “A bit of good wood, Hey-what!” So often did he use that phrase that he became known as “Hey-what” and that was the name he was always called in Holmfirth, unless he was within earshot because you had to take great care that he didn’t hear you. It was not often that you would see him “Dressed up” as we say in Holmfirth but when he did he was quite smart in a neat suit and grey trilby hat and a bright tie, always with a flower in his buttonhole. If he could not find one suitable in his garden then he would wear an artificial rose to enhance his appearance. He was very fond of cricket and he used to like to watch Holmfirth play their match on a nice Saturday afternoon. The procedure was usually the same when he arrived at the cricket-field all dressed up as I have described to you. “Now then, how much is it to come in?” he would say to the man at the gate, knowing full well that it was sixpence. “It is sixpence, Mr. Marsden, please”, came the reply. After taking a handful of coins from his pocket he would sort out five pennies and

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there which no doubt accounted for her weather-beaten face, although I don’t think she would be a great deal of use as a worker. To put it mildly, the poor woman was not over burdened with common-sense. She was almost always dressed in black; a black costume and blouse which looked as though it had stood the test of time and acquired a slight green shade over the years. Her skirt was about ankle length, just displaying a pair of heavy black boots. On her head she wore a black straw hat lavishly adorned with multi coloured flowers. Anna Mary trotted along at her side like a faithful little dog. She was usually similarly attired except for the hat, and she just let her matted grey hair blow free in the wind.

It was on Friday afternoons that they could be seen regularly walking down to Holmfirth and back presumably to do their weekend shopping with Anna Mary giving her frequent little runs to keep up with her companion. Always they looked the same unless it was raining and then Martha Ann would carry a huge man’s umbrella which provided adequate shelter for both of them. Now Martha Ann’s main peculiarity was that she never stopped talking and talking in a very loud voice. I am sure you could hear her when you were 50 yards away from her and it did not matter whether anyone was listening or not she still went on talking and all that little Anna Mary at her side could manage to pucker in was an occasional “Ee Well’. If anyone attempted to pass her, whether from behind or coming in the opposite direction she would instantly accost them with a torrent of words which carried on even when the stranger had got yards away. It did not matter that she got no reply, in fact, I don’t think she really wanted one, the monologue went on until she decided to bring her attention back to her companion. I often wondered how the shopkeepers in Holmfirth managed to cope with her and her incessant chatter - it must have been very difficult even to keep a straight face.

Coming back to Holmfirth, I go to Upperbridge to the cycle shop for my next character who is Joe Collins - an odd man with a heart of gold. Joe was short in stature, probably barely 5ft in height but almost as broad as long, a rather comical looking figure. His shop was packed from floor to ceiling with bikes and toys of every description, a children’s paradise, and if you went into his shop you would usually find him only half dressed. He spent his time repairing bikes, mostly for children and when they asked how much they owed him he would say “How much have you got?”. When his little Customer replied that he had sixpence, Joe would say,”Isn’t that lucky that is just what it has cost me to mend it’. And off would go another satisfied customer.

One of Joe’s regular customers was the Rev. Allan Ward, curate of Holmfirth Parish Church who in his way was almost as well a known


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character in the district as Joe himself. He came to Holmfirth straight from college with a young wife and hardly a penny to his name. His only means of transport was a rusty old bike which Joe managed to keep running for

him, often at no charge. Time rolled on and two years later Mr. Ward, now with two children and Christmas approaching had to take his bike once more to Joe’s. He looked like a character that had stepped straight out of Dickens, wearing his one-and-only dark grey suit with patched trousers and an old clerical collar, but always with a huge smile on his rosy weather-beaten face. Now Joe knew that there would not be much in the way of good things at the curate’s house this Christmas time and his kind heart was touched with magnanimity. On Christmas Eve he filled a box with food and took some toys from the shelves to put in another box and then he took them up to the curate’s house. He did not knock on the door and say “Happy Christmas to you all”, but he put his two boxes on the doorstep and walked quietly away with his good deed accomplished.

Perhaps the greatest of the characters to be seen daily on the roads around Holmfirth was Fred (Shiner) Beaumont. He was not an eccentric and had no peculiarities to distinguish him from the ordinary people of the town. He was just an ordinary craftsman, a French polisher by trade, a job of which he was extremely proud. A freelance worker he went to where the work was, be it in a private house, shop, joinery works or in the tap room of the “Jolly Hatters” pub where he polished coffins which was perhaps the bread and butter of his livelihood. Therefore he was to be seen daily somewhere in the area walking to or from his work carrying an old Gladstone bag in his


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permanently stained hands, which carried all he needed for his job. That doesn’t sound much like the description of a character you may say, which is quite true, but when you add an extra ordinary natural wit who could make a joke about almost anything and an infectious smile, then he truly becomes a character.

He was well known in most of the local pubs, of which he was a fairly frequent customer and this must have helped him when he was asked to work for Bamforths. When Bamforths first started making comic postcards they were not from an artist’s drawing as they are today, but photographs of real live models. To do this of course they needed the services of natural funny men, and as Shiner could make people laugh almost without speaking, he was the man they sent for to help them with their new venture. Then with the help of Freddie Bullock, another natural comic who worked as a handyman for Bamforths, a well known double act was formed and successfully launched as the first of Bamforths “Comic Postcard Series”. So successful were the postcards that Bamforths decided to experiment even further by making moving pictures with the two comics as their leading players. This they managed to do and made several short one-reel films, some on location in Holmfirth and some in the studio. After the films had been shown in public it became Shiner’s proud boast that he was the first British Film Star.

Lots of stories have been told about Shiner and his exploits but the one which has never been forgotten concerned his coffin polishing. You will most likely think that the tap room of a pub was a very strange place in which to be polishing a coffin. However when I tell you that Shiner’s father Abel Beaumont was the licensee of the “Jolly Hatters” (which was just across the road from the Church)

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rising. That was enough for him and he put down his half empty glass and was out of the pub as fast as he could go. Once into Towngate he paused for breath and then he saw another of the regulars on his way for his evening drink. “Cam eer, Joe” he panted out, still a bit breathless after his fright, “Tha moan’t gu inter ‘Jolly’ toneet, tha moant at anny prarse; they're buryin’ em wick in theer. Cum wi’ me tu ‘Nook’ an oll bar thi a pint an see if wey can ‘ave a drink I peace in

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a slight impediment. He was not dismayed with this, however, and managed to turn it to his own advantage. He did not have a job but used to tour all the pubs entertaining the customers with funny stories and songs which kept him well supplied with free beer and then he would go round collecting with his cap, the proceeds of which seemed to provide him with a meagre living. His final act of the evening for which he became famous over quite a wide area was probably unique. He placed a pint pot on the table and then balanced upside down with his head on the pot and his feet in the air. In this strange position he would then sing in his cracked voice the song “Hail, smiling Morn” which always delighted the customers and ensured him of a decent collection.

My next character had a more orthodox method of earning a living as he was a chimney sweep by the name of Mr. Fleming. Another very small man who very unfortunately was afflicted with having a hunch-back. Almost any working day he was to be seen walking down Victoria Street with his brushes on his shoulder and a cheerful “Good morning” to all he met. He was always polite spoken to his customers and was welcome in any house be it large or small. I cannot remember him being addressed as anything but Mr. Fleming which was rather unusual in those days, it must have been because he behaved and spoke like a gentleman when he was working. I often wonder what he did in his spare time because I can never remember seeing him in anything but his dirty clothes.

Finally let me introduce you to one of the younger characters, one I knew well and went to school with. Even in his schooldays he was a character, for Frank Turner was an expert at getting into trouble with the headmaster. It was in his adult life, however, that he became much more well known by the name of Wagon Wheels. He took a fancy to beer and quite often drank much more than was good for him. When he was in this rather inebriated condition, he had the habit of wandering round Holmfirth singing the then popular song “Wagon Wheels” at the top of his voice. What most people did not know about him was the fact that he was very good at doing pencil sketches of people and he was also an authority on rabbit breeding and judging at rabbit shows. There is some good in all of us if only we care to find it.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these word pictures of some of the well-known people of Holmfirth. Probably you can remember someone who was equally interesting but I think that perhaps this is enough for the present.


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