Characters of Holmfirth (1987) by Holme Valley Civic Society

Characters of Holmfirth was first published in 1987 by the Holme Valley Civic Society.

A PDF version of the book can be freely downloaded from the Holmfirth Local History Group's web site:


  • 16 pages
  • paperback booklet


Huddersfield Daily Examiner (12 Oct 1987):

Characters long before Compo came

Holmfirth had plenty of interesting real life characters, long before the fictional creation of television’s Compo, Foggy and Clegg.

Among those featured in a new Holme Valley Civic Society publication are Shink the scrap metal dealer, horse-riding Doctor Trotter, cattle drover Charlie Stubley and Tom Deering the chimney sweep.

The descriptions in the publication Characters Of Holmfirth are by the late Frank Marsh, of Underbank — a founder member of the society and "always a man of the valley," according to Frank Burley, local history convenor of the society.

The sweep Thomas Deering was always known as Tom Derrin. Mr Marsh remembers: "He was a rather ungainly figure, with a large red round face (when it was clean) and rather bow legs, which made him walk with an exaggerated rolling gait. He had no teeth, but had what was in those days the quite common habit of chewing twist. Now this habit, it seems, filled the mouth of the chewer with an abundant supply of very strong tobacco juice, which would land on the opposite side of the road — a feat which I have seen him do on many occasions."

Firth Lee, who lived in Underbank Old Road, was better known as The Sheriff. He was not usually to be found at home, where he lived alone, but down in the centre of Holmfirth, where he was instantly recognisable because he always wore the same odd rig-out.

"On his head he had a large, broad-rimmed 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 fancy cravat, complete with a gold and pearl tie-pin, 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. 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 he had acquired this unusual gear after he had made a trip to America."

After this transatlantic visit. The Sheriff was seen standing in his favourite position at the corner of the bridge parapet, from where he could see everything going on.

"With his smile bigger than ever, he said 'I see the old church is still standing.' As he had been away only three weeks, it was not very surprising to find the church still there!"

Two quaint characters who appeared almost inseparable were the 6ft tall Martha Ann Broadhead (with a figure in proportion) and her companion, Anna Mary Briny (surname unknown), who was only 5ft high — and whose figure was also in proportion.

Martha Ann was a member of the Broadhead family who owned Wooldale Gardens. According to Frank Marsh, "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. 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. "Martha Ann's main peculiarity was that she would never stop talking, and talking in a very loud voice. All that little Anna Mary could manage to pucker in was as occasional, 'Ee, well.' "I often wonder how the shopkeepers of Holmfirth managed to cope with her incessant chatter — it must have been very difficult even to keep a straight face."

One of the nicest of Mr Marsh’s tales is of a shopkeeper with a heart of gold. He was Joe Collins, of Upperbridge, who was "probably barely 5ft high, but almost as broad as long — a rather comical looking figure."

Joe, whose shop was a children’s paradise, chock-full of toys and cycles, spent much of his time repairing bikes, mostly for children.

When the youngsters 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.