A phantom landscape

The French recherche means a quest, a search or enquiry. It suits me better than ‘research’ or ‘recollection’, as it comes closer to how I see the process of writing history. Recherche suggests how important impressions and surroundings can be, and how much rests on analysing conclusions and interpretations that other people have reached, considering […]

Bull Row

Station Road is now Halifax Road. The six cottages of Bull Row are long gone, demolished in 1969. The terrace had taken its name from the Black Bull, the much older and more substantial building to which it was loosely attached. But the inn, set further back, survived the road widening scheme which swept away […]

Primroses and Strawberries

Tracks from Millbridge led uphill towards Headlands and Balk, these names a reminder of medieval open-field farming. Beyond were ancient farmsteads, at Bullace Trees, Pogg Myers and Thornbush, and the open land in between these places was punctuated by long-abandoned remains of small coal workings, day holes. In past times, children had worked long hours, unregulated, […]


Though poor, James and Emma Matthews were not at all uncouth. Edith was close to them both and observed them as polite and decent. ln their early days they had been in service for gentry, and were not rough in any way. Granny was a tall, stately person used to orderly and quiet ways. She […]

Hewing coal

Jonathan Beever was a miner, a hewer of coal. There’s some understanding that he worked down Primrose Lane, which would have been for the Stanley Coal Co. When first married Jonty rented a house near there, at the top of Knowler Hill, and here he spent census night 1901, alone. He had just become a father, […]

Strawberry Bank

I remembered there is a set of photographs, taken from Knowler Hill, from the tower of Liversedge church, Christ Church. These may show something of the scene I am trying to re-create. The most faded, or perhaps the one most dullened by smoke, turns up last in the pile. Early-twentieth century, but not too late […]

The teamer

The exact circumstances of the migration from Suffolk are forever a mystery. Nothing is certain, because there was never much record. Edith noted just that her grandparents ‘came to the industrial towns because of work. They came from Suffolk, around Stowmarket and Bury St. Edmunds.’ How well-acquainted they had been before they moved, and if […]


I am unsure about this. What’s the point of investigating questions that can’t be answered? What purpose is there in the history of a household, perhaps or perhaps not typical of its time and place? ‘Perhaps’, ‘possibly’, ‘evidently’, do not make good history. Is there a chance of finding out anything substantial about this family’s […]

A world of want

How to describe the reality of poverty? How even to recollect it, in all its urgency, its gripping and sapping need and emptiness? Like all pain, it’s hard to summon up retrospectively. Best forgotten, hence easy to deny the hold it has had. The Edwardian poor are too close to us for comfort, children of […]