Memories of a Yorkshire childhood and my grandparents' bakery shop where the big attraction was a parrot that swore at customers/ Dave Thomas column

Todmorden was a grim and grimy place in the 50s and 60s.
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There were over 40 mills and great chimneys and lines of terraced houses set amidst cobbled streets. My grandmother used to work in one of those mills until she and my grandfather scraped enough money to take over a small bakery shop. The big attraction was a parrot that used to swear at the customers.

Those were the days of smoke filling the air from hundreds of chimneys and coal fires in the little houses. Steam trains chugged through the valley to Manchester, To Leeds or along the branch line to Burnley. Fog and smog were frequent. Young footballers arriving from the villages of the north-east

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to seek their fortunes at Turf Moor often landed at Todmorden railway station to be met by the secretary. Heaven knows what they thought of the place when they saw the ugly mills and palls of smoke. And this was Todmorden: Burnley was even worse.

Dave Thomas writes this week about about growing up in TodmordenDave Thomas writes this week about about growing up in Todmorden
Dave Thomas writes this week about about growing up in Todmorden

Life at Roomfield Junior School consisted of sums, times tables, compositions, art, craft and drawing. Once a year the dreaded clay bin came out and we messed about with this stuff for an afternoon. We then spent a week cleaning the classroom. The headmaster was called Harry Wilson; I don’t

think I ever saw him smile in all the years I was in that school. The place was demolished years ago and flats were built on the site.

School dinners were appalling and not only were they inedible you had to walk from the school to the nearby methodist hall in all weathers to eat them.

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In rain, snow, hail and tempest we trudged up to that drab, damp, unheated, cheerless, crumbling building where the plaster peeled from the walls.

We attempted to eat mostly cold brisket (supplied by Bob Lord I wonder), mash and soggy, limp cabbage. Jam roly poly and watery custard was the customary pudding. Sago pudding is a vision that still returns to haunt me.

Oh, but the fruit pies from Astin’s.

The weekly treat was a visit to the gleaming Olympia cinema. There was another one called the Hippodrome but this was old and smelly. In its pomp it had been the town’s theatre and music hall. Now it was the second cinema but was nowhere as grand as the Olympia. And anyway, the films were never as good.

The Olympia was where we could watch old Pathe Pictorial newsreels with clips of news that was stirringly British and triumphant. Sadly, the Olympia became a dilapidated wreck until an Aldi (what else) rose from the ashes. The Hippodrome thrives as a community asset.

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Anyway, me and my dad made a beeline for the Olympia whenever there was a good Western. Shane sticks in my head to this day starring Alan Ladd. It was an era of Randolph Scott, a very young John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Joel McCrae. A good quiz question is who took the part of Joey

the young lad in Shane. The answer is Brandon de Wilde.