Friday, 5 March 2010

Readers write

As well as providing much-appreciated corrections, readers of True North so far have sent me lots of excellent new material which I hope to use in future editions. One of the first, from Edwina Clements of Kilnsey, picked up on the book's passages about garden estates in otherwise industrial towns and ended marvellous reminiscences of her own, from childhood in Oldham. I had not heard of the 1909 Beautiful Oldham enterprise, although Mrs Clements makes it sound like an exercise absolutely out of my own heart. Her parents moved in 1940 into a semi on one of its consequences: Oldham Garden Suburb. The house backed on to Bell Fields, a wild, green area between the estate and Bell Mill, and she writes: "This was our playground where I once found a skylark's nest and lots of wild flowers including an early purple orchid." I remember finding my first early purple orchid, in north Leeds, and being amazed that a flower with such an exotic name (and associated then only with the lavish hothouses of wealthy businessmen such as Isaac Holden of Oakworth - see True North), could be flowering wild near our house. Mrs Clements says "I've never lost my interest in nature that started there." Same here.
This isn't all nostalgia either. Mrs C was Rose Queen in the Oldham Garden Suburb Tenants' Association festival of 1956, and she went back to the 100th festival last August. "It was a joy to see the present community thriving with the same great enthusiasm," she writes, adding only a small old-North coda: "despite the heavy rain." Oldham GS has got an absolutely excellent website,, from which I have pinched this picture of street cherries in full bloom - eat your heart out, Surrey - plus the Rose Queen Festival in 1936. To prove the robustness of the tradition, just check out their 108-picture slideshow of last August's festival, which you can even watch in 3D. Mrs Clements will be in there somewhere.

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