large-new house 2


by Marianna Mitchell

Author Marianna Michell shares memories from her childhood living in the village, Lane Bottom in the borderlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire...

Of all the farms in that  district, Jerusalem  Farm seemed ominous, enticing. Visible from the highest point of the ridge, the farmhouse was no more than an outline by that time.

We cannot say how quickly the stones had been scavenged for wall-repair or for new  buildings, because those who knew the final occupants, or recalled what year  they left, are also gone.  There’s a story about the brothers  who worked the farm. Alone for months on end, from time to time they would stock up on food basics which they could not raise themselves. And so it was they arrived at a corner shop in Lane Bottom, one of only two shops serving the area.

Marianna Michell

We’ll ev a sack o’ meyl. “Yer can’t ‘av an ole sack! Weer’s yer ration cards?”

Ration cards?

“Aye, don’t yer know the’s a war on?”

“Wot waar?

That was the story I would hear as a child. Was it the first war, or the second of which they lived in ignorance? The ruins were referred to as ‘Jerr, even decades later as if the farm still existed; and the shop story was still told. How distant in time do events need to be, to become the past and recognised as such? Stories take on their own life. With increased mobility, we lose these stories, and with it the ongoing culture of a place and people. We may lose it from living memory, but I believe the spaces hold their own memory, that there is no time nor space at all between them and us. In childhood I would reluctantly assume my thoughts to be only fanciful, but now? Quantum theory, I would claim, supports my intuition.

The inscription above the door reads, “Robert Parker and Jane, his wife, Robert and Henry, their sonnes built this house. May 2nd 1672”

From time to time, I would walk or cycle from Lane Bottom both to stare across the valley to ‘Jerr’, or to explore further afield. The route was all uphill but worth it for the return journey. This roadway leads to the moors and the Yorkshire border, then – and now perhaps – an unmarked county transition; unmarked except in its effect. Views change dramatically from the Lancashire side. Pastoral landscape turns to moorland and heather. The boundary forms the highpoint of any journey between Burnley and Heptonstall, then down into Hebden Bridge. And just as mysterious as Jerusalem Farm are the remains of ‘New House’, around the bend from the ridge where I would stare over the valley.

“How distant in time do events need to be, to become the past and recognised as such?”

The stone archway of ‘New House’ becomes visible from a corner where you choose either the Trawden direction, or the moors. Mysteriously alone, a monument to the past stands in the middle of a field. Approaching the stone arch, we realise it formed the entrance to a former large dwelling. It was known in my time as either ‘t new airse,’ (The New House) or ‘Purs Airse’ (Purse House). Let’s look at New House (I did so in awe!) Aged 18, the carved lettering of the enormous stone laid flat on the grass became etched in my mind.

My Around Briercliffe* pictorial map of the area words it thus: *“Robert Parker and Jane his wife, Robert and Henry their sonnes built this hous. May 2nd 1672”. That’s what it says. My memory carried with it the year 1606 and there’s a thought that the place was rebuilt later. Whichever is correct, New House has not been new for 350 years, but I remember it still referred to as such. Did anyone ever question the name as they uttered it, I wondered.

Lane Bottom (Hill End Mill), with view up to Holt Hill and the moors

How about the alternative name, Purs Airse? With no firm guide except imagination, I hear it as said in its own day as “Parker’s House”. Later generations would forget the Parkers and speak of the building as they heard it said by the older generation: a more cursory reference, diminished over the generations until we arrive at “Purs…..” Is this why more recent documents refer to it as Purse House? Has time morphed its original name, and forgotten the man Parker, with all his achievements? And what might he think of that? Curiosity prompts imagination.

“Mysteriously alone, a monument to the past stands in the middle of a field.”

The house backs onto moorland, often referred to as Boulsworth Hill, though rightly, from the valley we see Red Spar. I would sit on the fringe of these wilder lands, silent, with the most inspiring view I ever found in my life: far in the distance, a tiny Pendle Hill – a glorious vale filling the space between. I would take my seat by a mound in which I fancied was a dead chief, buried seated upright with the best view anyone can take to the next world. My position, gazing across the scene, mimicked his. The greater mound further to my right was a barrow. I have never learnt otherwise, so imagination again fills the space. Buildings come and go. A new respect for the past led our local authorities to cease their habit of tearing down historic buildings without a glance to their past. My last lamented space is in Lane Bottom. We children on our way down the hill from Haggate School had a tradition of rounding a bend where, at the bottom of the hill the old mill faced us with its rows of blank eyes. We would shout down the hill to hear the echo of our own voice. Hill Factory dated from 1777. Unlike its descendent, the 1848 Hill End Mill which was demolished in the 1960s, Hill Factory had been built for local handloom weavers to work in, each having their own window and a large wooden loom. Quaintly, there’s a reason why the old row of houses next to the mill was known as Cop Row. At the heart of a bobbin of yarn is a ‘cop’ made of board. These and other scraps of history remained in the building for us kids to kick and chuck around.

Looking out to Jerusalem Farm

In the 1960s, Hill Factory was bulldozed and replaced by a PoliceHouse, so with sad irony we might say the space was suitable only for a ‘cop-shop’! Later, that was sold as a private home. But what sounds might still be heard there, where formerly the airy space around it was once occupied by a busy three-storey mill? What we see in the here-and-now is just today’s incarnation of a space with its own memory.

Telling Tales From A Corner Of Lancashire by Marianna Michell with illustrations by Harold Gosney Published by Quacks Books

*Around Briercliffe was produced by Briercliffe Parish Council, and was the work of the Briercliffe Art Group, May 1992. The author is happy to be corrected as to her knowledge of the history of Briercliffe.

Illustrations by Harold Gosney


NorthernLife Mar/Apr/May 24