Oral and Personal Histories

Ode to the Crags

Our secretary Alan Brocklehurst has written this Crags poem as an antidote to all the depressing news around the world at present… (with a few words borrowed from William Wordsworth * ,  Dylan Thomas **, and Rupert Brooke *** )

I wandered lonely,* like the hawk
That circled high above my head.
For I was on the Northcliffe Hill.
My weathered pathway upward led.

The Crags, the name we know so well,
Was Northcliffe Hill in olden day,
Where nature and employment met,
Where men would walk and kids could play.

I saw a bench whereon to rest.
The distant views were sharp and clear.
Autumnal sunshine brought recall
Of sights and sounds of yesteryear.

The swing park was close by, I thought.
I fancied that I heard the cries
Of joyful children having fun
On swings a-swinging to the skies.

The buzzer at the pit I heard,
And men came scrambling down the walk.
Their afters shift was soon to start.
The next pay rise was all their talk.

My mind then changed. I thought of rock,
And quarrymen who’d cut and hack
The limestone from its ancient bed,
And shift it down the stone – made track.

I walked, to search for autumn fruits.
The apple bough, ** somewhere around.
They say this tree grew from a core
Thrown by a miner homeward bound.

I ambled past the Hillside School.
The Cinder Path was on my way.
Past Oval and the Wellgate well,
I thought I’d done my mile – a – day.

St Peter’s Church came into view,
And stood the clock at ten to three. ***
A major worry on my mind :
And was there honey still for tea ? ***

Our Crags

Conisbrough’s world-famous poet Benny Wilkinson offers his moving appreciation of the crags that mean so much to the localtity…

Some day when you’re down and feel all alone
And life seems so empty and an endless moan.
well there’s a beautiful spot, fair of face
And it’s right on your doorstep this special place
So don’t miss your chance to enjoy and embrace
Yes they’re South Yorkshire’s fine jeweled crown
And can honestly boast of historical renown
It took a million years to master their creation
Their magic spurs words of humble adoration
And they are truly nature’s gifted location.
Their boulders stand proud amid fresh verdant splendour
Their paths meander upward to guide eager ascender,
Nature has painted their colours oh so complete
With flowers of all seasons to eyes a treat,
While birdsong so sweet your troubles delete
And yes these proud giants have a story to tell
Of past secrets, of conflicts they witnessed so well.
Of wishes, of tragedy of silent confessions
Of miners made homeless, void of possessions.
Of romantic promises, of heartbreak, of trying recessions
So! They‘re part of our folklore, part of our scene.
They need our protection to be picturesque and serene
With views from their heights of treasures untold
Why! The history of the community is theirs to behold
Let our crags be the pride, of both young and old.

The First Day

Kathryn Scanlan has written this wonderful account of her first day of nursery at Balby Street School, in 1965, and of her journey across the Crags to get there…

I don’t remember if I held her hand tightly or ran ahead excited by the adventure. What I do know is that I walked the route I would take for the next six years.

Up and down, twice a day in the hottest of summers and chilblain-inducing winters. Thin anoraks and hand-knitted balaclavas were our only protection, legs left exposed, blasted raw by the wind that cut up from the valley.

The Crags, a little-regarded strip of land between our house and school; part nature reserve, part rubbish dump. We passed dehydrated grass, Hawthorne and dog roses, home to all manner of wildlife. Skylarks advertising their nest locations, piping their song before parachuting into them. Rich pickings for the child egg thieves, who tiring of the grey-white speckled bounty smashed them on the red shale path, leaving miniature mosaics of yellowyolk and crumpled shell.

Tiny vole skeletons left stripped of flesh, white grinning through carbon black, part of the aftermath of regular torching of the grass. Boys excited by the drama they had created catching the anger of sleep-creased men, roused from daytime slumbers after a hard nights graft, beating flames into submission with old rags.

Red and black, Scotch Burnet moths rising in a telepathic cloud each summer, leaving behind their punctured, parchment-thin cocoons. Wildflowers, collected by the armful, decorated the classroom. Flies and earwigs carried into the alien environment kept company with escaping frogs that had completed their metamorphosis.

The nursery class was reached through French doors, via a bridge which spanned the steep slope of the playground. A drain running beneath it was a magical river on rainy days. Radius-edged bricks topped the wall, which was an insurmountable height on that first day.

High windows ran along one side of the square room. In the summer, heat and sunlight poured through them. In winter, only clouds and birds could be viewed.
The cloakroom ran alongside the classroom, a row of low hooks for coats each identified to its owner by an animal. Illustrated in a simplified style on a pastel coloured card, slotted into holders cast as part of the brass hook.

The cloakroom was pervaded by the tarmac smell of San Izal disinfectant and the tang of coal tar soap. The bars miniaturised like the basins and sinks, so low an adult would need to stoop or kneel to use them. Polished grey terrazzo floor, crisscrossed by a movement map of blackened cracks, caused by the colliers cutting coal below.

It filled the grate in the classroom fireplace, guarded by a high fender, which became a perch for the teacher at the end of the day.

We sat in front of its blaze, cross-legged on the mat, feeling its warmth, mesmerised by storytime.