MY other-worldly ‘contacts’ were plain and simple everyday life and times at Crowden, nothing out of the ordinary, well, not after a year or so anyway.
I had become accustomed to it by then, and it should be noted that, generally the only people I spoke to about the ‘Walkers’ were the ‘Walkers’ themselves.
And besides, on this particular morning, what could be more normal than an old guy called Arthur telling me about the contents of a book he had read concerning the Battle of Trafalgar... “A wounded seaman aboard the conqueror, his leg shattered, lay on deck calmly playing marbles with stray grapeshot while waiting to be carried below.”
Fifty years after Trafalgar (1805) glass marbles made their appearance, most coming from small German glasshouses, and the reason for this sudden mass production and export was due to the invention of the marble scissors, a small device that rounded one end of the cane or rod that made the marbles while cutting the other, so making them round.
I asked Arthur if he knew how my glass examples were made: “The colouring-agent is placed in the furnace with the scrap glass, unless they are to be clear but, for the internal colouring, the melted colouringagent is streamed into the liquid glass as it emerges from the furnace.” The history of marbles was interesting but the game became alive for me when Arthur described how it was played at Crowden in the 19th and early 20th century, I’m guessing the same time some of my l examples found their way into the George & Dragon ‘midden’.
“Keeps was my favourite marbles game, because if you were a good shot any marbles you were able to knock from the ‘ring’ you kept, and I were pretty good. Some schools in Glossop banned ‘Keeps’ because they considered it a form of gambling, and they tried to stop us playing it at Crowden School, but they couldn’t follow us home could they?” laughed Arthur. “I’ll see thee later lad,” he announced abruptly, “I’m off t’Caf in Crowden”, he said, suddenly reverting back to his local accent.
“Okay, nice talking to you, but there is no café in Crowden.”
Arthur did not answer, lifted himself up from the stone step, walked through the gates and headed down the single track Salt Road towards Crowden and the A628. I gathered my ‘rubbings’ and crayons and went to climb over the back wall into Bleak House’s garden. Something made me watch Arthur’s progress down the hill. He was nearly at the bottom by the time I saw him. He stopped briefly to look at something in the verge, and momentarily looked back in my direction and gave me a nod, before setting off briskly.
He was 20ft from the main road and showed no signs of slowing up, and although the ‘Woodhead’ was nowhere near as busy and dangerous as it is today, it was still a much used highway in 1983 and there were a few wagons and cars driving each way as Arthur approached the junction. Before I had time to shout, Arthur just walked out into the road. I suppose now, in a way, time stood still, as the vehicles kept on moving, there was no blaring of horns, or slamming on of brakes, and Arthur appeared, as if by magic, unscathed on the other side of road.
I suppose I was a mixture of surprised, shocked and incredulous but, in some ways, this was just one more unusual occurrence in my first three years at Crowden, and I put it to the back of my mind. Several weeks later, after I had written about St James Chapel in one of the local newspapers, I received a package from a reader. Reader response and communication has always provided the very life-blood of my writing, and this letter was a good example. The lady told me her family, the Brocklebanks, had once lived in Crowden, and some members of the family were buried there, while others had been married or christened in the chapel. Her letter made for very interesting reading, as did the funeral cards for some of her relatives, but nothing could have prepared me for one of the photocopied black-andwhite photographs. It showed Stone Row, a line of five terraced houses, which was now the youth hostel. Standing outside one of the houses was a lady, a couple of children, and two men.
One of the men was Arthur Brocklebank, wearing the same black suit. Painted on the wall of the cottage behind them, in big white letters, CAFE. Arthur, as I suspected after his Houdini-like crossing of the A628, was a ‘Walker’.
St James Chapel, Crowden