Old pho­to­graph proved I hadn’t lost my mar­bles

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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 of them 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 hand­held 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, and of course he knew chap­ter and verse, “The colouringa­gent is placed in the furnace with the scrap glass, un­less they are to be clear but, for the in­ter­nal colour­ing, the melted colour­ing-agent 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 that some of my 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,” Arthur 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, and walked nim­bly through the gates and headed down the sin­gle track Salt Road to­wards Crow­den and the main A628. I gath­ered all my ‘rub­bings’ and crayons to­gether and went to climb over the back wall into the Bleak House gar­den. I can­not re­call why but some­thing made me walk back onto the track and 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 once more.

He was 20 feet 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 out, Arthur kept up his pace and just walked out into the road. I sup­pose now, in a way, time stood still, be­cause the ve­hi­cles kept on mov­ing, there was no blar­ing of horns, or the 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 at what I had seen 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 small pack­age through the post from one of my read­ers. Reader re­sponse and com­mu­ni­ca­tion has al­ways pro­vided the very life-blood of my writ­ing, and this early let­ter was a good ex­am­ple of this. The lady be­gan by telling me that her fam­ily, the Brock­le­banks, had once lived in Crow­den, and that 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 here rel­a­tives, but noth­ing could have pre­pared me for one of the pho­to­copied blackand-white pho­to­graphs. It showed Stone Row, a line of five ter­raced houses, which by the time I had moved into Crow­den, was the Youth Hos­tel.

Stand­ing out­side one of the houses was a group of peo­ple, one a rather large 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

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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