Old Bramley – Fact meets Fiction

When I was writing SHUDDER, I knew about the rhubarb. I knew that  many gardeners including my granddad, were good at growing it. Granddad told me tales of rhubarb plants put under cover which would  creak as they grew. There was a thriving market garden industry  in Old Bramley at one time and rhubarb  formed a large part of it. Jam and dye were made from it and much was transported to London.  I didn’t know though that my grandparents house was built on an area which once housed rhubarb forcing sheds.  It is no wonder that rhubarb is such a large part of the diet of the characters in SHUDDER.
I didn’t know either that there is some evidence that a tunnel used to exist under the town joining at least one of the old houses to Kirkstall Abbey, the areas having a long term mutual history. This  was Old Hall, which once stood on Town Street and was eventually demolished after it had been allowed to partly fall down. Although some possible parts of the tunnel have been unearthed during  building in the town, there are only old stories and letters which refer to it. I find it fascinating that my storytelling mind knew about a tunnel. Leodis has some interesting pictures of Old Hall.

Old Hall, Town Street

Old Hall, Town Street 2

And there is a great article on the Bramley History Community Archive   The Old Hall

Yates Mill on Broad Lane was the inspiration for the Old Mill in SHUDDER.  Yates Mill

In the novel, I use a watercourse for part of the story, which is modernised in order to service the new apartments  I learned recently that Yates Mill used an artesian well.  This was drilled through the impermeable strata  in order to reach water then capable of rising to the surface by internal hydro static pressure.

Alan Godfrey Maps   produce some fine old maps which show Bramley as it was over a 100 years ago. I would say that the maps of 1906 best represent the Bramley/Mill Town in SHUDDER.


Bramley Town Street

Because our family left Bramley in the late 60’s and returned only rarely afterwards, Old Bramley is the one which remains in my mind . It is easy to follow the old streets, and stone cottages and ginnels which we as children scampered around. There was so much greenery and open space , of which there is little now.
Readers of SHUDDER will recognise Waterloo Lane, Broad Lane, Bramley Town Street, Bell Lane and Wood Lane. But in Mill Town and Village, which is what I call Bramley in the book, I only describe it as it was. The odd times I have been back, I am thinking about how it used to be , with the mill and the shops on Town Street.
I can’t really have an opinion on  whether or not the heart was blown out of Bramley along with the old properties , because we left and didn’t come back. But it definitely had a different character back then.
Town Street has so many memories for me. I would hang on to my mother while she pushed the Silver Cross containing  my brother and sister up Waterloo Lane to the crossroads at the top. We passed the old barbers on the left and the two banks on opposite sides of the road. Turning right,  we went shopping, buying items from individual shops. Butcher, baker, greengrocer and the rest. I seem to remember the road on Town Street being so much higher than the pavement, but perhaps that was because I was little. Mum would leave me outside guarding the pram while she went in the shop. That wasn’t dangerous  as she could see us through the shop window. We could shop along the street, reaching the Bell Lane junction and beyond. These road junctions were very narrow, the shops or cottages seemingly almost meeting each other at the top.
Visiting the park at Bramley would be reserved for a different trip and we would never buy fish and chips from the shop almost opposite the park, but from the one opposite the mill on Broad Lane.
If we walked to the end of Town Street and turned left, then we would be going to Bramley Baths, a place recently rejuvenated and now thankfully being used again.
When we went on holiday to Blackpool, with my grandma,  we would walk from Wood Lane, up Bellmount and Bell Lane until we reached Town Street. Then there would be the long walk along Town Street, past the top of Waterloo Lane and on to Stocks Hill, where the bus would pick us up . I am not sure, but I think the bus then drove back along Town Street where we had just walked!
My first school was St Peters and I remember walking there myself, crossing Town Street, when I was so young. I can remember the classrooms only vaguely, but I do recall the playroom bit. There was a pretend house, I think with pretend food. I embarrassed myself when I tried to eat one of the pretend jam tarts and everyone laughed. I didn’t find it funny for some reason.
As I said, we left Bramley when I was five years old, but if I close my eyes right now, its Bramley of the late 60’s which is the only one that exists for me.
Old Bramley.

Wellington House (2)


Mill Town

I have already said that Mill Town was based on Old Bramley, a place I am experientially familiar with and also through passed down tales.
I played as a young girl in the field in front of the mill with my siblings and friends, when the horses were not grazing there. I never knew who owned those horses, but I felt sorry for them and would feed them any bread I could take from home and with  grass pulled from the other side of the stone wall, behind which they were contained. There was  rusty barbed wire alongside the wall and my mother, a nurse, would tell us terrifying stories about lockjaw and other  possible  illnesses s we could catch if we ever got so much as a scratch from the said wire. I did cut myself once and suffered vibrations of fear for a long time afterwards, although no serious illness followed. That is the trouble with my memories of Old Bramley. I have  a background of old stone buildings and vacant courtyards and narrow high walled ginnels, threaded together by a cord of anxiety which  I shall write about at another time.
The mill was still in use when I was very small. Men would come into the mill yard and play football. Apparently from my pram I would point and ask,”Boys doing?” But as my sister would point at cats and say,”Fucker fack,” I suppose I had the winning question.Copy of wellington mill
Someone  told me in later years that the mill girls would sniff under their sweaty armpits if they felt their energy flagging.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but it was before people used deodorants quite so regularly. The air raid shelters I described were built for mill workers as well as local residents, who didn’t have a Morrison shelter. They were used often I believe as Leeds was bombed regularly. My Granddad was walking along a Leeds street during the war when a bomb was dropped and a wall collapsed on him and  he wasn’t found for a day. But there was no trip to hospital and a couple of days later he was back on war  duty with the army. He died a relatively young man and the adhesions they found at the PM were dated back to that accident. He must have been in constant pain for the later years of his life.
The house he bought for my mother was built along with some others on the edge of  the mill field in the late 50’s. He paid for it with a pools win.
The mill remained empty for years, when bizarrely the mill field was filled with houses and the mill knocked down and left as a field.


Lawnswood Cemetery

The cemetery and grounds of Lawnswood Cemetery feature in ‘Shudder’ as the church and the graveyard.  I have moved it to the edge of the woods near Finders Hospital  where it is also the scene of the dramatic finale to the story. For the sake of the story, it is not the exact likeness of Lawnswood, but is my inspiration.
My grandparents are buried there and I have visited  several times. Apart from funerals  my most memorable visit was one very snowy day when everywhere seemed very silent as the big fat snowflakes fell. Walking through the old memorials  I challenge anyone to remain in disbelief about the afterlife. Passing beyond the veil of life must be very similar to this quiet and peaceful  experience. In my mind anyway.
My mother went to Lawnswood Girls School as a girl and would talk about her time there all of her life  She thrived there, passing exams, acting and singing. She left to become a SRN, met my father during her training, married and had me. This beautiful building is another long gone and one wonders why so much beautiful architecture has been lost in West Yorkshire. When I describe places to anyone now, the memories bear no similarities to the Leeds and its surrounding areas now. It is why I have had such fun setting ‘Shudder’ in old Bramley, bringing it alive again.
There is a group set up now who are trying to look after Lawnswood Cemetery and I wish them all the luck in the world with it. Grandma and Granddad are trying to sleep there.

Look for them here.  Friends of  Lawnswood Cemetery

Following is a short piece from the book when Lydia first sees the graveyard.

The coat was lovely, so Lydia decided to go back outside and see what she could see. Warm as toast, she walked back into the snow which was now coming down thick and fast. There was no one about, so stepping out onto the driveway would not cause any problems. At the moment the entrance gates were still visible, but as  the snow was increasing, they would soon be blocked from view.

To her right was a path which led around the back of the lovely building and to her left a path leading to another stone building. Both beckoned to her.

She decided to take the right turning before the snow became too heavy. The path wound its way through bushes which made passage difficult for her and would not have allowed another person to travel alongside. Stones planted here and there  were covered in chisel carving. The path spilt into two and on the corner was a mock stone entrance to a house. Lydia could only see part of the feature when she first came upon it and as she walked around to the front,  saw that there stood a woman staring away into the distance.

“Hello,” she said to the woman.

But there was no answer and it wasn’t long before she could see the reason. The woman was made from stone. She was a statue, albeit an excellent one. Looking at her face must have been exactly the same as looking into the face of the woman after whom her likeness was created. Lydia reached out to touch the cold face and felt a tremor within.

She knew that the woman was sad or had been the cause of great sadness. The stone lady stood impassively in front of the stone door and under the shelter of a stone porch. The door behind her was slightly ajar and when Lydia tried to look beyond the lady and the door, she could only see another wall. Jumping a little when she thought that the lady moved, caused Lydia to  pull the fur coat around her for comfort.  She must pay more careful attention to the statue lady and make sure that she wouldn’t suddenly come alive and chase her down the lawn.

The beautiful stone lady , dressed in the old fashioned style was reminiscent of the old paintings Lydia had seen on the walls of the Town Hall. In her hand she held a handkerchief  tightly as if for security.  Her other hand  resting against her dress held a solitary flower. The porch roof stood on  ornate stone pillars and the door itself, although made from stone looked exactly like carved oak. Next to the door, underneath the bell push was a sign.

Lady Gladys Ailwood, my darling wife and companion.

Taken from me by the Shudder Man.

I shall never stop looking.

Don’t despair.

Lord Edward Ailwood


Bramley near Leeds

Wellington House

I debated for a little while as to whether I should write about the town on which I based Mill Town. I decided that I should and can officially announce that I have mapped the town based on  an area of Bramley near Leeds in Yorkshire. Bramley has altered hugely in the past 50 years, with many old stone buildings and houses being demolished in the name of progress. In the story,  I returned several of the houses and cottages and added a few for effect. The woods are back in their full glory and the mill is replaced exactly where it used to be.
Quite naturally, although the roads are mostly in the same place they are now, I have added and removed features and buildings where they did not suit the story. I built Finders Hospital on the other side of the woods and added a church and cemetery where there is none. I never took the reader along some of the lanes and others only partway.
The long gone Wellington House was my inspiration for Snooty Manor, a house I coveted as a child. I have only ever seen one photograph of the place and am in the process of asking the owner of it if he will allow me to show you on this blog. The housing estates  do not exist in Mill Town and Village and there are fields and stone walls everywhere.
I must add that the characters in the Shudder are based on no-one living or dead in Bramley and if anyone feels that there is a resemblance to themselves, or someone they know, they are mistaken.