CHAPTER 14. FRESH FIELDS AND PASTURES NEW

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CHAPTER 14. FRESH FIELDS AND PASTURES NEW

Post by Stanley » 15 May 2012, 05:13

FRESH FIELDS AND PASTURES NEW

CARLETON COLLEGE AND MARTHA PAAS

As has happened before in this memoir, I find I have to go back now and pick up some strands that overlap. The reason why I am including them in this section rather than deal with them when they actually arose is that the effects that followed the events echo down the next few years and mark a complete shift in the direction of my life. There really had been a change in 1978 when I was 42, I moved from essentially manually based jobs into more cerebral activity. In this respect, all my planning and strategies had paid off, I had changed gear from lifting springs weighing 350lbs to lifting a pen. I had also proved conclusively that Susi’s dictum about the cost of Further Education was dead right. ‘Take what you want and pay for it’.

Two questions remained to be answered at this point; could I earn a living by the pen and the brain and was manual labour completely in the past. Only time would tell and this is why the title above was chosen. I really was moving into uncharted territory.

The first strand I want to pick up is in spring 1983 and in order to explain fully why it happened we have to go back even further to my time at Lancaster in 1981.

One of the courses I was doing was Economic History. We had a good bloke called Harry Dutton as a lecturer, he taught in the fields which particularly interested him. Two of these were the Patent System and Russian Economic History. He was giving us a lecture one day which included some interesting estimates of iron production in Russia in the mid 19th century partially based on the number of horses in the country. My crap detector started buzzing and after the lecture I went to see Harry and questioned him about the basis for the figures he had given us.

He was very patient with me and went through the figures again, there were X number of horses, assuming six sets of shoes a year this meant 6X sets of shoes at an average weight of Y. Work all this out and you can take an educated guess at the weight of iron produced for shoeing horses. I asked him how many of the horses were used in agriculture and he threw a large percentage at me as the answer. I told him that this was where I had my problem. I had worked with horses on the land and, they didn’t need to be shod for this, nature had designed horses to work on grass, if anything, their hooves needed trimming more than protecting. The only time horses need shoes is when they are working on surfaces so hard that they wear their hooves down too fast, or where they need help to grip. Neither of these circumstances applied on the land so it seemed to me there was a gap in his reasoning and his figures were almost certainly gross overestimation.

He was obviously surprised but was pleased to know this and questioned me closely about it. He ended up by saying I was certainly right to doubt the figures based on my experience and he would take the matter further. He revised the information he had given at the next lecture but didn’t attribute the revision to my information! I was ever so slightly miffed!

Shortly after this we came to the part of the course where we were to discuss water and steam power and the faculty asked me to do them! I was pleased as punch and did so. It made sense to me at the time and still does, even then I knew I was a prime source in these areas. There was no point them regurgitating what they had read when I could give the information straight from the coal face. Mary Rose our main tutor, was kind enough to tell me afterwards that she understood the principles and many of the finer points better after listening to me. This was significant because it led to another approach being made to me later on while I was at Pendle Heritage.

I was minding my own business at home one night when the phone rang. No, this isn’t the big phone call I mentioned at the end of the last chapter but a fairly significant one as it turned out. It was Oliver Westall from the Economics Department. He was rather embarrassed because of the request he had to make. The University had agreed to provide accommodation and tutors for a five day course in Economic History to a group of American students from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I knew nothing about the college, the town or the state, apart from where it was in North America. Oliver explained that there had been a bit of a cock-up. Mary Rose had been booked to do the course because of her extensive research on Quarry Bank Mill. Unfortunately, nobody had made this clear to her and she was going to be skiing on an Alp when the Americans were in residence. Would I take over and teach the Yanks? I think I was offered some derisory sum of money but this didn’t really matter, it would be an interesting thing to do so I said yes.

If I tell the truth, I don’t remember a lot about what we actually did. Professor Martha Paas, who was in charge of the party, seemed to be a competent woman and she helped me do the best I could for her students. It was demanding but they were good kids and I enjoyed the contact with Americans. It all passed off all right, I waved them goodbye and the department thrust a small amount of money into my hand. End of story.

Not quite, Martha and I had got on well together which was surprising really, she was too starchy to be my kind of woman and I put her down as an obvious candidate for the Daughters of the American Revolution. Was I ever wrong! At this point I feel I have to defend myself, it wasn’t so much that my judgement was at fault as that her camouflage was perfect. I had taken the bait hook line and sinker and had fallen for the same trick that has fooled so many people. I have to claim credit for the fact that I soon began to revise this assessment of her and after many years I think I finally have the correct one. Of course, I’m not going to tell you what that was here! It might begin to poke through later on.

Martha rang me from Cambridge where they were based to tell me that she was delighted with the course and had asked Lancaster to book them in again next year on the condition that Stanley Graham would be the tutor. As a fledgling academic trying to make his way in the world with a new toolbox this was good news. I thanked her and got back to doing my thing at the Heritage Centre.

In late spring 1984 I got a message from Martha, she was worried because she didn’t seem to be making any headway with Lancaster in making arrangements for the Northern segment of that year’s Cambridge Seminar. I promised her I would make some enquiries and we left it at that. I soon became quite short-fused because of the blank wall I hit every time I tried to get an answer to Martha’s problem. I never actually got to the bottom of it but eventually I decided that someone somewhere was deliberately obstructing my attempts to make plans for the trip. The only reason I could see that could possibly be causing this was that the faculty weren’t interesting in arranging accommodation for a course which had a tutorial content stolen by me off them. I know this sounds petty but this was the impression I gained. I reported back to Martha and she said she would have another go at them.

A few days later I got another call from Martha to tell me she had got no further with the arrangements because she couldn’t get any response from the university. After a short conversation I asked her to let me organise the Northern segment of the Seminar. All Martha wanted at this time was a firm conclusion so she could get her plans settled. I remembered a bloke I had met, through David, at Manchester Business School, Roland Seymour. He ran an outfit called Deanhouse Education in Newcastle under lyme so I rang Elsie, David’s secretary and got a telephone number. To cut a long story short, he was exactly the right man with the right connections. He organised accommodation at Keele University and coach hire from an outfit run by a bloke called Ivor Lucas. I worked out an itinerary, faxed it to Martha with an estimate of the costs and she rang back to say we had a deal. Of course there were a lot of details to be settled but after more work they all fell into place, I taught the course at Keele, everyone was delighted and 16 years later we are planning the Keele Trip for year 2000 with Roland and Ivor still in place. We must have got it somewhere near right in 1984 because the course content has hardly changed since then.

At this point I should say something about Carleton and the basic ideas behind the Cambridge Seminar because it is going to loom large in the story from now on. The Seminar was invented by Martha who wanted to expose selected students of Economic Theory to the latest teaching at Cambridge, the spiritual home of Keynes. Martha also had the quaint idea, in U.S. educational terms, of introducing her students to the realities of economics on the ground. She wanted some flesh putting on the bare bones of economic theory and thought that if her charges saw old industrial sites and had the relationship between the entrepreneurs, capital and labour demonstrated and explained on the ground, it would help them make the connection between theory and the humans who made the system work. This chimes exactly with my view of history and, with hindsight, she couldn’t have found anybody better to teach this to the kids.

You can take it as read from now on that every spring I made the arrangements and every third week in July I taught Carleton at Keele. A different member of the Economics faculty came every year as supervisor over a six year cycle and by 1989 I had Martha again. The year after the College invited me to go to Carleton at their expense and I stayed with Martha and her husband Roger. This was the start of a personal association with Martha and Roger and the town of Northfield which grows stronger every year. I’ll leave the Cambridge Seminar now and return to that subject in 1990. We have a lot to deal with before we get there!

There was another nice thing in 1983 which is a non sequitur really no matter where it is inserted so I’ll do it here. If you remember, I had an interesting evening at Gawthorpe with Asa Briggs and Richard Hoggarth. Come to think, it’s time I gave Asa his proper title, he was Lord Briggs of Lewes, Provost of Worcester College at Oxford, official historian of the BBC and a Keighley lad made good in spades. He was a prolific author of history books and contacted me because he needed some pictures for his new book, ‘The Power of Steam. Having said this, some doubt creeps into my mind because Daniel was involved in this as well and the initial approach may have been to him. Anyway, Daniel’s pics and two of mine were used to illustrate the piece on mill engines (They managed to print my picture of the driving ropes upside down!) and the publisher, Simon Rigg, asked my advice on the design of the front cover of the book. I suggested that they take a leaf out of the book of the old engine makers and have a brass plate cast of the title and use a photograph of that. I also said it would be a good idea if this was presented to Asa after the launch.

All this went down well, I put them on to a pattern maker and a foundry and the deed was done. Later I found that one matter had been omitted, the plate had never been given to Asa. I wrote a couple of letters pointing out the benefits of repairing this omission and the end result was a nice letter from Asa saying he had got the item and was well pleased. This was to come in handy later!

I was still in regular contact with Roger Perry, the man who had done so much to help me get some proper cameras to play with. By mid 1984 his arthritis had reached the point where he wasn’t working as a freelance photographer any more, it was all too much for him. He had moved to Eye, near Diss in Norfolk and was installed with Annie in a glorious old thatched cottage with a horse pond and a workshop for his beloved Lancias. At this time I was on my second Fulvia 1.3, a late model , one of the last to be made and a lovely, if temperamental motor to drive. Annie had a beautiful showman’s caravan with clerestory roof, bevelled glass and the nicest little cast iron range you ever did see. This was parked in the orchard at Gardiner’s Cottage and was the guest room.

Sometime in summer 1984 I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. A friend of mine was going through a bad time, she was confiding in me to relieve the pressures on her and at one point said that she needed to get away and have a change or the top of her head was going to blow off. I was very worried about her but it never occurred to me that there was anything helpful I could do beyond act as a safety valve. She rang me one night in a panic and asked if I could get her away for a week in the hope she could sort herself out. I asked her if she was sure that this was going to be a good thing and she was positive it was what she wanted. I rang Annie, booked the showman's van and we went down there for a week and played house with the cast iron stove. It was a week out of time, it could never be repeated and in later years the lady told me it was a turning point in her life.

I can remember that at the time I had a bit of conscience about this interlude because the lady was a married woman. It felt like cheating on her husband, as indeed it was, and it was the first time in my life I had ever done this. Quite obviously, I overcame these inhibitions and did something that I knew flew in the face of everything I was taught. You can’t make any excuses about taking a married woman away for a week of romance in Norfolk! Or so I believed at the time. I’m not quite as sure about that now. I’m not going to go into the details of what was troubling the lady at the time apart from saying that it was behaviour by her husband which was fundamentally wrong and was causing her tremendous problems.

I talked to her about this years afterwards and she told me that the time she had away from the problem was a life saver. We talked about it during the week itself, it wasn’t simply swept under the carpet and forgotten and she had the space to be able to come to some conclusions about what she had to do to hold the family together. When she went back she put her plans into action and they are still living together to this day. I see her occasionally, perhaps once in two years and she never fails to mention the week we had together and how it changed her life. Before any of my children reading this leap to any conclusions, no, our relationship is platonic and wonderful. So, you can see why I am not so sure about definite rules about faithfulness inside marriage. I still believe it’s a good thing, I believe any outsider who aids and abets in unfaithfulness is guilty but I have to admit that there may be times when a brief transgression might be a healing thing to do. The only problem I can see about this theory is that at the time, it would be very difficult to be objective about these things and so the whole subject is best left alone!

Later in the year Roger rang me. He was organiser of the Stratos Owner’s Club in UK and they used to book Silverstone for a day once a year and go and play at being boy racers. As soon as he started to explain this I knew what he was after, “You’ve not got the engine back in the Stratos yet have you?” He said I’d hit the nail on the head. I knew the engine was out from my visit earlier in the year. Evidently the arthritis had flared up and Roger couldn’t manage. He asked whether I could go down and put it all back together for him. Of course I said yes, arranged to be away for a week and jumped in the Fulvia.

When I got down to Gardiner’s Cottage Roger took me into the workshop and showed me the state of the wicket. The engine was, apart from the crankshaft being already installed in the crankcase, completely in bits! I looked at it and said “Oh dear!” or something like that. Roger gave me the workshop manual which was for the Ferrari Dino not the Lancia version, in addition it was in Italian!

Deep joy! I got my stuff into the house, had a cup of tea and a word with Annie and the kids, put my overalls on and went out to get started. Three days and about four hours of sleep later, I had the engine rebuilt and back in the car. There had been one or two glitches, the manual I had didn’t cover the distributor which was fitted to Roger’s engine and in the end I threw the manual away and timed it just as though it was a steam engine. I balanced the three twin choke carburettors as best I could and when we tried it it started first time! The nice thing was that just as it started, the phone rang and when Roger answered it it was his two mates in London who were doing exactly what I was doing, rebuilding the engine completely. I didn’t take a lot of notice what was going on until Roger gave me the phone and said “You’d better have a word with these two!” They were having the same problem that I had hit, the manual bore no resemblance to the engine when it came to fitting the distributor and timing it. I told them I had thrown the manual away and timed it exactly how I would time the steam admission valve on a steam engine, set the engine just before top dead centre on no. 1 cylinder and fit the distributor so it was just sending a spark at that time. It wasn’t quite as simple as this because the distributor had two sets of points, one set operated up to about 3000 rpm and the other set kicked in afterwards to give more advance. They took my advice and must have got it right, they were at Silverstone the following day.

Roger and Annie were due on the track the following morning so I worked all that night finishing it off and at about four in the morning took it out for a totally illegal, but immensely satisfying test run. I think I was doing about 100mph in third gear when I decided it would do! We loaded it on the trailer, the family went off to play at racing cars and I had a clean-up and a leisurely breakfast before driving home.

About a week later I received a letter from Roger saying they had a good day at the track and then it carried on to criticise me for being overbearing, demanding, greedy and rude. I was so disappointed and shocked, I still feel terrible when I look at the letter. I kept it and the angry reply I wrote straight away but never sent. I couldn’t comprehend what had gone wrong or what had triggered this outburst. Further, what if it was true! The handwriting was terrible and I clutched at a straw and decided it was the medication that was talking and not the Roger I loved. I found out afterwards that this was the case but in a later letter when he was better Roger asked why I hadn’t replied and said he stood by everything he had written in the first letter. This was a shattering blow to our friendship, or more accurately, to our relationship. Roger died a couple of years later and his new lady Kate rang me to let me know. She said she knew about the letter and she didn’t understand it either. It was completely out of character. I have never forgotten this episode, it hurt me so much but I have to say that I still remember Roger as a friend. All I can assume is that it was some sort of break induced by the massive doses of drugs he was taking and which killed him in the end. The terrible thing is that I can never be sure and will never have an answer. Life can be very cruel and untidy at times.

1984 was a year for looking in new directions. Knowing that I was finishing at PHC in September concentrated the mind wonderfully. I tried several avenues before I finally settled down, they were all interesting but for one reason or another didn’t come to anything.

The first was when a mate rang me up and asked me whether I knew that Burnley Council, in partnership with Pennine Heritage, were looking for somebody to manage the conversion of Queen Street Mill at Brierfield into a heritage attraction. I didn’t know it was on offer but got the papers and applied for the job. I was interested in this because it was right up my street. It was relatively near home and Queen Street was exactly the same set-up as Bancroft Mill. It was a technology I understood perfectly from my previous experience and my time at Pendle Heritage had taught me a lot about managing heritage attractions and interpretation. On the face of it I was a good candidate for the job. Queen Street was the last complete steam driven weaving shed in the North of England, or so everyone believed at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that we had to save one and this was the candidate so there shouldn’t be any problem getting funding. My only worry was the position of the mill and the prospective partners in the enterprise. I had seen Pennine Heritage in action before and wasn’t very impressed by them for a variety of reasons. I have to admit that my crap detector was on its highest sensitivity setting when I went for the interviews!

I forget exactly when the interviews took place but it was a three day process at Queen Street Mill. I only knew one other person who had applied and that was Anna Benson who had helped Ian Gibson during the conversion of Higher Mill at Helmshore into the Museum of the Lancashire Textile Industry.
The interviews started well enough but when I went in front of the panel which included the Planning Officer from Burnley, David Fletcher of Pennine Heritage and his manager I was struck by the fact that they seemed to be spending more time selling the project than actually enquiring what my qualifications were. It was almost as if they were putting on an act for the council to convince them that they knew exactly what they were doing. At one point they told me what a wonderful boiler and engine there was driving the mill. I said that it might not be as good as they thought and showed them pictures which I had with me of the inside of the high pressure cylinder on the engine. I had these because a couple of years earlier I had helped Newton repair the engine when it broke a piston ring because of lack of lubrication. The broken ring had ploughed a groove in the cylinder bottom and the management hadn’t done anything about it beyond replace the ring because they knew they were going to shut down. I also pointed out other major faults on the engine, the fact that the low pressure was so badly worn that the piston rod was running in the bottom of the metallic packing and the flywheel had loose keys. I also detailed the faults in the economisers and the boilers including the fact that they would certainly have asbestos in the settings. In case you are thinking this wasn’t the best technique to adopt, I wasn’t interested in working with someone who couldn’t accept the truth. They didn’t make any comment beyond the fact that they were impressed by my knowledge of the plant The day’s interviews finished and we all went home to prepare for the next day. At this point I was told I was still in the running.

Late that night I got a phone call from a mole of mine in Hebden Bridge where Pennine Heritage were based. He told me that he had been informed of a conversation earlier that evening which had been overheard in a pub, he didn’t say where. My name had been mentioned in respect of Queen Street and I wasn’t going to get the job, he also told me who would get it and why. I digested this, went to bed and the following day presented myself at Queen Street. When I got there I had a word with Anna Benson and told her she was going to get the job. She said this was daft because I was the obvious candidate and asked me how I knew but I kept quiet. However, I told her that the reason she was getting the job was because Pennine Heritage thought they could control her. I advised her that if she took the job she should try to do it on secondment from the Lancashire Museum Service because in my opinion it had the makings of a disaster. I then formally withdrew from the interviews giving no explanation beyond the fact that I had changed my mind. I called in to see David Moore on the way home and I can still remember what he said to me after I explained what had happened. He said I had acted correctly, he was glad I hadn’t caused a stink and wasn’t it funny how something that looked so good one week could turn into a can of worms so quickly!

The bottom line is that I was quite right about Pennine Heritage, they ran the project badly and failed to achieve their aims for Queen Street. The Council had to take over in the end, hand it over to the Lancashire Museum Service and they finished the works on the mill with the backing of English Heritage. During the hiatus between the demise of Pennine Heritage at Queen Street and the Museums Service taking over, I advised Robert and we went down to Burnley and offered to buy the mill for £1! This was a serious offer and it sat on the table until the Council decided to throw in their lot with English Heritage and the Lancashire Museums Service but at one point they took the bid very seriously. Robert nearly ended up owning Queen Street!

There was a sequel to these events a couple of years later. The architect at Burnley was a bloke called John Lowe and one day he offered to take me to lunch. We had a good lunch but I knew he wanted something in return. Eventually he got round to it and asked me what, in my opinion, was the best way to go about making Queen Street viable. I told him that my opinion hadn’t changed. They needed to get the place weaving again, preferably as a co-operative shed because in that way they could involve the Co-op movement in the enterprise. The cloth they wove should be made up into high class goods and clothing using the units that had been created at the back of the mill and be sold commercially. He took it all in and I have no doubt reported back to the council but the plan was never adopted.

Ten years later, Queen Street is just about getting off the ground as a ‘Heritage Attraction’ and I hate to think how much subsidy each customer going through the door is costing. If I was to take a guess it would be something like £10 a head. Even though it has only just been finished, the operation is under review and in danger of closure. It really is a disgrace that a viable enterprise like Queen Street cannot be allowed to operate commercially and yet Treasury Rules preclude any subsidy against revenue. My argument has always been that there isn’t much point funding the restoration of a site and then letting it die because of lack of revenue. If the heritage is important enough to restore it’s important enough to subsidise.

There was another interesting opportunity in late summer of 1984. I got an approach from a TV producer, Roger Owen who was making programmes for the BBC. He asked me to go down to London and do a short pilot film for him. I’m not quite sure what they had in mind but on the day appointed I went down, made the film and then we went for lunch. It never came to anything because there was competition from another proposal at the time and this resulted in the series ‘King Cotton’ fronted by Anthony Burton. The day was most memorable for the experience of doing a screen test and a story that Roger told me!

Roger was married to a Jewish lady and when they married he had promised to convert to Judaism so that they could go to Israel and live on a kibbutz. He researched the matter of conversion and found that he had a choice; he could do it in this country over a period of about eighteen months or he could go to the States and do the whole thing in a week for $500! He decided to go to Flatbush and have the quickie! He spent a week with three rabbis who questioned him closely on his understanding of the faith. Part of the ritual was that he should be rejected three times. After passing this test they came to the small matter of the circumcision. Roger told them that was OK, his Jewish dentist had done it for him! The rabbis pricked their ears up at this and enquired whether the man was a mohel, the official temple circumciser. Roger said no, he wasn’t. The rabbis went into conclave and announced that they must ritually draw blood from his member in order to fulfil the conditions of his conversion.

Roger said that it was possibly the most surreal incident in his life. There he was, sat in a chair with his trousers down while three rabbis crowded round an anglepoise lamp wiping a needle on a paper tissue and debating whether blood had indeed been drawn. The final phase was that he had to go to the mikvah to be ritually immersed three times. Roger said that as he came up for the third time he heard one of the rabbis shout “He touched the side, he’ll have to go under again!” The last I heard of him was that he had been fully accepted and he and his wife and children went to Israel.

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