WHEN local historian Margaret Sharp wrote her first book about bygone Clifton, she little anticipated the response there would be from all parts of the country - and even from overseas.
Her book ‘I Didn’t Know That’ was published three years ago and brought in a deluge of letters, phone calls and photographs from former Clifton folk, all keen to make their own contributions to her collection of reminiscences and nostalgia.
Margaret, a former teacher at Woodhouse Primary School, Brighouse, is now preparing for another batch of fan mail as her second book ‘Down the Acres’ goes on sale.
The subject matter - the history of the farms, inns and halls of Clifton - was originally intended to be just one chapter in her second book but Margaret soon found that the wealth of material she had collected could not readily be contained.
Margaret, of Longfallas Crescent, is a committee member of Brighouse Historical Society and believes there is a resurgence of interest in local and family history, prompted by TV programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’
“We are so lucky in that Clifton was a very well-documented village. The Armytage family’s archive is such a rich source of information. The family handed over their letters and documents even down to receipts, lists and little scraps of paper to the county archives and they are there for the use of historians and researchers.
“They owned a huge swathe of land stretching to Mirfield, Hartshead and across the River Calder and gathered incomes from the numerous farms, pubs and halls on their prosperous estate.”
Delving into the history of the village and the people who made their living from the Clifton acres has been a fascinating journey into the past for Margaret.
She has meticulously catalogued the old field names, tracked the route of the medieval road which ran through the village and charted the location of a number of forgotten buildings.
“At one time Clifton was quite self-contained. There were pubs, shops, farms, churches and numerous tradesmen all serving the local community.”
In the book Margaret traces the history of individual farms and halls some of which were once important to Clifton village life but have now disappeared and are almost forgotten. For example, it is thought that the substantial oak beams now inside the barn at Westgate Farm were reclaimed from the abandoned Clifton Hall, last referred to in documents in 1748.
She writes about the three ‘official’ inns in Clifton, each of which developed around a farm. The Armytage Arms and the Black Horse are still open for business; the Black Bull, home of the Faffen Fuffen Band, is now a private house. Inquests were often held in the pub including that of Ellen Bottomley who was accidentally shot by her daughter in 1864.
The Corn Mill on Wakefield Road, which is now a pub and restaurant, was one of the most important buildings to the local economy. It was to this building, which had fallen into dereliction before being restored, that the Armytage tenants took their corn to be sold to enable them to pay their rents.
Margaret chatted extensively to Clifton residents Charlie Ingle and Roger Smith who were born in the village and lived there all their lives.
“They gave me notes, documents and photographs and encouraged me to complete this book,” said Margaret.
“It is very sad that they did not live to see its publication but I’m glad to have been able to quote Roger’s comment ‘We should know where we came from, how our ancestors lived, what they achieved and how they achieved it’ in the book.”
Margaret’s researches involved her spending long hours trawling through the archives in Halifax and Wakefield and even the national archive in Kew.
“There’s nothing like looking at original documents to bring a sense of history alive,” she said.
“I must admit I got quite obsessed. But it has been a pleasure to write the book and to record the reminiscences of Clifton people before they are lost forever.”
l ‘Down the Acres’ is published by Brighouse Historical Society at £11.99 and is available at Just Books in Brighouse. Anyone with more information can contact Margaret on 01484 718142.