Echoes of the past: Looking back on where it all began

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It was after I came across an old advertisement over a hundred years old that I first wrote to the man we all knew simply as ‘Rowan of the Echo’.

In all innocence I thought had come across something that not even he would have heard of. This was an old soap works at the bottom of Bonegate Road.

I remember writing to him and sending a copy of the advertisement – never thinking I would ever here from this man from the Echo. However, it was about a week later on a dark winters evening, there was a knock at my front door. On opening it I was faced by a smart elderly gentleman standing on the step in the rain.

He introduced himself and I immediately asked him in – for the next hour or so and at least two cups of tea later I was amazed by Ralph’s knowledge and his desire to share it. Oh and yes, he had heard of the old soap works but he did not put me off looking into the history of our community and that was over forty years ago.

A few years went by when I found myself at the old Eastfield School on a panel of people taking part in a version of Desert Island Discs which was a PTA fund raising effort and one of my fellow panellists was Ralph. He had not forgotten our previous meeting and once again I enjoyed his company and his local knowledge and willingness to share it.

In 1986 I was invited to contribute to the Echo with aspects of Brighouse nostalgia – the editor told me that it was likely that Ralph would be retiring and would I like to consider taking over when he finally decides to put his pen down. Gradually over the years I got to know Ralph and his wife Gladys as friends and would call at their home and in no time we would be discussing aspects of the past over a cup of tea and one of Gladys’ ginger biscuits.

Once I had received permission from the Chief Constable the first Looking Back under my own name appeared in the Echo on January 6 1986 which means next January will be the 30th anniversary of my weekly reflection on all things from Brighouse’s past.

I was really pleased that I cut out Ralph’s weekly columns which helped me in the early days to work out who owned the town centre shops and which licensee had pulled pints in the pubs.

Ralph wrote two books during the late 1970s about events and some of the characters of the town and the surrounding communities, in addition to a book about Brighouse and Rastrick Band. These sold out very quickly and today these small publications are increasingly more and more difficult to find.

I well remember him asking him how many words he would reckon to have written in his 40 years of writing his weekly nostalgia page. He estimated that it must have been over a few million words. Ralph passed away in 2003. This photograph is a multi-view postcard and shows five views of and looking from Rastrick all are aspects of Rastrick that Ralph would have known well as they were all just a short walk from his home and locations he would have written about on many occasions over his 40 years of weekly Echo contributions. The views include (top left) a view from Bowling Alley; (top right) Rastrick Library; (bottom left) the view from Knowles Road; (bottom right) Crowtrees Lane and (centre) The Smith Homes at Boothroyd.