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Things I Have Learned

Blue Roses' Laura Groves On Her Yorkshire Hometown Of Shipley
The Quietus , August 18th, 2009 07:04

Blue Roses' music is imbued with the atmosphere of the Yorkshire where she grew up. Here, she writes about her home of Shipley

Small towns where, on the surface, very little seems to happen are fascinating

Shipley is no exception - it's strange bubble nestled in the Aire Valley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. I was born in this funny little town, and it continues to interest me for several reasons, most of them inexplicable.

Some things will probably never be regenerated

The architecture in the centre is mostly in the late 50s/early 60s shopping precinct style - this includes a former Arndale centre, which I once heard was opened by the illustrious Bruce Forsyth. Basically, buildings that have been standing longer than they were meant to or their construction really allows. The focal point though, without doubt, is the monolithic clock tower; an odd medley of concrete and what look like polystyrene ceiling tiles. I have had a fascination with this thing for as long as I can remember- I love photographing it. Beneath the tower is the very odd "underground market" where you can buy dog food, sweets or a Mills & Boon book by the yellow glow of strip lighting.

There are some things which you will never understand, and will never be explained

The town seems to be trapped in a strange time warp. When things do change they seem to be things that are of no use to anyone, but do provide a sense of confusion or amusement. For example, the installation of a sculpture in the form of a sheep holding an umbrella and sitting on a bench, or the addition of multi-coloured neon lighting to the top of the clock tower. I like to browse the many charity shops from time to time - they are all on one strip.

I am very sensitive to the plight of sad and lonely people

The snippets of conversation that can be picked up are fascinating, occasionally overwhelmingly depressing. A lot of the time they come from people who maybe have nobody else to talk to. It can be extremely sad. In the charity shops, this usually takes the form of people forcing their conversation onto staff or customers. There are a selection of famous perennial "characters" that always seem to be around... the Jesus Man, the Mole Woman, the drunk man who knocked on our door one Christmas eve, wouldn't leave and had to be locked in the porch until the police arrived, and various others who, after the initial curiosity has worn off, you realise do probably need some sort of help that they don't seem to be getting.

Charity isn't always unconditional

Just down the road is Saltaire, a 'model village' which is now an official World Heritage Site. It's named after its creator, Sir Titus Salt, and the River Aire. Salt's Mill dominates the village, which was built for the workers and offered a better way of life than the average working class person experienced during the industrial revolution. This part of the world was a great international centre for wool and textile production at that time. Salt provided safe working conditions and decent housing, banned pubs and drinking, built a large church and also several watchtowers around the village to keep an eye on everybody. I've heard that there's a network of tunnels underneath the village, connecting various important places. It's extremely intriguing.

There are innumerable undiscovered gems behind closed doors

There's a massive building in the middle of it all called Victoria Hall, which served as a meeting place, concert hall and alternative to the pub, and now houses an astonishing collection of Victorian reed organs and harmoniums collected by one man who has devoted his life to the instruments. Apparently, the hall has now been fitted with an enormous Wurlitzer that actually rises out of the stage mechanically, which I really am desperate to see in action.

The countryside is a wild and beguiling place

Once you leave the strange universe of the town centre, the countryside isn't far away at all. My favourite bit is Shipley Glen, which has had some sort of spell on me since I was little. A Victorian tramway takes you up the hill, you pass the abandoned dodgem cars and the path opens up onto moorland, which is littered with huge rocks. The glen itself is thick woodland. There's an old millpond and, further into the woods, the remains of a demolished stately home called Milner Field. Several rich families connected to Salt's Mill lived there, including the Salts themselves. My great-grandpa worked there as a chauffer, driving his boss to the mill every day along the coach road. There are stories of strange and grizzly happenings that took place in the house, including mysterious deaths and murders. You can still see mosaics, which were once the floors of enormous Victorian glasshouses, on the ground in the woods - the trees and brambles are slowly covering them up.

Significant events always leave a trace

That's what really interests me - the history of a place. When I go to Milner Field I can feel it quite strongly - a peculiar energy. Without wanting to sound too airy-fairy, something about the atmosphere of the place definitely haunted me for a few days after my first visit. I think that's one of the things I find most interesting in life - the way places and things seem to absorb things. Even on the simplest level of places reminding you very strongly of people, or significant events. Shipley holds lots of memories for me... despite its strange, Twin Peaks-esque reality it will always have a special place in my heart.

Blue Roses plays the Green Man festival this weekend