Todmorden. A town with a scary name and social hierarchy

Every year after passing our annual reviews, my University friends and I have a trip to a town with a scary name of Todmorden. Todmorden is located in Northern England on the boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire. If you split this name into two words, you will get ‘tod’, evoking associations with a German word ‘Tod’ meaning ‘death’, and ‘mor’ resembling a French word ‘mort’, which also means ‘death’. In other words, or playing with words, you may easily get something like ‘deadly death’ or ‘death-death-something’. These associations create a particular aura of the place:D

Todmorden is full of legends about the origin of its name. One of the stories goes back to the 15th century and tells of the Wars of the Roses. Without going into detail, I just say that bloody conflicts occurred between two rival groups of the English elite belonging to the dynasty of Plantagenet, the branch of Lancaster, having a red rose as its symbol, and the branch of York with a symbol of a white rose.

IMG_1108.JPGThe Monument of the Roses, June 2018 © Photo by A. Vanke

Centuries passed, and today local cricket clubs use red and white roses as their emblems, rivalling on the cricket pitch only. Now, only the monument under the railway arc resembles the Wars of the Roses. However, there are no inscriptions on it. So, it is quite difficult to understand, whether stone roses refer to the past wars or to the present sports competitions. I am guessing to both of them;)

The town and surroundings of Todmorden are also noteworthy by its industrial past and its farming present. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this area was considered to be working-class, because of its residents who were labouring in heavy industry and cotton mills located in the same place. However, after the 1970s most of the industry was dismissed that changing the local economy, and everyday life of the working-class community as well.

So, now Todmorden is gentrified and has a mixed social composition. People belonging to different social classes are living there. But what is really interesting is that this social hierarchy is visible in the landscape of the town and its surroundings. My friends and I enjoy hiking in the hills and walking in the countryside around Todmorden. Every time, when we are going up the hills, I have a feeling that we are moving from the bottom to the top of social hierarchy. If you have not stopped reading yet, I invite you to climb the hills together and see, what we may find on the way.

At the bottom

In the valley, a deprived six-storey building of the Robinwood mill is still situated. This cotton mill was erected at the beginning of the 19th century. Its owners also built some housing around, more beautiful villas for managers and simpler housing for workers. The mill building looks brutal and substantial. It is made of stone bricks and was reconstructed several times. Its façade has burn marks. Locals say that somebody intentionally set fire to the mill, and now some parts of it are for sale.

IMG_2081.JPGThe Robinwood mill, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

And what about housing? In the valley, you may find some old housing, where mostly pensioners are dwelling, and some social housing for workers. Housing for pensioners, belonging to a local working-class community, is distinguished by low height, solid walls made of stone brick, cute chimneys indicating the existence of fireplaces inside, double-glazed windows, through which you may see pot plants, and tiny gardens with rare rosebushes in front courts. Sometimes people from these houses dry their clothes outside.

IMG_1121.JPGHousing in the valley, June 2018 © Photo by A. Vanke

Relatively ‘new’ social housing resembles the architectural planning of typical council estates in England. It is three-storey housing blocks with flat and gable roofs, simple façades, and windows of different size. If you glance through the window glass, you may see lace curtains and fresh roses in a vintage vase. Some dwellers adorn their windows with English cross flags, expressing their patriotic identity, and white-and-blue flags, which symbolic meaning I could hardly ever to get. Dwellers’ life here looks difficult.

IMG_2073Social housing at the bottom of the hill, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

In the middle

Let’s make an effort and walk up the hills. There are several routes leading to the top, so every time we try a new route that gives us a chance to explore the area better. The middle of the hill offers nice views of the town with the cotton mill and small houses scattered in the valley. There are more trees and shadow here. You may realize at some point that you are in the middle of nowhere. But soon you understand that the local middle class occupies this place on the hill.

IMG_2092.JPGHousing in the middle of the hill, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

This understanding comes quickly, when you see another type of housing and compact bright cars, red, yellow, etc., driving up and down the hill. I would say that houses in the middle are more diverse in design and style, but all of them have something in common. For example, middle-class houses are normally bigger than those we saw at the bottom. They may have larger space in front yards and more spacious gardens. If you come across local farms, you will see that farmers usually have a piece of land in addition to the house.

IMG_2108A smiling horse, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

This land needs to be cultivated by tractors. And we met one friendly tractor driver who cultivated pieces of land belonging to different farmers. As locals say, the life of farmers is not easy today. They produce meat, milk, cheese, eggs and other foodstuffs, and sell them in the town market. While we were wandering around the farms, we met nice animals:) smiling horses, sleepy cows, lazy sheep, curious ostriches, beautiful deer, cutie ponies, and funny buffalos. From the middle of the hill, life seems to be pastoral but still hardworking.

IMG_6538.JPGA picturesque pastoral view, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

On the top

We keep on moving to the top. And what we find there? From the top of the hill, you may see picturesque panoramic views of the countryside with its beautiful fields, farms, other hills, and windmills. If you look more carefully, you will see villas, hidden in the green areas. These villas are often surrounded by the fence and sometimes by the barbed wire. Yes, exactly like this *Х*Х*Х* So, it is quite difficult to glimpse of the housing on the top, because it is hidden from the public eye in contrast to houses found in the middle and at the bottom of the hill. However, you can feel pretty well what is happening on this level of local social hierarchy.

IMG_2138.JPGThe bonsai garden, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

Villas on the top looks spacious. In some cases, they resemble small castles, quite often surrounded by the piece of land, which is not cultivated but given for the golf course or beautiful gardens. Some villas’ owners have greenhouses on their territories and decorate their yards with elegance and style. When we were going down, I happened to notice a beautiful straw hat accurately resting on the garden armchair in one villa. In another one, I noticed a kind of bonsai garden with accurately cut evergreens. The people from the top of the hill drive Range Rover cars and keep dogs, which are barking at strangers when they are passing by.

IMG_2136.JPGRoofs of the houses, July 2019 © Photo by A. Vanke

I was thinking that life on the top might be aisé, but it was far from my suggestion. The barking dogs, fences and barbed wires are telling us that life is not easy there too.

Going down to earth

I should say that our way back was much easier. When you are coming back, you see different groups of the same houses in the distance. At that moment you may realize that social hierarchy is really visible in the landscape. So, we were going down, down and down to earth, and finished our trip in the Golden Lion pub, which is very popular among the locals.

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