Strange Tales in Bradford Dale, by Irene Lofthouse. Gizmo Publications (www.gizmo.co.uk), 2015. 124 pp. ISBN: 978-1-900827-54-6 £7.99 (Strange Tales Book 2) Available in many of Bradford’s Libraries. You can check the catalogue here
What a delightful read is this book! It is clearly fiction, but so well grounded in Bradford history that I finished my read both pleasantly amused and historically richer. I learnt that a ‘cottar’ is a peasant farmer or a tenant renting land from a landlord, and that a ‘piecer’ is someone who pieces broken threads together. I also learnt that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was the manager of actor Henry Irving who died at the Midland Hotel in 1905 leaving, some say, a ghost, and that a brownie, once asked its name, turns into a boggart and will plague you for ever!
This book, Number 2 in the Strange Tales Books series* consists of seven Bradford-based stories for 7-12 year olds. Here we find an alternative account of the killing of the Bradford Boar; child labourers in a mill befriended by a brownie; a nightmare ride in a haunted carriage; the city hall statues frolicking in City Park after midnight; a local tribe defeated by Romans from Olicana (but carrying on the head cult); a theatre rehearsal terrorized by ghosts; and twilight terrors in a Victorian cemetery.
Irene Lofthouse writes well: her style is well-suited to pre-teens and her stories are well told. More impressive for readers of this journal though, is that the stories are clearly Bradford-focused. Here we find Roger de Manningham and John Northrop, Spinkwell and Cliff Wood, a large cemetery with Egyptian portals, and City Park. In her endnotes the author admits being inspired by the Bradford Playhouse, Undercliffe Cemetery, the Bradford Beck and a real-life mounting block. Other end-matter includes Fun Activities such as protecting yourself against a boggart; drawing pictures of a stone head and a phantom carriage; a Wordsearch; a Did You Know? (six items); some websites; and a Glossary of special words such as Green Man, Scour, Tenterfield and Sphinx. I particularly liked the author’s matching of language and personal names to the period covered by the stories. The Boar-scared children are Ranulf, Aleycia, Elfric, etc., good medieval names; the mill kids are Tom, Sarah, Zach and Edie, while today’s kids scared in the cemetery are Sienna, Fatima and Luca. Some of the quoted speech is in dialect, thus: “You do look nithered. Come t’fire an’ warm thissen.” (My 9 yr old grandson is fascinated by dialect!). And while today’s kids use their mobile phones and i-pods as torches in Undercliffe’s Egyptian vault, the youngsters in Cliff Wood use knives and a bow-and-arrow! Context and background are impressive.
How to get youngsters interested in history is ever a problem. Maybe Irene Lofthouse has the answer – though I would have liked to have seen more illustrations. Bob Duckett
*Book 1 was Strange Tales in the Dales (2015) and Book 3, Strange Tales in Caldervale (2016).
Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.