I read, and loved, Hillary Mantel’s Fludd over the Christmas holidays, after finding it on a shelf in the Inverness cottage where we were staying. I copied an extensive, brilliant description of a Peak district village, finding it amazing that they should turn from the moors towards the city while I am always looking from Manchester to the moors. But there is so much more about the moods and manners of a village here. I loved everything about it.
Completely by accident, we happened to visit this same village on Good Friday. The irony is that I had forgotten all about this while searching for a good walk, and in reading about the walk itself, had found only that Hadfield was one of the locations where League of Gentlemen was filmed. If you know it, you might recognise this view of Royston Vasey:
But what follows is a VERY long and wonderful description of Hadfield as was, under another pseudonym of Fetherhoughton.
At this early point, the topography of the village of Fetherhoughton may repay consideration. So may the manners, customs, and dress of its inhabitants. The village lay in moorland, which ringed it on three sides. The surrounding hills, from the village streets, looked like the hunched and bristling back of a sleeping dog. Let sleeping dogs lie, was the attitude of the people; for they hated nature. They turned their faces in the fourth direction, to the road and the railway that led them to the black heart of the industrial north: to Manchester, to Wigan, to Liverpool. They were not townspeople; they had none of their curiosity. They were not country people; they could tell a cow from a sheep, but it was not their business. Cotton was their business, and had been for nearly a century. There were three mills, but there were no clogs and shawls; there was nothing picturesque.
In summer the moorland looked black. Tiny distant figures swarmed over the hummocks and hills; they were Water Board men, Forestry Commission. In the folds of the hills there were pewtercoloured reservoirs, hidden from sight. The first event of autumn was the snowfall that blocked the pass that led through the moors to Yorkshire; this was generally accounted a good thing. All winter the snow lay on the hills. By April it had flaked off into scaly patches. Only in the warmest May would it seem to vanish entirely.
The people of Fetherhoughton kept their eyes averted from the moors with a singular effort of will. They did not talk about them. Someone –it was the mark of the outsider–might find a wild dignity and grandeur in the landscape. The Fetherhoughtonians did not look at the landscape at all. They were not Emily Bronte, nor were they paid to be, and the very suggestion that the Bronte-like matter was to hand was enough to make them close their minds and occupy their eyes with their shoelaces. The moors were the vast cemetery of their imaginations. Later, there were notorious murders in the vicinity, and real bodies were buried there.
The main street of Fetherhoughton was known to the inhabitants as Upstreet: “I am going Upstreet,” they would say, “to the Co-op drapers.” It was not unprosperous. Behind window displays of tinned salmon, grocers stood ready at their bacon slicers. Besides the Co-op draper, the Co-op general store, the Co-op butcher, the Co-op shoe shop, and the Co-op baker, there was Madame Hilda, Modes; and there was a hairdresser, who took the young women into private cubicles, segregated them with plastic curtains, and gave them Permanent Waves. There was no bookshop, nor anything of that sort. But there was a public library, and a war memorial.
Off Upstreet ran other winding streets with gradients of one in four, lined by terraced houses built in the local stone; they had been put up by the mill-owners towards the end of the last century, and rented out to the hands. Their front doors opened straight onto the pavement. There were two rooms downstairs, of which the sitting room was referred to as the House; so that in the unlikely event of anyone from Fetherhoughton explaining their conduct in any way, they might say, “I cleaned miyoopstairs this morning, this afternoon I am bound fert clean the House.”
The speech of the Fetherhoughtonians is not easy to reproduce. The endeavour is false and futile. One misses the solemnity, the archaic formality of the Fetherhoughtonian dialect. It was a mode of speech, Father Angwin believed, that had come adrift from the language around it. Some current had caught them unawares, and washed the Fetherhoughtonians far from the navigable reaches of plain English; and there they drifted and bobbed on waters of their own, up the creek without a paddle.
But this is a digression, and in those houses there was no scope to digress. In the House there would be a coal fire, no heating in any other room, though there might be a single-bar electric fire kept, to be used in some ill-defined emergency. In the kitchen, a deep sink and a cold-water tap, and a very steep staircase, rising to the first floor. Two bedrooms, a garret: outside, a cobbled yard shared between some ten houses. A row of coalsheds, and a row of lavatories: to each house its own coalshed, but lavatories one between two. These were the usual domestic arrangements in Fetherhoughton and the surrounding districts.
Consider the women of Fetherhoughton, as a stranger might see them; a stranger might have the opportunity, because while the men were shut away in the mills the women liked to stand on their doorsteps. This standing was what they did. Recreational pursuits were for men: football, billiards, keeping hens. Treats were doled out to men, as a reward for good behaviour: cigarettes, beer at the Arundel Arms. Religion, and the public library, were for children. Women only talked. They analysed motive, discussed the serious business, carried life forward. Between the schoolroom and their present state came the weaving sheds; deafened by the noise of the machines, they spoke too loudly now, their voices scattering through the gritty streets like the cries of displaced gulls. Treeless streets, where the wind blows.
Consider their outdoor (not doorstep) dress. They wore plastic raincoats of a thick, viscous green, impermeable, like alien skins. Should it chance not to rain, the women rolled these raincoats up and left them about the house, where they appeared like reptiles from the Amazon, momentarily coiled in slumber.
For shoes, the women wore bedroom slippers in the form of bootees, with a big zip up the middle. When they went outdoors they put on a stouter version of the same shoe in a tough dark brown suede. Their legs rose like tubes, only an inch or so exposed beneath the hems of their big winter coats.
The younger women had different bedroom slippers, which relatives gave each other every Christmas. They were dish-shaped, each with a thick ruff of pink or blue nylon fur. At first the soles of these slippers were as hard and shiny as glass; it took a week of wear before they bent and gave under the foot, and during that week their wearer would often look down on them with pride, with a guilty sense of luxury, as the nylon fur tickled her ankles. But gradually the fur lost its bounce and spring, and crumbs fell into it; by February its fibres were matted together with chip fat.
From the doorsteps the women stared at passers-by, and laughed. They knew a joke, when it was pointed out to them, but for the most part their entertainment lay in the discernment of physical peculiarities in those around them. They lived in hope of seeing a passer-by with a hunchback, knock knees, or a hare lip. They did not think that it was cruel to mock the afflicted, they thought it was perfectly natural; they were sentimental but pitiless, very scathing, and unforgiving about any aberration, deviation, eccentricity, or piece of originality. There was a spirit abroad in the village that discriminated so thoroughly against pretension that it also discriminated against ambition, even against literacy.
Off Upstreet was Church Street, another steep hill; it was unpopulated, lined with ancient hedgerows, smoke and dust forming a perpetual ash-like deposit on the leaves. Church Street petered out at its summit into a wide track, muddy and stony, which in Fetherhoughton was known as the carriage-drive. Perhaps sometime in the last century a carriage had driven up it, conveying some pious person; the drive went nowhere except to the village school, to the convent, and to the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas. From the carriage-drive, footpaths led to the hamlet of Netherhoughton, and the moors.
Atop one of the smaller village streets sat a Methodist chapel, square and red, and about it was its cemetery, where chapel-going people came to early graves. There were a few Protestants sprinkled through the terraced rows; each yard might have some. The Protestants’ houses did not have, pinned to the door of the cupboard in the sitting room, a coloured picture of the Pontiff with a calendar beneath; but otherwise, their houses were not readily distinguishable.
And yet the Protestants were quite different, in the eyes of their neighbours. They were guilty of culpable ignorance. They refused to take on board the precepts of the True Faith. They knew that St. Thomas Aquinas was there, but they refused to go in it. They refused to turn over their children to Mother Perpetua for a good Catholic education, and preferred to send them on a bus to a school in another village.
Mother Perpetua would tell the children, with her famous, dangerously sweet smile: “We have no objection to Protestants worshipping God in their own way. But we Catholics prefer to worship Him in his.”
The Protestants were damned, of course, by reason of this culpable ignorance. They would roast in Hell. A span of seventy years, to ride bicycles in the steep streets, to get married, to eat bread and dripping; then bronchitis, pneumonia, a broken hip; then the minister calls, and the florist does a wreath; then devils will tear their flesh with pincers.
It is a most neighbourly thought. (11-13)
I found this quote too from Hilary Mantel in an interview with Jessica Jernigan.
HM: As I say in my author’s note, Fetherhoughton is not to be found on a map, but there is a close geographical match in a village called Hadfield, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where I was born in 1952. Hadfield has a twin village called Padfield, smaller still and nearer the moors. When I was 4 years old, the bishop of the diocese ordered the statues removed from the church, thus becoming a local hate figure. Earlier than this (my mother tells me) there had been a very popular young priest who disappeared overnight. So you might say I’ve amalgamated two parish legends. I remember that my mother was planning to offer a home to St. Gerard Majella, who stood six foot and was black all over, and is credited with offering special aid to women in childbirth. I heard adults talking, in the air above my head. One said “What are they going to do with the statues?” The other said “Bury them.” A horrible shudder went through my infant frame. I know what I heard, but don’t think they did bury them, and St. Gerard never did come to live with us. It’s a mystery really.
We had gone to Hadfield for a walk, we were thinking about a longer walk up across the moors to Glossop but left late then still missed the train so ended up walking around the reservoirs, with a touch of the moors at least.
The reservoirs weren’t quite beautiful for the most part, but rather full of fascination.
But we also escaped up, into the semi, sort-of wilds:
found a field of the tamest sheep I have ever encountered, all with their mouths open and tongues hanging out which is a funny look for sheep. Also, some damn cute lambs…
We passed a bronze age earthwork, bisected by a stone wall.
Found ruins and my favourite view of an aspirational sheep.
Another sheep with its flock of chickens, and an old trough
We skated in front of the rains
Not until we were almost back to the village did it suddenly occur to me where I knew the name Hadfield from, and that it was in fact the village of Fludd fame and where Hilary Mantel grew up. A matter of minutes later we found this sign about Brosscroft Road:
Strangely no mention of Fludd, but it did mean we could stop a moment in front of her old house and number 20:
walk down the street and have a pint in the New Lamp, stare briefly at the street where her aunt and uncle lived but the rain discouraged any exploration.
Still. A wonderful day. To end, my favourite quote of all from the book:
At midnight Fludd went out alone. It was cold, clear, still; a dried-up half-moon was skewered against the sky. The upper air was full of snow, the year’s first. He could hear his own footsteps. He let his torch-beam loose among the trees, then brought it back to his side, as if it were a serpent he were training (129).