Book Review – Strange Tales in Bradford Dale

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

strange-tales-in-bradford-dale

 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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s