Barbara Diggle | Incredible Edible Todmorden | History

Barbara Diggle

Barbara Diggle talks about her childhood memories growing up in Todmorden in the 1920s and 30s with her beloved Granny.

Barbara Diggle with Granny

Barbara tells us how to make the most of a ‘sheep’s jimmy’, all about granny’s garden, talks about how absolutely nothing was wasted and how to make use of the hedgerows. She takes us to market, describes the joys of fresh milk and cream, invites us to breakfast, and tells us how to have a truly special Christmas on next to nothing. Finally, just for fun, she tells us of an unusual use for cowclaps.
Click on the arrows below to hear all about it!

Sheep’s Jimmy
Granny’s Garden
Nothing was Wasted
Hedgerow Fare
Barbara goes to Market
Milk and Cream
Breakfast
Christmas
Cow Claps

Barbara Diggle

B: She used to get a sheep’s jimmy every week off the butcher.
I: A what?
B: Now a sheep’s jimmy is a sheep’s head. Oh it’s lovely. She used to put it in a bucket of salt and water in the back pantry to soak all the blood out and clean it. It had to be cut in half at the butchers you know…so we took the brains out and those were put separate in salt and water and then she would boil that in a big copper on the fire whilst it was cooked but the tongue, which had been done in salt and water and the brains, which were done separately in salt and water were used. If there was an invalid in the family or anybody just weak, we used to poach the brains when they had been washed, in milk and butter and they were served on toast and that was a delicacy. Now the tongue was cooked slowly in the side oven over the coal fire, no gas used and it would be cooked slow over night and if it took a bit longer it didn’t matter, it was in another half day until it was cooked and then we would skin it whilst it was still warm because you can’t skin a tongue when it has gone cold; it sticks like glue. Then of course we would round it and put its head to a saucer with a plate on the top and a flat iron on top of that and that would shape it and it would press it overnight. Then if anybody came to tea we could slice it off and put it between thin bread and butter. The meat dropped off the bones then and there was plenty of tender meat on the face. She put the bones into another big pan that sat on the fire and she put onions, carrots, that she had grown in the garden, swede or something like that, turnip if we had it but she always had plenty of pulses. The fat that she had rendered off the joint as well or off the heads or anything, feet, you know would be clarified and that was used to seal the pots of the fruit. You were lucky if you had meat. My granny always used to see that we had liver; lambs liver because she said it did children good. It was good for the blood. If we ever had a sheep’s jimmy given we could afford to buy two-penneth of liver.
B: In the garden at the back of the house we had a blackcurrant bush, a gooseberry bush and we could bottle off it, even vegetables. Those are supposed to be very hard to do…in brine yes. Sometimes we would keep a hen or two in the garden and while it was laying well, you would put them in isingglass in an old bread butt and then there were eggs for the winter. You would have a dozen and a cock because you have got to have a cock. She used the tops of carrots as a vegetable too…that green fern, chopped up like that and put into a pan, just a few drops of hot boiling water, lid on and a quick three minutes, remove it and its cooked in its own steam then and then you would put a nut of butter in and salt and pepper and then you’ve got your greens.
I: Sounds nice.
B: They are good, a bit like spinach isn’t it?
B: My great grandfather… he built a garden for his wife at the bottom of the moor and he carried stones at night and put a new wall round and dug it. He grew beetroot; something unheard off, potatoes, onions, swedes, anything that would help the children.
I: Right up on the moor?
B: Yes. Up at Knowle Farm. He had nine children of his own and three that belonged to a couple that had died on the farm and they had nobody to bring their children up so he and his wife decided that they would have them and look after them, which they did. Nothing was wasted; everything was saved. If somebody gave us some tomatoes at the end of the summer, when they were green and yellow, we didn’t say no. We carefully took them and wiped them and coloured them with some clarified fat and put them into an empty drawer, kept the air from disturbing the skin or anything like that and then by Christmas, there was a lovely ripe tomato. All bread – ends of bread – were always put into the side oven over the fire to a crisp box and then it was rolled out with a roller… to make breadcrumbs which were put into a container in the kitchen. Those breadcrumbs would come in for a lot of things – cakes and biscuits and all sorts of things were made out of that. We didn’t buy self- raising flour – no nowt so common as that – we used to use bread flour for everything. It was cheaper you see, you had to.
I: So you could make nice biscuits with bread flour and breadcrumbs?
B: Oh marvellous! You didn’t buy anything if you could make it. Everything had to be thought about.
I: Did you go and pick blackberries?
B: Oh yes, all the hedgerows
I: And what about bilberries?
B: Bilberries yes! You could make bilberry jam you know. We’d get about seven pounds at a time. We would go out for the day, take a butty with us and sit there in the sun picking them away… in July. We just sat there – fell asleep sometimes. We could always have a bilberry pie. They were buying cream at Christmas; (it was) far better than a Christmas cake. I used to go gathering herbs with my granny up Lumbutts Road…We used to do all the washing and the drying and when you had dried it, you put it into a tin, screwed the top and left it there while you needed it. Now then, when you’ve got a cold, a bad cold, you brew that or if you were sore, you would braise a plantain leaf and put it on. And there is dock pudding. You will have heard of docks.
I: Yes
B: Put it with oatmeal, onions, salt and pepper and a bit of pork fat…You would boil it and you would put your salt and pepper in and you would put your pork fat in and make it into the consistency that you could put on a plate, you know with a dinner.
I: Right
B: You would have it with bacon and eggs if you were so lucky. We used to find a lot of things to live on in the hedgerows and that. I used to go to the market every Saturday. I hadn’t to leave the home until eight o clock and I would get my two big carpet bags to go with. Mind you I was only a tot. Well you wouldn’t let your kid go to the shop now at that age.
I: All the way from Shade to the market in Todmorden
B: Yes. I had to wait until the bell had gone and when he came round, the superintendent with the bell, that meant that the people had to sell the things as quickly as they could and get off the market. There was no fridges, no freezers so we had to buy what you needed. They couldn’t keep it and they got rid of it at a low price. My granny said: “Whatever thee does, thee goes to Mr Law. You know Johnny Law don’t you?. Well go there first and there’s some newspaper for him and he will know what I want”. She said he will look at you and he would say: “Now then, I think your granny will want this” And it would be two fish…well one fish really; silver rake and it would be six pence.
Right so I would wait until he opened it up and he would say:
“Now who gave me this lovely fish….I caught it myself this morning. It is good fish. It comes from Fleetwood. I have a ship there that goes out. He would say: “Who will give me a tanner for this?” …Barbara knows what is good…even the child (knows)”
…And he would put it on my newspaper and he would wrap also perhaps a couple of mackerel in with it or herrings. It just depended on the season. It is better than for it to go bad and he would put it in my bag and say: “Bye bye, I will see you next week Barbara”

…. The next place was the butcher and I had to go to the butcher with the biggest hand. You might wonder what I mean by that. Well you see, he used to get a piece of paper in his hand and all his meat was cut up…pie meat and that and he used to go like that and grab a handful: “Who will give me a tanner for this? Go on give me a tanner for this, it is good meat”. And he would go in and fetch it…It was Tommy Burton who had the biggest hands I always remember and he would go it like that and say: ”Give us a tanner for this”. And I would say: “Big piece …and please my granny says have you got a sheep’s jimmy?” He would say: “By gum, that is a good one, that is an old one. I think I have somewhere”. He would pick one up from the floor under the stall and he would say: “Come on give us you bag and your newspaper”. He would bang it in. He would put two and a quarter pounds of pie meat in that hand for sixpence.

Then I used to go to the greengrocers. It was no good looking for anything else anywhere…and the greengrocers were very cheap and I would get a bagful of carrots, onions and a cauli(flower), cabbage whatever. If I had a tuppence to spare, I would ask for some bananas. He used to sell them at seven for six (pence) during the week but when it got to Saturday night, they would go off. They were going off then. They were going off then but just nice and ripe and he would give me a little bunch. It was tuppence…something like that. My friends always laughed.

I had to drag my bags, drag them back home, drag them up Norwood road and my granny would come to the bottom of the steps and take them off me and she would have a pot of milky tea there and out of the oven would come a nice little pie that she had made, a meat and tatty pie or something like that, a pasty with onion in. It could have cheese in if I was lucky. It could be a cheese and onion pie. That was cheap. It was only four pence ha’penny a pound and it was good with cheddar cheese. I would sit down with my back to the fire, draw the table up to the fire so that I would be warm in the winter time, take my shoes off and wipe my feet and she used to give me a nice meal and I would have my milky tea….

We used to have three jugs of milk and everyday off the farmer and the horse stopped outside the house on its regular round. He used to come in…he would tip the can up and give you an extra measure so you had more or less got the full pint as there are four jugs in a pint. My granny used to tell me the tale that when they had the farm there were two sorts of milk that they sold and that was the day’s fresh milk and yesterday’s. Yesterday’s was a lot cheaper. You could get a pint of yesterday’s for a penny. Well custard was used and eggs too. Living on the *** Road, the farm was near and when they had had a beasting…do you know what that is? When he had had a cow that …the first milk off a cow is called beastings and its like custard only richer and that is why they put nutmeg on top just to break the heaviness of it… You made use of things in the season when they were there and forgot about them until it was next time.

My granny said to me one day. I would be about six. “Now I want you to go up to the Model farm and take this ere jam jar and this sixpence. I want six penneth of cream. If they have some nice cream and we have some strawberries in the garden, we will have it on that”. I got halfway back down…and I took the top off
I: Oh dear
B: And I put my finger in….oh it was lovely. Oh I thought when I come up here again for cream, I am going to get one of those toffee lollipops that they sell. They were ha’penny. I am going to dip it in and take it out full of cream and I did and I got a good hiding for it.
I: You didn’t bring much cream back then?
B: Well it takes a lot of cream to go on a quarter lollipop but oh it was nice and I did enjoy the cream.
B: You asked what we had at breakfast – it was always porridge with treacle in to sweeten it and milk if you could spare a drop on top. You wouldn’t have tea until you were about fourteen or fifteen. You would have milk and water and if you didn’t have oatmeal porridge, you would have homemade bread. Well you were slack if you didn’t make it; you had to –nowt else for it. Where do you think them big dishes come from? You had it to do. You would mix it in the morning before you went to the mill and they would come home at dinner- time and they would knead it again and when they came home at night they would put it in the oven. You have to be in when you bake it haven’t you?
I: So how often would you have bacon and eggs then? Was it a treat?
B: Christmas day. I think that is about it unless somebody gave you some. We used to have sad cake if we couldn’t afford…if we had no eggs to put into a sponge. It was a piece of dough left over from baking and you would roll it out into an oblong as if you were going to do puff pastry. Do you know what I mean?
I: Yes
B: And then you would fill it with currants and raisins and sugar and nutmeg or allspice, a big lump of butter and roll it up into a bar and brush it down with milk and it was a pastry.
I: And you would cut slices off would you?
B: Yes. If you had some. But then again if you had no bread you would have it with treacle on it first thing in a morning before you went to school. You know what treacle is? You never bought owt.
My granny would say: “We will get ready for Christmas…Come on”. I would say: Yes granny”and ask: Are we having a chicken?”. She would answer “No…what does thee mean a chicken”. I said: “Somebody at school is having a chicken for Christmas”. Granny would answer: “Well we aren’t but thee won’t go hungry” I said: “What are we having Grandma?”. She would reply: “Ah thee does ask some questions, well thee can help me make it….you know them breadcrumbs that we do don’t you….go fetch me some in here and then go back and fetch me some flour and I will put the dripping into the bowl”. You see everything was saved, all fat was saved….and salt and pepper and she set it out in a bowl and she would say: “And them herbs that I have…on’t top shelf…you will have to get the buffet to get them…and go get…oh what do you call it…oh I will have to go myself and find it”. She used to get herbs and sage to go in with the onion. She fetched it back and put half the breadcrumbs, half the flour and as I understand there would have been yeast in the breadcrumbs which would lift it and she rubbed in the fat as much as she thought, salt and pepper and the herbs that she had chosen and she mixed it up with the rest of the onion water. When she had cooked an onion and she put the onion in, the juice was left until later and she put that in to bind it together.
I: Right
B: and I put that in a little dish. I asked: “What it is called Granny?”. She said that she hadn’t given it a name but that when I had eaten it the following day I could give it one. I asked whether were we having anything else with it and she replied that we were having some really good stock jelly from the kitchen shelf and said we were going to make a right “good”…a thick gravy… and carrots, and we would put potatoes in their skins into….fire. Well you won’t know what that is will you. Well we had a coal fire and you had peat underneath and a tray where the ashes came through and cooled off , *** oil as she called it. She put the potatoes in and she kept turning them over…and she would be singing hymns, turning them over until they were soft enough. Onions were hung on a string by the side of the oven. When they were dripping and they were ready, the smells were lovely. She had this baking in the side oven and it did smell nice…it smelt heavenly. She put the ring on the fire and she hung a saucepan and you could smell gravy….it did smell good. She did something to the jelly to make it keep and she kept this jelly in a cup and placed it in the pantry and made gravy. Plates were taken from underneath and they were nice and warm…. It did smell heavenly when she cut it….it smelt like Christmas and she put two slices on each….potatoes with the skins taken out, and the onions were taken down and skinned and put on your plate and the carrot was taken out…big carrot…it was a thick one you know and then the gravy came over the top. My Granny said that the Queen wouldn’t be having any better…It was filling and it was warm and we sat by the fire after playing I spy. We had to go to bed that night at five o’ clock because **** was the next day so we took the plates out of the oven, wrapped them up in a bit of cally and took them up and put them in bed and it warmed the whole bed up…and it was warm….and we sang whilst we went to sleep.
I: She sounds fun your granny
B: She were…little tiny woman…I had a right bad chest and my Granny’s friend – she came from the Isle of Man and she always used to come when she went for her pension every Thursday down at the Post Office. She used to say: “Ay that child has a bad chest. What has thee done about it…has thee rubbed it?” My Granny said she had rubbed it with camphorated oil every night and put it on back and front. My Granny asked her friend what she reckoned because she was supposed to be good with the herbs. The lady advised that if we had a tin in the kitchen, we should take that, some paper and a rag…and walk with it up Lumbutts walk. When the cows came into the meadow, we should go down to the bottom, push me into the meadow… and when the cow had done a clap, we should open the tin up and put it in. We were to wipe it on the grass so it had no muck on the outside and wrap it up in the cloth and come home. So I did and my granny was getting a piece of cally again and she cut it in the shape of back and front and she would rub me with this ere (cow clap) and oh did it smell. Cow clap on the back and cow clap on the front and sent me upstairs to bed…As I was going up the attic stairs she said I had to wear it for about a week. I couldn’t breathe. Oh the smell of it. I opened the window and I must have got off to sleep. When I woke up I thought I would like to take that off but my Granny said no. So I went to school and I sat there at school and Mr Sykes came round the classroom: “Morning children” (he said) “Morning Sir” (we replied) as he walked up one aisle and down the other trying to pick fault with somebody. He smelt the smell and looked at everybody’s shoes and came round again: “Barbara, what has your grandmother been putting on your body or your person?” I replied that I had got a cow clap plaster on. He went to the third window, he opened it and he looked out …”Mrs Needham…I am sending Barbara home as she smells dreadful. Would you mind washing her and putting clean clothes on her and you can send her back to school”. My granny said: “Who says thee doesn’t know what is good for thee?” So I was sent home and I stripped my clothes off outside….and she washed me outside as well, dried me and put me in clean clothes and sent me back to school. So on the Thursday after, this old lady came round and she asked me how my cough was. I told her it seemed to be about the same”. She asked my granny if she had put the poultice on me and my Granny told her she had put it on back and front”. The lady asked: “And has thee got it on now”
“No they sent her home from school and made me take it off and wash her. They don’t know what is good for them” (my granny answered). She asked whether I could have something that didn’t smell as much as that and she told us to go down to the factory at the bottom the following morning at half past seven…with a tin and tuppence and she told me I had to tell the man I wanted two penny’s worth of his fat from Australia – mutton fat. So I went down and he was stood outside…and he said: “By gum, I have never had one so young for work”. I said: “I am not looking for work yet…. my granny has sent me with this tin. I want tuppence of mutton fat to rub my chest with”. He asked who had told her about that and I relied that it was Susan Quail. He said: “She knows a lot about stuff like that…if you can come back and prove to me that you are wearing mutton poultices you can keep that tuppence you have got to pay me with” Tuppence all to myself! I had never had tuppence…not at Christmas or any time and I thought what a wonderful man. I will wear his mutton fat but it didn’t do me any good…no. I had bronchitis until I started swimming and that developed my lungs and my chest and that.