I’ve been writing my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the Dalesman for more than two years but the article that I’m working on now for the 150th anniversary of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers is rather different and I’m struggling a bit to decide what approach I should use. I’ve used a program called Scapple to pull my ideas together. Scapple is like a looser version of Tony Buzan’s mind-mapping technique where you start with one idea and make all kinds of connections to it.
Certain aspects of the story stand out vividly for me; the encounter between Sabine Baring Gould (who wrote the hymn) and local tough guy ‘Old Nut’. Or the way meetings in the upstairs Mission room were sometimes interrupted by street urchins throwing stones or even dead cats through the window.
I like the way that Baring Gould later used his literary talents to exact a fitting revenge on ‘Old Nut’s’ favourite pub, The Horse and Jockey. In his novel Through Fire and Flood, which is based on his experiences at the ‘Brig’, he has the pub swept away in a flood. He evidently derived so much satisfaction from this literary method of settling old scores that he introduced a thinly disguised version of The Horse and Jockey into a later novel, The Pennycomequicks, and, would you believe it, it too gets swept away again by the raging waters of the River Calder!
Scapple, the mind-mapping program, seems very versatile. I printed out my mind-map and added the cartoons by hand.
Smeath House, Horbury, my home for twenty years, right through my school and art college days, went on the market today. Looking at Tim Baker’s photographs in the brochure, I can see that the ambience of the place had an effect on the way my work developed. Aged nine, I filled an exercise book with sketches and nature notes including a map of the birds I saw around the shrubberies and lawns.
I can see why I’ve always been fascinated by the Victorian period, surrounded as I was by so many period features. In the 1960s there were still people around, my grandparents for instance, who grew up in the last days of Victorian England. Our era seemed rather colourless and mundane compared with the world of Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
The house was built by the Baines family who were worsted spinners with mills in the valley below. There’s a box-shaped bay window on the west-facing corner of Smeath House which my brother imagines Richard Baines standing at early each morning to check that his foreman had stoked up the fire for the steam engine that drove the machinery.
We met Enid Baines, a daughter of the family, in the late 1950s or early 1960s when she revisited Smeath House. Her mum was then aged 100 but didn’t come with her. I would love to have seen any family photographs showing Smeath House in its Victorian heyday.