Lower Mill is the last stop in Dobb Valley. Through-travellers then have a choice -whether to go to Manchester or Rochdale. Either way it’s a steep climb to bleak and treeless moorland. As the alternative is to backtrack north six miles to the motorway at Huddersfield, these remote roads are busy. Twice a day; breakfast and home-time.
Lower Mill is a village that’s grown into small town. A man would have worked some land here in the dim and distant past. A few beasts, some crops, enough to keep a family together and not a lot to spare. Then two centuries of continuous change. The natives wouldn’t have noticed much at the time, but from here, well into after, it’s difficult to imagine what before was like.
‘Ologists’ have tried. They say that the after is a mix of bits that have altered and bits that have stayed the same. Like a character in a play; easily recognisable yet capable of surprises. Lower Mill’s constancy starts with the fellsides and hills. Scattered farms, paths, sheep, peat, tufted grass, sedge, bog and mile after mile of drystone wall. And streams that fall down sheer tree-lined cuts. Sure, tractors, metal masts and mountain bikers have crept in stealthily, and the roads to Manchester and Rochdale. But it’s the high landscape that you notice.
Lower Mill’s surprises are in the valley bottom. Not the textile mills, some belching steam and cloth, others hushed and broken. Not the railway, existing on a wing and a prayer, or the picture house, or the pubs. Products of two centuries that have themselves become familiar if precarious parts of life.
Lower Mill’s surprises are in its people and buildings. Comers-in have overtaken the natives. Migrants that are not from overseas, but from Huddersfield and its districts. Seekers of the rural idyll. Mature people, most of their work completed. Retired people, gone early, cashing up. And commuters – the users of the roads to Manchester and Rochdale. Women and men. Monied, sophisticated and committed to as much to themselves as to work and community. Balance is their holy grail.
People have to live somewhere. In dwellings of all shapes and sizes and rapidly increasing in number. New, old, patched up, conversions. Single, isolated or clumped together in estates. Clinging to the fellsides. Sprawling along the valley bottom.
People spend money. Small traditional specialist shops and huge shops that sell everything. Ale houses next to cafe bars. Fish and chips one side of the lane, curry, pizza and chow mein on the other. Libraries that lend books and videos.
People work. From home or on the road, in banks and offices, and in groups of small businesses that provide modern goods and services. Luxuries. Electric marvels. Information. All manner of things that help us do things quicker and better. All manner of things that shape our spare time.
Yet there are games, ancient and modern, that do not require state of the art technology. Their foundations are in basic human attributes. How well can you kick a ball? How well can you hit a ball with a stick? Can you fight? Ways of coming together, for fun and for matching yourself against others. And when the joints creak and the muscles sag, there’s music – Lower Mill Male Voice Choir, a haven for men who wish to be creative and to belong. Singing can be coached so it’s personal commitment that’s needed. And those who wish to transfer the skills of their day job to choir management can do so. And others who don’t, don’t.