Todmorden U3A: Town Hall, Cotton, Quizzes and Daftness

Alan Fowler with Ernie Rogan, Chairman of Todmorden U3A
Alan Fowler with Ernie Rogan, Chairman of Todmorden U3A

Todmorden U3A’s last two monthly meetings have offered members not only the Chairman’s and Vice Chairman’s welcoming good humour and well tempered enthusiasm, but also several presentations that have been both interestingly informative and entertainingly engaging.

In November, Daniel Jessop, the Events Coordinator at the Todmorden Town Hall, gave us a run down on the activities of the Volunteer Guides during 2016. During this time, they have researched the history of the Town Hall and Dr Emma Stafford has co-ordinated their findings together with her own researches to produce the new Town Hall Guidebook (only £4.95 and, in this writer’s opinion, very readable).

John Wallis with Ernie Rogan. Chairman of Todmorden U3A

John Wallis with Ernie Rogan. Chairman of Todmorden U3A

For anyone curious about the medallions adorning the main hall or who has stood outside the Fielden’s edifice wondering how to describe its architectural features, this is the book for you. See if you can spot Agriculture and a pulvinated frieze.

At the same meeting, Alan Fowler, convenor of our Social History group, gave a splendidly knowledgeable talk about the cartoons drawn by Sam Fitton for The Cotton Factory Times during World War 1. The cartoons reflected the concerns of citizens in the cotton towns of the north, including Todmorden, at a time of national and local upheaval, during which shortages of both food and cotton made life particularly difficult.

As always, humour was the best medicine.

Alan’s talk was like that of a good art historian considering a painting: what do you see, why’s it there and what does it tell us? Why is that Tommy cutting into a small pie labelled ‘Quack Quack’? – because it is a ‘savoury duck’, Lancashire’s euphemism for a pie filled with offal, signifying that at Christmas 1914 times were already hard.

Why is a shell labelled ‘Kultur’ depicted landing in that same Tommy’s Christmas ‘Goodwill’ pudding? – because it represents German attempts to destroy British morale, a message delivered in the cartoonist’s own verses:

Kultur, vile and unbefitting,

Our goodwill is bent on splitting.’

Therefore, urges Mr Fitton, make merry while you can in spite of everything because ‘When you die, you’re a long time dead.’ Wise words, indeed!

Two other cartoons caught my eye in particular. The first, for October 13th, 1916, depicts an armoured vehicle of idiosyncratic design, somewhere between a steam train and a robot dinosaur, firing shot, bullets and shells and powered apparently by the skinny chainmail-clad legs of Santa’s spiky-shod elves, in the act of literally shunting and kicking the Kaiser out of the picture.

Alan explained that the cartoon was intended as a morale-booster as the Battle of the Somme dragged on.

Many cartoons commented on the hardships faced by the cotton industry and its workers, focusing, for example, on the U boats that starved Britain of its raw materials or on ‘Hun-like’ managers who bullied their workforce.

But the last cartoon of all, on November 15th 1918, on the front page of the paper, depicts the dead, scrawny imperial eagle of Germany, stuck with a Jolly Roger, lying on a wasteland – except that, as Alan pointed out, in the background the mill chimneys are smoking again. Work has returned; peace is restored; normality is possible.

This was a hugely interesting talk, and I’m sorry I have not been able to write it up at greater length. More information is available at

Our December meeting, attended by Todmorden’s Mayor, Cllr. Tony Greenwood, and his Lady Mayoress, was also humour-based, but rather than being satirical, it was full of daftness and the merriment of a quiz. Myrna Beet, our Quiz Group convenor, and her team had put together an excellent set of questions, allowing us to group up with people we did not know and see if we were any good at recognising faces, working out Christmas abbreviations, identifying Christmas songs and their singers, thinking laterally with Dingbats and literally outside the box.

Then John Wallis, Meistersinger of Halifax, Master of the mandola, ukulele and banjo, and Supremo of the Yorkshire Joke, entertained us magnificently with his mixture of the history of Music Hall and Variety, popular songs and daft humour.

Music Hall originated in the East End of London in the 1780 when men-only ‘Harmonic Meetings’ took place in tap rooms. Soon a better class of person adopted the same practice in more salubrious premises which they styled ‘Song and Supper Rooms’. In the course of time, these clubs were opened to ladies and all-comers.

Charles Morton of The Canterbury Arms in Lambeth then invested heavily in building an extension to his pub, calling it his music hall, and the rest is history. As places of popular entertainment and glamour, eventually employing out-of-season circus and ballet performers, music halls developed beyond their original song-based remit and so Variety was born until it was killed off in the late 1950s by the advent of television.

John treated us to several songs, ‘Boiled Beef and Carrots’ and ‘Leaning on a Lamp Post’ among others, and we learned about George Formby’s fingering technique.

But most of all, I suspect, we enjoyed the daft jokes of bewilderment which included Jack who washed his feet once a year, a boy called Pancake, a youth with the soubriquet Ken Tuckyfriedchicken, two pound of kilos, a Holmfirth man with £75,000 in a sack, and a brainless pig’s head. How good to finish the year with a good old laugh!

Our next meeting will be held on Thursday, 19 January in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45 when our speaker will be Alan Pugh whose subject will be ‘Dei Goes to War’. Our contact details are (website), (email), or (phone) 01706 812015.