Despite the stifling heat, I decided to make a return trip by train to the market town of Todmorden in west Yorkshire. I hadn’t been to ‘Tod’ for a couple of years as I had started to feel each time I visited that it was slipping into decline, slowly but surely. Nevertheless, I’d been told about a new vegan café called Meow, which was run as a fund-raising venture with all profits going to support cat rescue charities. Off I went with a friend, looking forward to lunch at a kitty cafe.
We passed St Mary’s Parish Church which was built in the 17th century but has been modernised. I don’t normally look at churches unless there is something unusual about them, or a story to tell. My interest was piqued on this occasion by some impressive looking tomb stones positioned near the entrance. The oldest dated from the early 1700s though it was obvious that the ancient sandstone had been cleaned up and the inscriptions re-worked, though staying faithful to the lettering in its simplistic beauty. I read the names of some of the long-since departed of Todmorden including, sadly but inevitably, children.
I am very interested in the history of localities, and the stones bear witness to the longevity of family lines, the same surnames appearing generation after generation (to this day) with sons being gifted their fathers’ Christian names. I was intrigued by some of the places from which the people hailed, such as Honey Hole, which I later discovered was just a stone’s throw from the Church. The world was much smaller then; the town was the centre of the universe, and in hamlet and village all needs were met.
Today, many people make their lives away from the old ties of families and communities, and some of us would even re-define ‘community’ in the 21st century. Certainly, churchyard narratives like these are literally a thing of the past. Will our descendants – if they look for us at all – find us reposing in pay-per-view online data files?
Another point of interest in the churchyard is the footprint which marks the starting point of the Paulinus Pilgrim Way. Saint Paulinus, a Roman monk, arrived in England as a missionary in 601 AD. He was sent north to spread Christianity, becoming Bishop of York and eventually a saint. The pilgrimage which begins at Todmorden Church follows ancient routes through the great north of England and ends in York.
The Church itself is quite ordinary; surprisingly airy and modern inside. The masons of Todmorden, it must be said, loved their work, never using one word when five would do.
A short walk down to Water Street led to disappointment. Despite consulting Google maps, which reliably informed us that Meow café was indeed in that very location, we could not find it. It’s only a short Street and we walked its length twice, but not a whisker of a feline-themed eatery could be seen.Several businesses seemed permanently closed, so we supposed Meow must have been one of them.
Todmorden Library on the left and Town Hall on the right.
We walked back onto Rochdale Road for a salad lunch at Kava vegetarian café, where we enjoyed a view of the Rochdale Canal and spotted a pig watching us watching him.
Kava is under new management, having relocated from a previous spot on nearby Halifax Road. It was a pleasant enough location, but the menu was limited, and the service required a little polish. Hopefully time will remedy that. The town’s former flagship vegetarian restaurant, The Bear, used to be in the old Industrial & Co-Operative building next door to Kava and was my favourite spot for lunch, but I was saddened to see that it had closed.
Fed and watered, we decided to look at the Unitarian Church with its impressive Gothic spire which was just a short walk away, on Honey Hole Road of all places.
Initially, we were confused, as the building we first encountered bore a sign which identified it as the Unitarian Church, yet it seemed very homely. A gorgeous tortoiseshell cat sat grooming herself on the door step before sashaying happily in our direction to receive compliments and petting.
Becoming convinced that this was a private residence which was affiliated with the Church, we decided to stop our gawping and photo-taking and walk up the incline in the direction of the spire. A wonderful Church came into view, but this was marred by the less attractive view of two half-naked men on the ground, swigging from cans. One of them raised his hand in a drunken toast; we made a hasty retreat. It is an oft-mooted topic, how the British are quick to disrobe in public at the appearance of sunshine. It doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else. I bet Honey Hole didn’t see sights like that in Reubin Haigh’s day!
I later researched the Church and discovered that it is still in use for services and ceremonies and is also a centre for social and arts events. It looks quite stunning inside, so I suspect I will be back to try my luck again. I also found out that the private residence in the grounds is the former Church lodge.
A walk around town led us past the RSPCA charity shop, beautifully painted by a local artist.
Next, we looked in at a community garden space which used to be a haven for bees. The parched vegetation and absence of pollen-rich flowers had, unsurprisingly, failed to attract insect visitors. The only inhabitants were more partially clothed and partially intoxicated people.
The saddest sight of the day was a discarded bicycle which had been left to rust in the water where ducks could easily have become stuck in its spokes.
Back at the Station, we had a fantastic view of Stoodley Pike looking down on the town.
!!! Epilogue: Meow Café is, I am pleased to report, open for business and offering delicious food Thursday to Sunday somewhere “just off” Water Street.