This is a story by Soo about coming from "The Big Smoke" to live in a small northern town.
I moved to Ossett almost 40 years ago. It wasn’t intentional; I’d been working abroad for a few years and needed a job in order to be allowed to “import” my foreign husband. Teaching posts in my particular speciality were not all that plentiful, and this is where I ended up!
Having grown up post war in London’s Outer Suburbia, a sprawling, anonymous mass of houses, small shops and more houses, I was really looking forward to living in a “proper town”, with its own facilities, a proud sense of identity and a border. I was not disappointed. Ossett was lovely from the outset. The people were friendly and welcoming, a good mix of those whose families had lived here for generations and in-comers like myself. All the “essentials” were within walking distance, and, should one feel the need to venture further, there were good bus services to Leeds and Wakefield, and not one but two motorways only minutes away.
I remember being struck by just how many “watering holes” there were – so much so that I resorted to Yellow Pages and counted over 30 of them! Directions to anyone’s house seemed to include a pub as a point of reference. (We lived half a pint from the bar of the Cricket Club, if the evidence left on our front wall was to be trusted!) Then there were several well-maintained parks, a wide variety of shops, good schools, doctors, dentists, FREE car parks (those were the days!), our own Fire Station and Police Station…… Noticeable by its absence was, and still is, a swimming pool. Every town worth its salt needs something to complain about, and the lack of a swimming pool is Ossett’s pet grouse. That’s the price you pay for living in Wakefield’s Wild West.
40 years on, and I see Ossett as my home. After all, I’ve lived here much longer than all the other places I’ve ever lived in added together. I still love the place and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Wake up, Ossett, the writing’s on the wall! Comparing today’s Ossett with the one I moved to all those years ago is a bit like reading that Thomas Hood poem “November”
No Gas shop, no Electricity shop, no public refuse site, no Sorting Office, no Fire Station, no municipal golf (until earlier this year we had a lovely little 9 hole course), no free car parks and soon, possibly, no Post Office (You get the idea?)
The Police Station was reincarnated in a lovely new building, but doesn’t welcome public access. Lots of the pubs have gone, as have some of the banks, building societies and specialist shops. The market is a shadow of its former self. The library’s on a life support machine with the Council’s hand hovering over the off switch. The Town Hall is drastically under-used, having priced itself out of the reach of the smaller local societies, despite its peeling plasterwork.
These are, of course, the externals. Ossett has still got its soul, and community spirit is still strong. Various groups are determined to keep “Building Ossett Better” by organising various unifying events as do the Town Centre Partnership and the Civic Trust. The brand-new Health Village offers lots more than just somewhere to see the doctor. The Library continues to offer most of its services from its temporary refuge in the Town Hall and has even started up some new groups.
We will bounce back, we will survive. Hopefully, this take on Shelley’s “Ozymandias” seen through the eyes of a traveller in the future, will remain a nightmare of fiction…..
I met a traveller from another land
Who said: Two vast and empty banks of stone
Stand in the Precinct. Near them close at hand,
Half used, a battered Town Hall lies, whose tower
And balustrades and sneer of past command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The folk who flocked there and the heart that fed.
Graffitied on a wall these words appear:
“My name is Ossett, once I was King of Towns:
Look on my fate, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that once thriving hub, soulless and bare,
The empty, pot-holed streets stretch far away.