Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

10th July 2014

COTE DE JENKIN

From the age of eleven until I left home at eighteen, I walked up Jenkin Road every Friday evening to have a bath at Auntie Grace’s house in Shiregreen.  She had a council house with a bathroom on The Flower Estate where some optimistic council wag had named all the roads after flowers. To me it was the height of ‘posh’.  I was born at the 'wrong' side of the hill, a few yards from the bottom of Jenkin Road in Brightside (another oxymoron), in a tiny terrace house which, like most of the houses round it, had no indoor toilet facilities. We shared an outside lavatory with Harry Jay, our tram driver neighbour who played the tuba in the Sheffield transport brass band.  Mrs Jay made him practice in the lav so we all got a share of the Oompahs which resounded across the yard. To me all this was absolutely normal.

I had no idea of course how famous this hill would become.  Nobody round there had ever heard of the Tour de France.  In this pre- telly world, a few had never even heard of France!  None of my friends’ fathers or neighbours had been called up in the war because they all worked in the steel works like my dad or down the coal mines so were exempt.

Now Jenkin Road is known throughout the world.  Maybe that Roman Ridge it climbs may become a world heritage site – or perhaps not!

I walked Jenkin Road again last Sunday with my granddaughter and an appropriate feeling of déjà vu.  My most vivid recollection was not the steepness of the climb but the terrifying dark.  Once I had passed the recreation ground and then the road by the church on the left that led to my dad’s allotment, I reached the steepest part where there were no more houses or street lamps just blackness, waste ground, and menacing trees and bushes.   This hillside is now full of new houses which cling on precariously. Health and Safety these days requires a handrail at the steepest 33% incline. There was no handrail for me.

The other striking difference today is the clarity of the air and view from the top. The mass of steelworks in the Don Valley below are now either gone or tamed. That view was once a mass of chimneys belching out black smoke and chemicals which laddered my nylons and prickled my legs.

The worst bit was the return because it was always dark by then.  Clean and glowing, I would walk up to the summit lingering outside the only house* whose lights were lit in their front room, the curtains not drawn.  There were shelves of books inside. We and other people only used our front rooms a few times a year for special occasions and books were an unneccessary luxury.  This house was wanton in its extravagance. I would stand for a while, invisible against the dark and  stare in the window hoping to imbibe the atmosphere, the brightness, the learning - putting off my plunge into blackness and my panic driven skittering down to the lights of Brightside and the warmth and safety of our little cosy house.

*I tried to find out who lived in that desirable book house and was told it belonged to Mrs Hattersley (mother of Roy and Mayor of the People’s Republic of Sheffield) but I asked Roy  Hattersley recentlyif he'd ever lived on Jenkin Road but  he assured me he hadn’t. It was an urban myth so the enlightened owners of that house still remain a mystery to me.

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