Cross Hills, North Yorkshire has plenty to trumpet about

Cross Hills is a small place with a big personality as Emma Mayoh discovers

It is not known whether Hannibal had an audience when he crossed the Alps with his elephants but when the Bostock and Wombwell travelling menagerie did something similar in North Yorkshire, local children were given time off school to watch them stomp past.

The elephants which came through Cross Hills in 1920 were just one of the attractions in a parade which also included lions, tigers, hyenas, monkeys and a lazy sea lion called Bonzo.A chat with Peter Whitaker over the counter of the grocery store that has been in his family for 125 years yields plenty of facts like these.

If there is something Peter doesn’t know about Cross Hills then it’s probably not worth knowing. The 58-year-old has devoted more than 30 years to collecting old photographs and researching the history of the Craven district, including this former textile village.

‘It’s important that people in the future will be able to see what places like Cross Hills were like,’ said Peter, the author of three local history books. ‘Bostock and Wombwell had animals from all over the world and they set up on the fields that are now one of the football pitches at South Craven School in the village.’

Peter, who has spent all of his life in Cross Hills, is also a part of the village’s history. More than 40 years ago he started at the family business, G E Thornton & Sons, a greengrocer set up by his great grandfather George in 1884. Some of the many photographs Peter has collected decorate the walls.

Peter, who is also a member of the Haworth Home Guard re-enactment group, said: ‘My grandfather offered the business to my father when he married my mum and I started working here when I was 17, straight out of school. It was a very different shop then. We were a traditional greengrocers selling everything from candles to tapers and now we offer home cooked hams, our home-made sausages and my wife’s home made cakes and other foods you can’t get anywhere else.

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‘We’ve been a huge part of this community which is something I really like. I think we’re the longest running family business in Yorkshire that is still in the same premises. I’ll probably be proved wrong but I think we are. But I just love this village and all the local history fascinates me.’

Cross Hills has grown a lot since its early days. The town was once dominated by workers at local textile and wool mills and both here and neighbouring Glusburn would have once been very separate villages. In recent years however, as more and more people have moved to the area, the two places have met in the middle.

Today, it is a bustling centre with a busy shopping street that has attracted droves of commuters. The village was also the childhood home to British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, the talent behind Slumdog Millionnaire and The Full Monty. His parents still live there as does another local celebrity Peter Armitage, who plays Bill Webster in Coronation Street.

The Old White Bear pub has served as everything from a hotel, council meeting chamber, court room and dance hall. It has also been a welcoming place for some of the village’s many character including a William Shuttleworth, a clogger who used bible backs for his clog soles. But one of its alleged former uses hints to a seedier past.

‘I’ve been told it used to be a whore house but of course we don’t put that on our leaflets,’ said owner Neil Pickles. ‘I’ve learned about all kinds of fascinating stories from the locals who have been coming in here for years.

‘It’s a place that I really enjoy being in. I grew up in a house just over the road but moved away when I was 17. To be back here in Cross Hills is fantastic. There are locals who come in who remember me from when I used to play out on my bike when I was little.’

Former banker Neil and brother Mark bought the pub three years ago from the Naylor brothers who used to run the pub and have their own brewery. The Old White Bear still sells Naylor’s beers, including the Pinnacle range named after the landmark that overlooks the village. It’s still supplied by the brothers who now run the brewery just a few minutes away.Two other people who have played a huge role in the local community are Margaret and Roger Nicholson. The married couple both serve on the parish council and have between them served on the local district and county councils.

The couple have helped local residents campaign to keep local services, including an allotment provision, and are currently working on a new local parish plan. They were also instrumental in the organising of a local bonfire and the popular Cross Hills Gala. They moved to Cross Hills from Dewsbury in 1972 and have since lived in both Turkey and Finland because of Roger’s career in the textile industry. But Roger said: ‘When the opportunity came to move back, that’s what we wanted to do. There is such a friendly community here and Cross Hills has an awful lot going on and a lot going for it.

‘This place has been a huge part of our life. Our children have grown up here, we have lived here for a long time and we love it. It’s a fantastic community to be a part of.’

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