Memories of a real champion of the community

FONDLY REMEMBERED: Roy Butcher, right, with two colleagues.
FONDLY REMEMBERED: Roy Butcher, right, with two colleagues.

Last week I wrote about Harry Laycock, the gentle giant from Thornhill Lees who all the kids hero-worshipped.

A lot of people have contacted me with their memories of him, and one of them remembered that a song had been written about him.

The youngsters used to go round the village singing the song which extolled all Harry’s many virtues.

These stories and anecdotes about local characters give us some idea of the caring society we all grew up in.

They remind us of how neighbours used to be and how they did good deeds for one another without expecting anything in return.

They held out the hand of friendship, not only to those they knew, but also to those they didn’t know.

And although life wasn’t a bed of roses for most people, they at least tried to make their local community as good as possible.

When I think of some of the people I knew who worked hard to improve their local community, I cannot help but think of bus driver Roy Butcher.

Like Harry Laycock, he came from Thornhill Lees, a village he loved and worked hard to improve.

It is more than 30 years since I first met Roy who was campaigning for a community centre for Thornhill Lees and enlisted my help.

Roy was at the heart of everything going on in the village, organising galas and Christmas parties for the kids, and looking after the old people as well.

He was community through and through and everyone who met him saw that straight away.

Sadly, Roy died before the new community centre was built, a centre he had dreamed about and worked so hard for.

But Roy is not forgotten, and no wonder he figures large in the exhibition recently completed about the village of Thornhill Lees, now on show in Dewsbury Museum.

EVERYONE in Thornhill Lees knew Roy Butcher, the happy, joking bus driver, always pleasant, helpful and funny.

His wife Brenda recalls how he had the habit of leaving things on the cooker on a low light and then forgetting all about them.

He once drove his bus back to his home in Centenery Square, Thornhill Lees, because he’d left his sausages under the grill.

Being the joker he was, he brought the charred remains out to show his passengers who were in the bus outside.

Another incident showing the measure of the man was when he helped a family who was moving house from the top of Thornhill.

He let them use the bus to move some of their belongings, and anything that could be lifted went on the bus.

Imagine that happening today with all the health and safety regulations and red tape now being imposed in every area of life.

In those days we ran our own communities and when we saw people going through hard times we helped. People like Roy Butcher were the glue that held communities together.

He was chairman of the tenants’ and residents’ committee and organised a children’s party once a year in the park, and at Christmas he was always Santa Claus.

His widow Brenda recalls that with Roy being a bus driver, time-keeping was everything to him.

With this in mind she donated a sundial in his memory to the Thornhill Lees Senior Citizens’ Social Centre, which Roy always called Sunshine Corner.

The members made a little garden at the side as a memory and sensory garden. They made sure Roy would never be forgotten.

STILL on the subject of Thornhill Lees and local communities, an old friend of mine, Marion Woodhouse, who was born in the village, once wrote some of her memories down for me shortly before she died.

She described herself as “Always a Thornhill Leeser at heart” and the following is what she wrote:

“My childhood memories revolve around the recreation ground, which was really a huge field we all played on. We played football there but we hadn’t any goalposts, just a bundle of clothes laid on the ground.

“The names of the streets with their back-to-back houses were sweet sounding to us - Dale Street, Queen Street, Dunford Street and Berry Square.

“Our ‘open air’ paddling pool was a long tin bath laid on the causeway, and my first experience of an ‘open air’ theatre was in the closet yard.

“We kids in Queen Street rehearsed day after day for our concert and we scrubbed the yard doors, the midden as well, in preparation for opening day.

“You had to pay to come in. It was a safety pin to sit at the front, a straight pin to stand with back up against the wall.

“At interval time we’d buy a ha’penny toffee at Mrs Smith’s house next door to the yard, or a penny lucky bag at the house shop of Mrs Sutheren in Dale Street.

“Every street had a house shop. In Dunford Street there was a shop run by sisters Mary and Agnes Thompson.

“That was the biggest shop because they had two rooms downstairs, but we kids had a shop too - a big flat corner stone at the rec.

“We chopped bricks to powder and sold it in Cherry Blossom shoe polish tins. It took us a whole day to smash the bricks.

“Or again, we could change our shop in a flash into a fish shop. A dock leaf was a fish, bits of grass were chips, and the batter was a bit of muck and water mixed together. We kids paid for our fish and chips with a few pebbles.

“All the kids from different streets fought for that corner stone, and I wonder if Lord Savile had any idea of the treasures he stored up for the children of Thornhill Lees.

“For it was he who bequeathed the field as somewhere for the children to play, and never to be built on.

“Today whenever I see a flat cake in a shop window, I am back where I was born in Dale Street.

“The windowsills used to be filled with flat cakes, put there by our mothers to cool down. It was only on Sundays that you never saw one because the ovens were being used for Yorkshire puddings.

“My memories of Thornhill Lees are endless, and the streets we played on are still remembered by many people.

“I’m still a Thornhill Leeser at heart - it’s only my address that’s new.”