Frivolous Monsters

The Last Days of the Bath – Part 05

WARNING: This post contains content that should not be viewed by persons with a delicate nature or those with a nervous disposition.  Rochdale Town Hall 2

DAY 09: Last week I travelled to Rochdale in search of Hitler and ended up buttonholing officials in the museum and town hall about the myth of how a young Adolf visited the area, had his head turned by the architecture of the latter, and earmarked it for further Nazi use after the invasion. They wouldn’t allow me in to have a nosey around the impressive building but helpfully pointed out that they did run guided tours on the last Friday of the month… And so I returned.

As with the weather earlier in the week it was still unseasonably hot for the end of September and this time I had the wherewithal to leave my big coat at home and instead take the peaked hat my Mum got me from Colditz to help with the sun. Having worked out that I’m joined to Rochdale by the River Roch I claimed that if I ever did return I’d just jump in a barrel and float downstream. As it was I just got the bus.

The quick hop into Bury turned up a confrontation with the quiet mumble of the dignified foreigner pitted against the might of the northern driver in full flow: “What road… I haven’t a clue mate… Oldham? What bus do you think you’re on? No wonder I’ve never heard of whatever road… That’s bloody miles away.” The driver explained he had to get a bus to Rochdale before another onto his destination. I thought about telling the old gent about the barrel, but sometimes it’s just best to keep your thoughts to yourself.

Popping to the usual Pound Bakery for lunch it turned out I was too early as they’d left anything vegetarian until last on the production line. Remembering there was another shop outside I was thus fortunate to arrive on the high street and find an old man dancing around – ballroom style – to the them tune to The Sound of Music. It’s great how such events can get break down the barriers between strangers and as the pensioner waltzed about with his eyes closed, with the faded memory of a partner long since lost, people exchanged smiles, the staff at the Halifax bank were gleefully waving each other out of the door to come see, and I overheard a man stop a traffic warden and say: “It’s creepy that one… Creepy.Man Dancing 01 I sat around on a bench eating my cheese baguette, loitering just to get a photo of the ghostly waltzing man who was having a rest, feeling the pressure – self-inflicted by foolishly starting to diarise this fortnight of enforced culture and homelessness – that maybe one day I’d go out and literally nothing would happen. Nothing. But as the man started up again, breaking out freak-syle into the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a Nun and a giant Womble came past collecting for charity and I realised it was going to be one of those days. Man Dancing 02 The journey to Rochdale on the top deck of a double decker is a parade of interesting-looking pubs, mostly derelict, with names such as The Brick House, The Three Terriers, The Wishing Well, and The Tanners whilst at the back I overheard shell-suited youths discussing the weather when he suggested to her that: “It’s like a Summer’s day.
Like Summer holidays…” she added wistfully.
This caused him to reiterate: “Yeah, but it’s like a Summer’s day.
Well, it is summer,”  she said pointing out what she thought was the obvious.
No, not really, it’s Autumn.
Well,” she finally settled on “it is very sunny”, and thus completely misunderstood the art of the simile.

I had considered going somewhere else in the morning, as the town hall tour wasn’t until the afternoon, but with all the effort in returning to Rochdale I was worried that if I got there too late the tour would be sold out. As soon as I arrived I stormed out the bus station, all the way across town, to the reception desk demanding to know if there were any tickets left. They just told me to come back in the afternoon, that I could buy my ticket then, and that the tour doesn’t just “sell out”. All three comments which left me feeling both pretty foolish and with about three hours to kill.

Ambling around Rochdale I discovered I’d missed half of it on my previous visit as it’s all hidden away with a high street that just keeps on folding itself out as you go up a concealed hill. In amongst all the shops I kept spotting signposts for the Pioneer’s Museum which started ringing a bell as I seemed to remember that my friend made an animated short film for them about the history of the Co-op movement.

I found the museum on a preserved corner of ancient Rochdale which contained the old Baum pub, an old woollen warehouse that was the birthplace of the Co-op movement, and the St-Mary-in-the-Baum church set aloft on a grassy mound where some trendy college girls were hanging out. A helpful information board gave details on all the old buildings and set against the dry historical facts it included the bombshell: “The churchyard is said to be haunted by the ghostly white ‘Baum Rabbit’.

Now living in Britain I’ve heard of my fair share of fabled ghosts, from grey ladies to headless horsemen, but it seemed the best folklore Rochdale could muster munched carrots during its lifetime although, since its passing with the bubonic plague in the fourteenth century, I imagine tales have been somewhat elevated with reports on the local news about the spectre carrying away household pets and perhaps claiming the odd small child. The only similarity in popular culture I could recall was the Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) which the knights eventually had to finish it off with the holy hand grenade.White Rabbit

tumblr_mqkqujRH7d1swumkto1_500 I’ve seen enough Arthur C. Clarke programmes to know of strange ghostly images appearing on photographs, after they’ve been developed, and so for good measure I went around and papped the churchyard even though there was really nothing to see. I took them around the back of the church, and around the side, but I didn’t chance my arm around the front as if there’s one thing more dangerous than having your throat torn out by phantom Bugs Bunny then I imagine it’s being caught accidentally taking pictures of rampant college girls.RochThe nearby Rochdale Pioneers museum charts the formation and the rise of the international Co-operative movement which went from a group of individuals coming together to buy goods in bulk, and sharing out the profits, to handing out free cupcakes in Manchester earlier in the week. I imagine this is something of a comedown from their lofty origins. I ascertained that my friend’s film wasn’t on show after I’d been around and when I got to the girl on reception there was one question, and one question only, that I had for the: “Tell me about this rabbit. Has there been any recent sightings? Are there any photos?

With the rest of my time I just wanted to grab a coffee and sit on the grass opposite the town hall waiting for the tour to start. Coffee has been my constant friend throughout this fortnight and so it came as something of a shock when it dawned on me that Rochdale doesn’t have a coffee shop. Not a single one. I staggered around in disbelief looking for someone carrying some sort of hot beverage, but it was like living in the last days of Al Capone as the town was obviously dry.

As I stumbled about like an gasping Englishman in a desert two girls stopped me outside The Regal Moon pub and asked me to take their picture, the way people do, and as a parting shot I asked them if they had a coffee shop. They simultaneously gave me conflicting directions with the only bit I picked up was to go “down the twitch”. I eventually gave up and entered a café which it’d passed several times and after they assured me that they did do takeaway the girls behind the counter began the arduous process of writing down “one cup of coffee” on paper, inputting this order into a till, and then struggling to assemble the coffee machine as if it were new technology.

With the coffee keeping me going I eventually made the tour with thirteen other “grey pound” visitors on what was the town hall’s 142nd birthday. I was keen to grill the guide on the Hitler story and where it came from but I bided my time as he began talking you through the entrance hall Minton tiles.

One of the highlights was the massive organ in the great hall with demonstrations of tunes from around the World which the bells in the original tower used to ring all day every day. Fortunately for the crazed residents – so the official version goes – they just happened to “discover” that the new tower had dry rot and so it was with little surprise when it somehow caught fire and completely burned itself down. When they rebuilt it everyone agreed to just put in some normal chiming bells instead. They must have met with local approval as they’ve survived to this day. Gold Lions The subject of the Hitler story was raised by someone else on the balcony with the four gold lions. The guide ran through the rumours that Hitler planned to ship the building home brick by brick, or maybe just wanted the stained glass windows and, he added, “I only heard last week the one about him ordering the Luftwaffe to avoid it on their bombing runs…” And I thought: that was me! That was me last week haranguing the staff on the desk putting this to them. I’m adding to the myth and muddying the waters. Apparently Rochdale are starting a research programme to investigate the whole story.

At the end of the tour, in the Mayor’s pantry, the guide asked everyone why they’d come on the tour with most people mentioning the local building which they’d never been in, but I had just two words for him, because I was there because of Adolf Hitler. Now that may sound bad, but then as I stood there towering over six foot tall with my blonde hair and my blue eyes then to the casual observer I could’ve been considered every inch the image of the Arian race reborn. What made matters worse was the fact that I was standing there in my green military German peaked cap that I just happened to be wearing.

I previously said that I was aware that Rochdale was “someplace, over there, somewhere”, but as it turned out it’s not over there, but over there, and not downstream but up. So I could’ve just floated home in a barrel, but then I was hardly going to bring it all that way on the bus, was I? When I did get back I checked out the photos and the graveyard ones were all empty, although upon close inspection one did contain a small white blur, possibly the effect of the sun, but zooming in you can clearly see a face… four feet… a big floppy ear… This was the part of the churchyard I didn’t pass, telling myself it was because of college girls on the other side, but was it instead perhaps some part of my reptile brain telling me to keep clear because of the ghostly white Baum Rabbit that was sat there right in front of me?  The Baum Rabbit


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27 thoughts on “The Last Days of the Bath – Part 05

  1. And if you’d like to see my friend’s animated short film about the history of the Co-operative movement, which was made for the Rochdale Pioneer’s museum, then you can view it here:

  2. The ghostly rabbit. I’ve heard of the Shucks-black dogs with glowing red eyes said to be a portent of death. But somehow I can’t see a rabbit keeping the kids up at night. 🙂

    • You are right. And despite what I alluded to above I’ve not seen any reports of it terrorising anyone, and getting hard facts on the Baum Rabbit is tricky too. After taking these photos I went into the museum just opposite and eventually asked if there were any photos. Apparently not. There are now.

  3. I have to say I do admire your ability to get the most out of a day out.

  4. Evocative glimpse into a town I’ve never set foot in, and know mostly because Big Cyril was MP there for a number of years, but given your evident vegetarian leanings (I’ve been thus afflicted for three decades or so!), I’m curious to know how much Greggs charge for a cheese and onion pasty in Lancashire; I usually pay £1.25 for one, in both London and Hampshire, but noticed that when I was in Darlington last month it was significantly cheaper, just over a quid I think it was, and I wonder what the going rate is in Lancashire ;)…

    • Over the past three weeks this has been going on I’ve come to rely on the Pound Bakery which is like a cheaper version of Greggs. And I’ve only bought one pasty (from somewhere) in that time, out of desperation, but not sure where, and not sure of the price. I shall look into one at a later date and find out for you. I think it’s a pound, but I’ll see.

      And yes Cyril Smith was my only point of reference with Rochdale for a good while. I saw no reference made to him anywhere. The Mayor, on the other hand, has a signed picture of the Queen, a bigger portrait of Gracie Fields, and a statue of Gracie Fields. Some local heroes do not fade.

      If you ever visit Rochdale, though, then look out for the Baum Rabbit!

      • Well given the recent revelations about his sexual preferences I would think they have erased every reference to Cyril from the town and pretend that it never happened!

      • Yes but it makes you wonder what I missed? Were there public statues of him everywhere before? Is the whole town just plastering over the cracks now and whitewashing their history…

    • I have researched this for you now. I was passing through Bolton last week, in desperate need of something to keep me going (it turned out I was coming down with a big illness and not suffering from tiredness as I believed), and so I thought I’d get such a pasty and answer your query. However I couldn’t find a Greggs, and needed a hurry to catch the connecting public transport, so ended up only finding another Pound Bakery where I was staggered to discover cheese and onion pasties were two for a pound. They were the last thing I ate for the next three days.

      My first trip out since this, a week later, was to go to Bury Light Night. As I was wandering I came across a Greggs so popped in – just looking, not buying – and can now enlighten you that in Bury a cheese and onion pasty is £1.05.

      • Okay, thanks for doing the research (and I’m sorry to hear about your bout of illness, which I trust you’ve now fully recovered from). The price I paid in Darlington may also have been £1.05, but I’ve forgotten the precise amount. Sounds like we could do with some of those Pound Bakeries down South; we’ve got plenty of Pound Shops, but, alas, they don’t sell cheese and onion pasties ;)…

  5. Like your friends video. I never knew the history of the co-op properly. Inspires me to shop there more often. I used to love the smell of the Co-op on the corner of the street when I was a little girl. Sort of mixture of cheese, bacon, vegetables, (non of which were pre packaged in those days) and the sawdust they had on the floor. I also love her accent. I wonder if I sound like that.

    Interesting day out..and I’m impressed with your photographic skills. That picture is probably worth a fortune!!!!!! Like those young girls who met fairies at the bottom of their garden.

    Never heard of the Baum Rabbit before, had to google it. It’s a Rochdale thing but now I can use it on my grandchildren. heheheh!

    Love Denise

    • Photography skills, but as someone else pointed out: not necessarily my drawing skills. She was a zoologist though. As I wanted to believe – I went looking for a rabbit and found one – I asked some people to look at the white blur on its own, with no back story, and asked them what they thought it looked like. Out of seven people – I didn’t get serious answers from all – one of them said it looked like a rabbit!

      I looked on the internet and could find no pictures, so I am impressed!

      Yes this is my Cottingley Fairies so where’s my free Kodak camera? And where’s Conan Doyle to investigate? I must add that I didn’t cut this rabbit out of cardboard and stand it up with a hatpin though.

  6. Top post FM. I had forgotten about the killer rabbit. I think I am going to have to reblog this.

    • You mean the Monty Python one, or the Rochdale one (which legally speaking hasn’t killed anyone despite what I may have inferred) because I imagine Rochdale is a little out of your area of travel!

      This post is very long, and I did wonder, but I as it took so long considering and writing I thought it supported the length. I eventually missed off another sideways reference to another hat that looked a bit dodgy when I ended up (through desperation with the sun and no other hat) touring around Anglesey in a Banque Nationale Paribas hat I’d been given by a departing housemate who had studied French. Unfortunate acronym that.

  7. Pingback: A Great Read From Frivolous Monsters | IsobelandCat's Blog

  8. In my apartment (flat), I have a picture of me with the Adolf Hitler figure from Madame Tussaud’s. I also look very Aryan, much to my chagrin (I always wanted to be an exotic beauty with dark hair, but alas). The picture, which is supposed to be a joke, has caused me a few problems. The worst of which was explaining to a Russian handyman that it was a joke, after he told me about how Stalin had killed his entire village. He said he knew some people could still find humor in the images of Hitler or Stalin, but he wasn’t one of them. All I could think to say (several times, with less conviction each time) was that it was meant as a joke.

    You know, we don’t have a lot of ghost stories here in the US. Humans haven’t lived in the same places for long enough, I expect. We don’t even have many tales of human ghosts. We get urban legends about men with hooks for hands, or houses that are possessed with poltergeists, etc., but I have certainly never heard of an animal ghost story. That being said, when I was 10, my best friend and I both saw a ghost of a mountain lion/panther in my backyard. Now that I’m a Harry Potter fan, I’m wondering if it was a patronus and I just didn’t know. The bunny could be a patronus as well, now that I think of it.

    • Sorry about the delay, but I’ve been really ill for the past week. As people may have noticed I do have a fascination with Hitler, on many levels. Nothing wrong with that and I believe the Nazis are one of Nature’s clowns as you can laugh at them as much as you want and no-one is every going to suggest you’re being a bit harsh. Although like you say it’s not funny to all. And it was with the Chaplin film ‘The Great Dictator’ that people realised it was OK to laugh at Hitler, and after that they never stopped.

      It is true that most castles and stately homes are where the tales of ghosts are told. Not sure if that’s just because visitors need stories. However there’s some “haunted” hotel in Durham, a really posh one, where the national Australian cricket team was staying. Some were so disturbed that they fled in the night.

      I cannot comment on any Harry Potter relation though. I was so disturbed by the second film when, through having seen the trailer, I worked out everything in the plot in the cinema. I gave up there.

  9. Was the rabbit eventually made into a hat? Perhaps you can tell, I’ve just read the ‘bath’ posts all in one go!

    • Blimey, and I thought one of these posts was too much for readers on their own. You’ve just read nearly 7000 words in one go. That’s going some. There long fortnight of enforced travel is now long over, but I’ve been ill for a good weeks after that, so they final couple of days are still to come. I’m hoping to squeeze it into one post, to inflict less on unfortunate readers, but you know how things are. There’s (about) five museums, one cathedral, and unfortunate incident in a canal to come.

      Trying to find real background to the Baum Rabbit story is hard work. I found one page on the internet but I’m not sure if it’s fanciful fiction as I can’t imagine where they got it from. So I don’t know why he/she (going off that picture I’m imagining a he) died or what happened.

      And absolutely no paranormal hunters have so far picked up on my exclusive. I’m quite disappointed!

      • It’s amazing how much blog reading I do when I’m supposed to be working!
        I hope the unfortunate incident in the canal did not involve the barrel intended for use when commuting via the Roch and was not the cause of the subsequent illness. Whatever, I had an unfortunate week on the Canal du Midi earlier in the year, so I know I’m going to sympathise.

    • How I got ill I do not know. It was bad that it came on during the day after a long commute to a wedding (3 buses) in a quite remote spot and I had to walk out during the soup! Pretty shaming.

      I will warn you know that the canal moment is not pleasent. I’ve already agreed (with myself) to miss out the most disturbing detail of it for people reading!

  10. Aw we used to have a chap who danced in town. He was a street drinker called ‘Dublin Dennis’. We weren’t allowed to serve him in the pub. He did once come in on a busy Saturday night, push to the front of the bar and pulled a bottle of sherry from his jacket, then danced away into the night.

    Hope you are feeling better now!

    • Yes I am better now thanks, and putting in the effort to finish off this blog tale of two and a half weeks of enforced culture. I local a local legend, or a local nutter.

      In the middle of Manchester you’ve always had “street dancers” putting on performances and I think one of them ended up on Britain’s Got Talent, for their sins, but they’ve always been kids. This guy stuck out because he was an older gent, in Bury, and, as apposed to Dublin Dennis, I’m pretty sure he was sober. He did put in effort as he brought his own music! Never seen him before or since, but I’m glad I did, and had the camera to prove it. It must have taken a lot of balls to do this!

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