The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Sgt John Willie Ormsby.
Sgt John Willie Ormsby.

THIS week I celebrated my 77th birthday and I am proud to say that for every single one of those years I have lived in Dewsbury.

Growing up in Dewsbury has always been a great source of pride to me and although of late my hometown has gone through some difficult times, I have never lost faith in it.

Betty Boothroyd.

Betty Boothroyd.

When I was a child it was the premier town of the Heavy Woollen District and I believe it could soon be picking up that title again. The people I grew up with loved Dewsbury, and their sense of loyalty and community spirit rubbed off on me.

They always strove to be the best, weaving the best cloth in the mills, building the best churches and sending their bravest of soldiers to war – two were awarded the Victoria Cross, Sgt John Willie Ormsby and Pte Horace Waller.

Dewsbury people loved the people they had grown up with, and whenever one of them achieved great things, the whole town turned out to celebrate.

Thousands lined the streets when Sgt Ormsby returned from World War One with the Victoria Cross, and a similar crowd turned out to welcome Eileen Fenton after her famous channel swim.

Sir Owen Richardson

Sir Owen Richardson

And, in 1973, when the Dewsbury rugby team returned with the Rugby League Championship Cup, thousands once again turned out to cheer them.

There have been lots of golden moments in Dewsbury’s history and it was no wonder I grew up thinking Dewsbury was the centre of the universe and the people in it the greatest.

When I became a journalist on my local paper I made sure that these golden moments would always be remembered and I set about researching the lives of others born before my time.

I wrote a supplement about them and created a “Dewsbury Greats” exhibition in 1992, and next week – Friday, August 3 – it will be on show in Thornhill Parish Church starting at 7pm.

Professor Tom Kilburn.

Professor Tom Kilburn.

I have been invited to open it, and Eileen Fenton will also be present. It is hoped a film of her famous channel swim will also be shown.

Here is a preview of some of the people depicted in the Dewsbury Greats exhibition:

Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt: One of England’s most outstanding physicians who invented the first clinical thermometer. He was a world authority in the treatment of heart disease and tuberculosis, and was born in the Vicarage of Dewsbury Parish Church where his father was vicar.

Sir Owen Richardson: Dewsbury’s most illustrious son who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. He discovered a law in physics which still bears his name – “Richardson’s Law”. He was born in Dewsbury Moor.

TV presenter Eddie Waring

TV presenter Eddie Waring

Professor Tom Kilburn: A brilliant mathematician and computer genius who created the world’s first stored programme computer.

He was born in Earlsheaton.

Eddie Waring: Television star and sports commentator who took the Northern game of Rugby League to millions. He was Mr Rugby League, born in Eastborough.

Bert Lee: One of Britain’s most prolific and successful songwriters who wrote “Knees up Mother Brown”, was not a cockney as most people believed but a church organist from Ravensthorpe.

Baroness Betty Lockwood: A coal miner’s daughter from Shaw Cross, who championed women’s rights and became the country’s first chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Baroness Betty Boothroyd: She stepped into the history books in 1992 when she became the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons. Born in Eastborough.

Record breaking swimmer Eileen Fenton.

Record breaking swimmer Eileen Fenton.

Tommy Weston: World famous jockey. He had two famous Derby wins and won every classic race in the calendar, winning every one the first time he entered – a rare achievement. Born in Westtown.

Sir Marcus Fox MP: An Eastborough boy knighted for his services to politics. In 1992 was appointed chairman of the powerful 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers. Very well respected by politicians on all sides.

William Morrison: Founder of the Morrison supermarket chain, was born in Chickenley. He started small with grocery stalls on local markets – two of them at Dewsbury.

Mike Stephenson: Dewsbury RL player who secured his place in history when he signed a life contract with an Australian team for a world record transfer fee of £20,000 – a fortune in those days.

He later became a sports commentator on Sky Television.

Although we have many home-grown heroes of our own, there are many famous people who have close connections with Dewsbury, and I have included them in the exhibition.

Here are just a few:

The Bronte family: Patrick Bronte was curate for three years at Dewsbury Parish Church. His daughter Charlotte, taught at Healds House in Dewsbury, where her sisters Anne and Emily, were pupils.

Patrick Stewart: One of the greatest actors this country has produced, although born in Mirfield, his first job was as a trainee journalist at the Dewsbury Reporter, a job which I was to take over when he left to go work at Hudson’s furniture store in Dewsbury, before taking up an acting career.

Rev John Michell: One of the most brilliant scientists of the 18th century, was rector of Thornhill for nearly 30 years. He was also the first scientist to put forward the theory of “black holes” in space, and he invented an apparatus enabling the weight of the earth to be measured.

Greg Rusedski: The famous tennis star, born in Canada, but always proud that his mother was born in Dewsbury.

He said Dewsbury would always have a special place in his heart because his roots were here.

All those mentioned here, and many more, will be depicted at the exhibition, which will also be on display at various times until the end of September.

I hope you can make it.

For further details contact me at