The Ghost of Ribblesdale Place, Preston

Where are they gone
who lived in the street where I was born?
After the vans moved out
developers, accountants, insurance brokers
moved in with fresh paint
and prosperous copper name-plates.
No flowers or face at the windows.

The houses are still the same; fronts to the street,
gardened backs sloping to park and river.
But where are the two Miss Horrocks' (1)
wearing lavender on a tidy lawn,
white-haired admiring hollyhocks?
And the jolly Miller sisters (2), privet-screened,
spilling Jokes across a crochet tablecloth?
And childless Mrs. Riddeall bidding children
to pancake parties?

At the leafy comer, hidden by a hawthorn,
the Sellers (3) lived secluded -
she was tall, wore feathered hats, and died
when Benjamin, their pride, was killed in France.
The ladies of the Place
whispered among the tea cups and were shocked,
but not outraged as by the suffragette,
my aunt (4), who threatened nearby Winckley Square
with disrepute,
tarring Lord Derby's statue, planting bombs
in a flower-bed, burning the summer home
of a local millionaire (5).

She who seven times had been in gaol,
force-fed, beaten-up and bruised, had bled
fighting for their rights,
she who was shunned and asked to leave the Square:
Strangeways was her proper place, they said.

But what of our house, solid Number Nine
with my fathers name (6) half rubbed away in brass,
where X-rays sparked and crackled, and we two,
the noisy ones, were banished to the garden?
I see my younger sister in the grass
threading a daisy-chain
while I, impatient, spur the horse-on-wheels
down to the cherry tree
inside the high wall topped with jagged glass.
On fretful wet days, pressed to the nursery window
we looked down to the Ribble sliding slow
under the railway bridge, counted the trains
dragoned with sparks and smoking plumes, that roared
black thunder over the arches.

Here I linger, peopling the Place
with all who lived here, all who've made me me -
parents, aunts, and friends, and younger sister.

Itís late; the lights flick on; the failing sun
touches the roofs and windows of the lost.
Shadows reach me waiting here alone
Among the living Ė itís I who am the ghost.

Phoebe Hesketh


1. Of the Horrocks Crewdson firm.
2. Sisters of Dr. Tom Miller, leading dental surgeon.
3. Dr. Sellars, physician on the staff of Preston Royal Infirmary.
4. Mrs. Edith Rigby, who started the suffrage movement in Preston.
5. Sir William Lever (later Lord Leverhuime).
6. Dr. Arthur Rayner, first director of Preston Royal Infirmary's X-Ray Department, opened in 1904.

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© Phoebe Hesketh