Five imaginative paintings hang in Huddersfield Local Studies Library. They tell fascinating folk tales from the villages of Linthwaite, Scapegoat Hill, Slaithwaite and Marsden.

One of five imaginative paintings

The stories

The pictures were commissioned by the former County Borough of Huddersfield from C. Reginald Napier, a Master at Huddersfield Technical College (School of Art), to decorate the Children's department of the new Central Library which opened in 1939. Napier worked with a number of his students on the commission.

Telling the Stories (1939)

The stories depicted in the paintings are typical of traditional English folk tales often told in one village at the expense of another. None are probably unique to the Colne Valley but each may well have a basis in actual events.

The centre panel depicts an old man in the village telling his friends some of the legends of the district.

The five pictures are painted onto canvas, then mounted on hardboard and fixed to the wall. They are an example of narrative painting influenced by 1930s English artists, chiefly Stanley Spencer. The panels are descriptive and imaginatively composed, with elements of humour and caricature, with a cast of timeless local characters and a range of animals.

Oil painting on canvas
The Marsden Cuckoo (1938)

The story revolves around the desire of the villagers to capture the cuckoo, which was a symbol of Spring and Summer. The villagers decided to capture the cuckoo in an attempt to stop the bird migrating, thereby holding onto those two seasons.

Just as they had built their tower to the height of the bird in the tree, the cuckoo flew away. This prompted one of the villagers to remark that "another course would 'a' done it!".

The marsden cuckoo oil painting
The Slaithwaite Moon-rakers (1940)

Early in the last century Slaithwaite was a busy place, with boatmen unloading and loading grain, coal and stone. It was also rumoured that the boatmen used to smuggle liquor, which would be hidden in barrels and concealed along the canal.

One bright moonlit night, the boatmen were in the process of retrieving their liquor when they were spotted. Acting 'gormless' they pretended to be raking a cheese (the moon) out of the canal. Another version says they pretended to be raking out the moon which had fallen into the canal.

The Scapegoat Hill Band (1940)

The band had attended a musical competition and was successful in gaining a prize. Celebrations followed and then the band returned home to the village. Not wanting to disturb the residents, they removed their boots and tip-toed along.

However, they continued to play their instruments at full blast!

The scapegoat hill band oil painting
The Linthwaite Leadboilers (1940)

The moors around the area were formerly used by the military for shooting practice. The villagers collected some spent bullets and attempted to melt them down in a large cauldron of water. They wanted to sell the lead, but in a form which would be unrecognisable and wouldn't reveal where it came from.

The story is typical of the desire to get something for nothing and of a particular community being accused of meanness.

The linthwaite leadboiles oil painting