Savile, St John the Baptist’s In the Wilderness, Cragg Vale & Hebden Bridge

St John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Cragg Vale, St John's In the Wilderness

Cragg Vale, St John’s in the Wilderness

Savile had ties with Calderdale. He often used to visit St John’s Church, Cragg Vale, for which he raised thousands of pounds, and was an honorary church warden. He was a popular figure in the Calder Valley right up until his death. In the 1970s he had a caravan parked outside the Hinchliffe Arms Cragg Vale. [‘Savile acted ‘unacceptably’ with dead bodies in hospital mortuary, report claims, Halifax Courier, 26 June 2014]

 The history of Cragg Vale: Wesley & The Wilderness

Another of Savile’s favourite spots to return to a few times a year was Cragg Vale, near Hebden Bridge, in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, in the benefice of Erringden and the diocese of Wakefield. Reported to have been seen parked up in his camper van near the Hinchcliffe Arms, Savile returned 3 or 4 times a year, ostensibly in his role as Churchwarden of the Anglican church, although it appears he quite often took to the pulpit to preach sermons in such lurid outfits as pictured below. Certainly Savile was following in fine footsteps since John Wesley, a man whose legendary crowd command skills William Sargent dissected thoroughly in his 1957 Battle for the Mind, had preached nearby too. A website giving historical suggested walks for the area tells us where Wesley’s footsteps might be found on Cragg Road perhaps near Sutcliffe’s Wood named for Mr Sutcliffe’s family below: “So to the walk! Our route leads out of Mytholmroyd along the Cragg Road, passing Hoo Hole on the right, where, on Thurs 28th June 1770 John Wesley “rode to Mr. Sutcliffe’s at Hoo Hole, a lovely valley encompassed with high mountains. I stood on the smooth grass before his house which stands on gently rising ground, and all the people on the slope before me. It was a glorious opportunity. I trust they ‘came boldly to the throne’ and found grace to help in time of need.”

“I’ll tell you who used to go to speak at the church up there, it’s called St Johns in the Wilderness…he was a disc jockey, well-known – Jimmy Savile; he used to preach there, he knew the vicar or somebody and he used to come three or four times a year to speak there, yes. There were various things like that – there was once…a well known pianist, not a classical pianist but he was more of a swing, and he’d a finger less on each hand, and he used to come and play and he knew somebody that had the Hinchliffe Arms; he were well-known but the name forgets us for now; you know it was a strange place that they had Jimmy Savile preaching in the church. Tiny little place, yeh. And I lived up there for…till 1960, then I came here into this house 1966 and I daren’t tell you how much this house cost now!” [Harry Cummings, Wildrose Art…harry-cummings] (my underlining for emphasis – does this suggest Savile’s preaching began before 1967 and his appointment as Honorary Churchwarden was merely a step on the path to what? The keys to the church as Churchwarden? Savile did like to collect sets of keys everywhere he “touched base” if he could.)

Originally established as an Evangelical Anglican church St John the Baptist in the Wilderness was originally led by an anti-slavery campaigning cohort of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a man called Rev Thomas Crowther from 1821 – 1859, the church had broken away from the Parish of Halifax in 1844 in an assertion of complete independence. William Wilberforce had also become an Independent MP. Crowther was obviously a force to be reckoned with when it came to reforming the mill owners’ approach to any form of employee welfare or labour rights, as well as child labour. So in another twist along the path of getting to grips with Savile’s own peculiar belief system, it appears he was not only the “yok with the Yiddish Kop” as he liked to refer to himself,  as well as a devout Catholic campaigning for the beatification of Margaret Sinclair his resurrecting Guardian Angel, but it appears he could also turn his hand to a spot of fervent evangelical Protestant proselytising should the circumstances require so.

Hebden Bridge to Cragg Vale 28 minutes on a bike

1948: Savile at Hebden Bridge filming with Diana Dors and Honor Blackman

Although Savile was to cement his links with the area more formally in 1967 by becoming the Honorary Churchwarden of St John the Baptist in the Wilderness church and appointing the Vicar there, his links to the area began in 1948 with a film called A Boy, A Girl and a Bike

“in the spring of 1948 a young and extremely fit Jimmy Savile appeared as an extra in the British film, starring Diana Dors and Honor Blackman. The story is based around a fictional cycling club, and Savile and a pal landed work and moved into digs in Grassington as the production moved between locations. The film climaxes in a prestigious Yorkshire road race, in which , for a second or two, the unmistakable figure of a 21 year old Jimmy Savile can be seen. He looks lean and healthy, and is pedalling his racing bike like the competitor that he surely was at the time.” [In Plain Sight, Dan Davies, Loc 1267]

At the time he was a member of the Leeds Olympic cycling club, and as a keen cyclist would go on to take part in the first Tour of Britain in 3 years’ time. Members of the Halifax Road Racing Club appeared as extras and Savile managed to get in on the action through friends at the Club.

“His lengthy TV career had its roots in Calderdale, with one of his first stints on screen in the 1947 film A Boy, A Girl And A Bike, about a fictional cycling club based in Hebden Bridge. Sir Jimmy, then a racing cyclist with Leeds Olympic Club, appeared as an extra alongside members of Halifax Road Racing Club”.

“Jimmy’s early love of cycling gave him his first screen appearance – as a film extra in the 1949 film A Boy, A Girl and A Bike, starring Diana Dors, Honor Blackman and Patrick Holt. It was filmed in West Yorkshire and only a few copies of it remain. It is centred on a love-triangle formed at a local cycle club and a dark-haired, 23 year old Jimmy makes a brief appearance as a cycling extra. Cyclist Martyn Bolt said: ‘In the 40s Jimmy was a rebel cyclist. He had joined a group called the British League of Racing Cyclists, which had been originally formed in 1942. They were a breakway organisation whose riders wanted to embrace a continental style of mass races on the open road. They rode in all black clothing and Jimmy embraced that kind of road racing.” [How’s About that then?, Alison Bellamy, Loc 2598]

The different years given for the filming in different quotes is of interest because it may be that Sir Bernard Ingham remembered the excitement over filming in the local area – as he would have been just starting out on his career before becoming Thatcher’s Press Secretary in later years, at the very bottom rung of the journalistic ladder –  rookie 16 year old reporter on the Hebden Bridge Times circa 1948

Doug Petty, a fellow Tour of Britain team member of Savile’s who would later become professional and a top British cyclist, recalls in the Craven Herald January 2012:

“The film makers were looking for cyclists to take part and I got a call from Walter Greaves, the mile record-holder – he cycled with one arm – asking if I could get eight cyclists to take part. I did and included myself. I was working in a cycling shop at the time and could only get one day a week off but some of the cyclists did all the filming. They were paid £8 a week when the average salary was £5. It was great money. It was a fantastic time – I was in shots filmed in Skipton and Bolton Abbey and recall how when they wanted to film the sprint, the stars weren’t fit enough, so professionals took the parts and they superimposed the heads of the actors later.”

Raking in £250 a week as opposed to £150 per week (in today’s money) for possibly a month or more’s work means Savile would have been flush with cash for a while, close to his 22nd birthday. Maybe he purchased his famous Oscar Egg bike (this is where Savile’s self-created mythology appears to go all a bit Citizen Kane ‘Rosebud’  when he starts waxing gurglingly about that bike btw) at this point, if not with his father’s inheritance he was later left in 1953? I always wonder when and how he bought such a bike so early on. Maybe he invested his cash in business, whichever company he was ‘director’ of.

One thing he would have learnt through filming and watching the final result edited as the film was the ease with which heads could be superimposed on cinematic images.

Walter Greaves was a Bradford based one-armed cyclist, who was by then in his early 40s. In 1936, aged 29, Walter who’d had one arm amputated below the elbow when he was 14, had completed the endurance cycling record at the time. ‘Little Jim’ would have been 10 or so. Greaves was a member of the Airedale Cycling Club and as an outspokenly communist engineer who was 12 at the time of the great rally in Leeds of 1925, he found it difficult to get work, especially since he attempted to sign anyone up to the Youth Communism group as soon as getting into a conversation. From his Wikipedia profile he was viewed as a troublemaker in Leeds.

Reaching the heights at Stoodley Pike

As a cyclist Savile would have explored this area possibly while filming, but not least because Cragg Vale featured as a test of endurance being the start of the longest continuous gradients in England, rising 968 feet over an arduous 5.5 miles. Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 22.34.37 Reading about the history of Cragg Vale and the merciless local millowners of the 1800s, the Hinchcliffes, and the high mortality rates of the children, who were often worked to death under the relentless charge of industrialisation and inhuman working conditions, images of Blake’s “dark satanic mills” are conjured up fairly easily. In the 1833 Commission report it was characterised as the ‘blackest’. From the Cragg Vale Community website

“At the height of the Industrial Revolution there were 11 prosperous mills in the Cragg Valley, employing a great number of the population, including children from as young as six, working in terrible conditions. In 1821, Rev Thomas Crowther became the first vicar of the newly built St John’s in the Wilderness of Cragg Vale.  He was part of a group of Evangelical Anglican Clergy, who following on from their success in abolishing the slave trade under Wilberforce went on to tackle the terrible conditions in the factories. Until his death in 1859, he campaigned tirelessly to better the condition of those who worked in the surrounding mills of our community; in particular to reduce the long and gruelling hours worked by the children.  He was subjugated to a campaign of harassment and insults from local mill owners, incensed by his criticisms. Following Rev Crowther’s death in November 1859, he was much mourned by “a grateful people” and his grave can be seen in St John’s churchyard. The carving on the road side of the tree trunk is intended as a tribute to Rev Thomas Crowther – on the left of the carving is a child mill worker in the foreground, with a mill chimney rising high behind. Thomas Crowther is represented as The Green Man, a representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves.  Why the Green Man?  This character has been sculpted for centuries as wood or stone  accepted as a symbol of new beginnings – appropriate here, Thomas Crowther offering the hand of freedom from the shackles of hard labour.”

“The Pennine Way proceeds to the ‘Public Slake Trough’ at Stoodley Spring, where, after a refreshing and well earned drink we head up the moor to the ‘Pike’ itself. Stoodley Pike Monument is dark, sullen and faintly Egyptian. On a sunny day it is distinguished and grey, but mostly it is moody and black. The wind howls unrelentingly up its winding staircase and whips viciously around its exposed viewing platform. On a winter’s day it chills to the bone. Some shelter may be obtained between its great buttresses, but this pallid delight tends to be marred by the annoyingly humanised sheep who mug you for your sandwiches! The present monument is the third (or possibly fourth) to be erected on this prominent site.

The first monument, a cairn of stones, was erected long ago, the last resting place of some ancient chieftain. His bones were reputedly discovered by workmen digging out the foundations for the first Pike in 1814. It has been suggested that the Pike once held a beacon, (certainly one was fired here for the 1988 Armada Celebrations!) At 1,310 ft above sea level, it would have made an ideal site. According to some sources, a building had been erected here before 1814, but whatever this might have been it was almost certainly demolished to make way for The First Pike.

This was erected by public subscription to commemorate the surrender of Paris to the Allies in March 1814. The completed Pike was 37 yds 2 feet 4 inches high. Although constructed on a square base about four yards high, it was predominently a circular structure, with a tapering cone at the top. The monument contained about 156 steps which ran precariously around the inside of the monument, quite innocent of any bannister rail! This was not an ascent for the giddy or faint hearted! After enduring this ordeal the visitor to the Pike might rest in a small room at the top of the pike which contained a fireplace, before plucking up courage for the even more unnerving descent. The career of the first pike was ill-fated and short lived. Then, as now, vandalism took its toll. Steps were removed and the place was generally wrecked. The authorities walled up the entrance up.

The final act in the saga took place on the afternoon of Wednesday the 8th February 1854, when the inhabitants of the whole area were unnerved by a rumbling sound resembling an earthquake. A glance at the skyline provided the answer:- the Pike had fallen down!! The collapse was attributed to the structure having been weakened by lightning, which had cracked the walls some years previously. The locals however, were believing none of this. By an unhappy co-incidence the Pike had fallen at the very moment when the Russian Ambassador left London before the declaration of war with Russia. The reason for the fall of the Pike was obvious:- it was an omen! Thus did Stoodley Pike find itself saddled with the myth that its collapse heralds the onset of war! The Pike did not stay ruined for long. On March 10th 1854, a meeting was held in the Golden Lion in Todmorden with the object of rebuilding it. Various meetings followed, and to cut a long story short, money was raised, an architect (Mr James Green) appointed, and work begun. The new Monument was erected further back from the edge of the hill than its predecessor, to avoid the storm erosion on the face of the moor which had weakened the base of the first Pike. The building contractor was Mr. Lewis Crabtree of Hebden Bridge. The present Pike can speak for itself. The massive, badly eroded inscription over the door was carved by Mr. Luke Fielden and, surrounded with masonic symbolism, it tells its story as follows:-STOODLEY PIKE A PEACE MONUMENT Erected by Public Subscription. Commenced in 1814 to commemorate the surrender of Paris to the Allies and finished after the battle of Waterloo when peace was established in 1815. By a strange coincidence the Pike fell on the day the Russian Ambassador left London before the declaration of war with Russia in 1854, and it was rebuilt when peace was proclaimed in 1856. Repaired and lightning conductor fixed. 1889.

Having said our farewells to the Pike, we follow the Pennine Way (and The Fielden Trail) along the ridge to the old Packhorse ’causey’ at Withens Gate. Here we turn left,(onto the Calderdale Way) and proceed a short distance to the ‘Te Deum ‘ Stone which hides coyly behind a wall.The face of this ancient stone, faintly reminiscent of a roman altar, is carved with the legend ’Te Deum Laudamus’:- “We praise thee O Lord!””

1948: ‘Actor’ Savile, 21, a cycling extra meeting 16 year old Rank Charm School trainee Diana Dors (Fluck)? Dors by Diana, 1981, 1983

In Diana Dors’ autobiography Dors by Diana, at p. 77 in a chapter entitled Love Sweet Love she talks of filming at Hebden Bridge for A Boy, A Girl and a Bike. While filming she strikes a friendship with an actor she gets on very well with called Jimmy as if it could be Savile although ‘an almost fatherly interest’ from someone only 4 – 5 years one’s senior would be strange. Diana’s Jimmy, whether Savile or not, frees her mind from the sexual taboos which had been drilled into her:

“One of the actresses suddenly fell ill, but I could never discover the reason why she remained in bed so much. Or why, when we went to film inHalifax, the hotel manager there ordered her removal from the premises. Ralph and Meg Smart merely smiled when I innocently asked them what was going on and muttered something about her having a ‘bad migraine’. As I wasn’t too sure what that was, I figured I’d better stop enquiring. Quite why everyone was so secretive and treating the matter in such a peculiar way eluded me.Until finally an actor with whom I got on very well – he took an almost fatherly interest in me – explained that she had had an abortion on a recent visit to London and was trying to recover enough to cope with the rigours of filming. I was fascinated. The great problem of becoming pregnant had actually happened to someone at last. For my whole life up to then had consisted of everyone except me doing precisely what they wanted when it came to sex. I asked Jimmy, for that was this actor’s name, what I should do the next time I fell in love. Did men really think the worst of girl who slept with them? And was it really such a stigma, on one’s wedding night, not to be found a virgin? He was very patient and understanding, and in way he was the first person with whom I’d been able to discuss the mysterious world of sex. I had, of course, described my heartbreak over Guy, and it was a help when Jimmy carefully gave sensible explanations for what had been drilled into my mind as taboos. ‘Things are not quite the same as they used to be, you know’, he smiled. ‘You’re going to have dozens of men in your life; play them along for whatever you want out of it.’ His words had new meaning, for suddenly sex was not a dirty word or a forbidden act until marriage. It was something of which to be unafraid and, above all, to enjoy, not endure.Perhaps if I could have talked before to someone like Jimmy I’d been spared all those months of frustration and fear. For here was a man of the world, almost urging me to go ahead and drink from the cup of life without inhibition. If his motives were ulterior, then he certainly never showed them to be so by making any kind of play for me.”

Dors by Diana, 1981, pp 78 - 79

Dors by Diana, 1981, pp 78 – 79

Dors by Diana, 1981, 1983, pp 76-77

Dors by Diana, 1981, 1983, pp 76-77

The connections Savile made with Diana Dors and Honor Blackman stretched into the 70s and possibly beyond. A relation of Dors, Tommy Fluck’s connections with the Krays is something Reggie highlights in his autobiography, getting involved in one of the 1956/57 Regal Billiard Hall forays into smashing things and people. Thirty six years after first making Honor Blackman’s acquaintance there is a photograph on the Getty Images site with the caption:

23rd February 1974: Actress Honor Blackman lends support to the Liberal Party as she joins Johnnie Savile, brother of broadcaster Jimmy and candidate for Battersea North, London, on a canvassing tour of the constituency.

Sure enough, the Wikipedia page for the Battersea North constituency reveals that a J. Savile stood there for the Liberal Party in the February 1974 general election. He finished third, polling 4683 votes. And a recent Daily Mail report suggests that Johnnie was no more pleasant than his brother. With regards to Diana Dors, Savile appears to have known her second husband sufficiently well to stop by LA, Beverly Hills, 16 years after first meeting and sometime before April 1964 when Savile visited Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker in California for 10 days for a second time:

“This habit can be quite unnerving to local residents  and comedian Dickie Dawson, Diana Dors’ husband, who collected me in his Cadillac, never did quite get used to the idea of me starting to take off my shirt every time we stopped. Great guy that Dickie and he knows just about everybody in the film business. Beverly Hills claims to have the world’s most expensive homes, which is not surprising, because while I was there a 25 acre building plot was sold for $50 million. When I realised my room was costing me $20 a day I thought you could never get away with this in Salford” [How’s about that then?, Alison Bellamy, Loc 1379]

 1967 & 1969 & 2007: Savile as Honorary Churchwarden and BBC Songs of Praise

Two decades later Savile would formalise his reason to visit Cragg Vale as the church becomes vicarless in 1967 (for how long?) and Savile arrives to help the church find a vicar. He preaches a sermon at the church, dressed in a lurid yellow and acid green hooded gown with a pom pom brocade trim, an outfit which he digs out to wear once more in 2007. And on Boxing Day 1969 the Catholic Herald point out Savile was to feature twice in BBC programming for the day, conducting Songs of Praise from St John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Cragg Vale:

“Sunday, BBC-2: “End of a Decade.” 150-minute review with film and guests, including Cardinal Heenan, the Bonzo Dog Band, Archbishop Ramsey, Malcolm Muggeridge. The whole conducted by Jimmy Savile. Sunday, BBC-1: “Songs of Praise.”. Savile again, the Catholic in floral cassock, introduces carols sung by Anglicans of the Pennine village of Cragg Vale.”

In 1967 Savile became Honorary Churchwarden of St John in the Wilderness at Cragg Vale, despite the fact he had only come to the church to help fix a job for a vicar as reported in the Halifax Courier:

“I first came down here to help the church find a vicar and soon after was appointed church warden for my efforts.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 19.18.22

Who had asked Savile down to find a vicar in the first place? And who appointed him Honorary Churchwarden?

In 1960 Rev. David Bennett was ordained and the following year he joined the Victory Lodge in Halifax as a freemason, going on to become one of the most decorated Freemasons in the county of Nottingham in his later career

Having been appointed as ‘Priest in Charge’ of St John the Baptist in the Wilderness in 1967 Rev. Bennett was to eventually have a 25 year long working relationship with Jimmy Savile in youth support and development.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 20.29.39

“Sir Jimmy began fund-raising there in 1967 when his friend, the Rev David Bennett, enlisted his help to raise £8,000 for a new vicarage. The veteran presenter returned regularly to lead 10-mile sponsored walks in aid of the church and other good causes in Calderdale until the late 1970s” (St John’s mourns for honorary church warden Sir Jimmy Savile Halifax Courier – 01 November 2011)




2014: Support for CSA Inquiry from Craig Whittaker MP for Calder Valley is crucial

In 2014 one of the first Conservative MPs to sign up to back the call to the Home Secretary Theresa May to launch a CSA Inquiry as requested here by 7 original MPs was Craig Whittaker MP for Calder Valley who published this letter in the Halifax Courier a few weeks after the Savile: Exposure programme on ITV.

“Talking Politics: So where are all the letters about kids’ safety?

How did Jimmy Savile get away with the abuse for so many years? By Craig Whittaker, Conservative MP for the Calder Valley Published on Monday 29 October 2012 20:45 A badger is cute but a child is more important. Each week we receive emails and letters about animals. Sometimes we receive hundreds of emails during particular campaigns. This last fortnight we have recieved over 250 emails and letters about badgers. Other notable ones have been on Cayman turtle farms; circus animals; stray dogs; animal testing; and who could forget the beak trimming of hens. As Britons, we love our animals but do we love our children as much? What I find incredulous is when there are serious safeguarding issues with children, suprisingly I get no communication from my constituents at all. The allegations around Jimmy Savile highlight that point. Not one email from a constituent. Surprising in itself because there were many years in Jimmy Savile’s life that he spend right here in the Calder Valley around Cragg Vale. How on earth can this level of abuse be allowed to continue for so many years with what appeared to be known or suspected by many people and it just swept under the carpet! Staggering! Some of this abuse hadnot taken place 50 or so years ago, some of it happened in the last decade. How can such a high profile celebrity get away with sexual abuse for so many years with so many people and no action taken? Every month I deal with some kind of child abuse whether physical or sexual through my office or surgeries and whilst I accept these are not public cases, we have a huge issue in this country, even in 2012, of children being abused. One explanation is given by Dr. Judith Herman from Harvard University who says, ‘The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness’. Apparently this is a very normal human response that often feeds decision makers cultural disbelief and high level political indifference to sexual violence victim/survivor support needs (being seen as too complex a social issue to deal with). Victims of sexual crime are a very large, but also very hidden, and currently a relatively silent community of interest in the UK. Dr. Herman also highlights that the study of psychological trauma has a curious history – one of episodic amnesia. Periods of active investigation have alternated with periods of oblivion. Let’s hope with the high profile case of Jimmy Savile and for the sake of children nationally that now we have a period of active investigation and we do not slip back into a period of oblivion. I also can’t help but feel that if the plight of children nationally was as high up in people’s priorities as our love for animals, then perhaps we would have a much better society where we all could live. Sadly, the silence in this area is often deafening.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s