Threatening tales - hellish ghosts

Wandering, somewhat lost near Fitzwilliam a week before Christmas. The thin, grey winter light is barely making it through the dense fog, and we’ve hardly seen a soul for what seems like a lifetime - yet it feels like this area is saturated with tales and ghosts of the past. Threatening tales - hellish ghosts. This is an ex-mining area, classic Yorkshire. Bleak Yorkshire. Desolate Yorkshire. Ominous.

Ive been reading David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet over the past couple of months (im just about to pick up the last, Nineteen Eighty-Three) and its given me a renewed focus on the recent history of the area that I live and grew up in. In the quartet, Peace creates a fictional narrative around factual events, noteably that of the Yorkshire Ripper, and uses it to interrogate the far reaching tensions that arose as a result of intense deregulation and privatisation of the state during the 1970’s and 80’s. In this idealogical and political backdrop, Peace explores the results of a withdrawing social state in a period of rapid de-industrialisation, and the subsequent stronger penal state that is corrupted by private interests, that has ultimately created enormous and lasting social consequences that are still present today. In short, Peace’s fictional narrative seeks to illustrate that the crimes commited by the Yorkshire Ripper can only occur in very specific times in very specific locations, because of the conditions cultivated at the time. As a result, the quartet of books contain extremely vivid descriptions of place and of places that I know all too well…

“A four hour tour of local hell: Pudsey, Tingley, Hanging Heaton, Shaw Cross, Batley, Dewsbury, Chickenley, Earlsheaton, Gawthorpe, Horbury, Casteford, Pontefract, Normanton, Hemsworth, Fitzwilliam, Sharlston, Streethouse. Hard towns for hard men.” (from Nineteen Seventy-Three)


“Yorkshire, bloody Yorkshire – Primitive Yorkshire, Medieval Yorkshire, Industrial Yorkshire – Three Ages, three Dark Ages – Local Dark Ages – Local decay, industrial decay – Local murder, industrial murder – Local hell, industrial hell – Dead hells, dead ages – Dead moors, dead mills – Dead cities –” (from Nineteen Eighty)

Significantly, Peace focuses a lot of the narrative around the city of Leeds - my home city - a city which is almost receeding from the present into the past - a dark and evil past where there is no longer any control or law. This is a place where criminals make their home, the police bend the law and its inhabitants hide behind closed Victorian terrace doors, fearful of the terrors and monsters that roam the streets and the landscape - epitomised in its most vivid form in the Ripper. The pinnacle of utter disorder.

In our world, Leeds city centre no longer outwardly displays this pronounced sense gothic horror, danger, industrial decay or regression - on the contary, the centre of Leeds is a clean and modern beacon of private business, enterprise and capitalism as a centre of shopping (the shiny example of Thatcherite vision) - my early memories of the city resonate with Peace’s writings. Leeds was a grey and miserable dump when I was growing up, and it got me thinking about how this sense of place and the things that happen in it - what define it - bury themselves deep within (or in some case are hardly buried at all). My early impressions still remain, buried just below the surface. I remember vividly, growing up as I did between Leeds and Bradford, looking around me growing  “is this it? - is this as good as it gets?”. The whole place had a stench of hopelessness about it, in its landscape, in its buildings, in its people.

The social engineering and ‘urban regeneration’ programmes undertaken in post industrial Yorkshire (and the north in general) could be argued as the real crime at the heart of the quartet. Old industries were dismantled and socialist ideals defeated, in its place capital became king and corruption becomes rife as local businesses collude with the police to guarantee lucarative business opportunities. Since reading these books, ive come to realise the sheer extent at which the veneer of consumption that was applied following deindustrialisation, has managed to cloak these damaging changes. Leeds may have its new shiny image, but you really do not have to travel far to easily find pockets of Peace’s world of the 1970’s and 80’s. Bradford, not 9 miles to the west of Leeds almost seems a place in which a veneer was never even applied, and it makes me really wonder what effect the place and environment has, as it did me, on the minds of the people who live there. As Peace’s novel’s suggest, these forgotten places have a significant impact on peoples lives, likely still producing very particular crimes in these very specific places because of these very distinct issues, which we are still seeing the effects of 40 years on…

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