The Grange

morley-grange

In Stephen King’s 1975 novel ‘Salem’s Lot, the protagonist Ben Myers returns to Jerusalem’s Lot, the Maine town where he spent a fondly recalled part of his childhood. Those memories however are tinged with darkness, something he immediately has to confront when as a grown man he drives back one summer’s day with the plan of holing up to write a novel. He passes familiar landmarks like old barns and road signs, and then he sees something that forces him to pull to the side of the road: The Marsten House. Sat high on a hill overlooking the town, the dark ruin that has haunted his dreams ever since he was a child and went in there on a dare still stands, and Ben realises it is not done with him, nor he with it. When I first read ‘Salem’s Lot I was sixteen years old, still living at home in Morley, and I made an immediate association between the Marsten House and what all the kids in our village knew as ‘The Grange’. It used to stand at the boundary of Churwell village and the wider borough of Morley, and before I was born the once grand Victorian manse (see the above photo, taken in the early 1900’s) was already a crumbling ruin. The neat and manicured gardensĀ  had become dark and overgrown woods, where – according to local legend – wild dogs roamed, red-eyed and feral, hungry for children’s flesh. The rusty gates were chained, the walls were overgrown with ivy and as I walked past it every day on my way to St Peter’s Infants school all I could see of the house was the dark shape of the slowly-collapsing roof. A homeless man called Bill had taken up residence there, and we were all warned off by our parents. Between the genuine threat of the Grange Dogs and the creepy old tramp, we initially never dared get any closer than the boundary line to the rear of the house where the woods gave out to the fields where we played ‘war’ and made bonfires. Over time our curiosity and confidence grew, and we started to stray deeper into the grounds of the house. Once we realised the dogs had long since gone and there was usually no sign of Bill, we started exploring the house, daring each other to go deeper and deeper inside. What I remember all these years later is a complete wreck. The staircase had collapsed, the roof had caved in, and there was years of fly-tipped rubbish everywhere. There were rusting old cars dumped outside, long coils of greasy rope, and exploded bags of what Withnail might describe as “matter.” After finally exploring the place it began to fade in our imaginations and sometime in the mid-80’s we hardly noticed when it was demolished to make way for a new housing estate. Remnants of the old boundary wall were preserved, but beyond that all that lingers are the memories of those like myself. I can’t explain why I often think about the Grange, like I do, but it must have made some formative impression upon me. Perhaps it represents a necessary catalyst to stir the emerging subconscious into considering other possibilities beyond the daily mundane? Whatever it is, I know that it feeds my imagination and my creativity, so it’s there in every painting I make, even though it’s probably only I that can see it.

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