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The story of romance on Pendle Hill

PUBLISHED: 01:16 19 September 2011 | UPDATED: 15:48 20 February 2018

Pendle Hill by Andy Latham

Pendle Hill by Andy Latham

Writer Caroline Brannigan tells the moving story of a Lancashire lass and love lost and found

Ivy in 1942Ivy in 1942

Life stories

Ivy had always meant to write her life story but felt she had left it too late. Then she heard about memoir writer Caroline Brannigan and commissioned her to ghost-write the book.

It sold out. Caroline says: ‘I kept meeting ordinary people with extraordinary stories but they had never written them down. I interview my clients and write their story, which they approve, then design it into a book with photos and produce however many copies they want.

Clients pay me to do this but they own their books afterwards and can sell them if they like. For those who don’t want a whole book I produce an attractive, bound manuscript. These are important documents of social history and many of my books are now held by libraries and museums.’

Ivy’s first love, Philip Spencer from BurnleIvy’s first love, Philip Spencer from Burnle

You can contact Caroline on 01748 821041 or via

Pendle Hill will always be a haunting place for Ivy Starkie, for on its wind-swept top she met her first love, a young man killed just a few years later in the war.

Later, this towering landmark of became a symbol of hope and freedom to her Polish-born husband, who had survived torture in a Soviet prison camp.

Ivy has told her remarkable story in a new book, Chalk In My Hair. Born in Padiham in 1922, she later moved to Whalley, then trained as a teacher and taught at schools around Lancashire.

Polish-born John StarkiePolish-born John Starkie

One fine day in August 1939, aged 17, Ivy strode with her family to the top of Pendle Hill. She recalls: ‘Suddenly, over the hill appeared this tall, good-looking young man. I thought, “Ooh, he looks rather nice!” Was it coincidence or was it fate?’

The young man was Philip Spencer from Burnley, for whom writing poetry was already a passion. They formed a friendship which eventually led to their engagement.

‘Pendle Hill was always a special place for us, massive and rather mysterious. A curious atmosphere envelopes those who make it to the top,’ says Ivy.

Images of Lancashire pervaded Philip’s poetry, especially when he was called up oninto the RAF and sent to train as aircrew in the heat of southern Africa.

Chalk in my hairChalk in my hair

Today Ivy treasures the faded letters and poems he sent, for they were never to meet again. Philip died in a training accident in 1943.

Trapped with her grief in a world which expected everyone to put on a brave face, Ivy took comfort in her work as a teacher at Higham Village School, in the shadow of Pendle. By then the hill was an Army training area. Ivy recalls: ‘The slopes were covered with ammunition. One day a boy had something in his pocket, so I told him to put it in the basket on my desk. I found myself looking at part of a mortar bomb, still packed with explosive. It’s a wonder I’m still here to tell the tale. I gave it to the caretaker, who got rid of it.’

In 1947, going by bus to a concert in Blackburn, Ivy met handsome Polish Army officer Jan Wojszcz and they were married the following year, setting up home in Whalley where they had a son, Tim.

Gradually Jan revealed his story, of being swept up in the tide of war and ending up in a Siberian prison camp.

Ivy says: ‘He and a group of others were led outside, ordered to dig their own graves and stand beside the holes to be shot. He saw the guards line up with their guns, heard the shots and fell, the pure shock of the moment causing him to believe he had been killed. He had not. All the bullets were dummies.’

Eventually Jan escaped and joined the free Polish Army, receiving the Military Cross for bomb disposal work in Italy before ending up in England.

His brother died in a concentration camp and although his parents survived the war, he never saw them again. Ivy explains: ‘He could not go back to Poland because he had been labelled an enemy of the Communist state.’

Jan never lost his fear that one day he could be dragged back to a Soviet prison camp and soon after marrying took the name John Starkie to complete the break with his past.

Ivy, John and Tim later moved to Yorkshire where, as well as teaching, Ivy took a prominent role in the United Kingdom Federation of Business and Professional Women UK. This work took her on to the Women’s National Commission which pushed through


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