Val-De-Ree | Blind Ned


Does anyone out there remember this Blackburn rag and bone man? His real name was Tommy Thompson, also known as Tommy Blackledge.

Thank you to Cottontown reader Phil Calvey who has sent his memories:
I remember our subject very well from when I was a small boy.  I was born in Darwen in 1949 and lived on the main road ( Blackburn Road) in the Lynwood area until 1964.  Valderee was one of our regular rag and bone men and I was overawed and perhaps a little frightened by his flamboyant dress, his eccentric behaviour and loud singing. He got his name so I was told because of a song he regularly sang that was popular  in the early 1950s " I Love To Go Awandering”  Personally I never heard him sing that song but he certainly had a large selection of other song to choose from. His call as he walked down the rear alleys or "backs" as we called them was I  think  EEERAGBOOAN!! As you can see from the photograph he was gipsy like in his dress. I can see him in my minds eye dressed in summer with a red and white spotted neck cloth tied around his neck ,his trilby worn at a slight angle, a collarless shirt underneath a waistcoat with the shirtsleeves rolled up and brown moleskin trousers with string around the bottoms and  big army boots. He stood very upright and had a very military bearing.  In winter he had a long tatty overcoat almost down to the floor and also his trademark hat and neck cloth. He pushed a handcart and on this was a small very second hand cupboard in which he kept various coloured pumice stones for dressing the front steps, yellow and cream ones spring to mind, which he  gave for any scrap he received. Later on the handcart was replaced by a tall old fashioned coachbuilt pram.
My Mother states that he was always well mannered and if he met a lady whom he knew he would doff his hat and  bow deeply to her as a greeting. My Father confirmed his name as Tommy Thomson because they both went to the same school and that surprisingly was DARWEN GRAMMAR SCHOOL! So our Valderee was certainly intelligent. Father described him as a quiet and clever pupil. Tommy joined the army in WW2 and Father thinks that he was in one of the glamour regiments, the Guards or the Paras ,but Tommy had a bad war and returned a very changed and troubled man.  I think he struggled to settle down  after the war and rumour alleges that he had been committed to a mental hospital for some time but that is only a local rumour which I cannot confirm.
Another Cottontown reader shares her memories:
I also remember Valderee from my childhood he often frequented the streets of Little Harwood and always stopped to chat to my grandmother. He often passed by St Stephen's school and waved at all the children. I found him quite fascinating. An uncle of mine always warned me not to speak to him as he was a bad man. When I was older my uncle informed me that he had once stabbed someone many years before and was a violent man,how much truth is in that story I don't know but my uncle was not a man to exaggerate, however I always found him fastinating as did all the children who flocked around him.  He never harmed any of us.   I also remember a tramp called George who lived in Elm Street in the 70's. You would often see him feeding the pigeons outside what was then the Regency Pub later known as the Cocunut Grove.  He was known as Dirty George around Little Harwood. He was a shy gentle giant of a man who wore a dirty string vest and a brown overcoat which was tied with string.    I also remember the man who stood outside the White Bull in the 70's next to the subway selling the telegraph shouting TELEGRALF! (or words to that affect).   Happy memories!
A big thank you to cottontown reader Barbara for sharing this lovely memory:
This is really fantastic, i am an artist and i am currently working on a piece of art work relating to a childhood memory of mine the local rag and bone man. I lived in Blackburn Copperfield street near audley range in the 1960\70s i am 44 years old now but my memory of the local rag and bone man Val-de-ree has never left me. i remember he had an old delappedated perambulator the ones with big wheels and suspension. He would push this old pram down the street yoddle ing at the top of his voice, yoddle he ho ho!!
he wore an old hat with a feather sticking from it and would stop and chat to the mums on the street seeing what old tat they would pass onto him to add to the enourmous pile of tat he already had in his pram. i remember lots of old dolls and old toys tied to his pram they were all on my eye level jangling arbout because i was about 5 years old, he may have had a bell to ring as well.
when all us kids would see him coming we would shout his name and follow him down the street, he would stand there looking and laughing at us and blowing rasberries from his mouth making rude noises always used to make us laugh and blow rasberries back at him. what a fantastic piece of local history that will never repeat itself again.
Cliff Barnes Memories:
I was reading an article on your website  when I noticed somebody had mentioned a person in 1960 who sold newspapers on the the old White Bull corner in Blackburn .This chap who he mentioned  was my grand father, Joe Lewis. He sold newspapers for more than 50 years during his career as a seller which began with the Northern Daily Telegrapth in 1910. He took pride in the fact that he never missed a day. His biggest sale of his total 7,000,000 came on the First World War Armistice Day when he sold almost 8,000 copies.
My grand father Joe was a well known person in Blackburn.He stood on the pitch on Railway Rd for almost five decades in rain, hail and snow, starting from 5.30 in the morning.His famous shout for selling papers was yup .He served Blackburn well.I have no photographs of Joe, although  the Telegraph took photos of him over the years he sold papers for them .He died in 1970 through a car accident.
My father William Barnes who was always known as Ginger, knew Valderee well as he was also a rag and bone man. That's how I got to know Valderee. There were a lot of characters in Blackburn then and the older generation will always remember them

Some more memories from another reader, Ernie-
I use to drink at the Aqueduct pub on Bolton Road in the late fifties and early sixties, where Val-de-ree used to frequent the vault. He would open the door and shout "val-de-ree" and the younger ones would shout back "val-de-ra". How he got away with wearing a trench coat with a bandalero and bayonet in a scabard, I'll never know. What a character!
If you have any memories of Val-Dee-Ree or any photos  we’d love to hear from you, so we can add them to the site.

Please contact us at community.history@blackburn.gov.uk


​​​Blind Ned

The article was printed in the Blackburn Times 18th March 1905, a decade after Edward Sharples death. There is no indication as to who the author A. B. E may have been.
A brief account of the once well-known individual who bore the above appellation will probably be of interest to those who love to study the short and simple annals of our local peasantry.
Edward Sharples, better known has blind Ned, was born in 1822, one of four brothers—John, Richard, and Peter being the names of the three others.  His father belonged to the yeoman family of Sharples, who were farmers at Putforth (locally pronounced Pufforth), Lower Darwen, for close upon 150 years. He died in 1831, having been previously sold to the Water works Committee of the Blackburn Corporation his share of the land in Spa Brook Bottom for £3,400. Blind Ned and his brothers were all four fine, strong, and well-built men, with scarcely a straw to choose between them as to height or weight.  Many stories are told of the quartet and their youthful pranks which are well worth recounting, but for the present Blind Ned must receive our sole attention.
When he was five years old he went to peep through the key-hole of a cottage near Belthorn, when a little girl about his own age pushed from the inside a sharp steel spindled, known locally as a “hotzel,” which penetrated into his right eye, at once half blinding him. Soon after this occurrence the other eye became inflamed and eventually Ned lost his sight entirely. At ten years of age Ned had to begin to earn his living, and as two of his brothers were shoddy (cotton) manufactures at a small mill situated on the side of the tiny rivulet coming down from Spa Brook Clough, he obtained from them work at suitable jobs, mostly of a laborious nature. Here he developed great bodily strength, for he had to assist in carrying bales of cotton shoddy from the mill at Dick Bridge up to the top of Daub Hill, where the cart road commenced. He also helped his mother on the large farm known as “Eden,” and thereby developed an extraordinary sense of touch which enabled him to be a better judge of cattle and horses than most of those who possessed good eyesight.  He could even detect differences of colour in the hides of the animals and proved this in a transaction at Brough Hill. When he was twenty-seven he attended this fair to buy cattle, and bought no less than 70 beasts, all about a year old. The man from whom he purchased the cattle could not believe that blind Ned was able to tell the colour of the hicks by touch, and he volunteered to knock 5s a head off the price if Ned would name the colour of 30 out of the 70. But Ned performed the task easily and thus saved £17 19s, afterwards re-selling the whole lot to Mr W. Hindle of the Brown Cow Inn Livesey.

Once for a wager he undertook to tell the colour of any cow in the shippon at the Red Buck, Oswaldtwistle. Blind Ned was led into the shippon and a du-coloured cow was selected out for his judgement. He ran his hand softly over it and named the colour correctly, then passing his hand under the belly; he found and named a white patch thus easily winning the wager. The challenger after his return to the inn said somebody had told Ned the secret of the two colours. This so incensed the blind man that he struck the challenger a blow from the shoulder which knocked him into a big chair and broke it to fragments.
As a young man he “kitted” milk into Blackburn. Some old inhabitants of Grimshaw Park tell of his driving down the road a good rate of speed, carefully avoiding collisions by his acute sense of hearing, his great round face beaming with intelligence, though deprived of his principle attraction, the eyes. He both rode and drove many thousands of miles, and it is stated that he could draw up within a yard of his destination. An old toll-bar keeper says he has seen Ned drive his horse up to a foot off the gate and stop suddenly whilst he himself was greatly alarmed lest the horse should smash down the gate, but Ned only laughed. His knowledge of the country around his home was really wonderful. Men tell that when they were lads and trespassing on the farm Ned would follow them, no matter which way they went, just as if he could see them. Blind Ned lived at the old house which stands nearest to the Yate Bank Reservoir, perhaps better known in the district as Dick Bridge Reservoir. The road from Daud Hall to Holehouse used to cross the by-wash by a single loose plank nine inches wide, which served for a temporary bridge for over 60 years. Blind Ned had crossed it in all weathers, and at night had often guided or carried his neighbours across upon his back.
He thought no water equal to that which rises at Ooze Castle, high up the bank, and which runs down Spa Clough, ultimately forming the reservoir. At one place is the ravine just below Windy Bank Farm, called Rock Hall, can still be found turkey or oil stone suitable for whetting purposes, and one of those stones was a favourite gift of Ned’s to his farming acquaintances.

In his prime he was 5ft 10½ in high and 230lbs weight, 43 inches round the chest being altogether a fine specimen of lusty manhood. His brothers though equal to him in height and general appearance, never possessed his mighty muscles and frequent wagers were made upon his feats of strength which he was never loath to display, being very fond of rough amusements.  He possessed a double set of teeth, generally an indicator of physical strength and one of his favourite feats was the lifting of a sack of flour—240lbs—with his teeth alone.  Once, for a sovereign, he lifted and carried for 50 yards three sacks of flour—one under his right arm, one upon his left shoulder, and the other held by his teeth. It was a common occurrence for him when he came to Blackburn Market to lift a 27 gallon cask over the top of his cart wheel. Travellers tell of the enormous weights the Turkish hamlas or porters of Constantinople can carry with their enormous practice, but the greatest weight mentioned by them is 448lbs. This was once exceeded by Blind Ned, it occurred in this way: a man named John Maden, a spinner at Dick Bridge Mill, was taunting Ned about his carrying of the heavy bales of shoddy which were made there, and a big bet ensued on Ned saying; “will carry every ounce of weft that this man Maden roves off a one-hundred spindle-billy in a week in one load.” The rover strove hard to win the bet by working with all his skill throughout the week, and on Saturday Ned was watching to see that he did not work longer than the appointed time. He stopped his billy a minute or so after the hour had expired to doff his sett but as it meant 25lbs more weight, Ned said “Maden tha morn’d doff.” The week’s work was packed in a huge bale and put upon the scale, when it turned the beam at 572lbs, which ponderous load Blind Ned carried not on the level but up a steep hill to the cart at Daub Hall.

Another feat was “ringing the fifty sixes” which was a pet feat of Ned’s. It was performed in this manner; three fingers of each hand are inserted in the lifting ring attached to the weight, the arms are slowly raised until both the weights hang over the head, when they rung by banging them together. Blind Ned had done this as often as six times, a performance which Sandow* can scarcely equal. Ned’s brother John, who—people say—was as good a carter as ever cracked a whip, once brought a load of 30cwt. of cotton from Blackburn to the top of the old lane leading down to Dick Bridge. To bring such a load down in winter was very dangerous, so John left it there all night. It was then the practice to trail a rude sledge down behind the loaded cart with a pack of meal or flour upon it to act a sort of drag or brake. In the morning, Ned, who was then only eighteen, undertook the task, although the road was in local parlance, “a whirl of ice.” His horse, Rowley, almost as sensible a Christian, planted its feet firmly for the dangerous descent, whilst Ned held its head with his left hand, and also acted as brakesman with all his giant strength. But the man, cart and horse, all three slid from top to bottom of the lane without a halt. Not a hair was injured, but his narrow escape from death or disaster often sent a thrill of emotion, upon remembrance, through the mind of Blind Ned.

He was a frequent visitor to the bi-annual fairs in Blackburn, and as he sat in the “Anchor” or “Three Crowns” in Darwen-street old public-houses which have now disappeared, he could recognise any of his old neighbours or friends, either by voice or footfall, before they entered the room. Having very long arms and being of great girth round the chest, he was a clever hand at what is called “fathoming,” that is reaching in height or breadth. At his old home there was a beam in the ceiling of the low Kitchen just six feet from the floor. This, Ned could rest his fingers upon whilst those of the other hand lay flat upon the floor. He could fathom seven feet ten inches in height, but was beaten once by a man named Farley, who kept the St. Leger Inn, King-street, about 60 years ago. This Farley had the largest hand Blind Ned ever saw, and Ned said that if anyone else saw one larger they never told him. Other feats of this local Samson still lingering in memory are the lifting of nine successive loads of potatoes and throwing them over his head, the lifting of a stone weighing over three cwt to form the roof of a porch at the farm and the winning of several walking matches, notably two with another well-known Blind man, Blind Tom of Haslingden. We are told that fancy dinners and elaborate cooking were nothing to Ned, he had always been used to hard bread, cold bacon, and buttermilk, with an occasional “prato pie” as his chief diet. He attributed the good condition of his teeth and his stomach, even when he was an old man to his abstention from tea and heavy feeding. At the time of his death in February, 1895 aged 72, he and his wife were all that was left of the Sharples family living upon the family copyhold estate. He was buried at St. Paul’s Church, Hoddlesden, and as the lease had expired, his wife also died some years ago in very impoverished circumstances. None of his sons survived him, and his two daughters both are married, one Ellen, living in the United States, and the other Mary is the wife of a man named Thomas Yates, who in 1890 kept the small farm and inn known as the “Star,” properly the New Inn, at Daub Hall, Pickup Bank. Several of Blind Ned’s Nephews are in business in Blackburn, notably Thomas Sharples, the hatter, in Darwen-street. Many of the circumstances here narrated are taken from a scarce pamphlet of religious experience published some 20 years ago [1885] by William Lee of Haslingden. Such is a portion of the history of a remarkable character fully as celebrated locally as his eminent prototype “Blind Jack” of Knaresborough ϯ.
*Eugen Sandow (April 2, 1867 – October 14, 1925), born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, was a German pioneering bodybuilder known as the "father of modern bodybuilding".
ϯBlind Jack of Knaresborough: (1717–1810), born John Metcalf,  also known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough or Blind Jack Metcalf. He was blind from the age of six, and was the first professional road builder to emerge during the Industrial Revolution. 
This type of article is not uncommon for the time, religious tracts were often written to show how people, mainly men, could overcome handicaps either physical, such as blindness, deafness, loss of limbs, or self-inflicted caused by drink or debauchery. It gives us a rosy eyed view of a man who although blind makes up for it by his other senses being enhanced. It shows how he overcame his handicap and performed countless acts of unbelievable strength and with his sense of touch so refined he could tell colours. The religious pamphlet mentioned may not now exist.
How much of the article we can believe it is now imposible to say, some of his deeds do look rather over stated, but I have no doubt there will be some truth in it.

The few bits of information I have been able to find out about Edward Sharples I have laid out below. From it we get another side of "Blind Ned", which is not altogether endearing to him.
Edward was the son of Thomas and Dorothy Sharples (Nee Greenwood).  The couple had been married at Blackburn Parish Church (St. Mary the Virgin) on the 25th June 1815. Thomas was a farmer. The article implies that Thomas and Dorothy only had four sons but there were also three daughters.  The sons were John, baptised 21st January 1816, Richard, baptised 11th February 1818, Peter, baptised, 28th April 1824.  The daughters were Betty, born 31st May 1820, Ann, born, 21st December 1826 and Mary Jane baptised 24th August 1831. Edward, the subject of this article, was baptised 20th March 1822.  The article above says Thomas Sharples died in 1831, but according to the 1841 census Thomas (45), Edward, Peter, and Mary Jane were living at Hole House, Yate and Pickup Bank, the 1851 census also shows that Thomas was still alive and living at Guide.
His wife Dorothy is not on the 1841 census and on investigation I found that she died in June 1837 and was buried on the 17th of that month at the Parish Church. I cannot find a date of death for Thomas.
Edward, as the article points out, became blind at the age of five. The 1871 census also shows he was aged five when he lost his sight. It is also worth recording that the 1851 censusshows that his wife Betty was deaf, but no other census record says this.

Edward was born in March 1822; all we know of his childhood is what is reported in the article. It is doubtful if he could write, he could only make his mark when he was married, and being blind from such an early age he probably never read.
On the 25th of July 1841 he married Betty Beckett at the Blackburn Parish Church. Betty was the daughter of Francis and Betty Beckett (Nee Dearden) and was born in 1823; Betty's father was a grocer from Blackburn. The 1851 census shows Edward and Betty living at Lang House, Pickup Bank, Edward is a 29 years old, a farmer of 18 acres and a beerseller.  There are two children Dorothy (5) and Ellen (8 month).  I cannot find any sign of him on the 1861 census. The 1871 census shows Edward, (49) Betty (47) and their daughter Mary Jane (15) living at Hole house, Yate and Pickup Bank.  Edward is still a farmer but now is only farming 9 Acres.  The article intimates that Edward and Betty had sons and two daughters; however, it seems he had no sons and three daughters, Dorothy born c 1846, Ellen born 1850 and Mary Jane born c 1856.

It would also seem that the family spent time in the workhouse.  At a meeting of the Guardians held on Saturday 9th June 1855, there was an altercation between certain Guardians and the Governor.  William Durham asked the Governor (Mr Charnley) whether some [toys] wheelbarrows and cradles had been made by one of the paupers for certain guardians. The pauper in question was Blind Ned who had made the toys for Mr Boyle and Mr Watson.  When asked if payment had been made for the toys Mr Charnley said; "No, there was no payment made but to Blind Ned. I thought that there was no harm in his getting it as tobacco-money."
Then in the Blackburn Standard of 15th September 1858 it says; "Among application for relief was Betty Sharples, wife of Edward Sharples, better known as Blind Ned, farmer at Yate and Pickup Bank, whose matrimonial differences have on several occasions recently required magisterial adjudication. The circumstances of the applicant being explained to the board, they made an order for 5s a week, the money to be recovered from the husband." Then again in the Standard of 29th December 1858, at the workhouse Christmas dinner:
"Upwards of 250, [inmates], including men and women, boys and girls, assembled in the [workhouse] dining-hall about noon, and were regaled with a bountiful supply of roast beef and plum pudding...Dinner being over and grace after dinner having been sung, as grace was before dinner, "Blind Ned" got up on the end of a form, and in a protracted series of addresses proposed thanks to the guardians who had ordered for them the excellent dinner of which they had partaken; thanks to the friends who had so kindly come to wish them a happy Christmas; thanks to the master and mistress, [of the workhouse], and schoolmaster and schoolmistress."
It would seem then, that far from being a farmer of some means (able to buy 70 cattle) he was, at least some of the time, unable to support himself and his family.  This may be the reason he and his family cannot be found on the 1861 census, (only initials were used for the inmates of the workhouse in this census.)
Blind Ned appears three more times in the newspapers; the first is an action by Edward Sharples against Michael Walsh and Edmund Harwood. Sharples had sold a pony and cart for £10 to Walsh and Harwood on the understanding that if the pony should foal they would pay Sharples an extra 15s the pony did foal but they denied that this agreement had been made and there being no proof Blind Ned lost the case. In November of 1862 Blind Ned was in trouble this time with the police!  He was accused of stealing a hay-knife from the barn of Mary Dearden, an innkeeper at Oswaldtwistle.  The knife was recognised when in the possession of Blind Ned by three marks cut into the handle.  Ned denied stealing it but the jury at Preston Intermediate sessions did not believe him and he was sentenced to 1 month in prison.

He was in trouble again in May 1866, this time with another farmer named James Townend. They were accused of stealing nine shilling from Ellen Morris.  It seems that Morris had sent her son to the Vine Inn, Lower Darwen for some rum.  The boy had given a sovereign but he only fetched sixpence change.  It transpired that the change had been put on a table where Ned was sitting and then missed.  Later when the stove in the room was being cleaned the change was found in the ashes.  Ned and Townend were committed to trial at the Preston Sessions.  Although the case at the sessions is mentioned, no verdict is given.

That seems to be the last time Blind Ned is mentioned in the papers other than for his obituary 30 years later. Edward Sharples died on Thursday the 14th February 1895, aged seventy-two; he was buried at St. Pauls Hoddlesden.  His obituary reads:
Sudden Death of a Pickup Bank Farmer:  At six o’clock on Thursday morning, “Edward Sharples, farmer, of Hole House Farm, Yate and Pickup Bank, was found dead in bed by his wife.  The deceased, who was 72 years of age, had been in failing health for a considerable time.”
His wife lived on for another six years dying, aged seventy-eight, at Rawtenstall.
Although Blind Ned was not everything the article made him out to be he must still have been a remarkable man.