The website is born
Cast your mind back to 1998. The Internet was still in its infancy and Facebook, Wikipedia, WordPress, Twitter and even FriendsReunited didn't exist. There was no confusion between Goole and Google. Websites had to be hand-crafted and needed a bit of technical knowledge.
A single page was created with the (then) "Welcome to Goole" street sign, a couple of paragraphs, a question asking if anyone was interested in Goole and a contact email address.
Within a few days, there was a first response from a coffee farmer, living in Hawaii, who grew up in the town and remembered climbing up the water tower in the 1960s. Then, over the next few months, more replies from both the UK and the wider world, especially Australia. It seemed people were trying to check in on their old home town.
That was unexpected, so the site was expanded with some more content and a Goole Gene Pool™ map showing where responses had been received from.
More feedback emails arrived so the site expanded again with lots more content and features such as the Goole Webcam and the Reedness Test, which are better left forgotten. Lots of photos were added in 1999 using a digital camera borrowed from work (quite cutting edge for that time). Ebay provided a lot of postcards and other resources.
The final update happened in 2005 with lots more content and the ability to post comments directly onto the site. The volume of comments and memories increased. Most comments had the same affection for the Goole that the site intended (although some did not). A number of core contributors kept the momentum going, recording their own first-hand memories, and spending effort helping to answer readers' questions. Connections were made from around the world.
Goole has a rich and complex history and is a hard place to define especially if you've not lived there.
A good starting point to understand the character of the town and the era remembered by most readers is to look at The Port of Goole, a showcase of the town in the 1960s by the local Chamber of Commerce followed by Gosling's Travels, Goole 1975 an infamous look at some of the characters in the town.
Goole's "Sleepy Hollow" reputation will always be there. The recent BBC Rewind Project chose "Costa del Goole" and the "1982 World Tripe Throwing Championship" from its vast archive to reflect the town.
Goole-on-the-Web was always meant to be an affectionate look at the town by an ex-pat. It's understandable that some parts of the site were seen as uncomplimentary in places, especially in the 1990s when the Internet was a lot smaller.
The website falters
The website was always a one person labour of love. Life got in the way, with work commitments and raising a family. The Ebay spend couldn't be justified. The Goole bookshelf got embarrassingly large. Content was no longer updated and it became a battle to keep spam at bay, spoiling the experience for the regular contributors. At the same time, Facebook came along which provided a more convenient way for other, especially younger, people to talk about the town.
Fast forward to 2022. Coming up to 25 years since Goole-on-the-Web site started - a very long time in Internet years. The website technology was no longer supported and the servers were due to be switched off.
I looked at some of the content (not really looked at it properly for over ten years). The majority of the links were broken (Geocities hadn't aged well) and realised there's a treasure trove of comments on here. Most around ten to fifteen years old and many from contributors no longer with us. These memories add a personal touch which couldn't just be switched off.
For example one reader asked for information about the SS Empire Oak, a Goole built ship sunk during World War II with her father on board. A reply quickly came with a crew list of all the casualties. This led to another reply three years later when somebody recognised their "Uncle Nick" on the crew list who "had five little children under ten and a beautiful blue-eyed wife, my Auntie Bess, who lived into her 80s but never remarried".
One reader asked if Reuben Chappell had ever painted the schooner, "Alice Williams". Cue a reply six months later saying "yes he did... it's hanging in my hallway!"
Connections were often made off-site if people wanted to continue conversations.
On the Sleepy Hollow theme, there are recollections of "dock fairies" getting fined for trespassing on the docks, ships' crews sneaking duty free booze past customs officers, people frequenting the "Copper Kettle" despite their parent's warnings.
We've all had a good group therapy session remembering the school cross-country runs.
Memories like this are seldom seen in the more "official" history books of Goole
It's interesting to see how people experienced the same memory differently. A "charming old gentleman teacher from Alex" is remembered giving out "our favourite sweets" at Christmas and "made sure everyone got at least one Christmas card by sending us one himself". We are then reminded that he "smoked Park Drive during lessons" and somebody recalled having "books, chalk, board rubbers - anything that happened to be in his hand at the time - thrown at me" for misbehaving. All in an affectionate way.
The website is saved
So started an exercise to "freeze" the website to ensure comments weren't lost and could still be discovered by other people. The original comments were published long before GDPR and internet safety was a thing. People often left their full names, email addresses and even telephone numbers.
The tidy up has
- Removed content that was fun at the time, but really should be consigned to history. The Goole Gene Pool, the Reedness Test, the Look-alike page, the Goole Webcam and the Spotter's Guide.
- Anonymised content that isn't fair now and is well out of date. In particular, the Pubs Guide and Entertainment Page. If you were there at the time, then you'll recognise the places. If you weren't there, then you only need to know that Goole has vastly improved since the late 1990s.
- Split the content over three volumes following the basic structure of the website.
- Attempted to put the postings together as threads on similar topics. The original site had linear comments that were hard to follow especially with the large number of messages and long times between replies.
- Changed formatting, spelling and punctuation to try make everything consistent and easier to read. Any errors or remaining inconsistencies are all my fault.
- Removed duplicate messages or messages which were off topic or were pure genealogical requests which didn't get a response.
- Removed personal information that posters may have left about themselves. If anything has slipped through, or a message should be removed, then please contact me
Unfortunately it's not possible to keep everything as each volume would be well over 200 pages.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of all the comments. All were made in good faith but posters may have made mistakes. Think of them as snippets of conversions overheard in the pub in times gone by. I probably didn't thank people, especially the regular contributors, enough for them posting messages and the effort they put in to keeping the momentum going. Hopefully this tidy up has kept their memories alive.
Apologies that comments can no longer be added. I appreciate that not everyone uses Facebook, especially the people who may have the most memories to give. Email comments can still be left and will be read.
So click on the links below and prepare to spend a few hours swept back in time to the town affectionately known as Sleepy Hollow.
Stuart, Leeds, UK. August 2022