Telling the story of a Pennine chicken sexer...

Stephen Curry with his book Mr Andon's Pennine Diary. Below, Koichi Andoh - who came from Japan to work as a chicken sexer in Hebden Bridge in 1935 and, bottom, Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh
Stephen Curry with his book Mr Andon's Pennine Diary. Below, Koichi Andoh - who came from Japan to work as a chicken sexer in Hebden Bridge in 1935 and, bottom, Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh
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Bridget Jones was famous for hers and so was Samuel Pepys. Now another fascinating diary is about to unveiled. Virginia Mason reports

STEPHEN Curry admits that the words “chicken sexer” to the uninitiated can prompt amusement.

Koichi Andoh - who came from Japan to work as a chicken sexer in Hebden Bridge in 1935

Koichi Andoh - who came from Japan to work as a chicken sexer in Hebden Bridge in 1935

“It generally gives rise to an inquisitive smile and often to a more entertained reaction,” he says.

“I have to admit that when I was first introduced to the topic, I too was amused at the job description.”

However, since a Japanese visitor came to stay at his Hebden Bridge guest house, he reveals that he has become a lot more knowledgable about the subject - so much so, he has written a book.

It’s not a guide on how to distinguish between male and female chicks but a fascinating diary of a man who left his homeland of Japan to work as a chicken sexer in Hebden Bridge in the 1930s.

Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh

Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh

Mr Andoh’s Pennine Diary is the story of Koichi Andoh, a man in his mid 20s, who set off in November 1934, from his home port of Nagoya on board an NYK Line steamer called the Hakusan Maru.

After six weeks at sea he reached London and eventually arrived in Hebden Bridge by train in the New Year of 1935.

“He spent about five months in the town, working for F&T Lumb’s Hatchery and helping to train their workers in the sex distinguishing techniques. F&T Lumb also advertised his services in the Hebden Bridge Times to other poultry establishments,” explains Stephen.

He reveals that he learned about Koichi Andoh, after his son, Takayoshi visited Hebden Bridge nearly 70 years later, in 2001, in a bid to trace his father’s footsteps.

“The Tourist Board gave him the address of our guest house and he arrived clutching the original hand-written diary and about 15 entries he had already translated into English himself.

“He had only learned about his father’s time here when his elderly mother gave him the diary and a photo album in the late 1990s. Until then he knew little about his father’s life. It almost feels like fate that the Tourist Board placed Takayoshi with us at Angeldale,” he says.

Stephen adds he became more and more fascinated by the diary which led him to researching F&T Lumb’s hatchery himself - as well as the process of chicken sexing.

He also introduced Takayoshi to the late Lloyd Greenwood who took the Japanese visitor around the Fairfield area of the town, where his father had stayed. Mr Greenwood was also able to put names to faces in Takayoshi’s father’s photograph album.

“In terms of the diary, Takayoshi willingly set about translating the whole journal for me which was a painstaking exercise because of the difficulty with the script which was mostly written in an older style Japanese (Bungo) which has been superseded by a more modern day script today.”

Stephen then began to edit the diary, which now makes a charming and nostalgic read, beginning with Koichi’s journey from Japan to England. He arrived in Hebden Bridge at 5am on January 3, 1935, where he started work sexing chickens the first same day.

“When you read the diary you realise how skilled he was and how fast he could work. He prides himself on the numbers of chicks he could sex in one hour,” says Stephen.

“You might think the job was repetitive but it was a real skill and Japan was the origin of this skill. It’s obvious from the diary that Koichi took a real pride in his work which kept him engaged and contented.

But more than that his entries reveal snippets about the social history of the time which I think is important to preserve. He talks about the weather, the environment and people of the day and because of Koichi’s lack of the command of English it is quite quirky. There are a lot of humorous bits too.”

Stephen refers to an entry when locals confused Koichi’s nationality.

January 8, 1935 (Tuesday): It was pretty cold. Would you believe one of the employees called me a German! Of all the things to say. But Mr and Mrs Lumb and my lodging’s wife are very helpful peoples. I was bewildered that there were so many kinds of chickens.

Koichi talks about visiting the cinema but not understanding the film, playing billiards and buying a big-bowled pipe and tobacco.

February 25, 1935 (Monday): I smoked the pipe but it was bad-tasting.

“Reading through you also see that he has an eye for the ladies,” laughs Stephen.

March 6, 1935 (Wednesday): After lunch I visited Thornber’s hatchery. In that place I met a woman trainee for sexing chickens. She was 18 years old and very cute especially her mouth and her eyes. She is too beautiful and cute for words. Her name is Miss West. But her ability was not high and out of the question so I checked again her judgement. As a result she had made many mistakes!

“It just shows how the Japanese work ethic was paramount. Not even a beautiful girl could distract Koichi from his professional duty,” says Stephen.

As well as setting the diary and Koichi’s trip into historical context, Stephen was also keen to find out what happened to Koichi after he returned to Japan and this is now included in the diary.

“He continued his work in the chicken industry until he was sent papers conscripting him into the Japanese Army in August 1941, four months before Pearl Harbor.

“It’s hard to imagine what a young and obviously sensitive Japanese man, who had breached the cultural divide of East and West, would have thought about his country being at war with the British,” says Stephen.

Koichi died of shrapnel injuries to the chest in October 1944. He left behind a pregnant widow and two-year-old Takayoshi.

Stephen reveals he and Takayoshi have become friends as a result of working on the diary together, with Stephen making a trip to Japan and staying with Takayoshi’s family.

“I’m grateful to him and his family for allowing me to share Koichi’s diary with a larger audience,” he says.

Takayoshi adds that he likes to think of the diary as a token of “peace, friendship and understanding in the world.”

“I am so pleased it has been published and I hope people will enjoy reading it,” he says.

l Mr Andoh’s Pennine Diary by Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh is published by Royd Press, Hebden Bridge and available at Fred Wade, Halifax and The Book case, Hebden Bridge.