Being limited in the distance you can travel allows you to discover beauty close to home. All too often we are fooled into the belief that grand sights have to be paid for with mindless travel over great distances. Only if you have sat crumpled up on a noisy plane for eight hours can you expect to see sublime nature at its best. As we are discovering, this isn’t the case. Beauty is alive and living a short walk away down the road.
Monthly Archives: April 2020
Very often, local history is a history of names. Each area, each parish, each township has its names; names that stretch back into antiquity like historical tendrils. This particular part of Yorkshire is no exception: the Sykes, the Holdsworths, the Berrys, and the Hansons populate graveyards like wild poppies in a meadow. And the names of the more prominent families – the landowners like the Savilles, the Armitages and the Thornhills – grace many an Inn sign in the streets and squares of West Yorkshire towns.
The Thornhill family was a particularly important one in the area south of Brighouse. The Thornhill estate used to own – and to a certain extent still does – many of the acres that sweep up the hillside from the Calder Valley in the direction of Fixby Hall – at one time one of the families great houses and these days the base of Huddersfield Golf Club. The family consolidated their hold on the area in 1365 when Richard de Thornhill married Margaret de Totehill, the daughter of another prominent landowning family. The importance of the family is ingrained on the local terrain : with its Thornhill Briggs, its Thornhill Road, and its handful of Thornhill Arms.
The Thornhill Arms we are interested in today is the one that was once one of the most prominent locations in Rastrick, a building that still stands at the junction of Church Street, Ogden Road and Thornhill Road. It has not been a pub for some 75 years. Until recently it was a residential nursing home. Today it is empty and for sale.
Nobody can seem to agree when the Thornhill Arms was built. Some suggest it was opened in 1858, but there are records of a Thornhill Arms Inn in the area before that date. The 1850s were an important decade in the development of the pub, however, because by then the Thornhill Road which passes the pub had developed from being a private road owned by the Thornhill Estate into a major highway leading into the now rapidly developing town of Brighouse. Rastrick, a more ancient settlement than its upstart neighbour, was by then being dragged into the nineteenth century by the proximity of busy, industrial Brighouse, and the Thornhill Arms was been taken along for the ride.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, much of life in Rastrick revolved around the Thornhill Arms. It was here that the committees met, the societies ate, the singers sang and the politicians plotted. It was also here that, every six months, the local tenant farmers of the Thornhill Estate would gather to pay their rent, an occasion that was usually followed by a celebratory meal washed down by flagons of ale. The Thornhill Arms was a substantial building and there are several records reporting that well over 100 people would sit down for a meal. When the Oddfellows gathered in 1873, there may not have been that many eating, but the description of the occasion which appeared in the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle sums up the nature of the place.
“ODDFELLOWS’ ANNIVERSARY AT RASTRICK – On New Year’s day the lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows held at the house of Mr James Smith, the Thornhill Arms Inn, Rastrick, celebrated their anniversary at that house. Sixty of the brethren partook of an excellent and substantial dinner well served by Mrs Smith. In the evening the wives and sweethearts of the members to the same number partook of a first-rate knife and fork tea at the same house, and after the removal of the tables they joined the sterner sex, and a very comfortable evening was passed with singing, recitations, and other pleasantries, including dancing to the strains of a quadrille band.”
James Smith was the celebrated landlord of the Thornhill Arms between 1867 and 1881. He was also a local farmer and, some records suggest, a butcher as well. His wife Ellen is often recorded as serving memorable dinners and suppers for local gatherings, and it is clear that the family were well placed to monopolise the entire supply chain of the feasts.
As with so many local pubs, business in the twentieth century was a continuing struggle. By then, both Brighouse and Rastrick had its supply of public halls and municipal buildings and such inns as the Thornhill Arms were being reduced to little more than drinking venues in competition with an abundance of local beerhouses and taverns. In 1938, the Thornhill Arms Inn closed for the last time and now the building stands empty. But as I passed it this morning to take the above photograph, I am sure I could still hear the echo of the strains of the quadrille band.
What’s in a name? As far as the history of local pubs is concerned, the answer is all too often a story. Take, for example, the Joiners Arms (my apologies to the Apostrophe Protection Society but there was little call for such frippery amongst nineteenth century signwriters). If you live in the Brighouse area and you are not familiar with the Joiners Arms, don’t worry; you would have to be of a fair vintage to have a working knowledge of it as it closed down in 1932. The building still exists, however, huddled up close to the Dusty Miller on the Halifax Road in Hove Edge, a few miles to the north of Brighouse.
These days, Hove Edge is a bit of an afterthought, but there were times when it was one of the four quarters that made up Hipperholme township : along with Hipperholme itself, Norwood Green, and little baby Brighouse. Romans buried coins in Hove Edge (or Hoofedge as they fondly called it), quarrymen quarried stone there, and highwaymen on black horses hid there – but that is another name, another pub and another story. So let us return to our joiner.
According to the 1841 census there was a joiner called Jonas Bell living in Hove Edge. Living in the same cottage was a younger man, also a joiner, called Joseph Crowther. Jonas was 50, which was a good age back in the 1840s; an age when the body begins to slow down, an age when heaving a plank of wood becomes more and more of a challenge. Old Jonas needed to diversify and, luckily for him, this need coincided with that great process of liberalisation of the licensing laws which meant that almost anyone could open up a beerhouse anywhere. Hove Edge was full of so many thirsty stone quarriers that on a cold night they couldn’t all fit into the Dusty Miller (or the Old Pond, or the Black Horse, or the Broad Oak), so Jonas became a beerseller. By the time of the 1851 census, Jonas is listed as the publican of the appropriately named “Joiners Arms”, and Joseph Crowther has bought the cottage next door and got married. Pulling pints was obviously less stressful than pulling planks, and Jonas was still listed as the Publican of the Joiners Arms in 1861 by which time he was over 70 years old and his neighbours’ daughter, Lizzie Crowther, had moved in to help him.
But things never stay the same, and ten years later Jonas the Joiner is gone – transported to heaven in a fine oak coffin lined with burr walnut one hopes – and so is his old pal and neighbour, Joseph Crowther. But the connection is not broken, because Joseph’s widow, Mary Crowther, has moved in and taken over the running of the pub. Keeping order amongst a room full of heavy drinkers could be quite a challenge in the rough and tumble of nineteenth century working class life, and poor Mary discovered this to her cost in 1875. To the cost of £1 8s 6d to be precise, the amount she was fined at the West Riding Court in Halifax for permitting drunkenness in her beerhouse.
The pub lived on into the twentieth century, but when Mary Crowther left in the 1880s, all connections to the original joiners were lost. And in 1932, the pub itself was lost as it ceased trading. For a time, the building got a new lease of life as the village post office, but the decline in local post offices didn’t lag too far behind the decline in local pubs, and that also closed down. Now the building is a private house: neatly presented, cheerfully painted, and with a canopy of solar panels nailed to the roof. One can’t help wondering whether it was a joiner who fitted them.
We often think of our towns and villages growing organically, like some garden bloom, starting with a bud and then slowly expanding around the edges to become the finely crafted communities that we know today. But it didn’t happen like that, it never does. Towns grow in fits and starts, first this way and then that. They consume the surrounding fields and meadows, spurred on by bridges, roads and industry. A visitor to the Brighouse area at the start of the nineteenth century would have found a one sided town, weighted towards the ancient parish of Rastrick to the south of the river and as sparsely populated as a Lancastrian nunnery to the north of the River. And then came the Turnpike Trusts, tarmacadam tendrils linking Brighouse to Huddersfield, Bradford, Halifax and Keighley and opening up the way to the development of the north of the town.
The Brighouse to Denholmegate Turnpike was opened in 1826, climbing out of the centre of the town, through Lane Head to Hove Edge, Hipperholme and beyond. And where roads went, houses soon followed. And where there were houses, there were pubs. The Albion Inn was built at the junction of Halifax Road and Waterloo Road in 1853, directly opposite the old Toll House. The area was on the up, a trend accelerated by the installation of new-fangled gas street lighting in 1861 and by the abolition of toll charges on the Turnpike in the following year. The expanding grid of terraced streets brought a boom in trade for the Albion and the many other pubs and beerhouses which were also established in this part of North Brighouse.
Over the years, the Albion saw its fair share of local life. Like many local pubs, it was often used as a venue for inquests, and many an unfortunate resident has had their final hours investigated by the visiting coroner in its upstairs lounge. In 1876 it was the landlady of the Inn itself, Elizabeth Shackleton, who nearly met an unfortunate end when she was assaulted by one of her clients, one Frederick Rayner, who was fined £5 plus costs for the assault and a further £5 for refusing to leave the pub when requested.
In the twentieth century its’ publicans included Albert “Alty” Farrar, a professional sportsman of some repute. He not only played first class cricket for Yorkshire but he also turned out for the Rochdale Hornets Rugby League team : a sporting success story in charge of a pub that was equally successful. And so the pub moved forward into the twenty-first century, no doubt believing that it was as fixed a part of the local scene as the road that still made its way up the hill and towards romantic places such as Shelf, Queensbury and Denholme. But the change in habits, in tastes, in culture, all meant that by 2007, success was no longer been measured in the volume of pints pulled or bottles uncorked. The pub closed down and reopened as a Chinese Restaurant. Appropriately named, “Success”.
Few people wander around the Birds Royd Lane area of Brighouse these days unless they work in one of the industrial units or unless they took a wrong turning whilst searching for somewhere better. There are a few houses left, but not many. One or two old stone-built mills and warehouses appear to have been forgotten in the push towards sterile modern industrial units with over-sized car parks and under-sized architectural ambitions. But just one or two. The rest is corrugated steel and breezeblock. It is easy to forget that this part of Brighouse was once a place where factories, mills, foundries, dye-works and breweries fought for space with row upon row of smoke-encrusted back-to-back houses. And where there were houses and work and life, there were, of course, pubs. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century you could have called for a pint in the Dyers’ Arms, or the Sportsman, or the Woodman, or the Railway Hotel, …..or the Vulcan Inn.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Sportsman and the Dyers had gone and by the end of the twentieth century the rest had followed. One of the buildings, however, remains in place, although it ceased to be a pub in 1926 and that is – that was – the Vulcan Inn on the corner of Foundry Street and Vulcan Street. It now provides a home for a sewing and knitting shop and a music rehearsal room, but you can still make out the shape of the pub that was, and you can still see the carved initials “B&B 1869” on the stone pediment. This, no doubt, will be the initials of the brewers, Brook and Booth, whose brewery stood across the street.
The Red Cross Brewery was a grand affair, perhaps the foremost of the band of Brighouse breweries. The brewery was based around a large courtyard within which all the usual departments of the brewing industry could be found. The main fermenting room was located in a six storey tower, and there were cool cellars capable of holding 1,000 barrels. During the last half of the nineteenth century, the brewery passed through a variety of owners and in the twentieth century it was acquired by the Halifax brewer, Samuel Webster. Brewing ceased on the site not too long after the Vulcan stopped serving pints, although the brewery was not as successful in leaving a physical footprint on the land – all trace of it is now long gone.
One of the occupational hazards of writing about times gone by is the danger of sanitised nostalgia. In areas such as this, the nineteenth century was a hard and cruel era. The following article in the Huddersfield Chronicle in October 1876 illustrates the point perfectly.
“CHILD KILLED – On Monday morning Edward Moore, aged three or four years, son of Mr Moore, brewer at Messrs. Booth and Ogden’s Brewery, Birds Royd, Rastrick, was running across the road to his home near the brewery, when he went too close to the wheels of a cart conveying coals to the brewery, and was knocked down, one of the wheels passed over the child’s head and crushed out its brains so it died on the spot. The body was carried to Mr Moore’s house, and Dr Brown was sent for to certify the cause of death for it was impossible to do more. On Tuesday morning an inquest was held on the remains at the Railway Hotel, before Mr Wm Barstow, coroner, when the facts reported were given in evidence and the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death” no blame attaching to any one”
Perhaps there is something to be said for those modern industrial estates built far away from the people’s houses.
Living in an age where insurance groups and utility companies change their names with alarming frequency, we tend to think of the practice of re-branding as a modern one. However, amongst the dusty annals of the pubs of Brighouse there are many examples of tactical rebranding, some of them reaching far back into the nineteenth century. Let us take, for example, the case of the Staff Of Life, a beerhouse on Commercial Street, Brighouse. The Staff was one of those pubs that blossomed into existence in that unregulated period between the 1830 Beerhouse Act and the return of regulation in 1869. Sometimes such places were referred to as “common beerhouses” and one suspects that the Staff was common in most senses of the word. After a visit there in 1873, a local diarist suggested that it would be better named “The Staff of Death”.
It may have been from such comments as this that the idea of rebranding came about and sure enough, the following year, a new sign was erected and a new reputation was built. In May 1874, Brighouse Parish Church took delivery of a new peal of bells. Before the age of TV soaps and computer games, such events were the cause of considerable local celebration and a crowd of several hundred – proceeded by the Brighouse Subscription Brass Band – marched through the streets of the town to escort the bells on their journey from the railway sidings to Saint Martins’ Church.
The procession was halted near the open ground at the end of Commercial Streets and the crowds thronged around to inspect the three an a half ton bells. One can imagine Frederick Pearson, the keeper of the Staff of Life, looking from his window at the sight of the celebrations and the spark of a brainwave developing.
And thus the Ring O’ Bells was born, and so it remained for the next 90 years. It even made the most of its new theme and became the venue for competitive handbell ringing contests. In 1888, the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle reports a change ringing contest held at the pub involving teams with wonderful names such as the Almondberry Wanderers. On that occasion it was the Saddleworth Ringers who scooped the considerable first prize of £2.10s.
The pub survived the first half of the twentieth century, even though it was surrounded by a host of competing hotels, inns, taverns and beerhouses. But in the 1960s it fell victim to the scourge of “redevelopment” and was demolished in order to make way for the Wellington Arcade Shopping Centre (named after its’ neighbour, the Wellington Hotel). You can now stand at the end of Commercial Street and not see a pub. The Ring ‘O Bells has faded into a distant memory. But the bells are still at St Martins and the sound of them ringing the changes still drifts down the hill from Church Lane