The final shot of this particular strip of negatives from fifty or more years ago provides a bit of a clue as to how the various views of the area around Shaw Lane, Halifax, fit together. It is a bit like playing three dimensional chess, in that you are not only trying to remember where you walked over half a century ago, but also trying to fit the buildings and roads into a plan that no longer exists. With the help, however, of an old map, I think I have made a decent attack on the problem, although possibly not a check-mate.
It is this final shot that provided the main clue, because it not only shows the “tunnel” entrance, but also its location in relation to the rest of Shaw Lane. I seem to remember saying a few days ago that this was an area of Halifax that had seen little change. After retracing my steps and comparing what is there now with was was there in the late 1960s, I might need to amend that conclusion. Plus ca change.
This is another image from fifty years ago, taken in the Shaw Lane area of Halifax. It has been a bit of a challenge to pin down where I was when I took this photograph, because – as far as I can work out – it doesn’t exist anymore. However, it appears that this is one of the few surviving photographs of the little known Halifax entrance to the Channel Tunnel! If you manoeuvre your way down this steep cobbled incline you will eventually emerge near Paris …. well, Paris Gates to be exact. That is Shaw Lane at the top of the hill and if you completed the subterranean journey under the mill building you would emerge on what I think is Boys Lane, just above the Shears Inn. Once again, this description is constrained by a lot of “I thinks”, and “as far as I can work outs” : it was all a long time ago and my memory isn’t quite as resilient as those glorious stone sets.
Some of this isn’t there any more. Some of it is. I can’t be entirely sure what is, and what isn’t, because it is a long time since I walked up this narrow cobbled street in Halifax. This photograph was taken over fifty years ago, and I don’t think I have been up this little bit of Boys Lane since then. More to the point, the Google camera van hasn’t been up this particular hill either, and therefore I can’t make a virtual visit from the comfort of my socially distanced desk. The building behind the fence is the Shears Inn – that’s still there, and it is not too many months since I sunk a refreshing pint or two there. The stretch of road in front of the Shears is called Paris Gates. It is thought that the name “Paris Gates” is a corruption of the more prosaic “Parish Gates”, but I prefer to think of it as Halifax’s flirtation with the exotic continent. To match the mood, I have added a touch of exotic colour : some of it is realistic, some of it isn’t. I can’t be sure what is and what isn’t.
Another plunge into the pool of the unknown. Somehow I acquired an album of photographs from the 1920s and 30s. Photographs of people I don’t know in places I have never been. Photographs that captured an instant in time, which eventually faded into a memory and then was lost forever. Not quite forever: this tiny photograph has been found, restored, re-shared with the world.
The only information I have is that another photograph on the same page in the album was captioned “Sulby Glen”. Sulby Glen is near the village of Lezayre in the Isle of Man. We can assume that this party of walkers were taking a rest and a photo opportunity whilst exploring the glen. Where they came from, I don’t know. Where they went to afterwards is equally unknown. But for a brief instant – as brief as the click of a shutter – we can join them in the glen and share their world.
You could still walk down Shaw Lane, Halifax, today and see little change to this view I took over fifty years ago. The mill buildings are still there, the cobbles are still set into the street. The wooden shed and railings are gone, the stone is a bit cleaner and there has been a bit of tidying up; but little has changed to the exterior of the building. Step inside the mill buildings, and it’s a different story (or it was before lockdown and, hopefully, will be once again post lockdown). The rattle of looms has been replaced by the calming quiet of art galleries, the cheerful chatter of cafe patrons, and the frenzied exertions of keep fitters.
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The nose was supposed to be “awash with red apples and ripe melon” I got that, but I also got the slightest hint of a freshly opened bottle of Tippex as well. After a moment it was supposed to “drift into hot porridge topped with brown sugar“, which it did, but perhaps with a nod in the direction of liquorice roots as well. The taste was said to be “full bodied, round and rich“: and it certainly gets a tick for each of those – as full bodied as a sumo wrestler, as rounded as my lockdown waist, and as rich as my Auntie Amy’s third husband was supposed to be. Unlike Uncle Joe, it didn’t disappoint. The finish was reputed veto be “long, warm and dry” – the perfect recipe for a Covid winter.
As with all of my old photographs of Halifax, the two questions that arose as soon as I scanned this old negative were time and place. Place, in the broadest sense, is relatively easy: that is clearly Halifax in the background, and using a similar approach to the way forensic scientists track a bullet’s trajectory, it was taken from somewhere up Southowram Bank, looking over Halifax in the direction of Boothtown. However, Google all I can, I have been unable to identify the exact spot from which I took the photograph. As for time, one needs to use a Halifax Buildings Checklist. Square Church was still there, and so were the cooling towers, but the Hayley Hill flats had already made an appearance. Burdock Way wasn’t but Mack’s offices were. My guess – around 1968.
The origins of large-scale public sculpture in Halifax go back even further than the magnificent Striding Concrete Man (aka Burdock Way). Who can forget the monumental plastic bowling pin of a decade earlier? Built on a scale to rival Charles Barry’s town hall, for much of the sixties it stood like a beacon to cultural imperialism in the land of crown-green bowling.
Some people say that photographs today are as cheap as chips. This is untrue, as anyone who has been to a fish and chip shop recently will know: a bag of chips can set you back the best part of £2. Photographs, captured on smart phones and shared with friends are essentially free goods, and like all free goods, we tend to take them for granted. We can snap a selfie, and if it doesn’t hold up to our glorified self-image, we can dump it quicker than a political adviser.
Go back 150 years, and that was not the case; photographs were a rare thing, something you had to save up for, pose for, and frown for. Nobody was willing to pass up their one chance of immortality in exchange for a cheap grin or a cheeky gesture. If you go back thirty or so years ago, however, back to the late pre-digital age, it was the era of the photo booths. You could put a coin in a machine and produce four portrait poses: one serious one for your passport or driving licence, and three silly ones just for the fun of it.
So how would our perceptions of the Victorians be changed if they had coin-in-the-slot Photo-Me booths? Perhaps we would be left with more than endless portraits of serious and unsmiling faces. Modern technology helps us to test these theories out, so here is our Victorian lady relaxing in front of the Photo-Me camera …. with a little help from Photoshop’s new Neural filters!