If you go out for a walk in these parts, you can’t get very far without treading on a bed of acorns. It’s a little like walking on wooden marbles, and the sound of them crunching and snapping underfoot is reminiscent of the famous ladybird summer back in 1976. Just to check that it wasn’t my imagination, I Googled “why are there so many acorns this year?” and I was rewarded with a host of articles telling me that the phenomenon – it’s called a mast year – is quite rare. Then I checked the dates of the articles and discovered that they were from each of the last four years. This might mean that it isn’t as rare as the newspapers have suggested: or it might mean that these rare events have now become as common as … well as common as acorns. And that, might be a portent – but what could possibly be worse that what we are now living through? I see President Trump is up for election for another four years in a few days time …. it’s just a thought!
North Bridge, Halifax used to have two stations: a passenger railway station on one side, and a goods station on the other. The goods station, which stood where North Bridge Leisure Centre was later built, was closed in 1960, but the buildings remained – in a somewhat dilapidated state – for a further fifteen or twenty years. I must have taken this photograph of one of the sheds in around 1969. There is no doubt a name for that semi-circular frame hanging from the cross-beam, and, no doubt, it had a purpose (someone is bound to write-in and tell me). All I know is that it made a good composition.
Looking through my negative archives, certain scenes keep recurring. One is this view of Bank Bottom in Halifax. I have photographs of it in rain and shine, with or without added bursts of industrial steam. At times the background of mill chimneys and church spires stand out like a fist of sore thumbs, at other times they fade into a misty backdrop. I must have taken this picture just over fifty years ago. That is, I think, ice clinging to the cobbles at the bottom of Southowram Bank. That is the mill I occasionally worked in on the left. Those are the railway arches which have an almost cathedral like feel to them. This is the Halifax of my youth.
The early 1970s were critical years in terms of the preservation of the built heritage of Halifax. Not only was the future of a dilapidated Piece Hall being determined (see Faded Jewel), but right next door to that jewel in the crown was a diamond in the tiara – Square Congregational Church. Most of the body of this fine Victorian church had been destroyed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by an almost apocalyptic succession of fires and storms, but the fine spire remained. After taking my photographs of the Piece Hall in 1974 (ish), I must have wandered next door to take this photograph of a sorry-looking Square Church. The good news is that the tower was saved and today forms part of the Piece Hall collection of buildings.
TECHNICAL NOTE : How do you compress a tall thin photo of a tall thin church tower into something that can be displayed in a long thin Twitter Header? I tried a variety of approaches (it didn’t look right lying on its side) and, with the help of a smartphone App, eventually came up with a building, the likes of which no Halifax resident has ever seen!
Whenever I tell friends and family that I find Huddersfield’s Queensgate Market beautiful, they look at me as though I have taken leave of my senses and forgotten to collect them from the Lost Property Department. Beauty may well be in the eye of the eccentric beholder, but, to me, there is something grand and monumental about it, as long as you take the trouble to lift your eyes and look at the ceiling, the window lights and the sculptured figures. The day when beauty is limited to buildings that have gathered enough dust for them to be old and revered, or have been constructed as carbon copies of ancient styles, will be a sad day for all of us.
These days we are used to saying that the Piece Hall is the jewel in the crown of Halifax (or Calderdale, or Yorkshire, or England, or Europe: depending on the degree of our xenophobia), but it was not all that long ago that the building was facing an uncertain future. Those with long enough memories might remember the building as a bustling wholesale fruit and vegetable market in the fifties and sixties, or as the home of market stalls in the eighties and nineties. In the early 1970s, however, when I took these two photographs, it was abandoned, tired and lost. Thanks goodness that it survived and was restored to the fine showcase that it is today.
I think this is the fourth in my Halifax At Night series which must date from the late 1960s. The location is fairly easy to pin down – it is looking towards the junction of Northgate and Broad Street. You can just make out the imposing frontage of Northgate End Chapel hiding in the darkness on the left of the picture. Built in the 1870s on the site of a seventeenth century chapel, it was eventually closed in the late 1970s and demolished a couple of years later to make way for the new Bus Station. All the other brightly lit shops you can see in the photograph have also gone. I suspect I must have taken the photograph from the car park on top of Halifax Bowl. For me, the most intriguing aspect of the photo is the pattern of lights in the background which, I assume, are Beacon Hill Road and Southowram Bank.
These two photographs of mine fall into the “I think” category. I think I took them in the mid to late 1970s and I think they feature the old railway goods yard at Shaw Syke, Halifax. They look like railway buildings and that is unmistakably Beacon Hill looming in the background. Shaw Syke is just below where the Shay is, and you can see the extent of the railway sidings that used to exist there on this Victorian map. Shaw Syke was, for a short period in the 1840s, the site of the first Halifax railway station, before it was moved to its current location in the 1850s. I am not sure what buildings still remain on the site, but hopefully these two old photos have saved a little of the scene that used to exist – a Shaw Syke redemption, perhaps!
Some people collect stamps, some collect books; others collect pictures of gas works. In no way is this meant as any type of criticism: in a world beset by lunatic Presidents, cultivating an interest in old gas works seems a particularly sensible way of passing the time. I frequently, however, receive emails from people asking whether I have any photographs of old gas works or gasometers in my photographic archives. I must confess that I have lost details of many of these correspondents from over the years, so this is in the way of a public announcement – I have found some.
I am not sure what the collective noun for photographs of gas works is – a therm of pictures, perhaps – but this little group of photographs of Halifax Gas Works must date from the late 1960s. Beacon Hill can clearly be seen in the background of two of them, along with the old railway viaduct that used to carry the line to North Bridge and on to Queensbury and Bradford. To all collectors out there – all you Gasophelists, you know who you are – enjoy!