Words, Images And Memories From The Writer And Blogger, Alan Burnett
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This wasn’t a particularly good photograph in the first place: the focus could have been better, the composition would win no prizes. For the best part of 54 years it has been hidden away in my negative files, slowly collecting dust and fading into a relatively well-earned obscurity. There is, however, an inverse square law with old urban photos: the older and more obscure they are, the greater is their potential historical interest.
The photograph is of Halifax Parish Church (now the Halifax Minster) as seen from King Street. If you took a similar photograph today, your view of the church would be obscured by some neatly laid out grassland, the repositioned Halifax War Memorial, abundant trees and shrubs; not to mention a couple of asphalt car parks. Back in the mid 1960s, the only thing standing between you and the church would have been a pile of rubble and a set of swings. This was Halifax in the Swinging Sixties.
There are some scenes I return to again and again: photographs I have been taking for fifty years. One such is the statue of Britannia which overlooks Elland Bridge from her elevated position on the roof of the former premises of the Halifax and Huddersfield Banking Company. Sometimes I try and capture her in an elegant pose, flanked by the pilasters, columns and pediments of the frontage of what is now a beautifully restored building. At other times I sneak up on her and catch her off guard, amid the roof tiles and chimney pots.
These two photographs fall into the latter category and date from the early 1980s. By this time Britannia had spent a good few years patiently watching the construction of the new Elland Bypass Over the next few decades she would watch the scars created by the new road gradually fade, she would see buildings come and buildings go, see the river rise and fall, and, no doubt, every so often, catch sight of me walking past, camera in hand, photographing my muse.
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.