An advert in an old newspaper advertises sewing machines, and lists the machines available. It is 1870 and the machine age is beginning to make the transition from factory to home. The machines are ornate and their names are as cursively evocative as their shapes. You can choose between a Tudor and a Little American, a Princess and a Paragon. You can cast your eye over a Tom Hood or a Queen Mabb, or be tempted by a Cleopatra. You might want to take a chance with a Seamstress or blow your savings on a Wanzer. The present-day world of iPhone 11’s, Galaxy S10’s and Huawei Y6’s somehow just does not compare.
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In 1966 I took a walk around Godley Road and Beacon Hill in Halifax, taking photographs looking down on the town from the hillside. Halifax was already in transition – the mills were falling and the tower blocks rising – and the new Burdock Way would shortly cut through this part of town.
This little faded photograph worked its way to the top of my “To Scan” pile. The couple sitting on the left are instantly recognisable – my uncle and aunt, Harry and Annie Moore. The photo appears to have been taken in one of those British seaside spa resorts that were fashionable in the 1930s, with their mock Greek columns and potted palms. Over the years, it has faded into those warm brown sepia tones that radiate photographic antiquity. The crimping to the edges of the photo are another sure sign of the times: an era when photographs were intended to be stuck in albums for posterity.
A better camera and a more seasoned photographer might have cropped the shot and concentrated on the two smiling holiday couples. Whilst they are interesting in themselves – their contrived happiness, their relaxed style – it is the extraneous detail that is fascinating. One is tempted to follow the couples walking along the promenade towards the sepia sea.
These are four photographs I took in Halifax in the late 1960s. I remember the day well: I was walking up towards the library at Belle Vue when I came across a fire in one of the mills towards the bottom of Pellon Lane. I have published individual shots from this sequence before, but here – for the first time – are all four shots.
I took this photograph of Salterhebble Hill in Halifax in the late 1960s for someone who wanted it as evidence in claim for compensation following an accident. Looking at it now, it is fascinating to see long-forgotten buildings such as Nahum’s Union Mill standing where the Water Mill pub and restaurant now stands. This area is undergoing more changes at this current time as part of the road widening scheme.
Old picture postcards provide us with a fine indication of what people saw as important about the area in which they lived or they were visiting. On some occasions they would reflect great industrial or commercial achievement: tall mills, railway viaducts that put mother nature in her place, or busy street scenes full of shops, hotels and lines of horses and carriages. On other occasions they would highlight natural wonders: plunging gorges, tall mountains and ever-winding rivers. There was always an element of local pride in the displayed photographs, and because this was an era of vibrant local government, it was civic pride that was on display. That is why so many of these classic postcards of the first two decades of the twentieth century feature local parks.
This example features three photographs of two of the finest parks in Halifax: Akroyd Park and People’s Park. The origin of both can be traced to two of the foremost textile families of the town: – the Akroyd’s and the Crossley’s. Bankfield Museum and the surrounding Akroyd Park were the former home of Colonel Edward Akroyd (1810-1887): mill-owner, reformer, Member of Parliament, and the prime mover behind a host of schemes to improve the lives of working people. Shortly before his death – and after he had retired to the seaside – Halifax Town Council bought the Bankfield estate for £6,000, using the mansion to house the town museum and the grounds to form a public park.
This was not the town’s first park, by any means. Akroyd had already been one of the prime movers behind the creation of Shroggs Park, and Henry Charles McCrea had given both West View Park and Albert Promenade to the town. But perhaps Halifax’s most famous park was the gift of another of these textile titans – Sir Francis Crossley and his creation People’s Park.
Crossley, never one to avoid a religiously uplifting story, later wrote about how the idea of the park came to him, during a visit to Canada and the USA in 1855. He wrote about the time that he and his party visited the White Mountains in the State of Maine, in the following terms:-
“I remember that when we arrived at the hotel at White Mountains, the ladies sat down to a cup of tea, but I preferred to take a walk alone. It was a beautiful spot. The sun was just then reclining his head behind Mount Washington, with all that glorious drapery of an American sunset, of which we know nothing in this country. I felt that I should like to be walking with my God on this earth! I said, ‘What shall I render to my Lord for all His benefits to me?’ I was led further to repeat that question which Paul asked under other circumstances, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ The answer came immediately. It was this: ‘It is true thou canst not bring the many thousands thou hast left in thy native country to see this beautiful scenery; but thou canst create beautiful scenes for them. It is possible on a suitable spot so to arrange art and nature, that they shall be within the walk of every working man in Halifax; that he shall go and take his stroll there after he has done his hard day’s toil, and be able to get home again without being tired.'”
Francis Crossley kept this moment of divine intervention in the forefront of his mind and on his return to Halifax immediately set about realising it. He hired the most famous landscape designer of his day – Sir Joseph Paxton, who, a few years earlier had designed the iconic Crystal Palace – to lay out a park in Halifax and on the 14th August 1857, a day declared a public holiday in Halifax, the People’s Park was opened.
This particular postcard which features these three views of Halifax parks was sent in 1915 by an unknown visitor to the town. In the brief message on the reverse of the card she mentions the parks – “the parks are nice here”. Brief as it is, it is a fitting memorial to the town and the parks it was so proud of.
ALLEGED FRAUD ON A RAILWAY – On Saturday, at the West Riding Court, Halifax, Josh Matthewman, of Huddersfield, was charged with having travelled from the latter place to Brighouse, on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, in a second-class carriage, he having a third-class ticket. It appeared that defendant was put into the carriage by the officials at Huddersfield, and at Brighouse, when he was remonstrated with by a porter, he said he did not know that he was riding in a class superior to the one for which he had paid. He, however, offered to pay the difference, which was three half-pence, and the case was dismissed.Bradford Observer 11 January 1875
It is never too late to correct a miscarriage of justice. 145 years after this report appeared in the Bradford Observer, I would like to protest on behalf of Josh Matthewson for the way in which he was dragged in front of the courts, like a common criminal, for “riding in a class superior to the one for which he had paid“. He was put in the wrong carriage when he boarded the train in Huddersfield, he explained his innocence when he was remonstrated with by a porter in Brighouse: and yet is name is paraded across the pages of the popular press and left on public view for almost a century and a half. During his life, Mr Matthewman may have rescued stray puppy dogs, raised children who changed the world, endowed homes for the poor and downtrodden: but all he is remembered for is his missing three half-pence ticket. What a perfect example of what was petty about the petty session courts.