For 130 years it has looked down on Southgate, Halifax from above where the Boars Head Hotel used to be. I remember it smiling down from above the then Berni Inn: stone features set like well roasted crackling. These days it greets folk coming to mobile phone shops and greeting card emporiums – or it did until the lockdown came. Who knows what it has made of the quiet streets and the masked pedestrians, but next week it can begin to welcome people back to shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. Slowly at first, just a few, outside and fully masked: but before too long, as many as are in the feast.
We took a walk down by Elland Bridge yesterday and saw the strangest thing. The old Halifax Zoo used to be just up the hill from here, and stories abound of escaped animals wandering through Elland Woods. We all know of the famous meandering bear …. but a dinosaur!!
I have always had a fondness for old photographs, and I am lucky to have lived long enough for my new photos to have become, themselves, examples of the genre. The emergence of Facebook local history groups has changed the nature of pictorial history, moving it from the arena of relatively obscure printed books and pamphlets into a far more public realm. As with all changes, there are good and bad consequences, the enumeration of which is best reserved for a quiet night over a pint or two in a local pub. Two definite advantages, however, are the increase in the number of old photographs of local interest being published and shared, and the improvements in tracking down forgotten locations. My featured photograph today was taken over fifty years ago. From the adjacent shots on the negative strip, I know I must have taken it somewhere in the Brighouse area, but where? I will post it today on a couple of the local Brighouse history groups and, no doubt, by the end of the day I will have a precise location, the name of the chap crossing the road, and the ownership of the washing hanging on the line.
This photograph of mine of Brighouse from fifty or more years ago has always been one of my favourites, and for years I have assume that it was taken from River Street, looking west towards the town. Stuck in the fag-end of lockdown, I have little better to do with my time these days but to go through these old photos of mine, adding a sprinkling of colour here and there, and endlessly re-sorting them into virtual boxes. Which is how, yesterday, for the first time in almost 55 years, I realised that I can’t have taken this from River Street as the Brighouse flour mill would have been the other way around. I immediately went into full exploration mode, dived into Google Street View, and eventually tracked down the one remaining building in this photograph. And it turns out that I was not in River Street looking west, but in Bank Street looking east! The self-satisfied glow of achievement radiated from me for hours …. and then I realised what a sad, lockdown life I am beginning to lead.
To prove a point I made yesterday, here is a hand-coloured postcard view the Lock-keepers cottage at Salterhebble from around 1905. The artificial intelligence behind this bit of colouring would have been a studio artist, but they would have worked on the same basis as their modern AI equivalent: grass is green, sky is blue, and flowers are normally pink. I passed this scene only this morning and I am pleased to say that not all that much has changed: the cottage still guards the lock, the railway line still directs the hill and All Saints Church still looks down on the world below. And the grass is still green, but, this morning, the sky wasn’t blue.
An old negative of mine from 50 years ago with a dusting of colour provided by some Artificial Intelligence App. The results of such experiments remind me of the artificial colouring of vintage postcards during the first decade of the twentieth century: the results are not exactly accurate, but are attractive to the eye and make a change. We should equally avoid the trap of thinking that such experiments with colour somehow interfere with the “reality” of the original monochrome image: there is nothing real about a world reduced to a greyscale colour chart.
For over a century, Britannia has sat on top of the old bank building and the end of Elland Bridge, flanked by columns of Aberdeen granite, two pubs, and a host of mill chimneys. Whether she was looking at the old gas works, watching the traffic of the new by-pass or scanning Elland Woods – is that a meandering bear I see? – remains a mystery. Pubs, chimneys, gas works – and even bears – come and go, but Britannia remains, resolute in stone, ruling the occasional waves that appear in the Calder And Hebble Canal.
A couple of years worth of copies of a newspaper called “The Halifax Comet” have just been added to the collection of the ever-splendid British Newspaper Archives, and as I had never heard of this newspaper, I was anxious to dive in and see what it was like. I would like to report back and say that it was full of insightful reporting about conditions in the town at the close of the nineteenth century, but I am unable to do so – because I couldn’t really understand a word of it. The entire thing is written in a strange style that contains vaguely recognisable words that have been drained of all meaning by the way they have put together. To illustrate my point, I will quote just one paragraph in the leading article of the edition of the 29th December 1894. It comes from an article which appears to be about the appointment of abstaining vegetarians as Poor Law Guardians!
All this, unexplained, is exceeding mysterious in the eyes of the uninitiated . It so happens, however, that at the dinner aforesaid, a gentleman connected with this journal was entrusted with the records of this peculiar Society, and also was desired to edit and publish the same – so far as they may be suitable for publication -for the benefit particularly of the members of the said Society who , may themselves be but partially instructed in its history, and generally of the Readers of THE HALIFAX COMET, which is equivalent to saying, of the Public itself. The records will occupy a little time in examination, and notes upon them will be published after the close of our articles on City Finance.
It may be that the entire publication is supposed to be satirical, and satire tends not to age well. I will continue to work my way through at least one of the thirty-six page issues in search of enlightenment and if I find it, I will report back. Equally, I will see what I can discover about the paper’s somewhat eccentric owner and editor, Joe Turner Spencer, one time Halifax Councillor, Alderman and Chairman of the Morecambe Pier Company!
We were walking up the tops of Northowram the other day, up past were all the old stone quarries used to be, and I suddenly spotted an abandoned pile of stone slates. Somebody had kindly chiselled numbers on each of them so they turned into a traditional stone equivalent of my daily calendar I was thrilled with this authentic historical discovery, and as someone had equally carved the name of the quarry on each stone, I headed home to see if I could pin down their origin to perhaps Northowram or the Shibden Valley. Oh, Burnett, Burnett, Burnett …. you gullible fool. A quick quarry of the internet revealed their origin. They are “reconstructed stone” made from glue and stone dust. They have been “authentically recreated” to even incorporate tool marks. You can even buy a version with fake green lichen clinging to them. They come from a factory somewhere down south. They are the stone equivalent of MDF. They are as genuine as a politicians promise to support NHS workers.