As I trawl my way through my old photographs, many of which were taken more than fifty years ago, I recognise many immediately and can even remember the walk I was on when I took them. Others, however, remain a mystery, and today’s photographs are a perfect example of this. It is clearly an old farmhouse which is – or rather was – undergoing redevelopment back in the 1960s, but I can’t work out where it is. My recollection suggests that it might have been somewhere up in Southowram, but that is the best I can come up with.
I took one other photograph at the mysterious location. It looks as though many of the internal fixtures and fittings from the farmhouse had been removed during redevelopment: providing a perfect still life composition.
This is an old picture postcard featuring Crown Street in Halifax at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although it dates from an age of horse carriages and gas lights, it is a scene which will be familiar to all those who know the town. Most of the buildings featured in the view are still there; and although the striped awnings and crowded shop windows may have been replaced by neon lights and plastic signs, the shape of the architecture is unchanged.
The card was posted in July 1904, at the height of the great postcard collecting craze of the early twentieth century. The message is a direct ancestor of so many text messages of 100 years or more later : “I am at Halifax. I will write again Tuesday night. From Ernest“. The message is of little interest to us today, but the image it was scrawled on the back of, provides us with a direct line to our past.
These are strange times: there seems so much to do in the world and yet we are assured that our best contribution is to stay at home. So what else is there to do other than to turn to the past and set out on a virtual voyage of exploration. By walking in the footsteps I took 55 years ago, I can still safely wander down crowded streets and see sights that are no longer visible. The following six photographs come from a strip of 35mm negatives I shot sometime in the mid to late 1960s around the town of Brighouse in West Yorkshire. I have featured each of these shots on the Brighouse History Facebook Group, and members have helped me identify the exact location I must have used. Some of the buildings are still there, some have substantially changed, some have gone altogether. Looking at these photographs, there is a greyness about the town that seems to fit with the time they were taken. I like to think that Brighouse is a much more vibrant and colourful place these days.
I have just acquired this lovely old vintage postcard of Stump Cross, near Halifax. It is a view I am well familiar with, based on a thousand bus journeys home – although those journeys would have been fifty years after this photograph was taken in the early years of the twentieth century. When I regularly travelled this road in the 1960s, most of the buildings featured in this postcard were unchanged, although the tram lines had long gone.
The postcard was sent by “Else” to her friend Gwen Payne who lived in Lincolnshire. The message is brief: “Dear G, Many thanks for letter this morning, will write you one very soon. This is the way to Huddersfield. Heaps of love, Yours Else“. The card was postmarked Sowerby Bridge, which suggests that if Else was going from there to Huddersfield, she would be taking a somewhat circuitous route if she travelled via Stump Cross!
I was scanning some of my old negatives yesterday and came across this photograph of Halifax Borough market, which dates from around 1967 (say what you want about decimalisation, it provides invaluable help in dating old photographs). Halifax’s indoor market was – and still is – one of the finest examples of these Victorian cast-iron framed markets in the country, with it’s fan-like windows and suspended gas heaters.
By complete coincidence, I was later browsing on YouTube and discovered, to my delight, that someone had posted an episode of the 1975 series “Nairn’s Journeys“, in which Halifax Borough Market has a starring role. Ian Nairn (1930-1983) was a British architectural critic and writer who was famous for his outspoken criticism of certain aspects of British town planning in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 1959 he published a book, “Outrage” which highlighted what he saw as the modern trend in unimaginative town planning. I was introduced to his ideas by my brother, Roger, who had one of the first copies of his book and was a great follower of his work. The “Nairn’s Journeys” series was a wonderful series in which he conducted “architectural football matches” between northern towns. One memorable episode was devoted to a contest between Huddersfield and Halifax.
If you have never seen the episode, I apologise for spoiling things by telling you that Halifax won the contest by five goals to two! Part of that victory was down to the splendid Halifax Borough Market, but most of it was brought about by the fact that “Halifax had managed to express itself“. The film is particularly fascinating for its praise for the modern architecture of Halifax – the, then, new Building Society HQ – and its footage of the Piece Hall during a time of transition (it was due to be turned into a car park!)
Thinking of that same architectural football context 45 years on, I am convinced that the outcome would be just as positive in Halifax’s favour. It continues to express itself as a town proud of its heritage but with an eye to the future.