My home-made desk calendar today features an image from a postcard – sent 110 years ago by my Great Aunt Eliza to her brother, Fowler Beanland. The view is of Fleet Street in Bury. I must admit, I don’t think I have ever been to the town – an omission that I will try to put right once this lockdown in ended – but Google Maps suggests that Fleet Street no longer exists and has been replaced by a shopping mall.
The message on the card is as follows:- 17th April 1911 : Dear Brothers, Just a line to say that I arrived alright, I went to the New Church at Heywood last night and I liked right well. Mrs Land went with me and they were a man and woman sat with us and they gave us an invitation to their house.With love, Eliza. At the time, Eliza would have been 31 years old and she was living in Rochdale. I suspect, but I am not certain, that she was in domestic service, but I need to gather some more evidence.
My calendar image today features a view of Throstle Nest Farm in Shepherd’s Thorn Lane, Rastrick, which is only a few minutes walk away from where I live. The farm is long gone, all that remains is part of a vaulted cellar, and therefore this chance to see it as it would have been 100 years ago is a welcome one. The image comes from an old vintage postcard I recently acquired. There is a message on the back, but it has faded into mysterious obscurity.
As I look out of my window, the ground is thick with snow, therefore there will be no walk down Shepherd’s Thorn Lane today. I will content myself with looking at the scene as it was over a century ago, on a sunny summer’s day, when the song thrushes were still singing.
My love of old vintage picture postcards goes back to my childhood when I would accompany my mother on occasional visits to her uncle, who lived in Keighley, the town of her birth. Fowler Beanland, who was always known in the family – without any trace of sarcasm – as “Uncle Fooler”, lived in what was at the time, a smart terraced house a few minutes walk from the town centre. I would look forward to such visits because the preferred way of keeping me quiet whilst the grown-ups discussed family matters, was to let me look through Fowler’s album of old postcards. He had collected these postcards during the great postcard-collecting craze of the first decade of the twentieth century. When I used to look at the album, when I was a child of six or seven, they would appeal to me because of their colour and their depiction of exotic locations such as Rochdale, Carlisle and Blackpool. Later, when I inherited the album, they would appeal to both my love of old photographs and my fascination for family history. I still have the collection intact, and I look forward to passing it on to my grandchildren. My desktop calendar image today features just one of these postcards, a view of North Street in Keighley in the early 1900s.
The 16th century Clough House stood on Halifax Old Road, just north of Huddersfield. Its grandness can be judged by the fact that under the 1664 Hearth Tax it was taxed on five hearths, which at the time was not just grand it was positively greedy. Sadly it was demolished in 1899 and now lives on only in an old postcard in my collection.
After publishing one of my old vintage postcards of Brookfoot – which is little more than a bend in the river a mile or so west of Brighouse – on a Facebook local history site, I started a trawl through my collection to see if I had any more postcards featuring the same spot. I was delighted – and somewhat surprised – to discover I had three: a Brookfoot triptych! During the great postcard boom years, local photographers and publishers were combing the glens and bends of the country, looking for subject matter, and even tiny hamlets like Brookfoot had their five minutes of pictorial fame. Or, in the case of Brookfoot, fifteen minutes!
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.
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!
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.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, when picture postcard collecting became the height of fashion, postcards would often be only loosely based on photographs. The photographic image would be simplified, artificially coloured, pixelated, corrected and prepared for the printing presses; and this would sometimes result in images that were only distant relatives of the original scene. Over 100 years later, this trend has returned in the form of smart-phone photographic Apps that can bend reality with the ease of a circus strongman bending string.
A perfect example is provided by this early twentieth century “photograph” of the famed Halifax beauty-spot, Albert Promenade and The Rocks. The strange obelisk structure on the left of the picture is supposed to be Wainhouse Tower, although it never looked quite like this. The Rocks clearly didn’t have enough natural striations for the publisher, and therefore some additional ones have been scratched on the photographic plate. The lines of the buildings have been cleaned up, the industrial fog has been dissipated ….. and Albert has somehow lost his “l” along the way. Albert Promenade was built by Henry Charles McCrea, a fascinating character whom we have met before. He was born in Dublin in 1810 and found his way over to Halifax where he originally worked for John Holdsworth in his textile business. He eventually split with Holdsworth and started his own textile business, and went on to become Mayor of the town and benefactor of numerous local schemes to “improve” the town. Albert Promenade was built to allow local people to view the natural rock formations that line the Calder Valley in the Skircoat and Saville Park area of the town.
McCrea became something of a serial promenade-builder, as soon as he had finished Albert Promenade in 1861, he transferred his attention to the far more exotic location of the seafront at Blackpool, where he was the Chairman of the company that built the North Pier, the first purpose-built pier-promenade in the country. He was also behind the move to introduce electric trams in Blackpool – and the North Pier and the trams remain in the Lancashire resort to this day as a kind of structural memorial. Equally, Albert Promenade still provides fine views over an ever-changing Calder Valley.
The card was posted to Miss Ethel Gazeley of Castle Street, Luton in August 1907 by her friend Nellie. The message is: “We came here on Sat morning with Harry, it was ever so windy. Don’t forget u owe me 3”. What will have been owed was no doubt three postcards – the postcard collecting hobby was driven by friends exchanging them through the penny post.
As I write this, there are several warnings of high winds in the area. If I were to visit Albert Promenade, like Nellie, I would find it “ever so windy” there.