For my News From Nowhere Christmas Card this year, I have chosen a vintage postcard of a snow-covered Halifax Parish Church, which forms part of my Postcards From Homeseries. I am having some difficulty in pinning down the precise date of the photograph – the postcard had not been used, which removes one means of dating it – but from the style of the card, I would guess sometime in the 1920s or 1930s.
Work on the Church of St John The Baptist in Halifax was started as early as the 12th century and largely completed by 1438. In 2009 it was made one of the three Minster Churches of West Yorkshire (the others being Dewsbury and Leeds).
At some stage, somebody made the brave decision not to clean up the stone work on the church; and so, even today, in a very physical way, the church tells the story of the hard work and industry that has always been a part of life in the parish.
All that remains is for me to wish everyone a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.
This 1904 postcard shows a view that will still be familiar to any Halifax resident: the grand facade of the Old Market Arcade, looking towards Market Street and the Woolshops area. The buildings at the bottom of Old Market have changed since this photograph was taken – and are changing again – but the gloroious building that dominates this scene is still just as magnificent today as it was at the beginning of the last century. The shop at the bottom of Old Market was that of Eagland Bray & Son, grocer and provisioner. Eagland Bray established the firm sixty years before this photograph was taken, and during his life he was a prominent town councillor and pillar of the Wesleyan church. The shop on the top corner of Old Market was that of Gibson Dixon, chemist, druggist, and mineral water manufacturer. We should never take for granted the pleasure and delight of being able to walk by, and shop in, these same magnificent buildings today.
A vintage postcard of North Bridge, in Halifax, back in the days when it was the main route out of town to the north. Back then, the buildings hugged the side of the road at both ends of the bridge, and it did not have to live under the concrete shadow of the Burdock Way overpass. People streamed over the bridge, as did trams and horses and carts, on their way to Boothtown, Northowram, Southowram and beyond. The building on the right of the picture is the old Grand Theatre, now sadly gone, but when I started crossing the bridge on a daily basis in the late 1950s, it was still just about there. The buildings on the left still survive, but look lost and a little lonely these days. Practically all of what you can see on the far side of the bridge, was swept away in the construction of Burdock Way and its associated roads and roundabout some fifty years ago. I can just about remember the area as a patchwork of shops, mills, pubs and streets of terraced houses.
This particular postcard was posted in 1913, although the photograph probably dates from ten years earlier. The card was sent to Alice and Edith Nutter from their friend Gladys, and is full for the inconsequential chatter that is now the stuff of text messages. Undoubtedly, text messages are cheaper and quicker to reach their destination. But who will look at a text message in one hundred years time and see a picture of Halifax that no longer exists?
This is a scene which will be all too familiar for Halifax residents of this present age. After the long slog up Salterhebble Hill, and the inevitable wait at the hospital traffic lights, drivers heading for Halifax can now speed past the restaurant that used to be the Stafford Arms Inn, with no tram lines or pedestrians walking in the middle of the road to avoid. The Stafford Arms had been around for more than 160 years when it was eventually closed and converted into a restaurant in 2010. I remember it back in the 1960s, when it had the reputation of being a rather superior public house, (needless to say, I wasn’t a regular). Alas, it has now gone the way of so many pubs in West Yorkshire, and exists merely as a picture postcard memory.
The card was posted in September 1922 – although I strongly suspect that the photograph dates from at least ten years before that. It appears to have been sent by Mrs Cranford to a Miss King in Lincoln. The message is as follows:-
We got away for a few days. The weather is lovely. I was nearly killed last night climbing hills. This is just at the top where we live.
The hill in question is no doubt Salterhebble Hill, and I can well imagine that poor Mrs Cranford was nearly killed climbing it. When they first built the tramway system in Halifax, they feared that no conventional tramcar could cope with Salterhebble Hill, and for a time considered either a tramcar lift or an inclined plane. Both suggestions were eventually dismissed, and those feisty Edwardian engineers eventually managed to get a conventional tram to climb the hill. If, in this modern day and age, you leave the car behind and choose to walk up the hill, there will be no refreshing pint waiting to reward you at the Stafford Arms.
This card is yet another example of the popular “multi-view” cards that were produced during the early years of the twentieth century. Postcard publishers were fond of this approach, as it allowed them to republish existing images with the simple addition of a coat of arms or similar device. I think I have all seven of the individual views of famous Halifax locations within my postcard collection. The caption “The Rooks” is clearly a printing error, for the view is clearly that of the Rocks and Albert Promenade. The Orphanage is the current Crossley Heath School: it was known as the Crossley and Porter Orphanage until it changed its name to the Crossley And Porter Schools in 1918. The coat of arms depicted on the card is interesting: there are several versions of the Halifax coat of arms or town crest illustrated on the internet – none of which seem to feature this particular design.
The message on the reverse of this card is as follows:-
Dear Cousins, Very pleased to hear from you. Uncle’s address is 15 Lane Ends Terrace, Hipperholme. You must not be surprised if you see us anytime when you get settled as we shall not have as far to come. Mother sends her kind love. We have removed to Bramley Lane, Lightcliffe. With love Lucy. Send proper address at Sheffield.
The card was posted on the 8th August 1912 to Mrs Otter of the Wheatsheaf Inn, Bridge Street, Gainsborough.
There is a fascinating short description of the town of Halifax printed on the back of the postcard which tries to sum up the town in just fifty words. An interesting exercise would be to try and encapsulate Halifax now, at the start of the twenty-first century, in just fifty words.
A popular pub quiz trivia question in these parts is “What is odd about the name of the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees?“. The answer is that it is named after Kirklees Hall – which is in fact in the neighbouring borough of Calderdale. For most of my life I have lived within an arrows-shot of Kirklees Hall and, I must confess, I have never actually seen it. This is as much a result of the privacy notices that surround the property and its adjacent grounds, as my lack of curiosity. I remember, as a youth, climbing over a few fences to visit Robin Hood’s Grave, which is in the grounds, but I never caught sight of the Hall itself.
The Hall is Jacobean in origin – although most of the visible structure results from an eighteenth century rebuild by the architect, John Carr. It was built in the grounds of the twelfth century Kirklees Priory, where – legend suggests – Robin Hood met his death. Whilst lying on his deathbed he is supposed to have shot an arrow from the old Priory, and decreed that he should be buried wherever the arrow landed – hence the famous grave. Sad to say, the grave is a Victorian edifice, and most of the legend of Robin Hood is a romantic fantasy: but it was still worth climbing a fence to see.
The Hall remained under the ownership of the Armytage family right up until the 1980s, when it was converted into luxury apartments. The Priory itself is long gone and commemorated these days by the name of the Three Nuns Inn.
The card was sent in August 1914, just a few weeks after the outbreak of World War 1 (although there is no mention of the conflict in the message). It was sent to a Mrs Margrave of 22 Cocker Street, Blackpool, from someone who signs themselves as :F”. The message is as follows:-
Very pleased to hear you are having a good time, keep it up. By the way tell L that those postcards she sent me have evidently gone astray. Kind regards to all, F (Here with Walt tonight)
It is unclear as to where F (along with Walt) is tonight: it is more likely to be Brighouse than it is Kirklees Hall. Nevertheless, it could just be that the Hall was used for military training purposes during World War 1 (the grounds certainly were during World War 2), and possibly F and Walt were preparing to go to France and fight in the war. As with most old postcards, the lack of certainty just adds to the interest.
There is a modern passion for “colourising” old monochrome photographs and films, and when this is skilfully done, it can provide a more accurate link to the past. Reproducing scenes in various shades of grey was simply a short interlude in our visual history – imposed by the technical limitations of early photographic techniques. Neither the cave painters of Lascaux nor the old masters of the Renaissance would have dreamt of limiting their palettes to black and white. When we close our eyes and conjure up a scene, we conjure with reds, and blues, and greens.
The early manufacturers of picture postcards refused to be limited by the photographic processes that were available to them at the turn of the twentieth century. Using the monochrome outlines provided by their cameras, they applied colour with bravado rather than accuracy, tinting and colourising the streets of our towns and cities.
This early twentieth century postcard of Commercial Street in Brighouse is a particularly good example of the tinter’s art, with its too blue sky and its mustard coloured streets. The buildings are real enough, however, and a walk down Commercial Street today would reveal most of these nineteenth century shops still in place: although the original owners have long left the scene. Thomas Clayton’s Central Mart was Brighouse’s equivalent of a department store, where you could buy everything from knicker elastic to linoleum. Think of it as an Amazon of the High Street.
The message on the reverse of the card is satisfyingly prosaic.
Dear Friends, We arrived home about 9 o’clock on Sat having spent a very pleasant time in Skipton. Father is a lot better and going about his work as usual, we hope that at some future time we may be able to spend a few more days with you, we always feel so much better after coming. With the best of love to you. From Mr and Mrs Turner.
The card was addressed to Mr and Mrs Whitlock in Morecambe, and we can surmise that the Turners had just returned from a holiday by the sea. No doubt whilst they were away, they bought many postcards of Morecambe to send to their friends back home; and the same postcard colourists had done a similar justice to the blue skies and mustard coloured sands of Morecambe Bay.
In some ways the centre of Elland has changed little since this photograph was taken 100 years ago, whilst in other ways it has changed so very much. The Saville Arms is still open, and still dispensing beer, but the bank opposite has stopped dispensing cash and many of the shops stand empty. The clock has gone and so have the cobbles, but the scene is still instantly recognisable.
The card was posted in Lincolnshire and it contains a somewhat uncertain, and rather formal, message :-
Dear Sister, We are coming either Saturday next or Monday next but not sure which, A Ingall.
Hopefully Mrs Ingall managed to get to see her sister in Sutton-On-Sea. Hopefully the people of Elland will get to see commerce thriving again in these buildings in due course.
Back in the early twentieth century, when picture postcards were all the rage, the subjects reflected what people saw as important, what they were proud of, what – to them – represented their home towns and villages. There were, of course, many pictures of celebrity music hall stars and vacuous views of pretty nothingness; but there were also grand public buildings – town halls, churches, and museums. There was a municipal pride that seems to have sadly evaporated as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first.
So if you were writing to a Belgium beauty from Edwardian Halifax, what better image to send her than one of the finely proportioned Bankfield Museum. The subtext doesn’t seem to say, “look at the fine homes the rich and famous can live in“, but, “look at what we can create together when we are proud of our collective history“.