These are four photographs from the same strip of negatives, which I must have taken some fifty years ago. At about that time I was doing a summer job in the warehouse of Riding Hall Carpets which was just opposite the old Halifax Gas Works. One lunchtime, me and a couple of mates were stood on the loading bay, having a smoke and shouting comments, that in retrospect make me somewhat ashamed, at passing young ladies. My eyesight must have been pretty suspect, even back in those days, because one of my mates had to point out to me that it was my own girlfriend who was the object of one of my raucous comments. Fifty years later, the accumulated shame of my past bad behaviour has made me take a cup of early morning tea to that same young lady – my wife of 47 years!
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.
Today’s scan features a strip of negatives that come from a film from the 1980s. Three photographs from the strip feature Elland. Two of them show some half-demolished buildings with the tower of St Mary’s Church in the background. The buildings, which look a little worse for wear, must face onto Westgate, and they may include the back of the old Rose And Crown Inn. The inn – which dates from 1725 and is a Grade II listed building – is still standing, although as a boarded-up empty building rather than as a living pub.
The third shot was taken a little further along Southgate, I think, and features the door to one of those old cafes where the entrance always seemed to be around the corner.
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.
Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week could be made to measure for the two photos I am going to share. Although I chose the theme image, its connection to two old photographs I took some 52 years ago didn’t occur to me until the other day when I was trawling through my collection of old colour slides looking for an image to post. The theme image comes from the Flickr Commons collection of the Belgian organisation Liberas, which is devoted to preserving and managing the heritage of liberal organisations in that country. The actual image features a canal barge in the Belgian town of Ghent in 1897.
Jump forward 71 years and move north-east by fifty kilometres and you will get to Bruges in the summer of 1968. My photograph features my niece, Diana, two of my friends, Dave Hebblethwaite and Darrel Oldfield, on my brothers barge, Brookfoot, which was moored on a canal in the beautiful city of Bruges. If 1967 was the Summer of Love, then 1968 was the famous Summer of Discontent, People throughout Europe were protesting on the streets and calling for a new solidarity between workers and students, friendship between all European people, and the creation of a new society. Darrel, Dave and myself had left our native West Yorkshire, and, carrying a banner proclaiming that “Workers Unity Wins”, we had started hitchhiking around Europe, seeing the sites, meeting up with other groups of students, and luxuriating in our youthful freedom.
My brother, his wife and daughter, were on a different European mission. They had recently sailed their flat-bottomed Yorkshire barge across the English Channel, and had embarked on a tour of the canal system of Northern Europe. Our paths crossed in Bruges, and we stayed on the barge for a couple of nights. Following the meeting which is preserved in these two old photographs, Darrel, Dave and myself continued our journey around Belgium and Holland and then returned home to go our separate ways to University, and to whatever life had in store for us. My brother and his family continued sailing through the canals of Europe and then swapped canal boats for sailing boats and headed for the Caribbean. We are all still waiting a new society, and – on this day when the UK officially leaves the European Union – I fear that it might be further away than ever.
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.