The final shot of this particular strip of negatives from fifty or more years ago provides a bit of a clue as to how the various views of the area around Shaw Lane, Halifax, fit together. It is a bit like playing three dimensional chess, in that you are not only trying to remember where you walked over half a century ago, but also trying to fit the buildings and roads into a plan that no longer exists. With the help, however, of an old map, I think I have made a decent attack on the problem, although possibly not a check-mate.
It is this final shot that provided the main clue, because it not only shows the “tunnel” entrance, but also its location in relation to the rest of Shaw Lane. I seem to remember saying a few days ago that this was an area of Halifax that had seen little change. After retracing my steps and comparing what is there now with was was there in the late 1960s, I might need to amend that conclusion. Plus ca change.
This is another image from fifty years ago, taken in the Shaw Lane area of Halifax. It has been a bit of a challenge to pin down where I was when I took this photograph, because – as far as I can work out – it doesn’t exist anymore. However, it appears that this is one of the few surviving photographs of the little known Halifax entrance to the Channel Tunnel! If you manoeuvre your way down this steep cobbled incline you will eventually emerge near Paris …. well, Paris Gates to be exact. That is Shaw Lane at the top of the hill and if you completed the subterranean journey under the mill building you would emerge on what I think is Boys Lane, just above the Shears Inn. Once again, this description is constrained by a lot of “I thinks”, and “as far as I can work outs” : it was all a long time ago and my memory isn’t quite as resilient as those glorious stone sets.
Some of this isn’t there any more. Some of it is. I can’t be entirely sure what is, and what isn’t, because it is a long time since I walked up this narrow cobbled street in Halifax. This photograph was taken over fifty years ago, and I don’t think I have been up this little bit of Boys Lane since then. More to the point, the Google camera van hasn’t been up this particular hill either, and therefore I can’t make a virtual visit from the comfort of my socially distanced desk. The building behind the fence is the Shears Inn – that’s still there, and it is not too many months since I sunk a refreshing pint or two there. The stretch of road in front of the Shears is called Paris Gates. It is thought that the name “Paris Gates” is a corruption of the more prosaic “Parish Gates”, but I prefer to think of it as Halifax’s flirtation with the exotic continent. To match the mood, I have added a touch of exotic colour : some of it is realistic, some of it isn’t. I can’t be sure what is and what isn’t.
You could still walk down Shaw Lane, Halifax, today and see little change to this view I took over fifty years ago. The mill buildings are still there, the cobbles are still set into the street. The wooden shed and railings are gone, the stone is a bit cleaner and there has been a bit of tidying up; but little has changed to the exterior of the building. Step inside the mill buildings, and it’s a different story (or it was before lockdown and, hopefully, will be once again post lockdown). The rattle of looms has been replaced by the calming quiet of art galleries, the cheerful chatter of cafe patrons, and the frenzied exertions of keep fitters.
As with all of my old photographs of Halifax, the two questions that arose as soon as I scanned this old negative were time and place. Place, in the broadest sense, is relatively easy: that is clearly Halifax in the background, and using a similar approach to the way forensic scientists track a bullet’s trajectory, it was taken from somewhere up Southowram Bank, looking over Halifax in the direction of Boothtown. However, Google all I can, I have been unable to identify the exact spot from which I took the photograph. As for time, one needs to use a Halifax Buildings Checklist. Square Church was still there, and so were the cooling towers, but the Hayley Hill flats had already made an appearance. Burdock Way wasn’t but Mack’s offices were. My guess – around 1968.
The origins of large-scale public sculpture in Halifax go back even further than the magnificent Striding Concrete Man (aka Burdock Way). Who can forget the monumental plastic bowling pin of a decade earlier? Built on a scale to rival Charles Barry’s town hall, for much of the sixties it stood like a beacon to cultural imperialism in the land of crown-green bowling.
In recent years, large scale outdoor public sculptures which create enduring landmarks have become popular. Examples are Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North in Gateshead and Andy Scott’s The Kelpies in Grangemouth, Scotland. Few people realise that Halifax was a pioneer of this artistic movement, with its monumental sculpture completed in the early 1970s. We called it Burdock Way.
I can’t quite pin down the exact location of this photograph I took back in 1974. It is Halifax, without a doubt; that is Beacon Hill, more than likely: but the scene must have changed over the decades, and I can’t pinpoint it on Google Earth. It might be that I have scanned the photograph back to front, the hills might be the other way around, the house roofs might be rising not falling. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter – even with a bit of added colour, it is a different time and a different place.
My father worked at Mackintosh’s in Halifax. Every so often, he would bring a bag of what were known as “Throw-Outs” home; misshapen chocolates which were sold off cheap to the factory workers. Whilst this meant a plentiful supply of chocolates for me as a child, you soon got fed up of orange creams and strawberry delights. What I never got fed up of, however, were the colourful cellophane wrappers that encased each of the famous Quality Street selection. You could hold these up to the world and transform the view: skies could become purple and grass blue. You could even hold them up in front of your black and white television and imagine what colour TV might be like if it ever was invented. And for me, these cellophane filters provided an introduction to the wonders of Photoshop.