A determination to catch the last of the late summer sun took me to Brighouse Canal Basin yesterday, and a determination to scan my way through all my old photographs also took me to the same place – albeit fifty-three years earlier.
The canal basin was looking glorious in the sunshine. A few late flowers added to the colour provided by the moored barges, whilst the leaves on the trees were taking their cue from the stone-browns of the old mills and warehouses. Old fools such as me, spend too much of our lives complaining about all that has been lost, without acknowledging the positive aspects of planning and architectural developments over the last half century. The Brighouse Basin of my youth was a sad and forgotten place, as lacking in colour as the monochrome prints of it that survive.
By chance, one such print worked its way to the top of my scanning pile yesterday. I think the photograph was taken in the basin, and I think I was the photographer, and I suspect that it may have been sometime around 1967. My brother – who is pictured along with my father woking on the conversion to his boat Brookfoot – will no doubt read this post on his far-off Caribbean island and correct me on the dates and locations as necessary. He won’t be able to correct the description because it is written on the back of the print in his own hand, and it reads as follows: “Fixing the longitudinal members in position with “Gripfast”. My father is also shown in this photograph lending a hand“. It seems that the photograph may have been submitted for publication as part of an article my brother was writing on his conversion of the old Yorkshire Keel barge. If that was the case, and if it was my photograph, I am obviously due some royalties, even after this lengthy period of time. You know where to send the money to, Roger!
“The new Cemetery is situated in Lighteliffe Road, and contains an area of about nine acres. The frontage towards the above-named road is enlosed with a atone wall and also ornamental wrought-iron railings, and has two wells for water, one for domestic purposes, and the other for the use of cattle….. The buildings include the Lodge and two Chapels. The former is situated on the left hand side of the entrance, and is a new and plain building in the gothic style of architecture… The Chapels are placed on the summit of a natural eminence in the midst of the Cemetery, and form a simple, but not ineffective group of buildings in the geometrical gothic style of architecture. They are surmounted in the centre by a tower about 65 feet high. In the tower is a door leading into the porches, and from there into the Chapels, which are finished inside with open temple roofs, boarded. There is also open benches for seats, and the whole neatly furnished”. BRIGHOUSE NEWS 8 AUGUST 1874
The last of the four photographs from Brighouse back in the 1960s shows the busy pavements of Bethel Street with the unmistakable facade of the Prince of Wales Pub (now The Old Ship) in the background. The renaming of pubs is normally a retrograde process, but in the case of the Prince of Wales / Old Ship, there is an element of justification. The present building, which dates from 1926/27, occupies the site of a former public house called the Tap and Spile (as logical name for a pub as you could ever hope to find), but when it was rebuilt in 1927, it was re-named “The Prince of Wales”. Whether it was named in honour of the then Prince of Wales (who was later to become – albeit briefly – King Edward VIII) I am not sure. It didn’t become the Old Ship until early in the present century, although the rationale for the name dates back to the rebuilding in the 1920s. There has always been quite a fad for incorporating the timbers of old warships into public houses (the White Beare in Norwood Green provides a perfect 16th century example of this), and in the 1920s, the brewery were lucky enough to buy up some of the timbers of HMS Donegal, which had just been broken up in Portsmouth. The Donegal (built in 1858) had a pretty routine life as a ship of the line, transporting troops here and there and serving time as part of the Royal Navy’s Torpedo School, but she did have one moment of glory back in 1865 when she was undertaking coastguard duties off the Lancashire coast. Whilst there she was the scene of the last surrender of the American Civil War, when she took the surrender of the Confederate ship CSS Shenandoah. Quite why the last surrender of the American Civil War took place within what are now the timbers of a Brighouse pub is a tale worth telling only in the confines of a Brighouse pub with a good supply of beer to hand.
What else is there to do? Once you have taken a photograph looking down Briggate in Brighouse, the obvious thing to do is to walk to the other end of the street and take a photograph looking up Briggate. As with so many of the photos I took over fifty years ago, it is the inconsequential details that fascinate the most: the bumper to bumper parking, the shape of the cars, the notice board outside what, I think, were the Council offices. When it comes down to it, social history is about detail and micro-memories.
This is a photograph I took of Briggate in Brighouse over half a century ago. It seems like only yesterday, but the fact that the right hand side of the street no longer exists proves that it was a lot of yesterdays ago. This was Brighouse before Wilko, before Tesco, before one-way streets and climbing gyms.
With nothing much to do other than read old newspapers, I found this article in a copy of the local Brighouse News from exactly 140 years ago. It was a report by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Britton, on efforts being taken to combat the outbreak of scarlet fever (Scarlatina) in the town. Reading through the list of measures – social distancing, quarantining, closing schools, limiting funeral ceremonies, even gratuitous disinfectants – you are suddenly reminded that little is new in this world. Granted, we have yet to see the reintroduction of “Nuisance Inspectors”, but it is probably just a matter of time. All I need to do now is to find a copy of the newspaper from a year later to see whether things will ever return to normal.
Precautions Adopted: I now come to a very important part of this report, viz. – the precautions already adopted to put a stop to, and limit the spread of, the disease. I may say that everything has been done by your authority, and by your officers, with one exception, and that is “isolation”, to which I shall refer later on. Bills of “Precautions” have been twice distributed from house to house, and have also been posted in the district. The masters and mistresses of the various schools have been visited, and requested to exercise the greatest caution not to admit children from infected houses. All cases of which we have had any information, and also all suspected cases, have been regularly and systematically visited by your nuisance inspector, in many cases daily, and by myself at intervals of a few days. Not only have the cases been visited themselves, but careful inquiries have been made in the immediate neighbourhood of any cases, in order to ascertain if any more could be heard of. This has been done both at the inspector’s daily rounds, and also at my occasional visits. At these visits to infected houses, the occupants have been cautioned about admitting friends into their houses, and especially children; if they have had any children who remained well, they have been requested to keep them away from school, and not to allow them to mix with other children. They have been supplied with disinfectants gratuitously, and shown how to use them; they have been instructed to use every care in disposing of the slops and secreta from the houses; to observe thorough cleanliness, and to admit as much fresh air as possible into their houses. In cases of death, they have been requested to bury early, to avoid funeral teas, and not to allow children and friends in, to see the corpse; to make a thorough cleansing of house and contents afterwards, as well as after every case of recovery. This is a thing. I am happy to say, that the public generally do.
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!
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.
The Brighouse News of Saturday 2 July 1870 contains a lengthy report of the meeting of the Brighouse Local Board. Local Boards were the precursors to Urban District Councils, and were charged with supervising the provision of such services as water supply, drainage, sewers and gas lighting. Their remit was particularly concerned with public health: they had been established in an attempt to counter the growing threat from disease in the rapidly expanding urban areas of the country.
The June meeting of the Brighouse Local Board seems to have been a fairly dull affair: various sub-committees had been established; there were lengthy debates about people getting access to water stop taps who shouldn’t have access to them; the case of how much to charge someone who wanted water for his garden but not his house was debated at length; and complaints about water being supplied to Clifton without the express permission – and payment to – the Halifax Waterworks Committee were heard. The Local Board then met with a deputation from the Brighouse Temperance Society, and there was a lively debate about the evils of public houses and the dangers of drink being available to the working classes. The meeting didn’t end until a report from the Cemetery Committee had been heard, by which time most members of the Board and the officials attending the meeting were probably in great need of refreshments of one kind or another.
Directly under this report of the Board meeting there is a short item of correspondence which reads as follows:-
BRIGHOUSE LOCAL BOARD To the Editor of the Brighouse News SIR, Amid the innumerable demands for money for all sorts of things, can you spare me a corner in which to plead for funds for so small an object as paying the members of your Local Board by day; as I am sure the little business they have to do (if worth doing at all) will be better done in business hours, than at midnight, and the change would not only benefit them, but would give the reporters an opportunity of going home by DAYLIGHT
You have to admire the reporters who managed to sneak this item into the columns of the paper. Who says the Victorians didn’t have a sense of humour!