Tag Archives: Halifax

Fire In Halifax

These are four photographs I took in Halifax in the late 1960s. I remember the day well: I was walking up towards the library at Belle Vue when I came across a fire in one of the mills towards the bottom of Pellon Lane. I have published individual shots from this sequence before, but here – for the first time – are all four shots.

No More Nahums

I took this photograph of Salterhebble Hill in Halifax in the late 1960s for someone who wanted it as evidence in claim for compensation following an accident. Looking at it now, it is fascinating to see long-forgotten buildings such as Nahum’s Union Mill standing where the Water Mill pub and restaurant now stands. This area is undergoing more changes at this current time as part of the road widening scheme.

Park Pride

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.

With Halifax As A Backdrop

On a regular trawl through my old negatives, I came across one of my favourite photographs from almost fifty years ago. It shows two young girls with the familiar sights of 1970s Halifax as a backdrop. Those two young girls from all those years ago are still part of my life: I married the one on the right, and the one on the left is still one of our closest friends.

What is just as fascinating as the two subjects of this photograph is the backdrop. This is the Halifax of fifty years ago: a busy place full of industrial buildings and warehouses. The railway line still snakes its way to North Bridge Station and the cooling towers still overpower more familiar landmarks.

I can zoom in on that backdrop and – in my mind – walk down Winding Road to meet my father at the factory gate at Albion Mills. I can still smell the smoke in the air, I can still hear the trains rattle past. I can still imagine that I can stride up Southowram Bank and take photographs of two girls, with Halifax as a backdrop.

A Walk Along A Windy Promenade

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.

A Bath, Some Militia, And An Ode To Japan Blacking

As we enter the year 2020, everything in the news is far too depressing to dwell upon. I am therefore taking refuge in the news of the past – if for no other reason, than to confirm that things were just as depressing in the past.

Today I am returning 200 years to the 3 January 1820, and my newspaper of choice is the splendidly named Leeds Intelligencer And Yorkshire General Advertiser.

Let us start with a look at education (for the privileged classes) two hundred years ago; and an announcement from Mrs Wilks of Parsonage House, Thornhill, near Wakefield. Mrs Wilks “takes a limited number of young ladies into her house for the purpose of instruction”. Yorkshire parents will have been pleased to learn that they “may rely on every attention being paid to (their daughters) health, morals and general improvement”. The pricing structure looks a little complicated – there appears to be a flat rate for accommodation, extra for tuition, not to mention an additional fifteen shillings a quarter for washing (although whether that is for the child or their clothes isn’t stated). The most delightful sentence in the entire announcement is undoubtedly the penultimate one: – “The Young Ladies are accommodated with Cold and Warm Baths”!

Page two contains a piece that possibly deserves a three-year PhD thesis. It is a public announcement from the officers of the Halifax Regiment of the Local Militia which regrets that the Commanding Officer of Regiment has resigned his commission at a time when “sedition and disloyalty are so notoriously abroad”. Context is everything in understanding this somewhat strange announcement by the Halifax militia officers: the battle of Waterloo was less than five years in the past, and the massacre at Peterloo took place only the previous August. The officers proclaim in their statement that “until it is formally intimated to us, that our services, as a body, are no longer needed, we shall be found at our post, ready for such service, as we may consistently be called upon to perform”. Before we all give the Halifax officers a resounding cheer, it must be remembered that the perceived enemy at the gates was not a foreign army, but the impoverished and disenfranchised English working man and woman.

Let us finish on a more light-hearted note, with an advertisement from Richard Turner, the manufacturer of “Real Japan Blacking”. Japan blacking was a varnish used to coat iron and steel and was very popular in the early nineteenth century. At a time of the year when we have all had a surfeit of mindless television commercial jingles, it is worth remember that the genre is not all that new. All together now ….

“Turner, it is to thee we oweThis all resplendent beauteous glow”

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