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.
This is a scan of an old negative of mine which gives rise to a couple of questions. I am not sure about the date – there is a train in the image, but trains change so slowly in these parts, it could be anytime during the last sixty years. You can make out the old Riding Hall Carpet Mill in the background, and that, I think, was demolished sometime around 1980. The other question relates to the two main buildings you can see in the picture: both at the time were factories for John Mackintosh & Sons. One was called Bailey Hall and the other was Albion Mills, but I can’t remember which was which. If my brother is reading this far away on his sunny Caribbean island, he might be able to tell me, as he worked there fifty or more years ago.
In reviewing my old negatives, it appears as if I spent a large part of my youth walking up and down Shaw Lane in Halifax. Here is a triptych of views from a strip of negatives shot in the 1970s. I am particularly fond of that final image – it sums up so much about the Halifax of my youth.
This is an illustration from a book I have yet to write, which – in my own mind, at least – is entitled “Monochrome Valley“. It shows Bank Bottom in Halifax in the early 1970s. Square Church spire and Halifax Parish Church fight to be seen through the industrial smoke. I have a feeling that I took this photograph from the loading bay of Riding Hall Carpets, where I was working at the time.
This is a new scan of a photograph I took over 50 years ago, and it shows the Halifax Charity Gala parade in 1965 passing the old Ramsden’s Stone Trough Brewery building (RIP) at Ward’s End, with the ever-present Victoria Theatre in the mid-distance.
A strip of medium format negatives dating from the 1980s is the next to go on my scanning machine. I took these photographs whilst on a walk down Shaw Lane in Halifax, at a time of transition for the town. The last of the mills that had been at the heart of the economic and social life of the town for the previous one hundred and fifty years were closing down and there was an almost desolate feel to parts of the town: streets were empty, building abandoned – almost as if life had moved out and moved on. The soot – that preserved footprint of the industrial revolution – still coated the stone walls and chimneys of the dark forgotten mills.
Thirty or forty years on, the buildings still stand but they have a new vibrancy about them. What were industrial graveyards are now art spaces, dance studios, and retail units. Life has returned and reclaimed the infrastructure.
A strange set of coincidences took me on a virtual trip to Clark Bridge Mills in Halifax yesterday. It started with my never-ending quest to prune my bookshelves – the Good lady Wife keeps threatening to bring in a structural engineer as she believes that the beams and floorboards can no longer support the weight of books. One volume under consideration for the knackers yard of literature (aka the Charity Book Shop) was a slim volume entitled “British Trademarks of the 1920s and 1930s“, by John Mendenhall. On review, the book was far too slim and far too interesting to be consigned to ignominy, so there is no point searching your local Oxfam shop for my copy – it remains on my straining shelves for future reference. The review process I use is a complex one, and one that has resulted from many years of experimentation: I sit down with a mug of tea and a chocolate biscuit and randomly browse the contents of the book in question. Whilst doing so I came across the illustration reproduced above, which was a trade mark used by the firm Patons & Baldwins of Clark Bridge Mills, Halifax in 1927. Whilst Patons and Baldwins is a name I am familiar with as being a well known manufacturer of knitting yarns, I wasn’t familiar with their link to Halifax, so I did some digging.
Clark Bridge Mills were just below the Parish Church and were the original home of J&J Baldwins, which later became Patons & Baldwins. The mills were damaged by flooding in 1914 and by fire in 1925, so before pestilence could descend on the undertaking, Patons & Baldwin moved to Darlington, where they built the world’s largest knitting yarn factory. The mill was eventually demolished in 1980, and now the Halifax branch of Matalan occupies part of the site.
Yesterday evening I was sorting through some of my old negatives – films I had shot in the 1970s and 1980s, and by complete coincidence I came across one I had captioned “Demolition site, near Bailey Hall, Halifax, 1980“, which includes my father in the foreground, gazing wistfully towards Bailey Hall, his former workplace. It didn’t take me long to work out that the building being demolished in my photograph was Clark Bridge Mills.
The third coincidence only hit me later when I realised that Clark Bridge Mills had gone under a different name between 1945 when it was abandoned by Patons & Baldwin, and 1980 when it was demolished. It was known as Riding Hall Mill, and was the home of the carpet manufacturer of that name. No wonder the mill had a familiar feel about it, for I worked there for a time in the early 1970s. So what started with a sheep’s head and went via a demolished mill, ended up with a little bit of my own personal history. What a coincidence at Clark Bridge Mills.