Back in the early twentieth century, when picture postcards were all the rage, the subjects reflected what people saw as important, what they were proud of, what – to them – represented their home towns and villages. There were, of course, many pictures of celebrity music hall stars and vacuous views of pretty nothingness; but there were also grand public buildings – town halls, churches, and museums. There was a municipal pride that seems to have sadly evaporated as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first.
So if you were writing to a Belgium beauty from Edwardian Halifax, what better image to send her than one of the finely proportioned Bankfield Museum. The subtext doesn’t seem to say, “look at the fine homes the rich and famous can live in“, but, “look at what we can create together when we are proud of our collective history“.
It took me a few moments to fit the scene depicted in this 1908 postcard of Hall End, Halifax, into my late twentieth century perceptions of the town. “Hall End” was not a description I was immediately familiar with, nor were the buildings in the centre of the scene. The rather grand building which is centre-left in this view is so typically Halifax, however, it didn’t take me too long to recognise the point at which Silver Street and Crown Street converge. The grand building was the home of the Halifax Commercial Banking Company – it later became Lloyds Bank – and today it is known as “The Old Bank” and it is occupied by a variety of retail and commercial ventures.
Those buildings in the centre – Nicholson’s the glovers, and Lonsdales, the piano seller – were eventually demolished in the 1920s and replaced by another grandiose bank building which was built for the National Provincial Bank, and is now the home of the NatWest. The building on the right is still there today, whilst the one on the left was demolished in the late twentieth century to make way for a couple of concrete boxes, as part of a scheme to punish the town for being too architecturally interesting.
The card was sent by Amy and Phyllis to their friend, the splendidly-named Edith Don Leo (surely there is a genealogical tale behind that name well worth researching!). The message reads as follows:-
Dear Edith, We were pleased to receive your P.C. We are all well and hope you are the same. On Good Friday our shop will be closed after ten A.M. so if the weather is nice we may pay you a visit, that is if you will be at home. I will have some fun with you if we come. Love from Amy & Phyllis.
I hope they managed to get to Batley to see Edith. I hope the weather was nice on that Good Friday and I hope they all had lots of fun. I certainly had fun taking a trip around Hall End one hundred and ten years later.
It is many years since I first walked down Coley Lane and caught sight of Coley Hall. Memories from those days have already turned sepia, and therefore discovering this old picture postcard of the rear of the Hall, seems somehow appropriate. These days the Hall looks very smart, a most desirable residence, very different to the old hall I remember.
Records suggest that there has been a property on the site since the thirteenth century, and parts of the current Hall date from the seventeenth century. A certain John de Coldeley was recorded has living there in 1286, and by the time of the English Civil War, it was owned by Langdale Sunderland, a committed supporter of the Royalist cause. He was a Cavalier Captain, and he was supposed to have kept a regiment of horse at the Hall during the conflict. The Hall came under attack from Commonwealth troops and part of the frontage of the house was destroyed.
Members of the Langale Sunderland family were living in the Hall well into the twentieth century – about the time I first started walking down Coley Lane.
If there is a nineteenth century park or public building in Halifax, there is a fair chance that it was set out or erected by one of the Crossley Brothers. If not, it will be a near certainty that it was the work of Colonel Edward Ackroyd. Their names are woven into the very fabric of the town – in buildings streets and public spaces. Shroggs Park, was the work of Colonel Edward Ackroyd: built on a piece of waste ground overlooking the Wheatley Valley in 1872. Ackroyd was a fascinating character and his contribution to the area was considerable – note to whoever may be listening: if you want a good follow-up to Gentleman Jack, you could do worse than make a TV series about Edward Ackroyd – and Shroggs Park is one of many of his legacies that has lasted well into the twenty-first century.
Nobody seems to be quite sure of the origins – or indeed the eventual fate – of the cannons that appear in this 1910 photograph, but from the way they have been stationed, the town is well protected from invaders from both east and west.
The card was posted in June 1910 to a Miss Cissie Servant in Jordanhill, Glasgow, and reads as follows:-
My Dear Cissie, I am having a delightful time of it, and getting good weather. Have been through the mill today. It was most interesting. Love to all, Jeannie. Leaving here Thursday
One can only assume that Jeannie had “been through the mill” in a literal sense rather than an idiomatic one. Could it, perhaps, have been one of the mills of Colonel Ackroyd?
This midget gem dropped through my letter box yesterday, along with a dozen or so more old vintage postcards (is there a word for people who are addicted to buying useless ephemera on eBay?) I have never come across a “Midget Post Card” before, but they appear to have been popular for a short period during the height of the postcard craze of the early twentieth century, They weigh-in (so to speak) at a featherweight three and a half inch by two and three quarters, and the reverse side already appears overcrowded once a stamp and an address have been added.
There is, however, something about the shape which is quite satisfying – especially when it provides a frame for one of the great beauties of the Edwardian era, Lily Brayton. Lily was born in Lancashire in 1876, the daughter of a local doctor. Acting must have been in the family somewhere, because both her and her sister went on this stage, and in 1898 she married the Australian actor, director and writer, Oscar Asche. They became the celebrity couple of their era: if it had been a century later, Lily and Oscar would have TV programmes made about their lives and millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Because it was the start of the twentieth century, Lily had her image on hundreds of picture postcards.
This particular tiny postcard was sent to Mrs Hailes of the Royal Marine Barracks in Stonehouse, Plymouth in July 1904. The message is short and to the point (they had to be on midget postcards – a little like Twitter you were restricted in the number of characters you could use! “Train leaves Millbay at 2.20pm. We shall be delighted to have the children for the night, EH.”
You can make of that what you will. Alternatively, you can look into the eyes of the midget gem that is Lily Brayton.
Belle Vue is a building that many Halifax people of a certain age will be familiar with, as it used to be the Central Library – although tucked away up Lister Lane it was not very central. Now it is an up-market wedding venue: from novels to nuptials!
Belle Vue was built in 1857 as a home for Sir Francis Crossley and it was designed by the architect George Henry Stokes – the assistant to, and son-in-law of, Sir Joseph Paxton (of Crystal Palace fame). It became the home of Halifax Central Library in 1889, and remained so until 1983, when it then moved to the centre of Halifax. The Halifax War Memorial was also originally situated in the grounds, until it too was moved in 1988.
The Belle Vue postcard was used in November 1913 as a kind of early on-line shopping order. “Please get me half a yard of Turkey Red Twill for my quilt”, writes Lucy The card was sent to Mrs Hartland of Margate Street in Sowerby Bridge, and the message reads as follows:-Dear M, When you are out shopping some time will you please get me half a yard of Turkey Red Twill for my quilt. I have used up all I have so far as I know now we shall be coming home on Sunday. Love to both, Lucy.
Turkey Red was a dyeing process used of cotton cloth and yarn and producing rich vibrant colours. It was particularly popular in the nineteenth century and Turkey Red cloth was produced widely in Scotland. I did manage to find an advert for some genuine 100 year old Turkey Red Twill on eBay, so if Lucy would like to drop me a postcard, I can order her some.