This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.
Spa resorts are difficult things to comprehend at the best of times. The idea that people will travel significant distances in order to soak themselves in some lukewarm, mineral-enriched (or, depending on your point of view, mineral-polluted) spring-water is somewhat counterintuitive : the idea that someone might be tempted to swallow rancid cup-fulls of the bubbling brew is a challenge to credulity. But given that spa resorts exist, the least they could decently do is to locate themselves in some suitable place. The most famous British spa resort is the magnificent city of Bath. I have no problems with that. Buxton, and even Harrogate, share a neo-Georgian paradigm which can be best described by the word "posh". But Osset?
So when the random number generator decided to send me to square 38 on page 174 my immediate reaction was amazement on discovering that Osset Spa actually existed outside the realms of a drunken game of fantasy location. For those not familiar with West Yorkshire, or Britain, or even Europe, how can I explain this. It is like an Australian discovering that as well as a Sydney Opera House there is also a Wonglepong Opera House. Or an American having to come to terms with the Grand Canyon of Florida. It just doesn't roll off the tongue in the right way, it just doesn't seem to hold water.
And if the truth is told, Osset Spa doesn't hold much water these days. I am reliably informed that if you dig amongst the nettle beds in the fields that border Spa Lane you might find the ruins of the last remain bath house, but your intrepid explorer and guide made do with the more modern interpretation of an old enamel bathtub being used as a cow-feeder.
Natural springs have existed in this area since time-almost-immemorial, but it wasn't the Romans who were the first to exploit their restorative powers, or even the Georgian Dandies. It was a couple of local Victorian chancers called James Ward and William Craven who built the competing Cheltenham Sulphurous Baths and the New Cheltenham Baths on land next to Spa Lane in the early 19th century. The idea of going to Osset (delightfully situated 'twixt Dewsbury and Wakefield) to take the waters never really caught on and even an attempt to convert the area into a more down-market pleasure gardens later in the century ended in the bankruptcy courts.
All that remains these days is the name, and even that can be difficult to spot unless you have been sent there by a random number generator that seems addicted to curiosities. When you get there you find that fairly typical West Yorkshire menu of fields, factories and terraced houses.
Anyone who has traveled through England will have probably been to Osset Spa. Some 20,000 vehicles a day speed up the M1 motorway that takes a bite out of the corner of my square. If you look out of the window of a passing car you might just see the odd factory or two or even the odd nettle patch. But you will have little idea of what might be hidden there. Such is the delight of this varied, history-soaked county that I am privileged to call home.