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.
It has always been the fate of some to live in the shadow of their bigger, better or more celebrated companion. Think of Robin, who would have been nothing more than a three-wheel car had it not been for his friend Batman. Think of Little John, who was undoubtedly bigger than Robin Hood, but always walking in his shadow. Think of Mycroft Holmes who may have been smarter than his brother Sherlock, but never got to solve any mysteries. Occasionally minor planets escape the gravitational pull of their grander neighbours - British readers might want to consider the case of Ed Milliband and his older brother David - but normally they continue to play Ganymede to someone else's Jupiter. Or - in terms of our little West Yorkshire odyssey - Stirley Hill to someone else's Castle Hill.
Castle Hill must be one of the most prominent landmarks in the Huddersfield area, and it does just what it says on the tin : there is a mock castle structure on top of a prominent hill. OK, the castle that you can see is a late nineteenth century fake, and the hill rises to a mere 305 metres above sea level, but it is chock-full of history. It's a genuine scheduled ancient monument, site of one of the most important iron-age forts in the County, home to settlements from the Mesolithic Age right through to the late middle ages. It's a class act. When the ancient Greeks were defeating the invading Persians at the Battle of Marathon and runners were hot-footing it to Athens to pass on the news, early iron-age settlers were knocking up a hill fort on the top of Castle Hill. When the Romans invaded Britain in the first century AD, the locals took to their fort on top of Castle Hill and chucked stones at the visitors. Even though the original forts are long gone, when the occasional visitor finds their way to Huddersfield it is Castle Hill they want to see. Bold, beautiful, majestic Castle Hill.
But my random number generator is a bit of a tease. By changing just the odd digit it could have sent me to Castle Hill and I could have told tales of chivalry and courage in prose Sir Walter Scott would have been proud of. But instead it sent me a mile away to Stirley Hill from where all I can do is to bask in the views of its more famous neighbour.
To give Stirley Hill its due, it is a good place for views. If I turn my back on Castle Hill I can look down on Huddersfield and, if I had remembered to pack my telescope, I might have been able to see my own house on the distant hillside.
It's a green place which reminds you that if we weren't known as the Blue Planet we might make a claim on the Green Planet franchise. Crops grow, birds sing, insects buzz around and horses graze in field that tempt you to forget that you are within engine-chugging, grease-spitting distance of the heartland of the first industrial revolution. You might think that Stirley Hill has taken an easy path through time, untouched by all that iron-age fighting above it on Castle Hill and all that weaving and wefting down in the valleys of industrial Huddersfield. But you would be wrong. Stirley Hill has had its moment in history, its five-minutes of fame.
To discover it you need to go back almost seventy years. It is the height of the Second World War. Down in the distant valley is the tractor factory of David Brown which, during the war-time emergency, has been converted to making the gearboxes of the famous Spitfire aircraft. During the Battle of Britain the Spitfires and the Hurricanes were just managing to keep the invaders at bay and the David Brown factory was keeping the fighter planes in the air.
Castle Hill provided a wonderful navigation beacon for German bombers who were intent on destroying the David Brown factory. The only defense was to sight a number of anti-aircraft batteries in the vicinity and attempt to shoot the invaders down. And Stirley Hill was the sight of one such battery.
For a moment I feel proud of this triumph of the underdog. As I walk down Hey Lane which dissects my square I search for what remains of the old gun emplacements but my way is barred by a large gate and a larger padlock. But I find a Google Earth image and I am able to transmit a defiant gesture at nearby Castle Hill which always seems to be looking down on its less lofty neighbour. But later, when I get home, I read a report which suggests that the real gun emplacement was on Castle Hill itself and the one on Stirley Hill was merely a dummy built of canvas and poles to purposely attract enemy bombing. I decide not to investigate further, too much information can sometimes be a bad thing.
Whether or not it has paid its historical dues, Stirley Hill is a glorious place. If I was an artist I would want to paint it, to capture its light and shade, its shape and form. And Stirley Hill will always have one thing its more famous neighbour will never have : wonderful views of the glory that is Castle Hill.
To read the other installments of this series follow these links :