It's time to introduce the second of my special summer series which will run alongside "Excavations Up My Back Passage" for the next couple of months. This one combines two great loves of mine : local history and beer and it seeks to examine historical events from the perspective of the bar stool. "History Through A Pint Glass" will allow readers to enter the public bar, the snug, or the tap room; enjoy a pint of real ale; and get an insight into some of the more interesting episodes in British history.
We start by going back 150 years to the time of railway mania as we visit what Sir John Betjeman once called "the most splendid station facade in England" - as we visit the King's Head and the Head of Steam at Huddersfield Station.
Let us start in the King's Head which is the bar located in the right hand pavilion of the main station building. Settle down with a pint of one of the many real ales on offer and consider what it must have been like to live in a thriving, confident industrial town which was in danger of being by-passed by the high-speed broadband of its day - the rapidly expanding railway network. It is 1841, only 16 years since the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened, and the rapidly expanding railway network has already linked Leeds to Manchester. The first trans-Pennine line has gone a few miles to the north of Huddersfield via the Calder Valley, leaving the town isolated, and dependent on horses and carts in the age of steam and power. The people of Huddersfield started planning and petitioning for the railway to come to the town and within a few years it had attracted not one, but two railway companies : the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company and the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company. Huddersfield might have been left with two mediocre stations, but good sense prevailed and the two companies decided to share the same building and one, magnificent, majestic, station was built. Each company had its own booking hall situated in the two pavilions at the edges of the main building. It is these two pavilions which are now the two bars of Huddersfield Station and as you buy your second pint (try the Magic Rock Brewery Curious if it is still available) you can examine in detail what was the booking hall of the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company.
As you drain your glass and prepare for your taxing walk from one side of the station to the other, you might want to read the report in the Leeds Mercury (4th August 1849) of the first day of operation of the new line through Huddersfield :
"On Wednesday, the 1st inst., the Huddersfield and Manchester section of the London and North Western Railway was opened for passenger traffic. During the day the trains were nearly all behind time in consequence of the large influx of parties anxious to obtain a ride on the first day of the opening, and the great number of passengers that passed over the line to and from the agricultural show at Leeds. The last train to Manchester in the evening was due at Huddersfield at 8.32, but did not arrive until 10.15. A slight accident happened at the Marsden end of the Standedge tunnel, but luckily without further damage than the delay it occasioned to the down train from Manchester due at Huddersfield at 9.55."
By now you should have reached the second of our two bars, the Head of Steam, which is located in what once was the booking hall of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. When the station was at the height of its grandeur in the High Victorian age, the hospitality was provided by the Station Hotel which was situated in the centre of the building in what is now the main booking hall. The two bars in the pavilions are comparatively recent inhabitants of the fine old building, but you can buy yourself a pint of one of the many real ales available at the Head of Steam and pay homage to both the architect and the builder of this fine listed structure. The architect was J P Pritchett, a York based architect who was responsible for the design of many famous buildings in the County. The builder was the famous Huddersfield builder Joseph Kaye who was responsible for so many of the glories of Victorian Huddersfield.
What better way to finish our investigations into the railway history of Huddersfield that to buy yourself a final pint and perhaps take it through to the dining room for a spot of lunch. History through four pint glasses and a decently cooked steak.