Friday, May 31, 2019

Coincidence At Clark Bridge Mills

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.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Postcards From Home : A Alms Race In Halifax

Although this postcard was not postally used - and therefore has no convenient postmark on the back to help date it - we can be reasonably sure it dates from that first decade of the twentieth century, when picture postcards were the Twitter of their day. The card shows Sir Francis Crossley's Almshouses which are on Margaret Street, just off Lister Lane in Halifax. The almshouses were built in 1855, just next to the home of Sir Francis Crossley, Belle View, which can be seen to the left in this view. The almshouses provided accommodation for the elderly, and to qualify for a place you needed to be at least 60 years of age, without adequate means of support, of good character, having had a religious upbringing, and being incapacitated from work by age, disease and infirmity. Whilst this list of provisions may sound somewhat restrictive, one can only wonder at an age when the rich were prepared to provide accommodation for the poor and destitute - at the bottom of their own gardens!

Those familiar with Halifax will know that there are two sets of Crossley Almshouses in the town, on opposite sides of People's Park. They were built by the two brothers, Frank and Joseph Crossley, and both still exist today. The Francis Crossley Almshouses, pictured above, predate those built by his brother Joseph on Arden Road, but there is a similar architectural style displayed in both buildings. Whilst the Frank Crossley Almshouses were designed for the poor and elderly of the district, the Joseph Crossley Almshouses were originally intended for the retired workers from Crossley's carpet mills.

The Crossley family left an indelible architectural mark on the town of Halifax which can still be seen today, and Halifax is a more fascinating town because of it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fancy Goods And Photographs

In Search Of Edward Gregson : Part 2

My research into the life and times of Edward Gregson, photographer, of Halifax and Blackpool is both illogical and unstructured: flitting between odd facts and unrelated times, and punctuated by portraits of anonymous Victorian worthies. It is a journey of discovery in which gazing out of the window and enjoying the scenery is far more important than any promised destination. Today, it takes me back 150 years to January 1869, when Edward appears to have branched out from his core photographic business, to supplying everything from ear drops to book slides, from tooth brushes to toilet soaps.

An advert in the Halifax Courier of the 7th January 1869 gives notice of the type of sale that has been a familiar feature of markets, fairgrounds, and auction houses over the centuries; a sale of surplus, damaged or delayed stock, which promises the type of bargain that you cannot afford to miss. If we take the description of the items in the sale as being "surplus stock" which has been delayed - by those familiarly unreliable railway companies - with a pinch of salt (one of the few items not being sold at the sale), we get the impression of Edward Gregson as an entrepreneur who is branching out far beyond the confines of his photographic studios, into all manner of fancy goods. The musical boxes, watch stands, china ornaments and mechanical toys might well have sold well in the Blackpool studios of Edward Gregson, and he may have seen the opportunity of making them available to the Halifax public.

If nothing else, it shows that by as early as 1869, Gregson - still in his thirties - already had a well established photographic business in both Halifax and Blackpool, and was confident enough to describe himself as a "photographer and dealer in fancy goods".

This little Carte de Visite from Gregson's studio probably dates from a few years after the sale of fancy goods mentioned above. Nevertheless, could this rather stern-looking lady, captured by E Gregson the photographer, be wearing a necklace and bracelet supplied by E Gregson the fancy goods merchant?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Postcards From Home : Crown Street, Halifax

This is a rather odd little postcard which dates from the early years of the twentieth century and features a view of Crown Street in Halifax. For some reason, the publishers - the famous W H Smith & Son - have chosen to print the photograph in a murky black on a dark silvery grey; a process which leaves the scene looking as depressing as it is indistinct. Given the wonders of Photoshop, you can play around with the image and give it a rather warmer and homely finish.

The photograph must have been taken from near the top of Crown Street, from close to where the Sportsman public house stands (although these days it is known as the Gun Dog). The Sportsman was built on the sight of a much older pub (the Rose And Crown), but the current building dates from 1904. It will take an eye more attuned to Edwardian Halifax than mine to decide whether the Sportsman is just visible on the left of this photograph, but if it is of any help, the card was posted in October 1906.

In perfect keeping with the indecipherable grey of the front of the card, the sender has decided to write the message with some form of blunt blue crayon, thus presenting a challenge to anyone who wants to read it. My best shot is as follows:-

To: Miss M Nollie, 21 Simpsons Terrace, Crookhill, Ryton on Tyne
Received your PC alright hoping that you are not offended at me sending you that postcard as I did not no that there was a penny to pay and how are you getting on when I have time to ask you hoping you are well. I'll leave you with luck TD
Posted in Wearhead, October 30 1906

It seems that the sender forgot to put a stamp on the last card he or she sent to Miss Nollie - hence the one penny which had to be paid. Perhaps they had sent it shortly after a good night out at the Sportsman!

Friday, May 24, 2019

In Search Of Edward Gregson : Part 1

There is an advert doing the rounds on television at the moment for some new family history database service which is supposed to make tracing your ancestors as easy as sending a Paypal transfer for £100. Just press a computer key and: "Oh goodness, my grandmother was the daughter of the Duke of Beaudung", says the happy customer, followed by "Well fancy that, my Great Uncle Percy" was with Nelson at Trafalgar"! Those of us who have actually dipped our genealogical toes into the world of old census returns and births, marriages and death notices, know it is never as easy as that. The tangled web we leave when first we practice to deceive, has nothing on the convoluted web that connects us with the past. Take, for example, Edward Gregson.

Portrait Of Unknown Couple, E Gregson,
Edward Gregson was not - as far as I am aware - any relative of mine, but he was a photographer and native of my own home town of Halifax. Over the years, I have managed to collect a small number of his photographs which date from the latter half of the nineteenth century. I have featured several of these in my various blogs, and on the last occasion that I featured one of his Carte de Visites, I recklessly vowed that I was off in search of his story. We know from the studio details printed on his various photographs that he had studios both in Halifax and Blackpool, and several Halifax addresses are associated with his name, including the Central Portrait Rooms, Waterhouse Street, Bedford Street,  and Lister Lane.  We can't even be sure of his name - there are referenced to both Edward Gregson and Edgar Gregson, both of whom were Halifax photographers - nor the dates when they were active. Quite clearly we have a photographic dynasty at work, and untangling it is going to be just as difficult as getting your portrait subjects to stand or sit still for long enough for your Victorian shutter to click open and closed.

What I should do, of course, is to lock myself away in a dark room, do lots of research and eventually come back to you with the fruit of my labours in the form of a clear and precise account of E Gregson, photographer and businessman. But that would be boring for me, and probably excruciatingly boring for you. Far better to join me as I dig and delve into whatever I can find out, in no particular order, and with the possibility of no precise conclusions. It is not, perhaps, as satisfying as being told that your Cousin Mabel was a pony driver for Scott's Expedition to the Antarctic .... but at least it won't cost you £100. 

Let us start with a bit of solid evidence, which is a death notice from the Halifax Courier of 12th January 1889, of one Edward Gregson, photographer of Halifax and Blackpool who died of dropsy at the age of 56. We now have a definite birth year (1833); a death year (1889), and a definite name, Edward Gregson. Let us see where this takes us.....  (to be continued .... probably)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Random History : Tramcar Obscenities


People today just don't know how to behave. There is no discipline. Fighting, swearing, misbehaving on a Corporation tramcar - we didn't act like that when I was young.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

When Burne-Jones Was In Brighouse

I must have walked passed St James Church in Brighouse many times in my youth. It wasn't demolished until 1973, and by that time I have moved out of the area. When I returned in the early 1990s, all signs of its existence at the bottom of Bonegate in Brighouse had been buried under a new housing development. It is a great pity that I never stopped to explore the building when it was still standing, because it appears to have been full of artistic surprises. 

This particular photograph of the Church - which stood on Bradford Road just north of the town centre - does not make it look very grand, but that may be the fault of the postcard photographer rather than the church architect. It was opened in 1870 as a "chapel of ease" for Brighouse Parish Church (St Martin's on Church Lane). It's size - it could accommodate 450 worshippers - reflected Brighouse's status as a growing town, and it's cost (some £3,500) was raised by local subscription.

Detail of Cruxifiction Window by Edward Burne-Jones from St James Church Brighouse. Now in Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley: Photograph Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly it opened two stained glass windows by the famous Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones, were installed; and later further windows by Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were added. The church was eventually closed in 1970 (exactly 100 years after it was opened) and it was demolished in 1973. Luckily, the windows were saved and can now be found in Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley. From illustrations I have seen of them, they were significant works of art, and a visit to Cliffe Castle to see them is high on my to-do list. Perhaps if I add paid more attention fifty years ago, I would have seen them in their original location.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...