Halifax Civic Trust celebrates golden jubilee

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The Chairman of the Halifax Civic Trust has proposed that the tower of Halifax Town Hall be renamed the Elizabeth Tower.

Dr John Hargreaves said it would be a fitting honour to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

And, he outlined his idea at a lunch today to mark the trust’s golden jubilee which was held at the Moorlands Restaurant, Keighley Road, Halifax.

The full speech from Dr Hargreaves is below along with that of local architect George Pickles.

Chris Harris, Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire gave the vote of thanks.

Dr John Hargreaves: “It is appropriate we are celebrating our Jubilee with a festive lunch in North Halifax because so often, for obvious reasons, we tend to focus our sights on Halifax Town Centre.

However, it is important to remind ourselves that Halifax Civic Trust’s first project after its foundation in 1962, was a scheme for improving the appearance of the environs of Bell Hall near Savile Park.

Moreover since 1974 with the creation of Calderdale MBC the context of our vision has necessarily broadened, though historically we still tend to focus predominantly on the area encompassed by the former Halifax County Borough.

However, we have a distinguished tradition of responding to issues relating to North Halifax.

At the invitation of the Friends of Soil Hill Pottery we assumed custody of the remarkable collection of ceramics linked with the Soil Hill pottery North of Halifax which is currently deposited at Bankfield Museum, whose storage facilities we have inspected and we have discussed with the museum ways of developing interest in the collection.

We have visited Illingworth previously spending an evening seeking to explore how another voluntary group at Illingworth St Mary’s Cricket Club seeks to maintain their extraordinary heritage of a clubhouse and grounds in order to continue to provide a vital community asset.

We have visited Mount Zion this morning and have been reminded of the remarkable Christian heritage of Halifax and its hinterland but there must be continuing concern about the precarious condition of some of our local ecclesiastical and nonconformist heritage not least that of St Mary’s Church at Illingworth with its Akroyd baptistry.

We remain concerned that no use appears yet to have been found for the former Illingworth lock-up which with the loss of the public houses situated in the lee of the church contributes to an aura of neglect and decay marring an important gateway route into Halifax.

More specifically we are concerned at the recent disclosure that a rare large bronze sculpture of the Old Testament shepherd boy David by Halifax’s only distinguished sculptress and founder member of Halifax Civic Trust, Jocelyn Horner, has been disposed of by Trinity Academy, the successor to Holy Trinity Senior School.

If it were not possible to incorporate this substantial work of art within the new Academy it should surely have been preserved for future generations to enjoy by CMBC Museum’s Service or offered to the Henry Moore Institute at Leeds, which holds other work by the Halifax sculptress.

We have expressed concern about other threats to our nonconformist heritage in Calderdale, visiting the Methodist graveyard in Greetland, which has the distinction of being the oldest Methodist graveyard anywhere in the world and influenced the inclusion of a scheme to preserve some of the most significant monuments on the site in the plans for a memorial garden as the site is developed as part of the renewal of its mission.

This will hopefully include the earliest tombstones from 1788-89, tombstones reflecting the high incidence of infant mortality in the nineteenth century and the monumental gravestone to Joseph Harger Mitchell a key figure in the development of the building society movement in the twentieth century in Halifax.

Halifax Civic Trust sees a major part of its role as raising awareness within the community of its cultural assets and our support for the campaign to preserve the Calderdale Library and Archive on their conveniently accessible Northgate site has been motivated by listening to sections of the community, in particular, mothers with young children, members of the ethnic minority communities and older people especially those with mobility problems whose experience of lifelong learning will be diminished by removing these facilities from a site close to Calderdale’s public transport hub to a less convenient location.

The re-location and downsizing of the Library, the finest combined purpose built Library, Archives and meeting Room facilities in West Yorkshire will deprive Halifax of a centrally located cultural asset, which most neighbouring Pennine towns like Burnley, Keighley, Skipton and Huddersfield, possess, much to the detriment of some of the sections of the communities who have most treasured this resource in its existing Northgate location and this is to be deeply regretted.

It is my pleasure to introduce the first of our two guest speakers. George Pickles, who will propose a toast to Halifax Civic Trust, connects us with an earlier and as we shall hear a no less challenging period of Halifax Civic Trust’s development as other stalwarts of that era still in membership not least Mary Crossley, whose late husband, Charles was one of our most distinguished Chairmen, can also testify.

I recollect his sharing when we hosted a visit to Halifax by Skipton Civic Trust of his correspondence with John Betjeman which gave us one of my favourite descriptions of modern Halifax as a town ‘full of character and hidden beauty’ with the Piece Hall, thankfully now to be restored, as ‘symbolic of its hidden worth’ and with ‘the skyline of Halifax, its churches, chapels, mills and warehouses’ as ‘something never to be forgotten’ which ‘gives Halifax its identity’.

I also recall also his enthusiastic response to my own suggestion that the design of the Waterhouse windows at Halifax Minster be incorporated into the plans for the refurbishment of the community room at the Waterhouse homes in Halifax.

We continue to raise awareness of Halifax’s unique heritage by collaborating in the extension of the blue plaque scheme and this year in collaboration with the Halifax Town Supporters Club have encouraged the erection of a plaque commemorating the foundation of the Halifax AFC on the site of the former Saddle Inn in a prominent position at the top of Woolshops.

We have already marked the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by a public lecture at Halifax Town Hall attended by Steve Duncan another of the Deputy Lieutenants.

We are currently seeking to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of HM the Queen in a more enduring way by proposing that the magnificent tower of Halifax Town Hall be re-named the Elizabeth Tower as an enduring tribute to a consummate constitutional monarch who has devoted sixty years to the service of the nation and Commonwealth and whose reign has spanned over one third of the existence of Halifax Town Hall which celebrates its 150th anniversary in the year in which the Queen celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of her coronation.

Charles Barry’s tower housing Big Ben at the palace of Westminster has already been re-named the Elizabeth Tower to complement the Victoria Tower within the same building.

Our proposal is that Calderdale MBC should follow suit by re-naming the most distinctive feature of Halifax Town Hall, also designed by Sir Charles Barry, the Elizabeth Tower to complement the Victoria Hall at Halifax Town Hall, which was named in honour of the Queen’s predecessor when her son opened the Town Hall in August 1863.

It is appropriate therefore that we welcome as our second guest speaker at our own Jubilee celebration Chris Harris, Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire who has already expressed her support for this proposal, together with the Mayor of Calderdale.

Consideration is currently being given to how the proposal might be implemented with a commemorative plaque in the entrance hall to Halifax Town Hall which lies beneath the tower.”

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George Pickles: “I was touched to be invited to propose the toast to Halifax Civic Trust on your jubilee and at your Christmas lunch – thank you. Your invitation prompted me to reflect both personally, on the early history of the Trust and on your current work and challenges.

I am an architect – an endangered species- and I would like to start there.

On my father’s side were generations of builders, on my mother’s were Sheffield based wrought iron forgers and Hunslet based engine builders – all people who made amazing things. Along with many others they suffered from the effect of two wars and the depression, re-grouped in Halifax, vowed it would never happen again and encouraged succeeding generations to link their natural skills and aspirations with more education.

Father and his elder brother made a natural progression, of almost medieval antecedents, from understanding stone and mortar and how it fits together (master masons) to being architects, the hard way, studying in the evenings, and as a Royal Engineer and pupilled on the job.

His other brother Wilfred transferred the natural humour of working folk to a much larger audience – he always boasted that he drew much larger houses than my father.

I was the first generation to go to university and studied architecture at Newcastle. It was a shock at first – nothing about stones and mortar and how would the window cleaner reach or the drains work, but studio exercises in arranging shapes, the results being judged by your colleagues and tutors – essays in abstract design and form with precious few reference points.

Like being back at primary school, but of course fundamental to concepts of proportion and the hidden components of beauty.

After that it got easier gradually – design a bus shelter – until in the final of seven years we were designing monasteries in Tibet or airports in California.

The process taught me how difficult it was to design something small, and relatively easier to design a very large building, the type of which nobody had seen before or could understand and therefore comment constructively on.

Architecture had become an intellectual design excercise backed by theory, sometimes very committed and deeply held, on other occasions perhaps rather more shallow and and less perceptive.

It was the days of Peter Cook and Archigram.

Perhaps the vigorous and fascinating 19th century battles of style had given architects the ability stand up for the design theories they believed in.

And how they and their patrons argued and did they believe. Only Gothic style is suitable for a Christian Church; George Edmund Street, a solicitor turned architect, believed that only God could create perfection, so he include deliberate mistakes in his buildings – the missing capital to a column in the Royal Courts of Justice.

Read about the work of Pugin, the battles of Barry. At least they were arguing about proper architecture – some of their solutions were works of true genius and inspiration – how do you successfully integrate a classically designed building with a spire reaching up to the heavens?

Consider also the contrasting style of the Piece Hall with Square Chapel and Square Congrgational Spire, against the natural and memorable backdrop of Beacon Hill.

I had the good fortune to be taught by Bruce Allsop, the author of ‘Towards a Humane Architecture’, a book I took out of the library in 1974 and have never received a reminder for!

His book was concerned that a lot of architecture had lost its way in the post war period, ‘homes and offices look like filing cabinets, factories sprawl over vast territories and no land is spared from the construction of motorways, yet there does not seem to be room for people to live decently.... we give the lowest priority for homes for people and the highest for making money ... urban environment is becoming worse for everybody.’

The National Civic Trust movement was saying the same thing – established in 1957 by Duncan Sandys to stimulate public interest in the protection of the quality of the local rural and urban environment and to work along side local and national government to do that.

I came back in the summer of 1969 – the summer of Honky Tonk Women, Pin Ball Wizard and The Boxer, to earn a bit before taking up a research post at Cardiff University – I never made it – I got ensnared by the fascination of this area and I am pleased I did.

I made the mistake of taking a paper and pencil to my first meeting of the Civic Trust and was immediately asked to be secretary following Peter Rigby.

The local Civic Trust had been formed some years earlier by Geoffrey Hyman, Phyllis Bentley, Jocelyn Horner, the sculptress and Eric Treacy, the railway bishop.

Their meetings were held then in rather cold and dark rooms at the Photographic Society rooms up above Cow Green.

The Trust had recently launched The Luddenden Action Committee, as Luddenden Village looked rather sorry for itself at that time.

I was apparently also secretary of that. This was more exciting as the meetings were held in front of an open fire in the main room of the historic Lord Nelson, chaired by George Smith – a man very aware and proud of the history of Halifax and his family’s role in it and often attended by the local councillor Betty Wildsmith, a down to earth and very friendly lady and effective for those reasons.

I felt at times that the word ‘action’ was a touch ambitious, but the group did build up a list of achievements – it prevent two rows of fine cottages from being demolished. They had been defined as defective as the natural lighting was not good enough to read the newspaper by on a dull day – now they are lovely homes. It cleared up the stream side pathway, and promoted the idea of the village being Halifax’s first Conservation Area, which the council readily accepted.

I knew the hard work had been done when I read an estate agent’s advert for a property in the ‘newly conservated’ village of Luddenden.

Under Charles Crossley’s leadership we made steady progress, and other local amenity societies were founded in the district.

The formation of the MBC of Calderdale gave them us an opportunity to work together and celebrate the new administrative area, by forming the Calderdale Way Association and devising the Calderdale Way – Britain’s first Recreational Footpath.

This inspired a lot of voluntary work, most notably by Margaret Rooker, each Civic Trust planning the route through its area and joining up, or hoping to join up with the route in the next area.

The Way was formally opened in 1978 by Lord Winstanley. ’Country Life’ featured the Walk in 1981 in a two page article ‘A Neglected English Backwater’ the author recommended leaving out the Brighouse section in favour of visiting Shibden Hall.

I still have a letter from four Dutch tourists from Apeldorn who gave a vivid description of the terrain and changing weather conditions encountered in July – perhaps not such a neglected backwater in Holland – they did the Brighouse bit without complaint.

It takes the walker through the wonderful countryside of the Calder Valley and the book provides a very good guide and interpretation to mans interaction over the centuries with the landscape.

1978 was a pivotal year as it saw the Civic Trust commit itself to appear in the public inquiry over the development of Woolshops and oppose a scheme to obliterate the historic street and its listed buildings and replace them with an Arndale type centre.

We employed architects from outside the area to take a fresh and unbiased look at the development proposals.

Aligned against the Trust was the leading planning silk in the country Sir Peter Boydell and his very well spoken assistant – three days later we emerged bloody but unbowed and had actually earned the plaudit from Sir Peter that we our case was ‘at least sincere’.

Among the many memories of those three days was the evidence of a gentleman who had worked for Halifax Corporation and carried out the landscaping of the first roundabout. He was first to give evidence for the case against. His evidence was very brief –‘ I have looked at this scheme and its not right for the Town.’

‘Thank you’ said Sir Peter – ‘There are no questions’.

Another memory was the fact that throughout the inquiry the inspector kept open before him the drawing we had prepared of Woolshops as it could look with the historic buildings retained, and a third was the ridiculously long scale rule that the developer’s agent kept using – obviously needed to be very long as he only designed very large schemes.

The result was victory for the man who felt that the scheme was not right for the Town, though it was subdued due to a press strike at the time, the other, less palatable result was a debt for the Trust.

Many rallied round and suggested the debt could be met by producing more work with the support of the National Amenity Societies and this led to the production of’ Halifax – A case for Conservation’ and a major and welcome change in approach by the council. Described by Telegraph writer Kenneth Powell as ‘more of a polemic than a tirade’

The various activities of the Trust over that period had not gone unnoticed and the Conservation Approach led to national recognition of the Town and the very active support of Prince Charles.

We had become less of a ‘neglected backwater.’ His influence was also felt in nearby Sowerby Bridge where the Improvement Trust, spawned from the Civic Trust, had promoted the Riverside Development and the creation of the first white water canoe course through an industrial town centre and brought into being by volunteers and assistance from the Building Society.

Conservation had become the accepted way forward and this of course rather takes the wind out of the sails of the pioneering lobbies.

Certain problems remained intractable, though Square Chapel, rescued by the Trust at yet another public inquiry, has become a stunning locally driven success, as has the redevelopment of Dean Clough. Even the National Amenity Societies were perplexed with the size of this challenge and after spending a day walking round it declared that it was a ‘European’ problem! – a few days later along came local entrepreneur Sir Ernest Hall, no doubt emboldened by a council now fully supportive of the principal of Conservation, and look at the result now.

Hopefully the attitude of moving a town forward to meet the needs of the present time can continue to be met with the same respect for the sense of history and place as the schemes of the turn of this century have shown.

Clearly there is a role for the public to make a clear and robust response to the emerging ideas and to demand to see the whole picture that is planned for their home town often by others from away.

The Piece Hall continues to exercise many minds and there can be not a lot wrong with locating more activity nearby. Other developments consequent on that move, need to demonstrate that they are prepared to adapt to Halifax, its sense of place, its scale, its townscape, its skyline, and its topography.

It should not be the case that this proud and remarkable gritstone town and its people should have to beg to be the same as everywhere else.

You as a Trust have some very talented people with a huge appreciation and knowledge of the history of this Town. I am sure the Halifax Civic Trust will continue to play its part in retaining the unique and essential character of the Town – described by Sir John Betjeman as ‘something never to be forgotten’.``