Wednesday, April 29th 2017
Huddersfield is a town in West Yorkshire, just to the north of the Peak District National Park (see here for a Google Map). One can think of it as occupying one corner of a triangle whose other corners are held by Leeds and Sheffield. By rail, it is just under 3 hours away from King’s Cross or Euston.
There has been a settlement in the area of Huddersfield since ancient times but the first mention of it in writing is in the the Doomsday Book where it appears as Oderesfelt and Odresfeld. According to a plausible etymology, this indicates a feld (a field or stretch of open land) held by an Anglo-Saxon farmer called Oderer or Odhere. How the name subsequently acquired its initial ‘h’ is a matter for speculation.
Farmland it might once have been but that was before the Industrial Revolution turned fields into factories and country air into smoke and grime. The smoke and grime have largely gone from Huddersfield but they have left behind a legacy of fine Victorian buildings, many of which have been listed as historically and aesthetically important by Historic England.
We encountered the first of these as soon as we stepped off the train: Huddersfield Station. This imposing building, seemingly modelled on a classical Greek temple, was built in 1846-50 to a design by James Pigott Pritchett (1789-1868). With six Corinthian columns across the front and two more at the sides, it was clearly intended to impress and to advertise the wealth of the town. It is Grade I listed.
In front of the station, in St George’s Square, stands a sculpture. By Ian Walters and unveiled in 1999, it shows a famous son of Huddersfield, Harold Wilson, Prime Minister 1964-70 and 1974-60, later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, striding energetically forward, feeling in his pocket, perhaps, for his trademark pipe and tobacco.
This is one of the largest structures that we encountered. I thought at first that it must be the town hall but it is not. The Gothic style edifice was built between 1861 and 1874 (different sources give slightly different dates) and was designed by William Henry Crossland (1835-1908) of Huddersfield. It was commissioned by the Ramsden family, owners of Huddersfield Manor and major property owners, as their estates office. Today it is known as the Ramsden Estate Buildings or simply the Estate Buildings. Originally serving as office accommodation it has now been converted to residential use. The narrowness of Railway Street doesn’t lend itself to capturing the whole of this building in a single frame and the above is a composite of several photos, leading to a small amount of perspective distortion.
This unusual corner building is the result of two episodes of construction. It was originally founded in the mid-19th century (my sources are not more precise) but underwent rebuilding in 1923 with a steel frame and bronze cladding. Despite its mongrel nature, however, it has achieved a Grade II listing.
The street in which Westgate House resides is itself called Westgate. In this context, the word ‘gate’ means, not a gate in our modern sense, but a street. Another example in Huddersfield is Kirkgate. The use of ‘gate’ rather than ‘street’ derives from when the northern parts of England were dominated by Viking settlers.
The Royal Swan has a long history behind it but its future is in doubt. Even before it closed, the building had been partly given over to other businesses, reflecting the decline in the pub trade. The forerunner of this pub existed by no later than 1822. However, it was then called The Swan with Two Necks and occupied a site next to the current one upon which then stood a larger pub called The Victoria Tavern. It seems that the Swan did well, so well that it took over the site of its neighbour and renamed itself The Royal Swan. It present appearance dates from rebuilding in 1932.
The name ‘Swan with Two Necks’ may seem rather odd. It has been suggested that ‘necks’ should really be ‘nicks’, referring to the tradition by which owners of flocks of swans marked the birds belonging to them by making nicks in their beaks.
In any town with a strong Victorian legacy, there is the hope of finding one or more shopping arcades, those elegant forerunners of the modern shopping centre. Huddersfield has several arcades but none is finer than this one, called Byram Arcade. This three-storey precinct, crammed with shops, seems very lively and popular. It was created by William Crossland, architect of the above mentioned Estate Buildings and built 1881-2. The name comes from the country seat of the Ramsden family whose crest appears above the entrance.
Victorian in age but Queen Anne in style is the elegant Kirkgate Buildings, built in the 1880s, again by Crossland.
This close-up shows examples of the decorative detail, less flamboyant than some Victorian Gothic designs but intricate and finely worked.
This is the only church I ‘collected’ on this trip and we didn’t visit the interior. Perhaps we should have as it is Grade II* listed. As usual, there are claims that there has been a church here since ancient times but this one, dedicated to St Peter, was built by James Pigott Pritchett in 1834-6, right on the eve of the Victorian era. If ever we return to Huddersfield, perhaps we’ll take a look inside.
Theatres. like pubs, are finding it difficult to survive in the modern world and many have been demolished or made to serve other purposes. Huddersfield’s Palace Theatre is a typical example. It opened as a music hall in 1909 thrived in various roles until 1936 when a fire – an all too common scourge of theatres – destroyed the interior. The theatre was rebuilt and opened again in 1937. I believe the façade was made ‘reminiscent’ of the original, rather than being an exact copy of it. Declining fortunes meant that in 1969 it turned into a bingo hall. 1997 saw another change of fortune with the old Palace becoming the Chicago Rock Cafe and nightclub. The second decade of the 21st century brought further change. The Palace Theatre is now the Palace Studios, an accommodation block for students.
Mechanics Institutions sought to bring the benefits of education to young men, both to help them in the future work and to provide educated and skilled workers for industry. As such they were often supported by local industry. Classes began in Huddersfield in ad hoc accommodation but as numbers of students increased a purpose built centre was planned. The foundation stone was laid in 1859 and the institution opened its doors in 1861. This building was superseded in the 1890s by the Huddersfield Technical College and this building was occupied by the Friendly and Trades Club. Who inhabits it now, I do not know.
Markets have been held in Huddersfield since early times though a charter was not granted until 1671, by Charles II. This one is called the Huddersfield Open Market despite sheltering cosily under a Victorian iron and glass canopy. A plaque on the outside gives a succinct history of the market: Built 1888, Restored 1980, Project awarded Civic Trust Commendation 1983, Repainted 1998, Refurbished 2008.
We found the market quite busy and lively with a wide range of goods on sale. We even had lunch in one of the market cafes.
This fine old 1914-vintage Post Office remains in use, unlike so many of its ilk, and is supported by the local population. Let’s hope it will survive for years to come. The only shadow of trouble concerns the two light-wells either side of the entrance. These have been accumulating rubbish for years – to complaints by the neighbours – but it seems that it is no one’s job to remove it. If this problems continues, then it will become a matter for archaeologists rather than cleaners…
These views show King Street in the heart of the shopping area which includes the large Packhorse Shopping Centre.
This blocky but quite pleasantly styled building is the Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery, designed by E.H. Ashburner, whose principal work it seems to be. It was built in 1937 and is Grade II listed.
Before the entrance sit two allegorical figures sculpted by James Woodford. Historic England describes them as ‘free-standing statues in classical style with modernist influence flanking entrance steps, representing Spirits of Literature and Art’, though in the absence of any labelling, I am unable to say which figure represents which noun.
In 1974, the Kirklees Metropolitan Borough was created and it absorbed a number of towns including Huddersfield. Much of the administration of Huddersfield has been taken over by Kirklees with its own borough offices. While some council functions remain in the town hall, principally the register office, the building has largely been converted into a venue for weddings and live entertainments. It was designed by John Henry Abbey (1831-80) and built in two stages in 1875 and 1881.
Standing on the corner of New Street and High Street, the Commercial Hotel has a plain, no-nonsense Georgian air about it. This early 19th century pub, sometimes known as the Jug & Bottle, is Grade II listed. What is no longer apparent is that the building once included a tobacconist’s shop with its entrance on the corner and windows looking onto both streets. In later times, when tobacco felt into disfavour and the then owners vacated the premises, the tobacco shop was erased by rebuilding that corner of the pub. No sign that the shop ever existed can now be seen.
This building caught my attention with its dramatic air, its obvious quality and the fact that it doesn’t seem to be treated with the dignity that it deserves. It doesn’t even have a name, being generally referred to (even by Historic England) as ‘4 and 6 High Street’. It could do with a clean but, on the other hand, the dirt does bring out the decorative features which cleaning would render bland. All that I could discover about it is that it was built in the mid-19th century as a commercial property and that it is Grade II listed. Even the architect’s name seems unknown. It is a fine little building and it and its architect deserve more recognition than they are currently receiving.
Because it is near the station, the above building was one of the first we saw on reaching Huddersfield. However, owing the the layout of the streets, the various photos I took of it did not satisfy me. It was only when we were returning to the station that I found angle from which I could capture the whole building albeit in pieces which I have here stitched together. It is called the Lion Buildings, and sometimes the Lion Arcade, and it is much larger than may be apparent from the picture. It was designed by James Pigott Pritchett (responsible also for the station and St Peter’s Church) and was completed in 1854, comprising shops, offices and storerooms. It is Grade II* listed. The original white lion was made by John Seeley but began to crumble as a result of weathering and pollution and was replaced in 1978 by a fibreglass replica.
And so we came to the station once more, to take our scheduled train back to London. Though not as famous as some of its near neighbours such as Sheffield and Leeds, Huddersfield had proved well worth visiting and had kept us busy exploring it treasures. Even so, we could not see everything and had to neglect items just as deserving as those we photographed. A return visit seems called for!