Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: A rock and a hard place

Over the years many streets in Dewsbury have disappeared and with them have gone a way of life we once knew.

Tuesday, 27th May 2014, 11:25 am
CHANGING APPEARANCES Park Road, Crackenedge, taken around 1930.

No longer with us are the flagged pavements of childhood on which we played hop-scotch or the broad stone steps on which we sat on long summer days watching the world go by.

Sadly, we took such things for granted and didn’t recognise their value, and so they were dug up and thrown away, and as children we thought they would be with us forever.

Anything made of stone in Dewsbury came from the stone quarries nearby, like those in Caulms Wood, Ravensthorpe and Dewsbury Moor, and we thought they were indestructible.

Stone lasts forever, we were told, and we never dreamed that bulldozers would come one day and smash them to bits – and all in the name of progress.

Many historic buildings in Dewsbury went the same way and much of the majesty which was Dewsbury went with them, but not our memories.

Roads had to be widened to make way for improved transport systems, and buildings had to be pulled down to make way for them, and, of course, new houses had to be built.

So up came the cobbled streets and down came the grand houses, and a brave new world was born, or so we thought.

It was only in later years that we began to mourn what we had thrown away, and now we go to builder’s yards in search of flagstones and cobbles and stone for our garden walls, our paths and drives and patios.

But alas we cannot afford them because the younger generation, recognising what we didn’t, are buying them all up at sky high prices.

They see the lasting value in the things we threw away, and so we have to make do with man-made stone, not the real thing, hewn from the rocks and hillsides of our youth.

And, no matter how much we dress up these factory-made bricks and stones, we try in vain because man on his own cannot make the real thing. Only Nature can do that.

That is why as we grow older and wiser, we keep trying to recapture what these stones were saying to us all those years ago. That is why so many of us long to go back.

Recalling the places of our past now, we draw comfort from our memories, and that is why I write this column each week, and I write it freely and without payment.

I do this because in some small way I want to give back to the people of Dewsbury something of that which they have lost, and you cannot put a price on that.

Nearly every village in Dewsbury has changed beyond recognition over the years, and thousands of houses and buildings have been demolished to be replaced by housing estates in Thornhill, Dewsbury Moor and Chickenley.

Whole communities were uprooted and moved en-bloc from back-to-back streets where they had lived from generation to generation.

It was only bricks and mortar, so the powers that be told us, but they never took into account the effect all this uprooting and demolition would have on community life.

Some years ago a lady gave Stuart Hartley, the chairman of Dewsbury Matters, our town’s local history group, a number of old photographs of streets in Dewsbury taken before they were demolished.

I believe they had belonged to her husband who had worked for the old Dewsbury council, but she didn’t know where they were and so they couldn’t be identified.

Fortunately, I could recognise some as being on the Eightlands where I had lived, and Stuart, who is an architect, was able to examine the lie of some of the buildings and through research was able to find where some had stood.

He identified the one above as being Park Road in Crackenedge, and was able to use it in the book he and John Ketton wrote – Dewsbury Through Time, a book which shows more clearly than I ever could through words, the changes which have taken place in our town.

This picture was taken round about 1930, and the view down the street consists mainly of workers’ housing close to the town centre.

The tower to the righthand side of the picture belonged to Bullocks Confectioner’s in Bradford Street, which made the first stick of lettered Blackpool rock.

The tall chimney in the centre of the picture still exists, although it is now shorter, and is the only one of its type to remain in the centre of the town.

If you look closely at the photograph you can see that the road was either being prepared to be cobbled or the cobbles were being taken up, because you can see a few lines of cobbles already there.

Today the street is still there, but the pavement and road have been covered in Tarmacadam, and many of the houses were demolished to be replaced by new ones.

Although many of the villages in Dewsbury have been changed beyond recognition, there are some areas which do remain more or less the same, and I believe that Crackenedge is one of them.

Crackenedge Lane with is historic pub – the Crackenedge Hotel – remains virtually the same, and thankfully most of the lovely stone garden walls remain intact.

I don’t know if this part of Dewsbury is in a conservation area, but it should be because all the stone used to build the houses here came from Caulms Wood which is situated just behind them.

Also, these large houses have a great deal of history, especially the ones which used to provide lodgings for the stars appearing at the Empire Theatre nearby. Also the grandparents of Stan Laurel lived in one of them.

The landladies who owned these boarding houses lost their livelihood when the Empire closed down in 1955.

One of the best known landladies was Mrs May Cage, of Marsden Terrace, Crackenedge, who was heartbroken when she heard the theatre was to close.

The theatre had meant everything to her and husband Sydney, both socially and professionally, and they couldn’t bear to pass the demolition site when it was pulled down. They took another route.

Many of the top names had stayed with her, and she told me at the time she was disgusted with the attitude of local council officials and the people of Dewsbury for not putting up a fight to save it.

She told me: “Something could have been done to save the Empire but nobody tried hard enough” .

She was right, and we all know that now. This is why we have to fight to make sure we preserve what we still have.

I hope readers might be able to help me in my research about the Friends Meeting Place in Bradford Road, now home to Dewsbury Arts Group, which was the meeting place for local Quakers. Please ring Dewsbury 468282 or email [email protected] if you can help.