Christopher Marsden (Text), Andrew Caveney (Photographs)
Amberley Publishing, 2019
Although small (94 pages) this is an ambitious book. Trying to tell the story of Huddersfield in 50 buildings is no mean feat, both in selecting 50 buildings that can illustrate some aspect of the town’s history and then distilling into a few hundred words the biography of each building, while making the case for its’ significance. Since it is an illustrated book there is the additional task of finding eye catching images in the archives to compliment the new photos of Andrew Caveney. This is the format set by the publisher and a fair review must be confined to exploring how successfully the authors have achieved their brief.
The visual presentation of the book is what will attract most people first and both the images and layout are striking. Andrew’s photos are technically and artistically superb. The view of the concert hall of the Town Hall (Building No.29) captures the beauty of the interior which I, for one, had not fully appreciated before. No doubt this and other illustrations will inspire people who think they know the town and its buildings to look again with new eyes. Given the numerous splendid photos inside the book it seems a bit strange that such a sombre image, the Drill Hall, has been chosen for the cover. If there is a reprint I would hope that the publishers use an image that is a bit less redolent of Huddersfield as a grey and somewhat forbidding town, especially as every page of the book dispels any such stereotype.
Given the restrictive format of the book, it is inevitable that buildings may be omitted that some readers will think should have been included. I think, for example, that Longley Old Hall could have been described, both because of its historical importance as the quondam seat of the Ramsdens and because it could be used to exemplify the late mediaeval/early modern transition -as well as the ravages of ‘restoration’. However, the Hall has been described in detail elsewhere (see the Journal of the Yorkshire Vernacular Buildings Study Group No.29, 2001) and its’ inclusion may have been at the expense of some lesser known building.
Conversely, are there any of the 50 that could have been left out ? Arguably Castle Hill is not architectural, being an earthwork, but the Victoria Tower, whose potted history begins the book, is so iconic of the town that it had to be included. The intrinsic link with Castle Hill is therefore valid to begin the chronological sequence and to visually to set the scene of the town in the Pennine landscape, which the 1857 Tomlinson engraving does perfectly (No.1)
It is not a reviewer’s job to nit-pick about errors – but I will do it anyway. The weavers’ houses at Fernside Avenue (No.4) are wrongly described as ‘weaver’s factories’, since this term was not used locally in this context and the word ‘factory’ had a completely different connotation. However, the text makes clear that they were also domestic dwelling houses and not purely industrial buildings. Dating them to the 17th century is dubious and the beginning of the 19th century is the very earliest date than can be ascribed. These details apart, the building does illustrate the domestic mode of textile production that predated the industrial revolution, although the occupants would not have been the farmer/clothiers referred to by Defoe.
The town’s wealth was built on textiles and one litmus test of how well the 50 buildings formula has worked is to see how this history is reflected. Kay’s factory at Folly Hall (No.10) is a good example of the rise of industrialisation, since Kay, as a quarry owner and builder, both played a leading role in the town’s architectural development, while his massive mills were let out to numerous manufacturers in different branches of textile production. The resurrection of the mill is also one of the town’s success stories in preserving industrial buildings and finding new uses for them. In this regard Priestroyd Ironworks (No.24) also receives a mention. Because of my own predilections I would have liked to see more mills included, such as the ones on Firth Street, now part of the University, and Brierleys of Turnbridge. The latter is both aesthetically pleasing due to its situation and significant because it is the longest running spinning firm in the town. Trafalgar Mill (No.36), which is included, was constructed on a revolutionary new principle, making it very interesting architecturally if not typical historically.
But now I am ignoring my own caveat that the book should be judged by the format it is trying to produce. Striking a balance in selecting different buildings of different periods is a challenge which the authors have impressively achieved. As well as the industrial (the canal and railway as well as mills) , the book includes a representative selection of public, ecclesiastical, commercial and domestic buildings – including the slightly quirky , such as Nab End (Longwood) Tower (No. 23) and the Almondbury Police Box (Building 43). One , Broadbent’s Bath House, (No. 46) was completely new to me, and others I have not been inside and now feel inspired to visit, such as the Ramsden Building (No.32) I do not have much appreciation for modern architecture but Chris’s enthusiasm is infectious and I will perhaps now look at structures such as the Queensgate Market with at least a bit less hostility!
The 50 buildings chosen do therefore succeed in illustrating the varied social, political, economic and cultural history of the town. The style is informal, entertaining and not too jargonistic for those unfamiliar with architectural terms whilst, at the same time, not being over-simplistic, or a a dry technical guide book.
Hopefully this stimulating volume will inspire locals to look at their built environment afresh and encourage others to come and visit Huddersfield. For those that do it has a useful map, perhaps necessary for finding some of the outlying monuments described. Above all, let us hope that it will raise awareness of the valuable architectural heritage that we possess. Huddersfield may have the third highest number of listed buildings in the country, but this is nothing if they are allowed to go to ruin (sometimes with encouragement) such as the Mortuary Chapels in Edgerton Cemetery (No.20). Let’s hope that Chris and Andrew’s work makes the neglect of our historical buildings less acceptable in the future.