My eldest son is doing his Duke of Edinburgh voluntary service in the Oxfam Bookshop in Holmfirth. I went to pick him up a few weeks ago and spotted a book with a plain blue cover with the embossed words ‘Huddersfield – Official Handbook’. I had a scan through it and saw it was produced by Huddersfield Borough Council and on the inside cover was written “With the compliments of , Mayor of Huddersfield, 1960-61, Alderman Norman Day ”. I bought it on the spot for £39 but even a scan through told me it was a real find. It was published as the modern age was beginning and the second world war was still a fairly recent memory for most people. It was a very different place and every now and again someone of certain age will say wistfully to me “why can’t we go back to the old Huddersfield Borough Council”. Well what I had purchased was a snapshot (as opposed to a moving picture) of that 'Nirvana'.
Huddersfield - Official Handbook' is a treasure trove for Council geeks and particularly a Huddersfield Councillor. Inside there is a fairly detailed history of the Huddersfield area from pre-history to the present day. There are maps showing the Huddersfield area and Town Centre prior to the ring road going in (it was being planned at the time). There are pages of information about the Huddersfield Borough Council and the services they provided. Some things are different but much is the same. There are photographs of the recently completed Salendine Nook Secondary School looking pristine before it deteriorated in the 70s when I attended and the concrete started falling away from the metal window frames.
What I found particularly fascinating was all the adverts in it. Some from companies that survive to this day, some that I can remember and others that by most people are long forgotten from over half a century ago. There are adverts about how to get yourself set up with gas heating and smokeless coal to comply with the Clean Air Act and where you can purchase radios with the new fangled stereo or ‘3D sound’. There is a photo of an unnamed Huddersfield’s oldest resident of 103. This chap is sitting there with a smile looking healthy and hearty with a pint of bitter and holding his pipe and he must first have been born in Huddersfield I guess around the 1858 mark. There is a large section on the manufacturing and textile industry of Huddersfield and interestingly it is also translated into German and French. I guess this was to stimulate trade with that place called Europe across the sea. There are the names and addresses of all the Councillors and key figures from the time most of whom I never knew or met with the odd exception such as Tom Cliffe who was a Councillor I came across in the distant past.
You really get a sense looking through this time capsule of Huddersfield of the span of years and how it continues and has its own life beyond that of the lifetime of those of us who reside within it. We all experience change in the local environment around us and sometimes its for the better and sometimes definitely not. My own personal bug bear is how the Burns Tavern with its long wooden bar got demolished to become Burger King.
‘Huddersfield – Official Handbook’ is now a prized possession and it would be interesting to do something similar for someone else to discover 50 years hence. Things are however so very different. The information in this book is probably not stored or accessed easily anywhere digitally. A lot of the same information today could be source from a number of websites. Huddersfield as an administrative area is gone and we have the not very much loved Kirklees Council so the point of doing it might be lost. We can’t recreate the past nor should we attempt to do so. Like those before us we just have to do our best to make a better future and much as I enjoy having a ‘proper gander’ at ‘Huddersfield – Official Handbook’ it is in its own way propaganda showing our town 52 years ago in the best possible light. Still absolutely fascinating all the same.