HUDDERSFIELD is noted for its townscape and its buildings of many ages – mediaeval, Tudor and on through the growth in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and on into the present.
The town has long attracted many favourable comments. In 1845 Friedrich Engels described it as “the handsomest by far of all the factory towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire by reason of its situation and modern architecture’’.
Charles Hobkirk in 1868 said: “The greater part is of modern erection and this combined with the improved taste for ornamental architecture and its being built almost entirely of a fine whitish free-stone renders one of the prettiest and cleanest manufacturing towns in the West Riding.’’
John Betjeman (before his knighthood) in 1964, described Huddersfield as “a town of great character and Georgian and Victorian beauty’’.
In 1994, Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage was reported calling Huddersfield “the Paris of the north’’.
The town is noted for the quantity of buildings listed because of their national architectural or historic importance.
I believe there are over 1,700 listed buildings, which may explain why the Guardian once called it “the Athens of the north’’.
Only Westminster and Bristol have more listed buildings than Huddersfield.
Yet today a visitor to the town may wonder what the fuss is about. Our townscape is scarred by quality buildings of many periods in poor state and dereliction.
Huddersfield Civic Society encourages the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in the town.
Over the years the society has been pleased to both be associated with and give awards to Huddersfield buildings being saved, improved and being bought back to economic use.
Folly Hall Mills have been rescued from almost complete ruin, been taken off English Heritage’s At Risk Register and are now back in commercial use.
In earlier years the society was instrumental in the preservation of the wholesale market, the former corporation transport offices on John William Street, mills on Firth Street and many others.
I applaud the Oldgate tenement blocks that have been rescued for a second time in 30 years. The university’s campus is a success with new build and the reuse of industrial buildings.
However, the news is not always good. I am concerned that with the town’s need to attract shoppers, visitors and investment it is making the task harder with buildings that let the town down.
Come on a quick tour ... it starts, with pictures, on Page 2.
Reaching the town by Manchester Road, the visitor will see the listed vernacular cottages, 1-5 Longroyd Lane that are an abomination of dereliction, scaffolding, fly-posting and the wreckage of road traffic accidents.
Kirklees Council owns several of these listed buildings.
Above, on the hillside, the listed Spring Lodge at 27, Woodthorpe Terrace, can be seen, an early ashlar built detached house with classical detailing, moulded eaves cornices and a parapet with balustraded sections on each side. It has been empty and derelict for years.
What a waste when housing is in short supply.
On reaching the ring road our visitor would find the Co-operative extension – the first and best example of a truly modern building in Huddersfield. It has a handsome composition and is a very good 1930s commercial building.
It must have been revolutionary in its design in Huddersfield.
At its opening in May 1937 the Huddersfield Examiner stated “it gives the town of Huddersfield a store that is entirely modern in design and equipped on the most up-to-date lines – a store of which the townspeople generally, and co-operators in particular, can be proud.’’
Kirklees Council paid £2m for it at the top of the 2007-2008 property boom. The plan was to demolish it, keeping the facade, as part of the council’s town centre redevelopment scheme.
With the bursting of the speculation bubble we are left with the decaying building.
The council seems unwilling to take any action to improve the tattiness. It will soon be a neglected shabby eyesore that will be seen by every visitor to the new Kirklees College.
The Kirklees Council- owned Edgerton Cemetery’s twin chapels have a most dramatic rib-vaulted arched porte cochère surmounted by a tall octagonal spire and are listed gothic marvels. They have been long boarded-up and fenced off.
In 2008, the council asked for development proposals. The deadline for ideas was April 2009.
A council spokesman told the Examiner in May 2009: “The process is at an early stage and, as it is commercially sensitive, we can’t say any more for the moment.”
There has still been nothing said.
Now rot and trees growing from the structure will do much damage. I expect this will lead the council to say they are beyond repair and must be demolished.
Approaching the town from Leeds Road, our visitor would see the former YMCA building – the massive derelict St Peter’s Buildings which were bought by Yorkshire Forward in 2004 for £1,758,200.
It still stands empty. Apparently it was bought specifically to support the delivery of the Regional Economic Strategy.
As Yorkshire Forward said: “The site is close to the ring road and is highly visible.” What an embarrassment!
The nearby Palace Theatre on Kirkgate remains closed and shabby.
Despite a long history of owners, tenants, planning applications and an appeal, proposed demolition and a civic society application for it to be listed, no action has been taken to restore the building’s facade.
Next door is the former Kirkgate public house of 1911. It seems to be victim of being in the wrong place as the buildings around it fall empty.
Other town centre properties that are like broken teeth are the former Motormania shop on Market Street with a handsome cream faience frontage disguised by tatty sign and paint.
Among the saddest buildings is the very modern 1954 Lloyd Wright & Dudok-like amenities block of Thomas Broadbent & Sons Ltd at the top of Queen Street South. It was listed in 2009.
English Heritage reported that it is very rare, possibly unique and it achieves a high standard of accomplishment in its interpretation of contemporary architectural influences.
Huddersfield Civic Society is keen to promote high standards of planning and architecture and encourages the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in the town.
I hope owners will work with us.