Dalton Grange may now be under threat of demolition but it has a long history – and a couple of problems during the dark says of early World War Two.
A booklet called Dalton Grange Club 1916 – 1966, A History compiled by Dr W R H Hurtley, records the progress of a social club that was formed there by chemists and other associated academics when the former mansion was bought by British Dyes Ltd.
Dr Hurtley gives an impassioned account of the club’s activities which included billiards, bowling, children’s parties and special evenings for music and dancing called, ‘frivolity nights.’
With a touch of humour he describes how in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War: “The club succumbed to occupying forces – the officers of an anti-aircraft company, improvised to defend the neighbourhood, set up their mess in the committee room, batmen and all.”
Dr Hurtley, it seems, was not impressed by their performance and noted how elementary the defence arrangements were. He remarked how the officers, apparently, spent more time making use of the club facilities along with its wine cellar as opposed to defending the skies over Huddersfield.
In a ‘tongue in cheek way’ he adds that: “It was perhaps as well that they did not have to go into action”.
The AA Company stayed at the Grange for only five months but it was enough time for the officers to run up a hefty bill for the drinks they were consuming. Unfortunately, when the company departed in the following year the bill was left unpaid and the club was left with a financial hangover that took the treasurer years to recover.
Yet Dr Hurtley says the “most dramatic day in the history of the club committee” was on March 22, 1940.
It was during the wartime blackout period when Huddersfield, like all towns and cities, had to keep the lights turned off to prevent enemy bombers identifying them as potential targets.
Because of the concentration of buildings, the town centre was particularly vulnerable and nightly police patrols went out to ensure that everyone complied with the order.
Industry, shops and entertainment were all affected, as were individual households. Anyone allowing even the slightest peep of light through the living room or bedroom curtains could expect a knock at the door from one of the towns bobbies. Infringements could lead to a fine or even imprisonment.
It was such an offence that a certain Inspector Hickman of the Borough Police was looking out for as he cycled around the streets and alleyways of Huddersfield on the evening of Wednesday, March 21, that year.
At the beginning of his shift everything appeared quite normal given that it was wartime. Couples went hand in hand, drinkers filled smoky tap rooms and cinemagoers queued at the The Ritz (later named the ABC) to see the Marx Brothers’ latest comedy At The Circus.
Whatever people were doing, the most important thing was knowing the time of day that the blackout would begin. This could be found in the Huddersfield Examiner’s Daily Jotting column.
On the night in question the announcement was 7.48pm prompt.
This meant that when Inspector Hickman caught sight of a blaze of lights up on Kilner Bank at 1.30am, it was a call for immediate action.
Cycling down Leeds Road and up to Bradley Mills as if his life depended upon it (and at that precarious time it might well have done) he arrived at the driveway of Dalton Grange, where he observed that three of the driveway lights had been left switched on.
Equally alarming there were two white globes standing on either side of the front door which Dr Hurtley says “were glowing innocently” into the night sky.
Today those very same ornate lamps stand majestically at the entrance.
Inspector Hickman banged loudly on the door to wake the housekeeper.
For any Luftwaffe pilot and his crew flying overhead in a Dornier or Heinkel, those two beacons of light were more than they could ever have wished for. An experienced bomb aimer would have easily picked them out, making the Grange an open target.
Fortunately, says Dr Hurtley, “there were no enemy bombers prowling about that night.”
Whatever had been going on that evening at Dalton Grange the chapter doesn’t reveal? Could it have been of those ‘frivolity nights?’ We shall never know.
What is certain is that when Inspector Hickman was unable to identify the culprit who left the lights on he had the whole committee thrown before the local magistrates who gave them a severe reprimand and fined the club £20.
Dr Hurtley concludes his account in the year 1966, stating that “the life of the club appears to be in good heart. Beyond this for the historian, time alone will tell.”