Sowerby Bridge – then and now.

I bought a copy of a book called “Sowerby Bridge in Old Photographs”, by John A Hargreaves, now I believe a professor of history at Huddersfield University. I should say at the outset that I emailed both author and publisher (Smith Settle) to seek their permission to scan and use some of the images in the book, but sadly neither were able to reply. As however I have neither expectation not intention of using this project in anything other than this strictly personal context, I decided to go ahead anyway in the hope that they won’t feel too affronted! Certainly I happily acknowledge the source of the old pictures, and commend the book (out of print but available via Amazon) very warmly to anyone with an interest in Sowerby Bridge and the surrounding area.

My ambition was to stand where the photographers of old stood and see what had changed and what had stayed the same. What’s here doesn’t do much more than scratch the surface and should be seen as “work in progress”. It may not progress much further though, although I certainly intend to visit SB repeatedly and make more images for no better reason than that I enjoy the shapes, angles and textures that it offers.

The “gallery” then consists of 18 pairs of images. The oldest of the old is a truly venerable 1868 picture of the Tollbar House, which was by then in at least its second incarnation as “Sutcliffe’s Stores, with the tollbar itself, linked of course to the bridge over the river a little below it, already long gone. By 2012 it’s become a bank with a fine carving above the door. The most recent is the 1975 picture of the Salt Warehouse in the canal basin. The canals I think little used at this point, although there are a coupe of “leisure” boats in the frame, and the warehouse looks to be in a sorry state. Today by contrast it’s a restaurant and one of the focal points of SBs renaissance as a tourist centre catering for a very different kind of canal traffic.

Some of the old pictures are made poignant by their dates, none more so than that of the Prospect Inn on the junction between Bolton Brow and the Wakefield Road, now a Vet’s Surgery. The image is dated 1939 and so is somewhat coincident with the outbreak of the second World War. What’s in the minds of those caught in the photograph, I wonder? On similar lines the main difference between the two images of the Crowwood Park Gates war memorial is that the inscription now contains the dates 1939 – 1945. Were the original designers of the memorial prescient in leaving space? There’s no room for another pair of dates though – lest we forget indeed!

I’m particularly struck by the four images made around the Gas Works. In 1936 a workman, on his own apparently, dressed in waistcoat and tie, is unloading 4 barges of their coal to supply the gas works which were so significant in the early days of industrialisation. Today on the same stretch of canal bank there is another solitary man, but he’s fishing and the stark but productive ugliness of the works has gone. The 1949 image is of the River Calder, running on the other side of the Gasworks. It was taken in 1949, at which time I was living with my family in Hanover Street, just a short walk up the hill from the two waterways. I’m really quite taken by this image which might seem to be underexposed but actually sums up the “dark, satanic mills” nature of the town at that time. Smoke from the chimneys hangs in the valley and even though the sky suggests a decent day, this is a hard place to live and work, and communities thrived despite their context. My image is from the only viewpoint I could achieve because the left hand bank of the river is lined with small industrial units, but the old Gasworks Bridge and the house next to it can be picked out behind the steel lattice of the conduit that crosses the river. The scene though is almost semi-rural, with the hills rising gently in the background. Times have changed!

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