Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury has changed beyond recognition

Over the years many streets in Dewsbury have disappeared and with them the way of life we once knew.

By Jane Chippindale
Sunday, 13th February 2022, 2:00 pm
1930s Park Street: Crackenedge is one of the few areas of Dewsbury which is still recognisable (picture kindly provided by Stuart Hartley)
1930s Park Street: Crackenedge is one of the few areas of Dewsbury which is still recognisable (picture kindly provided by Stuart Hartley)

Gone are the flagged pavements on which we played hop-scotch, and the broad stone steps on which we would sit and watch the world go by.

These were the things we took for granted because we didn’t recognise their value, and so they were dug up and thrown away.

Almost anything made of stone in Dewsbury came from the quarries nearby, in Caulms Wood, Ravensthorpe, Westtown, Batley Carr and Dewsbury Moor.

We’d been told as children that stone would last forever and so we never dreamed one day bulldozers would come and smash them to bits.

Many historic buildings in Dewsbury went the same way and much of the majesty of Dewsbury went with them, but not our memories.

Roads had to be widened, of course, to make way for improved transport systems, and buildings had to be pulled down to make way for them.

And, more importantly, new houses had to be built because we couldn’t live in back-to-back houses without sanitation forever.

So up came the cobbled streets and down came the grand houses, and a brave new world was born, or so we thought.

Today we go to builder’s yards in search of genuine stone flagstones and cobbles and stone for our garden walls, footpaths, drives and patios.

But alas we cannot afford them because a new generation recognises what we’d failed to see, and are buying them all up at sky high prices.

We allowed the real thing to be thrown away and so we now have to make do with man-made stone.

And, no matter how much we dress up these factory made bricks and stones, they can never be the real thing, hewn from the hillsides of our youth.

Nearly every village in Dewsbury has changed beyond recognition over the years, with thousands of houses and buildings being demolished and replaced by housing estates in Thornhill, Dewsbury Moor and Chickenley.

Whole communities were uprooted and moved en-bloc from back-to-back streets where they had lived from generation to generation.

But people needed new houses, no-one could argue with that because we couldn’t live forever in back-to-back houses without sanitation.

And, if the truth be known, we welcomed these new houses, long overdue, with open arms.

I just wish that the powers that be at the time had taken photographs of every street they were pulling down, if only for the sake of social history.

People want to look back to what Dewsbury was like. They need to know from where they came.

Some years ago a lady gave local historian Stuart Hartley a number of old photographs taken of streets in Dewsbury before they were demolished.

They belonged to her husband who had worked for the old Dewsbury council, but she didn’t know where the streets were.

Fortunately some were taken from districts I knew well and so I was able to recognise some of them, like the streets on the Eightlands and Batley Carr.

Stuart, being an architect by profession, was able to identify some of the others by the lie of some of the buildings, and, through research, find where some had once stood.

The picture above, showing Park Street in Crackenedge, was one of them, and the view down the street consists mainly of workers’ housing which were nearly always built close to the town centre.

The tower to the right hand side of the picture belonged to Bullocks Confectioners on Bradford Street, which made the first stick of lettered Blackpool rock.

The tall chimney in the centre still exists, although it is now shorter, and remains the only one of its type to remain in the centre of town.

If you look closely you can see the road was either being prepared to be cobbled or the cobbles were being taken up because you can see a few lines of cobbles already there.

Today the street is still there, but the pavement and road have been covered in Tarmacadam, and many of the houses demolished to be replaced by new ones.

Although many of the villages in Dewsbury have changed beyond recognition, there are some areas which do remain more or less the same, like Crackenedge.

Crackenedge Lane with its historic pub – The Crackenedge Hotel – remains virtually the same, and thankfully most of the lovely stone garden walls remain intact.

Also most of the large stone houses are still standing, some of which used to provide lodgings for the stars appearing at the Empire Theatre nearby.

The landladies who ran these boarding houses lost their livelihoods when the Empire closed in 1955.

One of the best known of these landladies was Mrs May Cage, of Marsden Terrace, Crackenedge, who was heartbroken when she heard the theatre was to close.

The theatre had meant everything to her and to husband Sydney, both socially and professionally, and they couldn’t bear to pass the demolition site when it was pulled down. They took another route.

Many of the top names had stayed with her, and when I interviewed her some years ago she was still bitter about its closure.

She had been disgusted with the attitude of local council officials and the people of Dewsbury for not putting up a fight to save it.

Mrs Cage said: “Something could have been done to save the Empire but nobody tried hard enough.”

She was right, and we all know that now, which is why we have to start fighting to make sure we preserve what we still have before it’s too late.

No voices of protest were raised when it was announced the Empire was closing.

There have been plenty since – but alas too late.