How people of Dewsbury whiled away their freetime

THE way we live our lives today is vastly different to how we used to live and nowhere are the changes greater than in the way we used our leisure time.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 11th May 2012, 9:00 am

Most people spent theirs at the pubs, pictures, concerts and dances, and thousands visited local parks at the weekend. Others joined amateur dramatic societies or took part in church activities and, of course, the men went to their football, cricket and rugby matches in their thousands.

Some went to night classes or joined debating classes or horticultural societies, and thousands went to Dewsbury Swimming Baths two or three times a week. Others joined cricket clubs, golf clubs, tennis clubs, cycling clubs, walking clubs and athletic clubs. Not so much to keep fit or to work off stress (there wasn’t much of that in those days) but simply to enjoy the freedom of not being at work.

Most people with a few hours to spare didn’t spend them just sitting at home in front of the fire watching it burn. Even after a hard day’s work they’d be up and off to the cinema to watch Victor Mature or to the pub or club to have a few drinks with friends.

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Our forebears worked too hard fighting for shorter working hours and getting Saturday mornings off, to just throw precious leisure hours away.

People seemed more sociable, they mixed more with neighbours and friends, and as a result helped build stable, local communities. They went out and joined in what was going on outside, and they socialised because socialising was an integral part of local society.

Our town centres were often busier in the evening than during the day. Today, they are deserted in the evening and the whole fabric of society has changed.

This reluctance to join in outdoor activities and preferring to stay at home has over the years resulted in people being afraid to go out at night.

When the cinemas and theatres closed, and the pubs too, we moaned, and worse still to my mind, when the churches and chapels closed. We then tend to look elsewhere to lay blame, but let us admit it, life is changing, and so are we!

THERE was a time when there were so many pubs in Dewsbury the licensing authority started closing many down.

It wasn’t the way the pubs were being run, but the fact that there were too many, and some were also in slum clearance areas.

I remember when many streets had two pubs, one at the top and one at the bottom, which was the case where I lived, Victoria Road, Springfield. There was the Bath Hotel at the top (still going) and the Craven Heifer (closed long ago) further down.

Many streets in Westtown were the same and it was this district which seemed to be hit hardest. The owners were given compensation but pub closures were not popular with the landlords and their customers.

The Black Boy in High Street, Westtown, was closed by the “Compensation Authority” in 1924 when Charles Brooke was the landlord.

Charles’s grandson, Gary Brooke, who still lives in Dewsbury, has an interesting document relating to the pub, which includes some of the fines imposed on landlords.

In 1880 one landlord, Lewis Hart, was fined £3 for refusing to admit the police, and in 1901 Edward Hannaghan was fined 10/- for permitting drunkenness. He was fined a further £5 (quite a lot of money in those days) for supplying intoxicating liquor during prohibited hours.

Gary, whose family were connected with the pub for a number of years, would love to hear from anyone who may have a photograph of the Black Boy.

Sadly, a lot of these pubs were not regarded as picturesque enough for professional photographers to capture on film.

The Black Bull in Dewsbury, however, was one which was, and this is why there are many photographs of it still around.

Photographs of it were taken in good times and bad, as can be seen from the photograph above. This was taken in 1910 when Dewsbury town centre was submerged with water after the River Calder flooded yet again.

Flooding was a regular occurrence and it didn’t appear to be the job of the local authority to deal with flooded pubs. On this particular occasion, local people, men and women, joined together to help the landlord and his staff clean up the mess.

This photograph was once in the ownership of the Dewsbury Historical Society but was passed on to Dewsbury Museum when the society disbanded. My grateful thanks to Museum curator Grant Scanlan for going to the trouble of sending a copy to me so I could share it with readers. With all the heavy rain we’ve been having of late, I thought this week would be a good time to use it, if only to remind us how lucky we are the course of the River Calder has been altered to prevent this kind of flooding.

OF COURSE, not all Dewsbury people spent their leisure time in pubs and clubs, least of all members of the Dewsbury branch of the British Women’s Total Abstinence Union.

This was just one of the many spirited organisations which abounded in Dewsbury when I was a young journalist.

At the risk of boring people, but for the benefit of those who may be interested, here is a list of some (not all) societies which once had their home in Dewsbury. Some are still going, but I include them nonetheless, if only to give readers a picture of just how involved Dewsbury people used to be in local affairs. Some readers may have been members, and seeing their names here just might revive happy memories for them.

There was the Dewsbury and District Music Society, the Dewsbury Recorded Music Circle, the Mackenzie Methodist Concert Society, and the Dewsbury Tape Recording Club, Dewsbury Catholic Players, Dewsbury Civic Society, Dewsbury Collegians (still going and rehearsing now for their June production of Fiddler on the Roof), St Saviours Light Entertainment Society, Thornhill Methodist Dramatic Society, Thornhill Social Club,

THERE was also Dewsbury Historical Society, Dewsbury Textile Society, Dewsbury Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers Union, Dewsbury Trades Council, Dewsbury Chamber of Commerce, Dewsbury Chamber of Trade (still going strong), and the National Savings Committee.

The number of women’s organisations and church societies in Dewsbury were so numerous that there just isn’t enough space to include them all, just as there isn’t for the many working men’s clubs, pubs and sports clubs.

Neither is there space for the large number of youth organisations, most of them connected with the many churches and chapels which once existed in Dewsbury.

There was also the once flourishing Scouts and Girl Guides, still going, the Boys Brigade, the many branches of the St John Ambulance Brigade, many still going, and the cadets connected with the Army, Navy and Air Force, also still going, but in much smaller numbers, and also the many youth clubs once run by the local authority.

No wonder there was little hanging around street corners for young people in those days because there was far too much going on elsewhere. My memories of what was going on in Dewsbury when I was a child was my dad going to the pub at night and at weekends, my mother to the pictures once or twice a week, and me and my siblings going to church nearly every night and again on Sunday.

In the school holidays we spent most of our time at the swimming baths or playing in Caulms Wood or Crow Nest Park.

My mother was a member of the Mother’ Union and my dad a member of both Eastborough Working Men’s Club and the Irish Nash, two clubs I’m glad to say are still in existence.

Yes, it’s true times are changing, and we all regret that, but when you look back objectively this has always been the case.

Everything in life changes, admittedly not always for the best, but there’s nothing wrong with looking back at the good times is there?