History group celebrates 40th anniversary in Spen

HQ: Red House, acquired by Spenborough Council in 1969, and which was the first home to the Spen Valley Historical Society.
HQ: Red House, acquired by Spenborough Council in 1969, and which was the first home to the Spen Valley Historical Society.
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A LETTER written to the Spenborough Guardian is still having a great impact 40 years on.

Back in early 1972, this paper published the letter from three men anxious to foster interest in the history of the local area.

It was followed by a public meeting hosted by the Mayor of Spenborough, Ald Ralph Sewell, at the town hall in Cleckheaton, and the interested parties decided to form the Spen Valley Historical Society.

Covering an area from Oakenshaw to Heckmondwike and Gomersal to Hartshead, its aims were to study, collect and record Spen Valley’s history, collect and preserve local historical items, and arrange lectures and talks of an historical nature.

Its first meetings were held monthly at Red House in Gomersal – which had been acquired by Spenborough Council three years previously.

In the Spen Valley Historical Journal of 1983, Mrs K M Rosser documented the Society’s early years.

“The Society’s early association with the Red House led many local people to present to the Society items of local historical interest which were housed in the Red House Museum,” she wrote.

“Following local government re-organisation in 1974 it was found that many of these items were either stored away or else transferred to museums elsewhere in the Kirklees area – this led the Society to form its own museum and to make it clear to the general public that items donated to the Society would be held by the Society and would not leave the Spen Valley.”

In 1979 members identified an empty cottage in Westgate, Heckmondwike, as a potential site for its very own headquarters and museum.

It belonged to a builder and contractor whose own house adjoined it, but the one-up one-down had been condemned by the council as unfit for human habitation.

However it was not listed for demolition so the Society approached the owner who agreed to let them have it for a peppercorn rent, provided the Society paid for re-wiring, rates and heating.

The “Little House” as it was known, was renovated and decorated by the members and it became home to the Society for six years. It boasted a social area downstairs and a committee room/library/museum upstairs.

The “museum” comprised a small but valuable collection of maps, books and documents which are now kept at Cleckheaton Library.

The Society’s founder president was the renowned poet, novelist, historian and journalist Mabel Ferrett, of Liversedge, who remained an active member throughout her life before her death in January 2011.

In an article she wrote to mark its 20th anniversary, she documented the many other projects they had been involved with, such as the repair of the old stocks in Hartshead, the preservation of Rydings at Birstall Smithies which was the old home of Ellen Nussey, friend to Charlotte Bronte.

The Historical Society also donated £100 towards the memorial to John Curwen in Heckmondwike Green Park, and alerted Kirklees to the need to restore the Mowat windows at Cleckheaton Library.

The Society still meets monthly at St Paul’s Church Hall in Cleckheaton with speakers on a wide variety of topics.

This weekend it is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exhibition on Old Liversedge at Christ Church and its parish hall in Halifax Road, Liversedge.

Working with historian Jim Summerscales, the exhibition features parish records, deeds, land tax returns, census, old photographs and maps, plus books on local history.

It is open tomorrow from 10am-4pm and Sunday from 11am-4pm.

Admission is £1 to include a raffle ticket and children are free.

Membership of the Society is £10 a year, with £2 for each meeting, including refreshments. Visitors can attend for £4. For more information visit www.spenvalleyhistoricalsociety.org.uk.