NOSTALGIA: Remembering a time before privatisation

Dewsbury borough councillors out and about in town some decades ago.
Dewsbury borough councillors out and about in town some decades ago.
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THERE was a time when Dewsbury ran all its own affair, ranging from gas supplies to how the road transport systems were run, the supply of electricity and water, even the disposal of its sewage.

I wonder how many of us today could give the names of the companies now supplying such services to them? I know I couldn’t.

Since privatisation, a system now spreading into our hospitals, I’m afraid many people have no ideawho is running what.

Some are even being run by companies in other countries, so it is little wonder we think we have no control over local affairs, hence our loss in civic pride.

We certainly don’t have the respect we used to have for the services our old Dewsbury borough council once provided.

Such thoughts came to mind while I was looking through a list of the services once provided by our own town council.

They seemed to have control of everything, and everything they did with these services was reported weekly in the Reporter so no-one could say they didn’t know what was going on.

Last week I wrote about one of the services provided by the Dewsbury council – the town’s gas supply – and recalled the days of the old Dewsbury Gas Showrooms.

Many readers were surprised to discover Dewsbury once had control of such services and that they made a good profit which helped reduce rates.

The photograph above shows a group of Dewsbury councillors and officers from the old days inspecting one of the services in their charge.

I do not know which one it was because there are no details with the photograph, but it brought back memories of my days as a young reporter in the 1950s covering council meetings in Dewsbury Town Hall.

In those days there were about 20 councillors serving the carious wards in Dewsbury, as well as several aldermen, and today there are only nine, and no aldermen, which is a pity because they had much experience and wisdom to bestow.

The council officers and chief constables were easily accessible because they had their offices based in Dewsbury Town Hall or elsewhere in the town centre, and not seven miles down the road in Huddersfield.

I had to smile when I looked at what these gentlemen were wearing, smart trilby hats and beige raincoats, which easily identified them as people of some importance..

They had been inspecting some facility under the town’s control, possibly the waterworks or maybe the sewage works at Mitchell Laithe, Earlsheaton.

Among my files I have many reports which journalists wrote long before I worked on the paper about such inspections.

One refers to the official opening of Dewsbury’s new £300,000 sewage works at Mitchell Laithes by Councillor Gillard in 1928.

l THE first sewage works at Mitchell Laithes were commenced in 1879 but sewage was not treated there until 1883.

Owing to the growth of the town and the increasing volume of trade liquids, it became apparent that new and extensive works would have to be designed to meet the greatl y altered conditions. In 1911 a new scheme was put forward but when the Great War broke out in 1914, the work had to be postponed indefinitely.

In 1921, the work began in the construction of the new plant which had tanks holding a total capacity of one million gallons, capable of dealing with an anticipated flow of three million gallons of sewage per day.

The opening ceremony of the new works was attended not only be civic dignitaries but also many other visitors including local manufacturers. In his opening remarks, Councillor Gillard, said there wasn’t one aspect of public service which had met with so much criticism and complaint than the treatment of sewage disposal in Dewsbury.

The money being spent on the new works was out of all proportion to the town’s income, he said, but it was a necessary service, and ultimately it would be for the good of the town.

“It was Dewsbury’s misfortune to be an inland and manufacturing town,” he said.

“When I visit towns on the coast, I envy them very much when they tell me how very cheaply they deal with their trade and other effluent.

“This scheme at Mitchell Laithes has for its object, the rendering pure of that which is impure, and there could be no more worthy object.”

Later in the day, the party was entertained to tea at the town hall, a splendid meal being served by Messrs J Heppleston and Son, of the Park Mansion.

l I HAVE some interesting news to pass on to those who are interested in purchasing a book about old Dewsbury both for themselves and for an ideal Christmas present for like-minded friends. Local artist Malcolm East has at last produced what he has been promising for some years, a book depicting many of the paintings of old Dewsbury he has done over the years.

The 88-page full colour book, priced £10, will be on sale in the next week or so, and I can assure you after reading the proofs, it is a book not to be missed. It shows paintings and sketches of scenes in Dewsbury ranging from his childhood to the present moment with much loved scenes like Caddy’s Ice Cream Parlour, the annual Club Trips, Washing Day on Monday, and, of course, the Empire pantomimes, featuring prominently.

The book – When I was a Lad and a Working Man” – is to be launched at the West Riding Refreshment Rooms (date to be fixed) and Malcolm will be on hand to sign them. Details of where to buy them will appear next week. For more information email tresham3@gmail.com.