Where have all the chimneys gone?

Chimneys dot the Cleckheaton skyline in this picture taken around 1905. The photo is taken from Norman Ellis's book Images of England, Spen Valley.

Chimneys dot the Cleckheaton skyline in this picture taken around 1905. The photo is taken from Norman Ellis's book Images of England, Spen Valley.

  • by By Richard Grylls

There are two realities of local history.

Firstly, most local history remains hidden within personal memories, notebooks and family albums: the second reality is that the quantity and quality of such history diminishes with the passing of each generation.

You know it – your children will probably recall most of it – but their offspring (your grandchildren) are unlikely to inherit any accurate account of what happened, say, 60-years ago.

The location and natural resources of the Spen Valley made the townships of Cleckheaton, Gomersal, Heckmondwike and Liversedge very attractive places for the entrepreneurs of yesteryear to build their factories.

What made the Spen Valley unique was the diversity of industrial activity that spawned the scores of mill chimneys that once dominated our horizons – card-clothing, carpets, chemicals, cotton, engineering, leather, millwrights, woollens, worsteds and wood-working, to name but a few.

Until recent times the skyline provided the residents of the Spen Valley with a constant reminder of their industrial heritage. Today the developers’ bulldozers have razed those memorials to the ground: the visual evidence of the hive of manufacturing industry that once existed is rapidly disappearing.

The Spen Valley Civic Society believes it important that future generations of “Spenlandians” should be aware of the towns’ proud industrial heritage and wishes to create some form of commemoration to the entrepreneurs who brought fame, wealth and employment to the Spen Valley.

The plan is to create a series of pages of text and graphics, each dedicated to a particular entrepreneur, for display on the SVCS website and other media.

The basic skeleton of historical data will be compiled by a small working party but, hopefully it will be the residents of Cleckheckmondsedge – the readers of the Spenborough Guardian – who will put the flesh onto the bare bones.

For the initial trial, 14 companies have been selected to represent the Valley’s very different industries.

In the weeks ahead, the Spenborough Guardian will carry articles on the basic history of two of the selected companies coupled with an appeal to the Guardian’s readers to rack their memories and search their cupboards for any information or anecdotes that they or their families may be able to add.

On the Tuesday following each Guardian article, the outline pages will be displayed at the Cleckheaton Library: one or more of those who compiled the initial research will be in attendance.

The first article is scheduled to appear on Friday February 21 and will feature Yorkshire Tar Distillers (originally known as Henry Ellison Limited) of Flatt Lane Chemical Works on Whitechapel Road, Cleckheaton and Charles Hirst & Sons of Exchange Mills, Moorend.

Please come to the Library to learn something of the two founding entrepreneurs and their companies and add yourcontributions - whether verbal, written or pictorial, to the knowledge-base.

Please help the Spen Valley Civic Society and the Spenborough Guardian to preserve the heritage of The Spen Valley for many generations to come.




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