Like many people in Dewsbury I’m shocked that our beautiful museum in Crow Nest Park may have to close because of government cuts.
I don’t propose to go into all the ins and outs of why so many of our well-loved buildings are disappearing, but I do earnestly urge people to do something to save this particular one.
Buildings like Dewsbury Museum, and the artefacts they contain, are vital to the history and spiritual sustenance of this town. Once they are gone, they are gone for good.
This museum stands in the midst of stunning Crow Nest Park, a fantastic resource which our civic forefathers provided for the people of Dewsbury over a hundred years ago. The park, when it first opened, was described as a ‘health spa’ because of being situated in the healthiest part of town.
Standing at the top of the hill where the air was cleaner, it was far away from the smoking chimneys below where our grandparents worked six days a week.
The park was the only place they could go on Sundays and take their families with them, and it didn’t cost them a penny. It still doesn’t.
In 1893 when the park was officially opened, Crow Nest Hall, the home of the Hague family, was converted into a museum on the top floor, and a cafe on the ground floor, known as the Park Mansion.
Access to this wonderful park with its conservatories, museum, band stand, swings, roundabouts and paddling pool for the children, was completely free.
The picture above shows Mr F Smith, former borough librarian and curator of the Museum, showing a display of paintings to passers-by in Dewsbury town centre in the 1950s. Mr Smith wanted people to see the standard of paintings by local artists which were then on show in the new art gallery in the Museum in 1950.
Dewsbury in those days was on the up, and there was plenty of culture to be found in local amateur dramatic societies, musical societies, literary societies and, of course, the museum and art gallery.
I just wonder what this lovely man would think if he saw what was happening at the moment to Crow Nest Museum and Dewsbury Library.
When the Hague family sold the Crow Nest Estate to Dewsbury Corporation, the whole of the top storey of the mansion was in the possession of a detachment of Dragoon Guards sent to Dewsbury to preserve order.
Until the council took over, the mansion had been in a poor state of repair, but Mr Marks, the town’s surveyor, practically reconstructed its interior and designed several beautiful apartments, one of which became a museum.
Two rooms displayed Egyptian and ethnographic artefacts as well as natural history specimens, and the museum became trustees of the Egyptian Exploration Society. Amelia Oldroyd, niece of Dewsbury mill owner Sir Mark Oldroyd, was its secretary.
She was later to help bring together a fascinating and rare collection of Egyptian artefacts, part of which was recently on display at a London exhibition entitled Beyond Beauty. These artefacts were removed from Dewsbury Museum some years ago and taken to Bagshaw Museum in Batley.
In the 1960s, a professional curator was appointed, and by the 1980s, the museum was refurbished, and a striking new child-orientated display gallery appeared, entitled Growing up in Dewsbury.
The museum was suddenly telling real life stories of local people told through their own words and using the latest technology. Local people were talking about growing up in Dewsbury, listening to the Pathe Newsreel which told the story of Dewsbury girl Eileen Fenton’s spectacular Channel swim.
They were remembering dancing at the Galleon dance hall, situated under the Majestic Cinema, later to be known as the Rex Cinema, They told stories of rock n’ roll, teddy boy outfits, mini skirts, and in more modern times, platform-soled shoes and flares.
Thousands of schoolchildren have visited the Museum over the years, and what they have seen and taken part in has certainly added to their education.
They have been able to spend time in a beautiful historic building, wander round the park and see other buildings which hold so much history.
They were given the opportunity to spend time in an ancient space provided for them by their forefathers.
They are too young to realise that while they are at the museum and in the park, they are soaking up food for their soul, food which they’ll never get from a computer or a television set.
It will only be when they grow older that they will begin to appreciate, as I did, what they saw but were too young to realise its value at the time. I am sure they will now want the same for their children.
When I was a child, the beautiful buildings in Dewsbury spoke to me every single time I passed them, but I wasn’t listening, and neither was I looking,
Thankfully, my soul was listening and absorbing the beauty around me, the beauty of fine architecture and churches which still exist in Dewsbury. It was only when I grew up that I awoke to the beauty in Dewsbury and was able to understand it and appreciate it.
It was then when I started to fall in love with its buildings, its parks, its woods, gardens and surrounding countryside, and I vowed I would do all in my power to protect them.
There are some reading this column who will not share my thoughts on Dewsbury as it is today, and may even laugh at my idea that beauty still exists here. Perhaps they have stopped loving Dewsbury.
But there are still many people in Dewsbury who share my passion for the town’s architecture, its churches, its history and its open spaces. These I know will continue fighting to preserve them.
I hope you are one of them and will support all the various groups and individuals who will be fighting in the coming weeks to save our precious museum.
For those interested in viewing the museum, it is currently open 11am–5pm from Tuesday to Friday, and 12–5pm on Saturday and Sunday. It closes on Mondays.
Sadly, there is not as much to see as there used to be, solely because two rooms are no longer in use because of the collapsed ceiling.