Memories of Firthcliffe

LAST month the Guardian’s Letterbox featured an interesting item on the origins of Firthcliffe Estate in Liversedge.

Friday, 24th August 2012, 10:45 am

Following an enquiry to Spen Valley Civic Society, member John Appleyard found intriguing information in a newly published book by Spen historian Barbara Lumb, The Spen Valley Story.

In the book, she told how Sir Algernon Firth, owner of Flush Mills in Heckmondwike, donated land in Liversedge to be used to build houses for working class people.

He wanted to see an end to the days of cramped and insanitary homes and he was also keen that his workers did not live in close proximity to the mills, but rather on the hillside where they could enjoy the glorious views of the Spen Valley.

The book also tells how he set up mills in America which became one of that country’s largest carpet producers.

One of the mills he set up to the north of New York, which also had a village especially built for its workforce, was called Firthcliffe.

The information was of great interest to Alan Jackson – the man who had contacted the Civic Society in the first place.

Alan lives in London, but it was while researching his family that his interest in Firthcliffe Estate grew. His research shows that several branches of the Jackson family lived there.

Among them were Henry Jackson and his children Gertie and Charles, at 8 Firthcliffe Parade; Alec, Harry and Emily Jackson who lived next door, and Tom and Maggie Jackson, who were at number 105.

In Firthcliffe Road, Tom and Maggie Jackson lived at number 5, while Harry and Emily Jackson lived at number 17 with their sons Leslie, Sydney and Alec.

The Jacksons would have been among the first to live in the new estate.

“The area’s population expanded rapidly in the last 1800s as the Heavy Woollen District expanded into manufacturing blankets, cloth and machines,” Alan explained.

“The housing stock was insufficient and during periods of the fluctuation in trade with war and trade depression, local manufacturers did not build large amounts of housing for their workers.

“At other times, during periods of growth and prosperity, it was common for local industrialists and manufacturers to build workers’ houses.

“The Firthcliffe Estate does not fall into the pattern. It wasn’t built in the boom time of the late 19th century and in the 1920s and 30s when the estate was built, the economy and local industry would probably not have sustained large scale housing.

“This is when local government stepped in to fill the gap by building council houses.”

l Alan’s research into the origins of Firth Mills, and its American counterpart, will feature in a future Looking Back.