A-Z of Halifax by Trish Colton
Writing a book with the title A-Z of Halifax presented a couple of challenges. First, with so much history to write about, there was the problem of what to leave out. Then came the problem of finding things to write about that began with certain specific letters of the alphabet. Q was no problem at all, since tins of Quality Street sweets have been despatched from Halifax since the 1930s and still are.
Nor was Z. There was a zoo in Halifax in the early part of the twentieth century; it closed during the latter half of World War One, so not too many local people know about it. Those who do, often only know that it existed but not much more. I decided to concentrate on the animals which managed to escape and what happened to them, although they were only part of the many attractions that drew huge crowds.
When it came to F, H, K, S, T, U, V, X and Y I decided to think a bit more creatively about chapter titles, since there were no direct links in the town or its history that I wanted to write about which started with those particular letters.
One of my two pieces for V had a name change. Instead of Victoria Cross I used the medal’s motto for the title. So that became For Valour – Victoria Cross recipients connected to Halifax and that was F sorted out.
Have a drink on me – Some interesting pubs meant I could talk about how the plague affected the town under P, instead of interesting old pubs.
We have a marvellous group of volunteers here who scour the town from late evening to the early hours of the morning on Fridays and Saturdays. They look for people who are in trouble for one reason or another and offer them help. Inevitably a few of those needing help are too drunk to help themselves. The slang word for ‘drunk’ came to the rescue with the title of Kaylied but safe – Halifax Street Angels.
As I already had two interesting pieces in mind for the letter C but nothing for S, I changed the title of the piece about the Chartists and their effect on the mills and mill owners in Halifax during the Plug Riots in August 1842. By using a good old Yorkshire word meaning ‘see you’ the new title of Sithee at the Waggoners – Chartism in Halifax served my purpose nicely. The landlord at the time was such an enthusiastic supporter of the Chartists who gathered at his pub on their way to the town centre, that he changed its name. Locals now know it as ‘The Standard of Freedom’.
As I already had two pieces which started with T, but could think of nothing related to Halifax which began with U, it was time to get my thinking cap on again. This time it was two telescopes which were the focus of my attention. One of the town’s great mill-owning dynasties was the Crossleys. Edward inherited his family's carpet manufacturing business from his father at the age of 27. However, he also had such a strong interest in astronomy that he had two observatories built at his home. Sadly, the smoke the local mills (including his own) spewed out made the atmosphere so polluted that it was difficult to see much through the telescopes he installed there. They both ended up in observatories abroad. That title became Under a Night Sky – Edward Crossley’s telescopes.
Back when our Minster was still just a church, the gentry used the main south entrance and the rest of us had to enter through a door on the north side. However, Old Tristram, a late seventeenth century licenced beggar, was given special permission to linger outside the south entrance of the church in the hope that the upper classes might deign to give him a donation. That got me wondering what life would have been like for beggars in those days and what laws covered them, if any. It turned out that over many centuries various laws had been passed governing the treatment of beggars. I also accidentally discovered that the word ‘vagabond’ had a different interpretation back then. And so, the chapter Vagabonds, Beggars and the Like came into being.
I really cheated when it came to finding a subject for X! I researched the history of hospitals in Halifax and called that section X-Rays – Hospital history in Halifax. I made sure to include a bit about the invention of x-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895 and the technology’s rapid use in hospitals worldwide.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to think very hard about how I could entitle a piece beginning with Y. Then I remembered that King George V’s youngest son suffered from epilepsy and spent most of his time at Sandringham. He was joined by a young Halifax girl who was tutored alongside him. There was my title – or part of it; Young Prince John’s Halifax Companion.
So, although finding relevant subject matter for each letter of the alphabet was a bit worrying initially, it actually turned out to be as much fun as the research and writing always is.
Trish Colton's book A-Z of Halifax is available for purchase now.